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

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Chiang Kai-shek did not save Taiwan from the CCP: Part 2 - what did stop China from taking Taiwan?

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This is from a post for some movie I've long forgotten the title of.


This is Part 2 of a longer post. For Part 1, which discusses the ways in which Chiang Kai-shek is actually to blame for CCP interest in Taiwan, click here

Because it explores historical factors that I don't think many people are aware of, that post didn't address the core of the bad argument I keep hearing -- that sure the KMT wasn't great, but it's thanks to them that Taiwan isn't a part of the People's Republic of China! 

The belief here actually comes from something else: an interpretation of historical events between approximately 1949 and 1955, which places the ROC as the main bulwark against CCP designs on Taiwan. There's even a pretty terrible News Lens op-ed from a few years ago -- it's so bad that I won't link to it, but I did respond at the time -- that called Chiang "the greatest single fighter of the Chinese Communist Party, bar none", which is funny to me, because they thoroughly defeated him, and in order to hold Taiwan against them, he needed US assistance. 

My main source, once again, is Hsiao-Ting Lin's Accidental State, but I'll also be drawing on other sources, including this article from the Journal of Northeast Asian Studies. I'll try to quote frequently from it for those who don't have access.

I also want to say here that anyone who really knows Taiwanese history is likely already aware of everything I'm about to say; nothing here will surprise you. Instead, this is a sort of self-service: instead of writing the same reply to such comments over and over again, I'm putting it all in one handy blog post that I (and you!) can just link to whenever it inevitably comes up. Again

Here's the summary: despite some victories by the Nationalists, we don't have Chiang or his government to thank for Taiwan being saved from incorporation into the People's Republic of China. In fact, it was mostly the US's efforts to contain the CCP that led to Taiwan staying out of PRC hands. This had nothing to do with any sort of sincere care for the ROC on the part of the US, and certainly had nothing at all to do with any sort of goodwill toward Taiwan. Although the Nationalists did score some victories toward the end of the civil war, the lasting repellent that kept the PRC out of Taiwan was (somewhat grudging) American assistance to the ROC, due to a US desire to secure a defense perimeter around the PRC and renewed desire to include Taiwan in that defensive corridor due to the outbreak of the Korean War. 

From the link (all emphasis mine):

If there had not been a Korean War, the Chinese Communists would probably have invaded Taiwan in 1950. After the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States began to reverse its hands-off policy toward the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan. The Korean War first compelled the United States to grant military aid to Taiwan and then put the island under U.S. protection. The war forestalled the deterioration of the ROC' s international status, but the legal status of Taiwan became undetermined in the eyes of U.S. policymakers....

Both attacks compelled the United States to go to war, and on both occasions this simultaneously saved the Kuomintang (KMT) from total defeat. One high-ranking KMT official even described the Korean War as the Sian incident in reverse - an unexpected twist of fate that saved the KMT from total annihilation. 2 Before the outbreak of the Korean War, KMT-controlled Taiwan (then called Formosa) fell outside the U.S. defense perimeter, and the Truman administration had assumed the final defeat of the KMT to be only a matter of time. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, President Harry S. Truman decided to neutralize Taiwan, both to protect it from communist invasion and to prevent the KMT from using it as a base to mount an assault on the mainland. The Korean War also forced President Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson to resume their entanglement with the KMT. 


The details of how all this happened are a bit muddier. Accidental State asserts that the Allies considered many options at different points, including simply allowing the PRC to take Taiwan, a United Nations trusteeship that would help Taiwan transition from Japanese colonial rule and backing of Formosan home rule groups; in other words, post-war US support for the ROC was far shakier and more ambivalent than people seem to believe. Lin (Accidental State) agrees with Lin (article quoted above) that there was a period when Communist takeover of Taiwan was considered "inevitable", and the US was, for a time, prepared to just let that happen. Around 1949-1950, the US made it clear that it would not interfere in the Chinese civil war and that it considered Taiwan to be a part of China. To me, it seems US support was more ambivalent rather than outright dismissive in those years, an ambivalence which remained through 1952, but that might be a topic for a later post.

In Untying the Knot, Richard Bush dismisses this idea that the US ever seriously considered a "trusteeship": 

FDR had his own plans for the island, and allowing international trusteeship of the island and a plebiscite to elicit the wishes of its people was not one of them. In his vision for postwar peace and security, "four policemen" -- the United Sates, Britain, the Soviet Union and China -- would insist on disarmament by most other countries and enforce it through a system of military bases. 

In fact, the idea of UN trusteeship, while it was never of interest to FDR, was of great interest to others, including several Senators and Dean Rusk (who would eventually become Secretary of State) recommended removing Chiang and UN trusteeship for Taiwan to then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Acheson seems to have completely ignored Rusk's letter, and was planning to enlist Sun Liren in a plot to remove Chiang and put Taiwan under new administration, but it never came to be. By 1950 it was considered a bad idea to support an independent Taiwan for a variety of reasons that I mostly disagree with, including a lack of US control over the outcome. 

That whole thing makes the pro-democracy, pro-self-determination, anti-war, anti-Big Power military-enforced imperialism liberal in me want to barf, but hey, that's history for you. It also clarifies that the US has never, at any point, held a sincere interest in the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan. It was always about power. The only way in which I can sign onto that as acceptable is my belief that the PRC did need to be stopped, and still needs to be stopped today, and wagged fingers and disapproving looks were never (and are never) going to accomplish that. Sometimes that entails accepting realities that I really wish weren't...real. 

On everything else, though, he agrees with Lin and Lin: 

In the Truman administration in 1949, there was a consensus that a Communist takeover was both likely -- again because of the Nationalists' political and military ineptitude -- and detrimental to U.S. security interests....

North Korea's invasion of South Korea in June 1950 saved Taiwan and the ROC. Washington -- afraid that the invasion of South Korea was part of a larger campaign by the communists to extend their control and wanting to end the ROC's continuing minor attacks against the mainland -- deployed the 7th fleet to the Taiwan Strait to prevent the PRC and ROC from attacking each other. The net effect, however, was to ensure Chiang's survival. The ROC is was able to retain its seat in the United Nations and diplomatic relations with a majority of the world's countries 
[for the time being]. The Truman administration justified its policy reversal by saying that because there had been no peace treaty with Japan to dispose of "ownership" of Taiwan, its legal status (whether it was indeed part of China) had not been determined; thus its security was an international issue, not a purely domestic one.


You don't actually care about Taiwan for Taiwan's sake just as you've never cared about any other country for its own sake, and you never did, but Taiwan still needed the PRC stopped. So thanks, America! 

But also no thanks, because your previous ambivalence and lack of interest in home rule or international trusteeship is what precipitated the KMT occupation and subsequent military dictatorship and campaign of mass murder in the following decades. Yet you seemed fine with that. Yikes, America! 

Some might use that information to argue that for the brief period that it lacked strong US support, that the ROC did, in fact, "save" Taiwan by staving off the Communists without US help. 

And I can't deny that they won a few victories (Guningtou being the most prominent one that I'm aware of) in that time period. They were, according to Accidental State, "at least able to stop and search ships flying the flags of either Nationalist China or the PRC in the territorial waters surrounding Taiwan and the other Nationals-controlled isles to prevent military supplies from reaching Communist-held ports" and they had a "weak but still-functional naval capacity". (Why they would also search ships flying the Nationalist flag is unclear to me, but also irrelevant here.) 

But, the Communists were exhausted -- I can't find the source but I've read somewhere that the PRC attack on Guningtou was carried out by a rather ragtag group of falling-apart junks, they had insufficient supplies, and the main reason the ROC won was because one of their ships was in Kinmen awaiting a delivery of foodstuffs that they were going to smuggle to China. Indeed, they were still putting down "bandits" across China, and not only is the Taiwan Strait in fact ridiculously hard to navigate but also Taiwan itself is difficult to land on as an invading force. So, sure, we can give some credit where it's due, but there was a lot of luck involved, too. 

Let's not forget, however, that not only did the ROC's claim to Taiwan precipitate the Communists' interest in the first place, but their landing here also likely redoubled CCP desire to take Taiwan. From Bush:

Ever since the Cairo Declaration of December 1943, Mao Zedong and his revolutionary colleagues had set their sights on seizing the island as well as the mainland, and Taiwan became part of their mission of national recovery and unification. That their civil war rivals, whom they termed the "Chiang Kai-shek reactionary clique" planned to mount a last ditch stand on Taiwan was all the more reason to take the island. 


In fact, those years when one might argue that the KMT bravely and successfully fought off the PRC looked very different from the perspective of Chiang and his minions. Accidental State describes Chiang's attitude at this time as: 

so disheartened that, at one point in early June [1950], he seemed to truly believe it was no longer possible for him to find a living space in this world. In his personal diary around this time, Chiang, despite a despairing situation, still hoped against hope to fight against the "dark forces" for his very survival to the last...Adopting the posture of apparent self-abegnation that he had taken with President Truman, on June 15 Chiang passed the following message to MacArthur..."The Generalissimo, aware of teh danger of his position, is agreeable to accept American high command in every category and hopes to interest General MacArthur to accept this responsibility...soliciting his advice, guidance and direction."


