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Taiwan elections: US must show respect for self-determination

As Taiwan presidential elections approach Jan. 14, the US has shown a preference for incumbent Ma Ying-jeou – who says he can work with China. The US should set aside wishful thinking about unification and respect the right of Taiwanese to decide their own future.

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The Taiwanese are perplexed and frustrated that America finds fault even with their cautious policies. They have heeded Washington’s every prescription – becoming a democracy with a modern economy and admirable social indicators. They have signaled a desire for the status quo and avoided provocations.

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They listen to US rhetoric about democracy and watch the United States spend untold billions and sacrifice thousands of US servicemen’s lives to “bring democracy” to far-flung corners of the world.

Yet they sense that, for economic and political convenience, the US takes actions that subtly push them into subordination under a Chinese regime with a dismal human rights record and dodgy concepts of rule of law.

They see the US favor the party in Taiwan that, ironically, used to base its legitimacy on vehement anti-communism and implacable opposition to Beijing but now wants to cut a deal with China – at their expense. The Taiwanese were not party to the KMT’s civil war with the communists, and so should not be sacrificed as part of its solution.

US failure to approve weapons sales commensurate with Taiwan’s defense needs hurts, of course. But the Taiwanese do not want to be America’s thorn in China’s side, a pawn in a geostrategic chess game. What they want is much simpler: respect and dignity; recognition for who they are and what they have achieved; and inclusion in the international community they have worked so hard to merit joining.

The debate on the China-Taiwan issue is unbalanced; almost no US political, business, or social leaders stand up for the noble Taiwanese little guy. A recent proposal, published in The New York Times, suggested that the US negotiate secretly with China to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt that China holds in exchange for an end to American military sales to Taiwan and the current US-Taiwan defense arrangement.

The Taiwanese deserve better, and so do the hundreds of millions around the world struggling for exactly the kind of democratic, free-enterprise, good-citizen values that Taiwan embodies.

If America is going to sell out these good, moderate people, at least it should look them in the eyes when it does that, rather than pretend they and their aspirations do not exist.

Neal Donnelly and Fulton Armstrong are, respectively, a retired US diplomat and analyst with years of experience in Taiwan and observing Taiwan affairs dating back to the late 1960s.


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