Showing posts with label international_organizations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_organizations. Show all posts

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The rigged game, and how to feint

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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?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Data and Lore (a COVID-19 story)

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Does this mean...I'm Wesley?


I had always imagined that, living on an island, I'd feel trapped if disaster struck. There are no borders to cross, only open sea. I know it's not a reasonable worry: land borders can also be treacherous, but knowing your only options are a plane or a boat (and probably not even a boat) rather than a truck, car or your own two feet can honestly induce claustrophobia.

So, while the world around us seems like it's collapsing, I'm surprised by how wrong I was in predicting my own feelings about island life in a global catastrophe. Thanks to Taiwan's pre-emptive, centrally-planned and intelligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like I'm living in an island of safety, calm and normalcy in a world gone mad.

I am not terribly concerned that Taiwan will be felled by COVID itself. Even if there is a spike in cases, the time the country bought itself through a strong, early and professional response will be priceless: it is time Taiwan has had to prepare for that potentiality, and considering how they've treated the issue so far, we can be fairly sure they've been using it wisely. 

People are doing their part too - for every anecdote I hear about someone not practicing good pandemic hygiene, I see 20 people who do.

Of course, my confidence extends only to health. I worry quite a bit about the economic backlash. We have enough savings to weather a brief storm, or even a somewhat-prolonged quarantine, but what about an interminable economic crisis? A lot of my clients are businesses, and when the economic crash really hits, the first thing they're going to cut is English training. My teacher training work might see an uptick, but it's honestly hard to say.

Let's not think too much about that, though. There is literally nothing I can do about it except spend less on non-essentials. Once it was clear that climate change was real, I never expected the second half of my life to be easy anyway.

So, what has Taiwan been doing right? I won't write out a whole list because there are lots of places where you can read about that: see here, here, here and here. Suffice it to say, a large component of Taiwan's response has been data collection and public regulation. Most notably, for certain people quarantines are mandatory, and everyone that person had been in contact with might also be asked (or required) to quarantine. Quarantined individuals have their phones tracked and are notified if the government can see there is a violation. The CDC calls them every day (though this is a lot friendlier than it sounds). Isolated people report their temperature online once a day. All face mask production lines were bought up (in essence, expropriated) by the government, and masks are now rationed. Huge amounts of personal health data - including masks purchased - is tracked on National Health Insurance cards. Some public transportation, including all Kuo-kuang buses and all airport MRT trains - require face masks.

This gives the government a massive amount of data to work with, which has some fantastic benefits. There is an app (which is a bit difficult for foreigners to use) that can track which pharmacies will have masks, how many, and when. Apparently one can now pre-order masks. Potential disease vectors are swiftly located and locked down to prevent transmission.

Watching the news from the US right now, where the response seems to be to run out in the street screaming and flailing one's arms, it sure feels like they could learn a lot from the way Taiwan has handled this, starting with universal health coverage.

On the other hand, I have to wonder how much of this Americans would realistically put up with. The scale of data collection really is astounding. If you are identified as a risk, you lose a lot of personal freedom - both in terms of data privacy and freedom of movement. It is, to be honest, a lot to ask.

This is the point at which a different writer might start waxing rhapsodic about Confucian societies and collectivism and the people are more willing to submit to authority because 5,000 years or...something like that.

I won't.

This is a country where people set their sights on overthrowing a dictatorship and succeeded. Where protests are practically a hobby and producing protest gear a side hustle for many. Where your average person would be pretty upset if they couldn't day drink under their favorite temple awning (or in front of their favorite convenience store). Where an entire generation of people under 40 defied their elders by voting for same-sex marriage. There's no Confucian about it and I'm sick of the trope.

Instead, I'll say this: as an American, I'm fine with the level of intrusion into my personal life and willing to give up the data. I suspect - though don't know - that most Taiwanese are too. Not because of some 'different, exotic Asian values' fake East-West divide (a divide that online trolls really seem to push, which is how you know it's fake).

Rather, most Taiwanese are okay with Big Government  right now because this particular circumstance is a true emergency, because they know that this particular data is useful and important for a centrally-coordinated response to work, and because they trust this particular government. 

While we can heave a sigh of relief that this government was re-elected (for a peek into how a Han administration would have handled it, you need only look at Trump's non-response), unfortunately, this perspective doesn't offer many solutions for what to do when you don't trust the government. I don't often agree with libertarians but they're right about this: you only want the government to have as much power as you'd be comfortable with them having if you didn't trust the people in charge, because eventually, someone you don't trust will get elected.

In other words, I'll give this information (and power) to Tsai Ing-wen. I would never be happy to give it to Donald Trump. Or Han Kuo-yu. Would you want either of them at the helm of a government that has just taken sole control of key medical supplies? Would you want either of their administrations insisting they had the right to track your location?

