Showing posts with label international_discourse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_discourse. Show all posts

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Taiwan not only rejected China tonight, it rejected populism and demagoguery - and the world should take note

Untitled


Yes, historic. It's historic because Tsai not only increased her tally (something previous incumbents have not done), but also netted a record number of total votes for any candidate in the history of Taiwanese elections. And historic because this is the first time the DPP has re-elected a majority in the legislature along with an incumbent presidential candidate.

But there is something else I hope the world will start saying: 



Also, can we please stop calling it "Chinese democracy" or "Confucian/Chinese/whatever values and democracy can mix" (both tweets I've seen tonight) and realize that the results clearly show a desire for the world to see that Taiwan doesn't see itself as Chinese, Taiwanese voters feel an affinity for their unique, Taiwanese culture, and maybe it's time the world listened.

In fact, while China did play a role, can this result please put the world on notice that Taiwan wants to be taken seriously on its own terms, as Taiwan, and media reporting about Taiwan should respect that and stop framing it always, always, always in terms of China? Taiwan is its own thing - its own place with its own culture and history - and that merits respect.

Finally, this election shows that the various causes and pushes for progressive values in Asia - Taiwan independence, marriage equality, Hong Kong self-determination - are all intertwined. You can see that simply by observing the people present outside DPP headquarters tonight. This is why liberals around the world should take note of Taiwan, and support it as they do Hong Kong. It's a different angle of the same fight.

That's really all I wanted to say. I hope the international media picks up on this idea and frames it as "Taiwan shows a better way, Taiwan shows we can defeat populism, divisiveness and disinformation. Taiwan shows that Trump-like figures do not always win."

Who wants to write that story?

Anyway, here are some photos. I'm off to the Maldives tomorrow so that's all you get from me. 







Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Friday, December 27, 2019

Bad backgrounding but good intentions: an eternal problem for Taiwan

Untitled
I don't have a related cover photo so please enjoy this rural menagerie


It is so frustrating, honestly, to read a well-intentioned piece that interviews mostly good people (I'm iffy on Jason Hsu) to try to make a point I generally support. Then to open it up and realize it's full of little inaccuracies and bad backgrounding that render it unsharable - and then to see all your friends sharing it, when it's really not that great.

I don't really want to go up against pieces like this as I'd like to see more coverage of what Taiwan and Taiwanese think from the international media. But I can't just blindly support journalism where I think the execution is somewhat poor, either. 


This particular piece by Anna Fifield in the Washington Post gets better towards the end - almost all of my criticisms are aimed at the first half. Let's take a look at a few of these problems, hopefully as an informative tour of how to do a better job writing about Taiwan. 


(I have to run off now - I'll try to populate this with more links to support my points later.)

First, there's the title:

Taiwan’s ‘born independent’ millennials are becoming Xi Jinping’s lost generation

Excuse me, Ms. Fifield.

Taiwan's millenials aren't Xi Jinping's anything.

They are Taiwanese and what they think or do is based on their lives and perspectives, not what Xi Jinping thinks. Xi is irrelevant to their daily existence except as a kind of weird scary dude in the background. Why are we starting this off by framing it through the eyes of China?

But let's not linger on that - often writers don't get to choose the title. This is bad, though, and whoever wrote it should feel bad. 



TAIPEI, Taiwan — The prospect of a “one country, two systems” arrangement for Taiwan — bringing the democratic island under Chinese control while largely preserving its autonomy — has never seemed realistic to lawyer Hsu.

The first issue is fairly minor, but worth noting. "One country, two systems" would not "largely preserve" Taiwan's autonomy. The Chinese Communist Party has already made it clear that to them, "one country, two systems" means Taiwan can keep only the aspects of law and society the CCP deems "legitimate", such as property ownership and personal religious belief (though even the latter is doubtful given how they treat their own people). They have never included "democracy" or "human rights and freedoms" in the model.



With Tsai’s reelection, the divide between millennials who want an independent Taiwan and older generations who have generally been more amenable to Communist-run China will only grow wider. Perhaps irrevocably so.


This isn't wrong on its face - older voters are indeed more likely to vote for pro-China candidates and argue that we need closer ties to "the mainland" (a term that is commonly interchanged with "China" without implying support for unification, but I've noticed has been increasingly aging out of use by younger Taiwanese).

However, not even older Taiwanese are particularly in favor of unification - they've just been convinced that being "closer" to China isn't a Chinese strategy to render Taiwan so economically dependent on China and devoid of global recognition that they could not possibly remain sovereign forever. The younger generation are smart enough to see through this tactic. Some older voters do favor unification as "the ROC re-taking the Mainland". They are delusional.

This is not "perhaps" irrevocable. It is irrevocable. Once the curtain is drawn back it's impossible to un-see the truth.



“Taiwan has not been ruled by China for one day or for one minute or even for one second in our lifetimes,” said Miao, a 31-year-old pro-independence member of Taipei’s City Council, adding that her conservative father is more bothered by her stance toward China than by the fact she’s lesbian.

I hate to criticize Miao Poya as she's one of my personal heroes, but it would have been more accurate to leave off "...in our lifetimes". Taiwan has never been ruled by China as it exists today, and the "China" that held colonial power in Taiwan just cannot be said to be the "same" China (nor was it outright rule - more like colonial control of part of Taiwan) that exists today. Therefore, Taiwan has never been ruled by China, period. 


Unlike many of their grandparents’ generation, who fled the Communists on the mainland seven decades ago, or their parents, who grew up under authoritarian rule, young Taiwanese have never known anything other than democracy and pluralism.

This is not totally untrue - the parents of the current zeitgeist generation knew dictatorship; the youth never did. But it is misleading - "many" is wrong. In fact, only a small minority of their grandparents' generation fled China after losing to the Communists. A few million KMT diaspora showed up. Taiwan already had a population much larger than that - most of today's generation has much deeper ancestral ties to Taiwan. 

Why do articles like this always assume that hardly anybody lived on Taiwan before the KMT showed up? It's true that that wave of refugees had disproportionate privilege once their government colonized Taiwan, and therefore disproportionate impact on 20th century society, but they were in fact a fairly small minority.
Taiwan has been politically separate from the mainland since the nationalist Kuomintang, or KMT, fled to the island when the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

This is flat-out wrong.

Taiwan and China were politically unified, officially at least, for a few short years in the 1940s. Within two years of the KMT arriving in Taiwan in 1945, unrest kicked up in both Taiwan and China (228 and its aftermath in Taiwan, the civil war in China). By 1949 - just four years later - the ROC had lost control of China, and still could only said to be 'occupiers' of Taiwan as there was no legal basis for their continued rule (an issue which still has not been solved). They were not invited here by Taiwan; they came from a foreign country and set up a government. In effect, they were just another wave of colonizers.

Before that, Taiwan was a colony of Japan. For 50 years. Why do people always forget that?

And before that, it was a colony of the Qing, who were not considered Chinese at the time. It's hard to say definitively that Taiwan could be considered "a part of China" from that history. As I've written:



Arguably, Qing Dynasty China might be considered a Manchu colonial holding, as was Taiwan. Moreover, the Qing only controlled the western part of the island, which for most of that period was not considered a ‘province’ in its own right. Was there one China under the Qing Empire or were there two colonial holdings, Taiwan and China? That’s a discussion worth having for a clear historical perspective.... [note: I've edited this slightly from the original].
It is true that from 1945–1949 the ROC “controlled” both Taiwan and China. Yet China was torn asunder by civil war, and ROC “control” of Taiwan was a postwar occupation conducted at the behest of the wartime allies as their representative....
To boil that complicated history down to “split in 1949” makes it easier to write succinctly, but also implants in readers’ minds the idea that for a significant period of time before 1949, Taiwan and China were part of the same country. That is simply not the case. 

How many times do we have to keep repeating this for well-meaning journalists to get the memo and stop writing about Taiwan as though it had been a part of China before 1949?

