Showing posts with label us_election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us_election. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

On Taiwan, Biden is the less terrible choice

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Would you believe that I took this photo in the UK?


Reading news about how Taiwanese favor Trump to win next week and hearing similar views from my students ("I heard that Trump challenges China but Biden likes China", to quote one), I want to make the case that -- to put it gently -- Trump is not actually the best candidate for Taiwan. I understand wanting to vent anxiety about Biden (and the Democrats') past treatment of Taiwan, and I understand hearing Trump shout about China sounds encouraging. I also understand that among the true believers, there are a few paid trolls -- though it's hard to tell because the illogic runs deep among Trump supporters.

But, respectfully, I just don't buy it. Fortunately, not every commentator in Taiwan does, either: I'm not alone. Neither Trump nor Biden is great for Taiwan, but between those two choices that are not good for Taiwan, Trump is arguably worse. 

What I truly don't get is this: Trumpism means advocating for an American society where Taiwanese residents or visitors face racism and discrimination due to being Asian, a country it is increasingly difficult to immigrate to, where they would likely not be able to claim asylum even if they were able to flee a Chinese attack. 

I am going to keep this as brief as possible and as workmanlike as possible, because honestly, thinking too much about it makes me deeply anxious. I've had to unfollow or leave several Facebook groups over this, as I watch a mix of true believers with unbelievable views and obvious paid trolls (and it's hard to tell which is which) turn Taiwanese social media into a place I just cannot be right now.

It's also important to note that this is not neutral journalism (though I like to think it is accurate blogging). I have my own views and I am writing this from the perspective of Trump being unacceptable even if he were strong on Taiwan -- which he isn't -- on account of his being a straight-up rapist (this is just one accusation among many, plus admitting on tape to frequent sexual assault). And that's only the first reason.

I've organized this into a series of things I've heard from people about how Trump is better for Taiwan, and why those assertions are partially if not entirely untrue. 


"Who passed the TAIPEI Act and Taiwan Travel Act?"

A bipartisan Congress did. In fact, both bills had bipartisan co-sponsorship! Both bills passed unanimously, meaning that Trump had to sign them, because a veto would have been easily overturned. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy he signed them, but it wasn't out of any sort of strength on Taiwan or China issues. 

One could say that Congress felt more emboldened to pass this legislation with Republicans in office, but I don't necessarily buy that: unanimous passage sends a strong message, and a Democratic president would have had to sign it as well.

"But what about Hunter Biden's business in China?"

Okay, I'll keep that in mind when Hunter Biden is running for president.

Joe Biden has no known business links to China, whereas Trump does. I mean personally does, not just through family members.

Since the New York Times is paywalled, here's a related BBC article about Trump's Chinese bank account and taxes paid to the Chinese government (in fact, that would mean he has paid more tax money to China than the US). 

Beyond that, if family members being involved is the standard, what about Jared Kushner's business in China? Some of that was apparently canceled, but that doesn't make the ties disappear. And Kushner actually works in the White House. It's doubtful that Hunter Biden would.

Any claim that Trump is stronger against China than Biden because Biden is in China's pocket due to Hunter but Trump isn't is a claim based on lies. 

In fact, it's very interesting to me that people who bring this up seem quite willing to ignore Trump's business entanglements with China. What's up with the double standard?


"But the Republicans have a stronger stance on China and are bigger supporters of Taiwan!"

This is partially true. I don't want to get into the reasons for their support, which long-term are not necessarily in Taiwan's interest (do you think they care about Taiwan as a bastion of liberal democracy in Asia on its own merit? Doubtful. They don't appear to care about upholding democracy in their own country.) But it can't be denied that some of the more forceful voices on Taiwan in Congress are Republican -- though some are not. The people under Trump who keep advising pro-Taiwan moves (such as visits from high-level officials), and I am not sure that the people Biden would appoint would be this proactive, or even supportive. It's also true that the Republican platform on Taiwan is pretty strong.

However, it stands out to me that while the Republicans chose not to update their platform in 2020, Democrats did. For some time, Democrats have also had a pretty acceptable platform on Taiwan, calling for a resolution to Taiwan's status to be in the "interests and best wishes" of the Taiwanese people. Recently, they've updated it to drop any reference to "one China".

It's also interesting to me that people see the new American Institute in Taiwan as not as some sort of long-term recommitment to Taiwan but as a symbol of Republican/Trump commitment to Taiwan, when plans for the new compound began in 2008 and building continued through the Obama years (the Taipei Times is also guilty of this, as well as giving Trump way too much credit for the new legislation on Taiwan). 


"But Trump stands up to China!"

Does he? 

I mean, he slapped down some tariffs, sold some arms and is trying to block some apps which are basically poorly-disguised malware. Notably, this would not make the US the first democracy to do so. He did sign off on those high-level US official visits to Taiwan. hough I don't support calling the CCP Virus "the China Virus", and think that the US is creating its own disaster through malicious strategic incompetence, the administration being clear that the CCP's initial mishandling and Chinese influence on the WHO are not exactly wrong.

But he also called Xi Jinping his "good friend", said that the Uyghur genocide was "the right thing to do", called Taiwan insignificant compared to China (something he's actually wrong about) and said he didn't want to do anything regarding Hong Kong until Congress essentially forced him to sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (both of which also had bipartisan cosponsors by the way). 

While it's true that there are people in the Trump administration pushing him toward closer ties with Taiwan, for whatever reason, it's clear that Trump himself is easily manipulated because he remains ignorant and apathetic towards so many issues. That was clear regarding the Trump-Tsai phone call, but it's not guaranteed to always work in Taiwan's favor (if anything, the Trump administration favoring Taiwan makes it harder for people like me to make the case to fellow liberals that Taiwan is worth caring about). Unpredictability isn't always a good thing -- even when it seems to be working for you, it can always flip the other way.

And yes, he sold some arms. I would need more time to add up the total cost and I'm not particularly interested in military or defense analysis so I can't say which packages have been better, but overall Democrats sell arms to Taiwan just as often as Republicans. I'm sure someone who can actually weigh in on the quality of each of these sales -- that is, what Taiwan got for its money -- could shed more light on this.

When asked what he would do if China invaded Taiwan, Trump China "knows what he will do". That's better than hand waving and saying "meh?" but it's not really a commitment to defense. 

Does that sound like a guy who consistently stands up to China? Because to me it just looks inconsistent and unreliable. A very flimsy case for thinking Trump would be better for Taiwan at best. 


"But Biden doesn't care about Taiwan!"

Neither does Trump.

The bad news is both parties treat Taiwan more like a gamepiece than a country with 24 million people who deserve self-determination, a position the media props up regularly by talking about Taiwan as though it were a barren rock with no actual humans who have the same human rights as everyone else living on it.

The only good news is that China's threats to Taiwan are intrinsic to China's expansionism -- China claiming Taiwan is inherently expansionist -- and the latter will continue to be a threat that the US takes seriously for as long as it exists. That's still not great, but it's a little better than "eh the US will dump Taiwan at the first opportunity". 

Regardless, Biden personally congratulated President Tsai on her election win. Trump did not, though his administration did. Biden said the US should have "closer relations" with Taiwan. Trump, as far as I can find, has not. If anything, I agree with the link above that the Trump administration has been both cautious and supportive of Taiwan in equal measure, pulling back whenever it wants to negotiate with China. That doesn't sound like a strong commitment to me (though I can't say I would expect any better under Biden). 

It's true that Biden's track record on Taiwan and China has been pretty bad, an issue that dates back decades, but seems to have dissipated somewhat since the Obama years. I don't know if I trust this anonymous source "close to Biden's campaign" talking to Taiwan News, but it's worth noting that the discussions of how Biden would handle Taiwan are not all pessimistic. Frankly, that sounds better and more competent to me than "China knows what I will do". 

"But the Democrats are the ones who cut off relations with Taiwan!"

No, the Democrats cut off the Republic of China in 1978, a process the Republicans had already started. Taiwan had the chance to join the UN and compete in the Olympics as Taiwan, and the KMT dictatorship chose not to take them due to their insistence that the ROC was the real "China". There's a lot more I can say here about what the US and the ROC both did at that time, but this is not the most relevant point. It had nothing to do with "Taiwan" as a sovereign entity or concept, and everything to do with what the ROC, PRC and US believed to be "China".

In the late 1970s, Taiwan was still in the throes of Martial Law, which was a decade away from being lifted. Democratization was two decades away -- a far-off dream, an entire generation. China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution and seemed to be opening up, while Taiwan was beating, murdering and arresting pro-democracy activists. 

Looking at those two "Chinas" in 1978, which one would you have gambled would liberalize and democratize first? Would you really have thought that the brutal KMT dictatorship was the better choice? Wanting official relations is one thing, but would you have wanted them for Taiwan as "China", as Taiwan as "Taiwan" was never on the table?

All I can say is that I would have lost that bet and I don't believe Taiwan is any kind of China, anyway. "Who cut off relations with the ROC" isn't the right question, if it's even relevant to 2020. You should be asking who was running Taiwan when that happened.


"But..Make America Great Again!"

Does America look that great to you? 

Because what I see is an unstable mess with a disaster economy that could have handled the CCP Virus but chose not to, where racism matters more than doing the right thing, and where the president himself has told his followers to act like vigilantes and who has not promised he'll respect the results of the election. 

Here's the big picture: it's a shame that Taiwan needs anything from the US at all. It feels like caring about one of the bad guys because their wellbeing is connected to your own, and there are worse villains out there. But this is the world we live in. China is not going to give up its hegemonic dreams just because Westerners grew a conscience and decided to be anti-hegemonic (which I am, in principle). 

Therefore, US stability is good for Taiwan, regardless of the specific policies of the actual president in power. A country that can't even keep its own citizens safe within its borders certainly isn't going to be stable enough to reliably stand up to China, with or without a slate of like-minded allies which would probably be organized, again, by the US. Who else would do it? At this moment, Taiwan can't counter China alone even if it can fend off the first wave of attacks (which I do think it is capable of), and even if any attack on Taiwan would certainly result not in clear surrender but in decades of disastrous guerrilla warfare that I hope I never have to see. 

