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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where Richard Bush is right, and where he is wrong

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

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

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


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


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

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

Echoing Froze, Bush points out:


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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the "open letter":


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

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



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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

Let's start with the top shelf dippery:


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


and:



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


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


This is false.

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

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

Ever. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

Let me repeat:

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

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

Let them.

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

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

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

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

We know better and we will not be fooled.

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."

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The problem with so many Western "friends of Taiwan" is that they still see Taiwan as Chinese

So, Vice President Mike "the only reason not to support impeachment" Pence gave a speech about China relations that heavily referenced Taiwan.

Despite having severe reservations about our "friends" on the right, I want to be happy about this. I want to laud robust support for Taiwan coming from the White House, because support in high places matters no matter what horrific woman-hating mouth-hole is shrieking it.

I mean, this is great: 



And since last year alone, the Chinese Communist Party has convinced three Latin American nations to sever ties with Taipei and recognize Beijing. These actions threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait, and the United States of America condemns these actions.



It's wonderful, because it correctly names China as the agent of these actions, rather than implying that these issues just arose out of nowhere on their own, or are somehow Taiwan's fault. Of course, the media still jumped on this correct statement as evidence of the US "inflaming tensions" with China simply by stating what is true because their writing is bad and they should feel bad.

But, despite some small gems, I can't love this. It's clear from Pence's remarks that 'support for Taiwan' just equates to Taiwan being 'a better version of China'. He - and seemingly, a lot of people like him - don't support Taiwan because it is a unique entity forging its own path. They don't support Taiwan on its own terms as a safe, friendly, vibrant, (mostly) successful, developed democracy. They don't support it as 'Taiwan' at all.

They support it as an alternative model for 'all Chinese': 



And while our administration will continue to respect our One China Policy, as reflected in the three joint communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act, America will always believe that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people. (Applause.)



NO! NOT (APPLAUSE)! Don't applaud that! 

While I think it would be great if other authoritarian countries in the region, including China, took note of Taiwan's success and realized it presented a better path, the fundamental reason shouldn't be that they are all "Chinese" - it should be because it is simply a better path, regardless of whether you come from China or Thailand or Vietnam or the Philippines or wherever. 

That word "Chinese" doesn't mean what you think it means, anyway. I don't think it means anything at all: after all, what markers does 'being Chinese' carry? Being a citizen of the People's Republic? Well, Taiwanese aren't. So they're not Chinese then? Singaporean Chinese are not Chinese? Is it ethnic? Whatever it means to be Han - and it seems to mean very little - plenty of citizens of the PRC are not it: see - Tibetans and Uighurs, to name a few. Is it linguistic? Do you have any idea how many mutually unintelligible languages are spoken across what is referred to as 'Greater China'? At least two of them (possibly more) are not even Sinitic. Is it cultural? The cultural differences within China itself vary more than cultural differences across Europe. Is it history? Taiwan and China have a very different history. Southern and Northern China vary historically as well. Dynasties expanded and contracted, rose and fell, across very different swaths of 'Chinese' territory, leaving very different histories for the people of those places. Tibetan and Uighur history are likewise unique. So what does it mean to be Chinese?

In any case, the One China Policy may simply mean that the US acknowledges that China claims Taiwan, but does not necessarily support said claim, doesn't fix this either. Despite various assurances, it is still a policy that:

a.) considers China's feelings on Taiwan to be as important as the Taiwanese people's feelings about their own country

b.) was crafted during a time when Taiwanese had no say in what their government claimed as the Republic of China, and as such is outdated; and

c.) still fundamentally assumes that Taiwan is ultimately, in some way, Chinese, even if it is not a part of China. It's a really weird thing to untangle but basically the Shanghai Communique, where the One China policy is outlined, doesn't say that the US considers Taiwan 'a part of China', but that 'Chinese' people in both Taiwan and China do.

