Clinton-China vs. Taiwan-America: Independence Day’s Meaning Long Forgotten

by | Dec 10, 1999

On July 4, the US celebrated its 223rd birthday with hot dogs, cotton candy, ice-cream and fireworks. There was much self-congratulation but few tributes to the day’s real meaning. July 4, 1776 was the day the Continental Congress approved and signed the Declaration of Independence. Nowhere in this radical and eloquent statement of political philosophy […]

On July 4, the US celebrated its 223rd birthday with hot dogs, cotton candy, ice-cream and fireworks. There was much self-congratulation but few tributes to the day’s real meaning.

July 4, 1776 was the day the Continental Congress approved and signed the Declaration of Independence. Nowhere in this radical and eloquent statement of political philosophy did it say that “henceforth, all men shall host barbecues to mark this day”. . The core idea of the Declaration is that Men are endowed with Rights, and a government’s legitimacy rests upon its function of securing these Rights, thereby gaining the consent of the governed.

The Founding Fathers believed the English were violating rather than securing Americans’ Rights, and thus didn’t have or deserve the American people’s consent to be governed.

On July 9th, Taiwan’s democratically elected President Lee announced that Taiwan would view future contact with China as a “state-to-state” event. In saying this, he was, of course, implying Taiwan’s formal independence from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), while avoiding an official, legal statement of independence.

Rarely has so much uproar been generated by such a simple statement of the obvious.

It shattered the foggy, diplomatic dreamland in which most of the world’s countries had agreed to pretend they believed that the tyrannical mainland Chinese Communist government and the freedom-minded democratic Taiwanese government were somehow both part of “One-China”.

In 1949, the Kuomintang (KMT), then government of China, failed in its war against the Communists. The exiled KMT escaped to the island of Formosa, now known as Taiwan, and declared itself the only legitimate governing body of China. The US recognized the KMT as China’s only government for many years, but over time gradually shifted allegiances.

In 1972, Nixon agreed with Beijing’s Communists to a “One-China” policy, without specifying China’s legitimate government. In 1979, Carter officially shifted diplomatic recognition to Beijing, while maintaining “unofficial” relations with Taiwan. As consolation, Carter promised Taiwan military support and sales to help maintain it’s defensive power. A law was passed committing the US to “maintain the capacity of the US to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.”

Over the past forty years Taiwan’s people have become accustomed to growing freedom and prosperity. The government has evolved from early years of martial law and repression to bring elections and personal liberty. It is a society very different from the one found in the People’s Republic. Thus most Taiwanese people support their president’s desire to maintain their political system. Most have no desire to unify with the Communists, seeing no good reason to forego a functioning democracy for a dubious Hong Kong-like experiment.

The PRC responded to President Lee’s statement with fury. They called him a “sinner in history” who aims to “wreck the peaceful reunification of the motherland”. They subsequently printed news stories about Army troop movements and hinted that neutron bombs were available if necessary.

Stock markets sold off on the China-Taiwan situation, causing the Morgan Stanley Far-East Free index to fall as much as 6% in the week following Lee’s statement. Taiwan’s index fell more than 12%. Even if it is highly unlikely that China will invade Taiwan anytime soon, a return to the status-quo is an unstable situation which will not resolve itself. The ongoing conflict will remain a “phantom menace” for Asian investors, likely re-emerging every few years.

Bill Clinton’s sometimes-seeming boss, Jiang Zemin, spoke to him on the phone last Sunday. He asserted that China would not rule out using force to crush Taiwanese activism and warned Clinton not to allow “anti-China” forces in the US to support any formal bid for Taiwanese independence. Clinton appeased Jiang with assurances that he would uphold the PRC’s “One-China” policy, and suggested that he would press Taiwan to resume that position as well. “It was a very positive conversation,” said Clinton of his talk with Jiang.

Days later, Clinton postponed a US Defense Department visit to Taiwan, not-so-subtly suggesting a lack of US military will. Under pressure from Clinton, Taiwan’s government retreated slightly from its initial independence-leaning position, clarifying its expression of “special state-to-state relations”.

Is this how the world is to see the US — as an appeaser of tyrants, willing to sell its principles for a nickel or a “Peace” Prize, and advising defenders of liberty to “go along to get along”? Will we next push twenty-three million free people into the subjugation of and unification with a government that respects no individual’s rights?

My recommendation to Taiwan is this: study the US Declaration of Independence. Fully implement its ideas, and next time you speak the truth of your independence from China, wrap your statement in the words of the American founders. Then, the US must either support your independence, or explicitly betray its own founding principles.

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Andrew West is a Contributing Economics Editor for Capitalism Magazine. In 1997 he received the Chartered Financial Analyst designation from the Association for Investment Management and Research.

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