Monday, May 14, 2018

The Contortions of a Dove in Hawk's Clothing

Guard the alley, cat. 

Taiwan makes me contort myself in weird ways.

I don't mean living here, I'm pretty used to that. I mean in figuring out how the hell to reconcile my international political beliefs.

Because I'm not an expert in IR (having majored in it in undergrad 16 years ago doesn't count) I'm not going to try to analyze anything. I'm just going to say - so many people seem to think all of these  Korea-focused summits between Moon, Kim, Trump, Xi in various permutations are fantastic, and I too would love to be on the side of discussion, negotiation and diplomacy carrying the day toward peace and nuclear non-proliferation. I'm a liberal, right? We're foreign policy doves, are we not?
This is better than troops stationed for decades in foreign countries, nuclear tests, threat of war and ever-increasing military spending, is it not?

I'm not so sure of either.

The dove in me would love to see fewer American troops stationed abroad. The realist in me knows that Kim wants this, Trump is already talking about it, Xi definitely wants it, but it would be terrible for Taiwan. Mostly, I'm afraid that this is Xi's game: fewer US troops in the region that could potentially be deployed quickly is a clear strategic advantage for China and its designs on Taiwan. To continue the strongest possible deterrent to Chinese attack on Taiwan, I have to be in favor of continuing to station (and pay for) US troops in South Korea. I have to set myself against de-escalation and for the (heavily militarized) status quo.

I don't like that one bit. It goes against everything I believe in otherwise. But I also believe in Taiwan and have no doubt that deterring Chinese designs on Taiwan is not only the right thing to do, it's essential.

It is clear to me that the person who benefits from Trump looking like he's doing some good is Xi. He knows Trump is a paper tiger in most respects who can't be controlled but can be played, whose saber-rattling only makes China look like a victim when it isn't one (he is probably more worried about Trump's pro-Taiwan advisors, but also knows Trump people can and do get fired all the time).

The person who benefits from a US troop withdrawal in South Korea, in terms of regional influence? Xi. (I'd say "China" but it's all run by Xi anyway). The person who benefits from a denuclearized North Korea (if that actually happens, which I doubt - North Korea wouldn't be willing to talk if it didn't think it already had a deterrent to US attack, has broken promises after negotiating concessions), and from it seeming as though the region is peaceful and therefore there is no reason to maintain US influence at current levels? Xi. The person who benefits if the rest of the world decides Taiwan is not geostrategically important enough because Asia is quiet? Xi. Who keeps meeting with Kim with timings so fortuitous that they're practically announcing who is directing the "North Korea is suddenly playing nice" train? Xi.

Who is Taiwan's greatest enemy? Xi. Not the CCP (though they're pretty bad), not China. Xi. He’s not the next Mao Zedong. Mao had (messed up) ideals. He’s the next Chiang Kai-shek: ruthless, amoral, immoral, power-hungry, and weirdly obsessed with Taiwan.

It terrifies me that the small country that always breaks promises is being directed - and I do believe they are - by a big country that always breaks promises, which has designs on the country I live in and love. It terrifies me that so many people think peace always benefits everyone and that all players are honest and well-intentioned, when they are not, and the peace these people broker now could well lead to a war for Taiwan's continued freedom later.

But winning the hearts and minds of my fellow Western doves means convincing them that US military presence in Asia has more pros than cons and what looks on the surface like ‘peace’ actually isn’t. Good luck with that.

Granted, I don't think a troop drawdown in Korea is the only thing standing between Taiwan and China. We have troops elsewhere too and influence can mean as much as military might. It's more that every drop of US defensive capability that disappears from Asia is one drop less that China might have to contend with if it invades Taiwan (and it knows it). Every bit less of US influence in Asia is a bit more influence that China wins. Besides, troop drawdowns in S. Korea also affect Japan - this won't be good for Japan either if what I think is going on actually is.

I know this sounds a lot like wanting to keep letting the US run the show around the world rather than letting Asia (and Asians) manage their own affairs - and that too makes me as uncomfortable as doing a crazy yoga position. I don't particularly like US global hegemony, it was created to serve US interests, not the interests of the world as a whole.

But peace isn't always what it appears to be - you can bet Xi wants increasing power (and territory) in Asia to look "peaceful" so the West will stay away. Destruction can be rebuilt from - avoiding it is not always the top priority. CCP oppression is forever.

