U.S. editorial excerpts.
Selected editorial excerpts from the U.S. press:
TAIWAN'S DEMOCRATIC LESSON (The Washington Post, Washington)
AS IT HAS more than once during the past two decades, Taiwan is providing an example of democracy's virtue. Chen Shui-bian, the island's twice-elected president, long ago wore out his welcome with voters; during his eight years in office, economic growth has lagged and corruption has flourished, while Mr. Chen's aggressive and occasionally cynical promotion of the cause of Taiwanese independence has backfired. A week ago, he got his just reward: a landslide victory in legislative elections by the opposition Nationalist party (KMT), which won 81 of 113 seats, compared with just 27 for Mr. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Mr. Chen was obliged to step down as party president, and the DPP's underdog candidate in the presidential election scheduled for March 22, Frank Hsieh, has adopted a considerably more moderate line toward China.
You'd think even China's Communists would be toasting Taiwan's free elections, which have served to humiliate Beijing's foremost political adversary and discredit his agenda. Nationalist leader Ma Ying-jeou, a heavy favorite in the presidential election, has promised a rapid improvement in ties with the mainland, including direct flights, more tourism and direct investment.
Yet rather than pocket its victory, the government of President Hu Jintao spent two days last week browbeating visiting Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte about a referendum Mr. Chen has scheduled on the same day as the presidential vote. In a ploy to boost turnout for the DPP, the outgoing president is asking voters to decide whether the government should apply for membership in the United Nations under the name Taiwan, rather than Republic of China. Though the vote is meaningless -- Taiwan will not gain U.N. membership under any name -- and though the Bush administration has already loudly condemned the referendum as ''provocative,'' Mr. Hu's foreign minister demanded that the United States ''more firmly oppose'' holding the vote. How Washington is supposed to stop Taiwan's president from conducting a democratic exercise permitted by the country's constitution was not explained.
The odd thing about this contretemps -- in addition to China's presumption that the best way to prevent an undesired political development in Taiwan is to publicly order Washington to dictate to Taipei -- is that the referendum is widely expected to fail, for the same reasons that Mr. Chen's party was just swamped in the congressional election. If Mr. Chen's proposition, or his party's presidential candidate, has any hope of victory, it is that China's heavy-handed pressure tactics will touch off a backlash.