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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How To Choose A Side

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This is about us against them. 



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



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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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



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

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



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



And that is the difference between us and them. 

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



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



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



These events hold some important lessons for Taiwan, too. 



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

We need to prepare and organize now. 

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



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



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



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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

China will never 'win over' Taiwan: an anatomical discussion of dopey ledes

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Another day, another opinion piece about whether the Chinese government's reaction to the Hong Kong protests will hurt their image in Taiwan, and therefore their chances of convincing Taiwanese that closer ties or even eventual unification. This one comes from Bloomberg, a perpetual font of bad writing about Taiwan. It's become so commonplace, though - the well-founded criticism of China, backed up with some nonsense about how the Chinese government could alienate Taiwan and sour any hopes that Taiwan might willingly "return to the fold" - itself an inaccurate description of the situation.

Or, as Richard McGregor puts it in Bloomberg: 



Without a change in its approach, the Communist Party risks making the already difficult task of winning over the self-governing island next to impossible without force.... 
Amid the Hong Kong protests, the last thing the Communist Party should want is a rebuff from voters in Taiwan. Yet Beijing has shown little interest in modifying its stance. The inevitable result is that Taiwan has become even more alienated from China.... 
A decisive victory for Tsai in January’s election might chasten Beijing and cause it to return to a more consensual strategy. But the example of Hong Kong doesn’t so far give much hope that Xi will change course. If China continues to double down, the eventual denouement for Taiwan may be far more dangerous. 

What these sorts of articles universally overlook (or intentionally ignore) is that the CCP's stance and behavior only play a small-to-moderate role in Taiwan's desire for independence and lack of enthusiasm for unification. In fact, it wouldn't matter much if the CCP adopted a more conciliatory stance on Taiwan: there is no "consensual" strategy available to China because it's quite clear that Taiwan wants independence regardless.

That's not just my opinion - it's reflected in the data as well.

Poll after poll shows that deepening Taiwanese identity, which tends to go hand-in-hand with belief that Taiwan simply is independent and should remain that way. Most strikingly, these beliefs have not only blossomed since democratization in 1996, but only grew during the Ma Ying-jeou era, when the CCP was at its most conciliatory.

According to data published here, in 2008 (when China-friendly Ma took office) 64% of poll respondents said that Taiwan, even as the 'Republic of China', was an independent country, though only 22% of people thought China would use economic tools to force political concessions. According to this more detailed account, the number of people who identified as solely Taiwanese and those who identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese were both in the mid 40% range, with solely "Chinese" identification being quite low, at 3% - about the same percentage as non-respondents. This source says the same thing.

Then what happened? It was an era that some people still label as having "warming" or "closer" relations between Taiwan and China. You'd think that it would result in Taiwanese feeling closer to China as well, right?

Wrong.

Look at that data again. Taiwanese identity only increased from 2008 to 2016 - especially after the 2014 Sunflower Movement. The sense that Taiwan/the ROC was independent increased as well. Fear of China's 'conciliatory' economic gestures being guises for political force spiked, because...duh, they were.

It didn't matter how friendly China was to Taiwan. It didn't matter that Chairman Xi and President Ma got cozy in Singapore. Taiwan wasn't having it. If anything, CCP efforts to be 'nice' only exposed the truth: that none of it was sincere, and none of it came for free. All of it created greater economic dependency that would make eventual extrication under 'colder' ties more difficult, and it didn't even benefit Taiwan that much. Economic growth under Ma was not more impressive - and in some ways it was less so - than during other less 'China-friendly' administrations.

Taiwanese identity blossomed not just in response to this realization about China, but also as a part of a natural upward trajectory. That makes sense. Before democratization, it was difficult to freely form, let alone express, a true sense of identity in Taiwan. Taiwanese history was taught as a part of Chinese history in schools and you could face repercussions for expressing a different view. It's only reasonable that once those restrictions were lifted, Taiwanese people would look back at their own history - which was by and large not as a part of China, even if their ancestors came from there - and form a stronger sense of identity, which would increase over time.

It doesn't make sense that a friendlier stance from China would stem this tide, and indeed it did not.

While some of these 'Taiwan identity' numbers dropped again after Tsai assumed office in 2016, note that none of them dropped very much and all of them are on the rise again. Dipping from around 65% in 2016 back to the mid-50th percentile, and "Taiwanese and Chinese" identity experienced a slight bump from about 32% to about 38%. At the time, people worried that the Sunflower effect might be ephemeral and numbers might dip even further, but that didn't happen. Instead, sometime around 2018-2019 numbers began to rise again. The gap between "Chinese and Taiwanese" and "Taiwanese only" identity that began in 2008 - again, during China's "friendly" years! - only widened over the next eight years never came close to closing.

The reason for the change probably has something to do with Hong Kong and China's response - it would be silly to say it's not a factor. But if these poll results were released in the summer of 2019, the actual poll was probably conducted a fair bit earlier, that is, before the protests really got underway, if not entirely so. That was also around the time that Han Kuo-yu started to gain popularity among some segments of the population, and strongly turned off others - reminding them, perhaps, that games with China cannot be won and are best not played at all.