I hate to write that, but it's true right now. I can only hope it won't be true forever. 

Trump is incapable of restoring whatever stability the US once had. Right now, looking at the cracks in the walls, it's been clear they've not only been compromised for some time but have been built on a shaky foundation of White male supremacy. But it's capable of governing itself better than this, and capable of engaging internationally in more meaningful ways rather than temper tantrums. 

As long as the US contends with these issues and continues to be locked in a CCP virus and White supremacist death spiral, China's hand is stronger. One might think from Trump's "Biden will sell the US to China" rhetoric and his occasional screaming at the CCP that China would prefer Biden win, but I tend to agree with others that that's not actually the case, as Trump's baby gurgles in fact benefit China by destroying the US's international image and internal stability.

Does that sound like a country that can reliably back up Taiwan as needed? Not to me. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The CCP is a black hole that makes me question my own values

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This is a piece of street art I found - the artist is Mr. Ogay


Last week, I began a blog post about Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok being banned from purchase in app stores in the US, but never finished it. Partly I just couldn’t maintain a focus as it’s not clearly related enough to Taiwan, my core writing topic, and partly I felt like everything I had to say on the issue tapped into a deeper question:

In so many areas where China is concerned, I find myself going against my political instincts and nature to support certain actions and policies that, generally speaking, I would otherwise oppose. Why is that? 


For example, I am generally against banning apps or access to communication platforms. However, in the case of WeChat and TikTok, I’m ambivalent, with a slight lean toward supporting the ban (despite despising Donald Trump’s administration with not just my bones, but my guts, skin, blood and waste matter). 


I’m not moved by arguments that it denies ‘freedom of speech’ to some communities; freedom of speech is not available on WeChat or even TikTok thanks to Chinese censorship. The only difference is that in the US you may become a person of interest with your post deleted. In China, your post being deleted is the best possible outcome; you could have your account suspended or be shoved in a truck and carted off to a gulag. I’m slightly moved by the argument that it cuts off people in China from loved ones abroad, but ultimately that’s China’s problem: they’re the ones that made it impossible to use just about any other platform (that they don’t control). So why are people mad at the US, not China, for a situation China created? It makes about as much sense as admonishing Taiwan for “provoking China” or “raising tensions” when China is the one creating the tensions and choosing to react with anger. 


I’m especially not moved by the argument that corporate surveillance of our data in other countries is just as bad as CCP surveillance on WeChat. Sure, it sucks, but it’s not equivalent. FaceCreamCo may be harvesting my data trying to sell me face cream, and I hate that, but FaceCreamCo isn’t going to cart me off to a literal gulag if I speak out against this. Even politically, whatever the US government may be doing with our data, we are able to write about that, debate it, disagree with it, insult our leaders — and generally speaking, we can expect that we won’t be threatened and we certainly won’t end up in a re-education camp or be dragged out to a field and shot. (There is a social media moderation problem which censors women and people of color but not white men, however.)


That alone shows you the two issues are simply not the same and should not be compared this way. The reason is simple: what else is the US supposed to do? Allow apps that are basically thinly-disguised hostile government surveillance and malware to operate within their borders, potentially harming people in their country, including their citizens? What’s the better option here?


Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone against the logical conclusions of my own values where China is concerned. For instance, I’m also generally anti-war and anti-military. On principle, for instance, I oppose the US maintaining the largest military force in the world, by several orders of magnitude, and spending so much on it as American citizens suffer due to insufficient social and community services, crumbling or insufficient public infrastructure and an utter joke of a social safety net, despite rather high taxes (I’m fine with higher taxes, but I want the money to be spent thoughtfully and effectively). 


In theory, I’m against the US getting over-involved in just about any conflict abroad, as we always seem to make such a mess of it while proclaiming that we’re promoting American “values” or “exceptionalism” or whatever the term du jour is, despite the fact that the values in question are universal (human rights, including the right to self-determination) and the US is not exceptional in any good way. 


And yet, I am in favor of US military assistance to Taiwan. I know that my own values as well as the brutal history of US involvement in foreign conflicts, plus the sheer horror of our bloated military, should cause me to oppose it, but I don’t. Taiwan needs friends, and can’t exactly choose its backup. If that means hoping a military industrial complex that horrifies me in every other way will have Taiwan’s back in case it needs to fight the PLA...then that’s what it means. 


In general, I’m also anti-violence. I prefer peaceful resolutions, having grown up watching revolution over bloody revolution fail to deliver a better life for the people of any given place. At the same time, I’ve watched countries that have slowly progressed and improved despite having to make some tough compromises that affect the lives of real people make real progress — Taiwan among them. 


However, I’ve come to realize that fists don’t stop tanks, period. We can talk all we want about how Taiwan should be anti-war but still resist China. But that’s not going to work if China is hell-bent on a war. Refusing US assistance is akin to telling China that this is a fight they can win, and it’s foolish to think they won’t try. They won’t particularly care that such moves would create a state of prolonged internal conflict that would make Syria blush — this is a government that is quite comfortable with literal genocide. 


Then there are the economic issues. I’m no communist, and am barely socialist. That is to say, I’m anti-corporate and anti-crony capitalist, and have never been happy working for any sort of large multinational entity, and I support strong social programs and careful regulations as companies can basically never be trusted, but I’m not anti-free market. 


So when the whole US pork controversy hit Taiwan (again, sigh), my instinct was to think “you all are saying this will be good for the Taiwanese economy, but pork prices are already low, good products are available, and it will certainly hurt Taiwanese farmers”. 


But, in a bigger picture sense, I have to admit that what Tsai is doing probably is best for Taiwan. Taiwan Report summarized the issue well: meat imports are not the only thing potentially on the table. (If that’s all it was, I would probably oppose it). It’s that Tsai has it quite right that Taiwan is too economically dependent on China, and a big reason for that is the lack of trade agreements with other countries, a situation that is mostly the fault of CCP bullying on an international scale. Say yes to pork, and that could open the door to more important agreements. Free trade isn’t always good for all involved, but in this particular case it actually is, for Taiwan: it’s an opportunity to bolster economic ties with the US and, through that, signal to other countries that working with Taiwan may be possible even in the face of Chinese fury. 


Taiwan independence advocates (so, almost everybody who cares about Taiwan, and certainly everybody worth listening to) and anti-KMTers have been saying for years that getting too close to China is bad for Taiwan, directly opposing the KMT line that the only way forward is for China and Taiwan to deepen ties. The KMT is wrong, but those who oppose them also tend to oppose every other workable option that would keep Taiwan’s economy robust because they sound scary and not protectionist enough. How do you find alternatives to economic ties with China, if you’re not willing to seriously discuss economic ties with anyone else, in any ways that matter?


I actually do believe in protecting local industry, generally — if that can be shown to be the better path in that particular instance. I don’t want Taiwan to be a hub for major international conglomerates as I’ve seen that create sickening inequality almost everywhere it’s happened, from New York to Silicon Valley to Singapore to Hong Kong. 


And I do think the US starting out with agricultural products (which is bound to create opposition in Taiwan where so much of the history — even recently — is tied to the land) rather than just offering to open up more general trade talks is kind of a dick move. And yet, when it’s all stacked on the scales, I find myself supporting any move that helps wriggle Taiwan out of Chinese co-dependency and towards other international ties. 


These are just three examples: banning apps, military assistance from horrible people, and economic issues. I could add a fourth — opposing talking to right-wing figures in the West even if they support Taiwan —  but I’ve spilled so many words examining that particular issue that I don’t particularly wish to revisit it. Generally speaking, I’ve come over to the side of supporting bipartisan endeavors, not because I think people like Ted Cruz are acceptable (they are not; I’d spit on Cruz if I came face-to-face with him) but because I’ve realized that it’s better if support for Taiwan transcended electoral politics. That goes both ways: hoping the left and center will come around, but also not tying all Western support for Taiwan to their successful elections. 


So, the final question is why. Are my principles just not strong enough? Do I claim to have certain values and then abandon them the second they become inconvenient? Or are my beliefs more tied to ends than means — means matter to an extent, but are some compromises not acceptable if the outcome is preferable? I can’t rule out the former, it would be self-serving to say it shouldn’t be a concern. But overall, hopefully the latter holds more sway: just as a person who believes in peace won’t necessarily say it’s wrong to punch a Nazi, maneuvering Taiwan into a better international position may require me to accept a few choices that I otherwise would not support. 


Anyone who says, for instance, that they support peaceful protest but won’t abandon a cause just because a protest for it grew violent should understand this. I won’t abandon paths that I think are in Taiwan’s best interest just because the means don’t always fall within my most rigid principles, because the key principle I hold dear is that Taiwan deserves recognition and de jure sovereignty. Period. 


And, to bring this all back to China, the enemy also matters (and make no mistake, the CCP is an enemy). When an enemy can be negotiated with, one should negotiate. When non-violence is possible, it should be pursued. We should stand by local business and not be taken in by big money when that can be done without remaining economically tethered to an active, vicious enemy. 

Another way to put this is fundamental values vs. beliefs. I believe in peace, diplomacy, finding solutions, civil disobedience while avoiding violence. Self-determination and human rights as universal (not just Western) concepts, however, are core values. It's best for the means to align with my beliefs (diplomacy, non-violence), but at the end of the day, when a choice must be made, I'll stick with my core values. Taiwan won't get to choose if China starts a war, and if it does, it's more important to me to defend sovereignty and human rights in Taiwan than to refuse to fight because war is bad. Forming opinions about CCP hasn't corrupted that process, it's clarified it. 


But the CCP is so truly awful, so unacceptable, so threatening and so utterly disgusting that the full horror of their actions, from the missiles pointed at Taipei to the cultural and literal genocides in Tibet and Xinjiang, creates a black hole of evil that warps everything around it. It can’t be negotiated with, it does not respect non-violence, and it absolutely will try to use economic blackmail to force Taiwan’s hand. It will exploit party politics and foreign culture wars for its own benefit. That is the stuff the CCP is made of. There is no good in it. 


Even today, your average peace-loving or anti-war person will admit that it was necessary to, say, fight the Nazis. That appeasement was wrong and brought us nothing good. This is how I feel about China. And that’s what the CCP are — Nazis. You can’t negotiate with Nazis, you can only fight them. Frankly, you might not get a choice. 

