Saturday, November 5, 2022

The anti-war position, and what I no longer hear


I'm not here to start a war with China. This should be obvious. My anti-war position ought not to be considered unconventional, and yet it so often is.

What do I mean? Well, to me, the only sensible anti-war position for Taiwan is to porcupine itself into an undesirable conquest for China -- call it "avoiding war by preparing for war" if you want, but I consider it to be "making the attack that China has fixated on seem as untenable and costly as possible".

This is especially vital when it's become apparent that there is no diplomatic solution acceptable to both China and Taiwan. China will only accept complete authority over Taiwan. Taiwan will never accept any Chinese authority over its sovereignty. There's no middle ground; one side isn't going to get what they want and if we care at all about democratic norms and human rights, that side must be China.

It also means engaging with the international community through any channels that present themselves. This means engagement with the much-reviled United States and normalizing visits from high-level officials. 

It means noticing the difference in China's tone when it's an official visitor they assume the world won't care about, vs. Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi's visit didn't antagonize China: China chose to act aggrievèd when they could have simply...not. If China got poked in the eye, then they picked up the stick and did it to themselves.

It means doing these things even as China whorls and wails and fustigates in anguish that the world would dare to disagree with them that Taiwan is not, indeed, their territory.

If anything deters China from an attempt at brutal annexation, it will be these steps. Preparation, international solidarity, normalization of Taiwan's status (including through unofficial channels), standing firm as the shills and quislings crackle and wail in despair. 

Don't back down, do prepare yourselves, don't let China decide the shape of the fight because they will certainly red-line you into a corner: this is the anti-war position. 

What's the pro-war position -- the support for a series of events that will certainly lead to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? Appeasing the CPC. Respecting every red line it throws down as sacrosanct. Moving away from international engagement because it's always a "move likely to anger China", not challenging China's attempt to dominate the discourse and lexis of how the world talks about Taiwan ("split in 1949" and "reunification" reporters, I am indeed looking right at you.) Taiwan not preparing itself because that "raises tensions". Insisting that Taiwan's current sovereignty does not constitute independence, when it absolutely does.

This is often cloaked in the language of "engaging China" or "diplomatic solutions" It's called the "anti-war" position, but it's the opposite. It's really just appeasement -- letting China draw its lines wherever it wants like a sugared-up kid with an Etch-a-Sketch and a bad attitude. Telling Taiwan to make itself metaphorically smaller as the lines cut closer, because keeping what it already has also "raises tensions". And somehow, someway, that's read as Taiwan's fault. 

You want a bloody subjugation of Taiwan? Because all that appeasement is exactly how you get it.

All that said, imagine my utter lack of surprise when people -- and this has happened more than once -- shoot back that people like me, with the true anti-war position, are encouraging the war machine over a conflict we won't be fighting, in a nation we won't be defending. 

There's an easy parry for me, personally: it's wrong. I fully intend to stay and defend Taiwan. I'm not sure how, as I'm not much of a fighter, but surely volunteers will be needed to grow sweet potatoes, make Molotovs and do basic nursing. 

But there's a more difficult moral divide here that I'm not sure gets explored enough: the whole insult -- you want to plunge Taiwan into war when you won't be around to fight that war -- begs the question. It assumes that people like me (pro-Taiwan long-term foreigners) generally advocate for war.

But we don't. 

Appeasement is far more likely to lead to that conflict than deterrence. Appeasement is quite literally easing China's way toward invasion. We know this because China, not the US or Taiwan, will start that war when they feel that victory is achievable. Why make it easier for the CPC?

I might not feel this way if a diplomatic solution existed, but none does. So either China is deterred, or there is a war. I prefer that China be deterred: the anti-war position.

There's a third problem, too: deciding to stay and fight or escape is morally fraught. Less so for me -- I don't have children I'd need to get to safety, and my loved ones in the US are well cared-for. But I do worry about how I would be able to afford to live in a war-torn land where I am not a citizen, presumably when my job's just been blown up. I don't have local relatives to help out. I do have friends, but they'll have their own stresses. And it is a rather larger commitment than most people realize: pledging to defend a country that doesn't offer most long-termers dual nationality, which it readily extends to ROC citizens.

And yet, I've said I'll fight, and I stick by that. Perhaps it's wise to stop judging others, though: they have their own moral compasses, and you don't know their circumstances. 

It doesn't do anyone any good to get finger-waggy at long-termers in Taiwan as though it's assumed we'll all run. You don't know what life circumstances are guiding everyone's decisions.

Finally, when long-termers in Taiwan say they believe in international engagement (yes, including with some dodgy people), a strong defense and an understanding that the only way to win the CCP's "red line temper tantrum" games is not to play them, they are echoing the Taiwanese government line. 

I hope you believe that Taiwan can govern itself competently and has the intelligence on the Chinese government that it needs to make these kinds of decisions. So, when foreigners in Taiwan say that China is the aggressor, scoffs at diplomacy, and cannot be trusted, there's a reason for it. We've been living through what that attitude looks like.

We may not be echoing analysts in other countries who have some blinkered ideas about the power of diplomacy with a genocidal dictatorship, but we are echoing stance of the Tsai administration, and the majority of Taiwanese who do say they'll fight. This may not be a reliable indicator of who would actually be on the front lines, but it is a decent gauge of the extent to which Taiwanese people do not want to simply hand their country to China or compromise on their sovereignty.

With all this in mind, I've decided that I simply do not hear this any longer. You want to say I wouldn't fight for Taiwan? Or that any long-termer wouldn't, and thus forfeits the right to an opinion you don't like (but which happens to be in line with the Taiwanese government stance)? 

I think that's stupid, but I won't tell you what you can and can't say.

Yet I'm not interested in hearing it. I expect writing this won't stop people from holding silly opinions, but they're gonna 左耳進右耳出, and that's that. 


roentare said...

Beckoning power of Taiwan is so little as a weak entity, sandwiched among the powerful nations with no choices of being obedient to one another.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Yeah, it's unfortunate. I'd love to say "Taiwan doesn't need to engage that much with the US, we can just say no to squicky allies!" but that's not the world we live in. And it sucks, but I'd rather Taiwan survive.

funnytoss said...

I think commentators focus way too much on fighting by picking up a rifle. This is, of course necessary, but fending off China is much more than that.

If a war happens, you need amateur radio enthusiasts to help keep communications going if internet gets cut off. You need people who can drive supplies where they're needed; no military training is needed for that. You need people to do everything they can to keep civil society running in a self-sufficent way, so the government can focus on fighting without babysitting civilians. There are so many things we could be preparing and improving, that I'm wary our framing of "everyone a warrior" overlooks. We can all contribute in many ways!

Harald Dahl said...

Wonderful piece, thank you, Jenna, for adding clarity to this very important but poorly understood issue of our times.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I agree! That's why I probably would end up being a supply driver, nurse, sweet potato farmer, Molotov maker...not exactly a fighter. But Taiwan will need those things too. My main worry is being a burden on the Taiwanese government (I don't want to be babysat, I want to help) and being able to afford to stay (I don't have local family to turn to if my job goes up in smoke and I have no resources.) Aiding the defense effort is absolutely not the issue and I think foreign commentators who get snotty about long-termers caring about Taiwan's defense (like that one guy I can't stand) don't realize this.