Considering this, I'd put that 2016-2018 blip down to Taiwan's natural tendency to grow critical of its leaders. Tsai was elected, the Sunflower high wore off, and now that "our person" was in office, and it was time to start nitpicking on her inevitable flaws.

It's also worth noting that during this time, "Chinese only" identity - the one most closely tied to openness to unification - did not experience a bump. In addition, if you read that Washington Post article again, you'll see that Taiwanese youth have a huge role to play. The current generation of young adults overwhelmingly considers itself Taiwanese, and those numbers don't seem to have budged much at all. Anecdotally speaking (because I have no data!), that generation was also the most strongly critical of President Tsai during the labor law and marriage equality wars. But it was also quicker to re-embrace her when the terrifying spectre of President Han began to loom, Hong Kong started getting dicey, and marriage equality finally passed.

And if you grow up simply thinking you are Taiwanese and your country is Taiwan, and there's no reason to question that because why would there be?, the chances that China could ever "win you over" are remote indeed.

So why do people still think China has a chance?

Because they're looking at only recent data, not going back to the 1990s, or even 2008. They've also been convinced by an international media that posits every issue facing Taiwan as being related to China in some way because China gets more clicks (even when they clearly not), when in many cases the reasons behind why Taiwan feels the way it does are mostly, if not entirely, domestic.

When you look at it that way and ignore the history of Taiwanese identity, things like this sound more plausible:

Over the past year, Beijing has single-handedly revived the electoral prospects of its political adversary, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. At the turn of the year, Tsai’s approval rating was a miserable 24%. Now polls show her with more than 53% support versus about 31% for Han, whose Kuomintang is the natural ally of Beijing. That Nationalist party retains deep ties to the mainland as the former government of China until it lost a civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

When, in fact, almost everything about it - and other opinion pieces that use this data point as evidence - is wrong.

It's true that Beijing has helped Tsai to a degree, but "single-handedly" reviving her electoral prospects? I think not. Domestic issues have played just as much of, if not a greater role.

"...the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party"? True, but misleading. It makes it sound as though being pro-independence is a platform of the party and not a common, majority belief in society. That's not the case. The will of Taiwan leans toward independence, and the DPP happens to better match it than the KMT, which often has to hide its closeness to China behind obfuscatory language. Even if Han wins in 2020 and the CCP puts its "the abuser is being charming to win you back" on again, don't expect the general pro-independence sentiment to change much.

Plus, "a miserable 24%"? Rick, do you even follow Taiwanese electoral politics? 24% is pretty normal for Taiwan, and every president who has eventually won re-election (a grand total of two people so far) experienced a huge dip in their first term approval ratings. Taiwanese love to criticize their leaders, so while that wasn't a great number, it also wasn't "miserable" or even out of the ordinary. Besides, that number seems to have come from a KMT poll - unless someone has evidence to the contrary - with another non-KMT-funded poll published around the same time, in May 2019, showing her support at 33.8%. 


Let me finish by simply re-stating the obvious: articles like these are harmful to Western perceptions of Taiwan, and to Western readers' understanding of the Taiwan-China situation in general. I mean that: a good friend emailed me recently positing that China's harshness with Hong Kong might "turn Taiwanese off" to "reunification" after reading the New York Times. (He got a kind talking-to, don't worry.)

People like Richard McGregor and media outlets like Bloomberg, then, actively peddle untruths and misleading notions. The "denouement" for Taiwan was always going to be dangerous, because China might offer some economic enticements or use friendly language, but it's never going to give up on unification/annexation. It's only possible to envision a violence-free denouement if you believe that Taiwan could possibly be persuaded to embrace unification - but that's highly unlikely.


It's clear from decades of research that the Taiwanese sense of identity and national sovereignty has deep, domestically-grown roots - history, cultural evolution, geography, democracy - that anchor it firmly as a place apart. How China approaches Taiwan is just one tiny tendril of a massive banyan that neither China, nor the international media, nor Bloomberg, nor Mr. McGregor here, seem to understand.

In fact, we've seen this play out recently. When China tried to reach out to Taiwan again in hopes of raising the prospects of its flailing puppet candidate Han Kuo-yu with its "26 measures", the reaction was one of near-universal disgust. It's clear to Taiwan that when China 'buys' you, they're not the ones paying the price.

This isn't just about China's treatment of Hong Kong in particular so much as China's vision for all territories it considers to be "Chinese" in general. The only way not to see this is to assume that China's vision is fungible, and that what it offers Taiwan and Hong Kong could ever be anything other than oppression. In events like the Hong Kong revolt, all China is really doing is showing its true face. Taiwanese people aren't dumb; they see that.