All that data, though, has kept Taiwan feeling more like a cozy ark on a rising flood, rather than a prison from which there is no escape. And perhaps, considering that dictatorship existed in Taiwan in living memory so they know the difference between authoritarianism and a centrally-planned response, maybe we should take their word for it that government data collection for this purpose is acceptable?

So what's happening beyond the rough seas? Between many Western countries' totally botched responses - including a massive failure to test leading to rapid, undetected community transmission - and China's repeated cover-ups and lack of reliable data, there is fertile soil for misinformation and fake narratives to take root.

I had opined, when this all began, that such an obvious and self-evidential failure and clear, documentable cover-up on the part of the CCP might just offer up a silver lining: that the CCP itself would fall. That the systemic failure would be so inescapable that they would not be able to control the narrative. I figured it would be so undeniably true to anyone with working brain that China did not "buy time" for the world, but rather that the CCP's initial cover-up is what caused the disease to go pandemic in the first place, that something would possibly - maybe - give to loosen the grip of that brutal dictatorship on a country that absolutely deserves better.

For a brief period, it seemed that the world might just hold the Chinese government to account for this, or at least report clearly on who was to blame  - not China or the Chinese people, but the CCP.

But even before the US botched its response by completely failing to prepare, one could watch the narrative change almost in real time.

First, the media started saying that China "bought time" for the rest of the world, how its "decisive" and "bold"  response - note the adjectives used instead of the more appropriate draconian and inhumane - saved lives, how it "acted quickly"  (see here, here, here, here and here).

I thought when I hate-read these pieces that, yes, dragging screaming people into their homes and boarding the doors is, I supposebold in a sense. But are we really all pretending that the initial cover-up which is directly responsible for the pandemic going global in the first place just...never happened? Are we truly allowing COVID-19's origin story to be re-written so easily?

I'm not the only one who's noticed, fortunately.





Of course, it's difficult to argue now that the US or Europe could have done better, as they have now both failed so spectacularly. The difference, of course, is that in a liberal democracy you can say so without getting shot, and theoretically can put better people in office next time.

I can empathize, however, with people whose governments did too little thinking that maybe the government that did too much - and now claims that cases are in decline - had the right of it. Even if that sentiment ignores the facts. Even if you are in essence saying "it would be acceptable to drag my screaming neighbor into their house, padlock the door and walk away with the key. It would be acceptable to do that to me, too."

These are the same people who think it's un-American to even ask them not to gather in crowds. Do they think China couldn't possibly be as bad as it actually is, or that it's OK to do that to others but "it would never happen to me" or...do they just use the cognitive dissonance like a white noise machine to help them sleep at night? I truly don't know.



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Neither of these are good! 

It doesn't help that the facts are hard to come by. It's honestly surprising to me how many people understand that the US has no idea how many COVID-19 cases currently exist within its borders, but actually believe the numbers from China, despite China's clear history of lying about them. Now people are saying cases in China are on the decline, but can we really trust that, when nothing the CCP has said since the initial cover-up can be trusted? I don't, and you shouldn't either.

The CCP understands this better than anything: in the absence of trustworthy data, you can make up your own lore.

While all of this has been going on, there's been an ongoing discussion of whether calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" or anything relating to its place of origin is racist, as these viruses can originate anywhere. I don't know that changing a disease's name can really combat racism, but it almost doesn't matter. I'm not qualified to say whether referring to Wuhan in the disease's name is, indeed, racist - totally not my lane. I don't use it - it's too long and seems unnecessary. Holding the CCP to account and not treating people in racist ways both seem like more important things to worry about than exercising my 'right' to call a disease by a common name.

 But I will note that in Taiwan it's called 武漢肺炎 (that is, Wuhan Pneumonia) in Mandarin. It's slightly amusing to me that the CCP insists that Taiwan is a part of China, but also that calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" is racist...against Chinese. By that logic, Chinese people are racist against themselves.

Anyway, I've noticed a particularly bit of nasty ret-conning on the English front too.

I support a general push not to stigmatize people by using place names in disease names going forward, but there seem to be a lot of gullible people who now think we've never called diseases that in the past, so "Wuhan Pneumonia" is a unique example of racism on this front. Of course, those same people will still use disease names like Ebola, Nipah, Zika, Marburg and MERS.

Don't laugh - I saw someone arguing that "we've never named diseases after places!" under a chart that included all of the above. So I suppose I consider users of the term "Wuhan Pneumonia" exactly as racist as I would consider users of the terms "Ebola" and "MERS".

It's been disconcerting to watch how the CCP propaganda machine has taken advantage of this confusion.

