Showing posts with label international_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_politics. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Of course Taiwanese employers should pay foreign worker recruitment fees

IMG_6944

I don't have a good photo, but this captures how I feel about the entire slimy brokerage system. 


Over the past few weeks there's been an ongoing feud between the Indonesian government and the Taiwan Ministry of Labor, and I'm going to state without hesitation that Indonesia is almost entirely in the right, and the Taiwanese government is almost entirely in the wrong. 

According to the Taipei Times, as COVID19 recedes in Asia and recruitment of foreign blue-collar workers resumes, the Indonesian government informed Taiwan that Taiwanese employers of foreign workers would be expected to pay 11 types of recruitment fees beginning on January 1st. These include: 

...labor brokerage fees in Indonesia for caregivers, domestic workers and fishers; and the costs of labor contract verification, criminal records certificates, overseas social security premiums and overseas health checks, as well as transportation and accommodation in Indonesia prior to departure, the ministry said.


The Taiwan Ministry of Labor has rejected the request, giving a few reasons. First, that more information is needed on these fees, as it's not clear how much they would amount to, and second, that there's an agreement in place that all changes to foreign worker recruitment must be negotiated bilaterally before they are put in place. 

That sounds reasonable on its face. If there's already an agreement that changes must be bilaterally negotiated, it would make sense to insist on sticking to that. The lack of clarity regarding what the costs actually are would be a reasonable issue to bring up. "Asking for more information" also seems like a sober move. Any government would want to ensure that its citizens are not exploited. 

This is what I would say if I believed that when it came to foreign workers, the Ministry of Labor was acting in good faith. That is, I would have to believe that if the Indonesian government came to the Taiwanese government with a list of issues with the current fee system, that the Ministry of Labor would be amenable to working out a fairer deal for the workers, even if it meant meaningfully dismantling the brokerage system and putting some fees on Taiwanese employers. 

Do you think that that's how it would go? Because I have...doubts. The Taiwanese government promotes its human rights record extensively, at least when it comes to Taiwanese citizens. Yet shows shockingly little interest in protecting the human rights of foreign blue-collar workers residing in Taiwan.

There is a clear power imbalance between relatively wealthy, industrialized Taiwan, where there is a market for overseas labor, and Indonesia, where that labor might be recruited. There is also a massive power imbalance between employers -- families desiring foreign home care employees, factory owners and companies, and fishing concerns -- all of whom have more resources than the workers they are looking to hire. 

When talking about unknown costs that might impact employers, it's crucial to remember that the system is already exploitative towards Indonesian workers. They often end up in debt before they even leave Indonesia, as a lot of these costs are foisted on them: 

Migrant workers and workers’ rights groups have long complained about having to fully bear pre-employment costs. The problem lies in the current hiring system, which allows brokers to charge migrant workers exorbitant fees that usually take years to repay and require loans even before the workers depart for Taiwan, the groups said.


I find it hard to believe that the people recruited know the costs involved before they sign up; if they're not clear to the government, how are they clear to the individuals recruited? And yet, they're expected to pay. Although much of this happens to workers residing in Taiwan, the Ministry of Labor has seemed fine with it so far.

If the government truly cared that the costs were unclear, then they would have done something about it by now rather than letting brokerage firms saddle those least able to pay with the burden.

In fact, the Taiwanese government does not have a good track record at all when it comes to the treatment of foreign blue-collar labor. Foreign domestic workers (who make up more than half of the workers in question) have fewer protections as they are not covered by the Labor Standards Act, and abuse is rampant. Slavery -- as in, you are going to work for me and I am not going to pay you, and if you disobey I will beat you -- is frighteningly common on Taiwanese fishing boats, to the point that I've mostly given up eating seafood in Taiwan. Rather than dealing with this, the government has been planning to exempt fishing workers from mandated overtime and work hour limits, in effect legalizing the exploitation. Foreign factory worker abuses are routinely uncovered. The brokerage system piles many more fees on top of this process, all of which fall on the heads of people who are already poorly paid. It gets worse. From the original Taipei Times article: 

In addition, the brokers usually side with employers to exploit migrant workers, forcing them to perform jobs that are not in their contract, migrant workers’ rights advocates have said.

 

That's not even the worst of it. They also make it harder, not easier, for abused workers to get help when they need it. In what I believe is the same case linked above, it was clear that the brokerage agency first told the worker "not to get pregnant" rather than help her deal with being raped. In a recent case, an alleged sexual assailant of a newly-arrived Indonesian worker was a broker himself. In another, it was a town councilor

The Ministry of Labor is surely aware of this. It's been extensively reported on, as shown by the links above, yet it continues. When their first priority is making sure that well-resourced Taiwanese (including families that can afford to hire a domestic worker) get the best possible deal regardless of how it impacts the foreigners who take these jobs, do you trust them to negotiate fairly with the Indonesian government to fix one small part of the system -- the fees?

Me neither.  

Once here, workers are routinely subject to discrimination and outright racism. One small example (and not even of the worst kind) popped up in my own community, where someone posted signs in large Bahasa Indonesia script admonishing people not to litter, with a much smaller Chinese translation below. The Indonesians in the neighborhood aren't the litterers, though -- it's mostly local teenagers who take over the community picnic tables after dark, and the occasional thoughtless grandpa. 

Every time people like me (that is, foreign professionals, often from wealthy Western countries) complain about some way in which the government doesn't factor our existence into their policies, we must remember that foreign blue-collar workers face the same issues, with far worse on top of that. 

Any government would want to ensure that its citizens are not exploited, and the Indonesian government is trying to do just that. They are quite smart to see that the Taiwan Ministry of Labor is never going to make it easy to give these workers a fair deal. It makes sense, looking at that power imbalance, and the way such workers are already treated, that they would unilaterally insist on a change. 