So please quit it with the fearmongering that China is "driving away" Taiwan. It's not, really. Taiwan got in the car and drove its own damn self away decades ago, and it's not coming back. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Armenia, Ilhan Omar's vote, Taiwan and China

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Armenian genocide refugees in what I believe is Athens, Greece (probably, though not certainly, Kokkinia) before WWII 

You probably don't think Rep. Ilhan Omar's decision not to vote for the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which has drawn a media firestorm, could have any relationship to the Taiwan and China issues...and yeah, you'd probably be right. But I'm like that crazy dude with a shed where the inside is covered in newspaper clippings and photos with thumbtacks and red string connecting them in seemingly random ways, so hop aboard, this crazy-string train's about to sail.

But two things before we kick off: first, I'm not writing this to attack Omar as a person or public figure. I'm not even specifically concerned about a donation she received from an Erdogan ally, though obviously I'm not a fan. She as a congressional representative is actually somewhat irrelevant to the point I want to make - it's the flawed logic behind her choice that I want to address. And secondly, I actually do think that a vote on an unrelated issue by a young super-progressive Democrat has a lot to tell us about why the fight for Taiwan is so hard.

My first reaction to Omar's vote was inherently tribalist: Armenians are my people (on one side, anyway) and they've been fighting for international recognition of the genocide perpetrated against them in Turkey for over 100 years now against a Turkish propaganda machine hell-bent on silencing them to save Turkish face. I exist because the genocide happened, so hear that someone I have otherwise supported voted against its recognition for purely political reasons felt like a hard slap. You know, like the way I feel when progressives I would otherwise support make vaguely pro-China sounds.

I had felt - and still feel - that previous attacks on Omar have been disingenuous. "She disrespected 9/11 victims" was fabricated and I see criticism of the Israeli government and lobbyists - including AIPAC - and the massive sums they spend to further their agenda, not anti-Semitism. Media reporting of her comments makes it difficult to separate what she actually said and how it might be interpreted from the truthiness machine that certainly has aimed in the past to smear her, and for this reason I'm generally more likely than not to lean sympathetic to her.

This time, however, her own office's press release disappointed me. Although I believe she attempted to take an ethical stance (and failed), I wonder what the logic of such so-called 'ethical' stands would result in, if used to justify certain positions or votes on issues related to Taiwan and the region where I live. In fact, a lot of them are already being employed this way.

How so? Well...



"This is just a political move designed to embarrass Turkey at the worst possible time"

"Erdogan's not great, but if we anger him and embarrass Turkey with this political move, he might not hold back on the Syrian border" types were the first I encountered after the news broke. I want to be very clear: it's the sort of thing I heard online. Omar's press release indicates that she doesn't believe this, though none of her actual votes seem to back that up.

In any case, Turkey deserves to be embarrassed over its blatant historical revisionism. More importantly, it's just not a great idea to avoid acknowledging certain facts because it could hurt a dictator's feelings, or to play the game beloved by authoritarians of "you back down on this and maybe I won't commit genocide (again)". That's a game we just can't win. The game was designed to be lost and the only way to end it once and for all is to refuse to play.

You don't have to imagine the same logic being applied against Taiwan now, because it's already happening. I feel like "if we recognize the obvious truth that Taiwan isn't and doesn't want to be a part of China, that could anger China, so we'd better not" has been a decades-long game of political make-believe.

In any case, just as Turkey deserves to lose face re: their ret-con of history, China deserves to lose face over its treatment of its neighbor, Taiwan. 



"She agrees with the content of the bill, but not how it's being used as 'a political cudgel'"


A lot of defenders of Omar's choice made this case, I suppose choosing to interpret her statement that "I also believe accountability for human rights violations—especially ethnic cleansing and genocide—is paramount" meant that she did personally recognize the fact of the Armenian genocide, but did not like it being used as "a cudgel in a political fight".

This is a generous interpretation and plausible, but that's not what I see. Nowhere in her statement does Omar actively recognize that the Armenian genocide happened - no words of sympathy for the descendants of refugees, despite being a refugee herself. Her statement goes no further than to say "genocides everywhere are bad". It does not say "I understand that this genocide happened".

Later she clarified that she does understand that the Armenian Genocide happened and it should be recognized:

"My issue was not with the substance of this resolution. Of course we should acknowledge the Genocide,” she tweeted in response to MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “My issue was with the timing and context."


This is super personal for me, and it does matter that she avoided doing so in her press release. And, as a descendant of the diaspora, "gee golly I'd like to recognize your history but it's just not the right timing and context" is just not good enough. Sorry - it's not.

"I'm concerned about the timing and context" is also political, especially when you're using those as reasons not to do the right thing, which you say you actually believe in.

How about this - this is my history regardless of whether it's convenient for you, so screw your "timing" and "context". Okay?

The same thing is done to Taiwan, by the way. It exists whether people like it or not. Yet how often is Taiwan told "we know you're doing great, it's just bad timing. We can't help you right now, because Big Scary China is there"?

