Showing posts with label south_korea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label south_korea. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Confucius is as relevant to Taiwan's COVID19 response as Aristotle is to the US's

Untitled
We're in our house keeping our stuff in order because nobody else is going to help. 


Some outside Asia (and, honestly, some people here) seem to think Taiwan's success in dealing with COVID19 is due to "Confucian" ideals of collectivism and respect for authority which allowed the government to adopt measures that people in Western countries might find uncomfortably strict.

I don't want to search for too many examples because the entire line of thought makes me want to barf, but here's one:


In South Korea, as in Japan and Taiwan, the lingering cultural imprint of Confucianism gives a paternalistic state a freer hand to intrude in people’s lives during an emergency, says Lee Sung-yoon, an international-relations professor at Tufts University. 
“Most people willingly submit themselves to authority and few complain,” Mr. Lee said. “The Confucian emphasis on respect for authority, social stability and the good of the nation above individualism is an ameliorating factor in a time of national crisis.”

Such thinking is difficult to refute, because it comes from an Asian source (dominant narratives that don't actually describe the experiences of many, but appear to come from the "same" cultural sources, are a challenge for this reason). But I'm going to invite the furor of the Whole Internet and say that Lee is wrong. 

A cultural difference indeed exists, but at least for Taiwan, it was hard-won in living memory. First, seeing firsthand what SARS was capable of, people realized the need for immediate action and recognized government initiatives as wise (and they were). There's also the living memory of a police state in Taiwan, which helps draw a stark contrast between "a strong centrally-planned response" and "authoritarianism", because most Taiwanese remember the latter and can tell the difference.

Perhaps there is some additional "collectivism" baked into these cultures but I wouldn't go overboard with this: there's a point at which it becomes a stereotype. I see most "collectivist" action here as merely "not being stupid", and I'm an "individualistic" American.


In fact, if Taiwan had been in the WHO to begin with - or if the WHO didn't generally faff about with their thumbs up their butts - the world could potentially have been warned about this long before China officially recognized it, and "mitigation" strategies similar to the UK's might have had some effect. In fact, the UK's strategy, which was just announced to be a failure, sounds a lot like what Taiwan was doing as early as January 1. And it worked. Life is mostly normal here as a result.

That said, I can't help but quote this wonderful tweet:


And, of course, threatened by China and ignored by the WHO, there is a recognized need to "deal with this ourselves" because Dr. Tedros sure ain't coming to save us (or anyone, but especially not Taiwan). So people do as asked by a government that appears competent, which they've just re-elected by historic margins, and a Central Epidemic Command Center that is doing a better job than the WHO. The results are visible, so people trust them. That's not "Confucian", that's "not being stupid". 

Do I swan about writing editorial bullshit about how "the Western failure to contain with COVID19 is due to the cultural imprint of Aristotelianism"? No. Because that's dumb. Stop being dumb.

In fact, Confucius is about as relevant to the average Taiwanese person as Aristotle is to you.

Think the comparison doesn't work? I assure you that it does. Ancient Philosopher Guy from a foreign land (because Taiwan is not China, and South Korea isn't China either) does some philosophy which is considered impactful enough to still be studied today?

Yup, checks out. Except only one is touted as the foundation of several distinct cultures, rather than what he really was: an important thinker, sure, but not the Father of All Things.


Also, let's talk "respect for authority" and people who "don't complain". Let's talk about things that would make dear old Confucius turn over in his grave.

Not too long ago, Taiwan looked a dictatorship in the face and said "get fucked". And it actually worked! South Korea did the same thing.

And they did it without an army - against an army, in fact. They did it with few resources and no firepower. They had only themselves and the power of their words and unarmed bodies.


Did your parents and grandparents do that?

No?

Then sit down, Billy McFreedomfries.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The case for why Taiwan is the best of the 'Asian Tigers'

I needed a cover photo that screamed 'Taiwan' so...here you go. 


As we enter the 2020 election season in Taiwan, I've been hearing a common sentiment from people I've talked to  - not just friends but students and random people I chat with in my daily life. Anecdotally, support for Tsai's re-election is strong, but there's a general sense that the economy is 'bad', and Tsai hasn't done that much about it. I've also picked up on a sentiment that Taiwan continues to lag behind the other 'Asian Tigers' - while nobody is jealous of Hong Kong these days, there is some envy of its status as an 'international city', and I hear jealous yearnings to be as well-off and nice as South Korea and Singapore.

