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

Friday, March 22, 2019

You can't force patriotism, so stop blaming Taiwanese for not caring enough about the ROC

Untitled


The National Interest has some of the best journalism on Taiwan out there (among media sources not dedicated to Taiwan, that is). So as expected, this piece on the questionable capabilities of the Taiwanese military to fend off a Chinese invasion was quite strong - mostly.

I absolutely believe Minnick's concerns are founded, even though for my own sanity I must also believe President Tsai when she says that Taiwan can fend off the first wave of attack, a belief which is widely held. I also have to believe that aid would come after this point (though of course I can't say this with confidence) - again for my own sanity. Not just for the country that is my home, but because my own life as I know it would be over. 


But this point struck me, and I can't let it go without saying something: 


Public lethargy and a lack of confidence in the military has drained the armed forces of manpower and morale. And it is this lethargy, along with the unwillingness of Taiwan’s political elites to communicate this imminent threat to the public, that must be addressed.

Taiwan’s military wants to procure big-ticket items from the United States, but at the same time it has been forced to reduce conscription and training due to funding issues and an apathetic civilian population....

Part of the problem is conscription and a decline in patriotism.

This isn't the first time I've heard that Taiwan is facing a military recruitment problem because of a lack of "patriotism." Concerns that neither training nor pay are particularly good, pensions have been cut, that it's widely seen as a difficult working environment and that military service obligations are to be borne with annoyance if they can't be outright avoided are all valid.

But kvetching about a lack of patriotism?

Dudes, you did this to yourselves. 


I don't mean the Taiwanese in general. I don't even necessarily mean the military specifically. I mean all you people who whine about how Taiwan shouldn't change its name unilaterally, and be very cautious about altering or scrapping juridicial documents like the constitution and symbols like its flag and national anthem (both of which are very China/ROC/KMT-oriented). And all of you who say these symbols are "small differences" and to harp on them is "narcissism". You may be Western or Taiwanese, based in Taiwan or abroad, but all of you and the government you have convinced to retain the name and general governmental structure of the "Republic of China" can look squarely at your own damn selves if you want to know why Taiwanese don't feel particularly patriotic.

Those names and symbols do actually matter, and it shows in how little they inspire the Taiwanese populace.

Why should the average Taiwanese person feel great love for the Republic of China? Especially if that person lived through the worst years of the horrors that uninvited colonial government inflicted on Taiwan, how could there be any great welling of pride when seeing that white sun on a blue sky, that party symbol of the KMT on the national flag? How could the eyes of most Taiwanese well up when they hear their national anthem which references their "party" (the KMT) and is therefore an explicit callback to the era of dictatorship and mass murder? And what kind of dummy do you have to be to expect otherwise?

At best, you'll get deep ambivalence - after all, if the ROC flag is the one people know abroad and it differentiates them from the PRC, that's something - and you should be grateful for even that.  It's hardly deserved. F
eeling some form of conflicted happiness to see that flag or the name "Republic of China" used by international organizations is a kindness - a generous offering. Calling it paltry or insufficient is an insult.

Telling Taiwanese that they ought to feel patriotic fervor for the government that once oppressed them, and its symbols, because they can't realistically get rid of them right now? The same symbols that were (and are) used to try to erase their own Taiwanese identity? When members of the party that introduced those symbols (and that oppression) call disagreement "separatism", threaten people who disagree with death, and seem to care more about China than Taiwan? That's messed up.

Even for those who don't hate the ROC and its symbols, it's a confusing message. We have to fight for Taiwan - or, err, the ROC - um, which claims to be China, but we have to fight against China as the ROC for the future of Taiwan...uh, here, look at this flag that has one political party's symbol on it, which is from China and seeks to supplant your sense of Taiwaneseness, which we're preparing for war against...as China...for your country, Taiwan. 

Yeah, okay. That'll win those youth over!


The ROC is a system on life support. It's around because of the threat of war if Taiwan were to dismantle it, and perhaps a small (but rich and influential) class of people who still think it is a government worth keeping around. It's around because the allies Taiwan hopes for in the event of war tell Taiwan it has to be this way so as not to "anger China".

That's a recipe for declining patriotism; who, beyond that core of diehard ROC fans, could summon up much more feeling for it than one feels for their annual gynecological exam? (Or for the guys, whatever it is you get examined every year that is important to do but uncomfortable.) Necessary for continued health, but not exactly inspirational. 


Like an ice-cold speculum, the white sun on a blue field and everything it stands for just does not engender the sort of emotional connection to a place, system governance and set of social values that underlie an urge to join the military.

So for the military to be pushing that same old "ROC! ROC! Let's fight for the ROC!" patriotic blargle...yeah, it's not going to work. They could try harder, they could make it swisher, they could give their recruitment drives higher production values. They could just plain offer better pay, benefits and working conditions. But if the population is not too keen on the ROC, all but the latter is just not going to work.

Or, worse than an ice-cold speculum, it is about as inspirational as this, um, "song" trying appeal to supporters of Wu Dun-yih.

Please don't come in at this point blaming the Taiwan independence activists for this state of affairs. Yes, it's true that in social conditions where most people think of themselves as "Taiwanese" and the country they live in as "Taiwan", to say that "Taiwan can never be 'free' with the ROC around" makes it more difficult for people who love Taiwan to feel great patriotism when Taiwan is called the ROC. 


But...

a.) They're right, even if that truth is neither convenient nor realistic (and deeply confusing to people who don't know Taiwan well, so please stop saying it to them - just stick to the digestible "Taiwan is already independent and they just want to stay that way" and let's not air our dirty laundry in front of the white people, 'kay?)

b.) The average Taiwanese person thinks the hardcore independence activists are a bit nutty, even if they fundamentally agree with the message. From my experience, your average person who doesn't follow politics too deeply does want Taiwan to maintain its autonomy but they think the folks to take to the streets all the time are...going overboard. So their message probably isn't the reason for the greater societal apathy.

c.) This outcome was inevitable. Anyone with eyes and ears can see that the ROC is waning, it's propped-up, it's nothing to feel great emotion for (and was frankly never that great, even when it was the government of China). It's just natural not to feel particularly moved by symbols that are pushed on you and disconnected with how you actually feel about your country and society. 


If the Taiwanese military wants to build a sense of patriotism that will lead to wider recruitment, Minnick is right that it first needs to communicate the true depth and nature of the threat to the public. Folks calling for better careers in the military are likewise correct.

But they also have to quit pretending that the old ROC rah-rah can work. It can't. It's dead.

I know most of the military leans blue and that the ROC's name can't be safely officially changed right now, but the youth are Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese. Naturally independent. They'd probably fight for that, but you have to couch the message in terms of the country and society they know, not what the government is forced to say at the higher levels.

That is, appeal to the desire to fight for Taiwan, and stop leaning on symbols that, if they don't inspire bitterness and emnity over the ROC's dictatorial and murderous past, are simply dead. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

"If it's Taiwan today, people should ask 'who's next'?": full video of Tsai Ing-wen's CNN interview and comments

So, if you're like and don't have a TV, so can't necessarily watch something when it's on TV, you may be disappointed in the 4 minutes or so of footage across two videos of President Tsai's CNN interview on CNN's official feed.

The good news is that an awesome guy I don't know is here to help! You can watch the full video here.


Apparently two well-known analysts in Taiwan went in on ICRT about the interview (one thinking positively of it, the other negatively), though I haven't listened to the whole thing yet. 

I have a few thoughts myself. Tsai herself, in my opinion, performed admirably. To a Western audience - the people this is actually aimed at - she came across as reasonable, pragmatic, even-keeled and intelligent (all things she truly is). She made a very strong case for Taiwan as a beacon of democracy and freedom, and was very clear on the threat from China and why it should matter to the world, without any 'troublemaking' rhetoric. More time could have been spent on marriage equality  - as far as I can tell, it wasn't mentioned  - though I may have just missed it - to really hammer home the idea of Taiwan as 'liberal beacon in Asia' (it's not that liberal by Western standards but by Asian standards, it kind of is). She also makes a strong case for closer communication and stronger relations with Taiwan, without seeming desperate or begging.

