Showing posts with label taiwanese_independence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_independence. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Should Taiwan formalize a political asylum process? (Yes.)

IMG_9854
I've used this as a cover photo before, and probably will again.
I hope someday it might actually be true. 

With the resurgence of protests in Hong Kong after China's announcement of a Beijing-imposed national security law which will certainly curtail the relative (but dwindling) freedoms that Hong Kongers currently have, there has been a lot of discussion in Taiwan on the degree of assistance the country can provide to Hong Kong. In particular, the discussion has focused on whether and how Taiwan might go about allowing political refugees to settle in Taiwan.

President Tsai's remarks on the matter, while hitting all the right notes in terms of promising that Taiwan will do what it can, have not offered much in the way of specific plans for this assistance. At the moment, Taiwan has no laws regarding refugees, nor a process for applying for political asylum. Regarding Hong Kong specifically, Article 18 of the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau says that Taiwan may "help" residents of these two cities if their political freedom is in danger, but doesn't specify what that "help" would be (nor what would constitute a threat). The act provides special status to Hong Kong and Macau, allowing for greater investment and a popular immigration scheme. I know someone whose family immigrated this way when he was a child, and he holds both ROC nationality and a Hong Kong ID card.

While the TPP (Taiwan People's Party) has proposed amending Article 18 to specifically allow for political asylum (see link above), Tsai is moving cautiously. Previously, the Tsai administration had said that current laws were sufficient to determine whether to allow dissidents to settle in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis, though whether this still holds true is highly questionable. Furthermore, Tsai has announced that Hong Kong's (and presumably Macau's) special status may be revoked, which wouldn't even allow for the vague promise of "help" in the relevant act - Hong Kongers and Macanese would be treated like any other citizens of China.

So, as it stands now, there are surely plenty of Hong Kongers looking at Taiwan as a place they might run to if things get really bad, which they probably will, and Taiwan has no mechanism by which to aid them, despite promising some unclear form of "assistance".

Of course, it's more legally complicated than that, but I really don't want to get into the legal complexities of separating the notion of "Hong Kong" from the notion of "China" (or the PRC) under ROC law. I'm not qualified and honestly, I'm sure if Taiwan really wanted to create a mechanism for Hong Kong refugees, it could do so.

Public opinion in Taiwan remains somewhat divided. I have no data to back this up, but I would guess that most Taiwanese support Hong Kong's struggle in an abstract way. Surely they are aware that China's actions in Hong Kong are a look into the future that the authoritarian hell-state has planned for Taiwan. Surely, when it comes to individuals who need to get out, most Taiwanese would believe that their country should be a safe harbor for them. Surely, many Taiwanese recognize that while Hong Kong may not want 'independence' as much as Taiwan does - it was never part of the protesters' famous 'five demands' - they share a common enemy and their struggles are therefore linked in some way.


However, there are questions regarding the safety of allowing large numbers of refugees in - surely, Beijing would attempt to plant as many agents in that influx as possible. Furthermore, allowing a stream of Hong Kongers, who can naturalize more easily than foreigners like me, to potentially gain the right to vote has some people questioning the wisdom of large-scale resettlement. In theory, enough of them may maintain a 'Chinese' identity (rather than a Taiwanese one) that they'd support unification with China, were it to democratize. For many Taiwanese, however, their identity exists independently of China, meaning they would not support unification under any circumstances and wouldn't appreciate a population of newcomers who might feel differently.

Some Taiwanese might even feel that, until fairly recently, Hong Kongers looked down on Taiwan - while I can't personally comment on this, I can imagine it happening, and do believe it's happened - as sort of 'country cousins' who were relatively less prosperous. Now that Taiwan as emerged as a freer and more equal society, Taiwanese who have experienced this attitude from Hong Kong might be thinking - "oh, you mocked us for decades and now you want our help?"

And, of course, some feel that Taiwan is always expected to give to others, but is castigated when it looks out for its own self-interest and makes decisions that are best for itself as a nation, rather than feeling obligated to always absorb the suffering of others.

Should Taiwan feel obligated to assist Hong Kong, potentially allowing refugees to settle here? No.

Is it the right thing to do anyway? Yes.

Hong Kong is, unfortunately, legally a part of China. Taiwan is not. Taiwanese, by and large, don't identify as Chinese. Hong Kong is beginning to catch up in this regard, but you'll still meet plenty of Hong Kongers who identify as Chinese, especially among the older generations (not so much the younger ones). In that way, Taiwan doesn't 'owe' Hong Kong anything, any more than any other nation - they are two different countries with two different identities, after all. To her credit, Tsai did not use Hong Kong protesters as props during her re-election campaign - the connections between her vision for Taiwan and the struggle for freedom in Hong Kong were made entirely by supporters (and rightly so - but that does not change the fact that this was not Tsai's strategy).

However, Taiwan under Tsai has made it clear that it wants to be a beacon of freedom and democracy in Asia. Tsai has said clearly that Taiwan is independent, and outlined what kind of country it ought to be - one where liberal values can merge with local culture and be the stronger for it. This isn't a question of what Taiwan 'owes' Hong Kong, which is nothing. It's a question of what kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

I do think that liberal democracies should strive to be safe harbors for those persecuted under authoritarian regimes. That means that, while Taiwan isn't specifically obligated to Hong Kong, the liberal democratic world as a whole is. As a part of that world, I hope that Taiwan will see that it would simply be the ethical thing to do. That said, this means that other nations - the UK especially, as they helped create this mess, but not only them - should also step up and support Hong Kong in the same way. After all, while Taiwan and Hong Kong bear the brunt of China's aggressive expansionism, the CCP is a common enemy to us all.

The fear of Chinese 'plants' among fleeing Hong Kongers is real, and reasonable. The CCP will almost certainly try this. However, I have never met a proponent of helping refugees, in any country, who believes that every last one should be allowed in with no vetting process. Vetting processes are rarely discussed, but they do exist in the United States - well, they did back when the United States cared about refugees - as elsewhere. Of course, Taiwan's vetting process needs to be ironclad. Nobody can reasonably argue otherwise. Of course, any political asylum process would have to take into account what's best for Taiwan, first and foremost. Nobody can reasonably argue against that, either.

I'm in favor of rules and procedures surrounding the process, to make it safe and tenable. But to support that, one must support their being a process at all, which there currently isn't.

I'm less worried about a 'loss' of Taiwanese identity. While cultural and identity barriers are often unclear, there is a 'thing' we might label as 'Taiwanese identity'. I couldn't tell you where it begins and ends, but I can say that I'm not included in it, which means the border must exist. But, one thing I have come to love about this country is that identifying as Taiwanese has the potential to be more fluid, as it is a more multicultural society than people realize (just because most of the cultural groups within it look generally 'Asian' does not mean they are the same). It's the sort of country where, perhaps, someday, the words on the welcoming sign at the National Museum of Taiwan History might actually be true:



All those who identify with and are concerned about Taiwan, who love and accept Taiwan, and who wish to live together in this land can declare with a loud voice "I am a Taiwanese". 

This posits a civic rather than ethnic identity (in fact, the entire passage argues against an ethnic identity for Taiwan, both practically and ethically), where perhaps shared cultural norms and perceptions play a part, but shared values do too, and who your parents were doesn't have to matter as much.

I'd like to think that someday, with luck, that this could include me, though I wouldn't be so arrogant as to claim it does now. It has come to include the descendants of the KMT diaspora who wish to claim it, many of whom - especially the younger ones - have come to identify as Taiwanese and support Taiwanese nationhood. So why not Hong Kong refugees and their descendants, too?


That is to say, Hong Kong refugees might not arrive thinking of themselves as Taiwanese, but that does not mean they won't come to identify that way someday. The person I know who emigrated here as a child considers himself Taiwanese, after all.

As for any Hong Kongers' previous superiority complexes, my personal feeling (though I have absolutely no right to insist on this) is that it shouldn't cloud the question. I understand the hard feelings, but Taiwan has proven itself, period. It's shown that it is simply a great nation and open society, and can do great things, it is the inferior of no one, and there is no basis to treat it as such. It's the envy of Asia with its democratic values and the envy of the world in its coronavirus response. The point is clear and it doesn't need to be made through excluding refugees.


That said, the TPP is also wrong: Article 18 isn't the issue. If Taiwan wants to be a model of liberal democracy, and liberal democracies around the world have a moral imperative to accept refugees - which I believe they do - then there should be an asylum process that is theoretically accessible to people from anywhere, not just Hong Kong and Macau.

There is no obligation. Nobody 'owes' anyone anything. Taiwan doesn't 'have to' do this, just as nobody 'has to' help others in need. I understand the source of disquiet or unease surrounding the issue, and I am sympathetic to the concerns of people who don't necessarily support this.

But, considering the kind of country Taiwan clearly wants to be, and the country I truly believe it can be (and in many ways already is), I think it would simply be the right thing to do.

Just do it properly, with proper vetting and other procedures. Taiwan is a capable, successful country. It can surely pull this off. 

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?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Hau Pei-tsun is dead now


In this post, I will attempt to say things which are not
specifically negative, per se. I will make factual comments, but facts are facts, they are not negative for the sake of negativity.

Let’s see...

He was alive until recently.

I feel bad for his adult offspring, who did lose a father. That's always sad.

The Presidential Office was super classy about it and expressed their condolences. Regardless of my personal views, that was the right thing to do.

He was not notably ugly, at least in physical appearance. 

The New Party, which he had supported in the past, has not been popular in the past few years.

He opposed Taiwanese independence and identity. It was his right in a liberal democracy to have these views. It is my right in a liberal democracy to have an opinion about those views, and I do.

At some point in the past, he did in fact oppose the CCP. His support of the New Party (unificationists who are known to actively work with the CCP) calls that into question, but his previous dislike of that regime is well-documented.

Further to that, his opinions on Taiwan’s destiny being ultimately as part of China do not enjoy popular support and therefore he can be said to have been fairly harmless in his later years, mostly due to irrelevance.

This shift in Taiwanese identity came about naturally - or was able to emerge thanks to the efforts of activists that brought about democratization, and he was powerless to stop it. 

He was rich.

Stupid and terrible are not the same thing. He was not stupid.

He played a key role in modernizing the military.

He probably actually believed the things he said.

He wanted peace, of a sort. 

He was once expelled from the KMT for being too much of a hardliner (well, for supporting the New Party, which is basically the same thing). Then the KMT decided they were into hardliners and he was allowed back in. 

His son, whom he tried to maneuver into power, was not able to inflict significant damage on Taiwan because, while I have no opinion of his general personality, we can all agree he isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. 

People I know who don’t follow politics had thought he was already dead. 

He never attempted to sing KTV-style and then release an embarrassing YouTube video announcing his lack of talent to the public, as far as I am aware. 

He was slightly more interesting as a person then Eric Chu.

He seems to have identified as male. 

I am reasonably sure he did not
personally murder any democracy or Taiwan independence activists with his own hands.

Although a friend of mine who knows him said he apologized to political prisoners and 228/White Terror victims, this source says otherwise, and he has tried to minimize the number of deaths that occurred due to 228.

He had black hair. Well, it was probably white toward the end.