First, insisting that its response was appropriate and effective. Then, trying to tell the world (and their own people) that we should be grateful. Then, getting behind a call to label everyone saying "Wuhan Pneumonia" racist moving to a general call not to "blame China" (which, of course, runs in tandem with labeling all blaming of the CCP "blaming China" and therefore "racist"). And now, we've got CCP officials spreading rumors that the virus did not originate in China at all.

I still don't intend to call COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia", but I do note that it's a lot easier to convince idiots outside the Chinese-speaking world that COVID-19 did not come from China if everyone's afraid of being called racist for discussing how it absolutely did.

And so from an undifferentiated mess of information - most of which is unreliable as China's numbers can't be trusted - we have a myth of CCP "decisiveness" saving the world. Lore spun from literally nothing into a narrative that credible people actually believe.

I had hoped that cold, hard data would carry the day. That it would be clear what works (a response like Taiwan's) and what doesn't (running around screaming like a hemorrhaging goat like the US). How draconian, inhumane methods like China's are not necessary if there is initial transparency and swift action. I had hoped that this clarity would lead to much-needed changes in how governments operate around the world, from an end to CCP tyranny to drastic changes in the US's broken system.

Instead, it seems that between data and lore, the latter can pose as the former because most people can't tell the difference.

We will all pay the price for it.


Monday, February 24, 2020

Please, sir, I want some more.

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 11.59.58 AM
Photo: screen grab from the 60 Minutes interview



If you’re watching Taiwan-centric social media, you’ll know that Bernie Sanders was finally asked about Taiwan, in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Ring the bells in celebration!

Truly, every candidate should be asked this. I would very much like to hear Warren and Buttigieg’s answers. 

Sanders' reply was encouraging:


Cooper: If China took military action against Taiwan, is something you would...? 
Sanders: It's something...yeah. I mean I think we have got to make it clear to countries around the world that we will not sit by and allow invasions to take place, absolutely.

This is good - or at least, good enough. It’s enough that I could vote for him with confidence if he gets the nomination, a future which looks increasingly likely. 

However, it seems like Taiwan advocates and allies are perhaps reading a bit too much into what Sanders actually said. Headlines like "US will take military action" aren't helpful - he didn't say that. He said the US would "make it clear" and "not sit by", which is not necessarily the same as a military response. I understand that there's not a lot to go on when divining answers to US presidential candidates' views on Taiwan, but this reads to me as thirsty people in a desert thinking everything is water. Interpreting it too much is about as useful as reading an oracle bone.

Though my overall take on the US election vis-a-vis Taiwan leans pessimistic, I have been thinking that regardless of the candidates’ histories, all of the senators in the race - Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar - have voted for legislation that either chastises China (the Uighur and Hong Kong human rights acts) or actively supports Taiwan (the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act) in the past few years. That’s good news, and it shows that it’s possible to envision a Trump-free US that still supports Taiwan. 

I also love hearing the cries of millions of Bernie supporters, the ones who’ve gone half-tankie and extremely against US engagement abroad (because to them the US is always evil in every situation and in fact is the only font of evil in the world, the CCP cannot be evil because it’s not the US, QED) hearing clearly that their candidate has a realistic foreign policy vision. 

They are music to my ears. 

However, I have questions. 

First, what changed since 2011 when Sanders voted against selling F-16s to Taiwan, and 1997 when he voted against missile defense? Those were measures that could have helped Taiwan defend itself. I understand that viewers might not be that interested in the answers to such detailed questions on Taiwan, but I do wish Cooper had challenged him on this. I’d very much like to know his answer. 

A friend pointed out that in those years he hadn’t had to articulate a clear foreign policy vision. Now that he must do so, he’s had to really think about what that might look like, and his ultimate conclusions might break with his past views. I can appreciate that, but I really would like to know Sanders’ actual response. 

Second, Sanders mentions US engagement abroad as part of an alliance or coalition of allies: 


I believe the United States, everything being equal, should be working with other countries in alliance, not doing it alone.

Great. Theoretically, I absolutely support this. It’s good for Taiwan as well. A single, powerful, ideological enemy of China with an extremely poor reputation regarding military engagements abroad standing up for Taiwan alone could give China something to twist into a pretext for invasion. An alliance of liberal democratic nations standing up for Taiwan would be more likely to help Taiwan achieve its goal of recognized, de jure sovereignty (as the Republic of Taiwan) with less risk.

But what happens if other liberal democracies and natural allies of Taiwan and its cause don’t stand up with the US in the face of Chinese invasion? Does that mean we let Taiwan be annexed? 

The UN is in China’s pocket - any coalition would have to take place outside that framework. Europe (with perhaps a few exceptions) is weaker on China than the US, almost certainly to their detriment. Australia feels practically like a Chinese vassal state, and New Zealand’s prime minister might be great in other ways, but she’s not strong on China. I honestly think Canada is a coin flip - one day chummy with China, the next calling for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO. Japan, possibly - they’ve been expanding their fighting capability in recent years, but overall don’t they lack an offensive military force? Anyone else in Asia? Probably not. 