It's easy to see why, on the surface. Let's be honest - South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong all look so much...shinier. The public spaces and roads look better-maintained. It just feels like there's more money floating around. 


This is reflective of two pieces from 2018 and one from 2016). So while I can't measure the strength of this sentiment, I can say with confidence that it's a thing. 

But you know what? I just don't think it's true.


It's not that the data are wrong. Salaries are in fact low. Business do take conservative investment approaches (and I personally feel that they do not invest nearly enough in talent, nor do business owners trust the talent they hire to innovate.) I'm not sure that Taiwan's GDP per capita is lower than the other Asian Tigers as CommonWealth claims - at least in this data, it beats South Korea. And none of this from the Today link above is wrong, per se:


But Taiwan did not woo multinational companies to set up facilities, as Singapore did. It did not develop a financial centre like Hong Kong’s; or establish large conglomerates or Chaebols, the way South Korea did. 
Instead, Taiwan is home to many small and medium enterprises, known as original equipment manufacturers (OEM), making devices at low cost for brand-name companies. The island became a high-tech powerhouse in the 1980s on the backs of these OEM manufacturers.... 
Today, young Taiwanese face dim job prospects. They have been dubbed the “22k” generation — a reference to their minimum monthly salary of NT$22,000, which works out to just over S$1,000. Youth unemployment is more than 12 per cent [I checked that number, and this website confirms it as does Taiwan Today and the government], and many young Taiwanese are disillusioned.

But I'm just not buying that this makes Taiwan 'the worst' of the Asian Tigers or somehow 'left behind'. Here's why.

First, the same things have been said about Hong Konger, South Korean and Singaporean youth - 'bleak prospects', 'disillusioned', 'low salaries', 'can't afford to buy a home', 'no future'. Salaries for young workers are low around the world - Millenials everywhere can't afford to buy property at the rate their parents and grandparents did, and Taiwan (and Hong Kong, and Singapore) is no exception. Taiwan's economy is slower than it once was, but that's true everywhere

Yes, a crude comparison of salaries shows higher pay in the other Asian Tiger countries, but Hong Kong and Singapore suffer from such high living costs that I doubt youth - or people of any age - who get jobs there actually enjoy a higher living standard.


Poverty and Inequality

In some metrics, Taiwan actually wins out over every other Asian Tiger. Looking at wealth inequality, Taiwan's GINI coefficient is 33.6 (the lower the number, the better). South Korea's is 35.7, Singapore's is 45.9, and Hong Kong's is a whopping 53.9. Although the numbers are getting a bit dated, Taiwan's poverty rate is stunningly low, at 1.5% (though I wonder how much of that is massaged by people of meager means living with family). In contrast, South Korea's is 14.4% and Hong Kong's is 19.9%.

Singapore doesn't provide data (seriously, check that link above). Thanks to journalist and Twitter buddy Roy Ngerng, however, I was able to find a few reliable sources that estimate poverty rates in Singapore to be a whopping 20-35%. 



Yup. 

So hands down, Taiwan wins on equality - despite lower salaries, you've got a much lower chance of ending up indigent. Given the lower cost of rent in Taiwan than Hong Kong and Singapore, even if you do end up struggling financially in Taiwan, you can live a little better. There is no way, as a teacher, that I could afford the three-bedroom downtown flat I have in Taipei if I lived in any other Asian Tiger nation.

Although there's some contradictory info on purchasing power coming up, I'd also argue that the overall lifestyle in Taiwan is simply better. Coffin homes are not a thing, nor are cage homes. All of these countries have inexpensive food if you eat like a local,  but I've found that you can get more value for money in Taiwan (with South Korea as a close second). Overall, those little things that make life easier when you're broke are just a bit easier to come by here.

Is that not worth the trade-off of a few unsightly buildings? Would you not give up your glass skyscraper dreams to have more flexibility in your lifestyle? Just because a city looks a little ganky around the edges doesn't mean it's not wealthy.