His wife died a few years ago, also at a ripe old age.


He was very old. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

It's not independence that is "hopeless", it's unification: like many, Terry Gou is answering the wrong question

Untitled
Screenshot from NowNews video with subtitles added

Let me start this by saying I don't care about Terry Gou. He's just some rich guy, he'll never be president. While he's obviously got business acumen, he's foolish to think that running a country is similar to running a business. I've never forgiven him for saying "you can't eat democracy" as a way of saying he thought money was more important than freedom (and therefore unification would be potentially acceptable), and I have a whole host of new reasons to renew my dislike.

However, please allow me, after saying "I don't care about Terry Gou", to write a lot about my opinion on Terry Gou. Or rather, his views on Taiwanese independence.

The other day, at a rally for some other guy, Gou appeared alongside that candidate, James Soong and Ko Wen-je for a whole lineup of people I don't care about. Around the 19-minute mark of this video, Gou said:

搞台獨都是垃圾...台獨沒有希望、垃圾、違憲 
Translation: "All Taiwan independence supporters are garbage...Taiwan independence is hopeless, trash and unconstitutional!" 

Notably, he tried to make it sound as though he was just repeating and agreeing with something he insists Ko Wen-je said. Ko denied this, saying that he said some independence supporters are scammers and liars, but not all of them, and he respects people who sincerely believe in it.

I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, because people who actively but insincerely support Taiwanese independence are not a thing. I suppose he is trying to create a distinction between people who care about Taiwan independence, and those who only say so to get votes but again - not a thing. It's the other side of that which is true: people who have said they oppose unification, but actually don't, or quietly support it (see: Ma Ying-jeou).

The pan-blue/red and the pan-green media have all covered this, mostly from the "Ko said that wasn't what he meant" angle, which really isn't the story here. It doesn't matter who said it first. That it was said at all is the problem. UDN (pan-blue) notably focused on "Taiwan independence is hopeless, garbage and unconstitutional" - the sort of thing their readers might agree with even if they'd blanche at calling people they disagree with "garbage". Pan-green media focused on "Taiwan independence supporters are all garbage", because that's more of an offensive slur against actual people than merely a stupid opinion on an issue. Rest assured, dear readers, he said both. And both are awful. 


That's not all Gou said, but I'll get to his other stand-out remark later.

First, I'd like to tell you why I'm writing about Gou when I do not care about him. It's because his dumb remarks give me a good 'in' to make a point that's been clonking around in my head for months now.

And that is this: when we talk about whether Taiwanese (or Hong Kong) independence is possible or hopeless, most people are asking the wrong question.

They ask (and answer) "how could Taiwan (or Hong Kong) possibly gain independence? China would never allow it for Hong Kong, and never allow recognition of it for Taiwan! It's impossible! China's too big, too strong!


But what they really should ask themselves first is this:

"How could Taiwan and Hong Kong possibly become a part of China?"

Especially as it exists now, what would it take for such an annexation/integration to be successful?

It would require Taiwanese and Hong Kongers to willingly give up their rights and freedoms and submit to authoritarian Chinese rule. It would require this even though people from both places have seen the way that China treats its own citizens - that is, not well at all.

It would therefore entail people from these places not only agreeing that it's acceptable to be 'a part of China', but to actually think of themselves as Chinese. Hong Kongers no longer believe the former, in large part, and are slowly moving away from the latter (considering how common it is now to refer to themselves as "Hong Kongers" rather than as "Chinese"). Taiwanese haven't believed either for quite some time.

How would Taiwanese (and Hong Kongers) ever come to believe and willingly submit to these things? What would it take to accomplish that?

The answer is that there is no way to accomplish that. There is no way to peacefully and straightforwardly convince Taiwan (or Hong Kong) to unify. The only option is violent annexation following underhanded attacks on democratic norms.

Taiwanese are already soured - probably permanently - on the notion of being a part of China. The youth are soured on considering themselves Chinese in any sense. Hong Kong is quickly moving in that direction, which I would argue was an inevitable development given what China is like.

By starting with the wrong question, unificationists like Gou - and yes, he is a unificationist - delude themselves into believing that unification could possibly be peaceful, that a general pro-China consensus will ensure that it's not necessary for the PLA to come in and start shooting at Taiwanese, and therefore that this outcome is better than the threat of war under continued independence.

That's not what will happen, though, because there won't be a general pro-China consensus. Ever. Unification will not make the differences in culture, belief systems and society between Taiwan and China go away. The only option left is prolonged Hong Kong-like guerilla warfare - and that won't drive Taiwanese to change their minds, either. If anything, it'll only harden them against China even more.

And that way - the only way one can conceive of working - simply is not going to happen. Rather than "accept unification or it's war", it's time we accepted the real truth: "the only choices are independence, or war".

So when Terry Gou says "Taiwan independence is hopeless", what is that supposed to mean? What does he expect to happen instead? It's unification that is hopeless. How would it even work? Why do people - Gou included - allow the assumption that unification is possible to pass unquestioned, but not the assumption that independence is possible?

Most likely, if asked, he would point to the "status quo" - the ROC not claiming independence but resisting unification - as others have done. That's surely what he meant when he called independence "unconstitutional" (which is true, I suppose, but absent a threat from China, the constitution can be changed.) He doesn't seem to realize that the status quo is independence, as much as he'd like to pretend that's not the case.

Gou and others might want us to believe that 'Taiwan independence' is a terrifying unknown thing, whereas the status quo is safe, secure and known. But a version of Taiwan independence already exists - the mirage of danger is created and maintained by Chinese threats, not any lived reality. And the status quo, insofar as it is different from independence (which it isn't in any practical way) is not particularly safe.

