So, Vice President Mike "the only reason not to support impeachment" Pence gave a speech about China relations that heavily referenced Taiwan.
Despite having severe reservations about our "friends" on the right, I want to be happy about this. I want to laud robust support for Taiwan coming from the White House, because support in high places matters no matter what horrific woman-hating mouth-hole is shrieking it.
I mean, this is great:
And since last year alone, the Chinese Communist Party has convinced three Latin American nations to sever ties with Taipei and recognize Beijing. These actions threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait, and the United States of America condemns these actions.
It's wonderful, because it correctly names China as the agent of these actions, rather than implying that these issues just arose out of nowhere on their own, or are somehow Taiwan's fault. Of course, the media still jumped on this correct statement as evidence of the US "inflaming tensions" with China simply by stating what is true because their writing is bad and they should feel bad.
But, despite some small gems, I can't love this. It's clear from Pence's remarks that 'support for Taiwan' just equates to Taiwan being 'a better version of China'. He - and seemingly, a lot of people like him - don't support Taiwan because it is a unique entity forging its own path. They don't support Taiwan on its own terms as a safe, friendly, vibrant, (mostly) successful, developed democracy. They don't support it as 'Taiwan' at all.
They support it as an alternative model for 'all Chinese':
And while our administration will continue to respect our One China Policy, as reflected in the three joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act, America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people. (Applause.)
NO! NOT (APPLAUSE)! Don't applaud that!
While I think it would be great if other authoritarian countries in the region, including China, took note of Taiwan's success and realized it presented a better path, the fundamental reason shouldn't be that they are all "Chinese" - it should be because it is simply a better path, regardless of whether you come from China or Thailand or Vietnam or the Philippines or wherever.
That word "Chinese" doesn't mean what you think it means, anyway. I don't think it means anything at all: after all, what markers does 'being Chinese' carry? Being a citizen of the People's Republic? Well, Taiwanese aren't. So they're not Chinese then? Singaporean Chinese are not Chinese? Is it ethnic? Whatever it means to be Han - and it seems to mean very little - plenty of citizens of the PRC are not it: see - Tibetans and Uighurs, to name a few. Is it linguistic? Do you have any idea how many mutually unintelligible languages are spoken across what is referred to as 'Greater China'? At least two of them (possibly more) are not even Sinitic. Is it cultural? The cultural differences within China itself vary more than cultural differences across Europe. Is it history? Taiwan and China have a very different history. Southern and Northern China vary historically as well. Dynasties expanded and contracted, rose and fell, across very different swaths of 'Chinese' territory, leaving very different histories for the people of those places. Tibetan and Uighur history are likewise unique. So what does it mean to be Chinese?
In any case, the One China Policy may simply mean that the US acknowledges that China claims Taiwan, but does not necessarily support said claim, doesn't fix this either. Despite various assurances, it is still a policy that:
a.) considers China's feelings on Taiwan to be as important as the Taiwanese people's feelings about their own country
b.) was crafted during a time when Taiwanese had no say in what their government claimed as the Republic of China, and as such is outdated; and
c.) still fundamentally assumes that Taiwan is ultimately, in some way, Chinese, even if it is not a part of China. It's a really weird thing to untangle but basically the Shanghai Communique, where the One China policy is outlined, doesn't say that the US considers Taiwan 'a part of China', but that 'Chinese' people in both Taiwan and China do.
So in theory, this means the US doesn't necessarily recognize that the ultimate future of Taiwan is as a part of China, but is also inaccurate in the 21st century - Taiwanese don't even think they are 'Chinese' let alone agree that 'Taiwan is a part of China', and they have not felt that way for some time. So, continuing to abide by it may make diplomatic sense but doesn't do justice to the world as it is today and certainly misrepresents the Taiwan side.
