Showing posts with label 1992_consensus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1992_consensus. Show all posts

Monday, December 24, 2018

"Naturally independent" doesn't mean what it should

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So, I'm meant to be on vacation after a long slog to finish a huge paper - that's why Lao Ren Cha has been quiet for most of November and December - but I really just feel like writing this.

Much of this idea has been bouncing around in my head for awhile, although it really came together through a conversation over mediocre stir-fry and all you can drink beer with Frozen Garlic. So I'm not sure where my thoughts end and his begin, but then, that's also the beauty of political discussion.

When I heard the occasional cry of "the Sunflower Movement is dead!" after the election last month, at first I felt annoyed. Was it really? Perhaps the massive groundswell of broad support that progressive causes seemed to suddenly be capable of garnering was ephemeral, but the movement itself, to me, lived on. Although the Sunflowers embodied a strong anti-KMT sentiment, one can't really judge the staying power of the Sunflower ethos by whether or not DPP wins elections. The Sunflower Movement may have been an anti-KMT movement, but it wasn't a pro-DPP one.

In any case, a lot of other progressive causes whose mainstream debate blossomed post-2014 have also been pushed forward, though perhaps not as far as we'd hoped. In fact, I noted a number of "Fuck The Government" and other Sunflower-inspired sartorial choices among the marriage equality crowds, creating a tangible visual connection between the two movements.


But...I'm beginning to see the ways it might be true that the 2014 light is dimming, and the shadows of Taiwan's pre-2014 problems growing longer once again, and I know there is some sentiment in activist circles that their efforts have not borne fruit as they'd wished.

Probably one of the key shifts in 2014 was an uptick in the prominence of a "naturally independent" mindset (which the Sunflowers themselves certainly embodied, but it runs deeper than them). That is, the generation of Taiwanese youth, some now well into adulthood, who grew up in the post-authoritarian era and who perceive Taiwanese independence to be so obvious that it is not even a matter of debate.

That hasn't changed; "naturally independent" sentiments remain strong in 2018. But it seemed clear in 2014 that such a mindset included the understanding that if Taiwan was going to be independent, that it would have to reckon not with the relationship it wished it had with China, but with the one it actually had. ECFA and CSSTA were both predicated on the assumption of a safe, fair, unthreatening relationship with a large neighbor state that bore no ill will, and could therefore be negotiated with. It took the Sunflowers to wake the rest of the country up to how untrue these assumptions were, and how threatening China really was. They taught us that the only way to win a game with China is not to play (whether it be word games or economic agreements).

I - and many others, including the friend I had this conversation with - had hoped that people would continue to consider all possible dealings with China through this lens, and wisely choose not to play their game. As I've written, for a brief glimmer of a moment, society at large seemed to understand this.

Sadly, that time seems to have passed. Instead, "naturally independent" seems to once again mean that, because Taiwan is obviously independent, that it can have a relationship with China on its terms. That as it is a normal sovereign state, it can negotiate with China as one.

To take that further, this mindset that China's designs on Taiwan don't matter often translates into a belief that political parties also don't matter because "they're both pretty bad" so "we may as well choose the one who says they can kickstart the economy".

Nevermind that the latter party advocates playing China's game, and sees Taiwan's ultimate fate as being Chinese. That's not important apparently, because "that will never happen, of course Taiwan is independent, we just need to do something about the economy"...I guess? It is so clear to this group of "naturally independent" people that either sliding into an economically dependent death spiral (which is China's real plan) or violent forcible annexation (that'd be China's back-up plan if the death spiral thing doesn't pan out) are unthinkable and therefore...there is no need to think about them. Sadly, they are wrong.


When you slide back into that sort of complacency, electing mayors who openly support (and believe in the existence of) the so-called 1992 Consensus, who are eager to set up cross-strait inter-city ties in defiance of the national government's more restrained China policy, who claim they will "do deals even with North Korea!" like Big Uncle Dirk Han Kuo-yu, to basically think that the KMT's pro-China policy isn't worth considering because it doesn't matter...that's an easy slide further into playing China's game again. That we will never win this game seems to be viewed as irrelevant.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also the "naturally independent" folks who are so pro-Taiwan that they are also abandoning the DPP, because they see any party that doesn't make a beeline for immediate de jure independence and promise to quickly dismantle the ROC on Taiwan in favor of a new Republic of Taiwan as a party that is "just as bad" as the KMT. While I'm sympathetic to this line of thinking - the ROC sucks! Mere de facto independence sucks too! Immediate Glorious Revolution would feel so good! - I don't think it's the best way to actually meet our goals in the long run, so I find this line of thinking dangerous. Like, "this is how you get President Trump" dangerous.
No matter what, these delusions about China spell trouble. A smart "naturally independent" mindset would acknowledge that Taiwan is very clearly a sovereign state, but also wisely understand that China is big and mean and nasty, and that it doesn't see Taiwan that way. That it's designs on Taiwan are evil, and its traps sticky. And that we have to negotiate with China as things are, not as we wish they were. Such a mindset would understand that there is no moral equivalence between the two parties: that just because one won't immediately flip the table on history, it doesn't mean they are no better than the other, which seeks eventual unification (with the former president even saying so).

Unfortunately, I worry that we're going to need another bloom of social activism in the vein of the White Lilies, the Wild Strawberries or the Sunflowers to get people to understand this again. Maybe the Sweet Osmanthus Movement, the Tung Blossom Movement, or the Betel Flower Movement or whatever floral movement comes next will finally push us to a lasting realization of what it means for Taiwan to truly pursue independence.

Monday, November 26, 2018

All hail the new kings, same as the old kings (or, the KMT double standard)

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You all are getting taken for a ride.
You've taken this ride before, and you don't even remember that it made you puke. 