Of course, the status quo is not tenable. China has made it clear that they do not intend to allow it to continue forever, and it's time we paid attention. It's just not smart to assume they are bluffing because that's the easier truth to swallow - when someone tells you who they are, believe them.

The longer it is prolonged, the longer China has the time to build up its military, poach diplomatic relations, throw out debt traps and economic dependencies to make the rest of the world beholden to its agenda. And the longer it is prolonged, the more Taiwanese (and Hong Kongers) will resist the idea, as they have done and will do.

Of course, I won't even entertain the notion that a unified China under the ROC is possible. Why not? Because hahaahhahahahahahaha.

So stop asking whether independence is, as Gou said, "hopeless" and "trash". Ask instead whether unification is hopeless. You'll find that it is.

UDN also pointed out that Gou said this:

第三勢力不容忍台獨、反對台獨。 
The Third Force doesn't tolerate Taiwan independence, it opposes Taiwan independence.

That's interesting, I guess. I mean, the Third Force has, since the term came into being, referred to the left-of-the-DPP folks who considered themselves "colorless" (but, in truth, were always broadly pan-green). Other than their generally socially liberal political views and activist roots, one of the things that binds them together is a support for Taiwan independence.

Now, it seems that people like Gou, Ko Wen-je and his new ego-machine and the PFP/James Soong people are trying to appropriate the term for themselves. That's a joke - the term already refers to a group of people and they can't be silenced. These guys aren't colorless, either. They are broadly pan-blue and always have been. Let's not forget that in the past year or so, Ko has consistently attacked the DPP and been supportive-ish of the KMT. James Soong was the guy behind a lot of censorship and colonial-mentality policies from the authoritarian era, when he ran the Government Information Office. Gou very recently tried to win the KMT nomination and is sucking sour grapes because he lost spectacularly. 


In other words, these guys absolutely have a color. The real Third Force has engaged in a very long internal debate on whether they are "little greens" or exist independently of the pan-green camp, instead holding the DPP accountable. It seems clear that most of them have decided that they are little greens for the purposes of the presidential election, for now, because Han and the KMT are a greater threat to Taiwan than the DPP having no meaningful opposition from the left. This is right, as it puts the country first. If Huang Kuo-chang wants to sulk in the corner about it, that shows how self-serving he's always been. 


Ko, Soong, Gou and their various party affiliations and hangers-on - are not even trying to engage in that debate. They are acting blue while calling themselves "colorless" and "the Third Force". It's just another iteration of the pan-blue camp calling DPP and pan-green ideas "ideological" and their lawmakers as "doing ideology", while pretending their side is neutral and ideology-free (of course, it isn't. No side is.)

It's also vaguely interesting to me, watching the NowNews video linked above, that whenever they need to drum up sentimental support, these guys pivot from "independence is trash" and "the ROC" to "Taiwan", with Ko Wen-je saying "give Taiwan a chance!" and the resulting chant focusing on Taiwan, not 'the ROC'. It's almost as if - and stop me if I sound insane here - that they know that voters have a stronger attachment to the concept of 'Taiwan' (their island) than 'the ROC' (a foreign government which claims sovereignty). It's like they're aware that when people conceptualize their country, in their minds that country is Taiwan.
So despite being anti-Taiwan/pro-China in platforms and rhetoric, they're quite willing to hypocritically call on that sentiment when it suits them.

Never fear, the actual Third Force, like most Taiwanese, prefer independence or the closest thing to it. These folks are an entirely different ideological force, and are likely to remain a sidelined one.

Why? Because they're asking and answering the wrong questions. And who will vote for you when you can't even ask the right question, let alone answer it?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

What does Han Kuo-yu's strategic baby tantrum tell us?

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The speech bubble says: "I'm 200 times bigger than a standard jelly baby!"

Recently presidential candidate and Kobitos peach Han Kuo-yu likened looking at poll results to 'getting hemorrhoids' and then said that his supporters should stop participating in them (or lie and say they supported Tsai Ing-wen).

I'm not even going to bother going into how childish this is - basically the equivalent of "I'm taking my ball and GOING HOME!", showing what a big fat man-baby Han is deep down - because I think there's more going on there.


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Frozen Garlic already covered this pretty well, pointing out that other KMT candidates might not be so pleased about it, which indicates it was more of him mouthing off than a KMT-planned strategy, which implies that rifts within the KMT are not only deep, but that the cracks spread rather wide. Perhaps wider than the general public is aware of.

His mouth-off might have been strategic or intentional, or not. There is a childish logic to deciding that you're going to try to remove a thing that's not working out for you, rather than dealing with it.  It almost doesn't matter; when commentators liken him to Donald Trump, this is the sort of thing they mean. "The rules aren't working for me, so I'm not just going to throw out the playbook, I'm going to crap all over it so nobody else can use it either!" is extremely Trumpian. And remember, Trump won. It's not a crazy tactic to try and basically neuter a problem plaguing one's campaign, in this case, poor polling results.

But something else struck me while chatting about it with a friend late the other night. This is a bully's move, not the move of someone hoping to attract more supporters. This is what you do when you think you've got everyone on your side that you are going to get, and all you can do from here is try not to lose any more points, and hope for an upset or technicality that gets you in (you know, like Trump).

Voters who are still on the fence between "obvious hotheaded puppet of Beijing" and "cautious person who has run the country competently for four years" aren't going to think "well, Tsai has stood up to China really well, but you know, I like that Han Kuo-yu just sort of gave his finger to the entire concept of data collection. I think I'll vote for him!" This is the sort of thing that riles up an angry base, but does not necessarily expand it.