Here's my suggestion: "Taiwan, first colonized by the Qing dynasty and later by Japan, was briefly ruled as a part of China from 1945-1949, before the ROC government fled China following their defeat by the Communists."


That's short and accurate, unlike the garbage Washington Post allowed in here.
“This wave of democracy is not stopping,” he [Jason Hsu of the KMT] said. “There is no going back. The KMT is also realizing this. We can have different opinions in how we deal with China, but we all have concerns about democracy.”


Oh, Jason. You are so deluded about your own party and so very, very disappointing. You really don't see how many of them are quiet (or not-so-quiet) annexationists, because they think they would personally benefit? You still don't think Chinese money is pouring in to influence the media and bolster the funding of KMT candidates?

I support the idea that KMTers/pan-blue believers should get a say in pieces like this, so we can juxtapose their views with the pro-Taiwan narrative we know so well as allies. I can see why Hsu is a popular choice - his quotes appeal to moderation and sense, and make the KMT more palatable.

But do the people who quote him realize that his views don't actually represent KMT beliefs more generally, and that he's something of an outsider in his own party? 


Then there's this:
Some 60 percent of Taiwanese ages 20 to 34 now support full independence, up 10 points from a year ago, according to an Academia Sinica poll.

It's not wrong. But more could be said here - the other 40% don't support unification, they support "the status quo". Most people who support that are aware it can't last forever, and some even understand that the longer we continue it, the more time we give China to quietly (or not-so-quietly) attempt to interfere in Taiwan's economic and political systems. Of those, most lean towards eventual independence, not unification.

For almost all Taiwanese, the status quo is independence as Taiwan is sovereign in its current state. The goal for the vast majority has always been independence, with the only question being "what form should it take" and "how long should we wait". It's misleading to imply that support for independence stops at 60%, even though the statement itself is not wrong.

It would also have been smart to note that an even larger number of people identify as only Taiwanese, or as primarily Taiwanese. Those poll numbers exist.


The rest of the article is better - at least, it's good enough that I don't need to pull quotes and tear them down.

But man, in an attempt to clarify for the world that Taiwanese do not see themselves as Chinese and almost certainly never will, they sure got the background on this one wrong. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

China will never 'win over' Taiwan: an anatomical discussion of dopey ledes

Untitled


Another day, another opinion piece about whether the Chinese government's reaction to the Hong Kong protests will hurt their image in Taiwan, and therefore their chances of convincing Taiwanese that closer ties or even eventual unification. This one comes from Bloomberg, a perpetual font of bad writing about Taiwan. It's become so commonplace, though - the well-founded criticism of China, backed up with some nonsense about how the Chinese government could alienate Taiwan and sour any hopes that Taiwan might willingly "return to the fold" - itself an inaccurate description of the situation.

Or, as Richard McGregor puts it in Bloomberg: 



Without a change in its approach, the Communist Party risks making the already difficult task of winning over the self-governing island next to impossible without force.... 
Amid the Hong Kong protests, the last thing the Communist Party should want is a rebuff from voters in Taiwan. Yet Beijing has shown little interest in modifying its stance. The inevitable result is that Taiwan has become even more alienated from China.... 
A decisive victory for Tsai in January’s election might chasten Beijing and cause it to return to a more consensual strategy. But the example of Hong Kong doesn’t so far give much hope that Xi will change course. If China continues to double down, the eventual denouement for Taiwan may be far more dangerous. 

What these sorts of articles universally overlook (or intentionally ignore) is that the CCP's stance and behavior only play a small-to-moderate role in Taiwan's desire for independence and lack of enthusiasm for unification. In fact, it wouldn't matter much if the CCP adopted a more conciliatory stance on Taiwan: there is no "consensual" strategy available to China because it's quite clear that Taiwan wants independence regardless.

That's not just my opinion - it's reflected in the data as well.

Poll after poll shows that deepening Taiwanese identity, which tends to go hand-in-hand with belief that Taiwan simply is independent and should remain that way. Most strikingly, these beliefs have not only blossomed since democratization in 1996, but only grew during the Ma Ying-jeou era, when the CCP was at its most conciliatory.

According to data published here, in 2008 (when China-friendly Ma took office) 64% of poll respondents said that Taiwan, even as the 'Republic of China', was an independent country, though only 22% of people thought China would use economic tools to force political concessions. According to this more detailed account, the number of people who identified as solely Taiwanese and those who identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese were both in the mid 40% range, with solely "Chinese" identification being quite low, at 3% - about the same percentage as non-respondents. This source says the same thing.

Then what happened? It was an era that some people still label as having "warming" or "closer" relations between Taiwan and China. You'd think that it would result in Taiwanese feeling closer to China as well, right?

Wrong.

Look at that data again. Taiwanese identity only increased from 2008 to 2016 - especially after the 2014 Sunflower Movement. The sense that Taiwan/the ROC was independent increased as well. Fear of China's 'conciliatory' economic gestures being guises for political force spiked, because...duh, they were.

It didn't matter how friendly China was to Taiwan. It didn't matter that Chairman Xi and President Ma got cozy in Singapore. Taiwan wasn't having it. If anything, CCP efforts to be 'nice' only exposed the truth: that none of it was sincere, and none of it came for free. All of it created greater economic dependency that would make eventual extrication under 'colder' ties more difficult, and it didn't even benefit Taiwan that much. Economic growth under Ma was not more impressive - and in some ways it was less so - than during other less 'China-friendly' administrations.

Taiwanese identity blossomed not just in response to this realization about China, but also as a part of a natural upward trajectory. That makes sense. Before democratization, it was difficult to freely form, let alone express, a true sense of identity in Taiwan. Taiwanese history was taught as a part of Chinese history in schools and you could face repercussions for expressing a different view. It's only reasonable that once those restrictions were lifted, Taiwanese people would look back at their own history - which was by and large not as a part of China, even if their ancestors came from there - and form a stronger sense of identity, which would increase over time.

It doesn't make sense that a friendlier stance from China would stem this tide, and indeed it did not.

While some of these 'Taiwan identity' numbers dropped again after Tsai assumed office in 2016, note that none of them dropped very much and all of them are on the rise again. Dipping from around 65% in 2016 back to the mid-50th percentile, and "Taiwanese and Chinese" identity experienced a slight bump from about 32% to about 38%. At the time, people worried that the Sunflower effect might be ephemeral and numbers might dip even further, but that didn't happen. Instead, sometime around 2018-2019 numbers began to rise again. The gap between "Chinese and Taiwanese" and "Taiwanese only" identity that began in 2008 - again, during China's "friendly" years! - only widened over the next eight years never came close to closing.

The reason for the change probably has something to do with Hong Kong and China's response - it would be silly to say it's not a factor. But if these poll results were released in the summer of 2019, the actual poll was probably conducted a fair bit earlier, that is, before the protests really got underway, if not entirely so. That was also around the time that Han Kuo-yu started to gain popularity among some segments of the population, and strongly turned off others - reminding them, perhaps, that games with China cannot be won and are best not played at all.

Considering this, I'd put that 2016-2018 blip down to Taiwan's natural tendency to grow critical of its leaders. Tsai was elected, the Sunflower high wore off, and now that "our person" was in office, and it was time to start nitpicking on her inevitable flaws.

It's also worth noting that during this time, "Chinese only" identity - the one most closely tied to openness to unification - did not experience a bump. In addition, if you read that Washington Post article again, you'll see that Taiwanese youth have a huge role to play. The current generation of young adults overwhelmingly considers itself Taiwanese, and those numbers don't seem to have budged much at all. Anecdotally speaking (because I have no data!), that generation was also the most strongly critical of President Tsai during the labor law and marriage equality wars. But it was also quicker to re-embrace her when the terrifying spectre of President Han began to loom, Hong Kong started getting dicey, and marriage equality finally passed.

And if you grow up simply thinking you are Taiwanese and your country is Taiwan, and there's no reason to question that because why would there be?, the chances that China could ever "win you over" are remote indeed.