So everyone's going on about why the DPP lost so badly. It's a "rebuke" to the Tsai administration. Some are saying they weren't listening to their base (many of whom are center-right social conservative small-business owners and working-class people, generally Taiwan independence supporters). Others are saying they didn't deliver on progressive promises, so their other column of support - young Taiwanese liberals - abandoned them. Someone I know is saying that Taiwanese want a center-right society and will accept it being pro-China or pro-Taiwan. Another is saying Taiwanese vote with their wallets, and the KMT could offer more economic perks.


All of these things are true at once (though I'm not quite so sure about progressive deserters - some of them went for the NPP, true, but who else would they have voted for? The KMT? They know the KMT is even less progressive than the DPP, and voter turnout wasn't too low so they didn't stay home.)

But there's another issue which bothers the hell out of me. It's been said before, just not about this election, and yet it holds now too.

How is it that the KMT can screw up so spectacularly every time - like, every single time - and still get "a second chance" or "time for their ideas to show results", but if the DPP isn't immediately Jesus Who Descendeth From Heaven To Save Us All, they're angrily voted out before we can even see what the effects of their policies are?

Let's start with China.

ECFA was a joke - it didn't really do much for the economy except hollow out the job market as everything was moved to China (which was exactly China's intent). Exports grew more under Chen - whom China hated - than they did under Ma. Chinese tourism was a joke - it had little-to-no effect on the Taiwanese economy. It was one massive scam that made the country a noticeably worse place to live while offering no real benefit (unless cheap, tacky hotels spurting up like whiteheads across scenic areas or caravans of tour buses and the low-wage jobs they bring - but not more than that as most of the companies that own those hotels and tour/bus companies are based in China - can be called a "benefit". Which they can not.) Although it was great if you enjoyed getting locked out of purchasing train tickets.

And yet Ma got "four more years" to "give him a chance", the KMT remained strong, and didn't suffer any real wipeouts until halfway through Ma's second term when his "chance" came to fruition and it was shown to be a stinking heap of garbage, because a bunch of plucky activists drew back the curtain.

For a short while, it was clear to everyone that China's strategy was to parlay increased economic dependence into increased political integration. China didn't even try to hide this. For the briefest glimmer of a moment, people realized that the 1992 Consensus was a massive made-up turd bomb and they didn't have to agree that there was "one China" or that they were a part of it. They voted in a government to try something new.

So the DPP goes ahead and does exactly what we elected them to do, which was decrease Taiwan's economic dependence on China and pursue other strategies, while refusing to acknowledge a fabricated "consensus".

The effects were not immediate, and we always knew there would be drawbacks (Chinese money sure does look nice and smell like profit, but underneath that there's a whiff of political oppression that cannot be Febreezed away.)

And yet, because the exact drawbacks we knew would manifest did, Taiwan got mad and voted a bunch of DPPers out. We don't even know yet what the long term effect of the DPP's policies will be, because it's only been two years, and yet they didn't completely transform Taiwan into a perfect wonderland where everyone is rich. No matter that the KMT couldn't do in eight years what the DPP could not possibly have done in two. Let's have those guys back!

Now, newly-elected KMT mayors are talking about recognizing the 1992 Consensus. They will get an influx of Chinese capital for their obedience, and it will certainly smell like profit. These cities will become increasingly economically dependent on China, but will seem as though they are doing better than municipalities not governed by the KMT.

Never mind that this sets up a perfect system of economic blackmail. Do what we say, or we turn off the spigot. This isn't hyperbole or speculation. They did this with Chinese tourists to Taiwan and then spread fake news about what an economic disaster it was (it wasn't). They are doing it to Palau. They are likely to try it with Chinese students in Taiwan. They'll do it with everything from the Olympics (fuck those guys, by the way) to the Golden Horse awards. 

Nevermind that we figured this out in 2014 - it's like nobody remembered the lesson. Yeah, let's vote exactly those dudes we occupied a legislature to stop back in power to do the exact thing we all went downtown to make them stop doing again, because after giving them eight years to sell out Taiwan, we couldn't completely fix it in two years.

And we won't even know how well we might have fixed it, because for all this "we gave the DPP a chance in 2016", no my dudes, you did not. Not the way you keep handing Taiwan to the KMT like they're holding the magic key when really they're holding something far more flaccid. 


And there's the air pollution and the nuclear issue.

The KMT completely screwed us on air pollution, not giving a damn about it until they could hand the problem over to the DPP. Yes, we should have known under Chen Shui-bian that we needed to start investing in renewable energy technology, but it was still early then: most other nations hadn't fully begun to realize that yet, either. But it was glaringly clear that this was the direction we needed to take under Ma Ying-jeou, who promptly stuck his thumb up his ass and did jack-all about it for 8 years as the situation grew worse.

And yet the DPP gets voted out because they didn't fix air pollution in 2 years.

Everyone was willing to go ahead with the anti-nuclear activists (whom I still sort of blame for not concurrently pushing for a serious green energy policy, and who seemed happy to return to coal as long as Taiwan denuclearized) until they realized that would make air pollution worse, because again the KMT spent eight years doing jack-all about it so we had no better alternatives, and voted nuclear back in. Not that it matters: whether we denuclearize or not, air pollution here won't get better until the government takes it seriously, and neither party has taken it seriously. The only difference is the KMT gets eight years to not take it seriously, but the DPP is expected to make it all better in two.


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This sucks, and not all of it is from China (some of it is).
But to blame the DPP for this after two years when it got this way under the KMT to begin with?


Even so, the DPP has both screwed up and shown glimmers of awareness. On one hand, pollution has gotten worse. In places like Taichung where it is especially noticeable, the government preferred to massage the air quality numbers rather than do anything, and they have been quietly reopening coal-fired plants. 