Since I joined this fight (by "joined" I mean "started a blog and helped a few people out behind the scenes", but hey), it sure feels as though Taiwanese and Taiwan allies are asked, over and over again, to sympathetically interpret the words and actions of politicians abroad as wanting to support Taiwan or understanding Taiwan is a sovereign state, when their actual words/actions perhaps don't merit such generosity - and to accept and satisfied that they "believe" in our cause without expecting any real action. Why should we, though? It's been decades. Come on.

I remember when Obama was known to personally understand the truth of the Armenian genocide, but what exactly did he do to concretely further the cause of its recognition? Nothing. Personal belief doesn't mean much in the political sphere, as I see it. Stand up to dictators, damn it - don't just talk about how you'd like to.

This "political cudgel" line of thinking is also applied to Taiwan in other ways: have you heard sentiments along the lines of "we shouldn't support this pro-Taiwan initiative because Taiwan is just a political tool to the people sponsoring it"? I have - often. "I care about Taiwan but not in this call to normalize relations because it's just being proposed to anger China, so I won't actually do anything to further the cause of Taiwanese independence" is another common one. I mean, these guys are probably correct - it's not as though any US administration actually cares about Taiwan - but "the guys who take action that helps us are just using us so we can't trust them, and the guys who aren't doing a damn thing for us actually believe in our cause but we can't expect any action" is simply not a great strategy.

Besides, using a genocide recognition bill as a political cudgel to make a point about not using the recognition of genocide as a political cudgel...doesn't make a whole lot of sense. And I wonder which grandstanding leftie is going to take that stance when it's a bill to normalize relations with Taiwan on the table. 

I don't want Taiwan being used as a political cudgel but I'll take a bill to normalize relations over "we shouldn't use this as a political cudgel" any day.


"Academic consensus, not geopolitics"

If anything, "...accountability and recognition of genocide....should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics" reads as a questioning the existence of an academic consensus on the Armenian Genocide, and implying the possibility that it's a manufactured geopolitical narrative rather than a real thing that actually happened. Of course, there is an academic consensus, and it is that the genocide occurred

Omar does clearly know that from her comments linked above, but it matters - it really does matter - that her own press release calls it into question.

And how many people have used "this is a geopolitical game, recognizing Taiwan should be based on consensus [implying there's no consensus]" as an excuse not to support Taiwan, resulting in their doing exactly what the CCP wants? More than a few.


"We can't cherry-pick which genocides to recognize for political reasons"

I agree with this. All genocides do in fact matter. We shouldn't choose which ones to recognize and when for political reasons. We should swiftly condemn perpetrators and take action to stop them as well as help victims. For this reason, we should have recognized the Armenian Genocide long ago.

But "we can't recognize this genocide until we recognize all genocides" just doesn't logically work. I'd rather more genocides be recognized, not fewer. I don't want to believe that "politics is the art of the possible" - I understand that while we "patiently" wait for our fellow people to do the right thing and accept half-assed compromises, entire lives are lived and lost in the breach. At the same time, "if we can't have everything right now, we don't want anything" gets us...nothing. Or, as I've written before, the far left wants the world to embrace its "radical" (not so radical) idea of a better world immediately, without compromise with 'the establishment'. I sympathize with that sentiment. But, in the words of a friend, without establishment allies, nothing actually gets done. No, I don't like it either.

Imagine saying that we can't cherry-pick support for Taiwan when we're not also supporting, say, Xinjiang or Hong Kong independence. I agree we need to support all of these, though their political situations are different, but wouldn't support throwing Taiwan under the bus until the entire CCP empire crumbles (which I hope happens, and I hope they're reading this). 


"Democrats are hypocrites"

Yeah, that's true.

I mean, it does smell a bit fishy for Democrats, who have pressured Congress to kill previous resolutions to recognize the genocide under both Clinton -  and Obama (but also George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton's been no paragon of virtue on the subject, so this goes both ways), to suddenly up and vote for it like so:



Most recently, Newsweek reported that the Trump administration considered threatening Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide if the Turkish army invaded northern Syria following the U.S. military withdrawal. After Turkish forces swept into northern Syria, congressional leaders — incensed by Ankara’s belligerence — announced that a vote on the most recent iteration of the Armenian genocide resolution will be considered this week.

I don't support Omar's choice, but can we all just agree that sucks?

But ultimately, as I noted above, Erdogan deserves to be threatened with something, and we're talking about historical facts here. Even those Armenians who understand that this is all a political game and everything's a tool - including the tool that Omar herself used - seemed to want it to pass. After all, recognition even in this way is better than yet another failed bill. From the same op-ed:



The bipartisan sport of killing Armenian genocide bills and weaponizing the suffering of its victims must end. By passing this resolution, the House can help ensure that the Armenian genocide is acknowledged and commemorated, but no longer exploited.

Think about it this way: once the thing is passed, it can't be used this way in the future, and we'll have done the right thing!

Even Omar probably wanted it, or something like it, to pass, as she chose to grandstand when she knew it would (that's why this is not really about her).