So why do people still think China has a chance?

Because they're looking at only recent data, not going back to the 1990s, or even 2008. They've also been convinced by an international media that posits every issue facing Taiwan as being related to China in some way because China gets more clicks (even when they clearly not), when in many cases the reasons behind why Taiwan feels the way it does are mostly, if not entirely, domestic.

When you look at it that way and ignore the history of Taiwanese identity, things like this sound more plausible:

Over the past year, Beijing has single-handedly revived the electoral prospects of its political adversary, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. At the turn of the year, Tsai’s approval rating was a miserable 24%. Now polls show her with more than 53% support versus about 31% for Han, whose Kuomintang is the natural ally of Beijing. That Nationalist party retains deep ties to the mainland as the former government of China until it lost a civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

When, in fact, almost everything about it - and other opinion pieces that use this data point as evidence - is wrong.

It's true that Beijing has helped Tsai to a degree, but "single-handedly" reviving her electoral prospects? I think not. Domestic issues have played just as much of, if not a greater role.

"...the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party"? True, but misleading. It makes it sound as though being pro-independence is a platform of the party and not a common, majority belief in society. That's not the case. The will of Taiwan leans toward independence, and the DPP happens to better match it than the KMT, which often has to hide its closeness to China behind obfuscatory language. Even if Han wins in 2020 and the CCP puts its "the abuser is being charming to win you back" on again, don't expect the general pro-independence sentiment to change much.

Plus, "a miserable 24%"? Rick, do you even follow Taiwanese electoral politics? 24% is pretty normal for Taiwan, and every president who has eventually won re-election (a grand total of two people so far) experienced a huge dip in their first term approval ratings. Taiwanese love to criticize their leaders, so while that wasn't a great number, it also wasn't "miserable" or even out of the ordinary. Besides, that number seems to have come from a KMT poll - unless someone has evidence to the contrary - with another non-KMT-funded poll published around the same time, in May 2019, showing her support at 33.8%. 


Let me finish by simply re-stating the obvious: articles like these are harmful to Western perceptions of Taiwan, and to Western readers' understanding of the Taiwan-China situation in general. I mean that: a good friend emailed me recently positing that China's harshness with Hong Kong might "turn Taiwanese off" to "reunification" after reading the New York Times. (He got a kind talking-to, don't worry.)

People like Richard McGregor and media outlets like Bloomberg, then, actively peddle untruths and misleading notions. The "denouement" for Taiwan was always going to be dangerous, because China might offer some economic enticements or use friendly language, but it's never going to give up on unification/annexation. It's only possible to envision a violence-free denouement if you believe that Taiwan could possibly be persuaded to embrace unification - but that's highly unlikely.


It's clear from decades of research that the Taiwanese sense of identity and national sovereignty has deep, domestically-grown roots - history, cultural evolution, geography, democracy - that anchor it firmly as a place apart. How China approaches Taiwan is just one tiny tendril of a massive banyan that neither China, nor the international media, nor Bloomberg, nor Mr. McGregor here, seem to understand.

In fact, we've seen this play out recently. When China tried to reach out to Taiwan again in hopes of raising the prospects of its flailing puppet candidate Han Kuo-yu with its "26 measures", the reaction was one of near-universal disgust. It's clear to Taiwan that when China 'buys' you, they're not the ones paying the price.

This isn't just about China's treatment of Hong Kong in particular so much as China's vision for all territories it considers to be "Chinese" in general. The only way not to see this is to assume that China's vision is fungible, and that what it offers Taiwan and Hong Kong could ever be anything other than oppression. In events like the Hong Kong revolt, all China is really doing is showing its true face. Taiwanese people aren't dumb; they see that.

So please quit it with the fearmongering that China is "driving away" Taiwan. It's not, really. Taiwan got in the car and drove its own damn self away decades ago, and it's not coming back. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wan-wan: "That's creepy and you're not my mom!"

Untitled
AAAAHHHH



Most people teach their kids about "stranger danger" - not to go off with people you don't know, or in a more modern sense, "here's how to spot situations that don't feel right".

It seems Taiwan, through its blossoming from a nascent sense of individual identity into a fully mature and independent nation, has learned this lesson well.


Untitled




So when Haixia, a helmet-haired Chinese anchorwoman and Stern Aunt Who Is Spanking You For Your Own Good, spoke about China's candy "26 measures" using phrasing like "mother is calling you home", pretty much every Taiwanese who watched the video looked into her cold, dead eyes, got goosebumps (with that exact turn of phrase from at least one online commenter) and ran in the other direction. Like you would if you were a kid walking down the street and a guy in a windowless van slowed down to offer you a lollipop.

The creepiest moment was when she said "Wan-wan, come home" (灣灣回家吧), using a made-up and frankly condescending diminutive for Taiwan, in exactly the same tone of voice an abuser uses to try to manipulate their target when they think they can leverage whatever sentimentality exists in the relationship to pull them back into that void. 


Untitled
I'm not the only one making memes of it - art by A Ray

Speaking of voids, the pan-blue media didn't seem to report on Haixia's Abuser Masquerading As Loving Mother act at all, as far as I can find. TVBS talked about the candy that is definitely spiked with roofies "26 Measures" with some utter bollocks about how "people disagree on what freedom and democracy mean", even referencing the so-called "Green Terror", but not the creepy "Mother" thing. That was about as long as I could stand to watch blue media because there's only so much waterboarding masquerading as "news" that I can take, so I'm not sorry that I didn't look any deeper into that inter-dimensional vortex.

On that side, only somewhat more reputable United Daily News (pan-blue) covered the story, and even they went with a straight report that independent legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) reacted by saying "Taiwan is already home."


In fact, the Taiwanese reaction in general was...not pleased (here's a summary in English). And why shouldn't they feel that way about essentially being nicknamed wayward children?


Given that this reaction was inevitable, who is the CCP trying to reach with Haixia's Creepy Mother spiel? Probably their own people, giving Chinese social media users a chance to watch, share and marvel at how benevolent their government is. It's not like many (or any) people in Taiwan seriously watch CCTV anyway. They don't really care about Taiwan's reaction. It wasn't really intended for Taiwan.



Untitled
Art by nagee

But other moments caught my attention too: when she talked about how "Taiwan compatriots will be treated the same as Mainland compatriots", my first thought was utter terror and I gather plenty of Taiwanese had the same reaction. Being treated like a citizen by the Chinese government sounds absolutely horrifying. Who would want that? Do they really think they treat their own 'compatriots' well enough that Taiwanese would think "hey that looks great, sign me up for social credit and getting shot in the face for protesting!"?

This prompted Liberty Times to write about Haixia's soapbox whinge by running a picture of an Uighur detention camp and asking, "if you want Taiwan to 'come home', why don't you let [Xinjiang concentration camp detainees] go home first?" 


Of course, Taiwanese wouldn't have to worry about being sent to a Xinjiang detention camp - I'm sure they'll set up plenty of them in Taiwan once we 'come home'. After all, they'd treat Taiwanese 'just like' their own citizens, right?

Haixia went on to say that "we are sincere because we all have Chinese hearts" and "Taiwan's destiny is with the motherland", adding that "some people are not pragmatic and have been spreading strange rumors and slander - if they don't have a Chinese heart, how can they understand our sincerity?"

This part horrified and interested me in equal measure, but also clarified their true beliefs: that identity - Chinese identity in particular - is something that can be assigned and enforced, rather than something that is cultivated naturally through cultural and historical evolution. What it means can also be decided by them. If you are 'Chinese', you must agree. If you don't, either you are a traitor, or you were never Chinese and cannot understand why all Chinese do agree.

It won't work, of course. For it to be true, Taiwanese would have to agree that they are indeed Chinese, and buy into the notion of what it means to have a "Chinese heart". Clearly, they don't. Telling someone what their identity is never works in the long run anyway. Just look at...well, history.