On the other, I recall that until fairly recently, power generated from green energy companies could not be sold directly to consumers. So, of course, nobody was producing it because there was no money to be made (if I remember correctly, the power generated had to be first sold to Taipower). That changed not long ago under Tsai, not the KMT.

Then there's wages. Sure. Wages have been stagnating and Taiwan's minimum wage is "unjustifiable" (to quote the News Lens above).

But again, the KMT let the minimum wage stagnate for four years, then got re-elected so it could stagnate for another four. Give them a chance! We don't know how well their ideas are working! people said. Nevermind that it was blatantly obvious that they didn't give a damn, because big bosses were doing alright and if they weren't they could just go to China.

The DPP raises the minimum wage more than it has risen in decades, and yet Tsai gets a "rebuke" for low wages. Do they really think wages will rise more under the KMT, when they didn't for eight goddamn years?



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A screenshot from a Lu Shiow-yen campaign ad.

Seriously, you guys. Lin Chia-lung was imperfect and didn't fix the problems he inherited from Jason Hu.
But he took his job seriously and ran a positive campaign, and yet you elected someone who won't even hire interns who can spell "center" correctly?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME



And I could say something similar about labor laws. I'm not a fan of the 2nd round of labor law amendments, and the first round weren't great either. But, they were a substantial improvement over KMT policy, and yet workers immediately cried out that it wasn't enough, while bosses immediately cried out that they'd no longer be able to treat workers like slaves, and that will make us less competitive! WE NEED SLAVES!

The KMT knew this issue was a hornet's nest, so they basically threw workers under the bus for eight years because the Boss Class was enough to get them elected. The DPP made a mediocre attempt at addressing the problem, and suddenly they're the devil fucking incarnate.

And finally there's marriage equality.

Yes, the DPP wimped out on this one. Yes, they failed to grow a spine, and they lacked moral courage. They backed away from campaign rhetoric and disillusioned their progressive voters, thinking that their bigot voters could carry them through.

And yet, among them there are supporters of equality. Some DPP legislators have been trying to get it on the docket for quite a long time, before it was a mainstream topic. At least they were willing to try out the rhetoric, and I do believe their goal was to wait out the clock so the civil code would automatically be re-interpreted, knowing full well that a.) if this ever came to a vote, conservative Taiwanese would be mobilized by well-organized hatemongers and vote against it (and lo, that is exactly what happened), and b.) passing a 'separate law' would not satisfy progressive voters.

What did the KMT do? Eight years of not giving a shit about marriage equality, that's what (to be fair, twelve ago the mainstream wasn't about marriage equality, so this isn't just an issue of an uncaring KMT. Society at large didn't care, either). Sure, since then, a few pro-equality KMT legislators have made themselves known (though offhand I can only recall the name of one), but all-in-all it was clear in this election cycle that anti-equality campaigners and the KMT are hand-in-hand (and, again, I suspect this might be the result of a quiet alliance, not a coincidental convergence of interests).

So progressives, fine, you're mad at the DPP for being such cop-outs. I get it. But you know the KMT is going to be worse, and yet you let the DPP get slammed because they couldn't convince the more conservative elements of society to go along. Yes, they could have tried harder, but the KMT was and is never even going to try.

You blame the DPP for every single thing - even things that weren't their fault, from the nuclear/coal conundrum to the Taipei Dome. You voted Hau out because of the Taipei Dome, after giving him eight years to sit there jacking it in his office. Ko (not DPP but the point is, he's not KMT) just barely gets re-elected because he couldn't fix Hau's corrupt mess in four years, despite marked improvements in the city, from real bike lanes to an improved North Gate (though to be clear, I'm not a fan of Ko and absolutely do not want him to be president.) Yet you give credit to the KMT for things they didn't even do (the KMT routinely takes credit for improving MRT access in New Taipei, but as a friend pointed out, those plans were laid in the Chen administration) and keep re-electing them.

This has a basis in history too. The KMT stole from Taiwan for two generations, and then got a second chance in 2008 because they've "changed" (HOW DID THEY CHANGE EXACTLY?) Chen Shui-bian - admittedly not the greatest guy - steals a fraction of that and suddenly the DPP is evil and untouchable for more than half a decade.

I get that expectations are higher  - I keep hearing "well we expect that from the KMT but we wanted better from the DPP", but then give them a chance to do better just like you do with the KMT! 


Mark my words. The KMT is going to do a terrible job, because they always do. And yet they will get "a second chance", because they always do. They won't be able to fix pollution or wages - they won't even try to fix wages - they'll just tell you all to go to China for work. Same country anyway, har har har. Even if they could fix pollution, they won't try to do that either, because the only punishment for being lazy moneygrubbing China-fluffing wankstains the first time around was two years in the wilderness.

Oh but they will make Taiwan economically dependent on China, bring back attempts to force Taiwanese to say publicly that they are Chinese (that is what the 1992 Consensus is, after all), and work with Christian hate groups to ensure that the constitution can never be interpreted to allow marriage equality.

There will be a big battle for the presidency, and a peace agreement with China because we never learn our lesson, and we will become Hong Kong with no freedom or autonomy. People will start to believe - because the KMT will tell them to - that Chinese money is helping Taiwan, even if it isn't. They'll start to believe peace can be negotiated with the power that seeks to annex them. They'll give them "another chance".


And unless some new Sunflowers come 'round to teach us all a lesson again, we'll become Hong Kong. And then, when we don't comply, Xinjiang. The world will do nothing, because that's what it always does. Some people will even believe this is better for you or that it's a step in the right direction toward "peaceful reunification". The KMT won't even try to stop this disinformation leaking into international political discourse, because it serves their purposes for the rest of the world to be misinformed about Taiwan.

