Showing posts with label taiwan_independence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwan_independence. Show all posts

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Appreciating Tsai Ing-wen's linguistic tightrope walk on independence

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The Ties

You are living on your own, financially independent and managing all of your personal affairs. You were estranged from one of your family members for a while - a step-parent, but they act like they're actually related to you. You didn't talk for years despite living fairly close to one another. You're pretty happy with how successful you've been.

But this step-parent, well, you've had quite a bit more contact over the past few years, and you're starting to remember why you were estranged in the first place: honestly, they're kind of a dick. 

For example, they keep insisting that you live with them, because you were forced to crash there for awhile a long time ago. They even keep your old room, and tell people you still live there (even when you did, it didn't really feel like your home). They try to tell you who you are allowed to talk to, and even make plans to renovate your home for you. Although they have a lot of money, parts of their own home are an absolute nightmare and you have no intention of allowing them to touch yours. But they just won't shut up about it, and even threaten to bring in a demolition crew if you don't do what they want. At best, they're deeply emotionally abusive.

But they also have a lot of power in the community - big donations to various projects, tons of connections, friends in high places. To fully disavow them would mean to cut yourself off from everyone else. You've tried talking about it to your friends, and they agree with you, but "don't want any trouble". Among acquaintances, if you say so much as a word against them, you’re shut out of community events. Sometimes people who are really friendly with this relative insist that their version of events is accurate. You're completely flummoxed that nobody else seems to see how crazy this whole situation is.

How does nobody find it weird that they insist I still live in my old room when I clearly don't?

So the best you can do under the circumstances is smile wanly and pretend you don’t hate this person, to keep things friendly with everyone else. When someone insists you and your step-parent must be blood relatives because you share the same surname, you don't respond. You considered changing it once and would still like to, but the last time you brought it up they threatened to set your house on fire. 

Publicly, you don’t argue, and you seem happy to keep things the way they are. 

In your heart, you are seething. 

The best you can do, whenever you get the chance, is to refer to your house and your life and encourage people to call you by your chosen name. 

Occasionally, someone will come along and remark that you clearly do want to keep things the way they are, because you aren't aggressively trying to change the situation (at great cost to yourself). You hate this, especially when your well-meaning friends do it, but you keep on smiling and don't contradict them. Technically, it's true. 

Some may ask if you plan to "make a decision" about whether to continue on your own or live in that abusive step-parent's house, and you gently point out that you don't need to make a decision because you are already on your own. They say "huh, but how will you ever be independent if you don't choose?"

How am I not already independent? you reply, because you are. Why would I need to declare otherwise? 


Defining "independence"

This is why no administration or dominant party in Taiwan has been able to consistently advocate for formal (de jure) independence for Taiwan: China has rendered that impossible. Similarly, the KMT can't advocate for the eventual unification with China that they so clearly desire, because the Taiwanese public will never accept it. On both sides, smaller parties take up harder lines on these issues, but they are unlikely to become major players for a variety of reasons. 

What's left is a tussle over the ideas that are still possible to negotiate: what the "status quo" and "independence" really mean. In other words, whether or not the Tsai administration is pro-independence or pro-status quo depends on how you define those terms.

If you define "pro-independence" as "must advocate for formal independence" and the status quo is "not officially pushing for formal independence", then I suppose you can say that Tsai and the DPP are "pro-status quo". 

However, there are a lot of other ways to define "pro-independence" - such as deciding that it means you believe the country is already independent. 

If you define "independence" as a future state you haven't reached yet, there's not much of a way forward. You are constrained by all of those angry voices who call you a troublemaker and shut you out if you try. But if you define it as the state you are already in - which is technically true - then it not only becomes attainable, but in fact is already attained. Any future changes - such as wider recognition - then bear on the status of your already-existing independence. 

This is exactly what Tsai has done.

"We don't have a need to declare ourselves an independent state," the 63-year-old president told the BBC in an exclusive interview, her first since the election. "We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China (Taiwan)."

How can anyone say that is not a pro-independence stance? She uses the word “independence” obliquely to describe it. 

What she's doing isn't pro-status quo, as it is commonly understood. It's re-defining independence as de facto attained. In this creation of meaning, the status quo is independence.