Ha ha.

Sorry, I just hate Chiang Kai-shek so much that any despair of his, no matter how far in the past and even though he's dead and rotting at Cihu, gives me great joy.

Given that, what honestly matters more from a historical perspective is what forces helped keep the PRC away long-term. And, again, the answer to that is US strategic interests, not any sort of military genius or salvation by the ROC.

Lin goes on to call Chiang's solicitation of a mutual defense treaty with the US in the early 1950s as "desperate", and discusses in detail how Taipei anticipated that the outbreak of war in Korea would need to a US need to engage with them more proactively, and might even give them the necessary "in" to get the US involved in their desire to re-take China. They wanted nothing more than to be included in the US defense perimeter, their initial exclusion evoking the terror in Chiang outlined above. In 1950, Chiang even offered to send 33,000 troops to the Korean war effort, which the US rejected. From the linked article: 

President Truman objected to MacArthur's suggestion of a "military policy of aggression" and he had deliberately rejected President Chiang Kaishek's offer to send 33,000 Nationalist troops to assist South Korea because "it would be a little inconsistent to spend American money to protect an island while its natural defenders were somewhere else."


They did eventually get their wish: 

The People's Republic of China's (PRC) intervention in the Korean War struck the U.S. Eighth Army and X Corps a heavy blow in November 1950, and the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] began to question President Truman's military neutralization of Formosa. On November 20, 1950, the JCS sent the Department of Defense a memorandum, to which acting Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett concurred....

The JCS then emphasized "the strategic importance of Formosa" and suggested that "it would be desirable to have port facilities and airfield on Formosa available to the United States," if a full-scale war should develop against Communist China and the Soviet Union. The new Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, who was not as supportive of the KMT as his predecessor Louis Johnson, argued that Taiwan was "of no particular strategic importance" in U.S. hands, but it "would be of disastrous importance if it were held by an enemy."  In December 1950, Truman indicated to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee that Chiang Kai-shek intended to get the United States involved militarily on the Chinese mainland. Under pressure from the U.S. Senate, Truman stated the United States would not allow Formosa to fall into Communist hands. 

By January 1951, Taiwan had received military hardware worth US $29 million....Later that same month, the State Department instructed the U.S. embassy in Taipei to exchange notes with the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which led to a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (MDAA) between the two governments.  The MDAA was designed to legitimize the use of incoming U.S. military aid to Formosa for the island's internal security and self-defense.


The Korean War was so central to the continued existence of Taiwan that its end was considered a potential problem by the ROC:

If the Korean War was the salvation of the ROC, an armistice in Korea could naturally complicate the U.S.-Taiwan security relationship. On March 19, 1953, ROC Ambassador Wellington Koo explored the question of a U.S.- ROC mutual security pact, but received a cold response from Secretary of State Dulles. 4n In June 1953, Chiang Kai-shek wrote at least two letters to President Eisenhower probing the possibility of U.S.-initiated Asian multilateral mutual security pacts. 45 Although Eisenhower believed that a mutual security arrangement must come from the Asian nations themselves, by August 1953 the United States had concluded mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. 

The ROC government took the initiative and handed a draft U.S.-ROC mutual security pact to U.S. Ambassador Rankin on December 18, 1953. 


And if it wasn't clear that US aid to Taiwan at that time was aimed at helping the Nationalists defend an island they honestly could not hold on their own: 

On October 7, 1954, President Eisenhower revealed to Dulles that he had decided to conclude a security treaty with the ROC provided that Generalissimo Chiang was prepared to assume a defensive posture on Taiwan....

In January 1955 when the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the ROC was pending ratification by the U.S. Congress, PRC forces attacked some small offshore positions, including the I-chiang and Tachen islands. At a NSC meeting on January 20, Dulles suggested the United States grant logistical support to the ROC to evaluate the Ta-chen islands and that President Eisenhower be authorized by Congress to use forces in the Taiwan Strait if necessary. On January 29, Congress voted favorably on the so-called Formosa Resolution authorizing Eisenhower to "employ the Armed Forces of the United States for protecting the security of Formosa, the Pescadores and related positions and territories of that area." The Formosa Resolution implicitly granted protection to Quemoy and Matsu.  


I reiterate: without US help, the Communists would have taken Taiwan -- and sooner rather than later -- an interest the CCP only cultivated in the first place because the ROC claimed it and then retreated there. Chiang Kai-shek was desperate and despondent.

He is not the hero of staving off the Communists that you think he is. He is not the hero of anything unless you think mass murder is great. 