It's also interesting that they're still trying to implicitly push this narrative that the people who "don't have a Chinese heart" are a minority of splittist troublemakers. If you read between the lines, what Haixia is saying only makes sense if the vast majority of Taiwanese agree that they are Chinese, in the sense that the CCP expects. Otherwise the majority of Taiwanese could be said to not have "Chinese hearts", which means of course they "can't understand" China, and if that's true, shouldn't China just give up on them as "not Chinese"?

It's kind of telling that they can't, or won't, give up on that line of reasoning. Not just because do admit the truth is to make it impossible for them to reasonably pursue their annexationist goals, but because it lays bare what's really going on: the CCP has never cared what the Taiwanese actually think in the first place, so it doesn't matter if it's decided for them. You know, kind of like they do with Chinese citizens. Equal treatment!

Finally, in the English media, Reuters noted that the CCP also promised to respect Taiwan's "way of life":



China will “fully respect” Taiwan’s way of life and social system once it has been “peacefully reunified”, as long as national security is protected, the ruling Communist Party said on Tuesday, in another overture to the self-ruled island.... 
“Under the premise of ensuring national sovereignty, security, and development interests, after peaceful reunification, the social system and way of life of Taiwan compatriots will be fully respected,” it said. 
“Private property, religious beliefs, and legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan compatriots will be fully protected.”

Note that among the things to be "respected", democracy is not listed, but property is. The CCP apparently would get to decide what aspects of Taiwan's way of life are "legitimate" - just as they get to decide both who is Chinese and what it means to be Chinese - and you can surely expect that any sort of non-approved belief or attempt at continued democracy or even basic freedom of speech would be construed a threat to "national security" and therefore "not legitimate". "Rights and interests" is too general a phrase both in Chinese and English to mean anything, other than what the CCP wants it to mean when it says those words.

Apparently, the CCP doesn't think that Taiwanese follow the news. If China respected the "way of life" of various groups of citizens, Hong Kong wouldn't be foggy with tear gas (but of course, they can't accept that Hong Kongers don't, by and large, support the CCP or their version of "Chineseness"). If they respected "religious beliefs", Xinjiang wouldn't be death camp central.

But then, do the Taiwanese they are trying to reach actually follow the news? They might, but the sources they read don't report the full extent of what's going on in Hong Kong or Xinjiang. Instead, it's a never-ending stream of Big Uncle Dirk interspersed with calling anyone who isn't KMT complicit in the "Green Terror". And China is aware of that.

By the way, if you ever get tired of the real lefties banging on about how capitalism is evil, remember this. Free markets may not be inherently evil, but if capital and power weren't intertwined, what reason would these political figures and media outlets have to keep their audiences mostly in the dark about the way China treats its own people? Is it because they have "Chinese hearts" or because they personally stand to profit? Hmm.


So, while the whole "Wan-wan, come home" thing was not actually meant to convince Taiwanese people that China is sincere and trustworthy, the "26 measures" do aim at Taiwanese who watch blue-leaning news, which is to say, fake news. The candy might actually look tempting if you've been conditioned not to fear the dude in the van. 

It has nothing to do with "Chinese hearts" and everything to do with candy.

Or, as Reuters put it:



China has not explained how Taiwan’s democracy may be allowed to continue if it takes control of the island.

Yeah, because it won't.

It won't be deemed "legitimate".

China's just hoping we don't notice that they never said otherwise. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Armenia, Ilhan Omar's vote, Taiwan and China

Untitled
Armenian genocide refugees in what I believe is Athens, Greece (probably, though not certainly, Kokkinia) before WWII 

You probably don't think Rep. Ilhan Omar's decision not to vote for the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which has drawn a media firestorm, could have any relationship to the Taiwan and China issues...and yeah, you'd probably be right. But I'm like that crazy dude with a shed where the inside is covered in newspaper clippings and photos with thumbtacks and red string connecting them in seemingly random ways, so hop aboard, this crazy-string train's about to sail.

But two things before we kick off: first, I'm not writing this to attack Omar as a person or public figure. I'm not even specifically concerned about a donation she received from an Erdogan ally, though obviously I'm not a fan. She as a congressional representative is actually somewhat irrelevant to the point I want to make - it's the flawed logic behind her choice that I want to address. And secondly, I actually do think that a vote on an unrelated issue by a young super-progressive Democrat has a lot to tell us about why the fight for Taiwan is so hard.

My first reaction to Omar's vote was inherently tribalist: Armenians are my people (on one side, anyway) and they've been fighting for international recognition of the genocide perpetrated against them in Turkey for over 100 years now against a Turkish propaganda machine hell-bent on silencing them to save Turkish face. I exist because the genocide happened, so hear that someone I have otherwise supported voted against its recognition for purely political reasons felt like a hard slap. You know, like the way I feel when progressives I would otherwise support make vaguely pro-China sounds.

I had felt - and still feel - that previous attacks on Omar have been disingenuous. "She disrespected 9/11 victims" was fabricated and I see criticism of the Israeli government and lobbyists - including AIPAC - and the massive sums they spend to further their agenda, not anti-Semitism. Media reporting of her comments makes it difficult to separate what she actually said and how it might be interpreted from the truthiness machine that certainly has aimed in the past to smear her, and for this reason I'm generally more likely than not to lean sympathetic to her.

This time, however, her own office's press release disappointed me. Although I believe she attempted to take an ethical stance (and failed), I wonder what the logic of such so-called 'ethical' stands would result in, if used to justify certain positions or votes on issues related to Taiwan and the region where I live. In fact, a lot of them are already being employed this way.

How so? Well...



"This is just a political move designed to embarrass Turkey at the worst possible time"

"Erdogan's not great, but if we anger him and embarrass Turkey with this political move, he might not hold back on the Syrian border" types were the first I encountered after the news broke. I want to be very clear: it's the sort of thing I heard online. Omar's press release indicates that she doesn't believe this, though none of her actual votes seem to back that up.

In any case, Turkey deserves to be embarrassed over its blatant historical revisionism. More importantly, it's just not a great idea to avoid acknowledging certain facts because it could hurt a dictator's feelings, or to play the game beloved by authoritarians of "you back down on this and maybe I won't commit genocide (again)". That's a game we just can't win. The game was designed to be lost and the only way to end it once and for all is to refuse to play.

You don't have to imagine the same logic being applied against Taiwan now, because it's already happening. I feel like "if we recognize the obvious truth that Taiwan isn't and doesn't want to be a part of China, that could anger China, so we'd better not" has been a decades-long game of political make-believe.

In any case, just as Turkey deserves to lose face re: their ret-con of history, China deserves to lose face over its treatment of its neighbor, Taiwan. 



"She agrees with the content of the bill, but not how it's being used as 'a political cudgel'"


A lot of defenders of Omar's choice made this case, I suppose choosing to interpret her statement that "I also believe accountability for human rights violations—especially ethnic cleansing and genocide—is paramount" meant that she did personally recognize the fact of the Armenian genocide, but did not like it being used as "a cudgel in a political fight".

This is a generous interpretation and plausible, but that's not what I see. Nowhere in her statement does Omar actively recognize that the Armenian genocide happened - no words of sympathy for the descendants of refugees, despite being a refugee herself. Her statement goes no further than to say "genocides everywhere are bad". It does not say "I understand that this genocide happened".

Later she clarified that she does understand that the Armenian Genocide happened and it should be recognized:

"My issue was not with the substance of this resolution. Of course we should acknowledge the Genocide,” she tweeted in response to MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “My issue was with the timing and context."


This is super personal for me, and it does matter that she avoided doing so in her press release. And, as a descendant of the diaspora, "gee golly I'd like to recognize your history but it's just not the right timing and context" is just not good enough. Sorry - it's not.

"I'm concerned about the timing and context" is also political, especially when you're using those as reasons not to do the right thing, which you say you actually believe in.

How about this - this is my history regardless of whether it's convenient for you, so screw your "timing" and "context". Okay?