It also neatly addresses another concern of pro-Taiwan allies: that when we talk about "independence", a lot of people who are not familiar with Taiwan's status take that to mean "independence from the PRC". Then they hear "I'm pro-independence" and think oh, if you want independence it must mean you don't have it yet, which must mean Taiwan is a part of China. Oooh, that sounds like separatism. The media makes separatists sound like bad guys so I don't think I support that.

Explaining how "pro-independence" is supposed to mean "formal independence" - de jure recognition of a status Taiwan already enjoys - often leads to confused looks. Why would you have to fight for a status you already have? 

Tsai's defining of "independence" to mean "the status Taiwan already has" is, therefore, a masterstroke. It allows the conversation to move forward to supporting not just independence (which we have) but towards recognition (what we want). That argument isn't possible officially, which is why Tsai isn't making it. But unofficially, she is intentionally laying the groundwork for current activists and future leaders to do so. 

In doing this, she leaves  just enough room to claim that the Republic of China still exists and that you may call her stance "pro-status quo" if you wish. It’s a game of social constructionism that is, frankly, genius. She is using language to define and construct a shared reality that is palatable to Taiwan, which can be interpreted in different ways to avoid conflict, but is understood by those who need to understand it.


Pushing Ahead

This fascinating language game has allowed Tsai to push further, rhetorically, than any of her predecessors - including Chen Shui-bian, often seen as far more of a pro-independence hardliner. If we compare what Chen said in his inaugural speeches in 2000 and 2004 vis-a-vis the Republic of China, and what Tsai said in her 2020 acceptance speech (she hasn't given a 2020 inaugural address yet), Chen once, and only once, added "Taiwan" to "The Republic of China", whereas Tsai did this with every mention of the Republic of China, a name she invoked less often than Chen in both 2016 and 2020.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that Chen Shui-bian then immediately got on the international news and remarked that Taiwan was "independent" and China must "respect that". Tsai did. Chen didn't acknowledge the 1992 Consensus but I don't think he ever referred to a "Taiwan Consensus". Tsai did - and in fact I believe she invented the term.

She was able to do that. He - as far as I know - was not. She created space to push for Taiwan and call it independent under any name. He could not. Through finding new ways to define reality through careful language choices, she has been able to walk along a precipice that none of her predecessors could even approach.

Under her administration, we may yet succeed in changing the name of China Airlines, and it's possible that Academia Sinica will change its name as well. This will be a bigger success for Taiwan's visibility internationally than any of the name changes Chen initiated (only one of which remains - Freedom Square). If they succeed, the KMT and CCP will certainly take these moves as a challenge to what they see as the status quo. They are helping Tsai set up a situation in which her administration's actions - seen by some as “pro-status quo" - are actually "pro-independence", without her ever having to say so. 

In the meantime, officials in her administration have free reign to call Taiwan a “country” or “nation” as often as they please. Here's one example. Here's another:
Ou reiterated Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country. 
"China has never ruled Taiwan for one day, and only the popularly elected Taiwan government can represent the country's 23 million people internationally," she said.

Tsai herself does so as well, surely knowing that the international media won’t allow their journalists to throw around those words when referring to Taiwan (opting instead for flaccid terms like “island”, “territory” and - most deflated of all - “place”). But if she says it, they can quote her, and the word “country” makes it into the final copy:

“They don’t like the idea of being threatened all the time. We are a successful democracy … We deserve respect from China,” she said. “We have a separate identity and we’re a country of our own.”



It is absolute genius, and it makes me want to be her best friend and have sleepovers with her where we drink wine and play with cats. 


Defining "the status quo"

Let’s consider how all the other sides in this fight define "status quo". 

If you go by international treaties, the "status quo" means that Taiwan's status is undetermined. No binding treaty ever addresses it. Even if you believe that the declarations of Cairo and Potsdam are binding (they're not), through a post-colonial lens, they're still not valid: the Republic of China had never governed Taiwan at that point, so Chiang Kai-shek's desire to control it is just another form of imperialism.

Tsai clearly doesn't adhere to that definition, as she has assigned a status to Taiwan: as already independent. There's nothing undetermined about it.

If you go by another rubric of how a country is defined - that it has a government, contiguous territory, a currency, a military etc. - what you get is a de facto nation, like Taiwan. This is closest to what Tsai is trying to express: that de facto independence is still a form of independence, and is sufficient grounds to push the meaning of "status quo" in a Taiwanese context from 'undetermined' to 'determined, awaiting recognition'. 

Then, there is how pro-China forces define "the status quo". To the KMT, "the status quo" means "Taiwan's status is undetermined, but we respect the 1992 Consensus...with different interpretations". Considering that realistically, the Republic of China will never govern all of "China", this is a fancy way of being a unificationist. The KMT insists that this is open to interpretation, an assertion that the CCP has never agreed to. 

Ma Ying-jeou spent 8 long years insisting that such a position could be credibly called the "status quo". Notably, nobody from his own side attacked him for that, because they all understood that "the status quo" meant "Taiwan's current status is unclear but its fate is ultimately Chinese". Handed Tsai's re-jiggering of "status quo", a definition co-constructed with her supporters (that is, the closest thing we have to a consensus of Taiwanese citizens), neither Ma, nor the KMT, nor the CCP would call it anything close to the "status quo" as they see it. To them, that's a push for independence, and they will angrily say so at any opportunity.

What they don't realize is that this helps Tsai in her creation of meaning through language that Taiwan's current status can be described as "independent". The perlocutionary effect of her words lands in part because it has been validated by the opposition. By insisting their definition of “the status quo” is the only valid one, and Tsai's is in fact a pro-independence stance, they are helping to co-create the idea that the status quo, if defined in another way, can be called independence. 

Clearly, there is no objective definition of "status quo" (or "independence") that a neutral observer can point to and say that this or that Taiwanese leader does or does not advocate for it. If the meanings of these terms are not necessarily fixed, then the interrelationship between them can't be so easily defined or interpreted, either. You can't insist that there is only a reality in which Taiwan is not already independent (because it is not formally so), when the daily experience of people in Taiwan clearly show that there is a reality in which it is (because it acts that way, regardless of how it is treated by others). 


The Use and Utility of "The Republic of China"

As for keeping the name "Republic of China", every president (even Chen) has been pushed by circumstance to give it a little lip service. 

Let's talk about Tsai's strategic deployment of the words "Republic of China": it offers smooth rhetoric on which the KMT can find little or no purchase from where they might attack her. It ensures that the CCP can't use "abrogating the claim to being part of 'China'" as a pretext for a declaration of war (of course, they're going to do what they want to do anyway, but it's best not to give them excuses). 

If you understand her use of "Republic of China" to mean that she actually believes that it not only is but should be Taiwan's name, you could call her "pro-status quo". But here's how I've come to see it: a statement of fact, that "Republic of China" is the official name of this country, without making any statement about whether or not it should be. 

Some might take this as being huadu (華獨) or "pro-independence as the Republic of China". I don't. This is partly because it's pretty clear that Tsai doesn't actually think that "independent Republic of China" is the best future for Taiwan, which her supporters clearly understand as well. And it’s partly because I see her intention in her slightly contradictory choice of words. 

(There is a whole discussion we can have here about “independence” being “independence from the ROC colonial system”, but that’s a topic on its own - when creating narratives and defining Taiwan for an international audience who might not be deeply knowledgeable about or interested in Taiwan’s situation, that’s an issue best kept to domestic debate.) 

I read a lot of advice columnists, and this is one piece of advice I keep coming across: when you have to say something, and you can't give any genuine praise but don't want to lie, say something which is factually true. If your aunt is showing you her new house, say "oh wow, wall-to-wall carpets!" She doesn't need to know that you hate wall-to-wall carpets.

"...we call ourselves the Republic of China" is the "oh wow, wall-to-wall carpets!" of political talk.  It is not only intended to acknowledge the current existence of a government called "The Republic of China", but also as a necessary conjunction: creating space so that the words "independent country" may also be spoken. 


Tsai's 3D Chess

With all that in mind, which do you think is more likely: that Tsai actually believes that the status quo is what's best for Taiwan, and the name of this country should be "The Republic of China", or that she's choosing the most realistic, pragmatic path to advocating for independence available to her? Given the constraints of Taiwan's situation both domestically (KMT attacks) and internationally (PRC threats), given her careful choice of words and given what we know pro-independence Taiwanese believe, it's risible to credibly claim the former. 

She sees that the hard-line "independence" fight simply cannot be waged right now. So rather than gaze helplessly at a dense thicket she cannot enter, she's making a new path into the woods by re-defining the terms available to her: the status quo not as "Taiwan's status is undetermined" (which much of the world quietly believes) nor as "Taiwan is a part of China but unification will take time" (which is what both the PRC and the KMT believe), but "the status quo is independence, because the people see their country as independent, and in fact we are de facto independent." 