After a brief, imperfect but also glorious window when the world seemed to be finally waking up to the reality of democratic Taiwan, they will be yet again hypnotized into believing that the Taiwanese want the 1992 Consensus or "Chinese Taipei". Doesn't matter that that's not true, and it's a hack interpretation to believe that it is (voting out of fear of IOC retribution is not the same as embracing "Chinese Taipei".)


And then we'll be dead and Taiwan will be gone.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Red Tide: Taiwan, education and Western liberals

I had lots of great pictures from this protest, and lost all of them. A shame. So I've stolen this from Wikicommons like a scrub and I'm not even sorry. 


On October 10th, 2006, I was sitting in a Starbucks across the street from Taipei Main Station watching an angry wave of red roll by.

I had arrived in Taiwan just one month before, knowing next to nothing about Taiwan but thinking, as young graduates often do, that I knew quite a bit. It went something like this: there were two main parties in the "Republic of China" - the KMT, which I knew about, and the other one, which I didn't. The KMT had been the republicans-in-the-lower-case-sense who had fled from China, establishing themselves in the last vestige of "Free China", which was Taiwan. I hadn't known what Taiwan had been before that, so I assumed it had been Chinese. That must have been accurate, my subconscious surmised, because nobody had corrected me. The KMT had helped to develop the island into an industrialized and prosperous nation, eventually granting the people democracy. About a third of Taiwanese supported "reunification", a third independence, and a third were undecided. The language of Taiwan was Mandarin Chinese, and the people were Chinese. Chiang Kai-shek had been "corrupt", which was unfortunate, but he was much better than Mao Zedong. Because they had fled China, the KMT obviously did not support "reunification", which even then I did not think was a good idea. I didn't know about the other party. The current president was Chen Shui-bian, who was that other party, and who was pretty bad because he'd stolen some money, so the protesters were probably right. I knew that cross-Strait relations was "a complex issue" but ultimately, as the people of Taiwan had no consensus despite having democratized and having no other impediment, the current status quo was in everyone's best interest.

Pretty clear, right? Wow, I sure did know a lot! Practically a PhD-level expert, that was me. Just hand me my diploma.

I considered myself a good liberal: educated, well-traveled, thoughtful, engaged - a reader, talker and thinker. I cared about egalitarianism, justice, freedom and democracy, and simply doing the right thing even if it is to your detriment. I considered myself open-minded. I was secure both in my liberalism and my opinions and knowledge on Taiwan.

After all, this is what I had been taught. This was the entirety of the history of Taiwan that I had learned in my high school Social Studies class, crammed in at the end of a long unit on China. This was the version of history I defended to my teenage students in China when the subject came up. Nobody mentioned Taiwan in college, even though I'd studied International Affairs with a concentration in Asia. My main focus was South Asia, but that was still no excuse. I hadn't thought anything of it at the time, because it hadn't occurred to me that it might be important.

I had taken one course focusing on China in college - Chinese Culture Through Film. The professor was a lovely woman who had studied in Taiwan, but "had actually wanted to go to the Mainland". At the time, China had been closed to visitors, but she "had a Mao suit" that she "wore all the time", and thought of her professors in Taiwan as "doughy, soft capitalists."

While there might have been a thread of bitter irony in there, a knowledge that her earlier belief in the greatness of Mao's socialism had been misguided - to put it kindly - I hadn't picked up on it. I hadn't been to China yet but I felt a wave of sympathy for this viewpoint, because I assumed, being the larger country, that China was "more interesting" and Taiwan a backwater - of course someone would prefer to go to China.

This was what I knew about Taiwan. Therefore, this was all there was to know about Taiwan.

I'd come primarily because, after a lackluster year in China, I thought I'd give the place a try. I figured I'd probably leave in 2-3 years.

So I sat there as an incoming tide of vermilion-shirted marchers engulfed the street, flooding in to the Starbucks, banging drums, shouting for the president to step down, and generally making much merrier than you'd expect at an American protest.

The person I'd planned to meet so we could check out the action together didn't show, so I talked to a few other people there: protesters and regular coffee-drinkers alike about the Red Shirts and Taiwan in general. I don't remember many of the details of that conversation, but I do remember thinking that nothing I was told fit with the paradigm of Taiwanese affairs I'd believed. So these guys were KMT? No, not all of them, but most. So they were the other party? Some of them. So, if Chen's the bad guy, his party is the problematic one, yes? Hmm - in some ways, but not others. If the KMT gave Taiwan democracy, why does he hate them so much? Well...

Why do they hate him?
Well...

Wait, so these protesters support "reunification"?
No. Not necessarily. Actually, probably not.

That's the other party?
DEFINITELY not.

It wasn't just a different perspective - it didn't have a place at all. It was like trying to run an iPhone app on an old HTC. It made as much sense as coffee with salt or English on a night market t-shirt when one speaks coherent English.

Later, as I picked my way through the vermilion detritus washed up on the sidewalks - little did I know that protesters diligently cleaning up after themselves would become a feature of future Taiwanese social movements, the leaders of which were still in high school or starting college in 2006 - I thought one thing:

I didn't know much about Taiwan at all, and it was time I started really learning.

My name is Jenna Cody. I am a Typical American Liberal, and that is my origin story.

* * *

It's 2017 now. I still read quite a bit on Taiwan. I differ from the typical American liberal in that I've lived abroad for most of my adult life, and in that I am deeply pro-Taiwan: almost everything I thought I knew when I first arrived I have either found to be wrong, partially wrong, or far more complicated than it at first seemed. What might have been correct is now hopelessly out-of-date.

While not anti-China, I see no good argument for trusting the Communists, nor any argument for "unification" when the Taiwanese clearly don't want it, and generally don't identify primarily as Chinese at all. I hang with cool people - real, bona fide experts, advocates and activists - who know things. I've learned a lot, though I wouldn't call myself an expert.

Most Taiwan supporters I know here are liberals by American standards, although our most visible influential allies in the US are conservatives, often right-wing ones at that. This bothers me for a few reasons, the first of which being that the future of Taiwan is a fundamentally progressive one. How could it be otherwise when Taiwan, to cite just one example, will be the first country in Asia to implement marriage equality? I am not sure that social conservatives are the best allies to a country which, on many (though not all) important issues, would be more likely to side with the American left. Beyond that, I worry that their support of Taiwan is more often than not related more to a fear or dislike of China than any real pro-Taiwan sentiment. And, of course, the very idea of preserving the sovereignty of a self-ruled free democracy is fundamentally liberal.

I am not the first to wonder why it is that the American right has taken up the Taiwan cause, whereas the average American liberal, if they take note of the issue at all, either doesn't think it is particularly important or is more actively pro-China than you'd expect.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the pro-Taiwan community, how to talk to American liberals about Taiwan is a core issue. Many of us are mystified as to why a pro-Taiwan stance is not immediately recognized as a liberal one: a sovereign nation, a vibrant and engaged democracy in which civil discourse is taken seriously, freedom of expression, national health insurance and recycling as much as possible are so normal that they're taken for granted, human rights are considered fundamental and both women's and LGBT rights have made great strides, the people are committed to peace and think of the US as an important ally rather than a hegemonic threat.

Taiwan is not perfect, but how is this not every liberal's dream?

Not only is Taiwan democratic and free, but it is standing up against everything liberals hate. Just over a hundred miles away, a brutal authoritarian regime regularly violates human rights, torturing and murdering its own people, restricting basic freedoms and acting increasingly expansionist - both in terms of territorial grabbiness, but also intellectually, trying to control the marketplace of ideas not only at home, but abroad.

Every single day - I cannot say this enough - the Taiwanese people wake up and go about their lives, building their country and making it better, refusing to give up or give in, despite a catastrophe-creating number of missiles pointed right at them. And not only do they refuse to surrender their land and their freedom, but they are committed to solving the problem peacefully. This is the very definition of not only liberalism, but also courage. This is probably the single most heart-rending reason why I stay: I could make more money elsewhere, but I believe in Taiwan.

And yet, for whatever reason, liberals who balk at Russia's expansionism and (now, at least) sympathize with the Palestinians couldn't care less about Taiwan. It makes no difference to them that the thickest, richest, freest democracy in Asia is in real danger of being swallowed up by one of the most horrific dictatorships of our lifetime.

I am not the first person to observe this: both Ketagalan Media and J. Michael Cole have covered this issue extensively.

However, nobody yet seems to have publicly asked the question that could lead to an answer:

Why?

Why don't liberals care about Taiwan - or worse, why are some actively anti-Taiwan? Why is the best writing on Taiwan often found in conservative news sources, and why do liberals start explaining away their apathy whenever Taiwan is brought up?

If we are going to solve the issue of how to talk to American liberals about Taiwan, first we need to know why they don't care to begin with.

I am not an expert, and I don't claim to have a final answer. I can, however, start the conversation. Once we know why, we can formulate solutions.

I tried to write this in a longer post and got bogged down in how much there was to say, so I've decided to split it up into several posts, and I honestly have no idea when it will be finished.

For now, I want to talk about one of the roots of the problem: education.

It isn't surprising that the average Westerner either doesn't care or has inaccurate knowledge about Taiwan when what they are taught is essentially a condensed version of tired KMT talking points. Although my own teacher was careful to note that Chiang Kai-shek was no saint, the KMT as a whole comes out looking rather spiffy in this whole narrative.

It's also not shocking that people assume that China is speaking the truth when they say that annexing China is "reunification" if one's education only covers Taiwan post-1949, heavily implying that before that date, Taiwan and China had always been united. It borders on a lie of omission, and I'd make a solid bet that the average high school Social Studies teacher (and perhaps a few professors who didn't study the region) actually believes that this was the case, or simply hasn't considered the issue long enough to know that it is an issue at all.

It's easy to think that the two sides both see themselves as "China" when that's how it is taught. To be fair, it was the official view of the two governments for some time - the issue is that the few sentences it would take to point out that the official position of the Republic of China does not reflect the view of the people aren't added to this. It's not a big leap to make the argument that nothing can change because both countries use "China" in their official name, and to therefore think that "reunification" either wouldn't be so bad, or that accomplishing it peacefully is possible.

All sorts of nebulous beliefs might form from the mind of a well-meaning liberal with this kind of education: that there was a meaningful "split" in 1949, and that that split was between "Taiwan and China" rather than "the PRC and the ROC". That the KMT is doing the right thing by pursuing closer ties, because after all they brought about successful democratization in Taiwan. That the DPP, considering this history, are the real "troublemakers" by being so "anti-China" (if one even knows who they are). That "one country two systems" is a strong and workable solution.

And most insidiously, that the Taiwanese, being "from China", speaking Chinese, having "the same history" as China and considering themselves "Chinese" would happily "reunite" with China if only China would liberalize and democratize. The very idea that this will never happen and no amount of liberalization on the part of China will change Taiwan's desire for de jure sovereignty, that there was never and will never be a "One China"  that includes Taiwan, is nearly heresy after a curriculum that hits these points.

If you believe that, then it's easy to jump to believing that the US not only has no moral obligation to stand by Taiwan, but that in fact should actively stand down. That it's better for everyone involved - including the Taiwanese if they are considered at all - if "reunification" happens.

So, perhaps as an adult with such an education, you read about the Tsai-Trump phone call. You are predisposed to thinking the party that "advocates independence" is a troublemaker, and as a good liberal you hate Trump, so of course you are upset. Of course Taiwan is the problem.

You might read about Tsai refusing to acknowledge the "1992 Consensus", which the reporter treats as a real consensus that was made and is valid. Being a good, educated liberal, you Google it to find out what it is. As you've always believed that the two sides considered themselves "China", it's not hard to believe that of course they'd agree on "One China", perhaps "with different interpretations." Through that lens, Tsai's refusal to acknowledge this looks like troublemaking rather than an attempt to correct the narrative.

You certainly don't question what you read in the media, because the media hits all of the points that match up with what you've been taught. This confirmation strikes you as plausible and persuasive. As a good liberal, you tend to believe what people say if it lines up with your education. Insisting that the world is different from what teachers teach and textbooks say - and the media you trust confirms - makes you sound like...my god, a right-winger or worse, a Trump supporter. Heavens no!

Let's take this further - not only is the average liberal reader the beneficiary of this kind of education, if they even got that much, but the reporters who wrote the story were too. They can't write better articles, because they genuinely don't know better. They check their facts perhaps with a think tank or simply looking it up, and come across other references to things like "the 1992 Consensus", again from people who don't necessarily know the whole story themselves. The information validates itself in a feedback loop of inaccuracy that nevertheless comforts everyone in it, from teacher to reporter to reader.

Of course, mileage varies. I have friends who have no connection to Taiwan beyond me who know a fair amount about the issue - they're perhaps aware of the web of assurances and communiques that the decaying shanty that is today's US foreign policy on Taiwan is glued together with. Even they tend not to see why the status quo is a long-term problem for Taiwan, or why "economic cooperation" with China is never only economic cooperation.  On the other end, I've met well-meaning educated liberals who genuinely did not think Taiwan was democratic, or even believed that it was already part of China, in a similar position as Hong Kong.

I realize that I'm speaking from experiences I had in school in the 1990s and early 2000s, but honestly, to hear young Westerners today, I'm not sure much has changed.

I know that Taiwan is not likely to get more time in Western educational curricula, but perhaps it doesn't need it, especially in high school. In my school, we spent about as much time on it as we did Australia, and perhaps more than we did on New Zealand. Australia and Taiwan have a similar population, so that's all that can be expected.

However, the time it is given really must be better used. Unwittingly treating Taiwan like nothing more an extension of the KMT regime, before which nothing that happened there mattered, heavily implying that it has always been Chinese is simply not good enough, and is a huge part of why we struggle to gain liberal support now.

It seems simple to say that teachers simply need to teach the truth - a mention of aboriginal settlement, the truth of Qing colonialism, Japanese colonialism (that in my education this was skipped over completely astounds me even today), a bit more time exploring KMT brutality in Taiwan, and a bit less on China's views of Taiwan which can honestly be summed up in one sentence. A few minutes explaining that the current status of Taiwan under international law is undetermined, and what the US's actual Taiwan policy is. A treatment of the views of the people of Taiwan that...well, that take into account their views at all to begin with, and is also accurate. Not using the term "reunification". Making it clear that the Taiwanese are so against unification not because they're just garrulous or quarrelsome, but because their history really is unique. Less time comparing Chiang to Mao, and more on these other issues. You could do it in the same timeframe.

Of course, it's not that simple. Schoolteachers are not omniscient in their subjects. History or Social Studies teachers won't necessarily know these details themselves, and we honestly can't expect that they will. I would probably make an excellent history or Social Studies teacher, and I don't pretend to be an expert in every territorial conflict around the world. I'm not nearly an expert in Abkhazia or South Ossetia - though I can tell you some - and I have been to Georgia. Recently. 
In universities, however, we really do have to do better. We have to stop assuming that someone studying China is equally qualified to teach or talk about Taiwan. Professors who teach Taiwan-related topics should know what they're talking about. We absolutely must fight Chinese influence in non-Chinese institutions of higher education. This is absolutely not too much to ask. Universities can and must do better.

This must go hand-in-hand with looking squarely in the face of what the Chinese government is and how it operates, and teaching that truth. No more tiptoeing around out of fear of being called "racist" (racism, while a real problem, is not the problem here), no more downplaying Chinese human rights abuses and propaganda and other United Front efforts abroad, making the place seem like a liberal's wet dream of socialism, "ethnic food" and adorable pandas. We can't tell the truth about Taiwan until we tell the truth about China.

With China actively trying to peddle its version of history in Western institutions of higher education, this problem is especially intractable. They're pushing their own red tide on the world, and the problem is, people are swallowing it. How are we to target CPD or the textbooks and other materials when the major textbook manufacturers probably aren't that interested (and themselves may have received just this education), and there is a lobby of pro-China activists who will fight us at every turn and - because those listening to our debate also received this education - are just as likely to think we're the zealots and nutjobs with a weak grasp of the facts, not them.

There are other things we can do, however. Right now, a typical liberal belief is that unity is always better, and that 'nationalism' is generally undesirable. Even too much patriotism is viewed with a bit of suspicion - frankly, rightly so. Nationalism is often assumed to be ethnic nationalism - always a bad thing (and yes, I happen to agree with this) and complexity in the debate of unity vs. separation is often ignored. The idea that one might desire sovereignty for one's nation without it being about ethnicity - which, in Taiwan's case, it isn't - doesn't get much play in educational institutions, and the idea that more unity is not always in everyone's best interest (especially when one of the actors in the scenario has insidious intentions or is blatantly expansionist, as China does and is) is given none at all. Even the idea that the United Nations might be failing in some regards doesn't seem to be a point of discussion in the average classroom.