What does the US do if it can’t get a coalition together? Wash its hands of its best friend in Asia? 

What happens when American liberals and lefties - his support base - wring their hands because the world has not stepped up as we’d hoped, and say the US should not get involved because nobody stands with them? Does Sanders listen, or does he do what’s right anyway? Does he understand that standing with Taiwan is fundamentally different from other conflicts the US has been criticized for in the past?

In short, "we need a coalition of liberal democracies" is only a great solution if it is likely to actually happen. And I'm not at all sure it is likely. So what then?

Again, I wish Cooper had asked this. 

Lastly, I have to wonder what this means for “us” - the Taiwan allies and supporters. Yes, it’s great news. 

But, Sanders is clearly not going to support Taiwan unilaterally standing up for itself, or a change in the ROC colonial framework. He probably understands that Taiwan’s fight for sovereignty has already been won, the question is recognition. But I doubt he has too much interest in changing that, and if he did, it certainly wouldn’t help him in the election to say so. 

While I agree in theory that diplomacy is always a better answer, it does feel like “diplomacy” has been something conducted by high-level officials alongside foreign interests, which seeks to avoid conflict by creating and extending the existence of quagmires - swamps of intractable situations that suck to live in, but “at least it’s not war”. These negotiators, especially the foreign interests, don’t actually have to live in the morasses they create. They don’t have to live in Palestine, Taiwan, Kashmir. So it doesn’t matter that much to them if the quagmires persist, and they might even begin to call them “beneficial for both sides” (as Andrew Yang did). They might even believe it. 

It’s one thing to be resigned to a slow resolution to avoid a war. It’s another to forget that the resolution process isn’t actually the goal, and start viewing it as a permanent feature of the geopolitical landscape - a swamp we’ve convinced ourselves cannot, or should not, be drained. To convince ourselves that those who live in the swamp actually like it that way.

I do wonder, then, whether Sanders’ Asia policy vision — which I admit is realistic, and generally palatable — is another form of “let’s let the Taiwan quagmire sit awhile”. 

On top of that, China is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. They make agreements, yes, and then immediately ignore them. They bully and pretend to be offended. The only way to win against their tactics is not to play. I think Sanders may understand that, but I’m not sure.

On a related note, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my own uncompromising vision of the future - a globally-recognized Republic of Taiwan - squares with what is diplomatically possible. 

Along with that, I’ve been thinking about language: whether Taiwan allies are beginning to show a worrying trend towards self-censorship - asking for less than Taiwan deserves, because articulating our actual goals could “anger China”. Begging for crumbs when we all know Taiwan deserves a whole meal. 

“Sanders is unlikely to support an end to the ROC framework” is simply realistic; I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I can’t argue with it as an accurate description of his probable Taiwan policy. 

“Don’t ask for diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, it could provoke China”, however, perhaps edges up against the line of adopting China-approved language. “Don’t say that, it could sound sinophobic” does too. Some language is sinophobic, but there are instances when it isn’t — rather realistically describing CCP actions or simply stating a strong pro-Taiwan position — yet could be seen as anti-China by someone looking to take offense.

I understand that my big-picture vision of Taiwan is not immediately diplomatically possible, and that what strong Taiwan allies articulate for the country’s future sounds scary to some. But, the Chinese government absolutely wants us to be terrified of sounding “China-hating” (when we’re not - we’re pro-Taiwan). They want to paint Taiwanese who are justifiably angry at China’s treatment of them as extremist, xenophobic, nativist splittists. They want us to clip our own wings and curtail our own wishes so that we might not ask for everything Taiwan actually deserves. It helps them if we genuflect and kowtow for crumbs rather than the whole meal, so they can scream and cry that we’re getting even some crumbs. 

I’ll vote for Sanders and his “status quo” take on Taiwan - and yes, it is a status-quo take, just dressed up in prettier language — because it is nudging the Overton window in the right direction. I’ll take it. Warren is still preferable, but this is acceptable.

But, please, I want some more

There are many paths to a recognized and decolonized Taiwan, and diplomacy will always move more slowly than we’d like it to. We should all very much appreciate the slow process of moving the line, so that more and more space for Taiwan becomes available. I personally don’t care to hear, however, that we should not clearly articulate the final goal, because it could provoke China or scare the architects of the swamp. Let’s all recognize that Sanders’ views on Taiwan are acceptable for now, but no more than that.

Basically, we can't forget that there is a difference between pushing for a realistic policy accomplishment or incremental push forward in the discourse, and the actual end goal, and there is a line between advocating for what is realistic (crumbs), and insisting on what Taiwan deserves (the whole meal). 

