Showing posts with label tsai_yingwen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tsai_yingwen. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Revisiting the "Bilingual By 2030" plan: a note of cautious optimism

IMG_6976


Since President Tsai’s 2nd term began, there has been renewed talk from the government and media interest in the “Bilingual by 2030” program introduced in her last term.

Some of what has been said recently is promising: 


"The younger generation of Taiwanese need to learn how to clearly explain to the international community what kind of country Taiwan is, as well as its core values and its people," the president said. 

She said one major problem of Taiwan's current English teaching is that schools focus more on teaching vocabulary and grammar. 

"We need to provide a comprehensive English learning environment so that speaking English becomes a very natural thing in the country" she said, adding that this will be a major challenge for the government over the next 10 years.


The program follows the same general principles of the “bilingual” English program created in Tainan City under then-mayor (and now Vice President) William Lai. 

I wanted to discuss the various elements of this policy, how they’re being approached on a few different levels, and what the issues are likely to be. I’ve written about this before, but that was back when the plan had just been announced, and nobody was really sure what to say about it, myself included.

Some of my concerns have since been addressed. Others remain, not all of which I'll discuss here. Generally, however, I'm more cautiously optimistic than I was before.

What is the program, exactly?

The first concern is the term “bilingual” - it’s confusing in a Taiwanese context, because Taiwan is already multilingual, so it would have been smarter on the part of the government to call it “Multilingual by 2030”. Thanks to the clunky title, there is a common belief that the goal of this program is to make every Taiwanese citizen fluent in English by 2030. That’s simply not the case. 

The endgame is better as improving the overall level of English proficiency in Taiwan (which is not the same as “making everybody fluent in English”) and making business and government affairs more internationally versatile - a Taiwanese populace that can go out into the world with the language skills they need to study, work or simply talk about Taiwan (or anything else) with foreigners, and a country that is accessible to international business. 

“Proficiency” has many levels, however. Nobody thinks every Taiwanese citizen will suddenly become fluent in English. Even in highly English-proficient societies like Hong Kong and Singapore, actual ability varies quite a bit between individuals. That’s normal. 

Another concern is that the program will simply involve more English class hours in school, which will necessitate importing large numbers of foreign teachers to teach these classes. I don’t know the exact plan for the number of dedicated English instruction hours, but I can say that one big push of the 2030 program is to increase CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) instruction: to teach some non-language classes (such as math, science and history) in English, not necessarily increase dedicated language class hours. This is good, as one basic tenet of language acquisition is that input and interaction in a variety of authentic situations and environments brings about fluency - for example, taking classes in other subjects in that language - moreso than direct language instruction.

One issue with this plan is that there may not be a large enough pool of local teachers who are willing to teach these classes in English, and I’ve already heard of reports of pressure from school administrators on teachers who don’t necessarily want to agree to this, but are being pushed to do so anyway. 

If it actually works, however, CLIL-based instruction has the potential to accomplish what more hours of traditional language instruction could never do. It’s one reason why English proficiency remains strong in former British colonies across Asia: they tend to offer English-medium instruction.

Generally speaking, the more people are informed about the program, or the more involved they are in it, the more optimistic they are about it. That’s a good sign. A lot of ‘involved’ people I know say that it’s a solid idea without a fully-fleshed-out game plan, and how successful it will be depends on how well it’s implemented. It could end up being successful far beyond most people’s modest expectations, or yet another performative act in the country’s repeated attempts to “internationalize”.


The colonial history of English in Asia, and why Taiwan is different

Of course, Taiwan is not a former colony of any English-speaking power. That means it lacks the English “advantage”, but also that English in Taiwan is not necessarily mired in post-colonial discourse. It’s important to remember that in those former colonies, access to English was given primarily to local elites as a way of ‘bringing them into the fold’ - that is, ensuring their loyalty to and even desire to imitate their British colonial masters. For everyone else, the British actually pushed local-language instruction. They framed it as respecting local cultures and customs (at least, one person writing about Hong Kong put it that way, even invoking “Confucian values” long before that term became a drinking-game level cliche), but in another sense, it was blatantly about ensuring that non-elites would not start getting ambitions beyond what the British wanted of them: to remain manual laborers whose efforts enriched the empire.   

If all that makes you feel squicked out - it should. 

What Taiwan seems to be attempting to do is compete with these former colonial nations (yes, I treat Hong Kong as a nation) in terms of English proficiency, without the colonial baggage it came with. I honestly cannot think of another example where that has been successfully done. 

