Showing posts with label us_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us_politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronanxiety

Untitled
Not at all related to the post. I just figured we all deserved a nice picture of a fancy tea set. 


We're all feeling anxious these days. That should be so obvious that I'm not sure why I'm writing this at all. Maybe someone will read it and realize they're not alone - that's the best I can hope for.

Knowing that most people reading this are in Taiwan or connected to Taiwan in some way, my guess is that your anxiety is similar to mine: not so much fear of bodies piling up due to the CCP Virus - the government seems to have the actual spread pretty well under control - but worrying about our loved ones abroad, and what will become of the Taiwanese economy, and our jobs, at the end of it all.

And, yes, anxiety over a possible lockdown. If community transmission becomes apparent, we can be sure a lockdown will shortly follow, before it can get out of hand. 


On top of that, I've been dealing with diagnosed generalized anxiety for almost a year now, though frankly I've probably had it longer than that. Alongside the pressures of working full-time while writing a dissertation, the CCP Virus has been poking at that anxiety nonstop.

So yes, I've been worried about all those things, but I've also found that wearing a mask triggers my anxiety. It's something about having my face constricted, with breathing made more difficult. It's a feeling of being trapped, and it freaks me out. I've been known to rip my mask off and stand in place so I can just breathe. I'm able to breathe physically in them, but psychologically being able to breathe is a different matter entirely. Oddly, wearing one without a cover is worse than slipping it inside a cloth barrier: the softness of the cloth helps mitigate it somewhat.

It's a difficult position to be in when I want to support the social ritual of donning a mask to show we're "all in this together", regardless of whether or not they're effective (I have no idea if they are, but as an obstacle keeping me from touching the lower half of my face, it can't hurt). But, when I wear a mask for too long, I can't actually function in the society where they've taken on this symbolism. I find myself staying home more for this reason.

Besides, when I've tried to go out without one, as I don't think the risk of infection is serious enough to warrant it all the time, I've been asked why I'm not wearing one, or made to answer for my whole country, or all Westerners: why aren't they wearing masks? Don't they know that masks can help?

I usually don't feel like representing my entire country or hemisphere (yes, I realize people of color in the West are faced with this expectation all the time and if anything, it's a privilege that I am usually not). I truly don't feel like explaining to strangers that I have anxiety and the 'trapped' feeling of a mask triggers it. It's rough.

I have no easy answers for that, other than to mentally prepare myself for donning a mask every time I go out - it does help. So does practice - short trips with a fixed end time when I know the mask can come off. I walk when I can, as bus and taxi drivers are likely to ask questions if I don't wear a mask, and it's straight-up weird not to wear one on the MRT these days. In any case, I'm not in confined spaces with random people if I'm walking in the open air.

The anxiety also tends to fold in on itself: that I have anxiety about the CCP Virus makes me feel anxious, so I'm anxious about my own anxiety. I bet that's a familiar feeling for many.

Let me pile on some cliches: there's also the waiting for the other shoe to drop: Taiwan's been doing a great job, but we're not out of the woods yet. I feel like - if there's going to be a lockdown it would be more mentally reassuring if it just happened already (not that I want it to, but the waiting is almost worse). If the economy is going to ruin us all, I don't want to feel like that's a future thing for me to stew about in the present. It's like a tsunami coming in. Sure, you're safer when the tide is going way out, but watching it recede, you know the massive wave is coming in. For Taiwan, that'll probably be an economic shock, but honestly we could also start to see that dreaded community transmission.

It's so weird reading about how the rest of the world is falling apart and economic collapse is surely coming, when life in Taiwan is more or less normal. A bit more teleconferencing and a lot more masks, but otherwise there's been minimal disruption.

And while this country feels safe, it's not a great feeling to know that so many of my loved ones are not as well-protected. Their governments are failing them, and one of those governments is the one I vote for, the one my citizenship is tied to. That I jumped ship to a country that actually knows what it's doing was purely a matter of luck. 


On top of all of that, I'm trying to write a dissertation. I can do that from home, and do videoconference interviews. But I worry about the operations of my university, how preoccupied my supervisor surely is, and frankly, I don't even have the free time to sit and work on the damn thing. And anxiety over that is also folding in on itself, so I'm anxious about the dissertation and anxious about my anxiety over the dissertation.

So what am I doing about it? Rather than taking medication more regularly (I don't have to take a daily pill) and staying home more, with low lights and pleasant music rather than radio broadcasts from the US, where it sounds like the zombie apocalypse is upon us, I've found that approaching it like a frontierwoman helps.