What we can deduce, then, is that Han has decided to play a bully's game rather than use poll results to try and hone his message and grab more voters who may not love Tsai and are still open to voting for the KMT. He knows he won't be able to. We can also see how little he actually cares about carefully targeted messaging (though to be honest, I think we already knew that).

Interestingly, though, for a man who claims to speak for the people, he doesn't seem very interested in what the people are actually saying when they respond to those polls! Could it be - that he doesn't actually care and thinks swagger alone could help him win? Call me crazy.

But when those polls are conducted - and they surely will go forward - we'll be able to gauge to some rough degree whether Han's supporters are actually listening to him. By that measure, we might have a stronger idea of how many of them are strong supporters and how many are just voting for him because he's KMT and they'd vote for a paper bag if it had a white sun drawn on it, but won't necessarily voice automatic agreement with everything he says.

His tantrum was reminiscent to me of the time he said he didn't want the votes of Taiwan independence supporters, telling them to "vote for Tsai!" An odd strategy, as most Taiwanese support some form of independence, or at least they don't support unification of any kind, ever. 

It's also odd as, in the past, the KMT has at least pretended to want to court independence supporters (not trying that hard, knowing they'd never get the hardcore folks, but trying to get the so-called 'centrists' who might buy a line like 'no independence, no unification, no war', a saying of Ma Ying-jeou's during his own campaign and administration). However, that doesn't seem to have been just an outburst of Han's, as around the same time the KMT started testing out the idea of promoting a "cross-strait peace agreement" (tantamount to some form of unification), and Ma himself changed his tune to "no independence, no war, don't reject unification".

That doesn't seem to have worked, as his poll numbers have been slipping ever since. Hence his latest screamer.

I suppose I could say more about this, but you know what? It's a beautiful Sunday and I could be not doing that. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The anti-infiltration bill doesn't go far enough (plus, the KMT trying to be tricky and failing!)

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Please enjoy this sculpture of a pig cavorting with a rat.
You know why.


So, there's a lot to talk about in politics this week. Everyone's talking about the anti-infiltration bill that was unveiled on Friday, so I guess we'll start there.

A few things pop out at me about this bill. First, the punishments for 'infiltration', which include using foreign sources or following foreign directives to donate to a political party, "influencing elections" (surely the bill is more detailed than that vague category) and other actions, are quite low. A fine which isn't that high considering the sums of money probably involved in actually attempting to interfere in Taiwanese democracy, or (not and) a prison sentence of "up to seven years".

As a few people have pointed out, it's a lot lower than the sentences for much more minor fraud and crimes that don't do nearly as much to undermine Taiwan's democratic system. For example, if you have a meth lab in your apartment or sell weed on the side, in theory you could be sent to jail for a minimum of seven years, and (not or!) a fine of up to twenty million NT dollars. Possession carries prison sentences that vary, but may go up to ten years and include a fine - more than you'd get for trying to implode democracy! Apparently smoking a little weed is worse than trying to up-end an entire political system.

This is a good time to refresh everyone's memory that the punishments for espionage - a somewhat-related but fundamentally different, and more serious, crime - are also quite low, though they were strengthened in 2019 in response to a string of espionage cases. In the past, civil servants (including career military) convicted of espionage would be removed from their post, but did not necessarily lose their government pensions or have to pay back any pension money they'd already received (that has since changed). Even now, a minimum sentence of 7 years seems light, seeing as it's about the same as the sentence for transporting or selling drugs. Security, training and background checking don't seem to have improved much, though.

As for why Taiwan hasn't upped its game, and is even now falling short, it's all politics. Back when it had power, the KMT didn't want to do much about it because the people doing the infiltrating (or the spying) were doing so within KMT-loyal organizations, such as the military or, in the case of infiltration, KMT-friendly media outlets and political organizations. Of course even now they don't want to admit there's a problem with some media outlets in Taiwan, with proof of foreign influence that goes well beyond the recent allegations of self-proclaimed spy 'Wang Liqiang' - those outlets are working hard to get them back into power, why would they want to hinder their ability to do so?

So why is the DPP's bill so weak on punishments? It was inevitable that the KMT would paint the push to pass an anti-infiltration bill as mere spectacle, a political move to "manipulate the 2020 elections", and it seems to me that the DPP wants to get something done, while trying to signal that they're not using the bill as a political tool.

I'm not sure it was a good decision, though. To me, the bill just looks weak. 


At the same time, the KMT proposed their own tricky-sticky "anti-annexation" bill. To quote the Taipei Times:


At a news conference at the Legislative Yuan, the KMT caucus — which had unanimously boycotted the legislative meeting — unveiled a bill against annexing the Republic of China (ROC), which it said was meant to replace the anti-infiltration bill.... 
The anti-annexation bill says that no civil servant of the ROC may advocate actions that would sabotage the nation’s political system, or change its official title or territory.
They must not make remarks that advocate decimating, absorbing or replacing the ROC, the bill states. 
Civil servants — including the president — found to have contravened the bill would face a prison term of up to seven years, it states. 
The anti-annexation bill is a more comprehensive bill than the DPP’s, as it would not only bar attempts to unify Taiwan with China, but would also prohibit attempts to make Taiwan a US state or part of Japan, as these are all actions that would eliminate the ROC, KMT Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said. 

I don't know much about this bill because it's probably not going anywhere, but from what it says here, it's an attempt to shoehorn in legislation that would make it much harder for a pro-independence government to actually do anything about the ROC colonial government construct, or even say anything to that effect. In theory, even statements President Tsai and other DPP members have made in the past, for example, "the Taiwan Consensus", or "Taiwan is a country where..." could, in theory, be violations of this proposed law. It would limit freedom of expression by putting a muzzle on anyone in power to even discuss Taiwanese independence or a unique Taiwanese identity outside of a Chinese (that is, ROC) framework.

