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

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Chiang Kai-shek did not save Taiwan from the CCP: Part 1 - the origins of CCP interest in Taiwan

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I took this photo years ago and it seemed appropriate to finally use it here.


I had thought I'd written about this before, but couldn't find an appropriate post. So, because it seems like I address this opinion frequently and I'm sick of repeating myself, it's time to write it all out here so I can link it next time someone comes out with a wacky historical interpretation of what actually happened after the Chinese Civil War. 

Also, Dictatorship Day is tomorrow (that's 10/10 for those of you who are still sleeping), so this feels like a good time to write such a post. 

So, what am I on about? Every few weeks, either wild-caught or while I'm talking about one of my favorite subjects (what an absolute sack of wankers the KMT is), someone seems to pop into one of my feeds with a comment along the lines of "yes but without Chiang Kai-shek/the KMT/the ROC army Taiwan would be a part of Communist China now".

These include comments by good people -- it's not personal. I've been wrong about history too. It's okay. But we need to deal with it.

This needs to be tackled in a few parts, in fact. First, I think it's important to clarify what exactly the KMT and CCP each thought of Taiwan in the years leading up to the Taiwan conflict. Only then do I think we'll have a good basis for discussing the degree to which Chiang and the KMT are not responsible for keeping Taiwan CCP free.

So first, let me make the case that Chiang Kai-shek is to blame for the CCP's interest in Taiwan in the first place. 

You read that right. It's all his (and the KMT's) fault that this is a problem to begin with.

I don't have many links for you because my biggest source is one of my favorite books, 
Accidental State by Hsiao-ting Lin, but I will link where I can. 

In 1924, Sun Yat-sen did include Taiwan in his Three Principles of the People, and it's likely Chiang got the idea to include Taiwan in the territories claimed by the Nationalists at the summit in Cairo in 1943 from this, according to Lin. Here's the thing though: Sun also included all sorts of places that no reasonable person believes "China" should control, including parts of Korea, Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan etc. It also is not clear from Sun's other writing that when visiting Taiwan (he visited twice, I believe) he considered it to be anything other than Japanese territory.

What does matter is this: it was not clear until right before the meeting at Cairo that Taiwan would be included in Nationalist territorial claims the way, say, Manchuria certainly would be, as Taiwan had been ceded legally under the Treaty of Shimonoseki whereas the Nationalists had never accepted Japan's conquest of Manchuria. Before that, the ROC, its officials and Chiang himself had more or less treated Taiwan as a part of Japan, including opening a consular office in Taipei "under the jurisdiction of its legation in Tokyo". Chiang even spoke to Japanese politicians about how ending colonial rule in Taiwan and Korea could help bolster relations between China and Japan! To say the least, before 1941, Nationalist views of Taiwan and clear ideas about what Taiwan should be were, to use Lin's words, "murky", "cautious", uncertain" and "undetermined". 

The change in rhetoric to seriously consider claiming Taiwan happened after Pearl Harbor, when the ROC more or less saw an opportunity and decided to grab it. It was around that time that a definition of what constituted "lost" territories to be recovered was created by Chiang, and the top concerns regarding what should be included and what shouldn't were more geo-strategic than ideological.

In fact, according to Lin, the decision to include Taiwan as a claimed territory wasn't even finalized until after Chiang had received the invitation to Cairo! Until then it had been a matter of debate and exactly which "lost" territories ought to be "recovered" was very much a matter of debate.

George Kerr also notes in Formosa Betrayed that Allied attempts to gain intelligence on Taiwan from their Chinese allies showed how little interest the Nationalists actually had in Taiwan, as most of it was lazily thrown together at best, or outright fabricated at worst (to be fair, Lin finds Kerr's accounts to be generally exaggerated). 

The inclusion of Taiwan didn't start gaining truly serious ROC domestic or international traction until the Allies signed onto it at Cairo, and even then, to quote Kerr, the only reason the West was willing to prop up Chiang's claims was to help him save face as the self-proclaimed greatest leader and bringer of "democracy" to Asia (again, to be fair, no-one else in Asia at that time could reasonably claim the title of supreme democratic reformer, either). They knew perfectly well that his regime would require massive support from the West.