This is also the situation which led to Taiwan's status being undetermined rather than agreed-upon as a part of China, a topic that also deserves its own post. It's worth remembering that even then-foreign minister to the ROC George Kung-chao Yeh knew that. The KMT later playing at Taiwan's status being clear in an attempt to close the door to independence is an absolute joke at odds with their own history.

In these and the following years, US aid to Taiwan spiked dramatically. Jacoby (U.S. Aid to Taiwan) first says military assistance between 1952 and 1965 reached a total of US$2.5 billion, but his later chart says $368 million. Though I'm not sure where the first number comes from, the exact number is less important than the fact that it was a lot. From Lin (the article, not the Accidental State author):

 

Without U.S. economic assistance in the early 1950s, Taiwan's economy might possibly have collapsed. In 1950 alone, retail prices in Taiwan rose 58 percent, from mid-1949 to 1951 wholesale prices rose 400 percent, and by early 1951, ROC-held gold and foreign exchange reserves were nearly exhausted....Approximately 80 percent of the national budget went to the military, so the island's economy could be sustained only with external assistance. An NSC report pointed out that "had it not been for increased MSA [Mutual Security Agency] aid during the fiscal years 1951 and 1952, a serious inflationary situation would have developed which might have well led to complete economic collapse.”


All of this aid was not meant just to bolster Taiwan's defense capability, but also to make the island more self-sufficient, a goal which was eventually reached.

Also -- oops, it looks like I just made an argument that US strategic interests, not brilliant economic planning on the part of the KMT, is what kickstarted the Taiwan Miracle. 

Let's not forget, however, that 1952-1965 more or less correlated with the White Terror years. So...thanks, America. But also yikes, America! 

I'm not trying to convince you here that the US is Taiwan's good friend. It's not -- yet again, a topic for an entirely different post. What I am trying to convince you of is simple: 

Like them, hate them or grudgingly tolerate them as the devil we can make a deal with because they're not the ones pointing missiles at us, the US had more to do with repelling a PRC takeover of this country than Chiang Kai-shek and his merry band of murderers ever did. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

The Glue on a Post-It

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Yesterday evening, a few hundred people gathered at Freedom Square in a vigil to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In previous years, these events had been more formally organized, with red plastic stools, a stage and a sound system (which was often terrible, but nobody minded). Some were sparsely attended, such as in 2018. Others were packed - commemorations in 2014 following the Sunflower Movement and 2019 for the 30th anniversary were both packed, the latter likely also due to the recent outbreak of the Hong Kong protests.

This year's meeting felt more deconstructed, like a spontaneous sit-in than a formally-planned event. There was no stage, no sound system to speak of - there was a speaker of some sort but it didn't really work. 2019 saw a host of high-profile hosts and speakers, including the then-vice president; this year I had no idea who was speaking. It could have been anyone. Instead, people sat on the ground and lit candles, in some cases simple tea lights. Hastily strung-up tape kept the central crowd from getting too big - probably as a coronavirus safety measure - but onlookers were welcome.

The feel of the gathering was a good reminder that these events aren't "official"; the government here supports them (even in the age of coronavirus, the permit to gather was clearly not rejected), but they're put together by regular people. Anybody can do it. Regular people keep the memory of Tiananmen alive and support Hong Kong from Taiwan. Regular people light the tea lights and play music from their laptops that almost nobody can hear, but everyone sings along with anyway. Governments don't light candles - people do. 


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To be honest, in 2019 the gathering felt full of anger and enthusiasm. Vigor, but also fear. It was like the rebel station on Yavin-4 just before the big mission to deal the Empire a hopefully fatal blow.

This year felt more grim and determined - like the rebel station on Hoth. Like all fear had been burnt away over the course of the past year, and all that was left was an embattled will to fight on. I don't need to tell you why.


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There is a right and a wrong in this war. Imagine you are right, and knowing not only that you are right, but that most of the world realizes it too, yet still feeling like you're losing. Imagine feeling like all reasonable people - including many in the establishment - understand the justness of your cause, but that doesn't stop the establishment from telling you that this is just how things are. Hong Kong is a part of China, Taiwan isn't, but cannot be recognized as such. Sorry. Shrug.


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This year was not just about Tiananmen. Many attendees were clearly Hong Kongers residing in Taiwan, and many of the chants were in Cantonese. Hong Kong protest flags and signs outnumbered remembrances of Tiananmen. One speaker said in Cantonese, "don't think that the Tiananmen Square Massacre has nothing to do with the Hong Kong protests", which I can assure you nobody was thinking. (I don't speak Cantonese but a friend I attended with does.) 

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Artwork commemorating yesterday's anniversary explicitly made this connection, and it's doubtful that any Hong Kong protester is unaware of how Tiananmen ended. They fight anyway.