So in theory, this means the US doesn't necessarily recognize that the ultimate future of Taiwan is as a part of China, but is also inaccurate in the 21st century - Taiwanese don't even think they are 'Chinese' let alone agree that 'Taiwan is a part of China', and they have not felt that way for some time. So, continuing to abide by it may make diplomatic sense but doesn't do justice to the world as it is today and certainly misrepresents the Taiwan side.

Even when one could say that the majority of Taiwanese identified as 'Chinese' - which has not been the case for awhile - it was in a period immediately following a long-term effort by a military dictatorship from China to convince them through education and destruction of local and historical cultural symbols that this was the case (what, you think banning the Taiwanese language from schools and actively destroying most Japanese-era shrines in Taiwan were unintentional acts? They were not).

Some may be tempted to point to the fabricated 1992 Consensus, stating that Taiwan and China "agree" that there is "one China". We have to remember, however, that not only does the '1992 Consensus' not exist (there was no consensus in any meaningful sense of the word and the term itself was made up long after the fact), but that even if it did, the representatives from Taiwan who were sent to those meetings in 1992 were sent by a government which was not yet fully democratically elected. They did not represent the people of Taiwan - so nothing discussed in those meetings could possibly reflect the actual views of Taiwan as a modern democratic nation. In fact, nobody has ever asked the people of Taiwan if they actually want to be governed by the "Republic of China", even in the democratic era.

Therefore, if you still abide by the notion that both Taiwan and China agree that there is one China and Taiwan is a part of it, and you refer to Taiwanese as just another kind of Chinese who set a good example for their brethren across the Taiwan Strait, you're not an ally in a way that's actually good for Taiwan long-term.

I can't say, then, that Mike Pence is truly on our side. More likely, his vision of the future involves a democratized China (but not a liberalized one - Pence is no liberal) that has a happy 'reunion' with Taiwan and they all sing and dance in their conical hats to gong music in their cute little Chinese country because they are all Chinese so of course they are in one country because that's how countries work.

Oh yeah, and in this conservative fantasy, they hate the gays and are super regressive on women's issues because the socially conservative Chinese majority will overwhelm more progressive-thinking Taiwan on these issues.

So no - if you think the future of Taiwan is fundamentally 'Chinese', then you may be an ally of someone, but it isn't Taiwan. 

Anyway, moving on. 



Chinese authorities have also threatened U.S. companies that depict Taiwan as a distinct geographic entity, or that stray from Chinese policy on Tibet. Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a “province of China” on its website. And it pressured Marriott to fire a U.S. employee who merely liked a tweet about Tibet.



I want to like this, but "distinct geographic entity" feels like a flaccid half-stab in place of what should have been a robust, thwacking "country" or "nation". Can't complain too much though - it's something.


I'm less concerned with what this means within the Trump administration. I don't agree that it's a "split" within the White House, because the White House has not been coherent enough on its Asia policy in general for there to even be a split. From Little Rocket Man to "we fell in love", from photo ops with Xi Jinping to "they're interfering in our election", from the phone call to indicating that Taiwan may be a bargaining chip to this, the only thing consistent about current US policy in Asia is that it's kind of screwed up and nothing can be taken as a rock-solid guarantee. In an environment like that, there are so many cracks and signs of strain, I don't see how a split, if it exists, would even matter.

And that's just it. I welcome warming relations, even from absolutely terrible people and weirdos who may not be murderers but just, like, seem like murderers? Y'know? But I want those warming relations to come from an administration that, regardless of how much I hate them, is at least consistent and dependable. I know, I know, a consistent, dependable administration likely wouldn't dare to make a massive change in US policy towards China and Taiwan. But a girl can dream.

As a friend pointed out, the veep can't take any public position on the sovereignty of other territories. He indicated that this speech sets the stage for the normalization of relations between Taiwan and the US in the future, and that would be huge.

But I don't feel particularly great about that, not because I don't want good things to come from a bad administration (we have so few good things these days, I'll take them from just about anywhere), but because it's not a trustworthy administration. 