The same thing is done to Taiwan, by the way. It exists whether people like it or not. Yet how often is Taiwan told "we know you're doing great, it's just bad timing. We can't help you right now, because Big Scary China is there"?

Since I joined this fight (by "joined" I mean "started a blog and helped a few people out behind the scenes", but hey), it sure feels as though Taiwanese and Taiwan allies are asked, over and over again, to sympathetically interpret the words and actions of politicians abroad as wanting to support Taiwan or understanding Taiwan is a sovereign state, when their actual words/actions perhaps don't merit such generosity - and to accept and satisfied that they "believe" in our cause without expecting any real action. Why should we, though? It's been decades. Come on.

I remember when Obama was known to personally understand the truth of the Armenian genocide, but what exactly did he do to concretely further the cause of its recognition? Nothing. Personal belief doesn't mean much in the political sphere, as I see it. Stand up to dictators, damn it - don't just talk about how you'd like to.

This "political cudgel" line of thinking is also applied to Taiwan in other ways: have you heard sentiments along the lines of "we shouldn't support this pro-Taiwan initiative because Taiwan is just a political tool to the people sponsoring it"? I have - often. "I care about Taiwan but not in this call to normalize relations because it's just being proposed to anger China, so I won't actually do anything to further the cause of Taiwanese independence" is another common one. I mean, these guys are probably correct - it's not as though any US administration actually cares about Taiwan - but "the guys who take action that helps us are just using us so we can't trust them, and the guys who aren't doing a damn thing for us actually believe in our cause but we can't expect any action" is simply not a great strategy.

Besides, using a genocide recognition bill as a political cudgel to make a point about not using the recognition of genocide as a political cudgel...doesn't make a whole lot of sense. And I wonder which grandstanding leftie is going to take that stance when it's a bill to normalize relations with Taiwan on the table. 

I don't want Taiwan being used as a political cudgel but I'll take a bill to normalize relations over "we shouldn't use this as a political cudgel" any day.


"Academic consensus, not geopolitics"

If anything, "...accountability and recognition of genocide....should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics" reads as a questioning the existence of an academic consensus on the Armenian Genocide, and implying the possibility that it's a manufactured geopolitical narrative rather than a real thing that actually happened. Of course, there is an academic consensus, and it is that the genocide occurred

Omar does clearly know that from her comments linked above, but it matters - it really does matter - that her own press release calls it into question.

And how many people have used "this is a geopolitical game, recognizing Taiwan should be based on consensus [implying there's no consensus]" as an excuse not to support Taiwan, resulting in their doing exactly what the CCP wants? More than a few.


"We can't cherry-pick which genocides to recognize for political reasons"

I agree with this. All genocides do in fact matter. We shouldn't choose which ones to recognize and when for political reasons. We should swiftly condemn perpetrators and take action to stop them as well as help victims. For this reason, we should have recognized the Armenian Genocide long ago.

But "we can't recognize this genocide until we recognize all genocides" just doesn't logically work. I'd rather more genocides be recognized, not fewer. I don't want to believe that "politics is the art of the possible" - I understand that while we "patiently" wait for our fellow people to do the right thing and accept half-assed compromises, entire lives are lived and lost in the breach. At the same time, "if we can't have everything right now, we don't want anything" gets us...nothing. Or, as I've written before, the far left wants the world to embrace its "radical" (not so radical) idea of a better world immediately, without compromise with 'the establishment'. I sympathize with that sentiment. But, in the words of a friend, without establishment allies, nothing actually gets done. No, I don't like it either.

Imagine saying that we can't cherry-pick support for Taiwan when we're not also supporting, say, Xinjiang or Hong Kong independence. I agree we need to support all of these, though their political situations are different, but wouldn't support throwing Taiwan under the bus until the entire CCP empire crumbles (which I hope happens, and I hope they're reading this). 


"Democrats are hypocrites"

Yeah, that's true.

I mean, it does smell a bit fishy for Democrats, who have pressured Congress to kill previous resolutions to recognize the genocide under both Clinton -  and Obama (but also George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton's been no paragon of virtue on the subject, so this goes both ways), to suddenly up and vote for it like so:



Most recently, Newsweek reported that the Trump administration considered threatening Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide if the Turkish army invaded northern Syria following the U.S. military withdrawal. After Turkish forces swept into northern Syria, congressional leaders — incensed by Ankara’s belligerence — announced that a vote on the most recent iteration of the Armenian genocide resolution will be considered this week.

I don't support Omar's choice, but can we all just agree that sucks?

But ultimately, as I noted above, Erdogan deserves to be threatened with something, and we're talking about historical facts here. Even those Armenians who understand that this is all a political game and everything's a tool - including the tool that Omar herself used - seemed to want it to pass. After all, recognition even in this way is better than yet another failed bill. From the same op-ed:



The bipartisan sport of killing Armenian genocide bills and weaponizing the suffering of its victims must end. By passing this resolution, the House can help ensure that the Armenian genocide is acknowledged and commemorated, but no longer exploited.

Think about it this way: once the thing is passed, it can't be used this way in the future, and we'll have done the right thing!

Even Omar probably wanted it, or something like it, to pass, as she chose to grandstand when she knew it would (that's why this is not really about her).



In the context of Taiwan, I don't know anyone who welcomes support from the US who doesn't realize that Taiwan is a poker chip for them, and that few in the US government actually care about Taiwan, or Hong Kong, or any of it. But they - we - welcome US support nonetheless because what other choice have we got, really? And what other choice have the Armenian diaspora got after so many failed attempts?

As I see it, the Democrats might be hypocritical from the perspective of a few decades, but it's better that they are doing the right thing now than keeping up their old anti-recognition bullshit to be more consistent.


Principles should make sense


So, it's unclear to me exactly what Omar was trying to take a principled stand on. The use of good bills as political weapons? Okay, but she also used the same bill as a political weapon. That we shouldn't use this otherwise good bill to threaten an evil strongman? That doesn't make sense, and her own press release said Turkey deserved a rebuking and that Syrians and Kurds were in trouble. That we should refuse to discuss anything until we are ready to discuss everything? Not useful. Hypocritical Democrats? Sure, but so what? How does that actually help the Armenians?

The same question can be raised about Taiwan - if you oppose using Taiwan as a political tool, well, I agree. But how would it help Taiwan to oppose US support for Taiwan, realistically? 


Who wins from these games?

Dictators around the world, in that they get to watch liberals, including US Democrats, tear each other apart. 

But also Republicans. Democrats get to talk big about universal liberal values but when the weakling fancy lad centrists among them waffle on actually promoting those ideas abroad (but are fine with exporting the worst parts of American crony capitalism), and the most progressive among them want to call them out for it by not voting for resolutions that actually espouse their values, what use are they really? Though far from perfect, domestically they at least sort of nod in the right direction, usually. Abroad, they look like a bunch of neoliberal pseudo-realpolitik (yet also spineless) jerks and, to be frank...they are.

And then Republicans get to swoop in with their "we support Taiwan! We support Hong Kong! Look at what China is doing!" and seem like they're the big champions of freedom and human rights, and that looks great.

Except domestically, their party is actively trying, once again, to disenfranchise voters they deem undesirable. They are trying to take bodily autonomy away from women to a degree that not even corpses are subjected to. They consistently fought marriage equality until they couldn't anymore and turned their attention to attacking trans people's rights. They are not the standard-bearers of freedom and human rights in the US, period. 



It's really not about Ilhan Omar

My main point here is this: when we apply the "but you can't do the right thing now, it'd make you a hypocrite!", "I won't vote for this thing I agree with until conditions are absolutely perfect and also I get a unicorn!", "I'm going to use this as a political tool to demonstrate how it's wrong of you to use it as a political tool" and "let's not do the right thing if we're (only) doing it to anger dictators" logic that Omar used in her absolutely stupid decision, it starts to look really scary for Taiwan.

It makes it harder for previously weak-spined liberals to finally do the right thing. It makes it impossible to get anything done. Everything is a political tool whether we like it or not, including Taiwan, and no, we don't get better choices just because we really, really want them. I don't want people like Omar using Taiwan as a cudgel any more than I want anyone else doing it. We should do the right thing to anger dictators, always.

