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I had just sat down for what would be a wide-ranging one hour conversation with Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's leader from 1988-2000. From the windows of his 37th floor private office, the sprawling city of Taipei stretched far off to the horizon. One of Asia's shrewder and most enigmatic politicians, Lee almost single-handedly turned the tables on his own authoritarian party (the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Koumintang) and ushered in Taiwan's modern democracy. A rough-and-tumble democracy it may be. It is arguably the healthiest democracy in Asia!
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The first words out of Lee's mouth, before I had a chance to reach for my first sip of green tea, were: "So, how is my good friend, Frank Murkowski?"
President Lee made his first visit to the USA in 1995, while he was president of Taiwan. It was widely billed as a visit to his alma mater, Cornell University. The Clinton administration had opposed granting him a visa. This was the same Bill Clinton who, during his presidential campaign, excoriated President George H. W. Bush for "coddling tyrants from Beijing to Baghdad." Clinton was now kow-towing to Beijing, but with the House on record 396-0 and the Senate 97-1 in favor of granting the visa and having granted visas to the likes of Irish Republican Army "terrorist" Gerry Adams and the PLO's Yasser Arafat, it was hard to deny a democratically elected president. Clinton relented. Lee flew to Syracuse, N.Y.
President Lee's plane stopped to refuel in Anchorage. Gov. Tony Knowles had the moral courage to personally greet him.
"I tried to keep it under the radar," the former governor Knowles told me recently, "but they found out about it."
Deborah Bonito confirmed to me in a phone call after the visit that the Knowles administration had been hit with the usual flak from Beijing. Later during Lee's visit, missiles were fired toward Taiwan.
In Syracuse, Clinton's subservient State Department tried to keep Lee's plane on the far side of the runway - away from the throng of reporters and supporters waiting to greet him. The mayor of Syracuse was furious and overruled them! Three U.S. senators came up from Washington, D.C., to greet Lee in Syracuse: Jesse Helms, Alphonse D'Amato, and Frank Murkowski.
Communist China (a.k.a. The People's Republic of China, Mainland China, etc.) has long pursued a policy of divide-and-conquer against Taiwan, attempting to isolate the island nation into oblivion. Corporate America, where integrity, morality, and ethics have long been in chronically short supply, has gone along with this, stiff-arming Taiwan as leaders salivate over the potential profits to be made in mainland China's booming economy.
As Alaska's governor, Frank Murkowski visibly and publicly hosted both Lee and Taiwan's current President Chen Shui-bian, on high profile visits to Alaska. And he even hosted the Dalai Lama, Tibet's temporal and spiritual leader! Entire nations (Russia, South Korea, Australia, and Belgium - to name a few) have yielded to Chinese pressure and denied His Holiness the Dalai Lama a visa.
Isaac Edwards reminded me in a recent phone call from Washington, D.C. that, as senator and governor, Frank Murkowski maintained good relations with Beijing. This is as it should be. It throws the ball back in Beijing's court.
When I met my future wife in Nome several years ago I mistook her for an Eskimo.
"What village are you from?" I asked her. "Taiwan," she replied. "Taiwan is not an Eskimo village, Taiwan is China," I said. When I shared this anecdote with the larger-than-life former president of Taiwan he smiled stiffly, then pointed a finger at me and said, "Taiwan is Taiwan, and China is China." Frank Murkowski understood this. More should.
William M. Cox lives in Nome and is a radiologist at Norton Sound Regional Hospital.