Suspend arms sales to Taiwan

The sale to Taiwan of $280 million worth of weapons announced by the State Department recently should be suspended on the ground of serious violations of human rights by the Taipei authorities.

The Kuomintang (KMT) has imposed martial law on the Taiwanese people for more than three decades -- the longest period of martial law in human history. As a result, the Taiwanese people have been deprived of such basic rights as freedom of speech and assembly.

This deprivation was evidenced by the KMT's handling of the commemoration of Human Rights Day by the people of Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan, on Dec. 10, 1979. On that day, riot police first blocked the streets in an attempt to prevent the populace from attending the rally. Failing in this attempt, they then used tear gas and clubs on a crowd of tens of thousands. Several hundred persons were wounded during the clash.

Right after this incident, the KMT made massive arrests of political activists, whether or not they had attended the rally. More than 300 persons, including prominent opposition leaders, human rights workers, and intellectuals, have been arrested to date. Taiwanese residing in the US have received many ominous reports that these prisoners have been severely tortured and might be court-martialed for sedition, with punishments that could carry a death sentence. Some top KMT leaders have openly advocated this penalty for a number of those arrested.

These harsh measures will no doubt make the Taiwanese people feel that President Chiang Ching-kuo's regime is no less oppressive than the Communist Party of China and that it makes little difference if the KMT or the CPC governs them. The spirit and determination of Taiwanese to resist Chinese aggression will, therefore, be greatly weakened. If their will to freedom is lost, the lesson learned from the war in South Vietnam shows, Taiwan will perish, even though the United States provides the KMT with a large quantity of sophisticated weapons.

Current educational and economic developments in Taiwan simply do not allow dictatorship. Only when differences between the KMT and the Taiwanese people are resolved in a peaceful, democratic manner, will political stability in Taiwan be realized. High- handed suppression by the KMT will only escalate popular resistance, and an unstable Taiwan will give China an excuse to "liberate" Taiwanese from the KMT's oppression.

Events in Iran and South Korea demonstrate that the best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it from occurring, not wait until it occurs. The US can prevent a crisis in Taiwan -- even strengthen Taiwan's defense -- if Americans choose to use arms sales as a weapon to urge the KMT to respect the human rights of the Taiwanese people.

More specifically, the US should ban the sale to Taiwan of any kind of military goods and services until violations of human rights have been corrected -- and, in particular, until all people recently arrested for the Kaohsiung incident have been freed. Indeed, such an action by the US Government is required by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. For, while promising "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character," this act clearly states: "Nothing contained in this act shall contravene the interest of the United States in human rights, especially with respect to the human rights of all the approximately eighteen million inhabitants of Taiwan. The preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan are thereby reaffirmed as objectives of the United States."

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