Sunday, March 13, 2005

As Taiwan Tensions Rise, Chinese Invoke Lincoln

By Benjamin Kang Lim, Reuters, Sunday, March 13, 2005; 2:56 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - As China's parliament prepares to pass a bill aimed at barring Taiwan from independence, many on the mainland speak of a historical precedent rooted not in Mao or Marx, but in an unlikely hero -- Abraham Lincoln. The U.S. president who went to war in 1861 to prevent the southern states from splitting from the union has more admirers than one might expect in a Communist country that eschews Western-style democracy. Several postings in China's Internet chat rooms likened modern China-Taiwan relations with the American Civil War.

And many Internet surfers use Lincoln to justify the bill, which mandates the use of military force against the self-ruled island China has claimed as its own since their split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. If Lincoln could go to war to prevent the South from seceding, why shouldn't China have a law bill allowing force if the democratic island formally declares independence, asked one "netizen," Zheng Deqing, a student from southern China. "Lincoln had a positive side. He prevented the country's secession which led to rapid economic development," the 22-year-old student said in a telephone interview from the special economic zone of Shantou in southern Guangdong province. Another posting on the chat room of the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, read: "China opposes secessionism just like the U.S. opposed it during the north-south war."

Lincoln's ideals of freedom, equality and democracy are somewhat conveniently dropped, or lost in translation. Shanghai-based Oriental Outlook magazine described use of the word "secession" in English as pure genius, noting it has a "special historical significance for Americans." U.S. scholars say the analogy quickly falls flat. "It seems to me that the parallels between the anti-secession law and the U.S. situation are badly misplaced," June Dreyer, a political science professor at the University of Miami, said. In Taiwan's case, Dreyer notes, it was never part of Communist China and has never expressed an interest in joining. "So, (it is) a very different situation ... You can't secede from something you aren't part of," she said. Nonetheless, this reality has not kept Lincoln from developing a popularity at the highest level in China. Former Communist Party chief and president Jiang Zemin would recite the Gettysburg Address to American guests. During a visit to Washington in 1999, then Premier Zhu Rongji said Lincoln could be used as a model for China because he resorted to force to maintain the unity of the United States. Unsurprisingly, U.S. newspaper columnists took him to task.------------------

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