Appeasement didn’t work then, it won’t work now, and that means that I have to adjust the principles I hold when it comes to everything else, because to Taiwan, it’s a threat unlike anything else. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ted Yoho, AOC and Taiwan’s Bipartisan Dilemma

This week, Republican congressional representative and rotted meat carcass Ted Yoho did two things.

First, he announced the introduction of a package that would explicitly allow the US to use military force if China invades Taiwan. We should all support this: while obviously starting a war in Taiwan’s name is a terrible idea, a stronger commitment to defensive assistance if China were to invade is crucial. Taiwan wants it, defense is not the same as offense, and Taiwan can already govern and defend itself - it needs backup, not a savior. 

Second, he accosted Democrat and peer Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, calling her “out of [her] freaking mind”, “disgusting” and “a fucking bitch”. Why? Because he’s a flaming garbage heap, but also because AOC attributed the spike in crime in New York to corresponding spikes in unemployment and homelessness due to the CCP virus, which the US has responded to so badly that not focusing on the fact that the CCP is to blame for the pandemic is actually a reasonable argument now. 


This disconnect provides yet another reminder that many of our “allies” on Taiwan and Hong Kong issues are not necessarily good people, and that we should not excuse their being terrible people just because we agree with them on a few issues. 

This is a deceptively difficult minefield to navigate. Taiwan and Hong Kong should be bipartisan issues, one of the few things we can actually work with conservatives on. Taiwan has historically been supported more by Republicans than Democrats, and although that is finally changing, the fact remains that we still need to work with Republicans to get important legislation passed.

But the flipside of bipartisanship on Taiwan is that we have to plaster on a smile and work with utter jackbuckets like Ted Yoho. Frankly, they’re all pretty terrible, it’s just Teddy’s week to shine. I know there are those who would rather ignore the fact that pretty much every Republican supporter of Taiwan and Hong Kong who holds elected office is a horrible person — they’d choose Taiwan every time. That doesn’t exactly work; it excuses their otherwise awful behavior and puts voters like me in a bind when we want to vote for the most pro-Taiwan and Hong Kong candidates, but can’t because they’re unacceptable in every other way. It puts advocates in tough positions because it means pretending to be nice to these human dumpsters. It tarnishes the images of activists — how much flak have Joshua Wong and Nathan Law caught for posing for smiley photos, invariably filled with men, rarely a woman in sight, with walking trash kraken?

It’s easy to say “we have different values but we can come together on this”. It’s easy to ignore the time Yoho said “annyounghaseyo” to President Tsai because...reasons. It’s harder to justify “coming together” on Taiwan with a man who just called AOC a “fucking bitch”. I’m sorry, but at that point, are you not simply justifying ignoring blatant misogyny?

There are also those who think we shouldn’t work with them at all and find another way. That’d be lovely, but it’s also not currently possible if you actually take Taiwan’s defense seriously. Democrats look like they are set to potentially draft a China platform that keeps support of a cross-strait policy “consistent with the needs and best interests of the people of Taiwan”. It’s likely this will pass, as it was language used in 2008, 2012 and up through 2016. While it’s unclear how useful this is, seeing as the Obama administration wasn’t exactly Taiwan’s most helpful friend, this is still good news — it means they aren’t taking a “total opposition” stance to officials under Trump who have supported Taiwan more than their Obama-era forerunners. Their voting record of late — in solidarity with Republicans on Taiwan and Hong Kong — and some statements by Joe Biden, have reflected a trend in this direction. But honestly, we’re not there yet, and we can’t afford to end bipartisanship on Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To add to that, it’s not like the right has the market cornered on misogyny and racism (yes, Yoho’s comments, given the context of the spike in crime, are both sexist and racist). I’ve met plenty of centrists and even self-proclaimed lefties who honestly aren’t much better. From ‘our side’ I’ve heard everything from “BLM should take responsibility for the crime wave in Chicago” (what?) to wanting to protest in front of AIT for Taiwan while making deeply sexist comments about Hillary Clinton. The number of Democrats and self-proclaimed liberals in Taiwan and the US who are accused of being inappropriate with women honestly rivals the behavior of Republicans. Saying we shouldn’t work with the right for these reasons may be principled, to an extent, but it ignores how much of it comes from our own side. 

I’ve thought for awhile that there is no such thing as ‘natural allies’, because people on ‘our side’ are just as capable of being toxic jerks. The only way to continue bipartisan efforts on Taiwan is to think of allies on any given issue as people who agree with you on that particular issue and are not otherwise human dumpsters. 

Unfortunately, Ted Yoho, as with others, has shown that he is in fact a human dumpster. People have been burned by this before, thinking Trump could be good for Taiwan and Hong Kong only to find that his ‘challenge’ to China is more of an inconsistent mess.

Can we really consider a party that supports a president that called concentration camps a “good idea” an ally? Can we really smile and shake hands with Ted Yoho while he calls AOC a “fucking bitch” out the other side of his mouth?

If we don’t, how are we going to realistically make sure Taiwan has the backup it needs in the face of a potential invasion that is a very real threat? Raising fists and taking to the streets didn’t work for Hong Kong and it won’t stop an amphibious invasion of Taiwan — and letting China win is arguably worse than defending Taiwan for real. Of course, we should reach out to liberals and the left, though I’ve found that the far left is so thickly populated with tankies (“Taiwan is evil because they are run by the Nationalists, who are evil bad capitalists grr” - don’t even know where to start with this) that they’re hard to talk to about Taiwan. And honestly, even if and when we succeed, Taiwan is still better off with bipartisan support rather than having its assurance of defensive assistance tied to the whims of whomever is in office. 

I don’t have an answer to that, but I am personally not inclined to think of people like Ted Yoho as allies. As a woman, a congressional representative calling a female colleague a “fucking bitch” and then trying to justify it by saying he’s a family man affects me, because it affects the discourse of what’s acceptable to say about people of my gender. If you do think of him as an ally, please consider exactly what behavior you are excusing and whether or not that behavior affects you. 



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Guest Post: The Left has been wrong on China since the Trump-Tsai phone call

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I'm still on hiatus -- my advisor's forthcoming feedback on my draft will determine how much longer that will last. But, in my absence, I thought it would be interesting to open up Lao Ren Cha to other voices, especially Taiwanese voices, with a possible series of guest posts.

This is my first experiment in guest posting, from Eric, a Taiwanese Canadian, written as a reaction to this article on the left's silence on genocide in China. It generally fits with the editorial line here at Lao Ren Cha ("editorial line" being fancy talk for "my opinions") while introducing a new style and perspective into the mix. Enjoy! 


- Jenna


With the recent change in mainstream media narrative on the Chinese regime, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, one would not expect too much of a political cost for raising objections to its actions. Threats and attacks on neighbors, technology theft, fentanyl exports, loan shark diplomacy, concentration camps, genocide, live organ harvesting, systematic societal control — anyone who has been paying attention should have long recognized the threat to liberal values posed by this regime, yet the headlining leaders of the Liberal Left have been derelict for some time on this file. Sadly, this is not a surprise to those of us who have been watching this space for a while and have long lamented this problem.


For anyone who has generally progressive views and supports Taiwan and its continuing existence as a free and democratic country this contradiction is particularly painful, as many writers in Taiwan have noted. I have always been and continue to be a supporter of most of the values espoused by the moderate Liberal Left: social justice, environmental protection, universal human rights, yet I have little faith in international institutions and believe in healthy defense, training and advanced weaponry--peace through strength. Realizing that you have loved ones, friends, places and things that you value under constant threat of annihilation enforces pragmatism.

Personally, becoming deeply skeptical of the capital-L Liberal Left (as an ideological brand or label defined by its leading voices rather than a fuzzy set of held values) was a long time in the making, as I watched liberal papers such as the Guardian give voice to awful regime apologists, saw socially progressive celebrities and politicians look down in meek silence or even take pro-Beijing stances, or journalists unthinkingly regurgitating official narratives, making it easier for Beijing to calculate in its own favor as it continued to trample over every value they purported to hold dear. 

For me, the last straw was the response when President Donald Trump accepted a phone-call from Tsai Ing-Wen shortly after winning her 2016 election as President of Taiwan, and the cacaphony of supposedly progressive voices from that corner screaming bloody murder, warning of apocalypse and doom should anyone cross Beijing, heaven forbid the leader of the United States, for all of his faults, should take a symbolic phone call from the democratically elected, female President of one of the most free, liberal and progressive democracies in the world and risk angering a brutal regime that enslaves its own citizens and threatens others. 

That so many failed to even see this hypocrisy or consider that even a broken clock might be right twice a day made me lose much of my faith in peoples' ability to think critically, on both sides of the political spectrum. The biggest heartbreak came from the disappointment of seeing well-known people who I liked and admired unthinkingly retweeting such Chicken-Littlism and the false narratives that go with it or adding to the chorus.

Before anyone can accuse me of naiveté for thinking Trump did this out of the goodness of his heart, of course political and national interests are always considered, and I am OK with that. The minor symbolism of taking the call was enough.

So here we are, more than 4 years later and yet it seems for many, none the wiser. Just a few months ago, those same commentators were defending the WHO despite clear evidence that they had actively and knowingly caused the COVID19 epidemic to get worse, all in deference to China. While Trump was wrong to pull out of the WHO (how can the USA advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion if it’s not even there?), holding a benefit concert that made the WHO look like the victim in all this was laughable. 

Liberals often pride themselves on their critical thinking skills, and yet swallow CCP narratives that a phone call to a democratic leader friendly to the US is a diplomatic crisis. They pride themselves on logic and facts, yet threw a concert to support an organization that was proven to spread lies that harmed global health. They pride themselves on standing for access to human rights…unless the people fighting for those rights are far away. The right thinks masks are mind control devices, poverty will go away if you ignore it, and that it’s acceptable to put children in cages. How are they right about China while we writhe in indecisiveness? How are we losing the moral high ground on this?