If we want the Armenian genocide recognized, regardless of the extenuating circumstances, we should recognize the Armenian genocide, not...not do that because we don't like the timing. If we want Taiwan to be truly free and independent with the support of the democratic world, we should support a truly free and democratic Taiwan, not do what Democrats seem to love, talking like, aw jeez, y'know, I hear ya, but it's just not a good time, I mean...trade...you know.  iPhones and such. So we'd like to but, oh golly, we can't. So sorry and being absolutely no use whatsoever.

And then when we finally get a real shot, a few defectors weaken us all with "oh but we can't, that's just politicking and we're above that".

No - if you want a thing recognized, whether it's Taiwan or the Armenian Genocide or whatever, recognize it

Thursday, September 19, 2019

For the love of our good Lord and Savior, Jesus M.F. Christ in Heaven, please stop saying "Mainland" like it is a neutral term

Untitled
This is what I'd like to do to the hands of everyone who types the word "mainland" - I mean metaphorically...of course

So, I don't feel like writing about Terry Gou deciding not to run for president because reasons. I want to write about how the international media have taken Hong Kong off the front pages just as the Hong Kong government and their brutalizing thugs "police force" intended, but I'm waiting on that to see how it plays out. I could write about the Solomon Isl----yeah no.

Instead, I want to write about a thing someone messaged me about recently - hadn't I written something once about the use of the word "Mainland"? I thought I had, but other than a section in this piece, I can't find it. So - great. Let's do that now.

I'm going to take what I wrote there and expand it here.

Let me begin this first part by saying that I am not an expert on Cyprus. But, if one day I opened up the New York Times and saw an article about Cyprus with a sentence like "Cyprus just [did a thing that any normal sovereign nation would do], which drew a strong reaction from Mainland Turkey", my eyebrows might get stuck to the ceiling. The paper would almost certainly receive a flood of angry mail from indignant Cypriots and those who sympathize with them, and would probably be compelled to chastise the reporter or editor as well as issue a correction briefly explaining the true situation.

Or imagine if someone wrote about "Okinawa" and "Mainland China" (after all, China does claim Okinawa) - the reaction would be stunned, at best. In fact, Japan took the Ryukyus not long before it took Taiwan, there is some ancient history between the Ryukyus and China (not that it should matter), the US occupied the islands for decades after WWII and only gave them to Japan in the 1970s, and there is an independence movement there. And yet you'd never say "Okinawa and Mainland China" just because China might want you to.

So why is it so acceptable to use "Mainland" when referring to China in relation to Taiwan? Why do people think they can use that term apolitically? It is clearly not a neutral word.

Here is what it means, specifically: 


Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 2.45.50 AMScreen Shot 2019-03-01 at 2.46.01 AM



The clear connotation of “mainland” is that it is the main/continental part of a territory, and that outlying islands which are referred to in relation to it are also part of said territory.

By that metric, the only reason to use the phrase “Mainland China” in relation to Taiwan is if you want to imply that China and Taiwan have some sort of territorial relationship, or that Taiwan is a part of some larger concept of China. If you believe they are two sovereign or at least self-ruled entities, it makes no sense at all. In that sense, Taiwan does not have a mainland, unless you want to refer to “mainland Asia” (as Taiwan is a part of Asia, but not a part of the People's Republic of China).

Why then do people keep saying it? Partly it is force of habit. Pro-China types insist on it, and the media often follows. It is unclear how people came to believe the word was neutral or apolitical. It is not. It implies that there not only is but also should be a territorial relationship.

Even if you want to claim that, because the ROC officially calls itself 'China', it's acceptable to call the PRC "mainland China", I'd still challenge you on that. The ROC came to Taiwan from China and occupied it at the behest of the Allies in 1945 (there is no binding treaty that definitively cedes Taiwan to any government of "China"). Regardless, that government was not invited here by the Taiwanese people. They were never asked whether they wanted to be a part of the ROC, most don't identify primarily as Chinese now, and most don't support any sort of unification. If it could be done without any threat of 'retaliation' from China, the ROC would quite likely - though not definitely - be on its way out by now, if not entirely gone in favor of a Republic of Taiwan. Most Taiwanese refer to their home and country as Taiwan, not "the ROC".

If you refer to the island that people who don't identify as Chinese as something off the coast of "mainland China" (implying a territorial relationship they never agreed to), is that much different from telling people how they must identify? Are you not telling them "you think of these islands as your home country, but it's actually a piece of territory connected to a larger 'mainland', whether you like it or not"?

Some might say that omitting the word "mainland" and just using "China" and "Taiwan" is overtly nationalistic. But it isn't - it's just stating the truth as it is now. Taiwan exists, and it's not part of the country commonly referred to as "China", which as of right now is the People's Republic. It's the name of an island, and it's also what almost 24 million people call their country. It's not nationalistic to refer to a place people consider a country as a country, and a different place that they don't consider part of their country without any qualifying markers implying that it might be otherwise. 
Right now, there's a country called "China", and there's an island, which you can also call a country, called "Taiwan" with a different government than the one in "China". How is it 'nationalistic' to just say so? How is it not nationalistic to draw specific kind of connection between Taiwan and China by calling one the "mainland" of the other?

Simply using "China" and "Taiwan" is also the most open way to refer to these two places without closing off any future possibilities. "Mainland" implies that there ought to be some kind of future relationship in which the two places are connected. "China" and "Taiwan" are two existing places whose statuses may change in the future - referring to them as such doesn't cut off any potential outcomes. "Taiwan" and "Mainland China", however, does: it neuters the notion of Taiwanese independence in the present, by giving Taiwan a "mainland" that the Taiwanese never asked for. 


How political is “mainland”? It is required as a corresponding term to “Taiwan” in Xinhua’s style guide, a reflection of Chinese government policy. When you use it, you are quite literally referring to Taiwan-China relations exactly as the CCP wants you to. If you want to talk about Taiwan exactly the way the Chinese government prefers, by all means use “mainland”. But why would you?

Think of it this way: you may not necessarily default to Taiwanese independence as the only possible future for Taiwan. You may think the ROC is legitimate. I don't agree with you, but fine. These are valid (if flawed) opinions. Great news! You can still believe those things while calling China "China" and calling Taiwan "Taiwan", because a place exists called China, and another place exists called Taiwan! That terminology has room for your views while also making room for opinions which disagree with yours, whereas "Mainland China" does not. 

I know what you're thinking. But acktchuelly, you want to say, Taiwan's situation is diffrennnt than Cyprus or Okinawa! Yeah, sure, it is. Taiwan is in a unique position. But I do think they are comparable enough for this purpose: saying Turkey is the "mainland" of Cyprus makes a political statement about who you think should ultimately govern Cyprus: and unlike the PRC in Taiwan, Turkey actually already occupies part of that island. Saying "Taiwan and mainland China" similarly makes a political statement, implying that some government of China which includes the current China would be a more legitimate government than an autonomous, mainland-free Taiwan.

And sure, nobody reasonable disputes that Okinawa is, at least currently, Japanese territory. But then nobody reasonably thinks that Taiwan should be a part of the PRC, and nobody reasonably thinks that the ROC is going to "defeat the communists and take back the mainland". And the PRC has about as much right to claim Taiwan as it does to claim Okinawa - and they try to use historical arguments to justify both, even though the current government of China has never controlled either. And as far as I'm aware, just like the Taiwanese, neither the Cypriots nor the Okinawans want to be a part of Turkey or China, respectively.

So why would we all instinctively consider the use of "mainland" to be offensive in those situations or at least to be making political judgement calls we have no right to make, but not in the case of Taiwan? Is it a good idea to keep using the exact terminology that China wants us to use? Do we really want to keep being useful idiots?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If the Hong Kong government delegitimizes protests now, what happens in 2047?