She makes it clear that Taiwan does have its own military capability and can withstand a first wave of attacks. This is essential - we need to show the world that Taiwan does take its defense seriously and would not simply beg the world to defend it as it stood by, helpless and unwilling to stand up for itself.

"If it's Taiwan today, people should ask, 'who's next'?" - I truly don't think one can make a stronger case, and it was delivered succinctly and clearly.

Her point that Taiwan is the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, and it produced a female leader, so we need to quit it with thinking women are limited in what they can do is a strong one. By going meta with the 'questions about being a female leader of a country' trope and acknowledging it, with her basically saying 'what I think about such questions don't matter, I have an obligation to answer them until female leaders are totally normalized' (paraphrased), she shows that she always considers her role carefully as a leader rather than giving in to her personal feelings. To Americans who may be sick of seeing the puerile, vengeful, personal spewings of their own president, this is likely to play well.

She showed that she does speak fluent English, but wisely moved back to Mandarin for the more complex questions. This will also play well to a Western audience.

Tsai is quite good at this kind of interview, where she almost certainly prepares careful responses to known topics in advance, and where a questioner prompts her on various topics so she doesn't get too bogged down in technocratic wonkery.

I'll admit that by giving careful answers that kind of evade the meat of the questions asked - on whether Taiwan counts on US support in the face of a Chinese invasion, on whether Trump is an unreliable ally - she does come across as just another 'politician' to some extent. She doesn't really answer these questions, and I would have liked a stronger stance on Taiwanese not favoring unification, now or ever. That said, I think any half-intelligent viewer will understand that her country is in a precarious position. In a situation where a single misplaced word can infuriate China, her 'careful' approach is simply necessary.

All that said, the average Westerner interested enough to watch this interview would, in my estimation, be persuaded that Taiwan is worth taking seriously and its leader is not an 'extremist', an 'ethnic nationalist/separatist' or a hotheaded despot, but the pragmatic, serious, hard-headed and slightly nerdy (okay, very nerdy - that karaoke comment about reading while her friends sang...wow) democratically elected leader of a proud, free society.

That doesn't mean I feel so positive about the whole interview. While I am very pleased with how Tsai presents herself, I'm less of a fan of the historical interludes about the Taiwan-China situation, and some of the language that the interviewer used (namely the terms "reunification" and "mainland").

No one thing the presenter said was wrong, regarding what happened in 1949, the change in diplomatic ties, that Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China, or who the US recognizes as 'the sole China' now and why. No one fact was off-base.

But taken together, it presents an image of Taiwanese history that I can't endorse as accurate: there are several lies of omission that seem like minor details but are in fact pivotal to an accurate telling of Taiwan's story. If included, such details would change the overall narrative of Taiwanese history to such a great degree that leaving them out feels false.

Imagine if, instead of the usual "1949", "two Chinas", "the Republic of China still claims" narrative without any key details, the presenter had said something like this:

"Taiwan had been a Japanese colony until the end of World War II, when the Allied Powers allowed the Republic of China to accept Japan's surrender on their behalf and govern Taiwan, amid some controversy. The Nationalists and their leader, Chiang Kai-shek, who controlled Republic of China, were then defeated by the Communists under Mao Zedong, who founded the People's Republic of China. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan, claiming to be the 'sole' government of the 'true' China. Both leaders of these "two Chinas" were military dictatorships marked by oppression and mass murder. The United States recognized the Republic of China on Taiwan, under Chiang Kai-shek, until the late 1970s, when it switched recognition to the PRC in Beijing. Since then, China has continued on a trajectory of dictatorship while Taiwan has democratized and liberalized, with many Taiwanese no longer identifying as 'Chinese'. Polls in Taiwan show consistent support for a separate Taiwanese national and cultural identity. Some in Washington say that in light of this, it's time to re-assess US policy in the region, which..."

Same basic facts, but with pertinent details centered in the narrative, it tells quite a different story, doesn't it?

But, hey.

We can't get everything we want, so I can only hope that during the 'historical' interludes, American viewers went to the kitchen to get more chips. 


In the end, it doesn't matter as much as Tsai comporting herself well, which she clearly did. Taiwan needs to present a clear case to the world that it is worth taking seriously and aiding if necessary. I never thought I'd say Tsai Ing-wen was the public speaker who could accomplish much of anything (she's not a great speaker), but...I could be wrong. She's exactly the face Taiwan needs to show to the West. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where Richard Bush is right, and where he is wrong

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Let me start out by saying that I don't think China expert (which somehow includes Taiwan? I mean, being the former AIT chair makes that okay, but they are not the same thing) Richard Bush is a Confucius McDoorknob. We can all agree that he is deeply credible.

So, let me be kind, and start with the ways that his two most recent articles (here and here) are right, before talking about the ways that they aren't.

In the first article, he's quite right that Tsai has been doing an excellent job of managing cross-strait relations, using caution most of the time, but snapping back like a bad-ass she-wolf at the appropriate times. This is just right, and Bush and the US are right to support her:


In my view, one of the reasons that the United States has expressed support for President Tsai and her administration is precisely because she is cautious and careful. She does not take the U.S. commitment for granted and understands the value of close communication.


He's also right that a referendum on de jure Taiwanese independence is a terrible idea.

Frozen Garlic covered why referendums are not the direct-democracy saviors their supporters make them out to be in the context of energy policy; it really covers referendums as a problematic tool more generally, though, and I highly suggest reading it.

Echoing Froze, Bush points out:


When it comes to democratic mechanisms, none is perfect in my view. Whether it is indirect democracy in a legislature or direct democracy through a referendum, distortion and manipulation of the popular will occurs. So a referendum is not necessarily better than other mechanisms.

If referendums are to be employed on routine policy issues, in my view, they should be crafted in a way so the result truly reflects the view of the majority of all citizens. I’m not sure one can say that about the referendums that were held on November 24 last year.


All the more so when the referendum is on questions regarding the fundamental identity of a state and a nation. For these, it is a good thing to set a high bar for authorizing a referendum and passing a referendum. The stakes are so high and the consequences of being wrong are so great, that it is appropriate—even mandatory—to require a broad public consensus through a super-majority for passage. Witness the trouble that Great Britain is now in because only a simple majority of those voting for Brexit was required for passage.



There are other reasons why it's a bad move, as well: first, that it would take a willfully blind person or someone invested in an outcome they are not openly articulating to say that Tsai is not working toward setting the fundamentals in motion for eventual de jure independence. It's not even reasonable to say she's moving too slowly; this is the pace you have to move at when you are threatened by a nasty bully just a few hundred miles away with missiles pointed at you.

It doesn't take a genius to understand that Taiwan has to make choices based in its real situation, not in how it would like the world to be right now.

The only reasonable criticism, then, is that she's not doing a particularly good job of 'selling' her way of doing things to the public. I do understand this is difficult: the deep blues already think this is the GREEN TERROR (it's not, and that phrase doesn't mean anything) and the deep greens are in fantasyland - they'd rather do what feels good than work in concrete ways toward a future for Taiwan. But it does feel as though she hasn't really tried.

So to say that what's needed is a bing-bam-boom REFERENDUM! goes beyond wishful thinking - in some ways it's straight-up childish.

And, of course, it's a bad move because it will probably fail. I mean, look at how easily the tide turned on the referendum to end the use of "Chinese Taipei" (which realistically would have meant applying to stop using that name - there's no way it would have been accepted). All it took was the IOC being a bunch of whiny buttclowns and the Taiwanese Olympic athletes coming out against the change to get the Taiwanese not to vote for a referendum that would have symbolically told the world that they think "Chinese Taipei" is a preposterous name, which it objectively is.

If we can't even pass "what the hell is Chinese Taipei?", how are we going to pass this? We're not. That doesn't mean the Taiwanese electorate doesn't generally support independence; most people do.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, he's right about Taiwan having to take into account the political situation in the US and what they will and will not realistically offer Taiwan.

Yeah I know I just puked in my mouth saying that too, but it doesn't make it untrue.

From the "open letter":


I do not know how firm the Trump administration’s commitment to Taiwan’s defense would be if military conflict were likely. There are certainly those who see Taiwan as a useful asset in its campaign to resist what they regard as China’s revisionist objectives. But valuing Taiwan’s partnership in this way is not the same thing as giving Taiwan, or political forces in Taiwan, a green light to act unilaterally to change the status quo, a principle that remains a central element of U.S. policy.

