Saturday, August 7, 1999

Beijing’s threats
may be just

Bullet The issue: China has threatened to use force to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent.
Bullet Our view: The threats are nothing new and an attack on Taiwan isn't likely.

ALL the noise that Beijing has been making over the statement by Taiwan's president that negotiations with China should be conducted on a state-to-state basis hasn't impressed Taiwan's military command. A spokesman for the defense ministry dismissed reports that China is gearing up for an assault as nothing more than Beijing's psychological warfare tactics.

Hong Kong newspapers have published reports of mainland military preparations since President Lee Teng-hui angered Beijing with his demand that Taiwan be treated as a state equal to China in their negotiations.

But the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Kung Fan-ding, said the Chinese Communists have always used the Hong Kong media to spread "groundless rumors." He attributed exercises by China's forces, some in the Taiwan Strait separating the rival governments, to normal summer training procedures.

Of course, military attempts to intimidate Taiwan have been made before, most recently during the 1996 presidential election. The Chinese fired missiles toward Taiwan and conducted ground-force exercises across the strait, thereby prompting Washington to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the area. There was a lot of posturing, but no fighting.

The latest Chinese verbal barrage has unsettled investors, causing a drop in stock prices on Taiwan. But there is no reason to believe that war is imminent.

Chinese assertions that they are prepared to resort to force to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent are nothing new. In fact, they aren't prepared to invade Taiwan.

Taiwan's leaders have always insisted that their country is part of China, and that line hasn't changed. Taiwan is independent in all but name, but neither Taipei nor Beijing is willing to admit it.

U.S. congressional leaders are no more likely than Taiwan's government to be impressed by Beijing's fulminations. Beijing warned that a bill providing for increased military aid to Taiwan would "gravely damage" security in the area and U.S.-China relations. In other words, they wouldn't like it.

The Clinton administration is lobbying against the measure, arguing that the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act has served the nation well. But the administration has tried to play down the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan embodied in that law.

The current bill is sponsored by Sens. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who dismissed administration critics as "a bunch of nervous Nellies."

The measure may not be prudent but, as Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Md., acknowledged, the Republican leadership is skeptical of President Clinton's commitment to Taiwan.

A firm statement from the White House reiterating that the United States would come to Taiwan's defense in the event of an attack by China would be the best way to settle everyone down.


Homosexual rights
and the Boy Scouts

Bullet The issue: Whether the Boy Scouts can ban homosexuals
Bullet Our view: A New Jersey decision hinged on whether the Boy Scouts are a private organization or a "place of public accommodation."

THE U.S. Supreme Court may get to decide whether the Boy Scouts can ban homosexuals. New Jersey's highest court ruled that the Scouts' ban is illegal under the state's anti-discrimination law, but the Boy Scouts intend to appeal.

The court sided with James Dale, an assistant scoutmaster who was expelled from the Boy Scouts when leaders discovered that he is gay.

The New Jersey justices ruled that the Scouts organization constitutes a "place of public accommodation" because it has a broad-based membership and forms partnerships with public entities and public service organizations. They also rejected the contention that striking down the ban violated the group's First Amendment rights.

A lower court judge had ruled in favor of the Scouts, agreeing with them that the group is a private organization and has a constitutional right to decide who can belong.

That judge called homosexuality "a serious moral wrong." In overturning his decision, an appeals court said Dale's "exemplary journey through the Boy Scouts of America ranks as testament enough that these stereotypical notions about homosexuals must be rejected."

Dale earned 30 merit badges and was an Eagle Scout during his 12 years in the organization.

George Davidson, an attorney for the Scouts, said it was the first time the group had lost such a case in a state's highest court. He said "the silver lining" is the opportunity to go to the U.S. Supreme Court and get a definitive ruling.

There are two issues here. One is tolerance for homosexuals. It is gratifying to see growing acceptance of homosexual rights in the courts and elsewhere, although much remains to be done.

The other is how far the state can impose its judgments and force private groups to accept members they don't want.

IN this case, we're talking about parents who are fearful of leaving their children in the care of homosexual Scout leaders.

The New Jersey court handled the second issue by ruling that the Scouts organization is a "place of public accommodation" and thus subject to the anti-discrimination law.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the New Jersey decision would be a victory for gay rights. But would it come at the expense of parents' legitimate concerns?

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Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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