Had I not known the author for many years, I would still commend Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy — especially now, as both the island nation and the Communist Chinese behemoth that wants to absorb it are increasingly in the news.
I have known author Bruce Herschensohn, professor at Pepperdine University, who has been a visitor to Taiwan since 1964, for decades. In fewer than 200 pages, he summarizes the history of the democratic nation that has survived the unyielding designs of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the mercurial attitude of the United States, Taiwan’s longtime friend and ally.
The Taiwan saga is interesting, thought-provoking and downright alarming. Since the Communist Chinese drove U.S. ally Chiang Kai-Shek and his ruling Kuomintang Party into exile on tiny Taiwan in 1949, Mao Tse-Tung and his heirs have never relented in demanding re-absorption of what it calls “the renegade province” (much as Saddam Hussein dubbed Kuwait “Iraq’s 19th province” before forcefully seizing it in 1991).
In contrast, while the U.S. was once resolute in proclaiming its allegiance to Taiwan and commitment to coming to its side if attacked by Communist China, it has watered down that commitment through three official communiqués, its switch to recognition of Beijing as the legitimate government of China in 1978 and the public statements of its Presidents and foreign-policy leaders.
Herschensohn recalls how, three months after becoming President, George W. Bush was asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” whether the U.S. would feel an obligation to defend Taiwan if attacked by China.
“Yes, we do,” Bush replied without hesitation. “And the Chinese must understand that.” Pressed as to whether this would mean a response with the full force of the American military, Bush said: “Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend itself.” But within a short time, his own State Department was amending Bush’s straightforward response. Asked in ’05 whether the U.S. supports the unification of Taiwan with the mainland, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher answered: “We support peaceful dialogue to resolve the differences between Taiwan and the mainland. Where we get to in that dialogue, how they resolve those differences, will be a matter left to them.”
As Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy carefully chronicles, the Communist mainland’s claims on Taiwan are as legitimate as, say, British Prime Minister Brown’s claiming the U.S. is a renegade province of the United Kingdom or Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda’s claiming Taiwan, since his country was granted possession of the island by treaty with China in 1895 and finally relinquished Taiwan in 1945. Never having been under the aegis of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan became the headquarters-in-exile for Chiang when he was driven from the mainland in 1949.
Chiang’s claim that Taiwan was the legitimate government of China has long been abandoned by his successors, who now entertain the idea of renaming their country from the "Republic of China" to “Taiwan” — a move Beijing warns is provocative and could invite attack. In addition, Chiang’s heavy-handed dictatorship gave way to genuine democracy under his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo. The Chiang family’s Kuomintang Party has lost the last two presidential elections to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party under President Chen Shui-bian (who must by law step down next year).
In documenting Taiwan’s stride toward democracy and a thriving free-market system (it is now actually one of the largest exporters to Communist China itself), Herschensohn carefully details Hong Kong’s years since 1997 when great Britain handed over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. For all the rosy talk of “one country, two systems” that Taiwan is now promised if it comes under rule of the mainland, the author warns, the same fate as Hong Kong is in store for Taiwan if China’s unyielding calls for absorption come true and the U.S. acquiesces.
Taiwan’s becoming an island province of Communist China is no doubt a chilling thought to ponder in South Korea, Japan or any free country in Southeast Asia. It must also be chilling to the U.S. and a President who sees democracy as a cure to the ills of the Middle East and other trouble regions. Obviously, there is a strong case for Americans to read Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy.