Showing posts with label donald_trump. Show all posts
Showing posts with label donald_trump. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Everything is Calm in the Meatspace

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From an exhibit at the Japanese Naval Guest House (日本海軍招待所) near Shi-da


I want to start in an optimistic place. 

Through everything American citizens have endured in this absolute slog of a presidential election, I’ve taken heart that people who are a part of my daily life in Taipei have expressed clear-headed, thoughtful views on events in the USA. At work, in my social life and running errands — say, chatting with the medical technician while getting electro-therapy on a problematic knee — people seem to agree. Some good things have happened for Taiwan under Trump, though mostly not through him, and in general he brings instability and mendacity to the table, and not much more. Big picture, some good things have happened in US-Taiwan relations in the last four years, but both countries are better off with someone who can competently lead. Taiwan certainly benefits more from a stable US. Trump’s highly inconsistent bloviating (one second calling Xi a “good friend” and the next banning a few apps) doesn’t make up for this, as an unstable US can’t really advocate for Taiwan effectively. 


Those are my words, but they’re echoed in different ways from people I know in the real world, most of whom are just average people. This gives me heart that plenty of people in Taiwan are thoughtful enough not to be taken in by the exact sort of fake news maelstrom that they so forcefully rejected when the Han Kuo-yu campaign attempted something similar, just because it’s coming from the US. 


I need that heart, because I have to say that online, the situation looks a lot more dire. 


Many people I’ve friended on social media, only a few of whom I know in real life, have gone from liberals and left-leaning people who support Taiwan and otherwise seem to have a high degree of digital literacy to spreaders of the exact sort of rhetoric they rejected less than a year ago. More than one has bought into the unsubstantiated belief that there was significant fraud in the US election (it’s unlikely; voter fraud is rare and there is no credible evidence for it in this case). 


Facebook groups once full of people I agreed with on Taiwan issues have become clearinghouses for right-wing pro-Trump posts. These come with not just fake news dumps, including the idea that Joe Biden is more in bed with China than Trump, when Trump’s China ties are provable and there isn’t any verifiable evidence for similar Biden ties. At least one of the Hunter Biden stories was entirely fabricated but achieved wide circulation in Asia. The most obvious example is Freddy Lim’s Chang Group 昶社團, though there are others. Apple Daily is the clearest example of the media amplifying and legitimizing highly questionable pro-Trump narratives in Taiwan, and they seem to have found a home in deep green or non-affiliated pro-Taiwan Taiwanese. These include the self-identified progressive and politically engaged online commentariat. 


Right now, the way pro-Trump drumbeats are repeated in these groups honestly reminds me of that part of Snow Crash where people had their brainstems hacked and seemingly randomly started repeating Ancient Sumerian or something. Of course, it turned out not to be random, and this isn’t either. 


Every time I come across this, I have to remind myself that in the meatspace, I interact every day with people who haven’t bought into this. It reminds me that social media tends to amplify more extreme voices, and that while some of them have come to these beliefs sincerely (if uncritically), there are a fair number of intentional bad actors, paid trolls and bots pushing this narrative. If there are bots attacking AIT, they surely exist elsewhere, too. 


Some of the arguments even sound familiar. “But the Democrats started the KKK!” shouts one Taiwanese commentator, just as unaware of the Great Realignment as the Americans who say the same thing. “But the Democrats cut ties with Taiwan!” says another, when that shift was started by Republicans, and when it happened, the cut ties were with the “Republic of China”, then still a military dictatorship that looked further from democratization than the People’s Republic of China. Honestly if I’d bet on which country would liberalize first in 1976, I would have lost a lot of money. “But who signed the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act?” another asks, giving Trump credit for bipartisan legislation with bipartisan sponsorship that representatives from both parties voted for unanimously. A president can’t realistically veto that kind of thing. “But...China Joe the Pedophile!” many say, sounding exactly like Republicans in the US and basing it on just as little evidence, a party whose platforms they — the online so-called progressives — would never support in Taiwan. 


Of course, they ignore the provable Trump ties to China and dozens of rape allegations against Trump, one of which is set to go to court. It's not even clear to me why people think Biden was China's candidate. My money is on the CCP supporting Trump while pretending not to, because instability in the US is good for China, and they know it. So far, current headlines seem to be proving me right.


Let’s be clear: few people saying these things actually believe that Trump genuinely cares about Taiwan. Even people I disagree with profoundly on Trump don’t go so far as to say that his administration’s support of Taiwan comes from a place of real concern. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s all a game to them. 


Back to the meatspace, because talking about this too much stings on a deeply personal level. Since the election and presumptive Biden victory, in real life people have expressed relief, either that Trump lost or at least that it’s over. My medical tech offered congratulations as she stuck electrodes to my knee. Students expressed relief that they wouldn’t have to listen to a guy who sounds so “stupid” any longer. 


I had hoped it might stem the tide online. It’s over, so I'd hoped we could turn our collective efforts to pushing him to keep his word on the “stronger ties” with Taiwan that he talked about. Regardless of who our preferred candidate was, we can all agree this is the best way forward now, right?


Apparently not. I’ve had to cut loose several people who are now buying into the whole “election fraud” narrative, insisting on dragging out a dead presidency based on zero evidence. Even now, so many many Taiwanese I thought I respected or at least broadly agreed with have gotten on the Trump Express that it would be enough to make me question my own sense of logic, if not for the Taiwanese people I talk to in the real world, who also see it for the crazy train it is. 

 

On one hand, I understand that many politically engaged Taiwanese who want the best for their country remember how they’ve been shafted by Democrats. One official visit to Taiwan and a few anti-China remarks must surely seem like a breath of fresh air, and all those other scandals are far away. I get it. There is a deep desire and need for more international recognition, better treatment, more allies both official and unofficial. 


I want those things too, but also for the country of my citizenship to be competently run by someone who is not a rapist. The best way to achieve that, in my view, is to hold Biden accountable. It’s over anyway. 


But it still stings to spend years of my life advocating for the best possible leadership for Taiwan — pro-independence, as liberal as possible — and then see so many people in Taiwan who share those views want my country to be run by a rapist and a fascist. If they didn’t actually care about social issues I could kind of understand, but many of them are avowed progressives, and do care about these things in Taiwan. 


To me, if you believe in progressive values, you believe in them for everyone, not just yourself. I would not advocate that Taiwan be abandoned if it would be better for the US, because Taiwanese citizens deserves the same rights and freedoms I do, and we all deserve open, tolerant societies. If you’re fine with supporting reactionary politicians elsewhere, then how does that jive with those progressive values?


The lack of leadership from progressive Taiwanese thought leaders also bothers me. A few well-placed words from respected voices might have helped stem this tide, but they’ve been mostly silent as far as I can tell. I understand the government not taking an official position; Taiwan needs to work with the winner, period. I understand, say, Freddy Lim not taking a position (though if his views expressed in Metal Politics Taiwan are still true, he’s no Trump supporter). I understand that it is difficult to tell your own supporters to cut it out; it could undermine your base. 


What I don’t understand is how he and the moderators allowed that group — again, one among many — to become a constant stream of fake news. Could they have let people express opinions and frustrations freely, but drawn the line at blatant misinformation?


At the end, I may need to cut individuals loose. I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal calmly with anyone who thinks that Rapist Hitler is a good leader for the country where my family lives, or who is unconcerned about a leader that has callously allowed nearly a quarter of a million Americans to die when they didn't have to. I have no quarter for those who still believe had the election ‘stolen’ from him rather than being rejected because he is, you know, Rapist Hitler who is responsible for up to 240,000 unnecessary deaths in less than a year.

Despite this, we must remember that the cause is still just. Drew Pavlou said this about Hong Kong, and he’s absolutely right



The attitude of the left on Hong Kong makes me furious. They see desperate people holding Trump flags and immediately dismiss them all as racist reactionaries. Stop and reflect for a second why HKers felt desperate enough to turn toward a man who called Xi a “great friend.” 


HKers suffer under a brutal police state, and for the most part, the left have ignored them. Tankies attack HKers out of support for Chinese authoritarianism and liberals ignore HKers out of a mistaken belief that criticizing the Chinese state serves racist anti-China narratives.


I consider myself a leftist. My Christian faith underpins my concern for social justice and human dignity. But I take the world as it is rather than how I would like it to be. That means patiently building solidarity with HKers, even when we disagree on matters like Trump.


It means putting to one side considerations of left and right, putting to one side utopian ideals about ideological purity, and simply being there for HKers and raising my voice for them at this time of suffering.



And others have taken an anti-CCP, anti-Trump view as well, like artist Badiucao. The same holds true for the Taiwan cause. 


People I interact with online as well as in real life are generally on this side, as well. 


I’ve also seen a lot of US liberals and leftists (sigh) take aim at, say, the Hong Kong movement, insisting they must be right-wingers because they are turning to Trump or hoping the US will help solve their problems (something I don’t think is actually true; I don’t think many Hong Kongers think the US will solve this issue; they mostly just want international support.)


The thing is, the Western left was doing this long before Trump came along — screaming quite rightly about issues that affected them, but being quite fine with ignoring the fight for the same things in Hong Kong and Taiwan, because it all sounded so “anti-China”. It was easy to paint them as horrible “capitalists” because they oppose a regime that claims to be “communist”. And it was easy for Democrats to ignore them because while they may be slightly better on social issues in the US, they care just as little about similar social movements abroad. 


How profoundly have liberals ignored Taiwan that Taiwanese are supporting a man who compared their country to the insignificant tip of a pen?


So, I can see on some level why people sick of being treated this way would turn to the first person who said something critical about China, even though he didn’t appear to genuinely care so much as he wanted to start a strongman fight.


However, Taiwanese de jure independence is absolutely worth continuing to fight for, even if many of its strongest supporters have veered very weirdly into pro-Trump territory. Yes to Taiwan, resist the CCP, reject Trump. Biden’s not great but he’s gotten better on Taiwan, and now our job is to hold him accountable.

I doubt I can change their minds and I have limited capacity to try — I wouldn’t expect them to take a foreign resident of Taiwan particularly seriously. However, I will not abandon a cause I believe in just because some voices within it are pushing deeply problematic narratives about the US election. 
I might have to cull social media and unfollow or leave online groups, but I’ll still be there, in the meatspace, on the street if I have to, hobbling along on my bum knee for the cause of Taiwan.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

On Taiwan, Biden is the less terrible choice

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Would you believe that I took this photo in the UK?


Reading news about how Taiwanese favor Trump to win next week and hearing similar views from my students ("I heard that Trump challenges China but Biden likes China", to quote one), I want to make the case that -- to put it gently -- Trump is not actually the best candidate for Taiwan. I understand wanting to vent anxiety about Biden (and the Democrats') past treatment of Taiwan, and I understand hearing Trump shout about China sounds encouraging. I also understand that among the true believers, there are a few paid trolls -- though it's hard to tell because the illogic runs deep among Trump supporters.

But, respectfully, I just don't buy it. Fortunately, not every commentator in Taiwan does, either: I'm not alone. Neither Trump nor Biden is great for Taiwan, but between those two choices that are not good for Taiwan, Trump is arguably worse. 

What I truly don't get is this: Trumpism means advocating for an American society where Taiwanese residents or visitors face racism and discrimination due to being Asian, a country it is increasingly difficult to immigrate to, where they would likely not be able to claim asylum even if they were able to flee a Chinese attack. 

I am going to keep this as brief as possible and as workmanlike as possible, because honestly, thinking too much about it makes me deeply anxious. I've had to unfollow or leave several Facebook groups over this, as I watch a mix of true believers with unbelievable views and obvious paid trolls (and it's hard to tell which is which) turn Taiwanese social media into a place I just cannot be right now.

It's also important to note that this is not neutral journalism (though I like to think it is accurate blogging). I have my own views and I am writing this from the perspective of Trump being unacceptable even if he were strong on Taiwan -- which he isn't -- on account of his being a straight-up rapist (this is just one accusation among many, plus admitting on tape to frequent sexual assault). And that's only the first reason.

I've organized this into a series of things I've heard from people about how Trump is better for Taiwan, and why those assertions are partially if not entirely untrue. 


"Who passed the TAIPEI Act and Taiwan Travel Act?"

A bipartisan Congress did. In fact, both bills had bipartisan co-sponsorship! Both bills passed unanimously, meaning that Trump had to sign them, because a veto would have been easily overturned. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy he signed them, but it wasn't out of any sort of strength on Taiwan or China issues. 

One could say that Congress felt more emboldened to pass this legislation with Republicans in office, but I don't necessarily buy that: unanimous passage sends a strong message, and a Democratic president would have had to sign it as well.

"But what about Hunter Biden's business in China?"

Okay, I'll keep that in mind when Hunter Biden is running for president.

Joe Biden has no known business links to China, whereas Trump does. I mean personally does, not just through family members.

Since the New York Times is paywalled, here's a related BBC article about Trump's Chinese bank account and taxes paid to the Chinese government (in fact, that would mean he has paid more tax money to China than the US). 

Beyond that, if family members being involved is the standard, what about Jared Kushner's business in China? Some of that was apparently canceled, but that doesn't make the ties disappear. And Kushner actually works in the White House. It's doubtful that Hunter Biden would.

Any claim that Trump is stronger against China than Biden because Biden is in China's pocket due to Hunter but Trump isn't is a claim based on lies. 

In fact, it's very interesting to me that people who bring this up seem quite willing to ignore Trump's business entanglements with China. What's up with the double standard?


"But the Republicans have a stronger stance on China and are bigger supporters of Taiwan!"

This is partially true. I don't want to get into the reasons for their support, which long-term are not necessarily in Taiwan's interest (do you think they care about Taiwan as a bastion of liberal democracy in Asia on its own merit? Doubtful. They don't appear to care about upholding democracy in their own country.) But it can't be denied that some of the more forceful voices on Taiwan in Congress are Republican -- though some are not. The people under Trump who keep advising pro-Taiwan moves (such as visits from high-level officials), and I am not sure that the people Biden would appoint would be this proactive, or even supportive. It's also true that the Republican platform on Taiwan is pretty strong.