The world did not end in war over a phone call. Universities still compromised their values for unsustainable profits, financiers continued to try to reap profits from the Chinese market, cadre money still got laundered in real-estate and commodities still got sold. On the other hand, the pandering obsequiousness with which the UN, governments, corporates and media treated the CCP regime, abetted by the silence of the Liberal Left, resulted in a pandemic that killed thousands, wrecked countless lives and made the world more dangerous and unstable.

And still, the biggest call to action on the left seems not to be the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, standing with Hong Kong, or supporting Taiwan, but fear that standing up to the CCP is simply too scary to contemplate. A lot of this stems from thinking everything the right says must be wrong, so they must be wrong about China. 


Honestly, they are indeed wrong about almost everything, and Trump is not a reliable ally. Nobody who calls Xi Jinping a “good friend” and doesn’t seem fazed by concentration camps could ever be. But, when it comes to the CCP, the Liberal Left is the one the wrong. Trump is terrible, but when he criticizes China, he’s not wrong just because he’s Trump. 

At this time, I wonder if it would be too small-minded of me to contact those who unknowingly supported the stance of the CCP regime in admonishing the US President for taking Tsai's call four years ago, and see if their view had changed in hindsight. I fear, however, that I would be disappointed.  

Fortunately, critical voices are starting to come out on the Left, surprisingly from parts of Europe, of all places, with the German Green Party or Czech Pirate Party, for example. In the US Congress, important legislation regarding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang passed unanimously — meaning Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike, supported it. There is still time to push Joe Biden away from Obama-era China doves and towards policy advisors who are more realistic about the CCP, and to embrace bipartisan efforts in congress.

We still don't know if even this pandemic is enough to overcome inertia and make people realize that they are affected by what happens in Asia (the last Federal election in Canada was a hold-your-nose-and-vote affair), but hopefully change will come. Regardless, the left-right dichotomy, with its simplifications and polarizing power, has shown that it is no longer useful for the messy, chaotic world we live in.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Please, sir, I want some more.

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 11.59.58 AM
Photo: screen grab from the 60 Minutes interview



If you’re watching Taiwan-centric social media, you’ll know that Bernie Sanders was finally asked about Taiwan, in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Ring the bells in celebration!

Truly, every candidate should be asked this. I would very much like to hear Warren and Buttigieg’s answers. 

Sanders' reply was encouraging:


Cooper: If China took military action against Taiwan, is something you would...? 
Sanders: It's something...yeah. I mean I think we have got to make it clear to countries around the world that we will not sit by and allow invasions to take place, absolutely.

This is good - or at least, good enough. It’s enough that I could vote for him with confidence if he gets the nomination, a future which looks increasingly likely. 

However, it seems like Taiwan advocates and allies are perhaps reading a bit too much into what Sanders actually said. Headlines like "US will take military action" aren't helpful - he didn't say that. He said the US would "make it clear" and "not sit by", which is not necessarily the same as a military response. I understand that there's not a lot to go on when divining answers to US presidential candidates' views on Taiwan, but this reads to me as thirsty people in a desert thinking everything is water. Interpreting it too much is about as useful as reading an oracle bone.

Though my overall take on the US election vis-a-vis Taiwan leans pessimistic, I have been thinking that regardless of the candidates’ histories, all of the senators in the race - Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar - have voted for legislation that either chastises China (the Uighur and Hong Kong human rights acts) or actively supports Taiwan (the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act) in the past few years. That’s good news, and it shows that it’s possible to envision a Trump-free US that still supports Taiwan. 

I also love hearing the cries of millions of Bernie supporters, the ones who’ve gone half-tankie and extremely against US engagement abroad (because to them the US is always evil in every situation and in fact is the only font of evil in the world, the CCP cannot be evil because it’s not the US, QED) hearing clearly that their candidate has a realistic foreign policy vision. 

They are music to my ears. 

However, I have questions. 

First, what changed since 2011 when Sanders voted against selling F-16s to Taiwan, and 1997 when he voted against missile defense? Those were measures that could have helped Taiwan defend itself. I understand that viewers might not be that interested in the answers to such detailed questions on Taiwan, but I do wish Cooper had challenged him on this. I’d very much like to know his answer. 

A friend pointed out that in those years he hadn’t had to articulate a clear foreign policy vision. Now that he must do so, he’s had to really think about what that might look like, and his ultimate conclusions might break with his past views. I can appreciate that, but I really would like to know Sanders’ actual response. 

Second, Sanders mentions US engagement abroad as part of an alliance or coalition of allies: 


I believe the United States, everything being equal, should be working with other countries in alliance, not doing it alone.

Great. Theoretically, I absolutely support this. It’s good for Taiwan as well. A single, powerful, ideological enemy of China with an extremely poor reputation regarding military engagements abroad standing up for Taiwan alone could give China something to twist into a pretext for invasion. An alliance of liberal democratic nations standing up for Taiwan would be more likely to help Taiwan achieve its goal of recognized, de jure sovereignty (as the Republic of Taiwan) with less risk.

But what happens if other liberal democracies and natural allies of Taiwan and its cause don’t stand up with the US in the face of Chinese invasion? Does that mean we let Taiwan be annexed? 

The UN is in China’s pocket - any coalition would have to take place outside that framework. Europe (with perhaps a few exceptions) is weaker on China than the US, almost certainly to their detriment. Australia feels practically like a Chinese vassal state, and New Zealand’s prime minister might be great in other ways, but she’s not strong on China. I honestly think Canada is a coin flip - one day chummy with China, the next calling for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO. Japan, possibly - they’ve been expanding their fighting capability in recent years, but overall don’t they lack an offensive military force? Anyone else in Asia? Probably not. 

What does the US do if it can’t get a coalition together? Wash its hands of its best friend in Asia? 

What happens when American liberals and lefties - his support base - wring their hands because the world has not stepped up as we’d hoped, and say the US should not get involved because nobody stands with them? Does Sanders listen, or does he do what’s right anyway? Does he understand that standing with Taiwan is fundamentally different from other conflicts the US has been criticized for in the past?

In short, "we need a coalition of liberal democracies" is only a great solution if it is likely to actually happen. And I'm not at all sure it is likely. So what then?

Again, I wish Cooper had asked this. 

Lastly, I have to wonder what this means for “us” - the Taiwan allies and supporters. Yes, it’s great news. 

But, Sanders is clearly not going to support Taiwan unilaterally standing up for itself, or a change in the ROC colonial framework. He probably understands that Taiwan’s fight for sovereignty has already been won, the question is recognition. But I doubt he has too much interest in changing that, and if he did, it certainly wouldn’t help him in the election to say so. 

While I agree in theory that diplomacy is always a better answer, it does feel like “diplomacy” has been something conducted by high-level officials alongside foreign interests, which seeks to avoid conflict by creating and extending the existence of quagmires - swamps of intractable situations that suck to live in, but “at least it’s not war”. These negotiators, especially the foreign interests, don’t actually have to live in the morasses they create. They don’t have to live in Palestine, Taiwan, Kashmir. So it doesn’t matter that much to them if the quagmires persist, and they might even begin to call them “beneficial for both sides” (as Andrew Yang did). They might even believe it. 

It’s one thing to be resigned to a slow resolution to avoid a war. It’s another to forget that the resolution process isn’t actually the goal, and start viewing it as a permanent feature of the geopolitical landscape - a swamp we’ve convinced ourselves cannot, or should not, be drained. To convince ourselves that those who live in the swamp actually like it that way.

I do wonder, then, whether Sanders’ Asia policy vision — which I admit is realistic, and generally palatable — is another form of “let’s let the Taiwan quagmire sit awhile”. 

On top of that, China is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. They make agreements, yes, and then immediately ignore them. They bully and pretend to be offended. The only way to win against their tactics is not to play. I think Sanders may understand that, but I’m not sure.

On a related note, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my own uncompromising vision of the future - a globally-recognized Republic of Taiwan - squares with what is diplomatically possible. 

Along with that, I’ve been thinking about language: whether Taiwan allies are beginning to show a worrying trend towards self-censorship - asking for less than Taiwan deserves, because articulating our actual goals could “anger China”. Begging for crumbs when we all know Taiwan deserves a whole meal. 

“Sanders is unlikely to support an end to the ROC framework” is simply realistic; I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I can’t argue with it as an accurate description of his probable Taiwan policy. 

“Don’t ask for diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, it could provoke China”, however, perhaps edges up against the line of adopting China-approved language. “Don’t say that, it could sound sinophobic” does too. Some language is sinophobic, but there are instances when it isn’t — rather realistically describing CCP actions or simply stating a strong pro-Taiwan position — yet could be seen as anti-China by someone looking to take offense.

I understand that my big-picture vision of Taiwan is not immediately diplomatically possible, and that what strong Taiwan allies articulate for the country’s future sounds scary to some. But, the Chinese government absolutely wants us to be terrified of sounding “China-hating” (when we’re not - we’re pro-Taiwan). They want to paint Taiwanese who are justifiably angry at China’s treatment of them as extremist, xenophobic, nativist splittists. They want us to clip our own wings and curtail our own wishes so that we might not ask for everything Taiwan actually deserves. It helps them if we genuflect and kowtow for crumbs rather than the whole meal, so they can scream and cry that we’re getting even some crumbs. 

I’ll vote for Sanders and his “status quo” take on Taiwan - and yes, it is a status-quo take, just dressed up in prettier language — because it is nudging the Overton window in the right direction. I’ll take it. Warren is still preferable, but this is acceptable.

But, please, I want some more

There are many paths to a recognized and decolonized Taiwan, and diplomacy will always move more slowly than we’d like it to. We should all very much appreciate the slow process of moving the line, so that more and more space for Taiwan becomes available. I personally don’t care to hear, however, that we should not clearly articulate the final goal, because it could provoke China or scare the architects of the swamp. Let’s all recognize that Sanders’ views on Taiwan are acceptable for now, but no more than that.

Basically, we can't forget that there is a difference between pushing for a realistic policy accomplishment or incremental push forward in the discourse, and the actual end goal, and there is a line between advocating for what is realistic (crumbs), and insisting on what Taiwan deserves (the whole meal). 