If we can flip on its head the liberal assumptions that unity is always the best decision for all involved, and that nationalism is inherently ethnic and therefore bad, we might just get enough people thinking about Taiwan in a different way, which could lead to a bigger change.

Maybe I'm hopelessly optimistic, but I have to think something will work.

Looking back on the journey I took from thinking I knew everything to actually knowing some things and knowing that there is so much more I have to learn, I realize that it didn't just come. I had to dig. If all I'd done was read media I trusted and compare that against Wikipedia and the education I'd received, I'd still be here defending, say, the KMT's development policy as the real force behind the Taiwan Miracle (hey, some poorly-informed people still do. Even when they're in graduate school). I might still think the 1992 Consensus was a real thing that had been agreed upon. I might accept without question that Taiwan was fully a part of China for the entirety of the Qing dynasty's possession of it, which I might still assume entailed controlling the entire island.

Occasionally, someone will assume that I was 'indoctrinated' into being so staunchly pro-independence through having 'the wrong kind' of friends. In fact, I came to this on my own after a fair amount of reading and simply living here, seeing for myself what Taiwan was about. I keep the company I do because of the way my beliefs have evolved, not the other way around.

Once or twice, it has been insinuated that I feel this way because "anti-China", "China-hating" or "sinophobe" forces in the West use Western educational curricula to inculcate a fear of China into students like me (I can't think of anything more ridiculous - if anything, Western education is too lenient on modern China and mostly wrong about Taiwan).

In fact, I'd say that if someone had the experience I did, sitting in that Starbucks watching a scarlet tsunami of something they could not at all fit into their pre-set notion of what the world was like, and they'd set out to do something about that, they'd probably end up in more or less the same place I have. Especially if they stuck around.

Really learning about this topic is difficult, not only because Taiwan isn't on the radar of most Westerners, but because both China and the KMT are actively trying to muddy the waters, making clear truths more controversial than they ever needed to be, so that even a reader like me can be accused of having been "brainwashed".

I got out of this miasma of inaccurate learning by living here and really digging. The average Western liberal will never live here, or even visit. While they have the critical tools to dig, they probably won't, not because they refuse to think but because they never even realized there was something to dig for - and, frankly, nobody has the time to be well-read in everything. I can't expect of others what I cannot accomplish myself regarding other parts of the world.

Even if someone does dig, there is so much inaccurate information out there that, after awhile, even the most well-meaning person might start to believe it. That's where fighting inaccuracy in media reporting comes in, which will be the subject of my next post on this topic - whenever that is.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Trudeau-Tsai Phone Call Threatens Peace in North America, Likely Affront to America

OTTAWA (5 December 2016): America experts, specialists and the diplomatic community were left aghast on Friday as the President of Taiwan accepted the first leader-to-leader phone call from the North American territory of Canada in decades.

The United States of America views Canada as a renegade state and maintains that there is only one North America, composed of America and Canada. It has consistently protested efforts on the part of the breakaway territory's leadership to form diplomatic ties with foreign countries. Internationally, many countries maintain 'unofficial' ties with Canada but heed America's directive and maintain no formal contact with the territory. Taiwan officially adheres to a "One America" policy and acknowledges the US position on Canada.

The US and Canada split in 1776, when America declared independence from British colonial rule. Historically, Canada and the US were one and the same as before 1776, they were under the same government "since antiquity". Canada is currently governed by a liberal democracy, while the US is not.

The phone call between Taiwanese President Dr. Tsai Ying-wen and Canadian leader Mr. Justin Trudeau lasted 12 minutes. Both the Taiwanese president and Canadian leader congratulated each other on their election wins and expressed their wish for continued prosperity. No groundwork for official recognition of Canada by Asian superpower Taiwan was laid. Trudeau is the leader of the opposition 'Liberal' party, which the US opposes as they feel the eventual goal of Trudeau, and the party, is formal Canadian independence, which they view as unacceptable.

It is unclear how most North Americans in Canada feel about the idea of independence, although a recent study shows they are more likely to identify as "Canadian" rather than "American".

Most America specialists decried the call, saying it "upset the delicate balance of diplomacy in the America region" that has allowed the continent to move forward economically in recent decades.

"This is unprecedented," said America-watcher Li Yi-feng. "It is unclear what Trudeau's motives were, or why President Dr. Tsai chose to call him. Many are saying Tsai simply does not fully understand the intricacy and delicacy of the 'America issue' on any deeper level and simply bumbled into the phone call with Trudeau, or if her advisors arranged it. In any case, the US is likely to be very upset, and managing their diplomatic tantrums is of the utmost importance."

"It doesn't serve Asian interests to give recognition to the territory of Canada in this way," added American diplomat Chen Shu-ling. "Taiwan and the US have strong, but potentially fractious ties. Preserving the US-Canada status quo is best for all involved, especially us, and the US."

Chen added, "Taiwan is a beacon of democracy and freedom around the world. We stand for human rights and self-determination. However, it is important that we maintain our ties with the US. Destabilizing the current balance could lead to war."

"We hope for a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the 'America issue' that will not lead to war."

The US has consistently said that no independence for Canada would be possible, and any move towards independence would result in war.

Some, however, praised the call, noting that it was an important step forward in relations with democratic Canada. "It's hypocritical," said blogger Bichael Burton, "for Taiwan to recognize a non-democratic oligarchy such as the US while leaving its strong ally, both in terms of liberal democratic views and and diplomacy, out in the cold. This call is simply acknowledging things as they are: that the US does not control Canada, and Canada is an important friend to Taiwan."

The US and Canada formally reached an agreement in 1992 that there is 'One North America', but with different interpretations of what that means, although there is no existing documentation of this agreement. Canada has limited observer status in some international organizations and is allowed to compete in the Olympics as American Ottawa.