However, it stands out to me that while the Republicans chose not to update their platform in 2020, Democrats did. For some time, Democrats have also had a pretty acceptable platform on Taiwan, calling for a resolution to Taiwan's status to be in the "interests and best wishes" of the Taiwanese people. Recently, they've updated it to drop any reference to "one China".

It's also interesting to me that people see the new American Institute in Taiwan as not as some sort of long-term recommitment to Taiwan but as a symbol of Republican/Trump commitment to Taiwan, when plans for the new compound began in 2008 and building continued through the Obama years (the Taipei Times is also guilty of this, as well as giving Trump way too much credit for the new legislation on Taiwan). 


"But Trump stands up to China!"

Does he? 

I mean, he slapped down some tariffs, sold some arms and is trying to block some apps which are basically poorly-disguised malware. Notably, this would not make the US the first democracy to do so. He did sign off on those high-level US official visits to Taiwan. hough I don't support calling the CCP Virus "the China Virus", and think that the US is creating its own disaster through malicious strategic incompetence, the administration being clear that the CCP's initial mishandling and Chinese influence on the WHO are not exactly wrong.

But he also called Xi Jinping his "good friend", said that the Uyghur genocide was "the right thing to do", called Taiwan insignificant compared to China (something he's actually wrong about) and said he didn't want to do anything regarding Hong Kong until Congress essentially forced him to sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (both of which also had bipartisan cosponsors by the way). 

While it's true that there are people in the Trump administration pushing him toward closer ties with Taiwan, for whatever reason, it's clear that Trump himself is easily manipulated because he remains ignorant and apathetic towards so many issues. That was clear regarding the Trump-Tsai phone call, but it's not guaranteed to always work in Taiwan's favor (if anything, the Trump administration favoring Taiwan makes it harder for people like me to make the case to fellow liberals that Taiwan is worth caring about). Unpredictability isn't always a good thing -- even when it seems to be working for you, it can always flip the other way.

And yes, he sold some arms. I would need more time to add up the total cost and I'm not particularly interested in military or defense analysis so I can't say which packages have been better, but overall Democrats sell arms to Taiwan just as often as Republicans. I'm sure someone who can actually weigh in on the quality of each of these sales -- that is, what Taiwan got for its money -- could shed more light on this.

When asked what he would do if China invaded Taiwan, Trump China "knows what he will do". That's better than hand waving and saying "meh?" but it's not really a commitment to defense. 

Does that sound like a guy who consistently stands up to China? Because to me it just looks inconsistent and unreliable. A very flimsy case for thinking Trump would be better for Taiwan at best. 


"But Biden doesn't care about Taiwan!"

Neither does Trump.

The bad news is both parties treat Taiwan more like a gamepiece than a country with 24 million people who deserve self-determination, a position the media props up regularly by talking about Taiwan as though it were a barren rock with no actual humans who have the same human rights as everyone else living on it.

The only good news is that China's threats to Taiwan are intrinsic to China's expansionism -- China claiming Taiwan is inherently expansionist -- and the latter will continue to be a threat that the US takes seriously for as long as it exists. That's still not great, but it's a little better than "eh the US will dump Taiwan at the first opportunity". 

Regardless, Biden personally congratulated President Tsai on her election win. Trump did not, though his administration did. Biden said the US should have "closer relations" with Taiwan. Trump, as far as I can find, has not. If anything, I agree with the link above that the Trump administration has been both cautious and supportive of Taiwan in equal measure, pulling back whenever it wants to negotiate with China. That doesn't sound like a strong commitment to me (though I can't say I would expect any better under Biden). 

It's true that Biden's track record on Taiwan and China has been pretty bad, an issue that dates back decades, but seems to have dissipated somewhat since the Obama years. I don't know if I trust this anonymous source "close to Biden's campaign" talking to Taiwan News, but it's worth noting that the discussions of how Biden would handle Taiwan are not all pessimistic. Frankly, that sounds better and more competent to me than "China knows what I will do". 

"But the Democrats are the ones who cut off relations with Taiwan!"

No, the Democrats cut off the Republic of China in 1978, a process the Republicans had already started. Taiwan had the chance to join the UN and compete in the Olympics as Taiwan, and the KMT dictatorship chose not to take them due to their insistence that the ROC was the real "China". There's a lot more I can say here about what the US and the ROC both did at that time, but this is not the most relevant point. It had nothing to do with "Taiwan" as a sovereign entity or concept, and everything to do with what the ROC, PRC and US believed to be "China".

In the late 1970s, Taiwan was still in the throes of Martial Law, which was a decade away from being lifted. Democratization was two decades away -- a far-off dream, an entire generation. China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution and seemed to be opening up, while Taiwan was beating, murdering and arresting pro-democracy activists. 

Looking at those two "Chinas" in 1978, which one would you have gambled would liberalize and democratize first? Would you really have thought that the brutal KMT dictatorship was the better choice? Wanting official relations is one thing, but would you have wanted them for Taiwan as "China", as Taiwan as "Taiwan" was never on the table?

All I can say is that I would have lost that bet and I don't believe Taiwan is any kind of China, anyway. "Who cut off relations with the ROC" isn't the right question, if it's even relevant to 2020. You should be asking who was running Taiwan when that happened.


"But..Make America Great Again!"

Does America look that great to you? 

Because what I see is an unstable mess with a disaster economy that could have handled the CCP Virus but chose not to, where racism matters more than doing the right thing, and where the president himself has told his followers to act like vigilantes and who has not promised he'll respect the results of the election. 

Here's the big picture: it's a shame that Taiwan needs anything from the US at all. It feels like caring about one of the bad guys because their wellbeing is connected to your own, and there are worse villains out there. But this is the world we live in. China is not going to give up its hegemonic dreams just because Westerners grew a conscience and decided to be anti-hegemonic (which I am, in principle). 

Therefore, US stability is good for Taiwan, regardless of the specific policies of the actual president in power. A country that can't even keep its own citizens safe within its borders certainly isn't going to be stable enough to reliably stand up to China, with or without a slate of like-minded allies which would probably be organized, again, by the US. Who else would do it? At this moment, Taiwan can't counter China alone even if it can fend off the first wave of attacks (which I do think it is capable of), and even if any attack on Taiwan would certainly result not in clear surrender but in decades of disastrous guerrilla warfare that I hope I never have to see. 

I hate to write that, but it's true right now. I can only hope it won't be true forever. 

Trump is incapable of restoring whatever stability the US once had. Right now, looking at the cracks in the walls, it's been clear they've not only been compromised for some time but have been built on a shaky foundation of White male supremacy. But it's capable of governing itself better than this, and capable of engaging internationally in more meaningful ways rather than temper tantrums. 

As long as the US contends with these issues and continues to be locked in a CCP virus and White supremacist death spiral, China's hand is stronger. One might think from Trump's "Biden will sell the US to China" rhetoric and his occasional screaming at the CCP that China would prefer Biden win, but I tend to agree with others that that's not actually the case, as Trump's baby gurgles in fact benefit China by destroying the US's international image and internal stability.

Does that sound like a country that can reliably back up Taiwan as needed? Not to me. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ted Yoho, AOC and Taiwan’s Bipartisan Dilemma

This week, Republican congressional representative and rotted meat carcass Ted Yoho did two things.

First, he announced the introduction of a package that would explicitly allow the US to use military force if China invades Taiwan. We should all support this: while obviously starting a war in Taiwan’s name is a terrible idea, a stronger commitment to defensive assistance if China were to invade is crucial. Taiwan wants it, defense is not the same as offense, and Taiwan can already govern and defend itself - it needs backup, not a savior. 

Second, he accosted Democrat and peer Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, calling her “out of [her] freaking mind”, “disgusting” and “a fucking bitch”. Why? Because he’s a flaming garbage heap, but also because AOC attributed the spike in crime in New York to corresponding spikes in unemployment and homelessness due to the CCP virus, which the US has responded to so badly that not focusing on the fact that the CCP is to blame for the pandemic is actually a reasonable argument now. 


This disconnect provides yet another reminder that many of our “allies” on Taiwan and Hong Kong issues are not necessarily good people, and that we should not excuse their being terrible people just because we agree with them on a few issues. 

This is a deceptively difficult minefield to navigate. Taiwan and Hong Kong should be bipartisan issues, one of the few things we can actually work with conservatives on. Taiwan has historically been supported more by Republicans than Democrats, and although that is finally changing, the fact remains that we still need to work with Republicans to get important legislation passed.

But the flipside of bipartisanship on Taiwan is that we have to plaster on a smile and work with utter jackbuckets like Ted Yoho. Frankly, they’re all pretty terrible, it’s just Teddy’s week to shine. I know there are those who would rather ignore the fact that pretty much every Republican supporter of Taiwan and Hong Kong who holds elected office is a horrible person — they’d choose Taiwan every time. That doesn’t exactly work; it excuses their otherwise awful behavior and puts voters like me in a bind when we want to vote for the most pro-Taiwan and Hong Kong candidates, but can’t because they’re unacceptable in every other way. It puts advocates in tough positions because it means pretending to be nice to these human dumpsters. It tarnishes the images of activists — how much flak have Joshua Wong and Nathan Law caught for posing for smiley photos, invariably filled with men, rarely a woman in sight, with walking trash kraken?

It’s easy to say “we have different values but we can come together on this”. It’s easy to ignore the time Yoho said “annyounghaseyo” to President Tsai because...reasons. It’s harder to justify “coming together” on Taiwan with a man who just called AOC a “fucking bitch”. I’m sorry, but at that point, are you not simply justifying ignoring blatant misogyny?

There are also those who think we shouldn’t work with them at all and find another way. That’d be lovely, but it’s also not currently possible if you actually take Taiwan’s defense seriously. Democrats look like they are set to potentially draft a China platform that keeps support of a cross-strait policy “consistent with the needs and best interests of the people of Taiwan”. It’s likely this will pass, as it was language used in 2008, 2012 and up through 2016. While it’s unclear how useful this is, seeing as the Obama administration wasn’t exactly Taiwan’s most helpful friend, this is still good news — it means they aren’t taking a “total opposition” stance to officials under Trump who have supported Taiwan more than their Obama-era forerunners. Their voting record of late — in solidarity with Republicans on Taiwan and Hong Kong — and some statements by Joe Biden, have reflected a trend in this direction. But honestly, we’re not there yet, and we can’t afford to end bipartisanship on Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To add to that, it’s not like the right has the market cornered on misogyny and racism (yes, Yoho’s comments, given the context of the spike in crime, are both sexist and racist). I’ve met plenty of centrists and even self-proclaimed lefties who honestly aren’t much better. From ‘our side’ I’ve heard everything from “BLM should take responsibility for the crime wave in Chicago” (what?) to wanting to protest in front of AIT for Taiwan while making deeply sexist comments about Hillary Clinton. The number of Democrats and self-proclaimed liberals in Taiwan and the US who are accused of being inappropriate with women honestly rivals the behavior of Republicans. Saying we shouldn’t work with the right for these reasons may be principled, to an extent, but it ignores how much of it comes from our own side. 

I’ve thought for awhile that there is no such thing as ‘natural allies’, because people on ‘our side’ are just as capable of being toxic jerks. The only way to continue bipartisan efforts on Taiwan is to think of allies on any given issue as people who agree with you on that particular issue and are not otherwise human dumpsters. 

Unfortunately, Ted Yoho, as with others, has shown that he is in fact a human dumpster. People have been burned by this before, thinking Trump could be good for Taiwan and Hong Kong only to find that his ‘challenge’ to China is more of an inconsistent mess.

Can we really consider a party that supports a president that called concentration camps a “good idea” an ally? Can we really smile and shake hands with Ted Yoho while he calls AOC a “fucking bitch” out the other side of his mouth?

If we don’t, how are we going to realistically make sure Taiwan has the backup it needs in the face of a potential invasion that is a very real threat? Raising fists and taking to the streets didn’t work for Hong Kong and it won’t stop an amphibious invasion of Taiwan — and letting China win is arguably worse than defending Taiwan for real. Of course, we should reach out to liberals and the left, though I’ve found that the far left is so thickly populated with tankies (“Taiwan is evil because they are run by the Nationalists, who are evil bad capitalists grr” - don’t even know where to start with this) that they’re hard to talk to about Taiwan. And honestly, even if and when we succeed, Taiwan is still better off with bipartisan support rather than having its assurance of defensive assistance tied to the whims of whomever is in office. 

I don’t have an answer to that, but I am personally not inclined to think of people like Ted Yoho as allies. As a woman, a congressional representative calling a female colleague a “fucking bitch” and then trying to justify it by saying he’s a family man affects me, because it affects the discourse of what’s acceptable to say about people of my gender. If you do think of him as an ally, please consider exactly what behavior you are excusing and whether or not that behavior affects you. 



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Guest Post: The Left has been wrong on China since the Trump-Tsai phone call

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I'm still on hiatus -- my advisor's forthcoming feedback on my draft will determine how much longer that will last. But, in my absence, I thought it would be interesting to open up Lao Ren Cha to other voices, especially Taiwanese voices, with a possible series of guest posts.

This is my first experiment in guest posting, from Eric, a Taiwanese Canadian, written as a reaction to this article on the left's silence on genocide in China. It generally fits with the editorial line here at Lao Ren Cha ("editorial line" being fancy talk for "my opinions") while introducing a new style and perspective into the mix. Enjoy! 


- Jenna


With the recent change in mainstream media narrative on the Chinese regime, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, one would not expect too much of a political cost for raising objections to its actions. Threats and attacks on neighbors, technology theft, fentanyl exports, loan shark diplomacy, concentration camps, genocide, live organ harvesting, systematic societal control — anyone who has been paying attention should have long recognized the threat to liberal values posed by this regime, yet the headlining leaders of the Liberal Left have been derelict for some time on this file. Sadly, this is not a surprise to those of us who have been watching this space for a while and have long lamented this problem.


For anyone who has generally progressive views and supports Taiwan and its continuing existence as a free and democratic country this contradiction is particularly painful, as many writers in Taiwan have noted. I have always been and continue to be a supporter of most of the values espoused by the moderate Liberal Left: social justice, environmental protection, universal human rights, yet I have little faith in international institutions and believe in healthy defense, training and advanced weaponry--peace through strength. Realizing that you have loved ones, friends, places and things that you value under constant threat of annihilation enforces pragmatism.

Personally, becoming deeply skeptical of the capital-L Liberal Left (as an ideological brand or label defined by its leading voices rather than a fuzzy set of held values) was a long time in the making, as I watched liberal papers such as the Guardian give voice to awful regime apologists, saw socially progressive celebrities and politicians look down in meek silence or even take pro-Beijing stances, or journalists unthinkingly regurgitating official narratives, making it easier for Beijing to calculate in its own favor as it continued to trample over every value they purported to hold dear. 

For me, the last straw was the response when President Donald Trump accepted a phone-call from Tsai Ing-Wen shortly after winning her 2016 election as President of Taiwan, and the cacaphony of supposedly progressive voices from that corner screaming bloody murder, warning of apocalypse and doom should anyone cross Beijing, heaven forbid the leader of the United States, for all of his faults, should take a symbolic phone call from the democratically elected, female President of one of the most free, liberal and progressive democracies in the world and risk angering a brutal regime that enslaves its own citizens and threatens others. 

That so many failed to even see this hypocrisy or consider that even a broken clock might be right twice a day made me lose much of my faith in peoples' ability to think critically, on both sides of the political spectrum. The biggest heartbreak came from the disappointment of seeing well-known people who I liked and admired unthinkingly retweeting such Chicken-Littlism and the false narratives that go with it or adding to the chorus.

Before anyone can accuse me of naiveté for thinking Trump did this out of the goodness of his heart, of course political and national interests are always considered, and I am OK with that. The minor symbolism of taking the call was enough.

So here we are, more than 4 years later and yet it seems for many, none the wiser. Just a few months ago, those same commentators were defending the WHO despite clear evidence that they had actively and knowingly caused the COVID19 epidemic to get worse, all in deference to China. While Trump was wrong to pull out of the WHO (how can the USA advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion if it’s not even there?), holding a benefit concert that made the WHO look like the victim in all this was laughable. 

Liberals often pride themselves on their critical thinking skills, and yet swallow CCP narratives that a phone call to a democratic leader friendly to the US is a diplomatic crisis. They pride themselves on logic and facts, yet threw a concert to support an organization that was proven to spread lies that harmed global health. They pride themselves on standing for access to human rights…unless the people fighting for those rights are far away. The right thinks masks are mind control devices, poverty will go away if you ignore it, and that it’s acceptable to put children in cages. How are they right about China while we writhe in indecisiveness? How are we losing the moral high ground on this?

The world did not end in war over a phone call. Universities still compromised their values for unsustainable profits, financiers continued to try to reap profits from the Chinese market, cadre money still got laundered in real-estate and commodities still got sold. On the other hand, the pandering obsequiousness with which the UN, governments, corporates and media treated the CCP regime, abetted by the silence of the Liberal Left, resulted in a pandemic that killed thousands, wrecked countless lives and made the world more dangerous and unstable.

And still, the biggest call to action on the left seems not to be the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, standing with Hong Kong, or supporting Taiwan, but fear that standing up to the CCP is simply too scary to contemplate. A lot of this stems from thinking everything the right says must be wrong, so they must be wrong about China. 


Honestly, they are indeed wrong about almost everything, and Trump is not a reliable ally. Nobody who calls Xi Jinping a “good friend” and doesn’t seem fazed by concentration camps could ever be. But, when it comes to the CCP, the Liberal Left is the one the wrong. Trump is terrible, but when he criticizes China, he’s not wrong just because he’s Trump. 

At this time, I wonder if it would be too small-minded of me to contact those who unknowingly supported the stance of the CCP regime in admonishing the US President for taking Tsai's call four years ago, and see if their view had changed in hindsight. I fear, however, that I would be disappointed.  

Fortunately, critical voices are starting to come out on the Left, surprisingly from parts of Europe, of all places, with the German Green Party or Czech Pirate Party, for example. In the US Congress, important legislation regarding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang passed unanimously — meaning Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike, supported it. There is still time to push Joe Biden away from Obama-era China doves and towards policy advisors who are more realistic about the CCP, and to embrace bipartisan efforts in congress.

We still don't know if even this pandemic is enough to overcome inertia and make people realize that they are affected by what happens in Asia (the last Federal election in Canada was a hold-your-nose-and-vote affair), but hopefully change will come. Regardless, the left-right dichotomy, with its simplifications and polarizing power, has shown that it is no longer useful for the messy, chaotic world we live in.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Taiwan needs backup, but Trump is not your friend

I can't stand John Bolton, a man for whom the epithet "the worst" could have been invented for. John Bolton is the absolute worst. 

But, although hearing anything from him makes me ill, it is important that we all digest the comments in his Wall Street Journal op-ed (without forgetting that he refused to testify before Congress because he is the worst). At the very least, I hope they will put to bed any notion that Trump is any sort of friend to Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Yes, this is a real belief - even people I know who can't stand Trump say "but he is good for Taiwan" or "I do like how he's strong on China". The Wall Street Journal is here to tell you that you are wrong:


I hoped Trump would see these Hong Kong developments as giving him leverage over China. I should have known better. That same month, on the 30th anniversary of China’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Trump refused to issue a White House statement. “That was 15 years ago,” he said, inaccurately. “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal. I don’t want anything.” And that was that.
Beijing’s repression of its Uighur citizens also proceeded apace. Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China over its treatment of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim people who live primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province. 
At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China. 
Trump was particularly dyspeptic about Taiwan, having listened to Wall Street financiers who had gotten rich off mainland China investments. One of Trump’s favorite comparisons was to point to the tip of one of his Sharpies and say, “This is Taiwan,” then point to the historic Resolute desk in the Oval Office and say, “This is China.” So much for American commitments and obligations to another democratic ally. [Emphasis mine].

I quoted at length because not everyone can jump over the paywall.

Let me make one thing clear. Taiwan does not need a savior. Taiwan does not want some world-ruining, self-interested fake white knight galloping in to defend a damsel in distress with his big manly sword. That is ludicrous. 


President Tsai has been continuously strengthening Taiwan's military capabilities since she was elected (something her predecessor failed to do), and her popularity stems in part from her strong message of standing as a bulwark against China. She has been clear that Taiwan has the capability to repel a first wave of invasion from China. It can defend itself - for a time. 

It seems clear that Taiwan, in general, doesn't want to stand alone against China. I also believe Taiwan is aware of the limitations of its indigenous defensive capability, and at what point help might be needed. 

What Taiwan needs is support. Backup. On Taiwan's terms, as much as possible. And it's not in a position to slap away any hands offering it.