On top of that, it's an administration that is not just talking about the One China Policy for diplomatic effect, but proactively talking about Taiwan as a model for China, as though it were one part of a greater whole that was doing well, which other parts could learn from. In a pan-Asian context, sure. Taiwan is part of Asia. In a pan-China context, I gotta say, the twentieth century called and they want their talk about "Free China" back.

And I just can't get behind that, or even put a drop of faith in it. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Taiwan has issues with sexism, but we don't put known attempted rapists in office

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An innocent golden piece of wood from the Grand Matsu Temple in Tainan



All I can say about the Blasey Ford / Kavanaugh hearings is that at this point, in 2018, if you still support the Republican Party, then you hate women and think sexual assault is okay.

I don't care if you want to identify as a 'conservative'. I don't know what that is supposed to mean anymore, but whatever. Fine. We don't all have to have the exact same values and there is room to disagree or have differing perspectives on quite a lot.  I'm talking about specifically supporting these monsters. And I mean it: at this point, doing so would lead me to seriously question your character. I can tolerate disagreement on many issues, but I cannot tolerate woman-hating attempted rape-excusers.

Yes, attempted rape. If you hold a woman down against her will and try to tear off her clothes as you stop her from screaming, you're not horsing around or copping a feel, you are attempting rape.

Of course, I could have said I felt this way after the election, when the country elected a known sexual assailant. Hell, if I had been old enough, I could have said it in 1991. I could have asked then why it was acceptable for these men to be elected or confirmed to office when no decent person would tolerate that sort of behavior - including talk - from their own sons, brothers, husbands or fathers. But I was a kid in 1991, and Trump exerted a hypnotic pull on the dumber half of the country that turned them into something more like cult members than actual rational voters.

Now, however, it is clear. We know what they do and we know what they will accept. We know they are either sex predators, or they think being a sex predator is acceptable (if you are a straight, white male). If you support that or even just accept it, there is no longer any excuse for you.

Contrast this to Taiwan. Taiwan is far from a paradise of equality - I have female students who tell me openly that they want to go abroad because their families treat them unfairly because they are daughters. More than one adult female student has told me that she won't marry because she has no intention of taking on the expected duties of a wife, and hasn't yet met a man who truly understands that. The same goes for women who have decided not to have children. There is a lot of particularly heinous crime against women by men (although the overall crime rate is dropping, including "non-negligent manslaughter" and what the government weirdly calls "forcible" rape), and the media covers it in the most sexist way possible. Domestic violence is still an issue and there's still a pay gap. I have my own stories of sexism at former jobs.

But as far as I know - and please correct me if I'm wrong - Taiwan has never knowingly elected or allowed the confirmation of someone like Kavanaugh, or Clarence Thomas, or Trump - to a position in the government.

Taiwanese politicians may often be horrible people, but if there's even a whiff of sexual predation about you, your political career is finished. In this country, if you so much as touch a boob without consent (which is also not okay, by the way), as far as any sort of public office is concerned, you're done.

That's just about how it should be: as I see it, if someone has something like that in their past, they demonstrate remorse and do attempt to be a better person, an acceptable consequence is that they may never be fit for political office. As a person, however - again, if demonstrate remorse and personal growth are demonstrated - a second chance may be warranted.

Seriously - Taiwan hasn't yet figured out how media should report on crimes against women, how to treat its wives and daughters fairly or how to close its own pay gap. But it has figured out that sexual misconduct of any kind is an immediate disqualification for political office.

Supposedly one of the most "egalitarian", "meritocratic" societies on Earth, where may credit the modern feminist movement with gaining steam, can't even figure that out. They can't wrap their heads around what a geographically small, often (though not always) parochial nation often described as "conservative", "Confucian" and "passive" (though I don't agree fully) has already figured out.

Good job, America, at demonstrating to the world what you actually think of women. Remind me to laugh in the face of the next person who tries to tell me that the US is so much 'better' when it comes to women's equality.