That is a valid pro-independence stance.

It's also a type of doublespeak: she's hewing close enough to the "status quo" shibboleths that China insists on (and then rattles their sabers anyway just because they don't like her), while making it clear to everyone else that Taiwan is a country. 

This is also in line with how she approaches issues more generally. While I don't fully sign off on her strategy to get marriage equality passed in Taiwan, the tactics were quite clear: play it safe, lay low, and then BAM! Same sex marriage. Say nothing at all about the 1992 Consensus, merely acknowledging that "meetings took place" in that year, and then when Xi starts rattling his saber about it, BAM! Taiwan Consensus. She takes some heat for several rounds of confusing changes to labor laws and appears to mostly be listening to business rather than workers, but BAM! has quietly raised the minimum wage more than her predecessors in just four years. She didn't say a thing about the issues inherent to tourism from China. She didn't want those tourists nor the economic weapon they represented - most of us didn't. Then BAM! China changes the policy on their own, as she knew they would. She presents herself as a slow-acting, overcautious, ho-hum centrist, and then BAM! The DPP has been quietly filled with young progressives and the socially conservative old guard has broken off to form their own irrelevant party

Taken through that lens, Taiwan's careful word choice and officially leaving the independence question alone while unofficially acting as though the question has already been answered - which it has - is a way of advocating for independence that can't exist if "pro-independence" must mean "actively advocating for formal recognition". 

If you still want to believe that her stance is a "pro-status quo" one, you can. There is room in how these terms can be defined for that viewpoint. But I would suggest that your chosen definitions are so narrow that they create further constraints on what Taiwanese leaders can do. Taiwan already has enough constraints to navigate, which Tsai has worked hard to loosen. Why add more?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

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

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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 24, 2020

Please, sir, I want some more.

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



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

Rejoice! Rejoice! Ring the bells in celebration!

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

Sanders' reply was encouraging:


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

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

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

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

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

They are music to my ears. 

However, I have questions. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, I wish Cooper had asked this. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, please, I want some more

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

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

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

Some guy says Taiwanese "separatists" are "deeply worried" by...whatever

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 11.09.45 AM
You Taiwan separatists!


Look, don't even bother clicking this link.

The guy who said this is "the head of a semi-official body" - ARATS - that literally nobody in Taiwan takes seriously and exists to promote the exact opposite of what Taiwan wants (and disseminate the exact opposite opinion that Taiwan, as a whole, actually has). He's not important.

I'll summarize it for you: blah blah blah "reunification" blah blah "one country two systems is successful" blah blah blah blah "historic trend" blah blah "degeneration of the great Chinese nation" blah blah blah probably a small wee-wee blah blah "historic trend" blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, how's Taiwan feeling?

According to journalist and more-important-than-that-jade-cabbage national treasure, Chris Horton: 






 So, anyway, here's a point I've made before but want to highlight here.

When people like...this guy go on about "Taiwan separatists", they are implying that these "Taiwan separatists" are a small, loud minority of annoying activists that most people don't support. Or they try to frame it as wayward politicians spouting on about some sort of political nonsense that most people don't actually agree with.

That's just not the case. As a friend put it, "if you define 'Taiwan separatist' as 'someone who believes Taiwan should not be a part of China', then 80%+ of Taiwanese are 'Taiwan separatists'."

They (all those separatists!) elected those particular politicians at the national level in 2016  in part out of a desire to express that will. Some want a specific kind of independence (de jure, or sans Republic of China), but most find sovereignty to be their baseline. If Taiwan is truly sovereign - no, not like Hong Kong, which isn't even all that autonomous, let alone sovereign - they'll take that over a war. Threaten even that sovereignty, though, and you can go to hell


In other words, Taiwan already has "independence" in that it is sovereign, and the vast majority of Taiwanese would like to keep it that way.

In that sense, almost all Taiwanese are "Taiwan separatists". It's not a minority, and it's not limited to people in government.

Does Grandpa here really think that almost all Taiwanese are "deeply worried" - which is what his statement implies? Do his buddies in government really think it's possible to consider somewhere between 11 and 23 million Taiwanese "war criminals"?

Do they really that the CCP has a lot of influence over the Taiwanese people?

No, of course not.

This is just what they have to say to maintain the illusion that "Taiwan separatism" is a niche belief held by a few annoying activists, not the general will of the Taiwanese electorate. They can't let the rest of the world (or their own people) catch on to the notion that Taiwan is a "renegade province" (ahem) not because political forces are keeping it that way against the will of the people, but because most Taiwanese want it that way.