That's what differentiates this issue from every other mess the US has blundered into: the fact that Taiwan, generally speaking, wants the help, that it can defend itself to a degree, and that it has a functioning government that can get us through any conflict started by China, and guide us after it.

The current Congress has been good for Taiwan, passing plenty of legislation which is heartening to see after so many years of a supposed ally actively attempting to undermine Taiwan's ability to defend itself. That Congress is bipartisan, with Democrats voting for this legislation as much as Republicans. Even leftie darling Bernie Sanders has said he’d stand up to China. The support Taiwan needs is bipartisan and pan-political. It does exist. 


We need to keep building that bipartisan support, and reaching out to better potential allies and friends, rather than slapping hands away. 

Trump himself, however, has been a liability. Yes, he signed the bills passed by a bipartisan legislature, but he had to - they’d passed unanimously. In every other way he has done harm. 

In his selfishness, inconsistency and inability to execute even the fundamental duties of his office, he is not a friend. He compared Taiwan to the tiny, inconsequential tip of a Sharpie, and asked Taiwan’s biggest enemy for help winning the next election: 


One highlight came when Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years, and Trump replied that people were saying that the two-term constitutional limit on presidents should be repealed for him. Xi said the U.S. had too many elections, because he didn’t want to switch away from Trump, who nodded approvingly.

Let me repeat: he is not your friend. 

Xi Jinping is our generation's Hitler and the Communist Party of China is a terrorist organization which cannot be trusted to adhere to any negotiations or agrements. I don't even think this is a mere opinion - I mean, the literal concentration camps are currently in use. Trump told him they were fine. We need to deal with Xi the way we dealt with Hitler, and that does not include appeasement, turning a blind eye to blatant annexationism, asking the New Hitler to help you get re-elected and - oh yeah, did I mention the concentration camps?

Standing in the street, arms linked, wouldn't have stopped Hitler. A protest on Ketagalan Boulevard won't stop a Chinese air assault (it will give it a target). Nobody wants a war, and Taiwan will not start one (nor, I hope, allow one to be started in its name). 


But Taiwan simply needs to be able to defend itself. There are few outcomes worse than war, but annexation by China is one of them. 

We are not going to get to choose if China decides to start a war, and deciding that backup from imperfect sources is unacceptable (or may even be the cause of that war) is irrational. If there is a war, the cause will be China, period. I can't say it will happen, but we have to accept that it is possible. It would be great to exclaim that because Taiwan is being treated like a pawn, that we simply shouldn't play the game. Refusing to play is underrated! Sadly, in this case, we don't get a choice. 

I don't want a war, but if I have to meet PLA soldiers in the streets with a baseball bat, well, it'd be great to have some backup. I can't speak for others, only myself, and only Taiwan can decide how it will meet that threat. As of now, however, its strategy seems clear: build defensive capability as much as possible, and reach out to the rest of the world for helping hands, because they might be needed. It's not Taiwan's fault that not all help comes from a perfect source.

But just because not all alliances are ideal does not mean that Trump is any sort of helping hand. Taiwan may need backup, but he will never be the one to consistently provide it. Taiwan may need friends (and may not always get to choose who they are), but he will never be one.

The people you need to help you fight Hitler is absolutely not the guy who says concentration camps are okay. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The rigged game, and how to feint

Untitled
This meme just seemed appropriate. 


I have a lot to do today, but wanted to quickly explore the game. 


Here's how it works. People who should be on the same team appear to be split. There are those who think Trump's rhetoric on China and the WHO is right, and we must stand up to them. This group tends to believe that, as a result, Trump's actual actions constitute good strategy.

Then there's the camp that think nothing Trump says can ever be correct, and therefore we shouldn't stand against China, as this could create "a new cold war". They also tend to view the WHO as mostly good, rather than mostly political.

Both sides are partially wrong. Rhetorically, the Trump administration is mostly correct. Leaving aside "they gutted American industry" - no, we did that to ourselves - and talk of excluding whole groups of Chinese citizens, it's not wrong to point out that China is planning to treat Hong Kong as just another Chinese province, and that they've basically taken control of the WHO.

The CCP is on the brink of committing an unthinkable atrocity and have already committed many others. The WHO is a political organization that prioritizes factional battles over actually helping people. Hong Kongers do need assurance of assistance, both locally and as potential refugees. These issues do need to be dealt with and can't be buried under talk of "engagement" with a government that simply cannot be trusted to keep its promises.


But strategically, Trump is wrong. Ending Hong Kong's special status makes sense in terms of ensuring that China doesn't benefit from Hong Kong while oppressing it. But China's ultimate goal is to make Hong Kong unimportant, an extension of Shenzhen rather than a distinct cultural and economic entity. The CCP so clearly wants to promote cities like Shanghai as finance hubs and gateways to China, and I doubt hey've realized that this won't be appealing to much of the world. Hong Kong's relative wealth and visibility make it difficult to control when its residents rebel against CCP brutality. Shanghai, on the other hand, is basically obedient.

On this front, I don't know what to say. The game is rigged. There is no right move. End Hong Kong's special status, and you hand China something that helps them destroy Hong Kong. Keep it in place, and you let China off the hook and help them economically, after all of the horrors they have perpetuated. Someone clearly foresaw this choice when thinking through their government's possible actions - and it wasn't anyone in the Trump administration. China had this in the bag before we even knew we were in a game.

This is basic strategy and it was not foregone that the CCP would figure it out first. In any case, it makes me absolutely furious that the US really should have known that this was the CCP's endgame. After all, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been ringing the warning bells since at least since 2014. The day the first Hong Kong bookseller was attacked was the day the US should have started figuring out what the end game might look like.

Instead, they ignored all of the Asian voices who honestly tried to raise the alarm - when I say that Taiwan has been trying to warn the world about the CCP Virus, I don't just mean COVID19. It's one of the fatal flaws of the West that they just don't seem to hear non-Western voices warning about a rising Nazi-like threat in their own backyard and boom, now we've got a Sudetenland situation.

The proposed exclusion of some Chinese students from the US is also a no-win strategy. CCP incursion into global (including Western) academia is a real thing and genuine security threat, and it's well-known that the CCP has a say in which students can go abroad, asking some to collect information in return for tuition paid. Banning Chinese students who studied at Chinese military universities as undergraduates (not all Chinese students, or even most, as some have claimed) seems to make sense.

But let's remember that the students themselves are not tied to any known wrongdoing, and security protocols already exist. If this is a threat it is probably not a highly pressing one - meaning it's showy but of negligible consequence - and that Trump wanted to institute a much broader ban in 2018, long before the Hong Kong protests began. Banning Chinese students as a broad category is a long-term goal of the Trump administration and many Republicans. It's not really about Hong Kong.

There are other things that can be done. Institute stricter security. Ban Confucius Institutes. End CCP funding for academic titles and other programs. You can enforce rules - which I am sure already exist - barring student groups from harassing other students and disbanding any groups that engage in such behavior. Why broadly target Chinese students?