Monday, September 24, 2018

We may have bipartisan support, but it's still hard to vote for friends of Taiwan


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Like any good Snowflake SJW Avocado Toast Millenial*, I'm excited that Beto O'Rourke - a liberal described as "the next Obama"  - is actually a realistic challenger to Ted Cruz in Texas. Texas! Where "no democrat has held state-wide office since 1994"! In a midterm election year that is not only seen as a referendum on Trump's two years of terrorizing from his perch in the White House, but also the only realistic chance we as a nation have of curbing him, to see this kind of progressive stand a chance in Texas of all places is huge.

This is especially exciting as he stands to unseat Ted Cruz, who ran for Human President in 2016 and who hates women and the LGBT community which is odd as I'm not sure his species has 'genders' or 'biological sex' in the way we understand them. In any case, pretty much nobody likes him.

So he could be gone! Yay!

...right?

Oh, wait, you support Taiwan and want to vote for representatives in the US government who are friends of Taiwan.

Then, not yay.

I have no idea what Beto O'Rourke thinks about Taiwan, or about foreign policy in general, and it seems neither does anyone else. His own website has no guidance whatsoever as to what, as a senator, his foreign policy would be.

But, as 'the next Obama' I can make some educated guesses. Obama was not a great friend to Taiwan.  See here on arms sales (Taiwan advocates didn't seem terribly impressed and neither was I), "reducing tensions on both sides of the strait" (as though the source of the tensions weren't entirely one-sided), his advisors totally missing the point of Taiwan independence, ceding the high ground (and insistence on standing up for what's right) to McCain, and seeming to care more for Beijing's tender baby feelings than actually doing the right thing. Then there's support for the milquetoast, only-because-of-politics status quo ("a high degree of self-determination?" Screw you, buddy. Total self-determination like any other democratic nation or GTFO). Perhaps necessary, but harmful to Taiwan.

Long and short of it? Lots of talk about doing what's right on the American left, but then they turn around and play politics just like everyone else. I don't imagine an Obama-style liberal like O'Rourke will be a great ally of Taiwan.

Who knows? He might surprise me. But I doubt it.

Ted Cruz? He met with Tsai Ing-wen. Ted Cruz (Ted Cruz!) said this:


Another champion of Taiwan and supporter of the travel bill, is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who met with Tsai in Houston on Jan. 8, 2017 despite Beijing’s strong objections.

In an interview, Cruz slammed as “absurd” a December threat by Chinese diplomat Li Kexin during an event at Beijing’s embassy in Washington. Li told colleagues that he had warned U.S. officials against docking American warships in Taiwan.


“The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Li said, according to Chinese media reports cited by Reuters.


“The threat from a low-level Chinese diplomat of a military invasion of Taiwan was absurd, unduly provocative and should be met with laughter and derision,” Cruz said.


Cruz also denounced China for “vigorously” lobbying to kill strong ports-of-call language for Taiwan that he wanted included in the 2018 defense authorization bill, Cruz said.



I'd cream my damn pants if Obama said something like that.

I know, I know, a senator can say things a president can't, but remember, Cruz wanted to be
president.

But wait, there's more!

"Texas stands with Taiwan," Ted Cruz also said.

While I'm not sure why Cruz is such a strong Taiwan supporter - general wisdom has it that most pro-Taiwan Republicans support this country because they oppose "Communist China", that is, they're still stuck in Cold War thinking - I'm definitely of the school of Taiwan advocate that feels Taiwan should take the help it can get. I'm not inclined to say we don't want his support because he's awful in just about every other respect.

But, as a liberal pro-Taiwan voter, I'm damn glad I'm not a Texan.

Sure, we have bipartisan support and I am glad of that. I won't pretend this is a war of Dems against Reps for the future of Taiwan or anything like that.

But, what's a girl who supports Taiwan, enjoys bodily autonomy and wants her gay friends to have equal rights to do, when the guy she would vote for is very likely not going to be the Taiwan ally she wants to see in office, and the champion of Taiwan he stands to defeat pretty much hates her on account of her having a vagina?