So my message isn't for him - who cares about him. My message is for you, the readers. Don't buy what he's selling. "Separatism" in Taiwan isn't a matter of a few crazy extremists, who can be sidelined, rooted out, prosecuted and (I assume) executed. It's matter of public will. Taiwan is evolving toward it, not away from it, and it's not going away. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Xi Jinping is probably a terrible parent, given the way he treats Taiwan

Another day, another repetition of China's old line that if Taiwan would just agree to unify with China, that their rights would be assured under the "one country two systems" framework.

The article is strong, and includes analysis from experts who mostly actually seem to know what they are talking about. It avoids the incorrect use of "reunification", which not many reports on the issue do. It's clear that a.) Taiwanese are not likely to ever embrace unification (meaning that if it ever happens, it will be annexation, not unification); b.) things aren't great in Hong Kong; and c.) that Taiwan has "everything to lose and nothing to gain" from unification with China.

There are a few flaws, such as not dissecting Jeanne-Pierre Cabestan's assertion that Beijing's offered "reward" is "sweeter" than previous offers when in fact it's just the same old crap, and using the phrase "tensions could rise" rather than clearly identifying China as the source of tensions. But, it's good work overall and I don't want to dwell on these small nitpicks.

Instead, seeing as Xi Dada routinely treats Taiwan as a recalcitrant child (Taiwan is not China's child, but this is how he sees it), I have to wonder what kind of Dad he is exactly. Does he treat his own kid this way?

I can only imagine that conversations in the Xi household go something like this: 



Xi Dada: "Honey, come give your Dad a foot rub."

Formosa: "Ew. No. That's gross, you're gross, your feet smell and I'm not going to do it."

Xi Dada: "Come on, don't you want to give me a foot rub?"

Formosa: "I literally just said I don't want to do that."

Xi Dada: "If you give me a foot rub, I'll let you take out the garbage!"

Formosa: "Um, I don't want to take out the garbage or rub your feet. I especially don't want to rub your feet so that I can take out the garbage."

Xi Dada: "Oh, honey, but...if you give me a foot rub, you can take out the garbage! Won't that be great?"

Formosa: "Did you not hear me say two seconds ago that I don't want to take out the garbage?"

Xi Jinping: "If you take out the garbage, you can take out your own garbage with my garbage."

Formosa: "I only have a little garbage. I can take it out myself. You have a ton of garbage. I would be totally buried in it. That's disgusting and I said no."

Xi Jinping: "But honey...don't you want to take out the garbage? You can do that if you rub my feet!"

Formosa: "For the last fucking time, I don't want to give you a foot rub, and I don't want to take out the garbage, so why would I agree to give you a foot rub so I can do another thing I don't want to do?"

Xi Jinping: "Why are you so difficult? This is a wound on our family! It's a matter of family pride that we all agree on."

Formosa: "I don't agree with that and never really said I did."

Xi Jinping: "You used to say that!"

Formosa: "Back when I was forced to. Now I'm not. I never actually believed it and you know that. To be frank, I'm not even sure you're my real Dad."

Xi Jinping: "But I'm offering you so much! I keep sweetening the deal and you keep turning me down!"

Formosa: "What makes it sweeter?"

Xi Jinping: "If you give me a footrub, you can...take out...the...garbage!"

Formosa: "That's not sweeter, that's the same thing you offered me before and it's terrible."

Xi Jinping: "Your cousin gave me a foot rub and took out the garbage and he loves it!"

Formosa: "No he doesn't! You forced him to give you a foot rub and take out the garbage and now he smells like your feet and is covered in garbage!"

Xi Jinping: "That's not true."

Cousin Hong Kong: "That's true."

Xi Jinping: "This is a wound to our family pride!" 


International Media: "Oh no! Tensions could...be risen...in the China household!"

Formosa: "Um, I just live nearby and I don't know why this jackass says he's my 'Dad', so - - "

International Media: "Shhh!" 


Xi Dada: "A WOUND ON OUR FAMILY PRIDE!! We as a family can never be truly happy until Formosa rubs my feet and gets her reward of taking out the garbage! That's what everyone wants!"

Formosa: "No, it's not what anyone but you - - oh whatever. I'm not going to do it but I'm done telling you why."