In the context of Taiwan, I don't know anyone who welcomes support from the US who doesn't realize that Taiwan is a poker chip for them, and that few in the US government actually care about Taiwan, or Hong Kong, or any of it. But they - we - welcome US support nonetheless because what other choice have we got, really? And what other choice have the Armenian diaspora got after so many failed attempts?

As I see it, the Democrats might be hypocritical from the perspective of a few decades, but it's better that they are doing the right thing now than keeping up their old anti-recognition bullshit to be more consistent.


Principles should make sense


So, it's unclear to me exactly what Omar was trying to take a principled stand on. The use of good bills as political weapons? Okay, but she also used the same bill as a political weapon. That we shouldn't use this otherwise good bill to threaten an evil strongman? That doesn't make sense, and her own press release said Turkey deserved a rebuking and that Syrians and Kurds were in trouble. That we should refuse to discuss anything until we are ready to discuss everything? Not useful. Hypocritical Democrats? Sure, but so what? How does that actually help the Armenians?

The same question can be raised about Taiwan - if you oppose using Taiwan as a political tool, well, I agree. But how would it help Taiwan to oppose US support for Taiwan, realistically? 


Who wins from these games?

Dictators around the world, in that they get to watch liberals, including US Democrats, tear each other apart. 

But also Republicans. Democrats get to talk big about universal liberal values but when the weakling fancy lad centrists among them waffle on actually promoting those ideas abroad (but are fine with exporting the worst parts of American crony capitalism), and the most progressive among them want to call them out for it by not voting for resolutions that actually espouse their values, what use are they really? Though far from perfect, domestically they at least sort of nod in the right direction, usually. Abroad, they look like a bunch of neoliberal pseudo-realpolitik (yet also spineless) jerks and, to be frank...they are.

And then Republicans get to swoop in with their "we support Taiwan! We support Hong Kong! Look at what China is doing!" and seem like they're the big champions of freedom and human rights, and that looks great.

Except domestically, their party is actively trying, once again, to disenfranchise voters they deem undesirable. They are trying to take bodily autonomy away from women to a degree that not even corpses are subjected to. They consistently fought marriage equality until they couldn't anymore and turned their attention to attacking trans people's rights. They are not the standard-bearers of freedom and human rights in the US, period. 



It's really not about Ilhan Omar

My main point here is this: when we apply the "but you can't do the right thing now, it'd make you a hypocrite!", "I won't vote for this thing I agree with until conditions are absolutely perfect and also I get a unicorn!", "I'm going to use this as a political tool to demonstrate how it's wrong of you to use it as a political tool" and "let's not do the right thing if we're (only) doing it to anger dictators" logic that Omar used in her absolutely stupid decision, it starts to look really scary for Taiwan.

It makes it harder for previously weak-spined liberals to finally do the right thing. It makes it impossible to get anything done. Everything is a political tool whether we like it or not, including Taiwan, and no, we don't get better choices just because we really, really want them. I don't want people like Omar using Taiwan as a cudgel any more than I want anyone else doing it. We should do the right thing to anger dictators, always.

If we want the Armenian genocide recognized, regardless of the extenuating circumstances, we should recognize the Armenian genocide, not...not do that because we don't like the timing. If we want Taiwan to be truly free and independent with the support of the democratic world, we should support a truly free and democratic Taiwan, not do what Democrats seem to love, talking like, aw jeez, y'know, I hear ya, but it's just not a good time, I mean...trade...you know.  iPhones and such. So we'd like to but, oh golly, we can't. So sorry and being absolutely no use whatsoever.

And then when we finally get a real shot, a few defectors weaken us all with "oh but we can't, that's just politicking and we're above that".

No - if you want a thing recognized, whether it's Taiwan or the Armenian Genocide or whatever, recognize it

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Taipei Pride 2019: Huge and Political

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This year's Taipei Pride, held earlier today - and the parties are surely still going on - merits so many "that's what she said" descriptors, I don't even know where to begin. It was massive. Huge. So very long. It just kept coming. By the end, my legs were practically falling off.

Basically, it was exactly what you'd expect for the first Pride after legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the first Asian country to do so.


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I have no idea exactly how big the parade was other than that it was the biggest Taiwan, and therefore Asia, has ever seen (Taipei Pride is the biggest LGBT event in the continent). I found it hard to estimate in part because the usual starting point and route of the parade changed from the Jingfu Gate circle and general 228 Park area to City Hall square - that big esplanade where Ren'ai Road ends - for reasons I'm not sure of. The News Lens puts the total conservatively, I think, at 170,000. New Bloom is perhaps a tad overgenerous with 350,000. All I can say is that I stopped walking and took up a permanent spot thinking the whole parade would pass me in about 20 minutes. Two hours later, it was still going. 



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It was big enough to make the front page of the BBC (to be honest, though, Taipei Pride usually does. And, of course, BBC had to add the stupid language about China and Taiwan, as though China is at all relevant to Taipei Pride (it isn't.) I won't even bother to quote it here.