Healthcare

I also want to take a look at healthcare - a lot of my data comes from here. Hong Kong's public hospitals have preposterously long wait times for procedures you can get done quickly and cheaply in Taiwan. The only way around them is expensive private hospitals, which not everyone can afford. South Korea's benefit package is quite narrow; a great deal of medical services are simply not covered. Singapore went through a process of privatizing hospitals, with mostly negative consequences, including increased cost to patients. Out-of-pocket expenses in Taiwan are similar to Hong Kong's (for better service) - they're higher in South Korea (due to so many uncovered services) and far higher in Singapore (due to privatization of hospitals, I suppose). While Taiwan does have a fairly high rate of private insurance, mostly purchased by wealthier people to supplement NHI, this doesn't make up for differences in out-of-pocket expenses.

After putting all that together, I'm gonna call it: Taiwan's got the best cost-to-benefit ratio of health coverage among the Asian Tigers. You won't be worrying about uncovered services like South Koreans, waiting years for basic tests like Hong Kongers or paying out-of-pocket like Singaporeans, and t
his is all despite having fewer doctors per 10,000 people than any of the other three countries. 


A free society

There are also personal freedoms to consider. Although I can only speak anecdotally, living in a society as free as Taiwan's counts for a lot. Again, South Korea is the closest comparison here. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is simply neither democratic nor free. Aside from the recent protests, the government is ultimately beholden to Beijing, and activists, publishers and journalists disappear (or are attacked or murdered) on the regular. In Taiwan, activists are mostly free to agitate for change. In Hong Kong, you're brought to trial and found guilty. Attend a protest - exercising your basic right to free speech and assembly - could get you fired. Singapore isn't wracked by protests (at the moment) but is absolutely an illiberal state where peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are so strictly controlled as to not exist.

If you're not a political activist, you may not think this is particularly important, but just try having a dissenting viewpoint one day, and realizing you can never voice it without potentially dire consequences. What if you want to be a journalist, political analyst, writer, artist or even academic, and find that your ability to speak truth to power is limited or outright censored? It does matter. 


South Korea offers similar freedoms - public demonstrations are popular there, as they are in Taiwan.


Work culture

When I first visited Seoul in 2003, I stayed with my now-husband in his (paid-for) flat in a nondescript building, in a nondescript part of the city. The buildings stretched on and on, and they all looked basically the same. They had huge numbers painted on them so you could differentiate your building from the others at a glance. It was all a bit sterile. These days, I'm given to understand that many companies provide identikit housing for their employees. When we returned in 2014 for a visit and had to catch an early shuttle to the airport, I noted as the bus snaked through downtown Seoul that the streets were full of Korean men in identical black suits (with the occasional navy-clad rebel), carrying similar briefcases, with similar haircuts, going to similar jobs in similar cubicles in similar office buildings for similar companies, and they were all made out of ticky-tacky and they all looked just the same


In other respects, I love visiting South Korea. I have to admit that Seoul went from a city that looked a little, shall we say, crumbly around the edges (sort of the way Taipei looks now) to something more similar to Tokyo between my two visits. People certainly revert to expressing individuality outside of work hours. But I think this samey-samey work culture would just destroy me.

Looking at numbers, Hong Kongers work about 50.1 hours/week on average, or 2,296/year according to a UBS study. Singaporeans clock in at 2,334 hours/year, or 45.6 hours/week. The results here don't quite add up as some say Hong Kongers work longer hours, and others say Singaporeans do (and neither yearly average matches 52 weeks of work at the weekly average). In any case, both are higher than Taiwan.

I can't find weekly averages for South Korea, but they appear to be at the top as well, at 2,069/year. Taiwanese are right to complain about their long working hours, but they're actually lower than the other Asian Tigers (2,035.2/year). 


Sure, just as the quote far above points out, Taiwan did not turn itself into a financial center or international business center like Hong Kong and Singapore  - but its wealth inequality is lower, which is quite possibly a direct consequence. It did not set up chaebols (massive conglomerates) the way South Korea did. But I've spent a lot of time in corporate offices in Taiwan and I can assure you that, while there is a standard 'corporate' mode of dress, that the level of conformity expected among office workers is nowhere near the level of what I saw in Seoul. I would not wish that identikit lifestyle on Taiwan; while some people might be willing to slog through such a work culture for a better paycheck, I suspect a huge proportion would chafe against it. Taiwan's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may not have brought in the big bucks the way Samsung and Lotte did for South Korea, but what they contributed to Taiwan's cultural landscape is a net positive, I think, and should not be underestimated. 