I do know that President Trump himself is skeptical about any U.S. security commitment to Taiwan. At a meeting of the National Security Council on January 19, 2018, Mr. Trump asked his senior national security team, “even more than [Korea], what do we get from protecting Taiwan?” The implication of that question is the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is not justified, as far as he is concerned. I have seen no evidence that this skepticism has changed. It is consistent with his long-standing opposition to U.S. defense commitments to U.S. friends and allies. 



and from the "let's not invite Tsai to speak" article, which I think was easily the worse of the two:


Make no mistake: The United States should continuously find ways to improve relations with Taiwan. We need to improve our economic relationship and help Taiwan effectively enhance its deterrence against China. That requires engaging Taiwan leaders on how they realistically believe American can help them, not how we think we should help. Forty years of American experience in conducting U.S.-China relations has demonstrated the need to be skillful and sometimes stealthy in our Taiwan diplomacy. Public symbols, deftly deployed, are important in relations with Taiwan, but substance is far more important.


In short, when talking about how to improve the chances of a truly independent future for Taiwan, it is simply smart to consider the US position as Taiwan's most powerful potential ally. I don't like it any more than you do, but whether or not the US will ultimately stand up for Taiwan does matter. At the very least it forces Taiwan to consider what it has at its own disposal when making decisions rather than assuming that its underdog status is so sympathetic and its cause so just (though it is) that of course anyone who truly cares about a free and democratic world will, in the end, stand by us. But that is not at all assured. It's not right and it's not fair, but it is sadly true. 

And, of course, he was smart to point out that the call to invite Tsai to address Congress originated with a group of US Senators, and it's not clear that Tsai herself thinks its a good idea:


The third flaw in this initiative is its disregard for Taiwan’s view. I’m guessing here, but I suspect that the authors did not ask President Tsai if she thought this was a good idea—and, if they did ask, they didn’t listen very carefully to her answer. President Tsai is responsible for the prosperity and safety of 23 million people. She understands that she must maintain some degree of balance between relations with the United States on the one hand and relations with China on the other. Clearly, relations with China are not as good as she might like them to be, but I believe she would not wish to risk a further, serious deterioration in relations with Beijing unless it brought it an extraordinary benefit.


But I have to say, there are a lot of ways in which Bush is straight-up dead-ass what-the-hell wrong.

Starting with the quote above, what's up with the fallacy that Tsai can do much, if anything, about deteriorating relations with Beijing. They're going to treat Taiwan like garbage no matter what she does because they simply don't like her, the DPP, or the Taiwan consensus. Relations are deteriorating because Beijing is deteriorating them, and that's not going to change.

Along these lines, and alongside some pretty solid wisdom, Bush is also selling some Grade A snake oil. Reading these articles is like going to your Harvard-educated doctor who effectively treats an infection with modern medicine, and then recommends you get your humors balanced.

Let's start with the top shelf dippery:


The first aspect is that the proposal touches on the national interests of the United States, specifically its abiding interest in peace and security in the Taiwan area and its longstanding view that neither side of the Taiwan Strait should try unilaterally to change the status quo.


and:



You will recall that President Bush publicly criticized Mr. Chen in December 2003 for trying to unilaterally change the status quo. In September 2007, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Christensen warned that Mr. Chen was putting Taiwan’s security at stake for the sake of the DPP’s electoral advantage.


These points pre-suppose that the status quo can potentially be changed bilaterally, or in some way other than unilaterally (and that the DPP fights the status quo "for its electoral advantage" rather than because they, and most Taiwanese, actually believe in working toward an independent Taiwan).


This is false.

It's not only false, it's dangerous to buy into. It will never happen. There's no game to play here, no potential winning strategy in which, if Taiwan negotiates with China in just the right way, or plays nice to just the right CCP officials, that there will be a breakthrough and a permanent situation of peace and Taiwan's assured autonomy would tumble from the heavens, rejoice! 

China. Will. NEVER. Agree. To. A. Bilateral. Solution. That. Taiwan. Can. Accept.

Ever. 

Well, unless the CCP falls in an inglorious revolution, but that would create so much instability and uncertainty (a dying CCP who invades Taiwan as a last-ditch effort to distract its own people from the situation about to boil over at home?) that it's not exactly desirable either. Slow reforms and so-called "bloodless" democratization/liberalization are even less likely, at least not on any timeline that will be viable.

That leaves three possible solutions that Bush is assiduously trying to avoid admitting to:

a.) war
b.) perpetual status quo
c.) some non-war-starting way of unilaterally changing the status quo

(The idea of peaceful unification is as much a non-starter as China agreeing bilaterally to Taiwanese independence: Taiwan would never accept it).

War is possible, but quite wisely, nobody (except perhaps China) wants to pursue it, so let's leave it aside. The perpetual status quo is a chimaera. It seems real enough but can't last. There's just no way that Taiwan's current situation is permanently tenable. This is because while the CCP as a whole may not be in any great rush to try to annex Taiwan, Xi Jinping harps on it in a way reminiscent of Chiang Kai-shek before anyone took him seriously. It seems unlikely to me that he'll run China for the rest of his life without at least making an attempt to accomplish it. And yet, the Taiwanese overwhelmingly support independence (whether de facto or de jure). They may vote for politicians who say otherwise, for other reasons, but when those politicians make concrete moves towards integrating with China, watch how their fortunes change.

So what does that leave us? Option C. I have no idea how we cause that to come about, but seeing as I don't see any "bilateral" way of changing anything between Taiwan and China, we can't take any potential future unilateral action off the table.

That Bush wants to imply that this is not Taiwan's reality, and that a bilateral solution may be possible, is dangerous wishful thinking at best, and straight-up snake oil served by gaslight at worst.

And, while I appreciate that Taiwan must take the US's position into consideration, I balk at the implication that we should prioritize the US-China relationship as though it is somehow more important to Taiwan than the question of its own continued sovereignty:


If the president of Taiwan were to speak to a joint meeting of Congress, any U.S. claim that its relations with Taiwan were unofficial would ring completely hollow. China would interpret the move as Washington’s reneging on the fundamental bargain at the heart of U.S.-PRC relations. Although I cannot predict exactly what Beijing would do in response, a radical downgrading of the relationship would be likely. Any hope that President Trump would have of cutting a trade deal with his New Best Friend Xi Jinping would vanish. U.S. requests for Chinese assistance concerning North Korea would fall on very deaf ears. Many sectors of American society that still value the U.S.-China relationship would be hurt. American multinationals that rely on China as a market or production platform would be vulnerable to retaliation, with attendant effects on jobs and profits.


Yeah okay but now you're starting to make it sound as though US corporate profits are Taiwan's chief concern, or that we should be worried about the US-China relationship for its own sake, beyond what it portends for the US-Taiwan relationship (or the Taiwan-China relationship).


We don't. I don't care about a trade deal between the US and China beyond its potential impact on Taiwan, and I don't care about the "fundamental bargain at the heart of US-China relations" because it's a crap bargain. I want US to normalize and make official relations with Taiwan, so why would any Taiwan-prioritizing readers take this paragraph seriously?

I mean, I get it, this is aimed as much at a US political audience as a Taiwan one, but as someone who prioritizes Taiwan, it is deeply unconvincing. Poor babies. It might hurt your profits. Oh noes. Oh wait, I don't care.

Finally, I'll also say that this simply can't be argued with, but is still deeply problematic for reasons explained below:


Also, neither you nor I can control how the Beijing government interprets developments on Taiwan and whether they trigger Article 8 of the Anti-Secession Law.


What bothers me about it is that he comes so close to understanding a deeper truth about China: that they are going to treat Taiwan like crap no matter what, and Taiwan can't control that (the US, in theory, could influence it in some way - if it wanted to. It doesn't.)

But no, he stops there, and then promptly trots out the same old blather implying that Taiwan not only can, but should, play this game with China:


The second flaw in this proposal [for Tsai to address Congress] is Taiwan would suffer. This initiative began in the United States, and Beijing would take the opportunity to pressure and squeeze Taiwan even more than it is already doing. It would likely find ways to get the small number of countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei to switch to the PRC. Taiwan-directed exercises by China’s People’s Liberation Army would intensify. China’s efforts to interfere in Taiwan’s domestic politics would increase. So, a gesture that senators intended to help Taiwan would only hurt it.