All the usual corporate sponsors were there - something I don't love, but in an Asian context, also don't hate. Not because it signals that they don't (or don't intend to) discriminate against LGBT workers, job applicants and clients - that should be a given - but because the older generation which is less open to LGBT equality and rights won't necessary listen to their kids and grandkids: the young, liberal participants. But hoo boy, if they learn that the Taiwan branch of some fancy company (and therefore that company's CEO or branch office's General Manager, who is likely to be older and more like them) supports those things, they may be more likely to reconsider.

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LGBT-friendly churches were in attendance as well, a reminder that  while most Christian organizations in Taiwan are anti-gay, we can't judge anyone before we get to know them.


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What really struck me, though, was how much more political this year's Pride was. I mean, Taipei Pride has always had that legacy, acting as it does to offer a beacon of hope to the region that, as President Tsai put it, "progressive ideals may take root in an East Asian society". It's quite typical that people from around Asia and the world come to Taiwan to celebrate Pride here because they simply cannot do so in their own countries, and this year was no exception. What's more, young supporters of political causes, including Taiwanese de jure independence, have typically also been supportive of LGBT causes (older Taiwan independence supporters...not so much).

But this year there was a very strong undercurrent of support for the Hong Kong protesters, mockery of repressive China, and more open support of Taiwanese identity. Other flags and signs supporting Tibet and Xinjiang could also be seen.




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If, by the way, you're pro-LGBT but were still thinking that you could support any candidate in the Taiwanese 2020 elections and it wouldn't matter, think again. It's quite clear not only from the candidates' own messaging but the overall attitude at Pride that if you're not heteronormative, Han Kuo-yu is not the guy for you. Tsai Ing-wen's administration on the other hand, while not perfect, is your best bet (yeah, I needed help to understand this, my Taiwanese sucks).

International organizations that have a presence in Asia such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace were also present - with some participants flying in from abroad to march with their organization's banner.

This was cast in stark relief by one sign in particular:





Homonationalism is an ideology that uses liberal, often pro-LGBT positions as a means to discriminate against immigrants from more "conservative" societies, saying that they bring their anti-LGBT (or illiberal) values with them, so we're in trouble if we let too many of them in. Or, more generally, it's just used as an excuse for prejudice and discrimination in societies where things like marriage equality are now taken as normal and may be supported even by members of the right wing, but xenophobia remains a problem.

And yes, perhaps you'll meet immigrants who live up to the "their values are not like ours" stereotype - nevermind that our values weren't much different just a few years or decades ago - but the fact that Taipei Pride is a massive welcome party for marginalized groups across Asia from these "conservative" societies - shows that one cannot assume liberalism or illiberalism simply by national origin. 




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Of course, the usual bevy of left-leaning political parties showed up, including the much reduced and humbled New Power Party (with a few flags), the Green Party, the State-building Party (with their own truck, spouting very serious political messages) and I assume others. I'm not sure at all if the NPP being on more equal footing representation-wise with these smaller parties is a good thing or not - none of them are currently strong contenders to take down the DPP/KMT two-party vortex, but then it never quite felt fair before that the NPP got all the thunder, y'know?


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This year also felt more sexually diverse than previous years - with huge bisexual, transgender and asexual flags in addition to the usual rainbow.


 
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My own visit to Pride was cut short in part because the route was just so slow, especially before it reached Zhongxiao Dunhua, where things sped up a little bit. I was stuck in a mass of people at City Hall well past the 1:30pm departure time, and by 3pm we hadn't even made it past Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall yet, with several very long waits. This was due at least in part to how little space the parade was allocated. I remember previous demonstrations in this part of Taipei taking up all of Zhongxiao Road or all of Ren-ai Road, or at least one full half of it, but Pride got just one or two lanes, with several close calls (including people trying to speed up a bit walking on the outer edge of the march, quite close to traffic). Some marchers got stuck trying to use the fenced-off walkway by the Taipei White Elephant Dome construction site, only to be forced back into the much-delayed and swollen crowd when that walkway ended.


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I could try to assign blame for this poor planning but we don't really know...oh whatever, let's go for it. Maybe it'll become clearer in a few weeks but right now, it sure looks like the authorities are just less willing to give space to Pride and that could be in part due to homophobia. After all, one aspect of homophobia is reducing the 'space' in which LGBT people may exist, and in today's case, that felt literally true.

But let's not assign blame to every member of law enforcement. Several traffic cops I saw today were wearing small but noticeable rainbow items in a show of support, and the police I saw here and there looked friendly and relaxed, not serious or unsupportive. 


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To end this on a fun note, I did enjoy the preponderance of music this year. 






In previous years each parade route might have had one or two trucks playing music for participants to dance to - otherwise you sort of walked and talked with your friends but there was nothing to keep your energy up. This year, everyone from the usual drag queens to the Korean truck (who were not the only Korean participants) blasting K-Pop to LesPark (which always has great music) and more kept the mood upbeat.


