OUTSHINING THE TORCH: One clause criticizing China's oppression of Taiwan was removed from the final wording of a resolution, sparking heated debate on the floor
By Charles Snyder
STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON
Friday, Mar 07, 2008, Page 1
The US House of Representatives on Tuesday gave landslide approval to a resolution praising Taiwan's democracy and upcoming presidential election, urging the countries of the world to send delegations to Taiwan to witness the election.
By a 490-1 vote, the House endorsed the resolution that was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last month in the committee's first legislative vote this year.
The only vote against the proposal came from Ron Paul, a libertarian who until recently was a candidate for the Republican nomination for US president.
Five House members rose to speak in favor of the resolution, including two co-chairpersons of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, Steve Chabot and Shelley Berkley.
"This resolution sends the right message at the right time," Chabot said. "As one of a very few democracies in Asia, Taiwan should be recognized for its courage and commitment to allow its citizens to choose its future."
He contrasted Taiwan with undemocratic China, citing Beijing's "abysmal human rights record, flouting of the rule of law, religious persecution and warehous[ing of] political prisoners."
Howard Berman, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said while introducing the resolution on the floor that "Taiwan's political system has evolved into one of the strongest democratic systems in Asia," following the demise of martial law and one-party "authoritarian dictatorship that failed to respect basic human rights."
"Today, Taiwan is a flourishing, multiparty democracy that respects human rights, upholds the rule of law and holds competitive elec-tions," he said.
"The United States' relationship with Taiwan speaks to the great importance of democracy in our foreign policy ... it is Taiwan's development of democracy that underpins the strong US-Taiwan friendship that we enjoy today," he said.
Michael Bilirakis, speaking for the opposition Republicans, called Taiwan "a shining example for other Asian states struggling with the introduction of representative forms of government and the rule of law. Taiwan's free elections, however, have the greatest impact on those who are still yearning to breathe free in the vast Chinese mainland."
He called Taiwan's democracy a "beacon of hope for those still suffering under the oppression on the communist Chinese mainland."
"Taiwan's democracy is a torch which shines ever brighter, far outshining the Olympic torch of the Chinese regime, which hopes this year to use sports to achieve propaganda victory," he said.
A dispute broke out during the deliberation on the Foreign Affairs Committee's decision to remove from the original resolution a clause that asserts that Taiwan "faces threat and intimidation from neighboring China."
That clause was deleted at the insistence of the chairman of the committee's Asia and Pacific subcommittee, delegate Eni Faleo-mavega of American Samoa.
Chabot bemoaned the committee's action, saying: "I'm disappointed that the strong language contained in the introduced version of the bill, which referenced the acts of intimidation and pressure by China, was eliminated. It is unrealistic to believe that these elections are not of concern to China."
"Taiwan's young democracy faces constant military threat and intimidation from neighboring China," he said, echoing the deleted clause's language.
"Yet, in spite of these belligerent threats and the constant saber-rattling by Beijing, Taipei has continued to stand tall for freedom," he said.
Faleomavega, who has often taken a pro-Beijing stance in committee matters, defended his action.
Noting his two trips to Taipei over the past year, he said: "I can assure my colleagues that elections are in full swing in Taiwan, with no intimidation from the People's Republic of China."
"I think it is important for [congressional] members to observe first-hand the [Taiwanese electoral] process and meet the leaders in Taiwan and Beijing before being so quick in condemning the People's Republic of China," he said.
He said the resolution did not address the issue of the referendum on UN membership, adding: "I do not believe it would be in the best interest of our country to support the position of Taiwan's current administration, which has attempted to push for independence, which is contrary to the US position on one-country-two-systems [sic]."