The brokerage system simply needs to be abolished; it offers little or no value. I know some Taiwanese employers prefer using it, but they would still be able to recruit workers without it, with far less inconvenience than the workers currently going through it face. 

Most of the other fees should always have been paid by the employers. Flights, contract verification fees, health and criminal checks? If your labor is desired so much that an employer in a foreign country is willing to go to the effort to recruit you, then they need to pay such fees, period. That would be true even if they weren't then offering low wages to the workers. Frankly, any school who wants to hire foreign teachers should also be paying for all of this, and the only reason to complain less about it is that (mostly unqualified) English teachers hired to work in buxibans generally have more access to resources than foreign blue-collar workers, and a better solution would be to cultivate more Taiwanese talent for English teaching jobs. That doesn't make it right, though.

The only good point that the Ministry of Labor has is that clarification of the fees is needed. Despite the concern being raised by Taiwan Report, it's highly unlikely that any worker would -- or would be able to -- spend exorbitant sums on pre-travel expenses in Indonesia, but forcing clarification on brokerage fees would shine a light on a slimy, diseased system and just might disinfect it a little. 

Of course, that would make the brokerage firms unhappy as they thrive, like bacteria, on that lack of clarity. It makes exploitation possible. And the Ministry of Labor is clearly more interested in allowing the brokerage system to continue and lowering costs for Taiwanese employers rather than ensuring that all residents of Taiwan, including foreign workers on its soil, are treated fairly. 

And, again, if they actually cared about clarifying the fees, they would have done so back when the country's most vulnerable residents were forced to go into indentured servitude to pay them.

Instead,  the government is allowing recruitment from other countries to cover the expected dearth in employees from Indonesia. There seems to be little interest in fixing the same system that exploits Indonesian workers, which will then presumably be able to shift its infected focus on workers from other countries. 

No worker should be pushed into a pay-to-play system: there shouldn't be fees required when taking a job. If Taiwanese employers want foreign workers enough to go to the trouble of recruiting them, they should be able and willing to pay for that, period, not foist associated costs onto the very people they are hiring. 


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

On Taiwan, Biden is the less terrible choice

IMG_5674

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


"But Trump stands up to China!"

Does he? 

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

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

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

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

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

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


"But Biden doesn't care about Taiwan!"

Neither does Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"But..Make America Great Again!"

Does America look that great to you? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The rigged game, and how to feint

Untitled
This meme just seemed appropriate. 


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




(Go read the whole thread)

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16, 2020

When My Worlds Collide: The Chinese Aid/Mount Ararat Dispute

IMG_1806
Looking like a dork on my visit to Khor Virap in 2017


I was going to write about the way the WHO and China have both been slithering among political figures, begging bowls in hand, asking for statements of support for their handling of the CCP Virus. And I will - tomorrow, perhaps.

Today, something else caught my eye.

This is sort of a collision of my worlds: an American of Armenian heritage, whose ancestors fled Turkey, and who has visited both Turkey and Armenia while living in Taiwan and keeping an eye on China.

With that in mind, about a week ago, a tiny diplomatic snafu went unnoticed by most people. It seems that China sent medical supplies and equipment to Armenia, and this was written on the boxes:

高山之巔,長江之濱May Our Friendship Higher Than Mountain Ararat and Longer than Yangtze River

EVGKuItXkAEpnGh
These are the boxes in question

You'll note that the Chinese and English do not quite match. The actual translation of that phrase is "A High Mountain Peak, The Shores of The Yangtze" which sounds like a Chinese idiom but if so, I'm not familiar with it. (Readers?)


This caused a lot of consternation in Turkey, which demanded an explanation for why a mountain which is technically in Turkey, and called Mount Ağrı (Ara), was printed on aid sent to Armenia. IS CHINA DISRESPECTING THE TERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTY OF TURKEY??!! ...is what I assume they screamed.


IMG_2008
Even on polluted days, you can see the peak of Ararat from Yerevan

China quickly clarified that the packages came from a provincial government in China - Chongqing - and that the Chinese phrasing made no reference to Ararat (which is true). They then said the "English translation was added later", implying that it might have been done by the private company which delivered the aid (which is probably not true, but who knows) - and that China respects Turkey's territorial integrity. As an Armenian, allow me to provide some background, both political and cultural.


IMG_2149
Also I will tell you about brandy
Mount Ararat is highly culturally important to Armenia. It's visible from both Yerevan - the capital, and also just a cool, funky city that you absolutely should visit - and much of the Armenian plain (the monastery of Khor Virap is an excellent place to get a closer look at it). Like Olympus in Greek history, pre-Christian Armenian mythology considered Ararat the home of the gods. One might think this mythology is 'lost', but just as Athens is still named for Athena, plenty of Armenian names derive from these pre-Christian mythological names. For example, Mihran (my great-grandfather's name) is from Mihr, the god of smithing. Getting on the Jesus train didn't change this much: believed to be the landing site of Noah's Ark by those inclined to such beliefs, Armenians essentially transferred Ararat's pagan sacredness to Christianity. Since the Armenian genocide, it has also become a symbol of everything Armenians lost when they were exterminated from lands they had inhabited for centuries. Not just the land, but the culture - I could list several examples of eastern Anatolian cultural touchstones that are claimed by Turkey but may in fact be Armenian in origin, but I'll just point out one - carpets. There is evidence to suggest that "Turkish rugs" are culturally Armenian. And yes, Ararat has been a symbol of Armenian irredentist beliefs. I am unable to speak objectively on this so I won't belabor the point, but much of what is now eastern "Turkey" was heavily populated by Armenians until the genocide. The Treaty of Sevrès gave that land to Armenia, and then the USSR, for purely political reasons, turned around and handed it to Turkey - including Ararat.