(It's worth taking a brief side-note here to point out that the result of Cairo was a declaration, not a treaty. The actual series of treaties that followed the Japanese surrender do not clarify to whom Taiwan was ceded nor what its status is.)

At the same time, the Communists seemed to hold a very different view of Taiwan. Mao's rhetoric on the topic somewhat implied that Taiwan had the right to some, if not total, sovereignty, and the CCP listed "Taiwanese" among the "minority nationalities" that had "equal rights" in "Soviet China", but were considered to be a distinct group or race from Chinese with their own homeland. 

I'm going to quote from the link above at length, because unlike Accidental State and Formosa Betrayed, two books you absolutely should spend your money on, this is a journal article and not everyone will have access. I've emphasized important points:

This position of the Sixth Congress was reiterated in the same year by the Fifth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Youth League, which in its regulations noted that the "minority na- tionalities" in China included "Mongols, Koreans, Taiwanese, Annamese, etc.," and urged that local organs form national minority committes.5 Two years later in Kiangsi, the "Draft Constitution of the China Soviet Republic," adopted by the First All-China Soviet Congress (November 7, 1931), extended constitutional rights to these same minority nationalities.6 According to Item 4 of this document, all races, that is the "Han, Manchu, Mongol, Mohammedan, Tibetan, Miao, Li and also the Taiwanese, Koreans, and Annamese who reside in China, are equal under the laws of Soviet China [emphasis added]." Taiwanese were seen not as Han but as a different "nationality" and even "race," who like the Koreans and the Annamese, but unlike the other minorities, came from a homeland separate from China.8 This view is strengthened by the fact that the CCP never referred to the Taiwanese as "brethren" (dixiong), or "the offspring of the Yellow Emperor," or "compatriots" (tongbao), who would de facto belong to the Han after they return to China. Indeed, a 1928 Central Committee Notice, while calling for the recovery from Japan of sovereignty over Shantung and Manchuria, failed to mention a similar goal for Taiwan in its seventeen "general goals of the present mass movement."9 Since the ideological perspectives of the early Chinese Communist elite were heavily influenced by an anti-Japanese (as well as an anti-Western) nationalism born out of the May Fourth Movement, this exclusion of Taiwan from recoverable sovereign territory of China is revealing.

 



(Yes, that is one long paragraph.)

It gets better, though: 


Mao Tse-tung's earliest comments on the Taiwanese came in his January 1934 "Report of the China Soviet Republic Central Executive Committee and the People's Committee to the Second All-China Soviet Congress." Commenting on various provisions in the 1931 Constitution, he said: Item 15 of the Draft Constitution of Soviet China has the following statement: 

To every nationality in China who is persecuted because of revolutionary acts and to the revolutionary warriors of the whole world, the Chinese Soviet Government grants the right of their being protected in Soviet areas, and assists them in renewing their struggle until a total victory of the revolutionary movement for their nationality and nation has been achieved. In the Soviet areas, many revolutionary comrades from Korea, Taiwan, and Annam are residing. In the First All-China Soviet Congress, representatives of Korea had attended. In the present Congress, there are a few representatives from Korea, Taiwan, and Annam. This proves that this Declaration of the Soviet is a correct one.’


Mao not only reaffirmed the Chinese Communist position that Taiwanese residing outside Taiwan and in China were a "minority nationality," but also implied CCP recognition and support of an independent Taiwan national liberation movement, which would be united in a joint effort with the Chinese movement, but with a different purpose, i.e., the establishment of an independent state similar to other Japanese colonies, such as Korea. 

A year later, Mao and P'eng Teh-huai manifestly dissociated Taiwan's political movement from China by incorporating it into the anti-imperialist revolution led by the Japanese Communist Party. According to the "Resolution on the Current Political Situation and the Party's Responsibility," passed at a meeting of the CCP Central Political Bureau on 25 December, 1935, and signed by P'eng and Mao: 

Under the powerful leadership of the Japanese Communist Party, the Japanese workers and peasants and the oppressed nationalities (Korea, Taiwan) are preparing great efforts in struggling to defeat Japanese Imperialism and to establish a Soviet Japan. This is to unite the Chinese revolution and Japanese revolution on the basis of the common targets of "defeating Japanese imperialism." The Japanese revolutionary people are a powerful helper of the Chinese revolutionary people." 