In addition to stocking up on non-perishables, making a few jars of pickles and filling my freezer with blanched fresh vegetables has kept my hands busy and helped convince my wayward brain that it's doing something useful and proactive. It helps. We have a few weeks' worth of food, and healthy food at that. If the lockdown never comes, we have lower grocery bills for awhile, as we weather the economic storm.

I've been focusing on Taiwan's excellent response, not just from the government but the people. There is a sense here that "we're all in this together", and I see people being generous and forgiving with each other more than cruel and opportunistic. It's calming to witness, as I watch the US government outbid state governments for medical equipment, people steal masks from hospitals, Chinese cities steal masks from each other, the UK deciding that it was okay for lots of people to die (a decision they reversed too late) and the US government floats the same idea, so that rich people can stay rich.

In Taiwan, the government is doing its job, people are doing as asked, businesses are starting to take precautions (as opposed to risking lives). It's not perfect but if I focus on the local situation, I can wake up every morning not wondering what fresh hell awaits.

Yes, bus drivers have asked me why I don't wear a mask, when I just can't take it anymore. But, rather than hector me, one gave me an extra mask he had. 


Oh yeah, I've been drinking a bit more frequently (though not more heavily) too. I have a list of people that I would be happy to see get the CCP Virus (Xi Jinping is at the top of it. Trump and Mitch McConnell are there too). One guy on my list already has it, though that's not entirely good news.

Basically I'm also a dark-hearted person.

So, just in case you thought I was dealing with this in only healthy ways - I'm not! 

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. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

An awkward conversation on Andrew Yang and identity (which is not actually about identity)

Andrew Yang (48571504852).jpg
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Andrew Yang, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link



Before I even begin, let me say that I know there are issues surrounding a non-Taiwanese person writing this. Taiwan is my home, but I'm not from here. I look different and am therefore treated differently. My cultural roots are different.


So, before you read this, go read Catherine Chou's excellent piece in Popula about this issue. (The only thing I'd change is that the article does not specifically call the ROC a colonial entity. It is one -  however, I doubt she'd disagree with me on that, or at least not too strongly.)

It's hard to pull a quote as it's all fantastic, but here you go:



As the PRC has risen in might, it has consistently tried to erase the island nation’s unique political and cultural identity, making it clear that any attempt to shed the ROC framework, or otherwise formalize its independence under the name of Taiwan, might be met with invasion. 
This makes the silence around Andrew Yang’s Taiwanese-American heritage that much more striking. In December 2016, then president-elect Donald Trump was lambasted for taking a phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the moderate, wonkish president of the ROC, by liberal American commentators demonstrating little knowledge of the relevant geopolitics. In September 2018, Peter Beinart penned an article in the Atlantic proposing that the US secure peace in East Asia by allowing the PRC to take over Taiwan, an argument that has aged poorly in the wake of the Hong Kong protests and the continuing revelations of the internment camps in Xinjiang. As part of a coordinated campaign of intimidation, the PRC recently pressured dozens of multinational corporations to describe Taiwan as ‘Taiwan, China’ or ‘Taiwan, Province of China’ on their websites. 
Given the obvious tensions, it’s worth asking why there’s been so little discussion about what it might mean for international relations to nominate a Taiwanese-American as the Democratic presidential candidate.


With this in mind, I don't want to come at the Andrew Yang identity debate from the angle of talking about how he should identify. That's a personal decision. He can identify as he wishes and I am supremely unqualified to critique the choice (or non-choice) he makes.

Yang's choice does seem to be a non-choice: he's identified as both Chinese and Taiwanese, though he only seems to pull out the word "Taiwanese" when not many people are paying attention. Otherwise, he's either Generic Asian, blunting his Taiwanese family history - though to be honest that's about as much as white America can often process - or using "Chinese".

What I want to add is this: the choice itself isn't the only point. It may not even be the most important one.

When someone makes a choice (or non-choice) between Taiwanese and Chinese, that choice is not made in a vacuum. It's not a level playing field. There are consequences to identifying as Taiwanese - for a US presidential candidate, these could include angering China (a country he'd have to engage in dialogue with if elected), alienating Chinese-American voters, and spooking other voters who read media reporting of the issue. China has made sure there are consequences; this is an intentional strategy. There are far fewer consequences to identifying as Chinese - fewer people are angered. Fewer friends lost. One less whiny big baby government throwing a tantrum. For a candidate, fewer voters alienated.

