Tuesday, August 15, 2017

OK, Stephen Yates didn't really say a stupid thing

...but I still don't totally agree with him.

When I wrote my original reaction to this piece in the Taipei Times, I was - and I said this outright - taking the writer, Tom Lee, at his word that these were direct quotes of Yates's, and assuming he would not "make it up out of whole cloth".

It seems I was wrong: he didn't totally make it up, but the mistranslation is pretty damn bad and in many cases, Yates said nearly the opposite of what was quoted:

Watch for yourselves:

Stephen Yates and Tom Lee discuss Taiwan independence (mostly in Chinese - listen from about 13-19 minutes).

He did not say "Taiwanese do not deserve independence" - he said that Taiwanese, at least the leaders, need to be willing to trade "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor". He didn't say all Taiwanese ought to be willing to trade their lives, he said there needs to be a "consensus" (and specifically mentioned leaders).

Mea culpa: I did actually attempt to fact-check the original article. I'm not so lackadaisical. However, my searching did not turn up this video. Perhaps it's because I didn't know Tom Lee's Chinese name (I know a lot of Taiwan advocates, but not too many in the older generation, to be honest.) I certainly didn't know Stephen Yates's Chinese name, and why would I? So, it seemed clear to me at the time that there was no video, that Tom and Stephen talked but it wasn't recorded. This turned out to be wrong.

But, the fault is mine here in that I know a fair number of people who would know these things, and I could have and should have asked around rather than relying on a few searches. As a matter of fact, I was sent the video recently to watch for myself.

I also will admit to having a strong anti-conservative bias, and nonsense like "you should be willing to die for your freedom and your country!" sounds to me like typical conservative talk. In this case, it was not fair, however, and I'll cop to that. However, I stand by my concerns that Taiwan having mostly conservative/GOP allies in the US is going to be a problem eventually, as most (not all, but most) Taiwan advocates in Taiwan tend toward the liberal/progressive/leftist end of the spectrum, and frankly, that is the future that I think Taiwan is headed towards, as it is not the "conservative" society you may have been led to believe. I am not, and will not be, comfortable with this group being our main bastion of US support and it is a key reason why I am not more involved. I just can't work with people whose party is also working to take away my rights to things like reproductive health care in the US. I do feel this way, and I make no apologies.

Side note: I was also pleased to see that my Chinese seems - just from this video - to be at about a similar level to Stephen Yates's, which is nice considering that I am almost entirely self-taught (I placed into intermediate classes at Shi-da years ago and quit in annoyance at the poor materials and teaching methods I encountered).

So, while my original comments stand vis-a-vis the idea that "Taiwan does not deserve independence/the Taiwanese should be willing to trade their lives for it", that is simply not what he said.

I actually agree with him vis-a-vis the need for a consensus on independence. I actually do think a majority support it (and this is borne out by a plenty of research), and if I were to only ask friends and even acquaintances I'd get a very pro-independence response, because those are the people I hang out with. But I am quite aware that there is a deep division among politicians. The KMT still has some supporters, somewhere, I guess, and the KMT leadership is not even remotely ready to join a consensus on the future of Taiwan. I have met people who, while not pro-unification per se, think it's inevitable and have accepted this fact, and don't seem terribly perturbed by it. I'm not sure if they fully understand what it would mean for them, but there you are. The current upswing of Taiwanese identity and pro-Taiwan sentiment needs to continue, and to win over the great, big, uncaring middle demographic as the old deep blue guard dies off. Then, maybe, we can get somewhere.

There are a few areas where I still don't fully agree with Yates, however. First, it's easy to talk about what one's forefathers did - but unless you yourself are willing to also trade your "life, fortune and sacred honor" for your freedom, you have no place telling others that this is a necessary attitude. Is he? I don't know, but considering some of the people he's worked for, I'm not so sure.

Secondly, I reserve a lot of skepticism for the idea that Taiwan's situation is similar to America's leading up to 1776. Taiwan is already independent. America's leaders at that time were fighting for a real change in how their nation, as they saw it, was governed. Taiwan is fighting simply to be recognized for what it already is. Is it fair to say people should be willing to sacrifice their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" for what is effectively no change in their day-to-day lives beyond the international community recognizing what is already true? Seems a bit much, no?