Here Taiwanese were not considered an integral part of the "Chinese revolutionary people," but were treated as a people whose natural political role was to fight alongside the "Japanese workers and peasants" in establishing a Soviet Japan. Whether Mao and P'eng expected the Taiwanese (and Koreans) formally to join a newly-created Soviet Japan is unclear from this resolution. But nowhere in this or other documents examined by the authors did CCP leaders suggest that the Taiwanese should fight to return to their "motherland" and join Soviet China - a point they would not make until after 1943.


That's my underline, so let me reiterate:

...a point they would not make until after 1943.

What changed between when these statements were made and 1943?

Oh yeah! All that stuff the Nationalists did, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, to change China's perspective on Taiwan toward claiming it as an integral territory and 'lost' province. 

It is not unreasonable to assert that the CCP changed its stance on Taiwan because the Nationalists had done so first

Guess what - it gets even better. Please enjoy:

As to explicit CCP support for an independent state on Taiwan, the most notable documentary evidence is Mao's personal statement made to Edgar Snow on July 16, 1936. Responding to Snow's question, "Is it the immediate task of the Chinese people to regain all the territories lost to Japanese imperialism, or only to drive Japan from North China, and all Chinese territory above the Great Wall?," Mao answered: 

It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories, not merely to defend our sovereignty below the Great Wall. This means that Manchuria must be regained. We do not, however, include Korea, formerly a Chinese colony, but when we have re-established the independence of the lost territories of China, and if the Koreans wish to break away from the chains of Japanese imperialism, we will extend them our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies for Formosa. As for Inner Mongolia, which is populated by both Chinese and Mongolians, we will struggle to drive Japan from there and help Inner Mongolia to establish an autonomous State. 

The support for independence of Korea and Taiwan, both of which were formerly linked to China, is clearly stated.


There is some solid analysis in this otherwise older source about why the CCP policy was able to shift, and an interesting discussion of what constitutes "Chineseness" in the eyes of the CCP -- at least, the best possible analysis of it in 1979.

The authors also go on to provide more source material for Lin's analysis of the shifting Nationalist position on Taiwan pre-1943, pointing out that Taiwan was of minor importance before Cairo, belying the massive importance placed on it by the Nationalists after the conference. They go on to posit that Chiang's original goal was quite possibly very similar to the CCP's: to "liberate" Korea and Taiwan so as to create buffer states between China and Japan! 

Because I believe in free access to academic work, here's another quote:

What is important here is that Chiang, like Sun, was more concerned with "restoring" (hufifu) the independence and freedom of Taiwan and Korea so as to create buffer states against Japan, while China would assume traditional protection, but not necessarily sovereignty, over Taiwan and Korea. Moreover, throughout Chiang's pre-1942 collected works and speeches nowhere does he make a claim to “recover" (shoufu, guangfu or shouhut) Taiwan. The island was mentioned occasionally, along with Korea, but only in the sense that both nations were enslaved by the Japanese. No mention of the Taiwanese appeared in such strong nationalist tracts as "Prepare For Victory," nor in his message on "Resistance in the Enemy's Rear."


Although the ability of the CCP to shift so easily to a "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China" stance is of interest, the reason why they chose to do so at all is of more interest to me. Again, it all points back to Cairo, and we have Chiang Kai-shek and his minions to thank for that.

Hsiao and Sullivan (the heroes of this heavily-quoted article) reached the same (hedged) conclusion in 1979:

This tentatively suggests that the Chinese Communist position on the Taiwan question became most politically expedient after the 1943 Cairo Declaration when, still out of power, and in a subordinate position vis-a-vis the KMT, the CCP dropped its support for Taiwan's independent status and embraced Chiang Kai-shek's then very recent policy of full political reintegration of Taiwan into the Chinese polity.


!!!

I emphasized that in three different ways to draw your attention to it. It's analysis, not fact, but I happen to think it's right on the money. 