The good news is that this freedom from an English-speaking colonial history means that the English education in Taiwan can be discussed in terms of its utility for Taiwan domestically and in terms of international communication. 


The real key: local talent

This would also not necessitate the mass import of foreign teachers of dubious quality (I’ll get to the quality of instruction later). It would not even require bringing in many teacher trainers to train up locals. 

Instead, the hope is that the country will tap its domestic language teaching talent - the best and most qualified Taiwanese teachers - who can be trained up and mentored to become teacher trainers themselves. The “foreigners” - which includes foreign teacher trainers already based in Taiwan - would at that point take on more of a support and mentorship role. There could be some outside help and possibly new teachers hired from abroad, but mostly the plain is not to kick current teachers out in favor of a bunch of foreigners. Instead, it’s to create a robust CoP (community of practice, in which experienced teachers with training skills induct more junior or novice teachers into the profession) that is self-sufficient and self-renewing from within Taiwan. 

There are other initiatives - translating government documents and websites, ensuring that travel and business information and basic services are available in English - I’m less qualified to speak on those plans. I do hope the government realizes that there is already a strong base of Taiwan-based editors and translators - both local and foreign - who could potentially do a good job with this if they were properly recruited and incentivized. 


Addressing Concerns: Local and minority languages


There are concerns that focusing on English will damage the status of local and Indigenous/minority languages (some of these criticisms are clearly partisan attacks - ignore those - but not all are). This is an issue, but I don’t think it’s as dire as some are predicting. First of all, there’s a lot of intersectionality in those local languages. Taiwanese is generally considered one, but we can’t exactly call it a ‘minority language’, can we? Outside of northern Taiwan, it’s not. And Taiwanese - suppressed for so long by Mandarin - has also played an oppressor role against Hakka and all of the Indigenous languages. 

I do think if we’re going to talk about English as the potential oppressor of these languages, that we first need to grapple with the damage that was intentionally done to them by Mandarin (and perhaps less intentionally, but still just as damagingly, by Taiwanese). This is where a ‘multilingual’ rather than ‘bilingual’ perspective would be helpful. 

The thing is, these local languages tend to be community-learnt. Attempts to turn local and Indigenous languages into ‘school subjects’ have not generally been successful - if my reading is correct, that’s true around the world. They tend to flourish when their widespread daily use is promoted in communities, supported by a variety of media that users of those languages can consume.

The question is, what do these speech communities want in terms of promotion and support of their own languages in Taiwan? Has anybody asked them? (I’m guessing not.) What kind of funding might they want, and how might it be used? The government would have done well if, while turning its eye to English, it had also focused on building multilingual initiatives - asking these various communities in Taiwan what sort of support they would like, and then providing it. Not every family teaches their children the language of their ancestors, and whatever support they might want in changing that pattern, where it exists, is vital and should not be pushed aside in favor of a sole focus on English. 

English, unlike local languages in Taiwan, will probably not be learnable in a ‘community’ setting such as this for quite some time, if ever. From that perspective, the plan to increase exposure to and use of English won’t necessarily be taking much away from local languages - they would occupy two different spaces, and already do. Tsai has said that one goal of this “Bilingual by 2030” plan is to equip Taiwanese with the ability to tell Taiwan’s story to the world, which is a laudable goal. English - a second language - would be a language for looking out into the world, and welcoming the world to Taiwan. Local languages would exist for living within Taiwan, and maintaining local knowledge and heritage.

That’s not to say that local languages can never have a place in schools in Taiwan. But, it will be hard enough to get local teachers ready to teach non-language subjects in English. How difficult will it be to find teachers who can teach math, geography, health or other subjects in Taiwanese, or Hakka, or Atayal, or Rukai, or Amis? I certainly think it would be a worthwhile effort, but I would not expect immediate results. 


The dividing lines of English

As English seems to always bring class divides with it, there's a concern that middle class and wealthy urban Taiwanese will benefit more and deepen inequality. One can see signs of this already among the children of the upper middle class and wealthy, who are more likely to grow up around English, have family members who speak it fluently, often studying abroad themselves. In a sense, it echoes the way English was brought to Asia originally. Just remember that the same used to be true for Mandarin in Taiwan.