And so I'm stuck being a hawk even though I really, really don't want to be.


Ilya said...

Jenna, this is not the first time I'm afraid you're a bit idealizing Mao Zedong. To my best knowledge and understanding, he was at least everything you said about CKS - ruthless, amoral, immoral, power-hungry; and very probably even worse than CKS in these aspects. I don't think he had any real ideals, at least no more than any regular politician. He had a lot of *ideas*, certainly so, but ideals? Well, if his own personality cult could count an such.

Mao might have not been as obsessed with Taiwan as Xi clearly is, but the military buildup against Taiwan has started early in the Mao times. Mao's close associate, Zhou Enlai, was trying to negotiate with the US and the UN that they accept Taiwan as a part of China. Mao was certainly having an eye on Taiwan.

I'd also like to comment on your previous mentioning of Mao that he allegedly improved China's situation of women's rights. I must confess I don't know much about this topic, but as far as I'm concerned there were only a few women in Mao's CCP. Mao might have made women 'more equal' with men than they were before, only in the sense that he made the situation of men and women equally terrible. In any case, the pre-Mao China in terms of human rights is quite a low beacon already, so even if Mao had indeed made any improvement over it, I doubt he deserves much credit for that.

Jenna Cody said...

When on Earth have I "idealized" Mao? I'm no Communist, I can't stand the Chinese government/CCP, and I'm quite sure that he was one of the worst things to happen to China. Of course he was a power-hungry madman who basically destroyed China for 1-2 generations and is a part of why it's so horrible today.

When I say "Ideals", I don't mean that in a positive sense. All I mean is that all of the fucked-up nonsense he imposed on China was likely stuff he actually believed in on some level. That's it. Whereas I don't even think CKS had that. A lot of people default to "they were both awful but Mao was worse". Well, yes, Mao inflicted more damage overall. But I don't like seeing people idealizing CKS.

Mao had an eye on Taiwan but, my point here is, CKS was weirdly obsessed with it even before WWII, even before he had any power, at a time when his proselytizing about "re-taking Taiwan" was little more than soapboxing to people (like Sun Yat-sen) who simply weren't interested in what they saw as a Japanese territory. As far as I know Mao never did that. That's my point.

Regarding women - exactly. I never made a value judgment on his making society better. Obviously he did not. But women were more equal *relative to men* than they had been, and that's the point.

Basically, you are reading ideas or opinions of mine into this that honestly are not there.

Jenna Cody said...

I'd have to find the source, but when I say CKS was more obsessed with Taiwan than Mao, I also mean that after Mao tried and failed to take Taiwan, there was (so I have read) a period where he gave up and admitted that maybe the PRC should just let Taiwan go (though his underlings and successors clearly didn't necessarily agree). There was a period when China would have allowed Taiwan to be in the UN and the Olympics as "Taiwan", though not the ROC - the people keeping that from happening were the Chiangs, especially Chiang Kai-shek who simply could not abide it. In the beginning, the government that could not accept countries recognizing both the ROC and the PRC was primarily the ROC/the Chiangs (that sure has changed). This is what I'm talking about, and I will try to find sources to confirm it, as it's stored in my memory but where it came from is not clear.

Ilya said...

Dear Jenna, please accept my apologies for my very unfortunate comment, it was written by someone who've got too little sleep recently. I've read your blog much enough to know that you're quite far from being a Communist. My original intention was to challenge your wording (especially the paragraph "Who is Taiwan's greatest enemy?"), not your political position which I believe is not far from my own, but now I see that my own wording created much more misunderstanding than it intended to solve.

Likewise, you don't actually need to persuade me that CKS was no better than MZD, although it's quite hard to compare evil on that scale. I am of course aware that Chiang was a vocal advocate and very possibly the inventor of the "one China" policy which eventually lead to the Resolution 2758. Just like in a similar way, it is primarily the KMT, albeit not CKS himself (he was already dead at the time) that should be credited for inventing such an idiocy as "Chinese Taipei" (source: Wiki "Chinese Taipei"). In fact, personally, I'm anything but a fan of The Peanut, I fully agree that it was mostly himself who created the problems that still plague Taiwan today, and he deserves nothing but condemnation for that.

I believe we really have nothing to argue about regarding these points, so I am sincerely sorry for posting a poorly thought-over comment above.

Jenna Cody said...

No worries <3