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Monday, March 20, 2000

Taiwan’s election is
democratic victory

Bullet The issue: Opposition leader Chen Shui-bian has been elected president of Taiwan.

Bullet Our view: His victory ends a half century of Kuomintang rule and represents a historic triumph of democracy.

OVERSHADOWED by concern about China's threats to attack Taiwan in response to the election of opposition candidate Chen Shui-bian is the significance of his victory as a triumph of democracy. This may be the first democratic election of an opposition figure as a national leader in China's long history.

Four years ago Lee Teng-hui became the first directly elected president of the Republic of China, but he represented the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party and was already president. Now the KMT has been ousted after half a century in power following the government's loss of the mainland to the Communists.

If the crucial test of a democracy is the ouster of the ruling party by peaceful, democratic means, Taiwan has passed that test. This is all the more impressive because the Communist rulers of mainland China still govern with an iron hand, repressing not only political dissent but also a spiritual movement like Falun Gong.

When students demonstrated for democracy at Tiananmen Square in 1989, the government unleashed the army to attack the protesters and imprison their leaders. The Beijing leadership cannot be pleased to have the example of Taiwan confront China's vast population with the fact that millions of Chinese now live under democracy on the island while they languish under an unrepentant dictatorship.

To many in Taiwan, the KMT had outlived its usefulness, becoming rigid and corrupt over decades of unchallenged rule. However, to its leaders' credit, the KMT relaxed its grip starting in the 1980s to permit the emergence of the democracy that flourishes today. Taiwan's people have now shown they want to be governed by neither the KMT nor the Communist Party.

Unlike four years ago, China made no avert attempt to intimidate Taiwan voters by firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait and conducting military exercises in the coastal region. Those tactics failed in 1996 and its blustering rhetoric failed last weekend.

Indeed, Beijing's threats of invasion seem to have backfired, spurring voters to support Chen rather than frightening them off. But the president-elect showed no interest in provoking the Communists after his victory. Instead he held out a hand of friendship and reconciliation.

Chen once marched through the streets of Taipei sporting a headband reading "Long live Taiwan independence." But he toned down his rhetoric during the election campaign, saying he did not intend to declare independence -- an act that could spark war with Beijing.

Chen said he hoped to visit the mainland before his inauguration with a view toward promoting reconciliation. But reconciliation to him does not mean recognizing Beijing as Taiwan's government, even symbolically.

China seemed to be giving him a chance to display his intentions, saying it was "listening to words, watching actions." The Communists should face the reality of Chen's election and seek to negotiate an accommodation with a democratic Taiwan that is independent in all but name.

Making guns safer

Bullet The issue: The Clinton administration has reached agreement with the nation's largest gun manufacturer on measures to improve gun safety.

Bullet Our view: The accord won't solve the problem of gun violence but it is a significant improvement.

ALTHOUGH handgun control legislation is bogged down in Congress, a significant advance in the cause of gun safety has been achieved in negotiations between the Clinton administration and the nation's largest gun manufacturer.

Smith & Wesson has agreed to provide safety locks on its handguns within 60 days and to make them child-resistant within a year. The agreement was reached with the company by the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Treasury and officials representing state and local governments.

Smith & Wesson accepted a "code of conduct" for sales and distribution of handguns, restricting sales of its products "only to authorized dealers and distributors." Under one of several conditions included in the agreement, a dealer or distributor would have its contract with the manufacturer terminated if "a disproportionate number" of crimes were traced to the weapons it sells.

Of course, the company received something of considerable value in exchange for its commitments -- an agreement by the federal, state and local governments to dismiss pending suits against it or refrain from filing new suits. The administration had been threatening to bring a national lawsuit against the industry if arms manufacturers failed to enter negotiations to increase gun safety.

The agreement involves only Smith & Wesson -- so far. But the company is the biggest of the nation's eight major manufacturers, and the administration hopes that the other companies will follow Smith & Wesson's lead. They probably will.

Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo said that in the meantime the administration will go ahead with preparations for a possible lawsuit against the other manufacturers to keep the pressure on.

Cuomo told reporters, "We've heard the statistics many times...A rate of firearm deaths for children in this country 12 times higher than the other 25 industrialized countries combined. So we approached the process in the belief that reasonable gun manufacturers could sit stop the senseless gun violence."

And it's working.The announcement comes after a horrifying series of school and workplace shootings, including one that left a 6-year-old Michigan first-grader dead, allegedly at the hands of another child. This agreement won't end gun violence, but it should help considerably.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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