Brendan's oft-repeated comment about his long-ago move from South Korea to Taiwan is that "Taiwan has long work hours, maybe as long as South Korea. Wages are lower. But people just seem more chilled-out. You don't pass drunk salarymen passed out on the sidewalk who will get up and go to work the next day. Everyone seemed so stressed in Korea. People here just seem...more relaxed." And it's true - on my brief visits to Seoul, even I saw those passed-out businessmen. I've never seen that in Taiwan, though I routinely pass groups of friends enjoying dinner and drinks - beer or Kaoliang - on folding tables on the sidewalk, keeping the local gossip machines going and looking, well, just more relaxed.

I wonder how much the chaebol vs. SME culture divide plays into that. No idea, but it's a thought. 



Gender parity

It also seems to me - and Brendan concurs after living there - that South Korea has a much bigger problem with sexism than Taiwan. Every culture in the world struggles with sexism (yes, all of them), but Taiwan arguably has the best gender equality in Asia. For some hard numbers, the gender wage gap in South Korea is the biggest of all OECD countries (34.6%), and Brendan recalls seeing job advertisements that blatantly offered more to male candidates for the same work. Taiwan's gender wage gap is 14.6% - on par with a lot of Western countries and not great, but also a huge improvement.

Hong Kong's gender pay gap is 22.2% as of 2017. Singapore's is a bit lower than Taiwan.

There's more that I might include about gender equality in the four Tigers, but the wage gap really says it all. 



The bad news

I don't want to wax rhapsodical about how Taiwan is better than the other Asian Tigers in every way, implying that there's no data to suggest it's not true. So, let's take a look at what's not going well for Taiwan.

Just looking at unemployment, Taiwan looks a little less lustrous. In South Korea and Taiwan unemployment rates are similar, at 4.4% (a rise from 3.8% in December 2018) and 3.7% (average 2018) respectively. Rates are lower in Hong Kong and Singapore, at closer to 2-3%. Youth unemployment in South Korea is around 10.4%, for Hong Kong it's about 9.4% and Singapore is lowest at 5.2%. As above, Taiwan's is in the vicinity of 12%. There's no getting around it - Taiwan's unemployment looks low by European standards, but it's not as robust as its Asian Tiger peers. 

Purchasing power doesn't look to be much better, with Taiwan ranking high globally - 19th in the world according to the IMF, 28th according to the World Factbook -  but behind both Singapore and Hong Kong on both scales (remembering, of course, that that's still higher than Canada, Australia and a huge chunk of Europe). South Korea was quite a bit further down in both cases. I'm not sure why this is, and don't have the requisite knowledge of economics to analyze it, but I love making myself look stupid publicly so here goes.

First, a lot of Singaporean and Hong Kong relative 'wealth' by purchasing power can be explained by how this purchasing power is calculated. Their large foreign labor populations, who have much lower incomes and purchasing power, are not counted in these metrics as they are not citizens or permanent residents (Taiwan News makes a similar point). Taiwan also has a large foreign labor population, but while I can't find reliable data on this, I'd wager that the ratio of foreign labor to local population in Taiwan is lower than in those two city-states.

Second, Singapore gets around the one thing that might sap a large chunk of their citizens' purchasing power: housing. Most housing in Singapore consists of public housing projects, which builds accommodation at a variety of budgets. Roughly 80% of Singaporeans live in these flats. That might explain how Singapore can have such a high Gini coefficient and estimated high levels of poverty, but still come out blazing on purchasing power.

Why Hong Kong ranks well in terms of purchasing power, I have no idea. I'd think real estate alone - which Hong Kongers are less able to afford than Taiwanese even with higher salaries - would knock it down.