IMG_2096
Not joking about the brandy - Winston Churchill apparently drank it
Ararat is on the coat of arms of Armenia. In Yerevan, the statue of "Mother Armenia" faces it (and is surrounded by military accoutrements). Armenia's most famous brandy is named for it. Pins purchased by pilgrims to the various well-known monasteries across Armenia generally depict it. When I visited Armenia and caught my first sight of Ararat, despite knowing how silly it was to have an emotional attachment to a geographical location I had only a tenuous ancestral connection to - my ancestors having lived along the Mediterranean, not near the mountain - I got misty-eyed anyway. I don't know how else to express how important Ararat is to the Armenian people.
0
Armenian pilgrimage pins from my personal collection
(not my pilgrimages - I inherited these from my mom, who collected them despite ever going herself)
So, I can tell you that from an Armenian perspective, referencing Ararat in a gesture of friendship really has very little to do with borders. Yeah, Armenia wants that mountain back. Sure. Won't deny it. But even with the borders as they are, without even expressing an overt wish to change those borders, it is entirely culturally appropriate to reference Ararat in an Armenian context. From that perspective, for Turkey to get mad about it feels a bit like China getting butthurt whenever someone calls Taiwan "Taiwan" or expresses support for Hong Kong.

Imagine having a thing on your country's coat of arms, purposely building your museum to the Armenian Genocide within sight of it, naming your brandy after it, and believing in its religious significance several layers and millenia down, and having another country get all pissy for acknowledging it's important to you, because it's within their borders due to some Soviet political maneuvering. Sounds like that'd feel like crap, right? Well, it does.
IMG_2006
The view of Ararat from the Armenian Genocide museum
Perhaps Taiwanese can understand this. Although the two situations are not exactly parallel, I can only imagine how it must feel to want to claim some aspect of that part of Taiwanese cultural heritage which does have roots in China, only to be told that doing so makes you Chinese by nationality. So you're stuck with either constantly trying to explain your heart, or distancing yourself from that heritage. (This rock and hard place were both intentionally created by China). Imagine being told that huge segments of your history and cultural heritage are wrong. That this thing and that place are actually Turkish and the things you say happened to your ancestors...didn't. Of course, Taiwanese don't have to imagine.

The problem, of course, isn't with emotional attachments to geographical locations. It's with the rabid anger and perpetual glass-hearted offense created by nationalism, abetted by national borders.


IMG_2035
Mother Armenia ain't playin' games
If you've ever wondered why I came to care so much about Taiwan after moving here, despite having no Taiwanese ancestry, it's this: what my ancestors went through and what the ancestors of my Taiwanese friends went through were different, but surely you can see how these conflicts are, in great part, variations on the same old themes of dominance, marginalization and nationalism? And I'm as sick as they are of being told that my heritage isn't allowed to be what I know it is?
IMG_2111
Really not joking about that brandy

I've long thought of Turkish political views as running on a parallel discourse with Chinese perspectives. Both are countries I have enjoyed visiting, meeting absolutely wonderful people and seeing some truly spectacular places. But politically, in Turkey they've convinced themselves that Armenia is the 'bad guy' and the Armenian genocide never happened (false), which is not that different from Chinese views that Taiwanese are the 'splittist' aggressors and Taiwan is their sovereign territory (again, false). I have lamented that these views are baked into the education that Turks and Chinese receive, and acknowledge that it is very difficult to overcome the failings of one's political upbringing.
Now, imagine that there a place which is key to your identity, perhaps even sacred in a quasi-religious sense. It occupies a central place in your cultural consciousness. Imagine being told by another country that not only is it theirs, not yours, but that it's not even particularly important to them. Taiwan, as a part of China, would be...just another province. Geostrategically important, perhaps, but honestly, I could see many Chinese viewing it as just a backwater, a nowhere. That's what it was under the Qing, after all. By Chinese standards, Taipei isn't even that big. I suspect most Taiwanese know this in their bones: Taiwan is everything to them. It's central to their history, identity and culture. To China, it's just hicksville. Yet they dare to pitch a fit whenever Taiwan points out that it's better off on its own. That's Ararat to Turkey. They don't care about it. It's so far east that I suspect Turks generally don't think about it much. It's a nowhere, a backwater. It is not central to their nation or identity the way it is to Armenians. And yet they have the temerity to throw a tantrum when any other nation references that cultural significance to Armenia. If you've gotten this far, you're probably shaking your head thinking "is Lao Ren Cha really saying that China did nothing wrong here?"
IMG_2041
Another view of Ararat from Yerevan
You'll be shocked to hear that Istanbullus don't care much about this mountain, but Yerevanis do. 
Well, I suppose...yes. But even when China is right, of course it's also wrong. Bullying Turkey out of supporting the Uighurs is wrong. And Armenia has quietly become a key node in China's Belt and Road Initiative, which sort of mimics its status as a border state between "east" and "west" (which the Romans and Persians would interfere with in order to snipe at each other from time to time) and stop on the Silk Road. But the BRI is no Silk Road - instead of bandits, there are debt traps. Even if the countries involved don't end up as serfs to China, they'll find themselves at the other end of threats to cut off this or that source of funds - closing a highway, cutting off international students, re-routing shipping, tourism, whatever - if they become to dependent on China. Again, variations on the same old themes.
IMG_2107
I really can't emphasize enough about the brandy

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The KMT's hard red turn *really* isn't as weird as you think: Part II

Untitled
This is one of those photos that doesn't have a direct relationship to the post...except I think evocatively, that it does. 

In my last post on KMT-CCP synchronicity, I dove into the KMT's Leninist roots to show that their 'origin story' does not differ that much from the CCP. The short of it is that their early party structure (Leninist), philosophy (Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles), overarching ideals (that they are a "Chinese" government and that includes Taiwan) and general approach to governance (authoritarianism disguised as "political tutelage" by a caretaking "vanguard party") are all so similar to the CCP's approach to governance that one should not be surprised that the two parties are now working together to push the annexation of Taiwan to China. 


But, I approached a few key issues which were left unanswered. Namely: 


What about the stark ideological contrast regarding Marxism? 