In any case, Trump's rhetoric on Hong Kong doesn't exonerate him from the inherent racism of his administration, and doing everything he can to target Chinese students as a group, rather than looking for institutional ways to counter CCP threats, shows this.

How do we know they are racist, despite talk of helping Hong Kong refugees?  I mean - [gestures vaguely at Minneapolis]. But also, a big chunk of Trump's 2016 campaign was predicated on stoking racism-based fears of refugees, especially from majority Muslim and Latin American countries. Then, once in office, he defunded many refugee resettlement programs and slashed the number of refugees allowed in.  Don't delude yourself that Republicans care about "refugees" as a whole.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't help Hong Kong refugees. We absolutely should. But we should help refugees, from anywhere, period. Trump never wanted to do that, and he's not going to. 


Finally, withdrawing from the WHO is not the way to fix problems inherent to the WHO. I spent a short amount of time supporting the US defunding that absolute joke of an organization, but honestly, the US is just conceding ground here. The WHO is garbage and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should be removed from office, if not in jail. But it is still an organization that the rest of the world broadly believes in, for some reason, and China will simply be able to control it better. Not necessarily through funding, but through building up a block of allies:




(Go read the whole thread)

This rebranding of "authoritarian nations" as "the Global South" (a possibly once helpful way of thinking about the world which I think has lost its luster) is a part of what keeps the dumber among liberals still believing in them. 


A big chunk of China's argument for why it should be considered next global leader is that unlike the evil, imperialist, Western United States, China represents a new and better orientation away from the primacy of Western (and therefore historically imperialist) interests in the world. 

There are a lot of people who believe (correctly) that white, Western countries became rich in great part from plundering the wealth of the rest of the world, and that this is one of the great tragedies of history. However, there's a tendency to twist that argument around and insist that as imperialism in all its forms is most visibly white, that it can therefore only be white, and therefore anything "non-Western" must be preferable.

Frankly, I see the appeal. Nothing sounds better than re-orienting towards leadership by people of color who can build a more equitable post-colonial world.


Except, of course, China's not doing that. 


T
heir goal is not to break down divisions so that the "Global South" may enjoy the same level of development and well-being as the "Global North", which would include things like human rights. It's to cement its position as the permanent leader of these nations, supporting and replicating its own system of anti-humanitarian, authoritarian repression. It wants supplicants. Serfs. It wants its own colonial empire, cloaked in the language of leftie progressivism. 

The WHO is just a tool in that game. And by withdrawing, we're handing it to them.

Usually I say that when it comes to the CCP, the only way to win the game is not to play, but this is absolutely not what I mean. Opposition is not the same as playing. There are games bigger than those devised by the CCP that are worth playing, and this was one of them.

There are better ways, and if the rest of the world would only listen to Taiwan, perhaps they'd see that.

Rather than flouncing off in a huff and leaving the WHO to China, Taiwan has been trying to raise awareness of its exclusion. That not only helps Taiwan's global visibility, it highlights the ways that the CCP has been slowly taking over international organizations. Engaging, petitioning, speaking out, countering - yes, it feels like playing a game we can't win, but honestly, we got pretty far with it. There was an impact, however unsatisfying in the end.

In fact, one of the reasons I admire President Tsai is that she can look at China's ridiculous carnival games - hoops on an angle, balls that are too big for their buckets, weighted milk bottles, carefully-placed tables of a certain height - and see not just the game, but the rigging. If you can see the rigging, you can begin to devise a strategy to get around it. Tsai does this better than any other leader in the world. 

Even when it comes to issues such as framing the discussion on independence or potentially (maybe) gaining diplomatic recognition, she treads like a trained explosives detector across a minefield, not a tank. Trump? He's a tank with a particularly stupid driver.

She's doing that rather marvelously, and Trump is flailing like the screaming racist baby he is. He may be tough on the CCP, and I do actually think he is right about them, but he doesn't know what to do about it. His strategies will fail, because they were ham-fisted to begin with and certainly didn't take into account what's really going on with these games.

This is why Tsai, not Trump - and not "we have a strategic interest to engage" Merkel (translation: $$$), nor "did well with COVID19 but not so much the CCP Virus" Ardern - is the true leader of the free world. 


There is more that Taiwan can do, which I'd like to explore in a later post. There are reasons why pivoting away from the US and towards an "Asian Century" is not a bad idea, as long as that century does not include the CCP - again, for a later post.

What I'm trying to say here is: when deciding exactly how not to play the CCP's games, there is more strategy involved than people realize. It's not always a simple matter of walking away, because other players and bigger concerns need to be dealt with.

Taiwan has figured this out. One of the best strategies we can adopt is simply to listen to Taiwan and other Asian voices when they warn of encroaching CCP authoritarianism. For liberals, that means curbing the tendency to equate "we want to engage with the world and that includes China" with being a good liberal and global citizen. Good liberals don't pretend modern-day Nazis are acceptable negotiation partners and listen to marginalized voices around the world, not just dominant ones. For conservatives, it means ending racist platforms in all ways and actually paying attention to the voices of people of color, rather than acting like white saviors.

For both sides, just listen. The rest of Asia - and especially Taiwan - is telling you what to do and where the traps are.

When will the US and the rest of the world open its ears?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Chinese government spying is the scariest sort: an explainer

I'm in the US for the holidays, and a segment came on some silly morning show (they're all silly) about how China is "revolutionizing" shopping and payment through cell phone payment apps at a far higher rate than the US. Or, as the silly hosts of this silly program described it, "China is decades ahead of the US in shopping technology".

And I made a remark about how that's actually terrifying, because the Chinese government watches essentially everything you do on your cell phone in China, and can and will use it against you. They don't even try to hide it. That everyone I know who is knowledgeable about cybersecurity in any way uses a second dummy cell in China for all of the apps there that come packaged with nasty spyware.

The person I was watching the program with looked duly horrified - after all, the silly segment by that silly host on that silly TV show was making China out to be this amazing technological wonderland of the future (the tone was similar the one taken in this article, but if anything less critical). What I was saying was totally at odds with that.

She came back with "you know, I'm sure the US government does that too, we just don't know about it."

Sure. I mean...kinda. But it's not at all the same thing. I don't blame her for her reaction, by the way - when your exposure to current affairs in China comes entirely from Western media, and mostly Western media that is uncritical about China but highly critical of domestic affairs, interspersed with ads for Shen Yun (with no context whatsoever pointing out that a.) the Chinese government hates them, which is great but also b.) that they are owned by a wealthy cult-like religious organization which is not great), then this would be your natural reaction.

But there is a world of difference, and it's important to know why.

I'm going to come at this from a non-expert, non-academic, non-technical point of view. If you want detailed, professional analysis go somewhere else. I've noticed, however, that the average non-expert finds these issues too dense and daunting and typically doesn't read or fully understand them. Hell, I can't claim to fully understand them (this, for example, is barely readable to me despite being highly important). Instead, I'm hoping to tackle this in a way that helps the average reader comprehend what is so terrifying about China's government surveillance, in particular.


"But the US government does the same thing!" 