Taiwan is going to "suffer" no matter what. China will "squeeze" Taiwan no matter what. They will try to poach our (well, the ROC's) diplomatic allies no matter what (and I'm not sure how much I care - it's not like those countries recognize Taiwan. They recognize the ROC as China, which is not the same thing really). Taiwan-directed exercises by the PLA will probably intensify no matter what, and Xi's anti-Taiwan rhetoric will escalate no matter what. So while I admire Bush's genuine concern for Taiwan, he's coming at it in not only a wrong, but condescending way - as though we don't see for ourselves that China is already doing the things he is threatening China will do.

Let me repeat:

China is going to increasingly treat Taiwan like garbage no matter what Taiwan does, and there is nothing acceptable to the Taiwanese electorate that Taiwan can do to stop it. 

So if the CCP is going to continue to be a bunch of glass-hearted pissbabies, and they are going to increase their bullying of Taiwan regardless, then dude.

Let them.

And don't buy into the illusory nonsense that if Taiwan just plays footsie in the right way, it can negotiate a better outcome for itself or somehow convince China to stop being such a jag-off. This will never happen.

The only way to win this game is not to play. I support Tsai because, while it looks like she's playing China's game, she in fact has her own deck of cards and is playing her own long hand. China's not even invited to the poker table.

So let's keep not playing. Let's not make any rash moves, and let's stop tearing ourselves apart because some people need to prove that they are more ideologically "pure" rather than seeking realistic, practical solutions that lay the groundwork for a future that includes an independent Taiwan.

But holy mother of god, let's not buy any "but China will be mad and you can't make any unilateral changes!" garbage.

We know better and we will not be fooled.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Crazy, Rich Nations

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Original photo from Wikimedia Commons
(to be fair this movie has actually made me want to return to Singapore, but mostly for the food)


You probably think I'm writing in to comment on Crazy Rich Asians because it's a cultural moment and it'll be good traffic for Lao Ren Cha. I'm not - I don't expect this will even be one of the more popular posts. I just have some thoughts on the movie and I'd like to share them.


It took me a few hours, because my mind was completely cleaned out by Henry Golding's golden washboard abs, but I'm over it now* so here we are.

Let me get one thing out of the way first: I really liked the movie, so let's talk about that first. If you don't care, scroll through a few paragraphs to get to my concerns. 

Why did I like it? Because despite some Chinese viewers thinking it "presents a stereotypical view of Asians" to Western audiences, I actually think it smashes these stereotypical views.

I can assure you, of my friends and family who have never been to Asia, very few of them think that Asians live like the Crazy Rich Asians. Most of them think "Asian" and they think "poor and full of gongs" or something. You know, like:


1024px-Phra_Ajan_Jerapunyo-Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao.
from Wikimedia Commons


Maybe with a dragon or some "ancient Chinese art of kung fu" thrown in. But definitely poor. To many Westerners, only the West is rich.

I am also reasonably sure a large percentage of people I know back home think that the only reason I don't live in a straw hut in a rice paddy and wear a conical hat to work is because I live in a city, which they might well imagine as some cement buildings scattered among the straw huts.

So, y'know, I'm actually happy to see a representation of Asia that doesn't look like the only people who live there are rice farmers or monks and their only purpose outside Asia is to run Asian restaurants and dispense religious wisdom to white protagonists. I live in a pretty developed country in a continent that, for much (but not all) of its breadth, is developed. It's about time the West woke up and realized that. Asians are not all still-suffering victims of Western imperialism (in Taiwan and elsewhere, there are currently-suffering victims of Chinese imperialism, but I'll get to that.) Much of Asia really is criss-crossed by ultra-wealthy families, many of whom claim Chinese ancestry, and all of whom know each other.


To imply otherwise is to say "what? but don't you like gongs and monks? Why are you wearing Versace? Don't you have some traditional robes? Don't let the white man force you out of the rice paddy!"

Which...barf.  


It's also about time they woke up and realized that Asia can't be described with a single word (like "collectivist" or "Confucian" or "ancient") - there are good, decent, down-to-earth people (like Astrid and Colin) and selfish jerks (like Eddie and Amanda), and people who think they are good and decent and self-sacrificing who are in fact kind of selfish (like Eleanor, in a way). You know, like everywhere else in the world.

I also liked it because, while people are writing about how it pits Western and Asian values (does it, though? I'll get to that too), I find it plays with the fundamental rightness of feminist values, and how they can exist in any cultural setting, adjusted to the needs and goals of women in any given culture. When I think "family values", even in an Asian context, I think "values that lift up everyone in the family, with everyone negotiating, cooperating, giving and receiving for the benefit of all, including women", not "women must always sacrifice for the family". That's a feminist value that can exist in Asia - Rachel even references those words in reference to a game of mahjong!

And I'm fine with it being called Crazy Rich Asians even though it's really only about "ethnic Chinese" - a good book needs a snappy title and Crazy Rich Overseas Chinese in Singapore...isn't. It's not a National Geographic documentary, after all. (Anyway those seem to skew toward the poverty and gongs, too - all the stuff Westerners like to feel both guilty over and enchanted by. Not a real place full of real, mostly normal people.) It's not about "Singapore" or "diverse Asia". It's about a group of crazy, rich and crazy rich people. Can't it just be that? Can't something be set in Asia and feature an Asian cast and be about something other than social justice?

I liked it despite the criticisms I've heard from some media and my social-justice oriented friends: that it only shows one kind of Asian (the only dark-skinned or even non-Chinese Asians we see are working in service positions), that despite it not being scheduled to open in China, that it presents a problematic pro-China orientation and presents a view of Chineseness that is frighteningly close to Communist Party ideology - an idea I'll quote from liberally in a moment - that of course it ignores deeper issues of inequality in Singapore.

Or, as my husband joked on the way home, "I'm happy now that we know what the inside of a typical Singaporean home looks like, since we have always stayed in hotels on our trips there!"

All of these things are true, and I can't wholly ignore them. They are very real:

From Kirsten Han writing for the Hong Kong Free Press (linked above and again here):


The Young family, for example, sit around and make jiaozi, a dumpling from northern China that’s unlikely to be part of the traditions of a long-established Chinese Singaporean family, since most of the Chinese who came to Singapore came from the southeastern coast.

It’s also odd that Nick Young’s grandmother, the elderly matriarch of the family, speaks perfect Mandarin, while the women one generation below her speak Cantonese—in real life, it’s far more likely to be the other way around, especially given the Singapore government’s efforts to restrict the use of dialects and promote Mandarin.


and:


On her trip, Rachel Chu learns the difference between the Asian American and Asian experience. But there isn’t an “Asian experience”, per se. It’s not as simple as East versus West, as the symbolism of the film’s mahjong game suggests. Even within tiny Singapore, we see diverging Chinese experiences every day. If anything, it’s the Chinese Communist Party in the People’s Republic of China that seeks to obscure these differences in their efforts to engender feelings of sympathy or even loyalty to the party through the idea of racial unity.


YUP. Hey Westerners - did you know that was a thing? It totally is.

This is echoed in Catherine Chou's piece in The News Lens (also linked above and here):


Repressive government initiatives to solidify Mandarin as the region’s common tongue have been so successful in Singapore, Taiwan, and China that Hokkien and Cantonese are now routinely mistaken in popular culture as mere dialects of Mandarin.

Mandarin thus functions in the movie just as it does in government policies: as an artificial marker of class and sophistication. Cantonese, and especially Hokkien, are used as signifiers of marginality and lower status.


Holy fishguts, this is spot on.

This isn't only a problem in Singapore - it's also a deep social divide in Taiwan. For a few generations now, the KMT colonizers (yes, colonizers) have promoted Mandarin as the lingua franca of Taiwan, a country they believe is "a part of China" but which a.) isn't, b.) fuck you, KMT and c.) was never a place where Mandarin was a native tongue, before it was forced on the Taiwanese. To do this, they not only made it punishable in some circumstances to speak Taiwanese Hokkien (and caused one to be 'under suspicion' in others), but made it so that Mandarin was the language of the upper classes, with Hokkien being the language of "ignorant farmers" (無知農夫). The language of the gauche. The language of the excluded.