How do you account for the different approaches to 'Chinese culture' between the two parties?

The KMT is - in theory at least - a competing party in a democratic system. Do all the old authoritarian beliefs still apply?



Let's address those now. 


Marxism

This one is easy - the CCP still claims to hold Communist ideology, but even a cursory, non-expert observation of how China works shows that the party's guiding ethos are not Marxist at all. It's not just that China has barely any social welfare system - just try accessing good medical care if you're not rich - but that the CCP has figured out that it's just as good to control the 'owners' of private enterprise, rather than actually run various enterprises themselves. If anything, it's better! Other people do the hard work of actually running companies, but the Party can decide who succeeds in establishing large firms based on their connections and Party loyalty. And because they can be arrested at any time for 'corruption' or controlled through national subsidies and contracts or just quiet threats delivered through a tightly-woven network, you don't lose any power.

I don't think this paper is particularly special, but it is an example of how the general academic consensus is that China is closer to 'state capitalist' than any kind of Marxist or Communist ideology. And here's another one. They're not very exciting.


The workers, you say? Those people that the CCP has sworn to protect? What of them? Without offering any of the benefits of Marxism - say, job security, access to basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and health care - the CCP is quite able to exercise all of the downsides of Marxism (state control of everything you are permitted to do) as it pleases.

What, did you think the CCP would actually give 'the workers' any sort of power? But that would force them to give up power themselves!

State capitalism, as they love to say in China, is a win-win situation! For dictators and their friends, that is.

With actual Marxism gone, there's really not much left to distinguish the strongman KMT from the strongman CCP. And you're a fool if you think the KMT isn't aware that their one ideological rift with their former adversaries no longer exists in anything but name. 



Chinese Culture

The last few times I went to China, I was treated to lovely feasts of traditional Chinese fare in restaurants decked out in traditional Chinese decor. The first one used traditional woodcarving as a design point, inserting traditionally-carved pieces into more modern wooden walls and dividers. The other one was in a shopping mall, but featured an entire miniature stream teeming with goldfish, with a little Chinese-style bridge over it, which one crossed to go from the reception area to the dining area. The dining room was set with traditional-style tables and chairs, with white plaster dividers inset with Qing-style windows shaped like peaches, medicine gourds, butterflies, ingots and more. 

There was something performative about the whole thing, not unlike going to a restaurant in America with "America" in the name. These restaurants were gorgeous and the food was delicious, but the unspoken point seemed to be "welcome to China, don't you love our 5,000 years of culture and therefore everything about our country!" [exclamation point - it's not a question.] 


Those were just two meals in China, but they illustrate a larger point: the Cultural Revolution is dead. Long live Chinese Culture as a method of state control! 

This topic ties in nicely with the Marxist angle above. To clarify the relationship, let me quote Alton Thompson's comment in the Taiwan History Facebook group (which is great - you should join!):


A big ideological split existed when the Communists really bought into the Karl Marx shtick about international class struggle. The Red Guards torched Chinese art, destroyed Beijing opera, and laid waste to Tibetan Buddhism in the name of the new order. With this sort of erasure going on, CKS could display Chinese cultural treasures in the National Palace Museum here to make the case that his party preserved, and therefore must be heir to, Chinese culture. 
Mao's successors added 'Chinese characteristics' to their concerns—and that changed everything. As in so many Communist régimes, party leaders now needed international investment to rescue their failed economy and underwrite their party's continued hold on power (see also 'Cuba'). It helped this project to move the Marx talk into the realm of nostalgia as they established stock exchanges and rebooted Chinese art, Beijing opera, and Tibetan Buddhism in some form to show visitors.
The CCP suddenly found itself in ideological kinship with the Nationalists. The main product on offer by both parties now was simply a police state with Chinese characteristics. This conjunction emerged just as both parties were viewing with increasing alarm Taiwan's advancing democracy and growing sense of native identity.

The rebirth of 'Chinese culture' in China was not a natural post-Cultural Revolution occurrence - it was an intentional CCP-backed initiative. Xi Jinping himself has said so numerous times and even cursory searches will bring up state-supported initiatives to promote 'Chinese culture' and tie it to 'Chinese government control'. Here, it's stated explicitly, but also uncritically (you may choose not to read that as your self-care for the day. It's more than a little barfy.)

Does this sound different from the KMT's attempt to harness "preserving Chinese culture" as a tool of party control through the Cultural Renaissance Movement (中華文化復興運動)? No:
While the KMT had little hope of retaking China, it used propaganda to maintain the illusion that war could break out at anytime to justify its military rule and keep its population united and patriotic. The Cultural Revolution broke out in China in 1966, giving the KMT a perfect opportunity to launch the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement as a countermovement. 
It was not the first of its kind. The KMT had launched the Cultural Reform Movement (文化改造運動) and the Cultural Cleansing Movement (文化清潔運動) in the 1950s. These movements share the common goals of shaping the world view of its constituents by repeatedly promoting KMT founder Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) Three Principles of the People (三民主義), fostering unwavering allegiance to Chiang and carrying out the ultimate goal of defeating the Chinese communists.
The council was made up of scholars, cultural experts and a large number of high-level KMT officials. In addition to promoting traditional Chinese arts, it sought to instill the ancient “Four Principles and Eight Virtues” (四維八德) among the populace.

You may have noticed in the last election that the KMT is holding strong to their "Chinese cultural" touchstones. The hyper-prominence of the ROC flag and its KMT telltale heart sun. The claims that this election was "a battle to save the ROC". Knowing it can never compete with the DPP on Taiwaneseness, a tacit but omnipresent push toward Chineseness. KMT-allied groups, such as the Anti-Gay Aunties (not their real name, they're actually the 中華婦女黨 or "Chinese Women's Party") explicitly talk about their bigotry beliefs in terms of "Chinese culture".

So, now we have the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP in China both promoting "traditional Chinese culture", and both tying it explicitly to their political goals.

