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Viewed From Afar

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
October 15, 2009
South China Morning Post

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When told I had criticised the Taiwan government's recent decision to bar Rebiya Kadeer from visiting the island, Taiwan's new prime minister, Wu Den-yih, remarked: "People who do not live in our land may not understand ... and need not take any responsibility. We respect their comments but do not necessarily adopt all of them." This polite putdown deserves reflection.

Of course, a foreign observer rarely appreciates the interests of a country in the same way as the country's leaders and citizens do. But should that preclude foreign criticism or exempt the target government from giving a well-reasoned explanation of its actions? The standing of the United States in world opinion - confirmed by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama - has been immeasurably improved thanks to Obama's reaction to the hail of foreign criticism of his predecessor's policies. George W. Bush's administration had frequently condemned such criticism as the irresponsible carping of outsiders who did not understand or support US interests.

Politicians and commentators frequently stoke nationalistic feelings in brushing off foreigners and sometimes dismiss foreign critics as sinister or condescending.

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