Earlier in the day I dropped by Causeway Bay Books, the recently-opened Taipei bookstore run by Lam Wing-kee, the bookseller whose store of the same name in Hong Kong was closed due to "legal troubles", and who was driven into de facto political exile in Taiwan. Causeway Bay Books is small, and has no street-level entrance - it's on the 10th floor of an unremarkable building near MRT Zhongshan. It's not a swish department-store sized establishment like Eslite, or even as fancy as some of the higher-end bookshops near National Taiwan University (though I hope someday it will be).

Causeway Bay Books doesn't exist in Taiwan only because this is a country that is willing to look China in the face and tell it to take a hike. Nor because this is a country where everyday people were willing to look the KMT dictatorship in the face and tell it to stand down - and won. Causeway Bay Books is also here because regular people helped make it happen through local assistance.


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Of course, Taiwanese nationhood is also related, philosophically and ethically, to both the Hong Kong protests and Tiananmen Square. All of these issues cross-pollinate: that's why there were Tibetan flags at the Tiananmen Square memorial in Taipei last night, and pro-Hong Kong, Taiwan independence and Tibetan flags at Pride in late 2019. (I hope to see more East Turkestan flags in coming years; that issue is just as worthy). All of these issues center freedom, human rights and equality, and stand against the CCP's desire to control as many people it can, deny them basic rights and freedoms, and massacre them with impunity.

If you don't see that there is a clear right and wrong in this fight, you are deluded. There's a reason why the international media so often writes about China's authoritarianism in the passive voice: pointing fingers at an easily-angered member of the establishment feels scary, and the CCP's actions are so objectively wrong that simply to list them becomes a litany of (deserved) blame.

The truth is that Uighurs are imprisoned because China imprisons them. Hong Kongers and Tibetans are oppressed because China oppresses them. Tensions with Taiwan are raised because China raises them. Dissidents are murdered because China murders them. Bookstores are closed because China closes them. Protesters are run over with tanks because China runs over them.


These things aren't just done. A government actively does them, and they are not morally neutral. Murder in the passive voice is still murder.


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At Causeway Bay Books, there is a Post-It note written by President Tsai which says 自由的台灣撐住香港的自由: free Taiwan supports freedom in Hong Kong. Next to it, there are two more Post-Its, written by children - one saying "don't forget Tiananmen" with a child's drawing of a tank and the numbers "64" (the "4" is backwards). The other has a stick figure and says "Go Hong Kong"! 


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President Tsai's Post-It is held to the shelf by the thinnest strip of glue. A sharp gust of wind or a pair of fingers could dislodge it. Yet nobody would dare: it would probably make the news if they tried. It stays affixed to that shelf because people want it there. The seed of Causeway Bay Books has been planted and grows despite China's efforts to tear it out by the roots because people want it there.

The Tiananmen Square memorial in Hong Kong was banned this year, but lived on because people wanted it there.

The one in Taiwan lives on, in different forms, because people want it there. 


The past year or so has shown us how easy it is for these things to be peeled away. Post-Its aren't very securely attached. Bookstores open and close, and open again. A microscopic virus brings most of the world to its knees. An act of violence - similar to so many that came before - exposes the way in which even robust-seeming democracies were built on slavery and oppression, and are weaker for it. Protesters in Hong Kong take to the streets for months, and have a National Security Law shoved down their throats regardless. Western tankies still say that "Hong Kong was able to do what it wanted" and have the gall to praise Xi Jinping. Tom Cotton - a so-called supporter of Hong Kong and Taiwan - publishes an editorial calling for the US government to "send in the troops" against the protesters angry at the death of George Floyd, systemic racism and inequality in general...on June 3rd.

For Taiwan and Hong Kong, even one's allies are not really friends.

For those of us who still stand for what's right, it all feels about as sturdy as the shell of a weather-beaten conch. Or the glue on a Post-It.

But there's strength in it too. Because events like the Tiananmen Square memorial are organized by everyday people, they live on. Governments may try to tear away collective memory, or offend it by calling for history to repeat itself, but the memory clings. We teach our children about it, no matter what country we come from. 



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People I know have said they felt the Sunflowers ultimately were "unsuccessful" or didn't have the impact that had been hoped for. However, towards the end of the vigil, after singing Glory to Hong Kong, people sang along with a tremulous laptop speaker to slowly pick their way through Island Sunrise, the Sunflower Movement anthem by Fire EX. These are both songs of hope. 


The candles are still lit because we light them. Our countries may be in ruins, but the mountains and rivers remain. 

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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

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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

Untitled


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?