And believe me, the point has always been to explicitly exclude. How do you get people who speak a totally different language, and who might rebel, to accept you as their sovereign masters? Make 'em think their language is merely a coarse dialect of the common tongue you share, and you are the learned scholars who have come to educate them in your common tongue's purer, better form. 


In the film, the good-hearted, nouveau riche Gohs (who, in their kindness, though perhaps not in their campier qualities, remind me of Taiwan a little) speak Hokkien, and are excluded from "society". The posh, old money Youngs should speak Cantonese, but instead speak Mandarin. Peik Lin points out the 'class' differences explicitly, but Western audiences aren't likely to notice the linguistic ones.

This leads to another concern I have: Taiwan is mentioned in Crazy Rich Asians, but it's always a sidebar. China gets a not-quite-appropriate quote at the beginning of the film (a point that Kirsten Han made in HKFP), Singapore gets the "Lives of the Rich and Famous" treatment: Taiwan, on the other hand, is portrayed as just another place where rich Chinese might live and do business with other Chinese - despite it being qualitatively different not just culturally, but economically. Taiwan isn't Singapore or Hong Kong - it's not rich and shiny. It's not a waking dragon like China. It is remarkably unpretentious and down-to-earth. Even its shiniest district - Xinyi - is only a little shiny, and not really at all glitzy.

I like it that way, but it does spell out for me the differences between "countries that cooperate with Chinese cultural imperialism" and "countries that tell China to eat it". And, as a smart friend of mine recently wrote in a paper you will almost certainly never read, a key difference between who can have a close relationship with the PRC and who must be suspicious of them and look for other options is whether or not China respects that country's borders. China and Singapore can be close, because China isn't threatening to invade it. Taiwan must be wary, and so Taiwan is shoved eternally, unfairly to the sidelines.

So, Singapore can sign on to this movie that promotes a certain ideal of "Chineseness" within its borders if it wants to. Singaporeans of Chinese heritage can call themselves Chinese, if they want, and claim common cultural roots with Chinese people in China. The movie clearly portrays those roots inaccurately, but Singapore isn't going to lose its sovereignty over it.

But there is no room for Taiwan as it is in the Chinese world of Crazy Rich Asians: it can try to claim its place as part of the "family", which many in Taiwan would like to do given their ancestral roots in China. But that means being eaten alive by the Communist Party's insistence that being Chinese means you are a part of China, are loyal to China the CCP and follow certain cultural prescriptions decided by China the CCP. Or, it can deny its links to China and Chinese cultural heritage, but always feel a sense of exclusion.

The CCP has, like Eleanor Young, made it so there is no winning hand for Taiwan: it can't turn away from the "Chinese" cultural roots that many would like to claim without being kicked out of the "family", but it can't claim its place at the table without being subsumed by China.


It's also worth noting that the values touted as "Asian" in the film were common in the West just a few generations ago - they're not "Asian", they're..."traditional". Therefore, the values that eventually stand up to "traditional" ones in the film aren't "Western", they're "modern". 

Considering this, even if there were a way for Taiwan to win this game, in the version of "Asia" that Eleanor (though not necessarily the movie as a whole) puts forward where "Asian" is (falsely) conflated with "traditional", there is no room to be both Asian and liberal/progressive. If "Asian values" include self-sacrifice, choosing family and duty over love and a whole pallet of misogyny, where the gay cousin is accepted - but not entirely (the actor who plays Oliver Tsien says of the character, "he knows he’s an outsider in his own family just by being queer") - 
where is the space for an Asian country like Taiwan that has, say, decided to enshrine marriage equality into law, has a strong social movement culture and actually attempts (though not always with success) to enforce gender equality laws in the workplace?

In short, in the version of Asia that Crazy Rich Asians puts forward, where traditional values are accepted unanimously by all, where does a country like Taiwan fit in? It's almost as if certain other, larger, crazier, richer nations don't want that country to exist at all...


So...I liked the movie. It was fun. It was well-made and well-acted. It was more thoughtful than a romantic comedy needs to be. It's a breakthrough moment for portrayals of Asian characters in film.

But I also...didn't. Because the portrayals of what it means to be "Chinese" in it are entirely the brainchild of a crazy, rich nation. And even if it wanted into this 'family' of Chineseness, Taiwan would always be rebellious, gay cousin Oliver. Though far less accepted for who she is.

Western academics and commentators love to point out that overarching cultural narratives are usually promulgated by the most powerful members of a group, and exclude the least powerful. We've become good at spotting this in our own cultural contexts: what it means to be American is projected as a white person's view of Americanness, what it means to be a businessperson is a male view of business culture, the notion of what "romance" means is a straight one, etc.

It's about time they realized that this happens in Asia too, and what it means to be "Chinese" or even "Asian" is a narrative that the Chinese government is actively trying to control - and of course, they are the ones with power. And money. Also, they (the government) are freakin' insane.

*not really over it, but I'm still fundamentally a Freddy Lim girl

Friday, July 6, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 2)

So, I've tried to write before about certain issues I see in who Taiwan's 'friends' are in the US government, and why that's a problem. I didn't do a very good job, and I won't bother to link it. I do still think it's an issue though, so consider this my attempt at refining and re-articulating what I want to express.

Overall, it does seem clear that Taiwan has more bipartisan support in the US than you'd think at first glance. I've written about this before; more recently, you can see evidence of this in the fact that the Taiwan Travel Act was passed unanimously by the Foreign Affairs Committee and both houses. The situation is not as dire as it seems.

But, despite this, we do still seem to get the most vocal support predominantly (though not entirely) from conservatives, some of whom are otherwise just...dire people. The Taiwan Travel Act was Marco Rubio's bill. Ted Cruz likes us...so, uh, okay. Dana Rohrabacher has submitted a resolution for formal US-Taiwan ties, which of course I heartily support.

Note above that I said "conservatives", not "Republicans" (though they are that too) - that's intentional. I'm sure what I'll say below will be dismissed as "tribalist" or "partisan", so I want to make it very clear that this isn't about parties or tribes: it's about values. If a dodgy Democrat (and they do exist - I'm not a huge fan of Andrew Cuomo for example) or an upstanding Republican (I don't have many problems with, say, Susan Collins although we don't agree on everything) were to show support for Taiwan, I'd judge them on their values and history of elected service, not their party.

I also understand the importance of taking help where we can get it: I may not like it, but in Taiwan's position I can't get behind abandoning the few people who have actually spoken up for us, while those I'd like to see in our court have, frankly, failed to live up to the universal values they claim to support.

With that in mind, I don't think I have to list the many ways in which people like Rubio, Cruz and Rohrabacher are, in almost every other respect, horrible. (I say "almost" very intentionally. Cruz occasionally stands up for what he thinks is right, Rubio is a big supporter of Hong Kong's political freedom, and Rohrabacher is pro-weed, which has all sorts of race implications that people don't always think about: people of color are far more likely to be incarcerated over a marijuana-related drug violation than white people, with the discrepancy not explained by rates of use).

From being anti-choice (and comfortable, therefore, with condemning more women to death as anti-choice policies only lead to fewer safe abortions) to climate change skeptics, to not supporting marriage equality, our allies on Taiwan are not good people. Period. The sort of world they want to build is one in which a huge swath of Taiwan ends up underwater, and on other issues such as marriage equality, a woman's right to bodily autonomy and health care access (and more - this is just a shortlist), I worry that the sort of Taiwan they would like to see would not be the one that other independence advocates like myself (and many others, including most young Taiwanese) hope to build.

That shouldn't matter - after all, they don't have any say over Taiwan's internal governance, but it still makes it difficult to support Taiwan for a few reasons. I find it unfair, then, to dismiss these concerns as mere partisanism or tribalism.