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And, of course, the costumes - with Taipei Pride being so close to Halloween, it'd make sense that it turns into something of a costume party (though I suppose most Pride parades do - I've only ever attended in Taipei though.) Not to get too gossip-rag about it but let me tell you: in 2019, dog daddies and Pikachu are super hot, and the Joker is super not (as a friend I ran into put it, the new Joker is kind of an Angry Straight White Guy thing so that makes sense). Disney princesses, ruling like a queen or goddess, video game and cartoon characters, BDSM, Hong Kong solidarity, Free Hugs and angel wings are in. Showing too much, however, seems to be out.











Plan your Halloween party attire accordingly. 



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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Su Beng has passed away, and the rain pours down

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Su Beng (史明), a true hero of the Taiwan independence movement, passed away late last night at the age of 103 (101 by Western age counting).

He's most famous for writing Taiwan's 400-Year History (available in English in Gongguan bookstores 台灣ㄟ店 and 南天書局 - the English version is much abridged from the massive tome in Chinese), but also for being forced into exile in Japan in 1952 due to his leading role in the Taiwan Independence Armed Corps (they really were armed, and had a plan to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek in the early years of the White Terror). Perhaps you've heard of his noodle shop in Japan, where he'd also gone to university. I believe the shop still exists - more than one of my friends and students in Taiwan have brought their children there while on vacation in Tokyo, so that the younger generation might understand something about Taiwan's history. Before 1949, he'd also 'worked undercover' in China; I don't know what he did there, but it could probably fill a whole new book of stories. He wasn't one for peaceful resistance, after all.

Enough with the bio - I met Su Beng once.

I was a young, silly Taiwan neophyte - in Taiwan for perhaps a year, perhaps two, but still just a flighty English teacher and not much more than that. I kind of knew who he was, but not really. Not really really. I didn't get a picture, and I still regret that - I can't join the friends of mine who are putting their photos with Su Beng online to mourn his passing. If I believed in anything like a conscious force behind the universe, I'd wonder why it put me in the presence of greatness before I was ready to truly appreciate that fact; as an atheist, I know it was just bad timing.

It feels odd to be so glum about the passing of such an ancient man, who lived a long and meaningful life and made a real contribution to Taiwan. Death is natural, it's part of life, and he was over a century old. But he was also a living legend, so it feels like a piece - a quarter or so of those 400 years - of Taiwan's history has also gone from present to past. If there's one thing all of us who fight for Taiwan - beyond all the infighting and personal fallouts, beyond all the attacks and power jockeying, beyond the far lefties and the ethnic chauvinists and the idealistic students - can agree on, it's that he was one of the greats. Perhaps even the greatest.

The rain poured down last night as we heard about Su Beng's passing. The land felt quieter; perhaps Taiwan was crying. This morning, it's intangible and indescribable, but the air feels...bereft


Rest in peace, Su Beng. You made Taiwan's history a little clearer and brighter for all of us, including that dumb white girl you met back in 2007.

And the fight - your fight - continues. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

For the love of our good Lord and Savior, Jesus M.F. Christ in Heaven, please stop saying "Mainland" like it is a neutral term

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This is what I'd like to do to the hands of everyone who types the word "mainland" - I mean metaphorically...of course

So, I don't feel like writing about Terry Gou deciding not to run for president because reasons. I want to write about how the international media have taken Hong Kong off the front pages just as the Hong Kong government and their brutalizing thugs "police force" intended, but I'm waiting on that to see how it plays out. I could write about the Solomon Isl----yeah no.

Instead, I want to write about a thing someone messaged me about recently - hadn't I written something once about the use of the word "Mainland"? I thought I had, but other than a section in this piece, I can't find it. So - great. Let's do that now.

I'm going to take what I wrote there and expand it here.

Let me begin this first part by saying that I am not an expert on Cyprus. But, if one day I opened up the New York Times and saw an article about Cyprus with a sentence like "Cyprus just [did a thing that any normal sovereign nation would do], which drew a strong reaction from Mainland Turkey", my eyebrows might get stuck to the ceiling. The paper would almost certainly receive a flood of angry mail from indignant Cypriots and those who sympathize with them, and would probably be compelled to chastise the reporter or editor as well as issue a correction briefly explaining the true situation.

Or imagine if someone wrote about "Okinawa" and "Mainland China" (after all, China does claim Okinawa) - the reaction would be stunned, at best. In fact, Japan took the Ryukyus not long before it took Taiwan, there is some ancient history between the Ryukyus and China (not that it should matter), the US occupied the islands for decades after WWII and only gave them to Japan in the 1970s, and there is an independence movement there. And yet you'd never say "Okinawa and Mainland China" just because China might want you to.

So why is it so acceptable to use "Mainland" when referring to China in relation to Taiwan? Why do people think they can use that term apolitically? It is clearly not a neutral word.

Here is what it means, specifically: 


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The clear connotation of “mainland” is that it is the main/continental part of a territory, and that outlying islands which are referred to in relation to it are also part of said territory.