In the end, when figuring out what we actually want, it’s better not to limit our wish lists to procedural goals or interim solutions. The big-picture wish list should include a full vision of Taiwan existing confidently as Taiwan, and nothing less. Those of us with actual power (so...not me) can work on incremental change, but the general supporters? People like me? Let’s perhaps not convince ourselves that it’s dangerous to ask for too much. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Which US presidential contenders are best for Taiwan?

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The subtle chaos of this absolutely insane photo collage is intentional. 



There's been a lot of debate online about the various US presidential candidates, and which one is most likely to stand up to China, or have a strong Taiwan policy. However, there's no comprehensive breakdown of each candidate and their views on China alongside any analysis of what that might mean for Taiwan. So I thought I'd make one.

It's almost impossible to answer this, as only one candidate - Andrew Yang - has actually been asked about Taiwan. This is because of racism (not that he was asked, but that the other candidates haven't been). While it's possible to glean some hint of who is best for Taiwan from what they say about Asia, China, the Hong Kong protests and the Uighur human rights crisis, it's mostly speculation.

I love speculation, so let's do this!

I've included all Democratic contenders and Donald Trump - the chances of his being dumped by his own party during the nomination process are nil, and minor party and independent candidates won't take enough of the vote to make a difference. That said, it's worth noting that every non-major party candidate I looked at had an absolutely terrible China policy. In a fairer world, I'd include everyone on any ballot, but I just don't want to write about lost causes like Brian Carroll and Howie Hawkins. I have better things to do with my time.

There's not much order here, though more popular candidates appear toward the top and low-polling ones are lower down. Warning - this gets quite long. 


Donald Trump


We're only starting here because he's the current president.

I've noticed a distinct tendency of online commentary to lean towards him being "strong" and "consistent" on China and "good" for Taiwan, but overall I have to disagree. It is true that he's done things regarding China - like actually critically engage them on trade - that Democrats and (probably) establishment Republicans simply would not dare to do, but most of this bluster has been on economic grounds, not human rights issues. And it's true that the people he's put in office, from repugnant John Bolton to admirable Randall Schriver, have generally been good for Taiwan. These are absolute facts.

However, I find it hard to believe that these appointments were made because Trump has a real interest in Taiwan, even as a poker chip or tradable commodity. His interests extend to power, money, sex and food as they relate to himself and his favored children only, and arguably he's not good at any of them. (If you want to add "golf", that's included in power and money.)  He appointed people he was recommended to appoint, and that those people have been friendly to Taiwan was most likely a coincidence. There's no presidential intentionality there.

And he's not consistent on China. Quiet down - no, he isn't. For every bit of tough talking or every bill signing of legislation that helps Taiwan, there's been some instance of him calling Xi a "great leader" who is doing an "amazing job" or saying Hong Kong is an "internal matter" for China to solve on its own. Yes, he later signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (HKHRDA, sponsored by both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren), and that's great. He's also signed the Taiwan Travel Act. That's fantastic too. Many good things have happened for Taiwan and the region under Trump...but that doesn't mean he is consistent. 

Even the Trump-Tsai phone call was not a sign of consistent Taiwan support - soon after, Trump appointed a Beijing-friendly ambassador to China, and the US had to reassure China that it was not revising its "One China" policy (as distinct from China's own One China Principle). 


Final call: great things have happened for Taiwan in US politics while he's been in office, but that's not due to him or any views he holds (as he doesn't really seem to hold any which aren't self-serving.) He's not the best choice for Taiwan.

Joe Biden

At first glance, Biden seems like a poor choice for Taiwan (spoiler alert: he is...mostly.) A lot of his foreign policy stances are reminiscent of Obama's, and he's said China is "not competition" for the US. Not necessarily because he thinks the US can engage productively with an aggressive, authoritarian China, but because he thinks they can't even run their own country right. He further said he "wanted [them] to succeed" and pointed to some completely arbitrary issues as their biggest challenges.

That said, it's an astoundingly naive thing to say - China is absolutely a global threat, and as a huge economy with deep trade links and most importantly, having the explicit goal of unseating the US as the global hegemon, they are competition. If you want to end the entire notion of global hegemony, not just the US's, they're a general threat, too.

There's more to it than that, however, and it's not fair to dismiss him with "soft on China, NEXT" without really looking at his actions. 


He was one of the only Democratic contenders to have congratulated Tsai on her presidential election win last month (the only other one I can find who did so was Pete Buttigieg). And he specifically called for stronger US-Taiwan links



“You are stronger because of your free and open society,” Biden, the former U.S. vice president, said in a tweet congratulating Tsai. “The United States should continue strengthening our ties with Taiwan and other like-minded democracies.”

All of that is great, and honestly, we could do worse (see: Mike Bloomberg and Tulsi Gabbard). However, it's a bit vague and I'm going to need to see specifics to counter all the anti-Taiwan crap in his history, outlined below.

Historically he has not been strong on Taiwan, saying (though not generally publicly) that he would not support the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act and that no American would send their children to die fighting for Taiwan.

He's also said this, in 2001:

The US won't come to Taiwan's aid should China attack the country for making a unilateral declaration of independence, US Senator Joseph Biden said on Monday....
...Biden said the Taiwan Relations Act remained the key document governing America's commitments to Taiwan -- remarks widely seen as an attempt to counter a promise by US President George W. Bush that America would do "whatever it took" to defend the country. 
Biden in his speech argued for the retention of what he called the "studied ambiguity'' of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, whereby the US would remain ambiguous on whether it would help Taiwan repel a Chinese attack.
That act, he said, told Taiwan "you are no longer an independent country. You are no longer an independent nation-state. We've agreed that you are going to be part of China and that you will work it out." 
Biden also punctuated his comments with a clear warning: "So don't go declaring independence, because we are not willing to go to war over your unilateral declaration of independence."

Yikes. Why does no-one remember this? Well, as Brendan pointed out, if you deduce the date the quote was made...hm.

Methinks Joe Biden, in 2001, did not actually understand the point of the TRA or any of the related menagerie of assurances or communiques. If he did, he'd understand that the point was not "you're going to be unified, the only question is how to negotiate that peacefully", at least not after it became clear that the ROC government these policies were created for did not actually represent the Taiwanese people. 



On China these days, he isn't actually as bad as he often comes across


Biden has framed China’s rise as a “serious challenge,” criticizing its “abusive” trade practices, warning that it may pull ahead of the United States in new technologies, and criticizing its human rights record. However, he says President Donald J. Trump’s confrontational approach is counterproductive, alienating allies that should be recruited in a broad front to pressure Beijing.

There's more on Biden's China views on that page, and it's worth reading in full. That said, US politicians' use of "we need a broad front of allies to do this", while valid, tends to be a way to paint a palatable veneer on the subtle art of not doing a goddamn thing. 

And, if he is campaigning on "want another Obama-like moderate from the aughts? Vote for me!" then that doesn't bode well:

Traveling to Beijing in February 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled that the administration would not let its traditional support of human rights “interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”....
Washington needed to show China that it welcomed China’s rise, he said on Oct. 5, 2009. In exchange, China should assure America that its rise “will not come at the expense of the security and well-being of others.” Steinberg called for “strategic reassurance” on both sides of the Pacific.
The Chinese saw the olive branches as a sign of weakness. “Strategic Reassurance? Yes, Please!” went the headline in the People’s Daily. The United States should reassure China, it said, by ending all arms sales to Taiwan and all military surveillance activities off China’s coast.

Later Obama would warn Trump against messing too much with the US's overall China/Taiwan policy. I'm going to quote at length here because the details matter:


And with respect to China -- and let's just take the example of Taiwan -- there has been a longstanding agreement, essentially, between China, the United States, and, to some degree, the Taiwanese, which is to not change the status quo. Taiwan operates differently than mainland China does. China views Taiwan as part of China, but recognizes that it has to approach Taiwan as an entity that has its own ways of doing things. The Taiwanese have agreed that as long as they're able to continue to function with some degree of autonomy, that they won't charge forward and declare independence. 
And that status quo, although not completely satisfactory to any of the parties involved, has kept the peace and allowed the Taiwanese to be a pretty successful economy and a people who have a high degree of self-determination. But understand, for China, the issue of Taiwan is as important as anything on their docket. The idea of one China is at the heart of their conception as a nation. 
And so if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through what the consequences are, because the Chinese will not treat that the way they'll treat some other issues. They won't even treat it the way they treat issues around the South China Sea, where we've had a lot of tensions. This goes to the core of how they see themselves. And their reaction on this issue could end up being very significant. 
That doesn't mean that you have to adhere to everything that's been done in the past. It does mean that you've got to think it through and have planned for potential reactions that they may engage in.

Although Obama's actual words were more well-considered than some Taiwan advocates wanted to believe, I still feel they were not strong enough in support of Taiwan, and still repeated the same old lie that the status quo "works" for Taiwan, rather than acknowledging that Taiwan has essentially been bullied into accepting something that doesn't actually work well for them, as the least bad option.

Of course, we can't judge Biden entirely on the foreign policy weaknesses of Obama, but as his Vice President, he was right there during all those mistakes, giving us no reason to believe he'd tried to advise a different path.

Final call: Biden isn't as bad on China as he initially comes across any longer, but he will probably be weak on Taiwan if elected, given his history. If the chips are down and Taiwan needs backup, I don't trust him to be the one to provide it. That said, he the only candidate I've heard so far who says we should strengthen our ties with Taiwan - it's just that I don't trust him on the follow-through, given what he's said in the past.


And no, I'm not interested in hearing about Hunter Biden in China because it just isn't important enough and there's no evidence that it matters.


Elizabeth Warren

I'll admit up front, she's my favorite.

There are some potential downsides to a Warren presidency for Taiwan - she hasn't directly been asked or spoken about Taiwan, for example, it's hard to map support for Hong Kong or the Uighurs onto an obvious incentive to support Taiwan. As far as I know, she did not congratulate President Tsai on winning in January. She did not vote for the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), choosing not to cast a vote at all. Among other things, the NDAA:

....describes Taiwan as a vital partner critical to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and reaffirms U.S. commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act and Six Assurances. It also calls for enhanced Taiwan-U.S. cooperation on cybersecurity, and directs the U.S. defense secretary to submit a report on the feasibility of establishing a high-level, interagency working group in this regard.
Please remember, however, that the NDAA is an omnibus defense spending bill, and Warren chose not to vote for it because of the high level of spending. The Taiwan language is just one part of a much larger bill, and this is not necessarily significant. (That said, she did vote for the NDAA for 2018 [passed in 2017], but not the one for 2019 [passed in 2018]). 