Even when one could say that the majority of Taiwanese identified as 'Chinese' - which has not been the case for awhile - it was in a period immediately following a long-term effort by a military dictatorship from China to convince them through education and destruction of local and historical cultural symbols that this was the case (what, you think banning the Taiwanese language from schools and actively destroying most Japanese-era shrines in Taiwan were unintentional acts? They were not).
Some may be tempted to point to the fabricated 1992 Consensus, stating that Taiwan and China "agree" that there is "one China". We have to remember, however, that not only does the '1992 Consensus' not exist (there was no consensus in any meaningful sense of the word and the term itself was made up long after the fact), but that even if it did, the representatives from Taiwan who were sent to those meetings in 1992 were sent by a government which was not yet fully democratically elected. They did not represent the people of Taiwan - so nothing discussed in those meetings could possibly reflect the actual views of Taiwan as a modern democratic nation. In fact, nobody has ever asked the people of Taiwan if they actually want to be governed by the "Republic of China", even in the democratic era.
Therefore, if you still abide by the notion that both Taiwan and China agree that there is one China and Taiwan is a part of it, and you refer to Taiwanese as just another kind of Chinese who set a good example for their brethren across the Taiwan Strait, you're not an ally in a way that's actually good for Taiwan long-term.
I can't say, then, that Mike Pence is truly on our side. More likely, his vision of the future involves a democratized China (but not a liberalized one - Pence is no liberal) that has a happy 'reunion' with Taiwan and they all sing and dance in their conical hats to gong music in their cute little Chinese country because they are all Chinese so of course they are in one country because that's how countries work.
Oh yeah, and in this conservative fantasy, they hate the gays and are super regressive on women's issues because the socially conservative Chinese majority will overwhelm more progressive-thinking Taiwan on these issues.
So no - if you think the future of Taiwan is fundamentally 'Chinese', then you may be an ally of someone, but it isn't Taiwan.
Anyway, moving on.
Chinese authorities have also threatened U.S. companies that depict Taiwan as a distinct geographic entity, or that stray from Chinese policy on Tibet. Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a “province of China” on its website. And it pressured Marriott to fire a U.S. employee who merely liked a tweet about Tibet.
I want to like this, but "distinct geographic entity" feels like a flaccid half-stab in place of what should have been a robust, thwacking "country" or "nation". Can't complain too much though - it's something.
I'm less concerned with what this means within the Trump administration. I don't agree that it's a "split" within the White House, because the White House has not been coherent enough on its Asia policy in general for there to even be a split. From Little Rocket Man to "we fell in love", from photo ops with Xi Jinping to "they're interfering in our election", from the phone call to indicating that Taiwan may be a bargaining chip to this, the only thing consistent about current US policy in Asia is that it's kind of screwed up and nothing can be taken as a rock-solid guarantee. In an environment like that, there are so many cracks and signs of strain, I don't see how a split, if it exists, would even matter.
And that's just it. I welcome warming relations, even from absolutely terrible people and weirdos who may not be murderers but just, like, seem like murderers? Y'know? But I want those warming relations to come from an administration that, regardless of how much I hate them, is at least consistent and dependable. I know, I know, a consistent, dependable administration likely wouldn't dare to make a massive change in US policy towards China and Taiwan. But a girl can dream.
As a friend pointed out, the veep can't take any public position on the sovereignty of other territories. He indicated that this speech sets the stage for the normalization of relations between Taiwan and the US in the future, and that would be huge.
But I don't feel particularly great about that, not because I don't want good things to come from a bad administration (we have so few good things these days, I'll take them from just about anywhere), but because it's not a trustworthy administration.
On top of that, it's an administration that is not just talking about the One China Policy for diplomatic effect, but proactively talking about Taiwan as a model for China, as though it were one part of a greater whole that was doing well, which other parts could learn from. In a pan-Asian context, sure. Taiwan is part of Asia. In a pan-China context, I gotta say, the twentieth century called and they want their talk about "Free China" back.
And I just can't get behind that, or even put a drop of faith in it.