Same same. Not different.
Democratization

A Facebook comment on my first post pointed out that the KMT's history of authoritarianism didn't fully explain how the party as a whole could go so red. After all, they did capitulate to democratization, and the KMT's stated goal was always 'constitutional democracy' (of course, a 'stated goal' can never be taken as true belief - look at their actions, not their words). There must be some among them who really do believe in the democratic system, and don't wish to go back to authoritarianism. Some probably still believe that this all-important 'Chinese destiny' for themselves and for Taiwan remains an ROC construct, rather than capitulation to the PRC. 

And yet even they seem willing to be pulled along by the party's rush to cooperate with the CCP. Why?

There's no simple answer to this, and I do believe that (some of) these people (mostly) believe their own words.

However, true discomfort with authoritarianism must also mean discomfort with an authoritarian past. If one is able to excuse or explain away the KMT's history of political repression and mass murder, and join the party that did those things despite the party never fully making amends for their past, they are clearly not as uncomfortable with authoritarianism as they say, or believe. 

There are surely others who believe that "One Country Two Systems" is still viable, though they'll never call it that. The term is now - rightly - political poison. Still thinking of Taiwan's destiny as ultimately Chinese, they likely consider some sort of co-existence with the CCP inside a united 'China' as the next best thing to the KMT's original goal.

The KMT has recently insisted that "One Country Two Systems" will happen - in the words of failed presidential contender and now Some Guy in Kaohsiung - "over their dead body". But again, look at actions, not words. Every action the KMT has taken is toward a One Country Two Systems model, not away from it. Closer economic ties? Check. Not changing all of the references to "China" on national enterprises? Check. "Preserving Chinese culture"? Check. "Not rejecting unification"? You betcha. Floating a possible peace treaty? Uh huh. Links for all of those can be found in my previous post focusing on Leninism.

I don't know what to say about those KMTers, except that they are either stupid, delusional or intentionally ignorant. 

After witnessing events in Hong Kong, it is impossible to truly believe that there can be peaceful unification under any sort of two-system model. Leaving aside those who may simply be delusional or dumb, there must be a rationale in the minds of KMTers who intentionally ignore this fundamental truth
 “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.”
China has not explained how Taiwan’s democracy may be allowed to continue if it takes control of the island. [Emphasis mine].

As I've said: 
Note that among the things to be "respected", democracy is not listed.... 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...

Therein lies the answer to how KMTers who "support democracy" square that with friendliness to China and openness to unification.

They "support democracy" in that they believe there should be elections, and that the people who get the most votes should win those elections. That's about it. Even in the mid-20th century, the KMT held elections. Some of the local ones were actually competitive, in a sense. History shows that it's not necessarily an incongruous thing to believe as one supports an overarching authoritarian framework.

Under what structure those elections are "allowed" to take place is the question. For these KMTers, fake democracy will suffice. After all, they've joined the party that did fake democracy for decades, and then (wrongly) took credit for actual democracy! They are currently members of a party that has attempted to use lies, rather than platform-based campaigning, to win elections, and did not quit because of it. Even before the Hong Kong protests, they looked at Hong Kong's fake democracy and seemed to think "yeah, that'll do".

Fortunately, most Taiwanese can tell the difference between real democracy and the Diet version. They look identical but when you actually imbibe them, the core ingredients simply don't taste the same.

I bet some of the people pushing Taiwan in this direction can tell the difference too, but either their desire to be a "Chinese" party with a Chinese destiny overrides it (ie., democracy is of secondary importance), or they're sure that they personally stand to gain from unification under any system (they won't, but have probably been promised otherwise.)

Finally, it's worth bringing Leninism back into the discussion. Some of the old Leninist structures may no longer exist or hold any power, though the old patronage networks they engendered still exist. But one aspect of Leninist organization still seems to hold say in the KMT: democratic centralism. 

There may be KMTers who don't actually agree with the turn the party has taken, and who do understand that it goes against ideals they personally believe in. However, there's strong pressure within the party to 'fall in line' once an issue has been decided, and those who don't are punished (just look at what happened to Jason Hsu). There are ways to skirt that line, with tacit party blessing - see Wayne Chiang showing up to vote for one key provision in a same-sex marriage bill that the KMT had decided it would oppose, knowing that by the time he runs for Taipei mayor in 2022, treating LGBT people like people will be normalized. But openly opposing the "party consensus" after it has been reached? You're out.

This is true of most political parties, but the KMT seems to adhere to it more vigorously.

So, there may be KMT members who actually don't agree with their party's hard red turn, but they've decided that staying in the party and going along with it is more beneficial to them. Since they're comfortable building careers within a formerly authoritarian organization to begin with - one in which family connections matter more than talent, doing away with the notion that leaders are chosen based on merit - going along surely isn't as painful as it may seem from the outside.

Don't hold your breath, then, that anyone within the KMT will sound the alarm.

As a commenter on my earlier post pointed out, the KMT and CCP are like the Yankees and the Red Sox. They have different team colors and appeal to different demographics, but there's no actual difference between them - they're both playing the same game. Each one's fans claim to hate the other, but they all love the game, and they'll both gang up on people who don't want to play at all.

Ideologically, there is no longer much difference between the KMT and CCP - only rivalry over who should 'win'. Even in baseball, players are traded every season. It's all just a game. If the stronger team sees the benefit of helping out the weaker one to keep the World Series from being cancelled, it makes sense that the weaker team would be likely to accept.

It's really not that weird. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

The KMT's hard red turn isn't as weird as you think

Untitled
Pretty sure "We Shall Return" was a threat more than a promise


Since the 2020 election, people have been asking how the KMT could have turned so thoroughly pro-China and along with that, pro-CCP. Once upon a dream they were the guys who fought the CCP. You know, "defeat the Communists and take back the Mainland!"

Whatever happened to those guys?