The problem here is not with the Taiwanese - a need for consensus not withstanding - it's with the international community. In any case, I believe that all people deserve freedom, even those who are not willing to give up these things for it.

I also remain skeptical that this sort of change would really do much for Taiwan without precipitating a war. As I mentioned - and I stand by this - the international media jumps on Taiwan for every little thing, even when Taiwan has done nothing wrong (or, in fact, has made the right call). When China gets aggressive, "tensions" are spoken of in the passive voice, with no agent, as though they appeared out of thin air.

If Taiwan reaches this consensus on its future, and advertises as much, China will rattle its saber and the media will be quick to, once again, blame Taiwan (or blame some ghostly, apparently naturally-occurring 'tensions' - anyone but China). Governments will follow suit. It will help in that it will present a united front from Taiwan that the world can't ignore, making it harder to plausibly say "but it's a complicated issue, not all Taiwanese agree", but I'm not sure it will change much.

A friend of mine included - though I did not hear Yates say this - that the US, when it declared independence, did so because there was an internal consensus to do so among American leaders, and they did not ask the international community for help. As far as I'm aware that's not the case - they sent Benjamin Franklin to France to drum up support, and the war likely would not have been won without it. It is no different for Taiwan. They can't win this alone.

As for the independence advocates we already have among Taiwan's leaders, I can assure you that the older generation was willing to give up their reputations (many went to jail), their fortunes (many left their lives behind to flee to the US) and their lives (many died) for Taiwan, and the younger generation is just as passionate. There is no need to convince them.

But, while I'm not totally on board with everything he said here, it's certainly a lot more reasonable and nuanced than what Tom Lee wrote, and deserves to be heard on its own merits.

1 comment:

Nathaniel Dahl said...

I agree that the aspect of Republicans being more strident supporters of Taiwan than Democrats is a problem. It seems contradictory that a party that stands for civil liberties, open elections, a free press, equality, fairness, and even universal healthcare would be less passionate and vocal about Taiwan than the party of Donald Trump.

I believe there is an explanation, however, and it lies in history. There is a long-standing state of antipathy between the Western liberal establishment and the Republic of China. Even though Taiwan's citizens have completely transformed Taiwan from a regressive dictatorship into the most democratic and open society in southeast Asia, while China remains as undemocratic and un-free as ever, western intellectuals seem to still favor China. Apparently, Taiwan conjures up in them bitter memories of those "reactionary" forces in the American government of the early '50's that propped up the rotten Chiang dictatorship (even calling it "Free China") and provided it with military protection as part of an effort to contain Mainland China behind a Western-imposed bamboo curtain. They believe that this, and not the radical policies of Mao was the cause of the early economic failures and suffering in China. If the USA had recognized the PRC in 1949, then China wouldn't have given its approval to North Korea to invade the South, Taiwan would have been assimilated, China would have joined UN and trade between China and the West would have flourished much earlier, and none of the "bad" things (famine, failure, starvation, etc...) would have occurred.

Even today, liberals tend to narrow their eyes a bit when Taiwan's many progressive accomplishments are waved in their faces. They make excuses - "It's only a small island - tiny compared with Mainland China, so of course they can do things that wouldn't work in such a vast, diverse society as China." Really? At the same time, they are receptive to China's line that its elaborate system of strict censorship and prohibitions is a reasonable and necessary aspect of, "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics", and that China's glorious "rise" wouldn't have been possible without single-party rule. They tend to feel bad (and to insist that every westerner should feel bad) about the "Century of Humiliation" and allow to go unchallenged CCP propaganda claiming that Taiwan's reunification with the Mainland is "demanded by the Chinese people to fully restore their national pride", etc...

What Taiwan needs now more than ever are more young people like you to speak up - to educate the American public on the issues and what is at stake, to communicate with their congresspeople back home, and do whatever they can to nudge the liberal political establishment away from these outdated, illogical and dangerous biases.