That is a real concern to be addressed if we want to break down these barriers. If a robust CoP is created that has Taiwanese teachers training their junior colleagues, rather than bringing in foreigners to train up locals, then that knowledge will be more easily disseminated to smaller communities and schools with fewer resources. I’d also suggest making education resources more equal across the country, obviously. 

It is quite unreasonable to expect a kid from a more marginalized community to grow up in Mandarin, and then pick up several second languages (English plus Taiwanese, or Hakka, or an Indigenous language). It’s more reasonable to work towards a society where both Mandarin and local languages are learned as mother tongues within various communities, with some education support available in ways requested by those communities for non-Mandarin languages (Mandarin has been so wholly foisted on Taiwan that it hardly needs any support), and English is more robustly taught as a second language. 

In fact, I’ve met more than one person in Taiwan who prefers to communicate in their local language (usually, but not always, Taiwanese), will choose English as their next preference, and will avoid Mandarin if at all possible. That means there is an opportunity for English to push back against Mandarin language imperialism in Taiwan, if people decide to use it that way.


The demand side

Some have spoken of the need to create ‘demand’ for English, not just spending money creating supply of instruction. I’m less worried about this - the demand is there, if we can connect it to learners’ actual motivations. There are teachers in Taiwan who reluctantly admit that many students see English merely as an academic subject, and study it simply to get a test score and further their education. But, leaving aside the massive amount of English-language media that many Taiwanese do consume and express a wish to better understand, there’s the fact that most regional business (not just global business - I mean across Asia) is conducted in English. As much as China might like it to be otherwise, English, not Mandarin, is the language of regional communication in Asia. 

Are Taiwanese youth interested in communicating with people from other Asian countries? Do BTS fans want to connect with each other even though they don’t all speak Korean? Are politically-minded youth interested in the meme-heavy Milk Tea Alliance or its slightly stodgier, more clearly political Network of Young Democratic Asians? Are they interested in working or studying abroad, or working in Taiwan for an international company?

Yes, many of them probably do. 

The demand is there, and it’s not always a function of linguistic imperialism, where the periphery is trying to imitate some sort of White, Western center. We just need to connect it to how we deliver the supply.


Institutional constraints: testing

That’s where my own concerns come in. The research is clear that Taiwanese teachers in general are aware of more communication-based teaching methods, and in fact there is a strong (though not universal) desire to use them. (I've read this research but need to get a dissertation draft in - I'll link it when I have time). 

Elementary school teachers report the highest feeling of freedom to teach their learners in communicative ways. At higher grades, however, the washback from the testing system causes teachers to feel they need to focus more on preparing learners for major exams.

In short, a large number of teachers in Taiwan want to do more with language education, but feel constrained by tests that simply do not reflect actual language knowledge. (I’ve seen some of the tests. In some cases the expected answers are actually inaccurate, or only one answer is accepted when more than one answer is possible.) 

If everyone wants to move away from focusing mostly on “grammar and vocabulary” and towards communication,  then the biggest obstacle holding them back is the exam framework. At least for foreign language education, it simply has to go. If there has to be an English requirement for school admission at all, require an international proficiency exam score (the cost of this should be subsidized for students from lower-income families) or simply have an oral interview. 

And yet the exam framework is the one thing nobody is discussing doing away with.


More institutional constraints: language teaching qualifications

My other concern is the language teachers that the government is hoping to bring in from other countries. As it stands now, one can get some teaching jobs in Taiwan with just a substitute teacher’s license, which can be obtained with little or no experience and minimal training in some places. However, reputable and internationally-recognized language teacher training programs - such as the CELTA, CertTESOL, CELT-P, CELT-S, TYLEC and more (there are others, including higher level training programs) - are generally not recognized. 

Part-time postgraduate programs like mine, which is face-to-face but takes place over several years, are also generally not recognized. There’s no reason at all for this, as part-time programs deliver the same content as full-time ones.

There has been talk of Taiwan creating its own language teacher training program, which feels unnecessary as there are so many good ones already available. But without recognizing the programs which already exist, there is no clear existing local framework to assess the quality of these new hires.

When assessing teacher training programs, it’s not difficult to figure out which ones deserve recognition. We don’t have to officially sanction shoddy weekend or online TEFL certifications.  Stipulate a minimum number of practicum hours that candidates must teach and pass - let’s say, 6 - and you’ll have weeded out all the scams and be left with more reputable courses. 

And yet, there is not nearly enough discussion of changing this paradigm. 