How did we get from that to disinformation and election interference campaigns by China, aimed at helping the KMT? How'd we get to the KMT arguing that we need closer ties with China - a policy the CCP supports? How'd we get Han Kuo-yu meeting officials in China, Ma Ying-jeou changing his tune from "no independence, no unification, no war" to "no independence, no war, don't reject unification" and KMT party officials attempting to wheedle and threaten an alleged defected Chinese spy into recanting his story? Or pro-unification groups broadly supporting the KMT (though that varies), a legislator who attended a speech by Xi Jinping, a KMT party list entry (later removed) who called for "beheading" independence advocates, a party list so avidly pro-unification that it had to be changed after public outcry, and some support for a "peace agreement" with the CCP?

It's true that the KMT used to espouse anti-Communist rhetoric:

Chiang spent the majority of his adult life fighting Communism either as the leader of the KMT during the Civil War in China or as the head of state of the Republic of China (ROC) leading the Chinese government in exile in Taiwan. He was unequivocal that the ROC should never submit to the will of the CCP.


But the only thing that sticks about the KMT is how they consider themselves a Chinese party, and their own - and Taiwan's - destiny as being ultimately Chinese:
To outsiders, this looks like a betrayal of their forefathers. But within the KMT ranks, they appear to have long since made peace with the paradox. “One China” has been deemed more important than the KMT’s historic opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

They may have once appended the notion that the ROC is the only rightful government of China, but since it's become clear that such a vision is hopeless, they've defaulted to "Chinese by any means, regardless of what Taiwanese think".


Their only other ideology is power, for themselves. Knowing they'll never have the power they've wanted to regain in China, they'll take the next best thing: no, not power in Taiwan. Taiwan means nothing to them.  I mean power in China through cooperation with their former enemy.

When a rival offers a better deal through cooperation than continued conflict, those who care only about their own ambitions will take it.

Does it seem so unusual, then, that absent any reason other than a generations-old rivalry with the CCP, the KMT would turn red?

People have explored the 'what' of this question - what exactly is happening with the KMT. But nobody, to my knowledge, has considered the 'why'. Why is KMT-CCP cooperation possible, after so many years of mutual enmity? 

The short answer can be found in examining the KMT's core ideology. It is not anti-communist - if anything, they've shared more elements with communist-aligned parties than they've differed over the years. Nor is it inherently anti-dictatorship - they were quite comfortable acting as dictators themselves.

That latter point doesn't need to be explored in much detail. The only thing you really need to know is that,
contrary to what KMT historical revisionism espouses, they weren't the ones who democratized Taiwan - that can be attributed to opposition forces that forced the KMT to implement democratic reforms.

As such, there's no clear reason why they would think the way the CCP runs China is inherently wrong because it is authoritarian. 

The shared quasi-socialist ideology angle, however, doesn't get a lot of attention online outside of academic sources which not everyone can access, so let's explore that.

I'm going to quote a lot of academic work here because I'm too lazy to write it all out myself, but also because not everyone has access to academic sources, so I hope long block quotes will be helpful.


First, let's be clear: the KMT has never had a "Marxist" ideology. There was no final goal of any 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. Even when they were nationalizing every industry that they could milk for their own benefit, they still existed within a system that was generally capitalist.

That said, both KMT and the CCP were borne of the ideas of Sun Yat-sen, and one of those ideas (minsheng 民生) or welfare of the people is generally interpreted as a kind of socialism - Wikipedia says Georgism. I don't know a lot about Georgism other than that it espouses the idea that labor should not be taxed, but the benefits you derive from owning non-labor resources such as land should. That sounds like it's in a socialist-like family to me! The point is, although 'minsheng' was never clearly defined, Sun Yat-sen was not exactly a rolicking capitalist. 

The connection has been made by many:
The KMT's Leninist roots go back to Sun Yat-sen, but more important was the party's reorganization (gaizao) after its retreat to Taiwan.' During the early 1950s, the KMT cre- ated a network of party cells throughout the government, military, and society to which each party member had to belong, and created a cadre system to handle party work in these sectors. The principles of democratic centralism, ideology as guide to policy, and party supremacy over the government and military were reasserted. And a ban on organized opposition inside and outside the party was enforced. It was this reorganization that made the KMT similar to other Leninist parties, not by coincidence but by intent.


Even before the KMT reddened like a Japanese maple, it showed that it was not necessarily ideologically opposed to the CCP, although neither were they the same:
KMT leaders justified many of these reforms by pointing to the success of the CCP. But although similar, the two parties are obviously not identical....

In any case, the way it spread its tentacles of influence throughout various aspects of society was certainly Leninist:



In terms of party structure and party-state relationship, the KMT regime in this period was a Leninist one. There was organizational parallelism between the party and the state: party organs controlled administrative units at various levels of government as well as the military via a commissar system....Party cadres were socialized as revolutionary vanguards....Party cells also penetrated the existing social organizations. 

Look at all that...that stuff that also comes up in Leninism. A commissar system. "Democratic centralism" (a system in which free expression is permissible until their is a group consensus, at which point members of the group must 'toe the line'). 'Revolutionary vanguards' (professional revolutionaries who run the show in the best interests of the people until true revolution can occur). There might not have been any specific  'revolution' planned for the end of this process, but surely these cadres did think of themselves as vanguards representing the best interests of 'the people':

Defining "the people" as its social base, the KMT organized a youth corps, recruited leading farmers, formed labor unions in the state sector, and prevented the emergence of independent labor unions all through leadership control and exclusive representation of these social groups.

This probably helped them sleep at night, that is, if they weren't all tuckered out from a day of genteel looting and not-so-genteel imprisonment and murder of their political opposition.

