Will Taiwan be forsaken just like Korea was?

Taipei Times

By Kwon Tai-hyung

Friday, Jan 16, 2004,Page 8

From Afghanistan to Iraq, US President George W. Bush is bent on spreading freedom and democracy and says so every chance he gets. But when it comes to Taiwan, he is ambiguous. This became apparent recently when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (???) visited the White House.

"We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo," Bush said. His comment was prompted by recent moves by President Chen Shui-bian (???), who has called for a referendum in March calling for China to withdraw all missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounce the use of force against the island. Beijing views the referendum as a move toward independence.

The Taiwan issue has resurfaced amid another high-stake issue -- North Korean nuclear weapons. The US needs China to press Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid. For that, Bush welcomed Wen with a 19-gun salute and declared, "We are partners in diplomacy working to meet the dangers of the 21st


To many, Bush's comments appeared to tilt US policy slightly toward Beijing and were a retreat from his words on "freedom and democracy." Some conservatives went so far as to call them a "mistake" or "appeasement of a dictatorship."

Others asked, "Can it be really Bush's position that Taiwan is not permitted to hold any democratic referendums at all?"

The precarious position of Taiwan, reminiscent of Korea at the dawn of the 20th century, makes one wonder if the Americans would eventually abandon Taiwan as they had abandoned Korea a century ago.

When Japan emerged triumphant from the Russo-Japanese War, US president Theodore Roosevelt and the Americans applauded the small doughty nation who dared to fight the Russian giant. In their approbation, the Americans forgot their treaty of protection, wherein they had promised to help Korea to freedom. In the 1882 Korean-American Treaty, Washington promised that if any country dealt with Korea unjustly or oppressively, it would bring about an amicable arrangement.

After Japan invaded Korea and forced the Korean king to sign the Protectorate Treaty at gunpoint, the Korean government made no less than six appeals to the Roosevelt administration for help between 1904 and 1905. But the president openly declared, "Korea is absolutely Japan's." He could not comprehend the strategic importance of Korea, as did US president Harry Truman 45 years later. The US, the first Western treaty power to open a legation in Seoul, was the first to abandon Korea.

The consequence was the unrestrained Japanese expansionism in Asia that culminated in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. After World War II, the US yielded the northern half of Korea to Russia. This led to the division of Korea and the Korean War.

Had the US kept its promise in the 1882 Korean-American Treaty and helped Koreans secure their country as a free independent nation, instead of yielding it to Japan, the Pearl Harbor fiasco, World War II in the Pacific and the Korean War could have been avoided. And, more importantly, the US would not be facing the North Korean nuclear problem today.

If history were any lesson, any step toward abandoning Taiwan would be a tragic mistake on the part of the US. Obtaining China's help to defuse the North Korean crisis is important, but what is more important in the long term is that the US adheres to its promises in the Taiwan Relations Act. The US will then be remembered not only as a superpower in the 21st century, but also remembered for its democracy and support of freedom.

Kwon Tai-hyung is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Montevallo.