I suspect in both cases that all that purchasing power on the part of Singapore and Hong Kong, given their relatively high poverty and inequality, is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. If you're just a regular person with a regular job, however, you can make your comparatively lower salary go a lot further in Taiwan (or perhaps South Korea, with its similar inequality rate despite its higher poverty rate). If that's true, all Singapore and Hong Kong really have on Taiwan in terms of purchasing power are more rich people who can do more purchasing. Most people will never be rich, so that doesn't mean much.



Taiwan #1! 

To bring this back to the original point, despite some troubling economic data, I still think Taiwan is the best Asian Tiger in which to build a life. Salaries are low, but so is inequality and poverty (and the rent is pretty good, too). You won't do better for health care, and you have fairly strong human rights protections - better than Hong Kong or Singapore. You're quite likely a lot better off as a woman, especially compared to Hong Kong and South Korea.

The whole world is struggling now, and if anything, I think Taiwan's made the best of this. It's not being 'left behind'. Don't listen to the haters telling you that not only is Taiwan dwarfed by China - when, in fact, China scores well below Taiwan on most of the metrics above - but also the other Asian Tigers. Nope - Taiwan has built something less flashy, less shiny and a little-slower paced, but there are good arguments out there for why it has actually done the best. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Light News Petiscos and Wine

IMG_4091
Greetings from Coimbra! Their university is great except they have a Confucius Institute. But the building is well-marked and I kind of spat at it, so...that accomplished nothing but felt good. 



Hello from Portugal, where we are traveling for a bit before I take up my 2nd semester at Exeter. Because I’m on the road, I won’t be keeping up much of a regular blogging schedule. But, here are a few takes for you - perhaps a bit behind the news cycle but whatever - I’ll try to keep them quick. I have wine to drink and lots of it. Also, port.

We’re not really getting beyond the tourist hotspots, which a few years ago I’d say was a shame. And, in fact, I’d love to have the time to explore the lesser-known gems of the country. But, as I grow older and travel more, I grow more at peace with staying on something like a tourist circuit while abroad, unless I have good reason to depart from it. I don’t have a special connection to the countries I visit other than (I hope) helping their economies with my well-spent tourist dollars, zero dollars of which go to buying cheap trinkets in souvenir shops, so what connection would I have to a regular neighborhood of no particular interest to travelers? Trying to pretend the local cafe or restaurant, the local park, the local place of worship has any meaning for me as an outsider feels cheap, like a debased way of seeming like I’m better than a regular tourist, which of course I am not. You build connection by returning to places frequently over time, which as a traveler I cannot do.

That’s not to say I never have a reason to go out of my way: in Greece we traveled far beyond the tourist center of Athens, to seek out the church where my great grandfather had worked, and which my grandfather had attended as a child. We had coffee from the local shop and walked around the local streets, and had good reason to: my ancestors had lived in that neighborhood for many years. It goes without saying that a good restaurant recommendation will get me to go anywhere.

And, of course, Taiwan is no longer ‘abroad’, it’s home. That’s different. I have connections there. 

All that to say, yes I’m just going to Lisbon, Sintra, Coimbra and Porto, but I’m okay with that. 

Anyway, there’s a hot take for you. Here’s another - let's talk AIT. 

I don’t know what to say about the new AIT opening - some people say it’s a sign of ‘upgraded relations’. Others write ludicrous headlines (“angering China”? I'd say "eat me" but CNN is clearly chowing down on something way meatier) Still others say it doesn’t mean much, which seems like it could be the case given that the US sent no-one important to attend. Personally? I think it’s just as confused and schizophrenic as US policy on Taiwan has always seemed - even if, officially, it is clearer (and more pro-Taiwan) than people think. We want to build a big office in Taiwan! But we don’t want to draw attention to it! We care about Taiwan relations! But we don’t want to talk about that! It’s the same old dance - he loves me, he loves me not. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Though if you really want to know, at the end of the day, what those who matter in the US think of Taiwan, skip the new AIT opening and look at who makes decisions about arms sales to Taiwan. 

Moving on. Korea. 

The Facebooks are ablaze with WHAT IT ALL MEANS!!! re: the Xi Jinping Marionette Spectacular I mean Trump-Xi oops Trump-Kim meeting. You already know what I think it means. Few, however, seem worried that China would surely seek to fill that void of regional influence - after all, better that the regional power in Asia be Asian, yes? Plenty of people are talking about how anything that gets US and US imperialism out of Asia must be a good thing.