In other words, Chiang didn't "save" Taiwan from the Communists. He led them right into claiming Taiwan as a territory. If Chiang and the Nationalists had never fed that fire, it's entirely possible (though far from assured, to be fair yet again) that the CCP would have never become as interested in Taiwan as an integral part of China as they did. They might have had designs on it, after all they got involved in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, but note that Korea and Vietnam don't suffer from the lack of diplomatic recognition or the same territorial claims by China (or at least, in Vietnam's case, not to the same extent) that Taiwan does.

And yet, there are still people who believe that Chiang deserves some sort of credit for keeping the Communists away from Taiwan. I would ask -- why? He's responsible for their claims on Taiwan in the first place!

At this point we veer into speculative history: if the Nationalists had never decided to claim Taiwan, would they have occupied Taiwan at the behest of the Allies in 1945, for convenience's sake? I don't know, as occupying Taiwan as a proxy of the Allies is not the same as occupying it as a claimed territory, but it seems at least somewhat less likely. In any case, it is less likely to have become the location of their retreat upon losing the civil war a few years later. This means that perhaps (?) the Nationalists might have been wiped out completely -- not a bad outcome, in my estimation, though the CCP disappearing would be even better.

If the KMT had not retreated to Taiwan, would the CCP have ever set its sights on the island? Possibly. There would have been so-called "justification" for it in Sun's writing, and they certainly were (and are) expansionist.

But their own writings indicate that it might not have rolled out that way, and Taiwan would have gained its independence in the same era as many other former colonies across Asia: Korea, most of Southeast Asia, India and more. 

Some of those former colonies have struggled (the Philippines, Myanmar, India, Indonesia), in part due to local issues and in part thanks to everything that was stolen from them or forced upon them by their colonizers. Others (Korea, Singapore) eventually succeeded -- if we take democracy and freedom as important markers of success, Korea even more than Singapore. As a relatively prosperous colony under the Japanese with much of its infrastructure already built (and built well), how might Taiwan have fared? We'll never know, but it's not a given that it would have been worse than under KMT rule. 

Importantly, if this is how it had played out, there might not have been any question now of whether Taiwan was a 'part of China', any more than that question is being asked of those other countries. All the missiles, all the threats, all the fighter jets -- none of it would be dangled over our heads by an angry CCP. 

All because they slobbered after the Nationalists and that led their sights right to Taiwan.

Blame the CCP, yes, but also...blame the KMT. They literally created this mess. They literally wrote the paper on how to screw Taiwan.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The CCP is a black hole that makes me question my own values

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This is a piece of street art I found - the artist is Mr. Ogay


Last week, I began a blog post about Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok being banned from purchase in app stores in the US, but never finished it. Partly I just couldn’t maintain a focus as it’s not clearly related enough to Taiwan, my core writing topic, and partly I felt like everything I had to say on the issue tapped into a deeper question:

In so many areas where China is concerned, I find myself going against my political instincts and nature to support certain actions and policies that, generally speaking, I would otherwise oppose. Why is that? 


For example, I am generally against banning apps or access to communication platforms. However, in the case of WeChat and TikTok, I’m ambivalent, with a slight lean toward supporting the ban (despite despising Donald Trump’s administration with not just my bones, but my guts, skin, blood and waste matter). 


I’m not moved by arguments that it denies ‘freedom of speech’ to some communities; freedom of speech is not available on WeChat or even TikTok thanks to Chinese censorship. The only difference is that in the US you may become a person of interest with your post deleted. In China, your post being deleted is the best possible outcome; you could have your account suspended or be shoved in a truck and carted off to a gulag. I’m slightly moved by the argument that it cuts off people in China from loved ones abroad, but ultimately that’s China’s problem: they’re the ones that made it impossible to use just about any other platform (that they don’t control). So why are people mad at the US, not China, for a situation China created? It makes about as much sense as admonishing Taiwan for “provoking China” or “raising tensions” when China is the one creating the tensions and choosing to react with anger. 