And on this unfair playing field, Taiwan always gets screwed. Because there are (intentional) consequences, it takes real guts to insist on Taiwanese identity on a public stage. Even privately, I've heard stories of Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans losing friends for refusing to acquiesce to the idea that Taiwanese are Chinese.

So to choose not to go down that road is not a mere matter of personal identity. These are not two neutral choices that come with equal consequences. 

I'm not judging that on a personal level; we all make choices about how we present ourselves based on how that will be received, and as I don't inhabit a Taiwanese body, I can't truly know on a personal level how it feels to face this specific set of choices and how they might impact me. Yang specifically faces much steeper consequences for making that choice than most of us ever will; it's important to understand that. 

But, as someone who loves Taiwan, would fight to defend it, and considers it her true and only home, Yang's choice also has consequences for me, for people I love, and for Taiwan. Shying away from the choice to be Taiwanese has implications regarding one's foreign policy, how they'll handle China, and whether they will stand up for Taiwan.

Despite Yang having Taiwanese ancestry, I simply do not trust that he will stand up for Taiwan, or that he is the best choice for Taiwan.  Any candidate regardless of background will face some consequences for choosing to stand with Taiwan policy-wise. 

Besides, I am someone who loves Taiwan enough that I've seriously considered whether I'd die to defend it (or more broadly, what it stands for). Again, it is my true and only home. Yet I don't get to choose to be Taiwanese; someone who looks like me, with my cultural roots, simply can't do that, yet. Taiwan is multicultural in a regional sense, but isn't in the same way that many Anglophone countries are; it's accepted that anyone can be American, but not that anyone can be Taiwanese. I accept this.

It's enough to say I'm an ally; I'll leave it at that.

I don't know if that will ever change, but if I were in a position to stand with Taiwan and make a real difference, I would do so.

As Catherine notes, in a perfect world, Taiwanese is a chosen identity. 




It does sort of hurt to see someone who could choose it, in a position to make a real difference to Taiwan, not do so consistently.

I think it's fair to say that in a world where Taiwaneseness can be freely chosen without the consequences deliberately set by China, Yang (and others) would be more likely to choose it. It's disappointing that we don't live in that world and so he hasn't, although he's under no obligation to do so. 


Regardless of identity, does Yang stand with Taiwan?

If he had an informed Taiwan policy that was good for this country, I wouldn't care how he identified or what he said about it. As above, that's personal. In the end I'll support who is best for Taiwan no matter what they say (or choose not to say) about their background.

Sadly, that person is not Yang. His statements on Taiwan are a mélange of unenlightened, status-quo, China-benefiting pap:



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’.

You have to be really ignorant of how things work in the Taiwan Strait to think that this situation 'works' for Taiwan. It is begrudgingly accepted by Taiwan for lack of a better alternative, thanks to Chinese bullying and fears of war. But 'work'? Not unless you think Taiwan wants this and wants to be the ROC, and believes in 'One China'. Data consistently show that on all counts, it does not.

This situation works for China, and helps the US avoid taking a clear stand in support of Taiwan. Nothing more. Yang should know that. Why doesn't he?


Yang stated incorrectly that the US has a ‘mutual defense treaty with Taiwan’. (The Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty was abrogated in 1979, the year that the US established formal diplomatic relations with the PRC. In its place, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which governs arms sales to Taiwan and allows for the maintenance of an unofficial embassy on the island, the American Institute of Taiwan.) Yang also failed to clarify that under the ‘status quo’ Taiwan is already independent from the PRC.


Taiwanese, Chinese, American, hyphenated, whatever: I would have hoped that, given his familial ties to this part of the world, that he'd know better and be a better ally to Taiwan.

And Catherine has already done a fine job of pointing out the erasure of Taiwaneseness, even (especially) among Asian-Americans:


The sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen recently described Andrew Yang on Twitter as the ‘first Chinese American presidential candidate’ and responded to evidence of his (sometime) identification as a Taiwanese-American by arguing that the ‘difference between [Chinese and Taiwanese] is much more nuanced’ than her critics seemed to think and that ‘there are Taiwan-born [and] -raised folks who identify as Chinese, not Taiwanese’. Her statements, however, overlook trends in present-day Taiwan, where 73% of people ages 20 to 29 identify as Taiwanese only. Polls now consistently show that fewer than 5% of people living in Taiwan identify as Chinese only. [Emphasis mine].

At this rate, I'll end up quoting the whole piece here! I try not to do that but no matter, I do believe her voice is more important than mine on this issue so it's great if her words take up real estate on my blog.