Along with that, it would be smart for the government to officially pivot away from native speakerist policies that privilege inexperienced Westerners from a handful of countries over qualified teachers from around the world, which could bring a diversity of knowledge and intercultural awareness to Taiwan. In fact, improving intercultural awareness might be the biggest benefit of Bilingual By 2030. We also need to do away with nonsensical laws:


104874361_1187009571650103_1947246012336278882_n

What’s odd about this rule is that English is not an official language of the US, UK or Australia - which have no official languages. And yet, you can get a language teaching job if you are from any one of them. Guess where English is an official language - places like Nigeria, the Philippines, India and Singapore. And yet you don’t see schools or the government rushing to hire teachers from these places, either. 

Finally, I have grave concerns about the buxiban system, which I won’t go into here - we all know what the problems are. Buxibans could be a force for good in making English more widely accessible as a tool for communication, but not as they currently exist. Parents, however, often have no clear way of assessing which buxibans attempt to provide quality language learning, and which are overpriced daycare centers. I would like to see that change. 

Cautious Optimism

I’m more optimistic than many about Bilingual by 2030. 

While not all Taiwanese will become ‘fluent’ or even highly proficient in English, nobody is expecting them to. Those who do use their English skills to go out in the world and introduce Taiwan to the international community - whether directly through activism or indirectly as simply Taiwanese citizens living abroad or working with foreigners - will be worth all of this effort. 

If implemented soundly, it has the potential to make Taiwan more interculturally aware - imagine a Taiwan where blackface videos aren’t considered comedy! - without necessarily impinging on or damaging local cultures and speech communities. If the right trainers are found to participate in a robust local community of practice in which Taiwanese teachers take the lead, more teaching qualifications are recognized, a CLIL program is successfully implemented after sufficient (and ongoing) training and support, and the English examination system is completely dismantled, Taiwan might successfully do what few countries have managed: gain the benefits of an English-proficient society without the colonial baggage. 

The fact is that Taiwan can’t isolate itself. Certainly local languages certainly matter and deserve support and attention to the same extent as English, but while Taiwan can’t only look outward, it can’t navel-gaze either. If Taiwan wants to see the world on its terms and maintain its sovereignty in the face of a screeching, frothy-mouthed, annexationist neighbor, it has to get those messages out to the world. Like it or not, as of now the way to do that is better English education which focuses on English as a communicative tool rather than a purely academic subject.

Honestly, it is possible to do both: to promote local cultures and support local speech communities, and support greater internationalization. I honestly think the two are only mutually exclusive in the minds of people with their own agendas.

Generally, I believe that the government understands this. They get the big picture. They see why it’s important and what the endgame should look like.

I do worry that some of the details are being overlooked, some of which - like the complete unsuitability of the exam system and the lackadaisical, uninformed way qualifications are often evaluated - might be exactly the details that bring the whole thing down. I worry that a focus on bilingualism rather than multilingualism will turn out to be a liability. 

But, there is still time to do this right. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Taiwan needs backup, but Trump is not your friend

I can't stand John Bolton, a man for whom the epithet "the worst" could have been invented for. John Bolton is the absolute worst. 

But, although hearing anything from him makes me ill, it is important that we all digest the comments in his Wall Street Journal op-ed (without forgetting that he refused to testify before Congress because he is the worst). At the very least, I hope they will put to bed any notion that Trump is any sort of friend to Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Yes, this is a real belief - even people I know who can't stand Trump say "but he is good for Taiwan" or "I do like how he's strong on China". The Wall Street Journal is here to tell you that you are wrong:


I hoped Trump would see these Hong Kong developments as giving him leverage over China. I should have known better. That same month, on the 30th anniversary of China’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Trump refused to issue a White House statement. “That was 15 years ago,” he said, inaccurately. “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal. I don’t want anything.” And that was that.
Beijing’s repression of its Uighur citizens also proceeded apace. Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China over its treatment of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim people who live primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province. 
At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China. 
Trump was particularly dyspeptic about Taiwan, having listened to Wall Street financiers who had gotten rich off mainland China investments. One of Trump’s favorite comparisons was to point to the tip of one of his Sharpies and say, “This is Taiwan,” then point to the historic Resolute desk in the Oval Office and say, “This is China.” So much for American commitments and obligations to another democratic ally. [Emphasis mine].

I quoted at length because not everyone can jump over the paywall.

