Bridging the Taiwan Strait from the basis of democracy

Regarding your Dec. 15 editorial "Taiwan's Ballot Defense": Taiwan's sophisticated voters once again humbled local politicians and outside pundits alike in their nation's recent "surprise" legislative election. They sent a message of independence, prudence, and pride.

They seemed to tell President Chen Shui-bian that while they agree with his endeavor to shore up a "Taiwan identity," they also expect substantive policy reforms, not just negative campaigning and symbolic politics. Beijing should remember (from 1996) that saber-rattling serves only to rally Taiwan voters under pro-independence politicians. And Washington should refrain from interfering in others' internal affairs; it should trust Taiwan voters to determine their own political futures.
Vincent Wei-cheng Wang
Richmond, Va.

No one would argue that Taiwan's best defense lies in its vibrant democracy.

However, what is unique about Taiwan's democracy is that issues of cross-strait relations have always dominated Taiwanese elections. Taiwanese democracy will not be mature until it moves beyond this sensitive point.

The independence camp did not lose the most recent legislative elections; it only suffered a temporary setback. The unification camp did not win, since its legislative majority remains so slim.

After the election, all major parties and the Taiwanese public have to calm down and think about the future of Taiwan. No party has a mandate from voters to push for its own radical agendas.

Democracy provides a tool for reaching consensus on controversial issues in a society. When there is no such agreement regarding cross-strait relations, Taiwanese politicians should help shift the public attention to economic and other issues. Disputes over relations between China and Taiwan will not be resolved any time soon.

The Taiwanese government should refrain from crossing Beijing and Washington's unofficial red lines by attempting to alter cross-strait relations politically and legally in the name of democracy.
Zhiqun Zhu
Bridgeport, Conn.

Mideast Marshall Plan to combat terror

Your Dec. 17 editorial, "Wanted: Mideast Conference," commendably urges a regionwide Middle East conference (led by the US and Europe) to "make it easier for many Arab states and Israel to open bilateral talks and hammer out peace deals."

This conference would be all the more productive if it dramatically projected a regionwide Middle East economicdevelopment program reminiscent of what the Marshall Plan did for European reconstruction after World War II.

Such a program in the Middle East could readily provide the framework for effectively addressing all the disputes currently encumbering the Middle East. It could also contribute to greater effectiveness in the war on terrorism.
David J. Steinberg
Alexandria, Va.

'Honest dissent' key part of democracy

Andrea Cooper's Dec. 9 Opinion piece "What does it mean to 'Support Our Troops?' " encouraged me to believe that honest dissent does not automatically equate, everywhere, to disloyalty or subversion. In our military community, I and many of my friends are afraid to question our government's war policy anywhere outside our homes or churches. If we are truly trying to export democracy to Iraq, perhaps we should remember what democracy is: the privilege and opportunity to seek common ground with those with whom we disagree.
James Ross White
Tacoma, Wash.

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