In the end, when figuring out what we actually want, it’s better not to limit our wish lists to procedural goals or interim solutions. The big-picture wish list should include a full vision of Taiwan existing confidently as Taiwan, and nothing less. Those of us with actual power (so...not me) can work on incremental change, but the general supporters? People like me? Let’s perhaps not convince ourselves that it’s dangerous to ask for too much. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sometimes Taiwan's problem isn't global ignorance - it's China-appeasing malice

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From Twitter account Star Trek Minus Context

Until fairly recently, I had a friendly acquaintance. We'd met in person; he wasn't just a Facebook 'friend'. After all I've written about Taiwan, all I've said, all the articles I've posted, he would still make "jokes" asking me about my life "in China". He once referred to my city as Chinese Taipei. I kept asking him to stop, but did not immediately cut him loose, because I knew he was joking and was perfectly aware that Taiwan wasn't China. Wrongly, I believed that if I could convey to him that these jokes weren't funny and only served to irritate me, he'd understand that and stop. He didn't, I got sick of it and unfriended him.

I'm telling you that story for a reason.

In recent weeks, at least three countries have banned (or temporarily banned) Taiwanese travelers over coronavirus fears. These bans weren't directed specifically at Taiwan, but rather included Taiwan in China. Joining Italy and Vietnam (the latter banning Taiwanese travelers only for a brief period), the Philippines is now including Taiwan in Chinese travel bans.


“If you look at the WHO map and the number of cases that they have, Taiwan is included in China. Since we have a temporary travel restriction and ban on China, then Taiwan is included,” Domingo said in a press briefing.

Once again, everything I said about the Vietnam travel ban also applies to the Philippines:


I want to be very clear here: I don't think the dingbats who made these decisions actually believe Taiwan is a part of China. At best it's highly unlikely. Consider the cultural, economic and geographic ties between Vietnam and Taiwan, as well as a fair amount of well-publicized controversy surrounding these ties. There's just no way that Vietnamese policymakers don't know that Taiwan is a thing.
More likely, the airhead bureaucrat who made these decisions either simply doesn't care, or is perfectly aware that Taiwan is separate from China with a separate (and more effective) healthcare system and far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases, but doesn't want to anger China. So they use this exclusion from international organizations and their own country's lack of official recognition as cover for their bad decisions, thinking they're doing the right thing by keeping China happy. 



With all of the connections, both historical and current, that Taiwan and the Philippines have - they're right next to each other! - there is simply no way that Eric "Douchesack" Domingo does not know that Taiwan is not a part of China. Probably part of his job is keeping up on health-related issues in connection with all of the Filipino workers who come to Taiwan. If not his job, then someone under him. 

He knows. He just doesn't care. He's not ignorant; he's making a choice. 

Sometimes ignorance really is the issue. I've met American exchange students in Hong Kong who truly believed that the Chinese government extended to Taiwan. I have relatives who thought Taiwan was not a democracy until I set them straight. I still get mail from people I know that put my address in China. Websites that list Taiwan as a "Province of China" often don't realize that they're using a pre-fab list that says this, and many are happy to fix it if asked nicely. In those cases, it makes sense to patiently and non-judgmentally start a conversation about Taiwan so that they might know more about the issue and reconsider their previous assumptions.

But sometimes, especially at the government and international organization level, the choice to treat Taiwan badly is not made out of ignorance. It's pure China-appeasing malice.

ICAO knows perfectly well that China doesn't control Taiwanese airspace. The WHO isn't stupid (well, they are, but not in this way)  - they are likewise aware. The UN knows Taiwan exists. Italian officials may not be so aware of Asian geography, but certainly Vietnam and the Philippines are quite cognizant that Taiwan's government is not the same as China's. IELTS and TOEFL both know it too. The Lancet is not staffed by morons, they definitely know, and yet they defend themselves with this crap, and people who should know better actually buy it (a fallacious appeal to authority does not outweigh the fact that Taiwan's health care system is different from China's, period).

These people are choosing to feign ignorance, and the result is intentional cruelty and decisions that do more harm than good.


In such cases, an approach of "oh, they must be misinformed" is simply not going to work. Raising awareness is great, when directed at people around the world - the news consumers - who truly don't realize anything is amiss. But thinking that you'll convince Eric Domingo, the WHO or people like them by making a case aimed at raising their knowledge level is doomed to fail - because the problem that needs to be addressed is not a lack of knowledge.

I will reiterate: it's this guy's actual well-paid real job that he is really supposed to do, and do well, for real money to know the public health situation of countries where such issues might affect the Philippines. Of course it is his job to know that Taiwan has exemplary public health, rather than lean on the fallacy of "what the WHO says". It's possible that he's completely unfit for the role, but I doubt it.