However, all of her other bona fides are strong.

She's probably the most hawkish Democrat running, and yet someone who wants to de-escalate unnecessary conflicts while having a strong inclination toward American engagement and support of democracy and human rights abroad. This could be read as being pro-hegemon (with the US as hegemon), and honestly, there's something to that interpretation. Or as The Atlantic once put it:

Instead of separating the pursuit of progressive ideals from the maintenance of American dominance, Warren tries—uncomfortably—to square the two. Unlike Sanders, she doesn’t challenge the narrative of a virtuous cold war in which America rose to superpower status while at the same time spreading liberty and prosperity. She embraces it. 


On the other hand, you could say she's in favor of US engagement, including potential military engagement, where human rights are concerned, but wants to end self-serving and pointless US engagements. Although I am beginning to despise the word "nuance" as it's so often used to criticize anyone who criticizes China, I prefer this gentler - shall we say more nuanced - interpretation. In other words:
"She has this theme for domestic policy which is about corruption and deep structural change and inequality," said Ilan Goldenberg, former chief of staff to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations in the Obama State Department who has been advising the Warren campaign since the summer. "She wants to apply that to foreign policy writ large."


What does this have to do with Taiwan? Well, this is the best possible view of foreign policy for Taiwan that you might get from a liberal. And I say this lovingly, as a liberal. Conservatives have typically been more hawkish and militaristic, but only insofar as it benefits the US.  It's never really about democracy and human rights at all. More peacenik radical liberals want disengagement on a massive scale, seeing most US involvement abroad as hegemony, not help (and to be honest, in the past they've generally been correct about this). Warren is somewhere in the middle, and that's what Taiwan needs. A liberal who is genuinely concerned about fostering liberalism abroad (not US hegemony or regimes whose power benefits the US per se), and who is willing to engage on that front. Taiwan's core call for support is a moral one, rooted in asking the US and other nations to make good on their claims of commitment to global freedom and human rights.

To this end, it's worth listening to what one of Warren's foreign policy advisors has to say.

Does Warren actually make good on her version of American influence abroad? It's hard to say, but I'd wager that she might be the real deal. Her no-vote on NDAA shows she's not just another military blowhard, and she's said all the right things on China (more on that below). However, some of her language mirrors Biden's in terms of leading a plucky band of liberal democracies to get the job done:

What we have seen in Hong Kong in recent months is a tribute to the ideals that our country should stand for. The people of Hong Kong are standing up to demand a voice in how they are governed, and their protests represent an organic movement by the people inspired by the ideals of democratic government. They deserve the support of the United States and the world.

China’s actions in Xinjiang are a violation of international law and of basic human rights. I have supported efforts to respond strongly to these acts, including export controls on technology used for surveillance of China’s Muslim communities and targeted sanctions on those who are directly responsible for these policies of oppression. The United States should also mobilize the international community to hold China’s leadership accountable for its abuses.

For the reasons stated above, I'm wary of such language. It makes sense on one level, but on another, international affairs are not a real-world heist flick in which you need a "crew" to get the job done. Sometimes the right thing to do is simply right, period, and you can't wait for all your less action-oriented friends to come around when they are still debating whether Huawei should be allowed to hand all their citizens' data over to China.

That said, she's already started to make good, by co-sponsoring the HKHRDA and otherwise calling for concrete support of Hong Kong



The United States must send a clear message that it and its partners expect China to live up to its commitments—and that they will respond when China does not. To send that message over the situation in Hong Kong, the United States should take two steps. 
First, it must stop exports of police gear to Hong Kong. Protesters have asked for an independent investigation into the credible claims that the Hong Kong police have used excessive force. Until the report of such an investigation is released, the United States should stop all exports of U.S. security, police, or surveillance equipment to Hong Kong. 
Second, it should provide temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure to Hong Kong residents. As the country did following Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen, the United States should protect Hong Kong residents involved in protests and who travel to the United States until they are confident that they will not be punished for exercising the right to peaceful assembly. 
The current situation must be resolved peacefully through dialogue. And China needs to know that the United States has options if it resorts to force in Hong Kong.

She also co-sponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. She has said regarding Chinese actions in Xinjiang:

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a democratic candidate for the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election, also weighed in on Twitter, referring to China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities as “cruel, bigoted … [and] a horrifying human rights violation,” and calling on Americans to “stand up to hatred and extremism.”

Notably, Warren is "the only senator running for president who signed a bipartisan letter to Trump administration officials in April urging greater export controls and Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese officials overseeing the Xinjiang policy." Here's the letter. The wording is quite strong, and she is indeed the only Democratic contender to have signed it. Not only that, she (along with Sanders) signed a letter way back before Trump's first visit to China reminding him of his obligations under the TRA.

On a less grand note, she voted against confirming Terry Branstad as ambassador to China. Branstad is described as an "old friend" of Xi Jinping, whose appointment was speculated to have been aimed at assuaging Chinese anger over stronger US gestures toward Taiwan. She voted for the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act (both of which passed the Senate unanimously - the TTA is now law; I believe the TAIPEI Act is currently working its way through the House).

Final call: what Taiwan needs is a hawkish Democrat who is genuinely interested in freedom and human rights around the world, without the baggage of endless wars that benefit no-one except the US defense industry. I can see why some criticize her more conventional approach, but we need a president who might - just maybe! - stand up for Taiwan for the right reasons. She hasn't said a thing about Taiwan that I can find, but her overall foreign policy philosophy is one that I can get behind. I do think she is the best possible choice.


Bernie Sanders

This will be shorter, as a lot of what I said about Warren can also be said about Sanders. He did not vote for the NDAA (like Warren, he didn't vote against it, either). He signed that same letter - linked above - reminding Trump of the US obligations outlined in the TRA. As the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act both passed the Senate unanimously, he would have voted for both. He voted against Terry Branstad. Like Warren, he co-sponsored the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. (I'm a bit sick of finding links - all of this can be easily looked up).

But the two candidates do differ. Unlike Warren, Sanders is much more of a foreign policy dove. To quote The Atlantic again:

In the tradition of Henry Wallace, George McGovern, and Jesse Jackson, Sanders has decoupled progressive ideals from American dominance. In a speech last year in Missouri, he cited America’s coups against Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and Salvador Allende in Chile as evidence that “far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power … have caused incalculable harm.” Sanders also promoted the United Nations as a key vehicle for solving global problems. Then, last month, in a speech at Johns Hopkins, he included both U.S. adversaries such as Russia and close U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel as part of a “new authoritarian axis,” and suggested that combatting it would require a “global progressive movement.”
In his two speeches, Sanders called for a more peaceful, more just, and more environmentally sustainable world, but he never suggested that achieving those goals required maintaining America’s global dominance. In fact, he avoided the subject of great-power competition entirely. He mentioned China only three times: twice as a potential partner in fighting climate change and once as a potential partner in denuclearizing North Korea.  

This leads me to believe his instinctive inclination, should the need to concretely stand up for Taiwan arise - including the possibility of supporting Taiwan in a military conflict with China, would be to avoid engagement. At a time when Taiwan needs strong assurances of support, this is not the best approach.

What's more, having been in the Senate longer than Warren, we have some idea what his past choices have been, when it comes to concrete help for Taiwan. And unfortunately, he has generally opposed it. He voted against selling F-16s to Taiwan in 2011, and against "missile defense cooperation" (developing a ballistic missile system in Asia capable of protecting Taiwan) in 1997, arguably at a time when newly-democratized Taiwan desperately needed such an assurance.

Those are old bills, but that overall inclination against engagement generally and helping Taiwan in concrete, specific ways does not bode well.

Sanders has praised Taiwan's health care system, meaning he is aware of what the country has achieved, but I have to say that's not really enough to compete with Warren's more engaged, China-hawk approach.

On China, Sanders is alarmingly naive (a lot of this can be cross-checked here as well). And yes, this gets long because the details matter:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered praise for China while stating in an interview that he believed the U.S. could have a positive relationship with the country, saying it had made "more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization." [Me: yeah, and they've also done the most to create extreme poverty of any country in the history of modern civilization. Jeez.]
The Democratic presidential candidate offered a nuanced view of Beijing, criticizing it for a move toward authoritarianism and stating that it looked out for its own interests first, but also saying it had made progress in helping its own people over the last several decades. [Nope. See above.]
"China is a country that is moving unfortunately in a more authoritarian way in a number of directions,” Sanders told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball. "But what we have to say about China in fairness to China and it’s leadership is if I’m not mistaken they have made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization, so they’ve done a lot of things for their people.” [No, they haven't. Ask anyone in Wuhan. They could have addressed that epidemic before it became an emergency but chose to cover it up instead.] 
Sanders said the the United States would have "hoped that they would move toward a more Democratic form of government," and criticized China for "moving in the opposite direction."  [Weak.]
Beijing has come under criticism recently for battles between police and demonstrators in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. 
At the same time, Sanders said he did not believe China represented an "existential threat" to the United States.  [China's exact plan is to threaten the United States. Not its existence, but its global influence. I don't love the US, but that's still a bad thing.]
"Their economy now is struggling but I think it is absolutely possible for us to have a positive working relationship with China," said Sanders, who has been battling with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for support in the Democratic primary. [If you really think that is possible, you do not understand China.]

Final call: although his actual voting record in recent years has been more favorable to supporting those fighting the CCP for access to human rights, his words on China and isolationist approach trouble me and his long-term voting record bothers me more. Although he might not be disastrous for Taiwan, he is not the strongest pick. Even Joe Biden - Joe Biden! - has made stronger statements of support for Taiwan than Sanders.


Andrew Yang


I've already written extensively about this, and won't repeat myself.