There has been no US response, as American leader King Trump has not yet issued a statement. America watchers say that possible retribution for the phone chat might include invasion, the nuclear bombing of both Canadian cities, the waterboarding of every Canadian citizen, or possibly dropping a US-made meteor on Canada.

The US formally lodged a complaint regarding the call, reportedly saying that the President of Taiwan had no business contacting the leader of a breakaway state. "If they wish to deal with Canada, it is only right and ethical to go through the US. This is a domestic matter and Taiwan would be wise to refrain from getting involved. The future of North America must be decided internally, by all 356 million North Americans. Our North American brothers across the border must understand this," the communique said. American media called it "a cheap trick" by Trudeau.

Lao Ren Cha did not contact any Canadians for comment. No Canada experts could be found, as it is a narrow issue generally covered by America specialists.

America expert Hsu Jian-ming made the case for continuing the status quo. "There is no clear benefit to pushing for independence for Canada," he noted. "The status quo has allowed Canada to prosper, and has reduced the threat of a US attack to the low twenty percents, at least. It signs trade agreements with the US and has consulates around the world. Just because they are not formally recognized by most countries, must maintain an otherwise unnecessarily large defensive military, are not full participants in international organizations, the US pressures other nations not to engage in diplomacy or trade with it and consistently attempts to meddle in Canadian territorial 'elections' does not mean they are isolated. What advantages would formal independence bring that Canada does not currently enjoy as a result of the peaceful willingness to postpone the dispute from the US?"

Friday, May 20, 2016

1992 Whiplash
















image from here

I should start by saying that literally nothing qualifies me to comment on this other than the fact that I majored in International Affairs in college, which is about as relevant as someone who studied psychology in undergrad and then became a Starbucks barista trying to diagnose your clinical depression.

But, it was very interesting to read all the different takes on Tsai's deliberately vague and careful language surrounding the "1992 Consensus" (scare quotes intentional because it's not a real thing).

The English translation of what she said was this:

We will also work to maintain the existing mechanisms for dialogue and communication across the Taiwan Strait. In 1992, the two institutions representing each side across the Strait (SEF & ARATS), through communication and negotiations, arrived at various joint acknowledgements and understandings.


So she explicitly acknowledges that a meeting took place, which is fine because it did. She acknowledges that there was a spirit of communication and attempts to find common ground, which I suppose there was. She said there were some "joint acknowledgements and understandings" but declines to define what those were. At no point did she say there was a "1992 consensus" that, according to contemporary rhetoric, involves both sides agreeing that there is "one China" with "different interpretations" of what that means.

To hear New Bloom talk of it you'd think she'd acknowledged the 1992 consensus (which, in my view, she didn't) - they frame it as her acknowledging it "in all but name", and that her vague words "can be understood to mean acceptance of the 1992 consensus or would allow her some wiggle room".

I can't say I agree with this - to acknowledge it in all but name would mean to say - far more clearly than she did - what those "various joint acknowledgements and understandings" were, and to tack that on to what people say the 1992 Consensus was. She didn't do that.

On the other side, South China Morning Post talks about how she has pissed off Beijing by "failing to acknowledge" the 1992 Consensus. This makes sense, New Bloom is on the far left, and SCMP, while not a mouthpiece of Beijing, sometimes acts like one and is, shall we say, not that far too the left. Not by my standards anyway. Of course they'd report their interpretation of the same words differently.

You could say it makes no difference - "stopping short of acknowledging the 1992 consensus" and "acknowledging the 1992 consensus in all but name" sure do sound the same. In the real world I suppose they are - or at least they are so close to the same thing that you could swap one for the other.

But statecraft is not the real world - it's a world where entire oceans of meaning are found between sentences, in single words or words not said. Tsai was absolutely right to be as careful as she was, and showing her diplomatic and negotiating chops in good form.

So, in my totally non-expert opinion, she did not acknowledge the 1992 Consensus, but she did accomplish something far more deft.

By mentioning that the two sides met in the spirit of finding common ground is a way of coming close to what Beijing wants to hear without actually caving in to them, making it harder to criticize her (her words were intentionally vague), allowing her to say she called for peace and acknowledged history in her speech even as Beijing was denied the exact thing they were pressuring her for.

To which, if Beijing complains, Tsai can say "well I did acknowledge that 'various agreements were reached' in 1992!", and if Beijing says "but you didn't SAY 1992 Consensus" makes Beijing, not her, look bad. Like big warmongering babies for being angry that she - a democratically elected leader not technically under their control - did not stick to the exact script they laid out for her.

At the same time it allows her to say "hey, I didn't cave - I didn't give them the exact words they wanted" to her base, and even Taiwanese not in her base who still have pride in Taiwan and don't want their elected leaders to parrot words Beijing throws at them.

What I don't get - because again I am not an expert, I just majored in it - is why no major news outlet is reading it this way, talking about it or showing any sort of understanding that this is what she did, this is why she did it, this is the brilliant trick she managed with the crappy hand she was dealt, and it was very intentional, and very smart. Either they say she acknowledged it or they say she didn't, often defaulting to their own biases.

This is statecraft. I don't always agree with it (I'm a burning radical at heart) but this really is how it works. It does make a difference. As much as the crazy lefties like me - whose heart would rather follow Chen Shui-bian-style China-taunting even as her mind knows that's a bad idea, who would rather occupy the legislature (hi Sunflowers!) than work within it* - and the other activists and progressives and strong independence supporters would like it to be otherwise, this is how the game is played and if you play it well, you just might win.

Tsai plays it very, very well. I may not agree with all of her choices, and I may be generally suspicious of the 'establishment' as a whole, but I'll give her a chance.

*now you see why, despite preparing for a career in the foreign service, I did not go down that path. Would have been a terrible idea for me.