Of course, their own rhetoric about the 1992 Consensus, which positions Taiwan's fate as ultimately Chinese, would be entirely permissible under such a law. Since active KMT civil servants never come out and actually say they support unification (even though they often do), it wouldn't be hard for them to avoid violations. All they have to do is insist that by "China" and "One China" that they mean "the ROC" or "the 1992 Consensus", not "unification" while undermining any attempt to take a road that doesn't lead to unification, right up until they've sold Taiwan piece-by-piece to China and annexation becomes inevitable.

And they're doing it to look as though they are trying to pass a more 'neutral' and 'comprehensive' legislation, while attempting to dodge accusations that they as a party are implicated in Chinese infiltration (the same reason why they won't vote against the DPP bill - they know whose faces that egg is on). They are failing on both counts, but will surely have supporters who insist otherwise. Expect all those Chinese-influenced media outlets to parrot the idea that the DPP's bill is "Green Terror" and tout the reasonability of the KMT one. 


This has made me go back to the apparently bipartisan strengthening of anti-espionage legislation earlier in 2019 (Asia Times being the only outlet that called it bipartisan, and I'm not sure how much to trust them), after years of the KMT doing very little about it. If your party is in bed with China both in terms of spies and other forms of infiltration - just different ways of playing for the other team - why would you help pass, or at least allow to pass without comment, an anti-espionage amendment that you were once so loath to do much about, earlier in the same year? Especially when this more recent bill carries fairly weak punishments?

Is it election politics? Or is it that the KMT knows it's far more directly implicated in the latter issue than the former? Is it because they're aware that every single media outlet that is caught up in this scandal is one that supports their candidate?

If the KMT themselves were innocent, and the media outlets involved not necessarily geared towards helping a particular party get elected, wouldn't they just support this fairly mild bill as they did the anti-espionage bill?

Makes ya think.

Actually, no it doesn't. The answer is pretty obvious. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tsai (or Han's) popularity is not a measure of support for unification

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Of course it's silly to say that the events in Hong Kong haven't played any role in Tsai's popularity resurgence. They've obviously had an effect, though I'd still disagree that they are "singlehandedly" responsible for reasons I discussed on Sunday. Tsai's improved marketing, Lai's primary loss, Han acting like more and more of a racist idiot who doesn't do his job, the passage of same-sex marriage and other domestic events have also played a role.

The bigger point is this, however. Election results in Taiwan aren't the best way to measure how open Taiwan is to unification. Polls of Tsai or Han's popularity aren't either. 

Despite this, people looking for some sort of 'in' to say that China is 'hurting its chances' of winning over Taiwan, which implies China had a chance to begin with, tend to look at electoral politics to support their arguments. That's exactly what happened in the Bloomberg piece that annoyed me so much on Sunday.

The way to measure whether China has a chance of 'convincing' Taiwan is to look at more stable long-term data regarding how Taiwanese view themselves and their country.

That is, Taiwanese identity and Taiwanese independence (de facto or status quo, regardless of name). Regardless of who they vote for, if a sense of Taiwanese identity and nationhood is strong, you can be sure that China could hire all the free candy vans in the world, and Taiwan would not budge.


And that's exactly what we've seen. Sure, pro-unification half-burnt department store mannequin former president Ma Ying-jeou won in 2008 and 2012, but Taiwanese identity only grew, and attempts at pushing Taiwan closer to China were met with massive protests that destroyed his legacy. Even when Taiwanese are open to closer economic cooperation, thinking it's not a big threat, they're still not interested in unification.

Similarly, Tsai's popularity could be in the gutter and it wouldn't change the fact that Taiwanese identity recovered quickly from its hiccup, starting in around 2018. Even when that number began to dip, it never came close to being overtaken by "Chinese" (or even "both Taiwanese and Chinese"). 

In fact, Han could win in 2020, and it still wouldn't change that. It makes the landscape more dangerous, as he and his CCP/KMT handlers would probably take that as a mandate to head in that direction. But there's no reason to believe that Taiwanese identity will take a hit any more than it did either time Ma won, which means there's no reason to believe that China's 'chances' of convincing Taiwan to move toward unification will improve either.

It's just deeply simplistic to think of Taiwanese politics as two boxes voters can tick: "the KMT/unification/Chinese identity" on one side, and "the DPP/independence/Taiwanese identity" on the other. There are strong correlations, with China being the biggest cleavage (heheh, cleavage), but to assume that a vote for the DPP is a vote for independence and a vote for the KMT is a vote for unification is such a jejune way of looking at it. 


So why do people believe otherwise? I have no idea, but I suspect they think it just makes for a clickable lede.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons why who wins in 2020 isn't a good measure of support for independence or unification, so please allow me to opinionate in your general direction about them. 

The first is that not every independence supporter sees China as the biggest threat to Taiwan's sovereignty, as Frozen Garlic so insightfully pointed out. I won't summarize his post as it's not that long - go read it. I'd characterize the voters I'm about to describe a little differently, though. While his 'fundamentalists' might feel angry at the DPP for promising nationhood and failing to deliver, there's a subset that is willing to vote for the KMT if they are convinced unification is off the table. During the Ma years, I knew a few of these: generally green, had voted for and grown disappointed with Chen, and then voted for Ma to 'punish' the DPP while at the same time assuming that, as Ma was the US's preferred candidate, that the US would have Taiwan's back.