Here is what Yang has said about Taiwan:

Perhaps his lengthiest public comments on Taiwan so far came in October, when he told CBS reporter Nicole Sganga that ‘the Taiwan issue has been with us for decades’ and that a ‘positive continuation of the status quo should be one of our top priorities’, including ‘a relationship that works for both Taiwan and China’.

He's wrong of course - the status quo is a bad deal for Taiwan that it has been forced to accept for lack of better options. It's taking crumbs when you deserve a meal. It's giving the bully only half your lunch money. 

Even more frighteningly, this steaming pile of absolute garbage was written by Ann Lee, a foreign policy advisor to Andrew Yang. Here is some garbage for you:
For some, this includes designating Iran, Russia and China as enemies because the US doesn’t have total control over these countries, and stirring up Islamic extremism because all three of these countries have large Muslim populations that can be turned into terrorists against their own countries. 
By creating Islamic extremism in these territories, the home-grown Muslim terrorists could then battle these foreign governments on behalf of the US, thus reducing the need to sacrifice American soldiers.

You read that right: an advisor to Yang thinks that the US is to blame for "Islamic extremism" in Xinjiang...not Chinese persecution of Uighur minorities.

Yikes.

He has said some positive things - speaking out against the genocide of the Uighurs, China's aggressive stance on Taiwan, and troubling authoritarianism. Here's a quote:

The treatment of the Uighurs in China is unacceptable, and we need to be a part of the chorus of voices across the world calling the situation out for what it is. It’s also troubling to see China take a more aggressive stance throughout the region, whether towards Hong Kong, Taiwan, or in the South China Sea. 
China obviously has great ambition, and their system of government is becoming increasingly authoritarian as they develop more technologies that allow them to monitor and control their population. It’s important that we work with our allies to combat the spread of this authoritarian capitalism, and provide a model for democratic capitalism.
He's also said some of the right things on Hong Kong:
I applaud the NBA for saying very clearly that they would not discipline Daryl Morey* or any of the employees for exercising their free speech rights. I think that was the appropriate stance. I think it's appropriate for a company to stand up for its own values and then pay something of an economic price. You know, it's easy to stand up for your values if there's no price involved. [Emphasis mine.] And so I applaud the NBA for not bending to Chinese demands when it came to disciplining Daryl Morey.

That said, he's also got the mindset that one can actually play China's games:
If we want to both manage the relationship and serve our own values, we have to find a combination of carrots and sticks that help bring the Chinese to the table to address not just what's going on in Hong Kong but our own intellectual property rights, the trade issues that we have, climate change, North Korea, artificial intelligence. It is one of the most important relationships that may well define the 21st century. And it's something that I'm excited to get to work on.
Carrots and sticks, lol. Cute. I hope he figures out soon that the only way to win against China is not to play their game. Sadly, he's still playing:
We're going to live up to our international commitments. We're going to recommit to our partnerships and alliances, including NATO. And it was James Mattis that said "the more you invest in diplomats and diplomacy, the less you have to spend on ammunition." That has to be the path forward to help build an international consensus not just against Russia, but also to build a coalition that will help us put pressure on China, in terms of their treatment of their ethnic minorities, and what's going on in Hong Kong.

I like the overall idea of this, but again, it treats China as though it can be a reasonable negotiating partner. It can't. The CCP wasn't built that way. It doesn't exist that way, and so that kind of diplomacy will fail.

However, to be fair, that's just a slightly weaker repackaging of what a lot of Democratic candidates are saying. 


Final call: I don't care if he has Taiwanese ancestry. I want the best person for Taiwan, and that may not be someone whose heritage can be traced here. I don't think he's the best choice. Like the others, he's not a total wash, but he's a bit weak on China, thinks the status quo is "positive" (LOL), and genuinely seems to think China can be treated as a rational negotiating partner, rather than seeing the truth: that the CCP are Nazis and we need to deal with them like Nazis. 



Pete Buttigieg

As above, Buttigieg was one of the only Democratic candidates to congratulate Tsai Ing-wen on her election win. 


His China stance is strong-ish:
The Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of the Uighurs and other minorities, and growing pressure on Hong Kong, are symptomatic of a broader, and intensifying, “systems” competition. Beijing seems committed to consolidating and legitimizing authoritarian capitalism as an alternative to the democratic capitalism embraced by the United States and its closest allies and partners. 

Where necessary and feasible, we should seek cooperation with Beijing, such as in addressing climate disruption, maintaining strategic stability, combatting terrorism, and managing conflict through international peacekeeping. But the United States must defend our fundamental values, core interests, and critical alliances, and accept that this will often entail friction with China. [Yes! Good! Correct!]
For too long we have underestimated China’s ambitions, while overestimating our ability to shape them. We must instead focus on repairing our democracy and reinvesting in our economic and technological competitiveness; inoculating open societies from corrupt, coercive, or covert political interference; strengthening, rather than straining, our alliances in order to put collective pressure on China for unfair economic practices, human rights abuses, and intimidation of countries that stand up for their sovereignty; realigning defense and other national security investments to reflect China’s military modernization and full-spectrum statecraft; and reducing vulnerabilities from economic interdependence by disentangling the most sensitive sectors of our economies--in an orderly, not chaotic, fashion--and ensuring that American and allied resources and technologies do not underpin authoritarian oppression and surveillance. 
There's more of that "we need to get the world to come together and stop China" talk. I don't disagree, it's just that what I said above still holds true: you can't always wait for your friends to back you when you stand up for what's right, and "let's build a consensus on this" is often used as a synonym for "let's do nothing about this".

Here's another way Buttigieg might be offering up a more palatable "let's do nothing and pretend we succeeded":

Here is where Buttigieg parts ways with Warren and Sanders, for whom China’s authoritarianism and corruption are explicitly linked to rising authoritarianism and corruption at home. For Buttigieg, China’s authoritarianism instead presents an opportunity for self-renewal: “The single best thing we can do to roll back authoritarianism abroad is to model the strength of inclusive democratic capitalism right here in the United States.”

Yeah, okay, cool, but you know that China does not give a single solitary shit about what the US models in its own society, right? And that it will censor any US efforts at "modeling" anything so that its own citizens won't be inspired, yes?

The CCP are Nazis. They do not care how great you are. They only care about their own control. 


Final call: Buttigieg talks strongly enough on China, but I don't think he's strong at all on the follow-through. Not the best choice.

Mike Bloomberg

Oh, god.

He hasn't said a thing about Taiwan - really few candidates have - but here are some of his words on China:

The former New York mayor and his company Bloomberg LP are heavily invested in China and in the idea of accommodating the Chinese government – even if that means turning a blind eye to its realities. Bloomberg’s closeness to the Chinese leadership is surely an asset for his business, but it reveals a huge weakness in his bid to be president of the United States. 
Bloomberg laid bare his blinkered view of how the Chinese leadership operates in a September interview with PBS’s Firing Line: “The Communist Party wants to stay in power in China and they listen to the public,” Bloomberg said. “Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.”
I mean, of course this is an absolute joke. Here's more!
Bloomberg was arguing Beijing is committed to green environmental stewardship. The billionaire’s charitable foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has worked for years to help finance Chinese green energy initiatives in cooperation with the Chinese government. Overall, China’s environmental policies are terrible, but they have made some progress on urban pollution. 
But when challenged by host Margaret Hoover on whether he really believes Xi is “responsive” to the democratic will of his people, Bloomberg doubled down. 
“The Chinese Communist Party looks at Russia and they look for where the Communist Party is and they don’t find it anymore. And they don’t want that to happen. So they really are responsive,” he said.

No, they aren't.

Anyway, when asked more formally, this is what Richie McLatecomer had to say:

The U.S. can and must continue to work with China on global problems where cooperation between the world’s two most powerful nations is crucial – the most urgent being climate change. But the way in which protesters in Hong Kong have looked to the U.S. for support as they demand greater accountability from their leaders is a reminder that our values matter. While we shouldn’t seek out a new Cold War with China, we should always defend those values at home and abroad, instead of trading them for a photo op. 

I support legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights violations in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang. China is not a democracy, does not have democratic institutions and too frequently abuses the rights of its citizens. If the country wants to be accepted as a global leader, it needs to treat all its people, especially those in areas such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang that have been promised a degree of autonomy, with greater dignity and respect. 

I also believe that the best way for the U.S. to handle the rise of China is to strengthen our alliances in Asia and make the domestic investments necessary to ensure our businesses and workers have the tools they need to out-innovate and out-compete the Chinese. The stronger we are at home, the stronger and more appealing our message will be abroad. 

Some of that is great - standing up to China concerning Hong Kong and Xinjiang, but leading with a call to cooperate the the CCP rather than "they are quite possibly the biggest threat to global freedom in existence today" and backtracking from "Xi is not a dictator" to a still-weak "China is not a democracy" are not good looks. And of course, China does not care - truly - about how "appealing" our message is, and they won't let that message reach their own people.

In the long run he's not strong on Hong Kong, though, saying a bunch of "it's a tough situation...we'd have to do it through the back door...the PRC needs to work harder..." which really doesn't say anything at all.

Bloomberg has a history of being anti-Taiwan in some very petty ways (though I don't trust that source entirely, handle with care) but there's not much else available.

Final call: says some of the right things but is weak on China and therefore not good for Taiwan. His money and investments in China are an issue. Probably the worst possible choice, also not likely to win so don't worry too much about it. 



Amy Klobuchar

There's just not a lot to say about her on China, and nothing at all on Taiwan! 

As a senator, she would have voted for the Taiwan Travel Act, TAIPEI Act, HKHRDA and Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. I didn't have to look all that up - all of these passed unanimously.

However, like Sanders, in 2011 she voted against selling F-16s to Taiwan. She voted no on the 2020 NDAA - the one that had all that strong Taiwan language (though, again, it was an omnibus bill and that vote doesn't necessarily mean anything). She voted to confirm Terry Branstad - that "friend of Xi Jinping" - as ambassador to the PRC. That is less encouraging than Warren's and Sanders' votes against.

Most of her talk about China is on economic issues - she seems really concerned about steel dumping, and I'm sure that's important but it's not relevant to Taiwan. On human rights and China, she said this:

She says human rights must play a larger role in the U.S. relationship with China, and argues that Washington must “stand up against” the mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs and protesters in Hong Kong. However, she told CFR that human rights issues should be kept separate from trade negotiations.