By that metric, the only reason to use the phrase “Mainland China” in relation to Taiwan is if you want to imply that China and Taiwan have some sort of territorial relationship, or that Taiwan is a part of some larger concept of China. If you believe they are two sovereign or at least self-ruled entities, it makes no sense at all. In that sense, Taiwan does not have a mainland, unless you want to refer to “mainland Asia” (as Taiwan is a part of Asia, but not a part of the People's Republic of China).

Why then do people keep saying it? Partly it is force of habit. Pro-China types insist on it, and the media often follows. It is unclear how people came to believe the word was neutral or apolitical. It is not. It implies that there not only is but also should be a territorial relationship.

Even if you want to claim that, because the ROC officially calls itself 'China', it's acceptable to call the PRC "mainland China", I'd still challenge you on that. The ROC came to Taiwan from China and occupied it at the behest of the Allies in 1945 (there is no binding treaty that definitively cedes Taiwan to any government of "China"). Regardless, that government was not invited here by the Taiwanese people. They were never asked whether they wanted to be a part of the ROC, most don't identify primarily as Chinese now, and most don't support any sort of unification. If it could be done without any threat of 'retaliation' from China, the ROC would quite likely - though not definitely - be on its way out by now, if not entirely gone in favor of a Republic of Taiwan. Most Taiwanese refer to their home and country as Taiwan, not "the ROC".

If you refer to the island that people who don't identify as Chinese as something off the coast of "mainland China" (implying a territorial relationship they never agreed to), is that much different from telling people how they must identify? Are you not telling them "you think of these islands as your home country, but it's actually a piece of territory connected to a larger 'mainland', whether you like it or not"?

Some might say that omitting the word "mainland" and just using "China" and "Taiwan" is overtly nationalistic. But it isn't - it's just stating the truth as it is now. Taiwan exists, and it's not part of the country commonly referred to as "China", which as of right now is the People's Republic. It's the name of an island, and it's also what almost 24 million people call their country. It's not nationalistic to refer to a place people consider a country as a country, and a different place that they don't consider part of their country without any qualifying markers implying that it might be otherwise. 
Right now, there's a country called "China", and there's an island, which you can also call a country, called "Taiwan" with a different government than the one in "China". How is it 'nationalistic' to just say so? How is it not nationalistic to draw specific kind of connection between Taiwan and China by calling one the "mainland" of the other?

Simply using "China" and "Taiwan" is also the most open way to refer to these two places without closing off any future possibilities. "Mainland" implies that there ought to be some kind of future relationship in which the two places are connected. "China" and "Taiwan" are two existing places whose statuses may change in the future - referring to them as such doesn't cut off any potential outcomes. "Taiwan" and "Mainland China", however, does: it neuters the notion of Taiwanese independence in the present, by giving Taiwan a "mainland" that the Taiwanese never asked for. 


How political is “mainland”? It is required as a corresponding term to “Taiwan” in Xinhua’s style guide, a reflection of Chinese government policy. When you use it, you are quite literally referring to Taiwan-China relations exactly as the CCP wants you to. If you want to talk about Taiwan exactly the way the Chinese government prefers, by all means use “mainland”. But why would you?

Think of it this way: you may not necessarily default to Taiwanese independence as the only possible future for Taiwan. You may think the ROC is legitimate. I don't agree with you, but fine. These are valid (if flawed) opinions. Great news! You can still believe those things while calling China "China" and calling Taiwan "Taiwan", because a place exists called China, and another place exists called Taiwan! That terminology has room for your views while also making room for opinions which disagree with yours, whereas "Mainland China" does not. 

I know what you're thinking. But acktchuelly, you want to say, Taiwan's situation is diffrennnt than Cyprus or Okinawa! Yeah, sure, it is. Taiwan is in a unique position. But I do think they are comparable enough for this purpose: saying Turkey is the "mainland" of Cyprus makes a political statement about who you think should ultimately govern Cyprus: and unlike the PRC in Taiwan, Turkey actually already occupies part of that island. Saying "Taiwan and mainland China" similarly makes a political statement, implying that some government of China which includes the current China would be a more legitimate government than an autonomous, mainland-free Taiwan.

And sure, nobody reasonable disputes that Okinawa is, at least currently, Japanese territory. But then nobody reasonably thinks that Taiwan should be a part of the PRC, and nobody reasonably thinks that the ROC is going to "defeat the communists and take back the mainland". And the PRC has about as much right to claim Taiwan as it does to claim Okinawa - and they try to use historical arguments to justify both, even though the current government of China has never controlled either. And as far as I'm aware, just like the Taiwanese, neither the Cypriots nor the Okinawans want to be a part of Turkey or China, respectively.

So why would we all instinctively consider the use of "mainland" to be offensive in those situations or at least to be making political judgement calls we have no right to make, but not in the case of Taiwan? Is it a good idea to keep using the exact terminology that China wants us to use? Do we really want to keep being useful idiots?