FROM 1949 to 1971 the vast country of China was officially represented at the United Nations and at other international bodies by the relatively small island of Taiwan. In retrospect it seems incredible that Taiwan was one of the five countries on the UN Security Council with a veto! This farcical and totally counter-productive situation came about because successive American governments supported General Chiang Kai-shek (and his persuasive wife) as the legitimate leader of China even though he was in exile in Taiwan. Although much of the political immobility of the UN in those times was the result of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the unreality of China's representation was a significant contributory factor. Yesterday, speaking in Japan ahead of his visit to China, President Bush chose to praise Taiwan in extravagant and even provocative terms: “By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has has created a free and democratic Chinese society,” he said. But, turning to China, he could only speak of the failure of the world's most populous nation to “complete the journey” towards freedom, and tell its leaders that “once the door to freedom is opened even a crack it cannot be closed”. With that thought he presumably meant to encourage them to open the door wider, but as they face the appallingly difficult task of reconciling economic growth with political stability they might instead think that perhaps they should slam the door shut again before things get out of hand. One wonders whether Mr Bush will learn the futility of his obsession with universal instant USstyle democracy before he completes his second term of office, by which time it will be too late anyway. No sensible person would oppose the idea that the Chinese people should enjoy a greater measure of freedom than they have at the moment but the idea that this will be achieved by lectures from George W Bush is ludicrous. Change in China will come from internal, not external, pressures. The latter are counter-productive in relation to the Chinese government and a cruel deception for the Chinese people. Perhaps Mr Bush's words are intended more his audience at home than for the Chinese themselves. If so, he is playing a dangerous game.


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