Let me make one thing clear. Taiwan does not need a savior. Taiwan does not want some world-ruining, self-interested fake white knight galloping in to defend a damsel in distress with his big manly sword. That is ludicrous. 


President Tsai has been continuously strengthening Taiwan's military capabilities since she was elected (something her predecessor failed to do), and her popularity stems in part from her strong message of standing as a bulwark against China. She has been clear that Taiwan has the capability to repel a first wave of invasion from China. It can defend itself - for a time. 

It seems clear that Taiwan, in general, doesn't want to stand alone against China. I also believe Taiwan is aware of the limitations of its indigenous defensive capability, and at what point help might be needed. 

What Taiwan needs is support. Backup. On Taiwan's terms, as much as possible. And it's not in a position to slap away any hands offering it.

That's what differentiates this issue from every other mess the US has blundered into: the fact that Taiwan, generally speaking, wants the help, that it can defend itself to a degree, and that it has a functioning government that can get us through any conflict started by China, and guide us after it.

The current Congress has been good for Taiwan, passing plenty of legislation which is heartening to see after so many years of a supposed ally actively attempting to undermine Taiwan's ability to defend itself. That Congress is bipartisan, with Democrats voting for this legislation as much as Republicans. Even leftie darling Bernie Sanders has said he’d stand up to China. The support Taiwan needs is bipartisan and pan-political. It does exist. 


We need to keep building that bipartisan support, and reaching out to better potential allies and friends, rather than slapping hands away. 

Trump himself, however, has been a liability. Yes, he signed the bills passed by a bipartisan legislature, but he had to - they’d passed unanimously. In every other way he has done harm. 

In his selfishness, inconsistency and inability to execute even the fundamental duties of his office, he is not a friend. He compared Taiwan to the tiny, inconsequential tip of a Sharpie, and asked Taiwan’s biggest enemy for help winning the next election: 


One highlight came when Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years, and Trump replied that people were saying that the two-term constitutional limit on presidents should be repealed for him. Xi said the U.S. had too many elections, because he didn’t want to switch away from Trump, who nodded approvingly.

Let me repeat: he is not your friend. 

Xi Jinping is our generation's Hitler and the Communist Party of China is a terrorist organization which cannot be trusted to adhere to any negotiations or agrements. I don't even think this is a mere opinion - I mean, the literal concentration camps are currently in use. Trump told him they were fine. We need to deal with Xi the way we dealt with Hitler, and that does not include appeasement, turning a blind eye to blatant annexationism, asking the New Hitler to help you get re-elected and - oh yeah, did I mention the concentration camps?

Standing in the street, arms linked, wouldn't have stopped Hitler. A protest on Ketagalan Boulevard won't stop a Chinese air assault (it will give it a target). Nobody wants a war, and Taiwan will not start one (nor, I hope, allow one to be started in its name). 


But Taiwan simply needs to be able to defend itself. There are few outcomes worse than war, but annexation by China is one of them. 

We are not going to get to choose if China decides to start a war, and deciding that backup from imperfect sources is unacceptable (or may even be the cause of that war) is irrational. If there is a war, the cause will be China, period. I can't say it will happen, but we have to accept that it is possible. It would be great to exclaim that because Taiwan is being treated like a pawn, that we simply shouldn't play the game. Refusing to play is underrated! Sadly, in this case, we don't get a choice. 

I don't want a war, but if I have to meet PLA soldiers in the streets with a baseball bat, well, it'd be great to have some backup. I can't speak for others, only myself, and only Taiwan can decide how it will meet that threat. As of now, however, its strategy seems clear: build defensive capability as much as possible, and reach out to the rest of the world for helping hands, because they might be needed. It's not Taiwan's fault that not all help comes from a perfect source.

But just because not all alliances are ideal does not mean that Trump is any sort of helping hand. Taiwan may need backup, but he will never be the one to consistently provide it. Taiwan may need friends (and may not always get to choose who they are), but he will never be one.

The people you need to help you fight Hitler is absolutely not the guy who says concentration camps are okay. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

What Kaohsiung Rejected

Untitled
You know how these buckets look full of candy, but the candy is all in the plastic bins at the top and they're actually mostly empty? Yeah. 

Everyone's going to be banging out thinkpieces and analysis and all that on the Han recall - here's a particularly good one. That's cool, and I'm going to throw in my two cents. But I'm also still writing a dissertation so I'll keep it short(er than my usual posts).