Angry people will say "stop playing identity politics", "don't tell people how to identify", "that's just ethno-nationalism" or some variation on that theme, and then use that rationale to go ahead and just lump Taiwanese in with Chinese.

In other words, they insist that nobody can dictate identity, and then go ahead and decide how Taiwanese should identify by erasing their existence and considering them Chinese. They seem completely unaware of how the second half of that equation completely negates the power of the first.

Everyone else gets to be proud of their roots and identify how they wish, but when Taiwanese want to do the same, their desire is called 'nationalist' or 'ethnocentric' or 'divisive'.

Erasing Taiwanese identity this way is the result of an intentional strategy on the part of China to influence such dialogue, but people who engage in it seem ignorant of this.

Those same people then go on to have earnest conversations about what identity - including more specific identity - means to them, without considering how this attitude makes it difficult for Taiwanese to do the same. To stand up and be fully themselves, however they may choose to identify and articulate it.

How is it that we agree nobody can tell anyone else how to identify, but Taiwan isn't supported as a potential identity by the very people who say that? Do they realize they're playing a part in the intentional strategy of making it difficult to choose Taiwaneseness?


If you don't see it, consider this: Hasan Minhaj did a whole segment on the Asian-American vote, listed the various ethnic groups under the hypernym 'Asian', interviewed a candidate whose ancestry is from Taiwan, and still managed to not mention Taiwan at all. 

If that's not a case of an Asian-American erasing the possibility of identity for other Asian-Americans, I don't know what is.

What's interesting here as well is that every time I've heard Yang's non-choice discussed, it's under the assumption that he must waver on whether he is Taiwanese American, Chinese American, neither or both because his parents must be KMT diaspora (that horrible term 外省人 which I hope, along with its twin 本省人 will cease to hold real social meaning as expeditiously as possible, for many reasons.  'KMT diaspora' is the most neutral term I could come up with; it includes those who came here not as oppressors but refugees, though many were oppressors and some refugee attitudes supported that.) 

However, that's not the case:




This is backed up by the thread that follows.

Frankly, I don't care where Yang's family comes from or how long they've been here. It's just really interesting that many people have made this incorrect assumption. 


It's a perfect illustration, in fact, of why it shouldn't matter. A few generations on, plenty of grandchildren of KMT diaspora are strong supporters of Taiwanese identity. Many of my friends are - I don't care where they came from; I care about what they think regarding Taiwan. And plenty of people whose families have been here for far longer hold Han nationalist or anti-Taiwan views. Yang is a good example of a person with old Taiwanese roots who still isn't exactly in Taiwan's corner.

It's sad but not surprising, by the way, that Taiwanese identity is associated with 'ethno-nationalism' but Han supremacism/Han chauvinism isn't, even though it's ethno-nationalism in favor of an ethnic Chinese state. Whereas Taiwaneseness is by its nature anti-ethno-nationalist - if Taiwanese and Chinese are ethnically/culturally similar - whatever that means - but Taiwan doesn't want to be a part of China despite this, Taiwaneseness must be founded on something else, no? Something more values-and-history based?


At the end of all of this, considering Yang's freedom to define his own identity, all I can say is this:

If you think allies of Taiwan who can vote in the US are going to support Yang just because he has Taiwanese roots in some sort of identitarian frenzy, you're sorely mistaken. At least regarding me. I don't want 'the Asian guy' - by going that route, he's Generic Asian-ed himself out of my consideration.

There is something to be said for an Asian-American simply being on that stage; it's an important moment of representation. However, as I'm not Taiwanese, I can't speak to whether having Andrew Yang and his non-choice is specifically an important moment for Taiwanese-American visibility specifically. I'd think not, but it's not for me to say.

To repeat my earlier point: his personal identity choice and what he says about it matter less than whether his stated policy beliefs as a presidential candidate show he's a Taiwan ally. I want the socially liberal candidate who is best for Taiwan.

Identity aside, that person is Elizabeth Warren, not Andrew Yang. 


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where Richard Bush is right, and where he is wrong

IMG_1803


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

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

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


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


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

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

Echoing Froze, Bush points out:


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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the "open letter":


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

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



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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Let's start with the top shelf dippery:


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


and:



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


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


This is false.

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

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

Ever. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

Let me repeat:

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

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

Let them.