If the only issue she cared about were Taiwan, the choice would be obvious (and very self-harming, if not masochistic.) But when every other platform of the friend of Taiwan she wants to see in office is so odious that she feels she must vote against him, only to worry that that strong bipartisan support for Taiwan in congress might well waver - maybe just a ripple - by voting out a Taiwan ally and voting in someone who doesn't appear to have a foreign policy at all, let alone any sense of the importance of Taiwan.

All I can say is, if this issue were to ever face me as a voter in the northeast, I would honestly spin myself in circles with anxiety. It quite literally feels like it comes down to "Taiwan, which is what is right", and "everything else that's right".

I want a tried-and-true friend of Taiwan in office, but I also want O'Rourke to win for literally every other reason.


So yeah, bipartisan support or not, it's really difficult to use our votes as Americans to support Taiwan.



*not really a Millenial but let's pretend

Friday, July 6, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Light News Petiscos and Wine

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Greetings from Coimbra! Their university is great except they have a Confucius Institute. But the building is well-marked and I kind of spat at it, so...that accomplished nothing but felt good. 



Hello from Portugal, where we are traveling for a bit before I take up my 2nd semester at Exeter. Because I’m on the road, I won’t be keeping up much of a regular blogging schedule. But, here are a few takes for you - perhaps a bit behind the news cycle but whatever - I’ll try to keep them quick. I have wine to drink and lots of it. Also, port.

We’re not really getting beyond the tourist hotspots, which a few years ago I’d say was a shame. And, in fact, I’d love to have the time to explore the lesser-known gems of the country. But, as I grow older and travel more, I grow more at peace with staying on something like a tourist circuit while abroad, unless I have good reason to depart from it. I don’t have a special connection to the countries I visit other than (I hope) helping their economies with my well-spent tourist dollars, zero dollars of which go to buying cheap trinkets in souvenir shops, so what connection would I have to a regular neighborhood of no particular interest to travelers? Trying to pretend the local cafe or restaurant, the local park, the local place of worship has any meaning for me as an outsider feels cheap, like a debased way of seeming like I’m better than a regular tourist, which of course I am not. You build connection by returning to places frequently over time, which as a traveler I cannot do.

That’s not to say I never have a reason to go out of my way: in Greece we traveled far beyond the tourist center of Athens, to seek out the church where my great grandfather had worked, and which my grandfather had attended as a child. We had coffee from the local shop and walked around the local streets, and had good reason to: my ancestors had lived in that neighborhood for many years. It goes without saying that a good restaurant recommendation will get me to go anywhere.

And, of course, Taiwan is no longer ‘abroad’, it’s home. That’s different. I have connections there. 

All that to say, yes I’m just going to Lisbon, Sintra, Coimbra and Porto, but I’m okay with that. 

Anyway, there’s a hot take for you. Here’s another - let's talk AIT. 

I don’t know what to say about the new AIT opening - some people say it’s a sign of ‘upgraded relations’. Others write ludicrous headlines (“angering China”? I'd say "eat me" but CNN is clearly chowing down on something way meatier) Still others say it doesn’t mean much, which seems like it could be the case given that the US sent no-one important to attend. Personally? I think it’s just as confused and schizophrenic as US policy on Taiwan has always seemed - even if, officially, it is clearer (and more pro-Taiwan) than people think. We want to build a big office in Taiwan! But we don’t want to draw attention to it! We care about Taiwan relations! But we don’t want to talk about that! It’s the same old dance - he loves me, he loves me not. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Though if you really want to know, at the end of the day, what those who matter in the US think of Taiwan, skip the new AIT opening and look at who makes decisions about arms sales to Taiwan. 

Moving on. Korea. 

The Facebooks are ablaze with WHAT IT ALL MEANS!!! re: the Xi Jinping Marionette Spectacular I mean Trump-Xi oops Trump-Kim meeting. You already know what I think it means. Few, however, seem worried that China would surely seek to fill that void of regional influence - after all, better that the regional power in Asia be Asian, yes? Plenty of people are talking about how anything that gets US and US imperialism out of Asia must be a good thing.