He's not stupid. He's an asshole. You can't convince an asshole with "clarification" or sincere discussion, because they are not interested in being informed (or letting on that they already are). 

My husband said once: 



And that's really it. A pro-Taiwan position is predicated on knowledge. People come to Taiwan's side because they learned more. An anti-Taiwan position (that is, any Taiwan position espoused by China) is predicated on remaining ignorant - you can only stay that way if you don't learn about Taiwan's fascinating and unique history and political situation and just invoke repeated, yet fallacious, appeals to authority until the other side gets tired.

At some point, that's a choice, especially when it is your job to know better.

Taiwan advocates have a really great hammer. We might call it Thor's Hammer, but it's really more like Cassandra's Hammer. Cassandra's Hammer works just as well as Thor's Hammer, except nobody believes that it can do the things it does. (Also, it earns 77% of what Thor's Hammer gets for doing the same job.)

That hammer is knowledge - we know the history of this country. We know why it's unique. We know, in painstaking detail, why and how it is different from China. 
We understand that these are facts: That Taiwan's health system is different from China's is a fact. That Taiwan's government is not the same as China's is a fact. That data consistently show that Taiwanese people want to keep it that way is a fact. That we are not overwhelmed with coronavirus as China is...well, unfortunate for China, but also a fact. These facts are not up for debate, and they form a powerful - I'd say unassailable - argument. 

When you have a hammer like that, every problem really does look like a nail. You want to inform, educate and clarify because you have a great tool for it.

That's important - raising awareness among people who truly don't know plays such a crucial role. I will never say we should stop doing it - in fact, we should do it with patience, humility and joy.

Did I mention patience?

But not everything is a nail. You can't win someone to your side with "clarification" and "awareness raising" if they are already clear and aware, but are choosing to be a douchesack anyway. You're trying to solve a problem they don't have.


I don't know how to fix the issue of intentionally harmful decision-making aimed more at the political expediency of appeasing China than actually doing the right - and most effective - thing by including Taiwan, as itself, in international affairs.

Call them out? It works to some degree - that's how we got ICAO to stop mass-blocking anyone who mentioned Taiwan and got some online participation at the WHO. It sure feels like cold leftovers when we deserve a full seat at the table, though.

Unfriend them, like I did with that guy on Facebook? I'd sure like to see Taiwan say to the Philippines, "okay, if you think we're China, please send all work applications for Filipinos coming to Taiwan to Beijing and see how that works out", but the fact is that we need to stay on good terms with other countries in the region. (It would also hurt workers who are just trying to earn a living).

Continue to push persistently, refusing to be gaslit by their feigned ignorance, while cultivating 'establishment' allies who can get things done for Taiwan? Sure, but it's a slow process.

The work is brutal and the road is unclear. I don't have any better solutions. But it must be done. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Nobody knows anything about coronavirus, and there are two reasons why

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Source: Facebook (I've seen it in several places, I have no idea who to credit for creating it)


I noted in my last post that "we know nothing" about coronavirus, and I want to expand on that a little and talk about why.


...the international media is taking government data as gospel, which people in China know right now not to do. We don’t know what the fatality rate is because nobody knows how many people died before being diagnosed because they couldn’t get care. China keeps reporting “2.1%”, a number I don’t think anyone in China believes. We have no idea how contagious it is, either. We know nothing.

Let me be clear when I say "we don't know anything" - we don't know the fatality rate, as I noted. We also don't know yet where it came from (though as SARS originated in a wet market, coronavirus probably did too). We don't know how contagious it is, because if we don't know how many people have it, and how many have died from it, how can we know how easy it is to get?

We probably know that it's transmitted through aerosolized body fluids - that is, droplets of saliva from normal breathing - and you can get it by getting it on your hands and touching sensitive membranes in your face. At least, we think we know - that information also comes from China, but it seems highly plausible, even likely. In fact, it's hardly groundbreaking, that's how most colds and flus spread. 


In fact, if you're going to be worried about anything, don't let it be coronavirus. If you are not in China, you probably will not catch it (even if you are in China, you might be fine). Be afraid that we don't know anything about anything, the people fighting it don't really know anything, and even if the CCP did know, they'd probably lie about it.

But why? We can blame two factors - the first is that the Chinese government and health care "system", such as it is, is completely overwhelmed and it's likely they themselves don't have a clue what these data actually are. The second is that the Chinese government thinks it can decide what is true, and attempts to push a political agenda even to their own detriment, as well as the world's. 


So there are two layers of unreliability: the CCP is lying about data it doesn't even know itself. 

The first reason isn't entirely China's fault. I mean, it is absolutely their fault that they covered up the initial outbreak, allowing it to get worse. If they've learned anything from SARS, it's manifested in a slightly faster path from "pretending this doesn't exist and punishing anyone who says otherwise" to "admitting we have a problem", not in eliminating the first stage altogether. It is also their fault that they've allowed the nation's lackluster health care - which is absolutely not "free" or even "public" as many Westerners believe - to fester for so long.