Untitled
I try to take a break for a day then Carrie "Lizard Woman" Lam makes me work. Damn it, Carrie. 

News broke today that Carrie Lam has announced the full withdrawal of the controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to China, which has a deeply flawed justice system (China has a conviction rate of 99+% and lacks an independent judiciary). As the bill was already essentially dead, it's being called a symbolic gesture of conciliation to the Hong Kong protesters in an attempt to quell rising unrest in the city.

So...great. Right?

The thing is, this solves nothing. The extradition bill was the match set to dry kindling. Saying "the match has been put out" can't stop the fire it's started. 


First, this is likely the easiest move for the government to make vis-a-vis the protesters' demands, and is likely a maneuver to delegitimize further protest in the eyes of the greater Hong Kong public and the world community. Many will see it as a "victory" for the protesters, and wonder, if they've "won", why they're still on the streets (if the demonstrations continue)? They'll start to question the purpose of mass gatherings that have routinely ground crucial city infrastructure to a halt. More conservative locals will consider the protesters an inconvenience - many already do. The huge turnouts we've been seeing will turn to a trickle, without a clear rallying cry, and those who are left will be labeled as "radicals".

This is exactly the intent of the government: give them the thing that is already a fait accompli, so that further demonstrations can be delegitimized.

Much of the international media will probably play along, because they don't know how to narrate the truth of the matter: that Hong Kong may be legally part of China but that 'legality' is a form of barely-disguised colonialism, and China is not and can never be an appropriate steward for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the arrests will quietly continue, and those targeted will start to slowly disappear. Sentences will be harsh, because the government won't have retracted the term "rioters" to describe them. Police who have engaged in unconscionable brutality and violence will keep their jobs; there will be no full inquiry if the government can help it.

If the government retracts the term "riot", that entails forcing them to admit that this sort of large scale social movement and civil disobedience is acceptable, not just to the Hong Kong government, but also their masters in Beijing. And if there's one thing Beijing wants to make it clear is unacceptable to them, it's exactly this. Plus, they'd have no grounds to execute (perhaps literally) their plan above to begin arresting and disappearing protesters.

What's more, they'd have less justification for taking those same actions later, as the end of the 50-year "One Country Two Systems" draws closer and creates more unrest. They know perfectly well they're going to have to deal with escalating protests, and they want to ensure that there's precedent to label the protesters 'separatists'
, 'radicals' and 'rioters' so as to more easily punish them.

Remember how they didn't outlaw freedom of speech in Hong Kong but slowly went after journalists and publishers through abduction, stabbing, threats and other, subtler means? In such a way that it could never be definitively linked back to the government?

Yeah, like that. That's also their plan for Taiwan, by the way.

If the government opens a full inquiry into police violence, that amounts to admitting that the police engaged in unreasonable violence: opening such an inquiry and then concluding that inquiry with "well, we didn't find any instances of police violence! They used reasonable force!" will just spark more protests. It also would require scores of police officers to lose their jobs, which would look bad for the government.

When the protesters - dissidents, really - rightly claim that trust between the police and the public has broken down, the government will gaslight them, and portray them to more conservative Hong Kongers and the world as unreasonable and hotheaded.

Think of it this way: why would a government that fully intends to become authoritarian within the next 30 years admit that the police were violent and the protesters were right? They're going to need those police officers to beat up more protesters over the next few decades, and those officers need to know that acts of brutality against pro-democracy demonstrators will go unpunished. There's no other way for a planned authoritarian state to prepare for what's to come.

Much better to try to wrest back the narrative from the protests now, so that they lose local and international support. There's already a far-too-loud contingent of tankies who are shouting that this is all a CIA plot, or that the protesters are Western imperialism-loving neoliberal scum (or whatever), and they should just shut up and learn to love living under an unfree dictatorship because 'if the West is bad, China must be good'. 


Nevermind that all the protesters are asking for are the same rights and freedoms that Westerners enjoy - only the evil West can "do imperialism", and I guess human rights are just for white people or something (barf).

Those voices will gain more traction. This is what China wants. 


The whole time, both the government and the protesters will know that the movement has in fact failed, and the government will have successfully taken away the ability of the protesters to garner international support.

You know how people who know about the Sunflower Movement often consider it a success because the trade bill that sparked the occupation was essentially killed? And how the Sunflowers themselves have been known to refer to it as a failure, because it brought about no lasting change in Taiwanese politics? Yeah, like that.

Because, of course, the ultimate desire of the Sunflowers was to reshape the way we approach political dialogue and Taiwanese identity vis-a-vis China. The ultimate goal of the Hong Kong is even clearer: true democracy. It was never wholly about extradition to China, not even when this began.

Which leads me to the last part - universal suffrage and 2047.

Seriously, if the protests hadn't broken out now, what did you expect was going to happen 28 years from now?

The Hong Kong China government was never going to offer true universal suffrage or true democracy. It wasn't willing to do that in 2014, and it's not willing to do that now. It has never intended for Hong Kong to move towards universal suffrage; the intent was always to veer away from that, and towards authoritarian rule. The plan is still on for China and Hong Kong to fully integrate in 2047, and the essential problem remains that Hong Kongers simply do not want to live under a fully Chinese political system. They don't want it now, and they'll never want it.

Even scarier, if China did offer Hong Kong more democratic reforms, ultimately they'd try to control that democracy through subtler means - the same way they've been interfering in Taiwanese elections despite having no authority in Taiwan. 


That's a problem that has no solution - there is no middle ground. Even if there were, the CCP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. As I've said before, there's no emulsifying ingredient for compromise between China's oil and Hong Kong's water. What China plans in the long term is wholly unacceptable to Hong Kong, and what Hong Kong demands is wholly unacceptable to China. Period, hard stop, brick wall, what now?

So while Hong Kong China tries to stave off current protests, the larger problem still looms: what exactly are we going to do as we approach 2047? 


I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all know how this ends. Even if the protests die out tomorrow, in the long run it either ends in a broken Hong Kong, or it ends in a bent-and-cowed China that allows true democracy to flourish within its borders.

Which do you honestly think is more likely? 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being a democracy activist in Asia is an act of extreme courage

Screen Shot 2019-08-31 at 12.19.45 AM


Asia woke up this morning to the news that several Hong Kong activists were being arrested or attacked for their alleged roles in the ongoing protest movement there. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, Andy Chan, Jimmy Sham, Althea Suen and more (including some pro-democracy lawmakers) have been targeted in various ways - cornered and beaten, shoved into private cars and taken to police stations to face charges or arrested at the airport before a planned trip abroad. One activist was released from police custody and then attacked.

These are only the high-profile arrests. Hundreds more have been quietly arrested in previous weeks:



Notably, the Civil Human Rights Front march that Jimmy Sham was likely involved in organizing hasn't taken place yet. 

What that means is that these activists are being targeted - arrested or beaten - in some cases for things that China Hong Kong anticipates their doing, not things they have already allegedly done.


I cannot stress this enough. It's full-on Minority Report, as a friend put it: arresting someone for a "crime" that has not been committed (yet, allegedly, not that a peaceful march is a crime at all.)

That's not the sort of thing well-functioning societies do; it's the sort of thing fascist states do. It's White Terror. It's pre-massacre. If that alarms you, it should. 

The march has been officially canceled but I'll be very interested to see what actually happens tomorrow. 

These demonstrations are officially 'leaderless', and while organizers certainly exist, it sure looks to me like the Chinese Hong Kong government just decided to go after former protest leaders and other activists almost randomly, either assuming that they must be somehow involved or not caring and just looking to arrest some public pro-democracy figures on whatever charges they could drum up. 

In fact, there are serious doubts as to whether Joshua Wong had a leading role in the Wan Chai demonstration:



That this sudden crackdown on pro-democracy activists happened right before this weekend's planned march hints at China Hong Kong's true intentions: not to actually bring 'leaders' of these demonstrations 'to justice', but rather to scare demonstrators into ending the movement.