I don’t know if those people like Chinese imperialism, or just aren’t aware it’s a thing (though I would guess it’s the latter). It’s an easy thing to overlook: it’s not fully realized yet and the CCP is trying hard to make sure it stays under everyone’s radar, whereas US imperialism - and all those bombs we drop to advance an agenda mostly beneficial to us - is well-known and more than fully-realized. It’s easy to criticize.

It’s even easier to criticize knowing that you can do so and you won’t get shot. Try criticizing Chinese expansionism in China and see how long you are not ‘disappeared’. That’s the key difference of course - both China and the US are primarily interested in what’s best for them, and despite what they say the US doesn’t really stand for either global democracy or human rights - but at least under a US-led system you can say so.

What worries me is that in the wake of WHAT IT ALL MEANS!!! is that until perhaps just today, not many people seemed to be talking about China at all. Even those otherwise criticizing Trump's performance. I am certain - and anyone else who is watching ought to be as well - that this was all manipulated to benefit China (before you accuse me of ‘anti-China hysteria’, remember that I live in Taiwan, a country China has said obliquely it will annex by force.) Not to sound like a tired cliche-ridden “China expert”, but isn’t the Art of War all about conquering through manipulation or a clever strategem, so that your opponent doesn’t even realize they’re losing, and only if that is impossible to use force? Well…

So who realizes that we’re losing? Not The Atlantic, who mentioned China 7 times in this piece (I counted) but didn't seem to be able to pinpoint who was both manipulating the show and who benefitted from it. Not the BBC, which I had on most of yesterday evening in Sintra. The National Post gets it, but nobody I know reads it. My preferred outlets continue to not understand Asia. South China Morning Post, for the first time since they became a CCP propaganda tool, seems to get it right. But nobody I know in the US regularly reads SCMP.

But, because the average US liberal or moderate doesn't read these outlets, this particular observation seems lost on them. Not a peep. You’d think China wasn't even a player. A lot of my smarter friends hadn’t even seemed to consider that they were (“Why a [fake] Chinese proverb for a Korea summit?” one friend asked. “Because Xi Jinping is running the show,” I replied, to their surprise - they’d been expecting I’d agree that this summit had nothing to do with China, because none of the media they read have mentioned it.)


And Hau “Muppetface” Lung-pin went to China to talk about his hope for "unification" because he’s a massive jerk-off, being all kinds of Mean Girl to Taipei mayoral incumbent Ko "Reminds Me Of My Dad" Wen-je. As in he jerks Chinese authorities off. Fine. What bothers me isn’t this - Hau’s gonna Hau - but that it won’t matter. The vast majority of Taiwanese not only don’t agree with Hau’s far-right jerk-offery, they vehemently disagree with it.

But it doesn’t matter. Those who hate Hau (or even mildly dislike him, or think he looks like a Muppet but isn’t as smart as one - I don’t mean the Muppet characters, I mean the actual cloth Muppets are made of) are gonna find him odious anyway. Blue voters who watch blue media will either not know he said this - because the media they watch won’t report it - or assume he meant something milder, or defend it saying it’s his “personal views” which he is entitled to (and he is, but that doesn’t make him less of a jerk-off who’s dumber than a scrap of fake fur with google-eyes). Why would they assume this? Because if the media they watch does report it, this is the commentary they will offer, which people will swallow.

And nobody who has a message to get out to those who aren't listening is either trying, or able to get their attention, whether that's in Taiwan or the US. And the blue voters will vote blue and the Americans will talk about Korea as though it wasn't a massive back-door win for China, and we're all going to die.

And so it goes.

And if you’re feeling low,
Stuck in some bardo
Why, even I know the solution
Love, music, wine
And revolution!

It’s time for wine. 

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Brendan is happier than he looks in this, he just...does this for cameras? I dunno.