This is an issue in that the US government does have some unsettling rights to surveillance and data under the Patriot Act. I don't like it either, and I've had it and other surveillance programs affect me three times that I know of, including having to sign something that allowed the US government to monitor one of my bank accounts in Taiwan, and being unable to open a new IRA in the US.

So, yes, it's creepy and horrible. Please don't categorize me as a defender of the actions of the US government.

But. But! This is really not on the same level as what the Chinese government does.

For reasons explained below, it's doubtful that the US government is directly intervening in what private businesses do, forcing them to put spyware into their devices or app/online offerings. They're not using what data they do collect in the same way as China, and while maddeningly opaque and bureaucratic, the very fact that the US is a democracy with certain freedoms of expression and information means it is still more transparent than China.

Oh yeah, and say what you will about who is watching what you do online, but the US government isn't going to disappear you because you said something online that they don't like. Even if you make suspicious purchases or phone calls, or visit certain sites, you might find yourself detained or questioned, but you won't be disappeared in an unmarked van.

No, you won't. Don't give me any conspiracy theory nonsense. But in China this is a real thing



"The US government could just be putting spyware in our phones too!" 

Maybe. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

As far as I'm aware, the US government doesn't "own" (or have some sort of control over) the various tech companies that make our stuff. The US government can't tell Apple, Google, Paypal, Venmo etc. what to do the way the CCP can tell Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu and Alipay what to do. It's an open secret - if it's a secret at all - that Communist Party members and officials have a controlling stake in those Chinese companies and they almost certainly do have those companies install spyware and other backdoor access to data in their products.

It is not clear at all that the US has the same thing, and I doubt they do.

The US media, for all we deservedly criticize it, is pretty good at rooting out this stuff, investigating it and exposing it in detail. We know that Donald Trump committed tax fraud thanks to an in-depth investigation by the the New York Times, to give just one example.

If the US government were ordering Apple to install spyware into their phones, or ordering Google to have government spyware installed on everyone's phone with every download of the Chrome app, while those companies would certainly not be transparent about it (seeing as they're not transparent about much), it would still likely break in the media eventually. Criticize it all you want - I do! Push the media to be better. But it's a lot better and a lot freer than in many places, including China.

If anything, you should be scared that the Chinese government, not the American government, is putting some scary things into products by non-Chinese companies. Though it's perhaps less likely as they don't actually control these companies, most of the production takes place in China and some of the components of these products are designed/produced by Chinese companies, so it's still a real possibility.


"But the US monitors our financial transactions and punishes us too, through credit scores!" 

I don't care for credit score companies either. I understand why some institutions would want a heads-up as to how well or poorly you are likely to be able to pay your bills from them, but the way scores are calculated is not nearly as transparent as it needs to be, and in some ways is unfair.

However, most developed countries have some form of credit score system, and the effects are not as far-reaching.

In China, the social credit system being developed will operate on such a greater scale than any credit scoring system that the two can't be seriously compared. A bad credit score might make it hard to get a credit card or loan (or, if it's bad enough, a bank account), and you may be denied a visa to go abroad by that country's embassy, but it won't stop you from buying flight or train tickets or from getting a passport. China eventually willEven articles trying to downplay the threat are unconvincing. It is very real, and it's the outcomes, not the details, that matter.

Even if the US government is spying on us in the same way and to the same degree that the Chinese government spies on their citizens (and, possibly, us) - which they almost certainly are not -  a system designed to force you to be a "good citizen" is not the outcome and nobody is talking seriously about building one.

If that were to change (and in the Trump era, who knows?) we still have ways of fighting back that Chinese citizens do not. We can still speak openly about it. Journalists can investigate and publish stories. If nobody will publish your story you can publish it yourself (and who knows, you might go viral or at least show up in search results). We can file lawsuits against the government. We can vote the bastards out of office. We can push for better legislation. We can take to the streets. We can fundraise for a series of legal moves, lobbying and awareness campaigns that aim to change the way things are. It's hard to do, but it is possible and, most importantly, all of this is legal.

In China, none of it is. In China, you have no recourse. You can't protest, you can't sue, you can't raise money for these causes, you can't easily investigate (nothing is transparent enough for you to be able to do so - there is no Freedom of Information Act), and you can't vote in any meaningful way.

Also, in the US, it is still possible to exist (though with difficulty) without giving the government access to a lot of your data. You don't need to use any apps that you don't want to, and you can still (mostly) pay in cash for things. In China, I hear time and time again that it is impossible to keep in touch with people without WeChat (a social media app that definitely funnels information to the government, and every expert I know says likely comes packaged with all sorts of spyware quietly downloaded on your phone) or Weibo (same). You can't hail a taxi without a WeChat-related app, and may not even be able to buy anything at department stores or go out to eat.

It's becoming impossible to pay for things in China without some sort of phone payment app like WeChat Pay or Alipay. Taxis will upcharge you to an insane degree, and some places won't take cash at all. You can't function in China without signing up for these payment apps, meaning you cannot exist somewhat anonymously in even the simplest ways. In the US, you still can.


"But Facebook and Google collect our data too!" 


They do, and that sucks. And the data seems to be mostly used for selling ads. Even though, if I have to see ads, I'd rather see ones that might interest me, I don't really want companies to refine how well they can target me to convince me to spend my money through psychological means that I often find deceptive. That said, I can and do ignore them. It is possible to not buy. You can not pay attention to ads or fake news targeted at you (another way that our data was problematically used). You can ignore memes (I do), check sources (I do), and think critically about what you are reading and seeing, where it comes from and why it appeared on your news feed or in your search results. I do.

That data is not being handed to an autocratic government (the US has many flaws, but it is not an authoritarian state. China is) to build a massive social credit system that you can't opt out of and that you can't ignore the way you can a shitty ad or lizard-brain meme. You can choose not to use any apps you don't trust in the US, and you can choose not to believe or pay attention to dodgy things targeted at you.

And we know that data is not being handed over for the same purposes, and we know the US government doesn't control these companies, because if it were, there would be no reason for Google or Facebook executives to testify before Congress.

You don't have any of those options in China, and there is no need (from the government's perspective) for either testimony or transparency. You know why.


"If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to fear!" 

Yeah okay um...who determines whether you have nothing to hide? You, or the horrible government that is monitoring you? Who decides if you've done nothing wrong - them or you?

Do you really trust them to agree with you that you have done nothing wrong? All the time?

What happens when you do have a complaint with the government? A legitimate complaint that is nonetheless not allowed? What if your complaint is that they disappeared your daughter, forced you to have an abortion, or expropriated your house without compensation? What if you took a trip to Taiwan and realized that the situation there was completely different from what you'd always been told, and simply wanted to say that honestly? What if you had an 'undesirable' friend who was not a model citizen like you, but you'd known them since childhood, cared about them and knew them to be a good person? What if the only way to boost your own social credit score was to disavow this friend? What if that person wasn't your friend but your brother, or mother? What if merely calling that person from your compromised phone put them in danger?

Even if you'd been a model citizen up to that point, what happens when suddenly you are faced with this choice?

Don't even get me started with "I have nothing to hide."