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

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

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

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

We know better and we will not be fooled.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Chinese government spying is the scariest sort: an explainer

I'm in the US for the holidays, and a segment came on some silly morning show (they're all silly) about how China is "revolutionizing" shopping and payment through cell phone payment apps at a far higher rate than the US. Or, as the silly hosts of this silly program described it, "China is decades ahead of the US in shopping technology".

And I made a remark about how that's actually terrifying, because the Chinese government watches essentially everything you do on your cell phone in China, and can and will use it against you. They don't even try to hide it. That everyone I know who is knowledgeable about cybersecurity in any way uses a second dummy cell in China for all of the apps there that come packaged with nasty spyware.

The person I was watching the program with looked duly horrified - after all, the silly segment by that silly host on that silly TV show was making China out to be this amazing technological wonderland of the future (the tone was similar the one taken in this article, but if anything less critical). What I was saying was totally at odds with that.

She came back with "you know, I'm sure the US government does that too, we just don't know about it."

Sure. I mean...kinda. But it's not at all the same thing. I don't blame her for her reaction, by the way - when your exposure to current affairs in China comes entirely from Western media, and mostly Western media that is uncritical about China but highly critical of domestic affairs, interspersed with ads for Shen Yun (with no context whatsoever pointing out that a.) the Chinese government hates them, which is great but also b.) that they are owned by a wealthy cult-like religious organization which is not great), then this would be your natural reaction.

But there is a world of difference, and it's important to know why.

I'm going to come at this from a non-expert, non-academic, non-technical point of view. If you want detailed, professional analysis go somewhere else. I've noticed, however, that the average non-expert finds these issues too dense and daunting and typically doesn't read or fully understand them. Hell, I can't claim to fully understand them (this, for example, is barely readable to me despite being highly important). Instead, I'm hoping to tackle this in a way that helps the average reader comprehend what is so terrifying about China's government surveillance, in particular.


"But the US government does the same thing!" 

This is an issue in that the US government does have some unsettling rights to surveillance and data under the Patriot Act. I don't like it either, and I've had it and other surveillance programs affect me three times that I know of, including having to sign something that allowed the US government to monitor one of my bank accounts in Taiwan, and being unable to open a new IRA in the US.

So, yes, it's creepy and horrible. Please don't categorize me as a defender of the actions of the US government.

But. But! This is really not on the same level as what the Chinese government does.

For reasons explained below, it's doubtful that the US government is directly intervening in what private businesses do, forcing them to put spyware into their devices or app/online offerings. They're not using what data they do collect in the same way as China, and while maddeningly opaque and bureaucratic, the very fact that the US is a democracy with certain freedoms of expression and information means it is still more transparent than China.

Oh yeah, and say what you will about who is watching what you do online, but the US government isn't going to disappear you because you said something online that they don't like. Even if you make suspicious purchases or phone calls, or visit certain sites, you might find yourself detained or questioned, but you won't be disappeared in an unmarked van.

No, you won't. Don't give me any conspiracy theory nonsense. But in China this is a real thing



"The US government could just be putting spyware in our phones too!" 

Maybe. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

As far as I'm aware, the US government doesn't "own" (or have some sort of control over) the various tech companies that make our stuff. The US government can't tell Apple, Google, Paypal, Venmo etc. what to do the way the CCP can tell Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu and Alipay what to do. It's an open secret - if it's a secret at all - that Communist Party members and officials have a controlling stake in those Chinese companies and they almost certainly do have those companies install spyware and other backdoor access to data in their products.

It is not clear at all that the US has the same thing, and I doubt they do.

The US media, for all we deservedly criticize it, is pretty good at rooting out this stuff, investigating it and exposing it in detail. We know that Donald Trump committed tax fraud thanks to an in-depth investigation by the the New York Times, to give just one example.

If the US government were ordering Apple to install spyware into their phones, or ordering Google to have government spyware installed on everyone's phone with every download of the Chrome app, while those companies would certainly not be transparent about it (seeing as they're not transparent about much), it would still likely break in the media eventually. Criticize it all you want - I do! Push the media to be better. But it's a lot better and a lot freer than in many places, including China.

If anything, you should be scared that the Chinese government, not the American government, is putting some scary things into products by non-Chinese companies. Though it's perhaps less likely as they don't actually control these companies, most of the production takes place in China and some of the components of these products are designed/produced by Chinese companies, so it's still a real possibility.


"But the US monitors our financial transactions and punishes us too, through credit scores!" 

I don't care for credit score companies either. I understand why some institutions would want a heads-up as to how well or poorly you are likely to be able to pay your bills from them, but the way scores are calculated is not nearly as transparent as it needs to be, and in some ways is unfair.