I don’t know if those people like Chinese imperialism, or just aren’t aware it’s a thing (though I would guess it’s the latter). It’s an easy thing to overlook: it’s not fully realized yet and the CCP is trying hard to make sure it stays under everyone’s radar, whereas US imperialism - and all those bombs we drop to advance an agenda mostly beneficial to us - is well-known and more than fully-realized. It’s easy to criticize.

It’s even easier to criticize knowing that you can do so and you won’t get shot. Try criticizing Chinese expansionism in China and see how long you are not ‘disappeared’. That’s the key difference of course - both China and the US are primarily interested in what’s best for them, and despite what they say the US doesn’t really stand for either global democracy or human rights - but at least under a US-led system you can say so.

What worries me is that in the wake of WHAT IT ALL MEANS!!! is that until perhaps just today, not many people seemed to be talking about China at all. Even those otherwise criticizing Trump's performance. I am certain - and anyone else who is watching ought to be as well - that this was all manipulated to benefit China (before you accuse me of ‘anti-China hysteria’, remember that I live in Taiwan, a country China has said obliquely it will annex by force.) Not to sound like a tired cliche-ridden “China expert”, but isn’t the Art of War all about conquering through manipulation or a clever strategem, so that your opponent doesn’t even realize they’re losing, and only if that is impossible to use force? Well…

So who realizes that we’re losing? Not The Atlantic, who mentioned China 7 times in this piece (I counted) but didn't seem to be able to pinpoint who was both manipulating the show and who benefitted from it. Not the BBC, which I had on most of yesterday evening in Sintra. The National Post gets it, but nobody I know reads it. My preferred outlets continue to not understand Asia. South China Morning Post, for the first time since they became a CCP propaganda tool, seems to get it right. But nobody I know in the US regularly reads SCMP.

But, because the average US liberal or moderate doesn't read these outlets, this particular observation seems lost on them. Not a peep. You’d think China wasn't even a player. A lot of my smarter friends hadn’t even seemed to consider that they were (“Why a [fake] Chinese proverb for a Korea summit?” one friend asked. “Because Xi Jinping is running the show,” I replied, to their surprise - they’d been expecting I’d agree that this summit had nothing to do with China, because none of the media they read have mentioned it.)


And Hau “Muppetface” Lung-pin went to China to talk about his hope for "unification" because he’s a massive jerk-off, being all kinds of Mean Girl to Taipei mayoral incumbent Ko "Reminds Me Of My Dad" Wen-je. As in he jerks Chinese authorities off. Fine. What bothers me isn’t this - Hau’s gonna Hau - but that it won’t matter. The vast majority of Taiwanese not only don’t agree with Hau’s far-right jerk-offery, they vehemently disagree with it.

But it doesn’t matter. Those who hate Hau (or even mildly dislike him, or think he looks like a Muppet but isn’t as smart as one - I don’t mean the Muppet characters, I mean the actual cloth Muppets are made of) are gonna find him odious anyway. Blue voters who watch blue media will either not know he said this - because the media they watch won’t report it - or assume he meant something milder, or defend it saying it’s his “personal views” which he is entitled to (and he is, but that doesn’t make him less of a jerk-off who’s dumber than a scrap of fake fur with google-eyes). Why would they assume this? Because if the media they watch does report it, this is the commentary they will offer, which people will swallow.

And nobody who has a message to get out to those who aren't listening is either trying, or able to get their attention, whether that's in Taiwan or the US. And the blue voters will vote blue and the Americans will talk about Korea as though it wasn't a massive back-door win for China, and we're all going to die.

And so it goes.

And if you’re feeling low,
Stuck in some bardo
Why, even I know the solution
Love, music, wine
And revolution!

It’s time for wine. 

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Brendan is happier than he looks in this, he just...does this for cameras? I dunno. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Contortions of a Dove in Hawk's Clothing

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Guard the alley, cat. 



Taiwan makes me contort myself in weird ways.

I don't mean living here, I'm pretty used to that. I mean in figuring out how the hell to reconcile my international political beliefs.