I'm still a bit tepid on the amended recall rules, I'd be a bit iffy on recalling someone with, say, 26% of the vote, even if I disliked them. It feels undemocratic to require so little to kick someone out of office, and I haven't changed my feelings on that tonight. However, the fact that so many Kaohsiungers came out to recall Han - more than elected him in the first place - and smashed that number to pieces legitimizes this particular recall. If that many people want you gone, then you need to go.

People will say that Taiwanese voters, including Kaohsiungers, expect their elected officials to work full time for them, and will punish anyone who prioritizes climbing the political ladder over actually doing their jobs. Those people are correct. But Kaohsiung didn't just reject a guy who wasn't doing his job, and abandoned Kaohsiung at the first slightly shinier toy offered to him. 


They also rejected a system in which that sort of ambition is taken for granted under the assumption that power always begets power - that if the right people want you in power, you'll win. They rejected a model of "democracy" in which buying up local media to spew your message non-stop and dressing up warmed-over reactionary politics and tired takes in sweat-stained, folksy working-class appearances while your wife clutches her pearls and claims to speak for "mothers" could be a substitute for competence. They completely trampled the "there are elections and whoever gets the most votes is the winner, so the real power is in how you 'get the most votes'" style of democracy, and insisted on something better.

This is not to say that Kaohsiungers were brainwashed the first time around - they really did vote for Han, and surely many did believe he represented some sort of 'change', especially in rural areas. I don't even necessarily think he became a fully bought-and-paid-for CCP asset until after he won the mayorship (though I could be wrong). But we cannot ignore the ways in which local media has been the target of CCP co-opting efforts. Some of Han's initial victory was due to freak-accident luck and timing - I suppose you could call it 'magic' of a sort - but some of it was entirely manufactured.

In short, Kaohsiung rejected every strategy that the forces behind Han's election thought they could turn to their advantage, in Taiwan and China alike. Neither the factional politics nor the power they represent are quite dead, but they've been dealt a blow.

Since China has invested so heavily in promoting this style of "democracy" in Taiwan, it's also closely tied to the notion, long shoved down voters' throats, that getting closer to China is inevitable, the economy can only thrive through dependency on China, and therefore that voting for China's preferred (KMT) candidates is the only "responsible", "mature", "correct" choice.

Of course, it didn't matter if those candidates were responsible, mature or correct (they seem to hold less enthusiasm for actually doing their jobs as campaigning for them, so often acting as if those positions are birthrights). All that mattered was convincing voters of this.

All of that has now been soundly rejected.

I honestly don't think there is a future for Han. Before 2018, he was a washed-up drunk most famous for beating up Chen Shui-bian and killing a guy. Frankly, if I were him, I'd yearn for the days when that was all I was. The CCP will probably not be throwing any more support to him now that it's clear he can do nothing for them, and if you're curious who might be in his corner from within Taiwan, the answer is probably no-one. 


I highly suggest you listen to Taiwan Report's rundown of the soapy drama currently roiling the KMT, which casts Han as a sort of pawn in Wu Dun-yih and Wang Jin-pyng's power games. Wu's now a has-been who knows Han isn't his ticket to the top. Wang just used Han to deliver a gut-punch to rival Wu. The rest of the KMT probably wants nothing to do with him - Johnny Chiang isn't the quietly brilliant leader some want him to be and probably doesn't know what to do, and Hou You-yi isn't going to stop keeping his distance and will probably try to co-opt at least some of Han's fan base.

While Han could try his luck in somewhere like Miaoli or Hualien where apparently they'll elect any damn idiot, I just don't think he's smart enough without his handlers to actually succeed. People have talked about his running for KMT chair, but Frozen Garlic is right - the KMT invested in him because he seemed like a winner. Now he's just a loser - who would want him to be chair?


With the KMT acting like cheap daytime TV, it's interesting to compare it to the DPP where Tsai has managed to bring old rivals into the fold and keep factional infighting to a minimum (though I am assured it still very much exists, the DPP seems to actually be functional). She's playing 3D chess while they're playing Days of Our Lives, but with ugly people. While they engage in political infighting, she actually does her job, and does it well. When they get into office, they act like the hard part is over; she gets to work.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The rigged game, and how to feint

Untitled
This meme just seemed appropriate. 


I have a lot to do today, but wanted to quickly explore the game. 


Here's how it works. People who should be on the same team appear to be split. There are those who think Trump's rhetoric on China and the WHO is right, and we must stand up to them. This group tends to believe that, as a result, Trump's actual actions constitute good strategy.