Add to this the detention in China of British Consulate employee Simon Cheng on unclear grounds (Cheng has since been released) and the disappearance of Taiwanese activist Morrison Lee after entering Shenzhen (in China) from Taiwan, and you've got yourself quite the 'crackdown' list indeed. What's more, with Cathay Pacific now stating that any employee who protests this weekend or joins the planned general strike next week may face termination, other companies are likely to follow suit. Even more than that, there are rumors of Hong Kong locking down its Internet access much in the way China does its own.

Perhaps most terrifying of all, Lizard Person Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that "all laws" were on the table as possible tools to end the protests. This includes the absolutely terrifying Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which is basically a state of Martial Law:


Such regulations grant a wide range of powers, including on arrests, detentions and deportations, the control of ports and all transport, the appropriation of property, and authorising the entry and search of premises and the censorship and suppression of publications and communications. 
The ordinance also allows the chief executive to decide on the penalties for the offences drawn under the emergency regulations, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

All of this was done by the Hong Kong government officially, but we know who's really running the show. To wit:


The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.... 
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

Of course, it's unclear what China hopes to gain by escalating rather than choosing a path that would bring peace (do not think for a moment that they couldn't choose such a path; they just don't want to. Don't pretend that Beijing is not responsible for its own choices.)

Is it a trap to provoke protesters into actions that could be spun by Chinese state media as "violence" and used as justification for further crackdowns?





Or, perhaps China Hong Kong isn't sure at all what to do about a leaderless protest with very specific demands - including the one thing they are completely opposed to offering (that is, true democracy) - is desperate to stop it, has started panicking and has started randomly arresting figureheads thinking they're all the same kind of 'roaches' anyway. Or, perhaps,  China Hong Kong law enforcement really is stupid enough to believe that these arrests along with talk of 'emergency powers', random attacks and disappearances and more will 'scare' democracy activists away and end the protests. (It won't.)

I don't know, and I'll be watching social media carefully this weekend just like everyone else to find out what the effects will be.

Given all of this, all I can say is - it takes guts of steel to be a democracy activist in Asia these days. Not a dilettante at a keyboard like me, but the ones in gas masks on the streets, the ones likely to be arrested, attacked or disappeared. That's true regardless of where you come from in Asia, and is especially true in Hong Kong now.

It's dangerous to travel, as you never know which countries might detain you at China's request as Thailand did with Joshua Wong. A Taiwanese activist friend of mine has said that as a result, he worries about travel to other parts of Asia. The Philippines, an ostensibly democratic nation, is turning 'death squads' on political activists. Constant threat of attack, detainment or disappearance bring both pride and anguish to their families. Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists now disappear in China regularly - Lee Ming-che, Simon Cheng, Morrison Lee - those who are banned from China got the better deal than those allowed to enter only to be thrown in a cell.

And yet, the protests must go on. The activism must continue. Having guts of steel is necessary, because giving in is not an option. They are not wrong - China is - and it's therefore on China to do the right thing. (They won't.)

For a part of the world that is relatively politically stable (well, outside China) and well-developed, it's an absolute tragedy that this is what one risks when one stands up for the basic right of self-determination, even in the Asian countries that protect such rights.

That leads me to a darker thought. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, I remember Hillary Clinton making an off-the-cuff remark (spoken, and I can't find video) about how the international affairs landscape had changed since the '90s - she said something like "we all believed it was supposed to be the End of History", admitting through her maudlin tone that it had not and would not come to pass. 


I remember Clinton shrugging it off, like "oh well, guess we got that one wrong", as though that's all there was to it. A scholar wrote a thing, we believed that thing, we acted according to our belief in that thing but...haha funny story, turns out he wasn't quite right that free markets under neoliberal capitalism through globalization and wealth creation would bring about liberal democratic reforms in currently illiberal nations and that didn't actually happen lol  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ !

But sitting here in Asia watching people I follow on social media - and in a few cases have some mutual friends with - be arrested or attacked for things that either haven't been done yet or would not be crimes even if they've committed them, it makes me furious. Beliefs like that led the rest of the world to praise China's rapid (if uneven, unreliably measured and volatile) economic development while not saying much at all about continued political oppression there, their escalating nationalist and fascist rhetoric, including 'moral education', and increasingly aggressive expansionism.

And now that big, mean giant is trying to call the shots in Asia well beyond its own borders, and is actively threatening exactly the democracy activists those '90s wonks would have wanted - nay, expected - to succeed.

Basically, the West's oopsie! on believing that freer markets would lead to freer societies has instead led straight to all of the dangers - including threats to their lives - that these brave activists must now face. Believing in hackneyed political philosophy and acting on that, it turns out, has real consequences.

Most of the blame for the poor current state of freedom and human rights in Asia lies with China. Some lies with a few other nations, but none are as powerful as China. But some of it lies with us - the West. We could have figured out in 1989 - the year of both Fukuyama's essay on The End of History and the Tiananmen Square Massacre - that we couldn't just rely on China to liberalize, and that freedoms must be consistently fought for and sometimes paid for with blood. We could have done right by Hong Kong before 1997, actually giving Hong Kongers a say and a true democracy then, rather than relying on China to do the right thing when it was so very clear that it would not. We could have woken up to the need to stand by Taiwan far earlier (some still haven't woken up).

But we didn't. Oops. And Asia suffered for it. 


Another bit of ‘90s era claptrap that hobbles today’s activists in Asia is the notion of ‘Asian-style democracy’ - relentlessly prompted by people like Lee Kuan-yew. This preposterous notion that it’s OK for democracy in Asia to be a bit more authoritarian and much less free ‘because of culture’ - which is what its rationale boils down to - made it that much harder for the millions in Asia, who never consented to this quasi-authoritarian model of limited democracy, to fight for the same freedoms that Westerners expect and enjoy. And it made life more dangerous for activists working for those goals, and who understand that human rights are not ‘cultural’, but universal. That they exist in large numbers and persist in their goals shows that the ‘different cultures’ argument is ultimately specious. 



Asian strongmen - the ones who benefit from the normalizing of this belief - still use the ‘Asian-style democracy’ argument to justify their tactics, China uses the ‘East-West values’ argument, and some Westerners, especially lefties and liberals, lap it up. It allows them to feel good about themselves for understanding ‘cultural differences’ while offering them an excuse to sit back and do nothing without moral guilt. Meanwhile, people who share their vision in Asia fight, are injured, disappear and die, ignored. 

Alongside ‘the end of history’, the troublesome persistence of the ‘Asian values’ paradigm has actively hurt democracy activism here, and continues to harm them. 

Arguably the logic behind the Handover was rooted somewhat in these beliefs (they were popular notions when it was being negotiated in the ‘80s and ‘90s). And now, Hong Kongers are feeling the result. Bad beliefs aren’t just oopsies. They have consequences. 

And now, thanks in some small part to us,  must be very brave and willing to risk everything to fight for democracy in Asia, and we are going to need a lot of gas masks, a lot of umbrellas, and wave upon wave of courageous people.

It should bother you, then, that the people - many of them young, some even teenagers - who are fighting on the front lines of the battle for democracy against authoritarianism are not fighting just for themselves, but for you. This is the front line but if you think China's not coming to subvert your democratic norms too, you're blinkered. In some cases, they already are. It should bother you a lot that they're fighting for themselves and for you, when you helped create a world where it was necessary for them to stand up in the face of bullets, 'private cars', trumped-up arrest charges, water cannons and tear gas. It should bother you that they're risking their livelihoods and their lives to fix a problem you helped create.

And it should bother you that the rest of the world is not standing with them as much as they should. It takes courage to be a democracy activist in Asia, and even greater courage to continue to fight when the world does not necessarily have your back.

So, fellow Westerners, global middle and upper classes, and political influencers. The next time you pat yourself on the back for buying into something that sounds so very clever, think about how many Joshua Wongs are going to end up disappeared, in jail or dead if you are wrong. Think about how many people might have to be brave because you wanted to think yourself smart.