The biggest one is that liberal pro-Taiwan American citizens don't have many choices in terms of voting for pro-Taiwan candidates (this is why I haven't mentioned people like John Bolton, and am sticking to people one might actually see on a ballot). It's not a huge problem for me as a New Yorker (Chuck Schumer signed the letter summarized in the first link in this post; Kirsten Gillibrand studied in China and Taiwan so while I worry that she might be too forgiving of China, at least she doesn't lack basic knowledge of the issue, and nobody who runs for Congress in my district seems to have anything to do with Taiwan regardless of party), but it is a problem for many others. What do you do if you're a pro-Taiwan liberal, for example, and your choices are pro-Taiwan Ted Cruz or a not-so-pro-Taiwan challenger who is better than Cruz in every other way? Or your choice is between pro-Taiwan Dana Rohrabacher and his not-as-pro-Taiwan challenger, who again is better than Rohrabacher on every other platform?

Another problem is that it is starting to feel as though any critique of this issue among pro-Taiwan advocates initiates an immediate, reflexive and frankly unfair pushback of "that's PARTISAN!", which - while I know this isn't the case for many (most!) people on our side, kind of lends the whole endeavor of fighting for Taiwan a veneer of being far too closely tied with the conservative agenda in the US.

I know, for example, that FAPA is not "overly" focused on Republican lawmakers; they'll talk to whoever is in power. I have no issue with them. However, they are widely seen* as being in bed with the American Right, and have done little to dispel that notion. I would imagine that Taiwan independence advocates do - and are willing, even happy - to talk to the left, but the public perception seems to be that they don't make an effort (rather than that the left has failed Taiwan), and that is a problem. Of optics, but a problem nonetheless. That concerns me.

And, of course, the issue I so inarticulately brought up in the past: that it's easier to compartmentalize when talking to odious people in government as a man. The people you are discussing Taiwan with aren't trying to take away your ability to access important health care (forget even the abortion issue: they want to shut down Planned Parenthood which does a lot more than perform abortions. For some women it's the only way they have access to regular pap smears, STD tests and birth control.) They aren't trying to oppress you. You have the privilege of compartmentalization. I don't. I can't talk to them, and therefore I cannot be more deeply involved in the Taiwan independence movement in that way.

In fact, it is a privilege to be able to do so. It is a privilege to have the ability to treat every cog in the American power machine as a neutral actor who might help your cause, because your bodily autonomy is not on the line. For me, it's like knowing there are some men in power who would very much like to be Commanders and turn women like me into Handmaids, and being told to be nice to them, to approach them (or their office - same difference), to engage with them, maybe to even hope they are re-elected, because they might help you on another issue. To be told that if you support Taiwan, you can vote for people like them who will fight for recognition of Taiwan in the US government (something I have been told) - oh, but they want to turn you into a Handmaid.

And the answer there is a strong non-negotiable no to all of that. In fact, it is a privilege to be able to say yes, or even maybe.

This worries me, because it is not a great leap from "but that's PARTISAN!" to "if you can't be involved, that's your fault", when, frankly, it isn't. There is not a moral equivalency between their wish to oppress me and my insistence that I will not hold my tongue against people who both wield power and wish to oppress women. It's the fault of the men who hold these views.

Nobody has said this as of yet, and I know most wouldn't, but to be honest, some days I feel like it's inevitable that someone will. I suspect that if it comes down to just a few votes between turning American women into Handmaids (or not), and the deciding votes are held by conservative pro-Taiwan candidates, that some (many?) who lobby for Taiwan will stay silent for the sake of Taiwan, because Taiwan allies winning seats is more important to them than women's rights.

And as a woman, I just can't support that. I love Taiwan, but I also have a vagina, and I cannot work with the same people who want to oppress me. I can't stay silent, and I do hope many friends of Taiwan lose their seats.

In other words, it's not "tribalist" or "partisan" when my actual bodily autonomy is at stake. It's about my bodily fucking autonomy, not a tribe or party.

This leads me to a final issue: with this tug-of-war between liberal values (which often leave women in the cold regardless) and fighting for Taiwan, and calls of "partisan!" and "tribal!" on one side and calls of "you're all sellout imperialists!" (or whatever) on the other, it is very hard to support Taiwan when everybody else who supports Taiwan seems to hate each other, the whole thing is a fishbowl, and when you bring up concerns about our 'friends' who are manifestly anti-woman as a woman, it's your turn to be the center of that fishbowl and everyone hating each other and whatever.

(For the record, I don't hate anybody, and those in Taiwan whom I dislike are not Taiwan advocates although some are pro-independence.)

I'm not suggesting we change anything per se - I don't see how we could reasonably and realistically keep up this fight if we ditch our allies, odious as they are (I've heard a few proposals and am sympathetic to some, but none that are actually workable). But, I am concerned that the privilege of treating everyone as a neutral potential ally is not fully understood, and that attempts to point this out are met with reflexive and unfair critiques of "partisanship" rather than a true attempt to understand that one only has the privilege of advocating in this way if one does not stand to lose as much from some of these people staying in power (and if you are a woman who stands to lose, that it can be extremely stressful to join the fight anyway, or to decide not to do so because you simply can't abide your would-be oppressors.)

OOH! OOH! BONUS PROBLEMS
That Taiwan advocates don't seem to make much of an attempt to reach out to the general electorate at all is another problem - publishing only in outlets that people who are already knowledgeable about Taiwan read (like the Taipei Times), or niche publications that the average Western liberal wouldn't read regularly. I know it's difficult to get published more widely - I'll admit that I've tried and failed - but we have to. We're not reaching the voters. One can find non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet among the electorate of any Western democracy, but it is rare indeed to meet a pro-Taiwan person who has no personal connection to Taiwan.

We need to change that, and we aren't trying.

Finally, I worry. What happens if a "friend of Taiwan" then slips into his speeches some sort of appeal to ensure marriage equality never becomes a reality, or supports people like Katy Faust returning and meddling in our business? What happens if links between some pro-Taiwan conservatives and the  American Christian right groups that are trying to influence the future of marriage equality in Taiwan are found to exist? (Sounds crazy, but they are on the same side in the anti-equality fight.)

This whole constellation of issues which are interrelated (although their relationships might not seem initially clear) are why, yet again, it is really, really, very hard to support Taiwan.


*I'm using past tense here because it's important to me to protect the identities of the people I know who have said exactly this. I won't name them and as this is a blog, not a journalistic endeavor, I don't have to. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Rectification of Colonial Names

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This is talked about in Chinese, but not so much in English. 

Everyone agrees that the Japanese era was a colonial one and nobody disputes that the Dutch era was colonial, as well. This is true in all languages: English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, any given indigenous language.

It's not new in political discussions in Chinese and Taiwanese to label the Qing era and the ROC era as "colonial", as well. It happens occasionally in English too: see here and here. Yet I've noticed that in English, such references still seem quite rare. The more nonfiction I read about Taiwan in English the more I notice this: the Dutch and the Japanese are "colonial", but the Qing and the ROC are rarely referred to as such. The way we talk about them lends these regimes legitimacy, a sense of being less "foreign", or a sense that if the colonizers come from China, they are somehow not just as colonial as any other invading force. They are simply "the Qing" or "the Qing era" or "the ROC on Taiwan" - as though they belong here, or it is their destiny, or Taiwan is somehow conceptually a part of China and that somehow makes it acceptable.

Calling the two Chinese regimes in Taiwan "colonial", however, is an idea I agree with. The Qing and the ROC came and extracted what they wanted from Taiwan rather than attempting to rule it as an integral part of their territory. The Qing used it as a place from which to take resources rather than a place to develop by pouring resources in - that is, exactly what a colonial power does. At their best, they treated it as a mere defensive perimeter, a "ball of mud beyond the pale of civilization" (海外泥丸,不足為中國加廣) that they controlled simply to keep other invaders who might cause trouble for China out, not a part of China itself (only in the last decade or so of their rule over Taiwan was Taiwan upgraded to individual province).

The Qing had to be convinced it was worth taking, and the whole notion that China could rule lands beyond its natural borders (mountains, desert and sea) is actually quite modern. They didn't even bother taking over the whole island or to map the eastern half until some other colonial power (Japan) showed a stronger interest in it. Or, in other words, they treated it like a colony.

So why don't we call it that? Why not the Qing Colonial Era in English? Hell, why isn't it more common in Chinese?

This treatment of Taiwan hurts us even today. When it comes to the ROC, the main argument against the idea that they too are a colonial power is a historical one: Taiwan used to be a part of China under the Qing, and therefore it can't be considered 'colonial' in the same way as the two were 'historically' united.