Then there's the camp that think nothing Trump says can ever be correct, and therefore we shouldn't stand against China, as this could create "a new cold war". They also tend to view the WHO as mostly good, rather than mostly political.

Both sides are partially wrong. Rhetorically, the Trump administration is mostly correct. Leaving aside "they gutted American industry" - no, we did that to ourselves - and talk of excluding whole groups of Chinese citizens, it's not wrong to point out that China is planning to treat Hong Kong as just another Chinese province, and that they've basically taken control of the WHO.

The CCP is on the brink of committing an unthinkable atrocity and have already committed many others. The WHO is a political organization that prioritizes factional battles over actually helping people. Hong Kongers do need assurance of assistance, both locally and as potential refugees. These issues do need to be dealt with and can't be buried under talk of "engagement" with a government that simply cannot be trusted to keep its promises.


But strategically, Trump is wrong. Ending Hong Kong's special status makes sense in terms of ensuring that China doesn't benefit from Hong Kong while oppressing it. But China's ultimate goal is to make Hong Kong unimportant, an extension of Shenzhen rather than a distinct cultural and economic entity. The CCP so clearly wants to promote cities like Shanghai as finance hubs and gateways to China, and I doubt hey've realized that this won't be appealing to much of the world. Hong Kong's relative wealth and visibility make it difficult to control when its residents rebel against CCP brutality. Shanghai, on the other hand, is basically obedient.

On this front, I don't know what to say. The game is rigged. There is no right move. End Hong Kong's special status, and you hand China something that helps them destroy Hong Kong. Keep it in place, and you let China off the hook and help them economically, after all of the horrors they have perpetuated. Someone clearly foresaw this choice when thinking through their government's possible actions - and it wasn't anyone in the Trump administration. China had this in the bag before we even knew we were in a game.

This is basic strategy and it was not foregone that the CCP would figure it out first. In any case, it makes me absolutely furious that the US really should have known that this was the CCP's endgame. After all, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been ringing the warning bells since at least since 2014. The day the first Hong Kong bookseller was attacked was the day the US should have started figuring out what the end game might look like.

Instead, they ignored all of the Asian voices who honestly tried to raise the alarm - when I say that Taiwan has been trying to warn the world about the CCP Virus, I don't just mean COVID19. It's one of the fatal flaws of the West that they just don't seem to hear non-Western voices warning about a rising Nazi-like threat in their own backyard and boom, now we've got a Sudetenland situation.

The proposed exclusion of some Chinese students from the US is also a no-win strategy. CCP incursion into global (including Western) academia is a real thing and genuine security threat, and it's well-known that the CCP has a say in which students can go abroad, asking some to collect information in return for tuition paid. Banning Chinese students who studied at Chinese military universities as undergraduates (not all Chinese students, or even most, as some have claimed) seems to make sense.

But let's remember that the students themselves are not tied to any known wrongdoing, and security protocols already exist. If this is a threat it is probably not a highly pressing one - meaning it's showy but of negligible consequence - and that Trump wanted to institute a much broader ban in 2018, long before the Hong Kong protests began. Banning Chinese students as a broad category is a long-term goal of the Trump administration and many Republicans. It's not really about Hong Kong.

There are other things that can be done. Institute stricter security. Ban Confucius Institutes. End CCP funding for academic titles and other programs. You can enforce rules - which I am sure already exist - barring student groups from harassing other students and disbanding any groups that engage in such behavior. Why broadly target Chinese students?

In any case, Trump's rhetoric on Hong Kong doesn't exonerate him from the inherent racism of his administration, and doing everything he can to target Chinese students as a group, rather than looking for institutional ways to counter CCP threats, shows this.

How do we know they are racist, despite talk of helping Hong Kong refugees?  I mean - [gestures vaguely at Minneapolis]. But also, a big chunk of Trump's 2016 campaign was predicated on stoking racism-based fears of refugees, especially from majority Muslim and Latin American countries. Then, once in office, he defunded many refugee resettlement programs and slashed the number of refugees allowed in.  Don't delude yourself that Republicans care about "refugees" as a whole.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't help Hong Kong refugees. We absolutely should. But we should help refugees, from anywhere, period. Trump never wanted to do that, and he's not going to. 