And yet, these voters clearly don't see the KMT or the ROC military as potent symbols of the old regime, being more like the pragmatists Frozen Garlic describes. A part of why they were willing to vote for Ma was that they saw the KMT as a viable political party that had evolved with democratization. 

I am hopeful, at least, that most of this "I'm green but Ma is acceptable" crowd is not going to vote for Han this time around.

Then there are the true fundamentalists - the "Never Tsai" people who do see the KMT and the ROC colonial structure as the biggest threats to Taiwanese statehood and would never vote for them - these are the folks drawn in by people like Annette Lu (so that's like, four people) or William Lai, who don't like Tsai's lack of nationalist hot air. Their refusal to vote (or voting for some last-minute third party candidate - I think James Soong is running for the 456th time) is also a factor.

But then there's another group, the ones who could potentially swing the election to Han, if it can be swung. Those are the born-and-raised deep blues who still think that Taiwan is not a part of China, or at least not the PRC. The old-school KMTers before the KMT turned red, and those who are smart enough to see Taiwan's reality clearly, but not willing to break from the party identity they inherited from their parents.

Don't laugh. I know one of these guys. The older son of a father born in China, he grew up in a military village in Taiwan. He was raised with an "ROC" identity and a sense that the KMT was an above-board political party, but his observations of life in Taiwan made him realize that Taiwan was truly a different place from China. He calls himself Taiwanese. He thinks "retaking the Mainland" is a pipe dream, and supports independence. Although he's 華獨 (a supporter of independence keeping the Republic of China framework), if a peaceful de jure independence were offered with the condition that Taiwan must be "Taiwan" rather than the "Republic of China", he would consider it "a difficult decision" but indicates a willingness to sincerely consider it as a far lesser evil than unifying with the PRC. He supports marriage equality and somewhat begrudgingly concedes that Tsai is handling China well - in fact, he has plenty of views more at home with the DPP than the KMT. He hated Chen's overt Hoklo nationalism.

And yet he intends to vote for Han. Identity is a powerful thing. 

The point is, people like him may vote as though they're pro-China, but they're not. They're anti-unification and anti-PRC (as opposed to "pro-Taiwan"), with views often constructed during their formative years in which the KMT was emphatically not "the natural ally of Beijing" (as Richard McGregor put it in Bloomberg) the way it is today.

In other words, the sort of people who can swing an election in Taiwan and put a KMT president in power are not necessarily people who will support steps toward unification.

Looking at it that way, there is no meaningful support for unification in Taiwan and there hasn't been in some decades, regardless of who wins elections. If that's the case, then events in Hong Kong have not, in fact, "ruined China's chances" with Taiwan, because those chances never existed in the first place. 


To finish this off, that's why things like this piss me off so hard: 


What if Han wins the general election and calls for “peaceful reunification” of the two Chinas [sic sic sic], based on “one country, two systems”?  Solve for the equilibrium!  I see the following options: 
1. They go ahead with the deal, and voila, one China! 
2. The system as a whole knows in advance if this is going to happen, and if it will another candidate runs in the general election, splitting the KMT-friendly vote, and Han never wins. 
2b. Han just doesn’t win anyway, even though his margin in the primary was considerable and larger than expected. 
3. The current president Tsai Ing-wen learns from Taiwanese intelligence that there are Chinese agents in the KMT and she suspends the general election and calls a kind of lukewarm martial law. 
4. Han calls for reunification [sic] and is deposed by his own military, or a civil war within the government ensues. 
5. Han foresees 2-4 and never calls for reunification [sic] in the first place.

What bugs me about this (other than the absolute howler that is #3, lol) is that none of these options includes the most obvious one. 


It allows for government intervention, party intervention and current administration intervention (again, lol) but not the actual intervention likely to occur.

In fact, here's the most likely outcome of that scenario:

Han wins, calls for unification, and faces protests so massive that they make the Sunflowers look like a school trip to learn about government.

If Han wins and attempts #1, this is almost certainly what will happen, because a vote for Han is not a vote for unification, just as a vote for Ma wasn't one, either. Forget the legislature as the seat of all the action - entire government ministries are occupied. Traffic at a standstill. Marches every weekend. Graffiti everywhere.

And because this hypothetical President Han is Beijing's toy, and would be quite serious in his attempts to allow a "peaceful" annexation, those protests grow so massive and so angry that in order to assert control (and carry out his Chinese masters' orders) Han very well might tacitly permit more police violence than Taiwanese find palatable, which is any police violence. Remember that a whole song - the other one, not the super famous "Island Sunrise" - was inspired by a few water cannons on a single night in 2014. They fight back, as Hong Kongers have done, and bam. That tsunami I warned about in my last post? That's what it is.


I don't have a conclusion. I just want you to sit there and roll that around in your mind for a bit. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How To Choose A Side

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This is about us against them. 



After yesterday’s horrifying events in Hong Kong, I spent a fair amount of time on my couch bawling. The day before, police had terrorized shopping malls, beating people up randomly - some of whom were just shopping. Yesterday, the police ramped up their campaign of brutality by shooting at unarmed protesters (including hitting one in the abdomen with a live round), trying to mow protesters down on a motorbike and thanking protesters for coming out “so they could shoot at them” and laid siege to the CUHK campus for no discernible reason. 



In addition, protesters themselves had set on fire a man who was arguing with them after an extended dispute. From the video, which you absolutely should not watch, they were not defending themselves as it was one man against several of them. The man is in critical condition (as was the teenager who was shot in the chest by police). 



I cried not only for Hong Kong, but because earlier that day I had walked through my neighborhood in the late afternoon. It was balmy and breezy. Young lovers canoodled on an old bench in my courtyard. Retirees and their care workers and dogs loitered at picnic tables under the broad umbrellas. Outside my complex, a woman helped her elderly father walk slowly down the footpath, under the hanging vines from an old tree in a sidewalk planting patch. Two construction workers joked on break. 

