Paul Greenberg

Let us begin with this one fact, for it may be the only thing that is clear in all the diplomatic fog that has settled over this Chinese puzzle:

Joseph Wu is an envoy.

I know that much. He walks, he talks, he looks like a diplomat. It takes me a good half-hour of asking dumb questions for him to show even the slightest trace of exasperation. Yes, he's definitely a diplomat. He speaks at least a couple of languages. (I can vouch for the quality of his English, though not his Chinese.)

To top it off, after our cordial interview during the afternoon, Mr. Wu was the guest of honor at a reception and birthday party for him at the Embassy Suites here in Little Rock. And it was held in The Envoy Room! That cinches it. The man is definitely an envoy, a credentialed representative of the government of...

Well, that's where the confusion sets in. He's an envoy, all right, but an envoy from where? From a country with no formally, officially, universally recognized name. It's now known as Taiwan/Taipei/Republic of China or whatever you prefer to call that large land mass with a population of 23 million between the Chinese mainland and the Philippines.

The regime on the mainland is called the People's Republic of China, which is another conundrum. For that regime is certainly not the people's, nor a republic, nor does it encompass all Chinese. Its name is triply contrary to fact, as in the Holy Roman Empire of medieval times.

Words are wonderfully elastic things, extending even beyond the bounds of belief, yet wars have been fought over them. Thankfully, only a verbal war is now under way between the two Chinas - although at last count the "people's republic" on the mainland had something like a thousand missiles pointed at Taiwan. But for now the two sides are throwing only communiques at each other. Every rally produces a counter-rally, every gesture its opposite but equally heated response.

The object of diplomacy should be to keep this conflict only verbal, which is why the thicker the word-fog, the better. Words become fighting words when they get specific. The longer this dispute remains one over terminology, the longer it can be cushioned by words, words, words - like a grenade swaddled in layers of soft asbestos.

At this point, it would take a Lewis Carroll to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland vocabulary in which this dispute is conducted. Consider: Not long ago the Communist regime on the mainland (which is now deep into capitalism) passed an anti-secession ordinance against Taiwan/Taipei/Republic of China/Insert Your Own Name of Choice Here.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.