I’m especially not moved by the argument that corporate surveillance of our data in other countries is just as bad as CCP surveillance on WeChat. Sure, it sucks, but it’s not equivalent. FaceCreamCo may be harvesting my data trying to sell me face cream, and I hate that, but FaceCreamCo isn’t going to cart me off to a literal gulag if I speak out against this. Even politically, whatever the US government may be doing with our data, we are able to write about that, debate it, disagree with it, insult our leaders — and generally speaking, we can expect that we won’t be threatened and we certainly won’t end up in a re-education camp or be dragged out to a field and shot. (There is a social media moderation problem which censors women and people of color but not white men, however.)


That alone shows you the two issues are simply not the same and should not be compared this way. The reason is simple: what else is the US supposed to do? Allow apps that are basically thinly-disguised hostile government surveillance and malware to operate within their borders, potentially harming people in their country, including their citizens? What’s the better option here?


Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone against the logical conclusions of my own values where China is concerned. For instance, I’m also generally anti-war and anti-military. On principle, for instance, I oppose the US maintaining the largest military force in the world, by several orders of magnitude, and spending so much on it as American citizens suffer due to insufficient social and community services, crumbling or insufficient public infrastructure and an utter joke of a social safety net, despite rather high taxes (I’m fine with higher taxes, but I want the money to be spent thoughtfully and effectively). 


In theory, I’m against the US getting over-involved in just about any conflict abroad, as we always seem to make such a mess of it while proclaiming that we’re promoting American “values” or “exceptionalism” or whatever the term du jour is, despite the fact that the values in question are universal (human rights, including the right to self-determination) and the US is not exceptional in any good way. 


And yet, I am in favor of US military assistance to Taiwan. I know that my own values as well as the brutal history of US involvement in foreign conflicts, plus the sheer horror of our bloated military, should cause me to oppose it, but I don’t. Taiwan needs friends, and can’t exactly choose its backup. If that means hoping a military industrial complex that horrifies me in every other way will have Taiwan’s back in case it needs to fight the PLA...then that’s what it means. 


In general, I’m also anti-violence. I prefer peaceful resolutions, having grown up watching revolution over bloody revolution fail to deliver a better life for the people of any given place. At the same time, I’ve watched countries that have slowly progressed and improved despite having to make some tough compromises that affect the lives of real people make real progress — Taiwan among them. 


However, I’ve come to realize that fists don’t stop tanks, period. We can talk all we want about how Taiwan should be anti-war but still resist China. But that’s not going to work if China is hell-bent on a war. Refusing US assistance is akin to telling China that this is a fight they can win, and it’s foolish to think they won’t try. They won’t particularly care that such moves would create a state of prolonged internal conflict that would make Syria blush — this is a government that is quite comfortable with literal genocide. 


Then there are the economic issues. I’m no communist, and am barely socialist. That is to say, I’m anti-corporate and anti-crony capitalist, and have never been happy working for any sort of large multinational entity, and I support strong social programs and careful regulations as companies can basically never be trusted, but I’m not anti-free market. 


So when the whole US pork controversy hit Taiwan (again, sigh), my instinct was to think “you all are saying this will be good for the Taiwanese economy, but pork prices are already low, good products are available, and it will certainly hurt Taiwanese farmers”. 


But, in a bigger picture sense, I have to admit that what Tsai is doing probably is best for Taiwan. Taiwan Report summarized the issue well: meat imports are not the only thing potentially on the table. (If that’s all it was, I would probably oppose it). It’s that Tsai has it quite right that Taiwan is too economically dependent on China, and a big reason for that is the lack of trade agreements with other countries, a situation that is mostly the fault of CCP bullying on an international scale. Say yes to pork, and that could open the door to more important agreements. Free trade isn’t always good for all involved, but in this particular case it actually is, for Taiwan: it’s an opportunity to bolster economic ties with the US and, through that, signal to other countries that working with Taiwan may be possible even in the face of Chinese fury. 


Taiwan independence advocates (so, almost everybody who cares about Taiwan, and certainly everybody worth listening to) and anti-KMTers have been saying for years that getting too close to China is bad for Taiwan, directly opposing the KMT line that the only way forward is for China and Taiwan to deepen ties. The KMT is wrong, but those who oppose them also tend to oppose every other workable option that would keep Taiwan’s economy robust because they sound scary and not protectionist enough. How do you find alternatives to economic ties with China, if you’re not willing to seriously discuss economic ties with anyone else, in any ways that matter?