A group of pedestrians tapped their smartphones waiting for the light to change, a decorative cement compass showing the four cardinal directions was embedded in the footpath behind them. An MRT train whizzed by on the tracks overhead. 

And all I could think was "these streets could be on fire in just a few months”. 



Listening to BBC World Service that evening, the reporter interviewed both activist leader Joshua Wong as well as an anti-protest legislator. 

Wong, as with everyone I’ve heard comment on this tragic event (with one unfortunate counter-example) emphasized that neither he nor other activists and organizers approved of what was done to the man who argued with demonstrators. They not only refused to condone such actions, they actively condemned them. And they are right to do so - it was a stupid, useless move that will cost them local and international sympathy and make people question how ‘peaceful’ these protesters really are. There is no benefit in it - it was something done out of pure rage. The rage itself is justified, but the actions taken as a result are not. 

Even as Wong decried police actions yesterday and in previous weeks and months, he was very clear about this. That the man was ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter - it shouldn't have to be said that never acceptable to set someone on fire. 



The thing is, I haven’t really heard anyone on the protesters’ side defend what those individuals did. This is one of the very few times that the protesters attacked without needing to, rather than fighting in self-defense or going after the police who are going after them (which at this point I think might be justified given the widespread police brutality). In each case where this has happened - protesters and their allies have engaged in long public discussions of whether such actions were right or wrong, and even apologized publicly in one case. 



Looking at the other side, they don’t extend the same courtesy. Following Joshua Wong, the pro-China legislator - I didn’t catch her name - spent her entire interview time ranting about the violent, radical “rioters” and really hammered home that they’d set a man on fire. Her criticism is justified, but she refused to do the simple, humane thing that Joshua Wong had done and admit that her ‘side’ had committed numerous brutal acts as well - including being implicated in the death of protester Chan Tsz-lok among the crimes named above. To her, all police action was justifiable; none of it consisted of mindless brutalization. 

Wong acknowledged the humanity of the man attacked by protesters and condemned such treatment of the movement’s opponents. The lawmaker would not do the same - they’re all just mindless rioters and they have what’s coming to them so we can “keep the peace”. One imagines she thinks that Beijing’s oppressive peace is not only preferable to today’s Hong Kong, but that it’s desirable in its own right as well. She cannot see that - or why - so many of her fellow Hong Kongers disagree. 



Carrie Lam’s press conference followed a similar rationale: the protesters are violent, their demands have gone beyond a call for democracy (except they haven’t, because democracy has not been promised), they are the “enemy of the people" and will be “stopped”. Stopped for what? I have to ask. Stopped so Hong Kong can lose what really matters - its freedom? They will destroy this city, she said - as though allowing China to swallow it whole isn't another form of destruction. 



And that is the difference between us and them. 

We make mistakes. We have overly-aggressive and radical elements. We’re not even close to perfect. But we step back, we acknowledge our wrongs, we engage in discussion of our motives and actions, we’re willing to criticize and even condemn our own (which, by the way, is why it's also so hard to organize our own. It’s not that we’re wrong; that’s just the nature of the double-edged sword of self-criticism.) We evaluate our means vis-a-vis our ends. The difference isn’t that we’re angels and they’re demons - it’s that we’re all flawed, but at least our flaws are not systematic and planned, and we admit it and try to do better. 



Them? They engage not in one-off mistakes, but systematic brutalization and murder. Their goal is to deny Hong Kong the rights and freedoms they currently have, let alone any hope for democracy. You can’t look at those videos of police actions and see otherwise, so they must be aware of this, but they won’t admit it. They don't discuss it, and they certainly don’t apologize for it. 



And that’s a big part of why they are wrong and we are right. Period. There are not two sides here. There never have been. 



These events hold some important lessons for Taiwan, too. 



This wave is coming for us. Don’t pretend it isn’t - China is hell-bent on annexation, and while they may not succeed, they will attempt it in some form. It may not be full-scale invasion, but then Hong Kong didn't experience that either and look where they are. There is no such thing as peaceful unification, which means there will be protests. Those protests may turn violent, especially if we have elected a government that is more likely to excuse police violence. 

We need to prepare and organize now. 

We need to clarify our means and our ends now, too. It's imperative to make a commitment to peaceful protest, with fighting in self-defense only. Hong Kong balks at the notion of violent protest; non-participatory Taiwanese are likely to react similarly, if not more conservatively because the fight will seem at a greater distance, with China across the water holding no official sovereignty over Taiwan. Culturally, I also suspect Taiwan is in a place in its history that doesn’t look kindly on violent protests, even though it has a history of rebellions, many of which were violent. As the tsunami rolls in, we need to figuratively seek higher ground. 



It's also important to remember that despite our best efforts, such things may occur. We need to be ready to condemn them even as we stand together. We need to be ready for the ‘other side’ to condemn us even as they refuse to admit their own brutality, even if it is more systemic, more widespread, more hateful, and in the service of a totalitarian, anti-liberty goal. 



Finally, as we accept that this is coming for us, we need to make some hard personal calculations. Do we stay or go? If we stay, do we join the fight? A lot of people are going to have to decide to risk their lives to stay and fight if we have any chance of weathering this. A lot of us are going to have to risk our lives only to be maligned by ‘them’ as ‘violent rioters’. 



We're already at us vs. them, though I’m not always sure who will fall on what side. Hong Kong is learning what makes a side the right one, and what the risks really are. It's learning what it means to dig in and fight. 

Taiwan's going to have to learn that too, and soon.