If you're wondering if social control is truly an important feature of Leninist party structures, it is:

The essence of Leninism, according to Philip Selznick, consists in the concentration of "total social power in the hands of a ruling group." Leninism views power everywhere, and therefore a combat party manned by disciplined cadres is used as an organizational weapon to remake the whole society. From a Leninist perspective, society is highly malleable, or to use James Scott's term, "prostrate". In reality, few societies are so vulnerable that they are ready to be re-engineered from above. Leninist control is necessarily embedded in social structures so that its actual impact is always less than the revolutionary rhetoric.

And if you are thinking "that just sounds like dictatorship, how is that supposed to lead to the Marxist utopia that all those edgelords on Facebook talk about when they claim to be Marxist-Leninists?" - well...yeah:

In his classical study on the evolution of industrial relations in communist China, Andrew Walder discovers the hidden realities of party-state control. Contrary to its professed unselfish collectivism, Leninism encourages the pursuit of petty interests as party cadres are given arbitrary powers to distribute scarce goods. In national factories, there is a pattern of "neo-traditionalism" whose syndrome includes organized dependency, in which workers are placed under the economic, political and personal control of work-unit superiors, and a culture of authority, in which official power assumes a moral leadership and intrudes into the most private sphere of daily life. Leninist control gives rise to factory clientelism which reproduces inequality between leaders and workers. Working life is fragmented into a fiercely individualist competition for personal favours from cadre leaders.

Historically, it has not worked as well as intended. Not surprising - if you give yourself power as a "revolutionary vanguard", that sort of power is hard to give up.

If that sounds like both Taiwan under KMT authoritarian rule, and China under the CCP - yes.  Exactly.



According to Bruce Dickson, this Leninist transformation was completed even before the similar attempt by Chinese communists. In the industrial sector, the KMT tried to "recruit skilled and productive employees and workers with leadership and revolutionary patriotism." Thus, from a very early stage, cadres were present in Taiwan's factories, where they built up a vast redistributive network among KMT loyalists.

It's worth noting that the lack of a specifically Marxist political goal doesn't mean that the KMT lacked a 'vanguard' element. It's just that they instead intended to mold society via a process called "political tutelage" (controlling the country until the 'masses' could be sufficiently 'educated' about their political rights to ensure a democratic transition).

You can imagine how tempting it would be - positively irresistible! - for a party with total control of the state as well as the education system intended to 'tutor' the people to simply...stay in power, and use that 'tutelage' to their own ends through political indoctrination.

The CCP skipped the actual tutelage and went straight to political indoctrination. The KMT adopted Japanese Meiji-era education systems that had been implemented in Taiwan, replacing Japanese cultural identity indoctrination with Chinese. They allowed a few local (sub-national) elections, and was thus able to feign a veneer of 'education', which was actually political and cultural indoctrination. The total KMT control permitted through 'temporary' provisions (when in fact they were not) enabled them to avoid giving any sort of concrete timetable for full democratization while providing a way to "co-opt local elites" as their chosen political candidates (source: that first link in the post).


In fact, pretty much every aspect of how the party ran itself follows these lines.
Leninist parties direct the action of the state by dominating both political and governmental institutions. During its first four decades in Taiwan, the KMT charted the state's course by selecting and cultivating all political and institutional leaders. 
[From earlier in the article] Leninist parties brook no opposition to their power from other parties and customarily treat factionalism as heretical to the party's ideology. While on mainland China, the KMT cooperated with other parties reluctantly and relentlessly sought to expunge factional conflict. Like other Leninist parties, however, the KMT could not extirpate factional divisions....Intra-party factionalism initially was rigorously suppressed; however, after the death of Chiang Kai-shek, policy differences appeared more frequently in party fora and were tolerated in fact (but factions were still opposed in principle).  

If that also sounds like it describes the CCP, well, surely you've got the point by now.

In fact, the factionalism within the KMT party state was such that it was basically its own complex ecosystem. For those who don't already know, that's basically why opposition from outside rather than between factions was called "tangwai", or "outside the party" opposition (also, that had not really been allowed to exist before). 


These factional disputes did lead, eventually, to break-off parties (such as the New Party). The New Party spun off because Lee Teng-hui was pushing the KMT towards prioritizing Taiwan over "reunification" and hardliners who wanted to keep the primary focus on China, well, left. But, you'll remember that Lee himself was kicked out of the KMT because they didn't like his push for Taiwan-focused localization.

It makes sense, then, that post-Lee, with a demagogue-ish DPP president in power (that'd be Chen, it's 2001 at this point), the KMT would double down on its earlier China-oriented ideology. And, when that happened, it'd make sense that the strong unificationists/China-oriented breakaway parties would circle back around to existing in their own right, but also supporting Big Daddy KMT's pro-China ideology.


The nationalization of key industries into state-owned enterprises (SOEs) also follows this political trajectory. From the link to Ming-sho Ho's work some ways up:


After the war, all these economic resources, private or public, were declared "the enemy's properties" and summarily confiscated. The KMT was determined to keep the industrial assets nationalized despite local complaints and American privatization pressure. For the KMT, state-owned enterprises guaranteed its political and economic independence from the host society. In the early period, nationalized industries made up the backbone of Taiwan's economy. In 1966, state-owned enterprises employed 13.5 per cent of the workforce in the manufacturing sector, concentrating in upstream industries.

Some such state-owned enterprises in Taiwan that you may be familiar with include Taiwan Salt, Taiwan Sugar, Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor, the China Petroleum Company and...well, plenty more. There have been organizational changes; I couldn't tell you what the exact structure of these companies is now. Their function as SOEs in the past, however, is absolutely in line with everything above. They are often seen as a form of 'state capitalism' (when the state engages in commercial/economic activity), a term which has also been used to describe the Chinese economy under the CCP. Lenin himself considered state capitalism to be a 'final stage' of capitalism before Marxist revolution.

That revolution was not the goal of the KMT, but from a political and economic structural standpoint, there has historically been little difference.