Because I'm not an expert in IR (having majored in it in undergrad 16 years ago doesn't count) I'm not going to try to analyze anything. I'm just going to say - so many people seem to think all of these  Korea-focused summits between Moon, Kim, Trump, Xi in various permutations are fantastic, and I too would love to be on the side of discussion, negotiation and diplomacy carrying the day toward peace and nuclear non-proliferation. I'm a liberal, right? We're foreign policy doves, are we not?
This is better than troops stationed for decades in foreign countries, nuclear tests, threat of war and ever-increasing military spending, is it not?

I'm not so sure of either.

The dove in me would love to see fewer American troops stationed abroad. The realist in me knows that Kim wants this, Trump is already talking about it, Xi definitely wants it, but it would be terrible for Taiwan. Mostly, I'm afraid that this is Xi's game: fewer US troops in the region that could potentially be deployed quickly is a clear strategic advantage for China and its designs on Taiwan. To continue the strongest possible deterrent to Chinese attack on Taiwan, I have to be in favor of continuing to station (and pay for) US troops in South Korea. I have to set myself against de-escalation and for the (heavily militarized) status quo.

I don't like that one bit. It goes against everything I believe in otherwise. But I also believe in Taiwan and have no doubt that deterring Chinese designs on Taiwan is not only the right thing to do, it's essential.

It is clear to me that the person who benefits from Trump looking like he's doing some good is Xi. He knows Trump is a paper tiger in most respects who can't be controlled but can be played, whose saber-rattling only makes China look like a victim when it isn't one (he is probably more worried about Trump's pro-Taiwan advisors, but also knows Trump people can and do get fired all the time).

The person who benefits from a US troop withdrawal in South Korea, in terms of regional influence? Xi. (I'd say "China" but it's all run by Xi anyway). The person who benefits from a denuclearized North Korea (if that actually happens, which I doubt - North Korea wouldn't be willing to talk if it didn't think it already had a deterrent to US attack, has broken promises after negotiating concessions), and from it seeming as though the region is peaceful and therefore there is no reason to maintain US influence at current levels? Xi. The person who benefits if the rest of the world decides Taiwan is not geostrategically important enough because Asia is quiet? Xi. Who keeps meeting with Kim with timings so fortuitous that they're practically announcing who is directing the "North Korea is suddenly playing nice" train? Xi.

Who is Taiwan's greatest enemy? Xi. Not the CCP (though they're pretty bad), not China. Xi. He’s not the next Mao Zedong. Mao had (messed up) ideals. He’s the next Chiang Kai-shek: ruthless, amoral, immoral, power-hungry, and weirdly obsessed with Taiwan.

It terrifies me that the small country that always breaks promises is being directed - and I do believe they are - by a big country that always breaks promises, which has designs on the country I live in and love. It terrifies me that so many people think peace always benefits everyone and that all players are honest and well-intentioned, when they are not, and the peace these people broker now could well lead to a war for Taiwan's continued freedom later.

But winning the hearts and minds of my fellow Western doves means convincing them that US military presence in Asia has more pros than cons and what looks on the surface like ‘peace’ actually isn’t. Good luck with that.

Granted, I don't think a troop drawdown in Korea is the only thing standing between Taiwan and China. We have troops elsewhere too and influence can mean as much as military might. It's more that every drop of US defensive capability that disappears from Asia is one drop less that China might have to contend with if it invades Taiwan (and it knows it). Every bit less of US influence in Asia is a bit more influence that China wins. Besides, troop drawdowns in S. Korea also affect Japan - this won't be good for Japan either if what I think is going on actually is.

I know this sounds a lot like wanting to keep letting the US run the show around the world rather than letting Asia (and Asians) manage their own affairs - and that too makes me as uncomfortable as doing a crazy yoga position. I don't particularly like US global hegemony, it was created to serve US interests, not the interests of the world as a whole.

But peace isn't always what it appears to be - you can bet Xi wants increasing power (and territory) in Asia to look "peaceful" so the West will stay away. Destruction can be rebuilt from - avoiding it is not always the top priority. CCP oppression is forever.


And so I'm stuck being a hawk even though I really, really don't want to be.