But it is not their fault that the virus broke out there; these things happen around the world. So it's not their fault that they are the epicenter, nor that they had to be the first to fight it, while the rest of the world got a heads-up and some time to prepare.

The second - their consistent lies and cover-ups when SARS should have been a lesson against such behavior - obviously is their fault. That should not need to be explained. The lying, yes, but also their consistent opposition to Taiwan's participation in the WHO and other international organizations (such as ICAO) where their expertise and superlative health care and responsiveness to the epidemic could be of great help in combating it.

With all that in mind, let me hazard a few speculations about these things we don't know. 


First: coronavirus probably is highly contagious - we just don't know to what extent. We don't have enough data to compare it to the common flu, so please stop doing that. But the flu exists in China, and hasn't created an epidemic like this in previous years. If people going out for hot pot can infect much of their family and it's possible to contract it just transiting through Hong Kong, that points to potentially high contagion rates. It's possible that China is overreacting by locking down entire cities, but I doubt they'd self-destruct their own economy - through two sources I know that even Shenzhen is in full-city quarantine, which would be economically devastating - if they didn't have reason to worry.

But - how much of that contagion is simply because it is highly contagious, compared to how much is potentially caused by overwhelmed health care systems in China and poor public hygiene in general? I contracted bronchial pneumonia twice in one year in China; this is almost certainly a contributing factor. How much of it is due to an inability to practice appropriate epidemic-fighting hygiene protocol because masks, sanitizer and alcohol cleaner are all impossible to get, in a contagion zone?

I have no idea, but the fact that the virus seems to be spreading slowly and is basically under control in most of the rest of the world means that it probably can be contained, and isn't necessarily going to be a global pandemic. You might want to keep people in China in your thoughts, however. They don't deserve this and with every Chinese system on overload, it's probably going to get worse.


How much of the unknown fatality rate is caused by those same factors - an overwhelmed system, shortages of necessary hygiene supplies and poor general public hygiene, as well as paranoid quarantine policies that put people in non-virus-related danger and have resulted in at least one death?

It's impossible to say, but the fact that a lot of people are dying from coronavirus in China (though we don't actually know how many) and very few have died abroad shows that the environment and poor government response in China are factors. 


That brings me to my final points - first, I don't even know how much to blame China for actions which seem malicious. That charter flight meant to bring at-risk Taiwanese back to Taiwan, that ended up being full of wives and children of evacuees (who also deserve to be flown out, but not at the expense of at-risk people)? You know, the one which ended up containing at least one confirmed coronavirus carrier? Some have accused China of purposely putting infected people on that plane as an attack on Taiwan, but I honestly think, in conditions that have been described as "wartime", that it's far more likely that they didn't have the wherewithal to intentionally put a carrier on that plane, and just let a person who'd bribed their way into a seat take what they'd paid for.

Second, if you are not in China, please stop freaking out. Taiwan's response has been exemplary - this is what open information and quick responses can accomplish. Japan has done a good job as well; Singapore is pretty good at this sort of thing. In fact, it seems that even if this coronavirus is highly infectious and highly fatal, that a strong public health response can keep it in check. Again, it's not China's fault that it was the epicenter - only that it spread in a government-imposed information vacuum.

That the rest of Asia has done a brilliant job of organizing a strong response before it could spread further is good news for the world.

This is probably not the last epidemic virus that will originate in China - the huge population, generally poor public health care, poor public hygiene (think bad plumbing, undrinkable tap water, rarely-cleaned public toilets, public spitting - though that has decreased markedly in the last decade) and prevalence of wet markets almost guarantee it. I certainly hope for the people of China that coronavirus is brought under control, though I also hope that they can overthrow that useless CCP and create a government more capable of responding to such outbreaks.

In other words, sunlight is in fact the best disinfectant. Open information, strong public health and quick action seem to be pretty effective in combating coronavirus, and they are protecting entire populations. I can only hope China figures out those three coronavirus 'vaccines' sooner rather than later. 


But the ability of much of the rest of Asia to coordinate a containment response and share what information they have freely is good news for the rest of the world. Forget the "first island chain" and South Korea in terms of traditional defense - warships, airstrips, bases and whatnot. This is the front line when major epidemics originate in Asia, and rather than excluding a key node in that defensive chain from organizations like the WHO, maybe the world should stop pretending the CCP is a true ally, and start realizing that the rest of Asia - including Taiwan - should get more credit. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The consequences of Taiwan's exclusion in international affairs are not abstract

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Screenshot from the South Park episode where Randy kills Winnie the Pooh in China



Years ago I was having a one-on-one class with an adult student who - athough we didn't talk about politics much - seemed to lean pro-KMT, and had a strong enough identification with the ROC for me to have noticed it. Although generally we avoided the topic - I think she knew where I stood, it's not hard to tell - we did once talk about whether it mattered if Taiwan were a UN member nation. I said it did.