Otherwise, the only difference between Japan or the Dutch and the ROC is that the ROC comes from the same country as the ancestors of many Taiwanese. Even if this were definitively true (with many Taiwanese children born to a foreign parent these days - looking for a clear source on that - and Taiwan's genetic makeup being more similar to Southeast Asia than China, I doubt it is), it doesn't matter. If your only argument for being a legitimate government is "we're the same ethnicity" (whatever that means - ethnicity is a cultural construct, not a scientific grouping based on genetics), you simply do not have an argument. Ethnicity doesn't determine political destiny. We figured that out in the 20th century and it's time to apply a more modern understanding of what it means to be a nation to Taiwan.

I mean, what do we call a foreign government that takes over a piece of land and declares itself the sole legitimate government of that land without the consent of the local population? We call it colonialism.

That same power extracted resources from the land it rules - as the ROC did by gobbling up resources, putting its own in charge of large state monopolies under a command economy, expropriating land (much of which was taken for their own benefit), and using revenue from Taiwan - at one point over 90% of it - to fund the building of a military that could accomplish its real goal: "retaking the Mainland". At no point was it concerned with ruling Taiwan for its own sake. You can see that legacy in the haphazard and "who cares this is just a backwater" infrastructure development - if you could call the crumbling craphouses they built even that - that still plagues Taiwanese skylines. As Taiwan took a generation to recover from the economic double-blow of World War II and the KMT invasion, the KMT itself grew rich. As they hunted down and murdered a generation of local Taiwanese leaders and intellectuals, they themselves grew in stature and power.

What do we call such a system? Colonialism.

This is doubly true when the people are at no point allowed to vote or exercise self-determination as to whether they'd like to keep that government (even if elections are held within its framework - that's not the same as voting on the fate of the system as a whole). That it came from China makes no difference. It's still colonialism.

So why aren't we, English-speaking supporters of Taiwan, calling the ROC era, the era in which we live, the "ROC Colonial Era"? Why are we not calling it what it is?

These two ideas are intertwined: if we call the Qing era by what it really was we strike a blow against the 'historical' argument for the ROC not being 'colonial' as well. If the only other time China held Taiwan was also colonial, there is no basis for a non-colonial Chinese government in Taiwan.

In short, why aren't we more commonly telling the truth about Taiwan: that since the 1600s it has, with almost total continuity, been a colonial territory of three countries: the Netherlands, Japan and China (twice)?

I know I've got a tough hill to climb on this one: I'm still riding people's butts about not calling China "Mainland China" or the "Mainland", even among people who are pro-Taiwan. We are ceding semantic ground we really ought not to be ceding to the CCP and to annexationism in general (related: can we please stop calling it 'reunification' or even 'unification'? It's annexation. Make your names for things reflect reality). The fewer linguistic footholds we give for justification of annexation by China, the better.

But if we can't even kick that ridiculous 'Mainland' habit, I wonder how long it will be before we start using English to make reality plain.

China's designs on Taiwan are just as colonial as anyone else's. The only non-colonial government of Taiwan can come from Taiwanese self-determination, and we live in a colonial state now.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"It's all in your head, Taiwan"

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This says: 國民黨永遠與你在一起 or "The KMT will be with you forever" (or perhaps "The KMT - forever together with you.")


What do you mean, you don't think we're right for each other? Haven't I always treated you well? What do you mean I haven't? Ugh, Taiwan, you know I care about you but I just can't deal with your craziness sometimes, you know? 

Ask anyone - ask my ex, China - yes, I know she's your cousin, but she's also my ex - even she'll tell you you're being crazy. She always says "KMT, you're right - I don't know why you stay with that crazy bitch."

What? Yes, we still talk. What's wrong with that? Are you jealous that I have friends now, too? What? You think she wants to get back together with me? Again - more craziness. Jealous and crazy. It's a wonder I even put up with you.


All the things I've had to do to make sure this relationship works, and not only are you not even grateful, you still get mad at me as though I'm the problem.

Remember the time when you went totally psycho for no reason and I had to break up this huge fight you started and even bring in soldiers to calm you down until you could be reasonable? Yeah, it took awhile but you finally realized how awful you were being. And then you demanded "more freedom" - god, you were really a bitch about that, you know? I even gave it to you, but somehow that wasn't enough.  I gave you everything and you just wanted more, more, more. No more Martial Law. Free democracy. Human rights. It was never enough. You're so high-maintenance, and you don't even know it.

I mean, ugh, I only went through your mail and took reading material out of the house that I didn't want you reading for your own good and safety, because you were being so illogical and hysterical and it wasn't good for you to be reading that stuff. 


I'm the one who got you back on your feet after World War II. You wouldn't be anywhere without me. You seem to think you did that - that your citizens built an economy from small and medium size businesses which was actually hindered by my Leninist attempts at creating a command economy that served to line my own pockets. Do you know how crazy that sounds?  It's so clear that it's just more of your histrionic fantasies - what, you think you could have gotten to where we are on your own? You? You had nothing, and I saved you.

I mean, it's not just me. Everyone thinks you're the problem. They know you've got issues - you know China thinks so. 

But it's not just China. The rest of the world, too. Why do you think they barely talk to you? Most of them pretend they don't even know you. Even the ones you work with. Don't pretend you haven't noticed. Do you think they're doing that because of me? No, it's because of you.

Leave China out of this. If you want everyone to start talking to you again, you know you have to stop being such a bitch to China. You insist she started this stupid argument, but she's been nothing but patient with you, too. You're the one causing all these tensions and everyone knows it.


What do you mean I beat you? You really are insane, you know that? I was defending myself - you were attacking me. And then you go around saying "The KMT treats me so bad", trying to ruin my reputation, but I'm the innocent one here. I mean, I know a few months ago you tried to steal money from me. I have to hide everything from you. You're unhinged. You think I took it from you? More crazy talk. I earned that money. You're still trying to get your claws on my pension but it's not going to work.

Let me tell you something, Taiwan. Nobody will love you like I do. Nobody will be patient with your insane fits like I will. You were meant to be with me. We'll be together forever.

Now calm down, Taiwan. You're being hysterical again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Eldritch Memes: the (clear-cut) case for US support of Taiwan

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Memes inside memes inside memes inside memes. A fractal of zombie memes. 

Some issues are difficult and complicated, and have no clear "good" answers. Others are clear-cut. Syria may be complex and difficult, but Taiwan? On that, the path forward is clear.


In recent weeks, talk of further intervention in Syria, punctuated by the recent airstrikes, has inspired countless memes - because you know that's totally an intellectually engaged way of communicating - which now march, seemingly of their own volition, across my Facebook feed. Of course these memes are not really self-propelled: they are shambling digital corpses animated by the clicks and likes of real people. They put on a show of being whole thoughts, but are not.

Because I'm a liberal who hangs around liberals, most of these half-formed wights express disagreement with any sort of intervention in Syria.

Of course, what worries me about these sans-serif haunted-meat memes about Syria isn't so much the question of intervening in Syria. My opinion that is something of a Newtonian liquid: hardening at times but subject to fluidity. I don't know enough about Syria to have a firmer opinion on it. Naw, what scares me is how easily I could see the same memes - possibly with the same pictures and text but "Syria" scratched out and "China" inserted - deployed in the event of US assistance to Taiwan, should it come under Chinese attack. What scares me more is that many of them will originate with the 50-cent troll army, but be animated and marched across Facebook by people like my friends. Good people spreading zombie memes opposing US assistance to Taiwan.

Of course, I won't see these eldritch memes for long, because I'll be dead.

More broadly, they express disagreement with the idea that the US should intervene in any international crisis, ever (though to their credit I can generally assume the people sharing these buzzing demi-thoughts do support strong refugee acceptance and settlement programs). They are isolationists - that's not a criticism, I'm just calling that perspective what it is - usually driven by two key worldviews:

1.) That the US cannot be trusted to do any good, and cannot be supported in any attempt to intervene in any international conflict, given our history of being unable to use our military might for good (at least since World War II), instead using it mostly to advance corporate/money-driven or power-driven interests. The US will never intervene for any other reason than to spread its selfish, people-killing empire.