However, most developed countries have some form of credit score system, and the effects are not as far-reaching.

In China, the social credit system being developed will operate on such a greater scale than any credit scoring system that the two can't be seriously compared. A bad credit score might make it hard to get a credit card or loan (or, if it's bad enough, a bank account), and you may be denied a visa to go abroad by that country's embassy, but it won't stop you from buying flight or train tickets or from getting a passport. China eventually willEven articles trying to downplay the threat are unconvincing. It is very real, and it's the outcomes, not the details, that matter.

Even if the US government is spying on us in the same way and to the same degree that the Chinese government spies on their citizens (and, possibly, us) - which they almost certainly are not -  a system designed to force you to be a "good citizen" is not the outcome and nobody is talking seriously about building one.

If that were to change (and in the Trump era, who knows?) we still have ways of fighting back that Chinese citizens do not. We can still speak openly about it. Journalists can investigate and publish stories. If nobody will publish your story you can publish it yourself (and who knows, you might go viral or at least show up in search results). We can file lawsuits against the government. We can vote the bastards out of office. We can push for better legislation. We can take to the streets. We can fundraise for a series of legal moves, lobbying and awareness campaigns that aim to change the way things are. It's hard to do, but it is possible and, most importantly, all of this is legal.

In China, none of it is. In China, you have no recourse. You can't protest, you can't sue, you can't raise money for these causes, you can't easily investigate (nothing is transparent enough for you to be able to do so - there is no Freedom of Information Act), and you can't vote in any meaningful way.

Also, in the US, it is still possible to exist (though with difficulty) without giving the government access to a lot of your data. You don't need to use any apps that you don't want to, and you can still (mostly) pay in cash for things. In China, I hear time and time again that it is impossible to keep in touch with people without WeChat (a social media app that definitely funnels information to the government, and every expert I know says likely comes packaged with all sorts of spyware quietly downloaded on your phone) or Weibo (same). You can't hail a taxi without a WeChat-related app, and may not even be able to buy anything at department stores or go out to eat.

It's becoming impossible to pay for things in China without some sort of phone payment app like WeChat Pay or Alipay. Taxis will upcharge you to an insane degree, and some places won't take cash at all. You can't function in China without signing up for these payment apps, meaning you cannot exist somewhat anonymously in even the simplest ways. In the US, you still can.


"But Facebook and Google collect our data too!" 


They do, and that sucks. And the data seems to be mostly used for selling ads. Even though, if I have to see ads, I'd rather see ones that might interest me, I don't really want companies to refine how well they can target me to convince me to spend my money through psychological means that I often find deceptive. That said, I can and do ignore them. It is possible to not buy. You can not pay attention to ads or fake news targeted at you (another way that our data was problematically used). You can ignore memes (I do), check sources (I do), and think critically about what you are reading and seeing, where it comes from and why it appeared on your news feed or in your search results. I do.

That data is not being handed to an autocratic government (the US has many flaws, but it is not an authoritarian state. China is) to build a massive social credit system that you can't opt out of and that you can't ignore the way you can a shitty ad or lizard-brain meme. You can choose not to use any apps you don't trust in the US, and you can choose not to believe or pay attention to dodgy things targeted at you.

And we know that data is not being handed over for the same purposes, and we know the US government doesn't control these companies, because if it were, there would be no reason for Google or Facebook executives to testify before Congress.

You don't have any of those options in China, and there is no need (from the government's perspective) for either testimony or transparency. You know why.


"If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to fear!" 

Yeah okay um...who determines whether you have nothing to hide? You, or the horrible government that is monitoring you? Who decides if you've done nothing wrong - them or you?

Do you really trust them to agree with you that you have done nothing wrong? All the time?

What happens when you do have a complaint with the government? A legitimate complaint that is nonetheless not allowed? What if your complaint is that they disappeared your daughter, forced you to have an abortion, or expropriated your house without compensation? What if you took a trip to Taiwan and realized that the situation there was completely different from what you'd always been told, and simply wanted to say that honestly? What if you had an 'undesirable' friend who was not a model citizen like you, but you'd known them since childhood, cared about them and knew them to be a good person? What if the only way to boost your own social credit score was to disavow this friend? What if that person wasn't your friend but your brother, or mother? What if merely calling that person from your compromised phone put them in danger?

Even if you'd been a model citizen up to that point, what happens when suddenly you are faced with this choice?

Don't even get me started with "I have nothing to hide."