Of course, the actual effect is one of enabling total party control (all from Ho's work linked earlier on):



The full-blown transition to Leninism in state-owned enterprises came with the KMT's re-organization in 1950-52. In order to exert a firmer control over this hostile island, the KMT proclaimed it was to build "a social base with the vast labouring mass of youth, intellectuals, agricultural and industrial producers The central reorganization commission set up a special taskforce to speed up the building of a party branch in every nationalized factory and a party cell in every workshop. There was an impressive growth of worker party members from 26,505 in 1952 to 44,312 in 1957. In 1954, the KMT claimed membership of between 25.3 and 45 per cent of the workforce in selected industries.

SOEs are not necessarily bad - they're a fairly common way of structuring, for example, transit companies as public transportation is good for a city, but doesn't always turn a profit. They can help bring needed services to a community even if there's no market incentive to provide it. However, the KMT's SOE scheme mainly served to enrich itself:
Mainlanders [basically, the non-local KMT] continued to enjoy their privileges over the Taiwanese. Compared to other government positions, state-owned enterprises offered better rewards since more than half of their income derived from the handsome rationing of necessities. Thus, a sustained wave of mainlanders continued to move into state-owned enterprises through private guanxi. Nepotism was rampant.... Unionizing was also an integral part of the KMT's Leninist transformation....officials began a unionizing campaign in major public and private sectors in the mid-1950s....Far from empowering grassroots workers, the KMT's guidelines made it explicit that unions followed the party leadership. Without exception, union officials must be KMT members and were handpicked by the party branch.

Hey, doesn't that also sound more or less like the way the CCP does things? 

If you're wondering "how did Taiwan move from that model to something far more free-market leaning?" - simple. The US government pressured them into it. Maybe you're a free-market bourgeois, maybe you're an edgy Marxist. Whatever. From a historical standpoint, it remains that reforms loosening the KMT's hold on the economy enabled small and medium-sized businesses to flourish, and that was the foundation of the Taiwan Miracle.

There is one final point to make as we discuss Leninist influences in the KMT - and that's land reform. I don't want to belabor this point. This is what land reform supposedly looked like in Taiwan:

It is only after these two [1949 and 1951 reforms] that we come to the famous 1953 reform, tendentiously called the land-to-the-tiller programme. This comprised the compulsory purchase of private tenanted farmland by the State and its resale, by installment purchase, to the former tenant....


Of course, even that is contentious (the whole piece is worth reading, although it is old). 

The KMT essentially used land reform to consolidate its own power (from Cheng's article linked further up):
[Leaders of early opposition movements] were not rooted in the contemporary social structure, which was basically composed of small farmers (a class politically captured by the KMT because of land reform) and state employees (a natural constituency of the KMT). Thus, not only was the political opposition of the fifties unprepared for strategic bargaining with the regime; society itself was not amenable to the mobilization of political opposition.

There's a lot more to be said about this which I am essentially skipping over, and a strong argument to be made that land reform was not as successful as some make it out to be - and I may write more about that in the future. The point is, from a theoretical perspective it sure sounds a lot like one of the stages of Marxist-Leninist revolution (Lenin envisioned it as one step toward the eventual goal of abolishing all privately-owned land). Of course, although one can make a case that "land to the tiller" is not an accurate description of the land reform the KMT actually carried out, for a number of reasons - one of the biggest being that they never intended to fully abolish private ownership.

The KMT wiped out a potential opposition base by appropriating the land of wealthier Taiwanese, and built up a support base of smaller farmers by distributing it (there's a lot more to say there, but that summary will do). The CCP, on the other hand, went straight to killing the landlords. One might have used far more violent means than the other, but ideologically, there isn't a huge difference.

All of this is to say that the KMT, from a historical perspective, was never as ideologically opposed to the CCP as people believe. There are differences, but they could be characterized as a strait, not a yawning ocean.

I repeat: the KMT-CCP conflict has always been far more about wanting power - rivals vying for the One Ring - than it was ever about core ideological differences. Now, I suppose we could say that by grabbing the Ring, the CCP has turned itself into Gollum. But the KMT is essentially Smeagol - having the power it actually wants (control of China) taken away, it pretends to play-act as a willing partner in the fellowship of Taiwanese democracy, but is ultimately trying to sabotage the whole project to get what it has really wanted this whole time.

No, not to abolish the CCP. They just want China. They don't want to kill Gollum - they are Gollum, in a sense. They just want the Ring.

(I didn't think that Smeagol/Gollum analogy would work initially, but you know, I think it does.)

The whole "they're damn Commies and we're Free China" talk, then? Where did it come from?

From the KMT's own mouthpieces, of course!

If you control the education system, you get to decide how you are portrayed in textbooks. It's extra helpful for you if you bow and scrape to the US and convince your buddies over there that you're the good guys, the Free China, the anti-Commies.

It's all a farce.

From quasi-socialist beginnings - claiming the same founding father as the CCP - to a basically Leninist party structure, to being quite comfortable with dictatorship themselves, the KMT cannot truly claim to be "against" anything the CCP stands for, ideologically. Their core ideology, therefore, can only be characterized as thinking of themselves as leaders of China, not Taiwan, and Taiwan's destiny as ultimately Chinese. Surely, leaders in the KMT have been offered plum positions in the new government, if they manage to make unification of the 'motherland' a reality. Surely, they believe that these rewards will actually materialize (they won't, but that's a topic for another post).

As such, their real ideological opponent is Taiwanese identity - institutionally speaking, the DPP (among others). Not the CCP.

One of the first links above concluded that the KMT has "accepted the paradox" of working with their former enemy.

I'd say that the paradox never existed, beyond what they tried to convince us was there. It was a chimera. A fake wizard behind a curtain. The KMT and the CCP were always more similar than they were different.


Knowing they won't get there any other way, and being offered a leg up by their former foe, wouldn't it make sense that they'd team up with them in order to defeat the people they actually disagree with - those who simply do not see themselves as Chinese or their land as part of China?