2.) Intervening in any international conflict would create another quagmire the US cannot afford and will not be able to escape from, and will destroy the country in question in the same way that Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam were left in shambles, to name a few examples.

I won't deal with the first here - I agree with the sentiment to a great degree, yet not when it comes to Taiwan, and that deserves its own write-up. I'll tackle it later. Today, I'm focused on the second.

Even just a cursory brainstorming makes it clear to me that the "it will be a quagmire! We'll never get out! It will destroy the country!" line of thinking is simply incorrect when it comes to Taiwan. It is often true in other circumstances, and my support for Taiwan does not extend to support for what we did in Iraq.

Here are a few reasons why:

There’s a clear good guy and bad guy.  China is the obvious aggressor, a dictatorship claiming a self-ruled, sovereign liberal democracy as its own on specious "historical" grounds and a frankly racist call to ethnicity (they might say "cultural and historical roots" but they really mean that they think Taiwan and China should be the same country because they are ethnically the same). In many other conflicts, there are no clear 'good guys' - look at Syria. There are good people around the world and in Syria who genuinely want something better for their country, but the only players in the war whom we might back, who might be installed as a government, are frankly awful. In Taiwan that's not the case. Our side is very clearly in the right. China wants to not just take Taiwan but delete its freedoms. This isn't "Assad or the rebels, who are also terrible?" This is more like "Europe vs. the Nazis". (The CCP aren't exactly Nazis but the comparison is warranted given their rampant human rights abuses, fascist Big Brother system and straight-up massacres, the comparison is warranted. And who doesn't love punching Nazis?)

What I'm saying is, this is a clear-cut case of dictatorship vs. democracy, self-ruled successful nation vs. expansionist aggressor.

In other conflicts, there was no clear government or path forward after US intervention. Taiwan is a developed democracy (unlike other countries which were turned into a quagmire upon deposing a dictator or junta) with an imperfect but basically successful government. There are clear institutions which, while imperfect, are not horrible and can rebuild. There is no need to replace it - there is no leadership crater left behind. It would be more like Europe rebuilding after WWII than the morass of Iraq.

Unlike in other conflicts, Taiwan actually wants the support. In fact, it's not fair to call it "intervention" - it would be assistance. They can already provide a good amount of military support themselves. Not only does the Taiwanese government want the assurance of assistance, the general consensus in Taiwan is that the people do, too. This isn't Iraq where nobody asked us for help but we barged in anyway, with no real plan. If you are asked for help, you aren't barging in. You aren't intervening. You are supporting and assisting. That's what it means to be an ally.

Taiwan is an important ally, and this isn't about oil. We're one of the US's top trading partners (not as big as China but still essential). We are a bastion of liberal democracy in Asia. We are one of the freest, if not the freest, country in Asia. We are geostrategically important. We are a key global supply chain player, and a lot of global technology runs through us (ever heard of TSMC? Foxconn?). We are ranked the 22nd biggest economy in the world by GDP by the IMF (other organizations don't keep data on Taiwan because China is a jerk about it.) We are developed. We are successful. We have a population similar to Australia's. We do matter. The US economy will take a hit if we go down, not least because we make the chips that run your smartphones. You don't think you'll feel it, but you will, far more than the results of any other conflict.

The US is doing one thing right already. They aren’t just showing up with bombs in Taiwan, nor should they. They are wisely stepping back (well...there’s an interesting discussion to be had here) while peace is maintained. There would only be a question of stepping in if China invaded. Not before. We aren't starting this war, we're stepping in to help an ally if and only if an aggressor attacks. Again, this is the right way to go about being a world leader. 


It's actually the right thing to do. Yes, this makes me worried that the US won't do it. We never seem to do the right thing, at least not in my lifetime and not really in my parents' lifetimes either. But for once, we're on the right side! That's amazing and we shouldn't mess it up just because we've done wrong things before. If you get in a bar fight, feel bad about that and swear off fighting - dude, you still step in if you see someone about to get raped, even if it means a fight. "But I swore off fighting" doesn't put you in the right.

Destruction will happen whether we support Taiwan or not (so will casualties). That destruction will come from China, but it will still be destruction. Staying out of the conflict will not stop Taiwan from being destroyed (and if they want to use nuclear weapons - though I doubt they will - they'll do that regardless of whether the US gets involved). Yes, people will die, but people will die in the event of a CCP invasion, and will die under CCP dictatorship. Do you really think Taiwanese people will sit down, shut up and be force-fed a total lack of political freedom and human rights? 400,000 of us went downtown because we didn't like the way the government passed a trade pact. Take away our actual rights? And expect us to accept this? LOL, no. But if you fight the CCP you die or rot in jail.

Destruction is not the worst possible outcome. Destruction can be rebuilt from. CCP oppression is forever. Think of it more like “do we help Europe kick the Nazis out?” - the non-negotiable is kicking out Nazis, not peace and not preserving infrastructure. Destruction is an acceptable sacrifice. Ask most Taiwanese, and they'd rather have to rebuild roads and bridges than be ruled by the CCP.

Taiwan is better-equipped to rebuild. We are a developed, successful nation. We will need aid for a time, but it will be far more limited. We are not a black hole. We have resources and means. This isn't Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else that has turned into a horror story. Look at what Taiwan did, in the midst of Martial Law, coming off a massive decline from relative pre-war prosperity. We went from "economic basket case" to "Asian Tiger", and under a horrible dictator at that. It won't be fun, but we have the wherewithal to rebuild.

Taiwan wants peace. We give up a lot, not least our dignity, for peace already. The US assisting in the event of a Chinese invasion is an extreme worst-case scenario which Taiwan also doesn’t want. We're the ones who stand to suffer and sacrifice the most, and obviously we want to minimize the pain. It’s not a country of various groups hell-bent on destruction - we have strong democratic norms in place already. Given that the people and government do want peace and can rebuild, intervention could be limited and short. Nobody here wants war, and so we want that war to end. It won't be an eternal horror show of rebels and gangs driving around shooting things up.

The main goal (and the US is actually right this time) is not war but deterrence. What I - and Taiwan - really want is to avoid this whole scenario by convincing China that Taiwan isn’t worth a fight. But we only get that if we can actually make it look like a fight. We only get THAT by allies that pose a real threat voicing a commitment to assisting Taiwan. It’s a fine line but we’ve done it so far. China cannot be negotiated with on this. This is all the CCP understands when it comes to Taiwan.

This is a real situation, not an abstraction. I am not joking when I say I personally could die. It demands real solutions. Nobody here actually wants this to happen but we need to consider what is available to us, not what we’d like. I doubt many Taiwanese actually want to rely on the US for assistance, and many - including many pro-independence and Third Force thought leaders - are just as disgusted by the horrors and excesses of US global hegemony as I am, and my Western liberal friends are. But if China invades and no better option exists, we must take the best one available to us, imperfect as it is. At that point there is no time for ideology or soapboxing: the non-negotiable isn't "but the US is horrible", it's "we are going to die and if the CCP wins it's literally game over." There is no "but we'll protest!" - no, you'll die. There is no "we'll keep fighting" - you will, because that's what Taiwanese do when they want something better - but you will lose and also die. "We'll refuse to be ruled by them!" Yup - I guess the CCP can't rule you if you are dead. "We'll occupy" - and die. If you don't believe me, ask people from Tiananmen - - oh wait, you can't, because they are dead.

(OK they're not all dead, but enough of them are to make my point.)

This is real life, and in real life there is a time for ideology, and a time to look at your real choices and decide what your non-negotiables are. If your non-negotiable is that the CCP can't win - and it really should be - you have to take options you don't like. If your non-negotiable is not accepting aid from an evil hegemon, then congratulations, you're about to be ruled (or just killed) by an even more evil hegemon.

It doesn't have to take away from benefits to US citizens. Really! Our military spending, just from a quick Google, is upwards of $600 billion. China's is estimated to be maybe half that, upwards of $200 billion (not that we actually know anything about China, so this is an educated guess). I am not a military or defense analyst, so I won't belabor this point, but there are a lot of numbers between $200 and $600 billion where we'd still have the best-funded military in the world and still be capable of a stronger military than China. We could cut our budget in half and still have better funding. (If any actual analysts think I'm wrong, please weigh in).