Great...a little weak, but great.

She reiterated support for Hong Kong on Twitter (she was a co-sponsor of the HKHRDA) and again when asked by the New York Times. However, unlike Warren and Sanders, she did not sign that letter reminding Trump of his TRA obligations (neither did Michael Bennet, below).

But overall, her views on China, while not entirely awful, aren't strong enough to be extrapolated into some possible support for Taiwan.

Final call: not totally weak on China, but not the friend Taiwan needs. She'd probably focus a lot on economic issues with China, angering the CCP, and then not push hard for Taiwan as she'd have already pissed them off on trade. She seems willing to engage critically with China, but not to necessarily support Taiwan.

Tulsi Gabbard

I thought Bloomberg was the worst pick, but no, it might just be Tulsi Gabbard!

I mean she's really absolutely awful. She hasn't said a thing about Taiwan, but she's incredibly weak on China in general. When asked by the Council on Foreign Relations about China, she said nothing at all on human rights or standing up for democratic values abroad, instead pretending China could be our friend:

Gabbard criticizes President Donald J. Trump’s confrontational stance toward Beijing and warns about the downsides of escalating tensions with China. She says a cooperative relationship is needed instead to confront global challenges.

She further said here that it was essentially not the US's job to do anything concrete at all, repeating the old joke that the US can support human rights around the world by being a "beacon for the world to see"...but again, not actually doing anything.

Hong Kongers already know the US, while deeply flawed, isn't the horrorshow that is CCP rule. They don't need to "see" it any more. They need help. And yet again, China does not give one single fuck about our "beacon".

She also has ties to Hindu nationalist groups, whose overall approach to governance, though religious in its fundamentalism, is closer on the ideological spectrum to the CCP than to any country that truly values democratic rights and freedoms (I actively dislike the BJP, if you hadn't noticed, and of course Hindutva and those groups are absolutely awful.)

My god, she may be worse than an oil-hungry Republican when it comes to China.

Final call: Gabbard is not and cannot be a friend to Taiwan, if she is so weak on China. Absolutely avoid at all costs.


Deval Patrick


Hey, this guy is pretty strong on China! Here's what he says:
China’s treatment of the Uighurs, its aggravation of the situation in Hong Hong, and its other human rights and economic abuses must result in the increasing isolation of China on the world stage.  To that end, the United States must rebalance power on the global stage with China to ensure that we restore our global leadership in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

China’s human rights’ violations must not be overlooked.  The desirability of access to Chinese markets is not a reason to excuse abuses of her people.  Accordingly, China should be accountable to the global community for its repression of the members of the Uighur ethnic minority.  That accountability may extend to sanctions against the individuals and corporations that enable these appalling acts, and my administration would elevate the treatment of the Uighur minority to the agenda in any trade negotiations.

We will also make clear that the United States and its allies stand in solidarity with advocates of democracy in Hong Kong, including through the implementation of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.  Our support for Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations will align with our re-commitment to strengthening relationships with the world’s democracies.  

That last line about strengthening relationships with the world's democracies sounds like it could give a little hope to Taiwan.

Honestly there's not a lot else out there - I don't know that we can infer a Taiwan policy from that single source.

Final call: I'm just not sure, but what he has to say sounds more promising than anything Bloomberg or Gabbard have offered. 



Tom Steyer

Overall, Steyer seems pretty weak. Not a tankie in its larval stage like Gabbard, but the only solution he offers is to do nothing except as part of a "coalition", which again I would support if I think it meant anything other than an excuse to do nothing. Otherwise, he seems super inclined to support shaking his finger at China, without actually doing anything that might upset China:
Steyer calls China a competitor, but says that “like it or not” the United States has to maintain a political and economic relationship with Beijing. 

Steyer opposes President Donald J. Trump’s trade war with China but says the United States must “stand up strongly” to Beijing’s theft of U.S. intellectual property. 

He believes that Trump’s America First policy has created a void in international power politics that China and Russia are eager to fill.

He says the United States should respond to abuses by authorities in Hong Kong by creating a coalition of democracies to push back, rather than seeking a bilateral solution.

He argues that the United States can’t isolate itself from China, since working with China on climate and regional security will require maintaining a good relationship with Beijing.

That doesn't sound promising for Taiwan.

In this Vox interview, Alex Ward mentions that Steyer doesn't seem to think the Uighurs are victims of "genocide", to which Steyer says there are human rights violations, but that the US should not step in alone, rather, that we should step in as part of an international coalition of some sort.

He does not elaborate clearly on what sort of coalition that would be. When asked if he meant the UN, he doesn't point out, as Taiwan advocates so dearly know, that the UN can't do a thing about China as long as China is on the Security Council.

He seems inclined to think that Obama's approach to foreign policy will work in 2020 and beyond, sidestepping the valid point that the world is a different place in 2020 than it was in 2008, and that "working with China on climate change" could well mean "China asks us to stop pestering them about their genocides".

It's worth reading the whole thing.

Honestly, he's got no chance - I didn't even know who he was beyond a name really until I researched this article - so I don't see the point in saying anything more about him.

Final call: still better than Gabbard, but this man is not strong enough on China to be a friend to Taiwan.


Michael Bennet

Bennet reads like a clone of Klobuchar in some ways, and Steyer in others. Here's the summary


Bennet has called China a U.S. competitor and a bad actor on trade, but he favors building coalitions to combat Beijing rather than the unilateral approach of President Donald J. Trump. 
Bennet says that Washington must confront “Chinese malfeasance” on trade but says that “the trade wars are the wrong way to go.” He says the United States should mobilize “the entire rest of the world” and strengthen its alliances in order to stand up to China on its trade practices.

He says China is not the greatest threat the United States faces, but rather is surpassed by Russia. He has declined to label China either a friend or a foe of the United States, preferring to call it a “competitor” instead.

“America and China are now competing to define the future, and unlike us, they’re playing to win,” he told CFR.

He worries that China is “supporting a surveillance state” and expanding its methods around the world with its Belt and Road Initiative. 

He says he would consider restricting the operations of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, calling the company an agent of China’s “proliferation of their network around the world” and a national security risk.

He contrasts China’s scientific progress with a “self-inflicted” scientific vacuum left by the United States’ lack of investment.

Okay. Not super weak on China but not strong either. Not a word on human rights or supporting Hong Kong or Xinjiang. When inferring what a candidate's position on Taiwan might be by how they answer questions regarding China, what they say about human rights and hotspots of Chinese persecution are not perfect analogues, but they do matter. And he's said nothing at all.

That doesn't mean he's wholly against US foreign policy as a tool to support global human rights. As a senator since 2009, he would have voted "yes" on all those great bills: the TAIPEI Act, Taiwan Travel Act, HKHRDA, Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. Again, we know this as those acts passed unanimously. On Twitter he showed strong support for HKHRDA and Hong Kong generally, and was in fact one of the co-sponsors of the act (though he also voted for the confirmation of Terry Branstad in the wake of the Tsai-Trump phone call, and chose not to remind Trump of the existence of the TRA as he made his first trip to China). 


This sounds promising:
And finally, Bennet said he’d fight attacks on democracy and the rise of the far-right globally. These challenges, and more, Bennet argued, require the U.S. not to discard traditional foreign policy values but “to reaffirm them for a new era.”

But ultimately, it's one paragraph in a tsunami of traditionalist views that aren't particularly strong on China and don't point to a robust and effective Taiwan policy.

As with Sanders and Klobuchar, he voted against selling F-16s to Taiwan in 2011. He did not vote on the NDAA (with that strong pro-Taiwan language) for 2020, but voted for the 2019 authorization


Final call: hard to say. Not as weak as Bloomberg or Gabbard, but not as strong as Warren. A toss-up, rather like Klobuchar or even Sanders as their voting records are so similar. Possibly weaker than Joe Biden (!). Doesn't matter - he won't win. 


Summary

It's excruciatingly hard to infer what the presidential contenders will do regarding Taiwan if elected, from scraps of their voting record if holding office, quotes on China, views on China-centric human rights issues and past behavior. It's imperfect and unscientific, and I could be deeply, painfully wrong about every last one of them. 

Except Gabbard - I'm definitely not wrong about her. 

I chose the metrics I did because I didn't have much else to work with. Statements on Taiwan where they existed played a huge role, and I tried to look into who their foreign policy advisors are, if it seemed important enough. Because many bills that are good for human rights in China and good for Taiwan passed unanimously, they aren't a strong indicator. The same is true with the 2020 NDAA - as a huge bill, an abstention or vote against it doesn't necessarily imply a rejection of the strong pro-Taiwan language.

So, where possible, I had to go back and look at how they voted in 1997 on missile cooperation to help Taiwan, 2011 on F-16s, and the confirmation of a China-friendly ambassador to the PRC, and weave those into whatever it is they were saying about human rights in the region and, if applicable, their overall foreign policy vision.

All these things considered, looking at who is best for Taiwan only, this is how I personally would rank the candidates:

1.) Possible strong ally: Elizabeth Warren

2.) This space is intentionally left blank out of protest over the candidates' weak showing on Taiwan.

3.) Strong stance on China and at least congratulated President Tsai: Pete Buttigieg


4.) Says the right things generally but it's hard to go on so little information: Deval Patrick

5.) A toss-up with lots of conflicting information and/or ideologically shifting votes in the past and more recently: Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Joe Biden


6.) Weak on China and therefore not the stalwart friend Taiwan needs: Tom Steyer

I refuse to rank him and it hurts me to say this, but I actually think that when it comes to Taiwan only, Donald Trump may be a better candidate than either Bloomberg or Gabbard.

That doesn't mean I'll vote for him under any circumstances, however.


7.) Weak on China, saying some good things but ultimately trying to play a game we can't win: Michael Bloomberg

8.) An absolute tankie joke when it comes to China and therefore no friend of Taiwan: Tulsi Gabbard



I want to end by saying that this is not my personal ranking of preferred candidates when considering other issues. That's a private matter, though overall I do plan to support Warren.