I actually do believe in protecting local industry, generally — if that can be shown to be the better path in that particular instance. I don’t want Taiwan to be a hub for major international conglomerates as I’ve seen that create sickening inequality almost everywhere it’s happened, from New York to Silicon Valley to Singapore to Hong Kong. 


And I do think the US starting out with agricultural products (which is bound to create opposition in Taiwan where so much of the history — even recently — is tied to the land) rather than just offering to open up more general trade talks is kind of a dick move. And yet, when it’s all stacked on the scales, I find myself supporting any move that helps wriggle Taiwan out of Chinese co-dependency and towards other international ties. 


These are just three examples: banning apps, military assistance from horrible people, and economic issues. I could add a fourth — opposing talking to right-wing figures in the West even if they support Taiwan —  but I’ve spilled so many words examining that particular issue that I don’t particularly wish to revisit it. Generally speaking, I’ve come over to the side of supporting bipartisan endeavors, not because I think people like Ted Cruz are acceptable (they are not; I’d spit on Cruz if I came face-to-face with him) but because I’ve realized that it’s better if support for Taiwan transcended electoral politics. That goes both ways: hoping the left and center will come around, but also not tying all Western support for Taiwan to their successful elections. 


So, the final question is why. Are my principles just not strong enough? Do I claim to have certain values and then abandon them the second they become inconvenient? Or are my beliefs more tied to ends than means — means matter to an extent, but are some compromises not acceptable if the outcome is preferable? I can’t rule out the former, it would be self-serving to say it shouldn’t be a concern. But overall, hopefully the latter holds more sway: just as a person who believes in peace won’t necessarily say it’s wrong to punch a Nazi, maneuvering Taiwan into a better international position may require me to accept a few choices that I otherwise would not support. 


Anyone who says, for instance, that they support peaceful protest but won’t abandon a cause just because a protest for it grew violent should understand this. I won’t abandon paths that I think are in Taiwan’s best interest just because the means don’t always fall within my most rigid principles, because the key principle I hold dear is that Taiwan deserves recognition and de jure sovereignty. Period. 


And, to bring this all back to China, the enemy also matters (and make no mistake, the CCP is an enemy). When an enemy can be negotiated with, one should negotiate. When non-violence is possible, it should be pursued. We should stand by local business and not be taken in by big money when that can be done without remaining economically tethered to an active, vicious enemy. 

Another way to put this is fundamental values vs. beliefs. I believe in peace, diplomacy, finding solutions, civil disobedience while avoiding violence. Self-determination and human rights as universal (not just Western) concepts, however, are core values. It's best for the means to align with my beliefs (diplomacy, non-violence), but at the end of the day, when a choice must be made, I'll stick with my core values. Taiwan won't get to choose if China starts a war, and if it does, it's more important to me to defend sovereignty and human rights in Taiwan than to refuse to fight because war is bad. Forming opinions about CCP hasn't corrupted that process, it's clarified it. 


But the CCP is so truly awful, so unacceptable, so threatening and so utterly disgusting that the full horror of their actions, from the missiles pointed at Taipei to the cultural and literal genocides in Tibet and Xinjiang, creates a black hole of evil that warps everything around it. It can’t be negotiated with, it does not respect non-violence, and it absolutely will try to use economic blackmail to force Taiwan’s hand. It will exploit party politics and foreign culture wars for its own benefit. That is the stuff the CCP is made of. There is no good in it. 


Even today, your average peace-loving or anti-war person will admit that it was necessary to, say, fight the Nazis. That appeasement was wrong and brought us nothing good. This is how I feel about China. And that’s what the CCP are — Nazis. You can’t negotiate with Nazis, you can only fight them. Frankly, you might not get a choice. 

Appeasement didn’t work then, it won’t work now, and that means that I have to adjust the principles I hold when it comes to everything else, because to Taiwan, it’s a threat unlike anything else. 

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

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 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.