She disagreed, saying it didn't really make a difference as membership in such organizations confers abstract benefits at best. I mentioned the data-sharing of organizations like the WHO, and she pointed out that Taiwan handled SARS just fine without them (I'm not so sure about that, but...whatever). To her, these organizations conducted endless meetings and discussed an awful lot, but didn't actually do much of anything, and had no real political power, so it was not only fine not to participate, but preferable to stay locked out as the Republic of China, rather than be allowed in as Taiwan, because the ROC still mattered on some level.

Yeah, well, you can see why we didn't talk about politics that much. Anyway. 

In the past two days, a number of countries have banned entry to non-citizens traveling from China, or suspended flights from/to China. Italy banned incoming flights, Vietnam halted all air travel, Australia, the US and Israel are denying non-citizens coming from China entry, and Qatar Airways has suspended flights. This is of course all thanks to the panic about the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

All of this happened despte the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO)  did not recommend suspending flights (source: above link). And yet, two of these countries - Italy and Vietnam - included Taiwan or Taiwan's flagship airline in their bans. 

It's worth noting that Taiwan's flagship airline is very confusingly named China Airlines. 

Vietnam has since reversed its ban on air travel to and from Taiwan, but Italy has not. 

And this is why my student was wrong. While it's true that "health statistics" and "information sharing" and "taking part in discussions" all seem very abstract, air travel is concrete and real. 

When international organizations like the WHO, Interpol and International China Asskissers Organization International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) exclude Taiwan - and in ICAO's case, blocks anyone who questions this exclusion on social media, myself included - it gives national governments the cover to follow suit and just treat Taiwan as a part of China.

This has real-world, concrete effects. When flights to and from your country are at risk of being suspended because some dingbat decided your country should be included in a China travel ban as "a part of China", that's not abstract. That's real canceled flights on real airplanes, real lost business, real travelers with real suitcases stuck in real airports. That's real people who are trapped in a place and can't get home (it's unclear to me if travelers from Taiwan would have been able to circumvent the Italian and Vietnamese bans by flying through another country, however, changing a ticket that way costs real money from real bank accounts). 


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Yes, I was blocked. By the way, ahem, did you know you can follow Lao Ren Cha on Facebook? 

I want to be very clear here: I don't think the dingbats who made these decisions actually believe Taiwan is a part of China. At best it's highly unlikely. Consider the cultural, economic and geographic ties between Vietnam and Taiwan, as well as a fair amount of well-publicized controversy surrounding these ties. There's just no way that Vietnamese policymakers don't know that Taiwan is a thing.

More likely, the airhead bureaucrat who made these decisions either simply doesn't care, or is perfectly aware that Taiwan is separate from China with a separate (and more effective) healthcare system and far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases, but doesn't want to anger China. So they use this exclusion from international organizations and their own country's lack of official recognition as cover for their bad decisions, thinking they're doing the right thing by keeping China happy. 

My student was just a person with an opinion rather than a politician, lobbyist, writer or policy analyst. However, it's also fairly common for people with more influence to try and soften the way Taiwan's current situation looks. For example, one might say it is acceptable for Taiwan to just have observer status. While an improvement, no, that would not be "okay", it would be a pittance - begging for scraps when we deserve a full seat at the table.

Others say that "unofficial" ties with other countries are good enough. Often, they are, but I'd contend this is still not good enough. 

It's true that Taiwan's formal diplomatic relations are not necessarily our friends or allies. Though some of them do speak up in support of Taiwan in those international organizations, for the most part they are the result of 'checkbook diplomacy' and thus offer little benefit, while being fairly easily lured away. In the meantime, countries that do not officially recognize Taiwan show support regardless - recently, the US, Canada and Japan have all said Taiwan deserves some sort of status at the WHO. 

However, I'd still contend that it does matter - if your country does not recognize Taiwan, it's easier for your lazier or more malevolent, China-fearing bureaucrats to just lump it in with China. Then Taiwan has to "scramble" through unofficial channels to essentially beg - like a starving orphan - not to be hurt in very concrete ways by being included in China policy. 

And all this happens despite the fact that Taiwan is not a starving orphan. It's a wealthy heir to human rights and democratic norms in Asia. 

We deserve better - full recognition and a full seat at the table, and we deserve not to have to beg for it in a whisper from the back door, like a hungry maid creeping from the servant's quarters, asking the master's less-cruel son whether she can have a scrap of extra bread after dinner. 


And the benefits of a fairer arrangement are not 'abstract' at all.