Wuer Kaixi , a Tiananmen protestor who fled China for Taiwan in 1989, has some powerful things to say about Chirac’s cozying up to the Chinese last week, and especially his reprimand of Taiwan. It may be one of the most eloquent appeals I’ve ever read.
I and others who managed to escape [the Tiananmen Square crackdown] were given refuge, and for a brief period the international community paused and reappraised its relationship with a regime that was prepared to put down a peaceful people’s movement with troops and tanks.
Where has that reappraisal brought us? Sadly, it seems nowhere. Since the Tiananmen bloodshed, we have seen a parade of foreign leaders and multinational corporations feting China’s leaders, as if somehow things have changed for the better. Nothing has changed. If anything, China’s leaders have learned their lesson, and have a tighter grip on power today than they did then. And doubters need only look to Taiwan, and recently also to Hong Kong – where on Jan. 1, 500,000 people took to the streets for greater democratic freedoms.
Realpolitik demands that we be practical on the Taiwan issue; but it should also demand that we not delude ourselves about China. In 1989, Beijing chose military action over open dialogue with a peaceful people’s movement; today it tells us that a popular vote in Taiwan risks invasion. I fear now, when I see the leaders of the United States and France reprimanding Taiwan, that the ideals that those countries were founded on, that my countrymen shed blood for in Tiananmen, and that Taiwan now challenges with a popular vote, have become disposable.
Naïvely, I had hoped for better of France, which has become the latest in a roll call of democracies – the United States included – that appear ready to abandon Taiwan’s right to democratic freedoms if that is how Beijing says it must be.
Yes, very naive, unfortunately. The West just has too much riding on China to risk insulting its leaders. I’m no great supporter of Chen and his antics. But I do think it’s fair to say Taiwan has been doublecrossed. I can understand the acute disappointment, especially from one who fled China in 1989 and knows only too well what it’s capable of.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.