Finally, withdrawing from the WHO is not the way to fix problems inherent to the WHO. I spent a short amount of time supporting the US defunding that absolute joke of an organization, but honestly, the US is just conceding ground here. The WHO is garbage and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should be removed from office, if not in jail. But it is still an organization that the rest of the world broadly believes in, for some reason, and China will simply be able to control it better. Not necessarily through funding, but through building up a block of allies:




(Go read the whole thread)

This rebranding of "authoritarian nations" as "the Global South" (a possibly once helpful way of thinking about the world which I think has lost its luster) is a part of what keeps the dumber among liberals still believing in them. 


A big chunk of China's argument for why it should be considered next global leader is that unlike the evil, imperialist, Western United States, China represents a new and better orientation away from the primacy of Western (and therefore historically imperialist) interests in the world. 

There are a lot of people who believe (correctly) that white, Western countries became rich in great part from plundering the wealth of the rest of the world, and that this is one of the great tragedies of history. However, there's a tendency to twist that argument around and insist that as imperialism in all its forms is most visibly white, that it can therefore only be white, and therefore anything "non-Western" must be preferable.

Frankly, I see the appeal. Nothing sounds better than re-orienting towards leadership by people of color who can build a more equitable post-colonial world.


Except, of course, China's not doing that. 


T
heir goal is not to break down divisions so that the "Global South" may enjoy the same level of development and well-being as the "Global North", which would include things like human rights. It's to cement its position as the permanent leader of these nations, supporting and replicating its own system of anti-humanitarian, authoritarian repression. It wants supplicants. Serfs. It wants its own colonial empire, cloaked in the language of leftie progressivism. 

The WHO is just a tool in that game. And by withdrawing, we're handing it to them.

Usually I say that when it comes to the CCP, the only way to win the game is not to play, but this is absolutely not what I mean. Opposition is not the same as playing. There are games bigger than those devised by the CCP that are worth playing, and this was one of them.

There are better ways, and if the rest of the world would only listen to Taiwan, perhaps they'd see that.

Rather than flouncing off in a huff and leaving the WHO to China, Taiwan has been trying to raise awareness of its exclusion. That not only helps Taiwan's global visibility, it highlights the ways that the CCP has been slowly taking over international organizations. Engaging, petitioning, speaking out, countering - yes, it feels like playing a game we can't win, but honestly, we got pretty far with it. There was an impact, however unsatisfying in the end.

In fact, one of the reasons I admire President Tsai is that she can look at China's ridiculous carnival games - hoops on an angle, balls that are too big for their buckets, weighted milk bottles, carefully-placed tables of a certain height - and see not just the game, but the rigging. If you can see the rigging, you can begin to devise a strategy to get around it. Tsai does this better than any other leader in the world. 

Even when it comes to issues such as framing the discussion on independence or potentially (maybe) gaining diplomatic recognition, she treads like a trained explosives detector across a minefield, not a tank. Trump? He's a tank with a particularly stupid driver.

She's doing that rather marvelously, and Trump is flailing like the screaming racist baby he is. He may be tough on the CCP, and I do actually think he is right about them, but he doesn't know what to do about it. His strategies will fail, because they were ham-fisted to begin with and certainly didn't take into account what's really going on with these games.

This is why Tsai, not Trump - and not "we have a strategic interest to engage" Merkel (translation: $$$), nor "did well with COVID19 but not so much the CCP Virus" Ardern - is the true leader of the free world. 


There is more that Taiwan can do, which I'd like to explore in a later post. There are reasons why pivoting away from the US and towards an "Asian Century" is not a bad idea, as long as that century does not include the CCP - again, for a later post.

What I'm trying to say here is: when deciding exactly how not to play the CCP's games, there is more strategy involved than people realize. It's not always a simple matter of walking away, because other players and bigger concerns need to be dealt with.

Taiwan has figured this out. One of the best strategies we can adopt is simply to listen to Taiwan and other Asian voices when they warn of encroaching CCP authoritarianism. For liberals, that means curbing the tendency to equate "we want to engage with the world and that includes China" with being a good liberal and global citizen. Good liberals don't pretend modern-day Nazis are acceptable negotiation partners and listen to marginalized voices around the world, not just dominant ones. For conservatives, it means ending racist platforms in all ways and actually paying attention to the voices of people of color, rather than acting like white saviors.

For both sides, just listen. The rest of Asia - and especially Taiwan - is telling you what to do and where the traps are.

When will the US and the rest of the world open its ears?