Showing posts with label usa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label usa. Show all posts

Friday, August 16, 2019

In a move likely to anger China, Taiwan exists

Taiwan, which is 100% there

The Trump administration is moving ahead with for an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan despite strong objections from China, a U.S. official and others familiar with the deal said Thursday.

The administration notified Congress late Thursday that it would submit the package for informal review, said the people familiar with the sale who are also aware that China is angered, because everybody is always aware of that. 

Lawmakers from both parties had questioned whether the White House would scuttle the sale because of China's decision to be angry, which they chose to be of their own accord due to the fact that there is an island off the coast of their country called "Taiwan", and it continues to be there. 

Amid tensions with China, the State Department told Congress to expect the arms package to be informally submitted to them by Friday evening, according to a U.S. official and another person familiar with the matter, also noting that Beijing was not pleased that Taiwan has apparently been there this whole time, possibly even before it was founded by Sun Yat-sen in 1911 or possibly Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee would review the package. They are not expected to raise objections, unlike China, which always seems to have an objection even though Taiwan's current administration under President Tsai Ing-wen has made it clear that they have no desire to instigate conflict with China.

The people familiar with the proposed sale requests [sic] anonymity to discuss a sensitive pending deal. Neither the State Department nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. China responded that it had been angered, amid rising tensions. 

China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province, and last month accused the United States of a “vain plot” to arm the island. The Trump administration approved more than $2 billion in lower-level arms sales to Taiwan last month, and allowed Taiwan’s leader, who in fact does have a name, to visit New York.

Taiwan is a 36,193 square kilometer island off the coast of China, which most definitely appears on maps and can also be visited. According to Americans who have been to Taiwan, it is very much a "place" which is "definitely in existence" and "there". The Chinese government does not rule Taiwan, and their current government never has, a fact that not only we seem unaware of as we never publish it in the Washington Post, but also a point the Chinese government itself also appears to be entirely ignorant of. This angers them.

Asked whether leaders in Beijing might consider anger management classes as they appear to choose anger so often and it "might be bad for their health" according to some all foreign officials, China declined to comment, but reiterated that it was "angry" and that tensions were "high". 

Sources knowledgeable on the topic confirm that, although China's anger is their own choice, they are highly unlikely to simply choose not to be angered, despite such a move being entirely feasible. 

China, on the other hand, claims officially that the anger is out of their control. 

"Why does Taiwan do things that make me so angry?" China said, after another day of Taiwan's existence. "I don't want to hurt Taiwan - I love Taiwan - it's just that I don't know my own strength, so Taiwan should be careful. But I love Taiwan so much...if she ever leaves, I'll fucking kill her. That's love."

Approval of the latest sale also comes amid pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous part of China, and fears that China could launch a military crackdown there. Such a crackdown could embolden Beijing also to confront Taiwan, which has a real government that functions and prints money and has a military and everything. 

Taiwan requested 66 American-made fighter jets, which lawmakers have said is a test of U.S. resolve. Taiwan has a population of over 23 million people, who are all individuals who were born and exist, whose opinions on any matter related to Taiwan we, at the Washington Post, appear never to have asked. We did however ask several China experts and foreign relations specialists based in Beijing. They were all very angry, citing "Taiwan" and "it existing" as reasons. 

The Chinese government accused the Trump administration of “playing the ‘Taiwan card” last month when Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited New York. Although it is unclear if there is indeed a card that can be called "the Taiwan card" or what it's made of - paper, wood, or any other material - "Taiwan" itself is indeed a mountainous island with a flat western plain which is not a card, but a place with its own society, culture, government and history, amid rising tensions. 

The People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, wrote that Washington “should immediately cancel the planned arms sale to Taiwan, stop selling weapons to Taiwan and terminate military contact with Taiwan, and exercise caution and prudence when handling Taiwan-related issues to avoid serious damage to China-U.S. relations and cross-strait peace and stability.”

Nobody asked Taiwan or any Taiwanese media outlets what they thought. Although asking Taiwan what they think about arms sales is likely to anger China, sources close to China say it is "already angered", so further anger may not pose the risks that some analysts who have ties to China warn of. 

Trump took the unusual step of speaking by phone with Tsai in 2016 when he was president-elect, which rocked the delicate U.S. foreign policy stance called the “One China” policy, which it seems quite literally nobody in the US media seems to understand, as it did not actually do that at all. 

“Taiwan’s defense is intrinsically important to the United States, but the timing of this move, amid the trade war and major instability in Hong Kong, is exceptionally precarious,” said Evan Medeiros, former White House senior director for Asia in the Obama administration and a professor at Georgetown University,  in a quote that angered China. “It will make trade negotiations and managing the Hong Kong situation even harder than it already is. The whole situation can be summed up as 'tensions are rising amid rising tensions'."

It is unclear who is behind the rising tensions, but experts like Medeiros warn against drawing a straight line from China's anger to those tensions. "They're probably not related. You see, moves anger China, and tensions rise. That's just how it works."

"Please allow me to explain China to you further," Medeiros continued. "I can tell you a lot about China. They have a Great Wall and a lot of money. I don't know as much about Taiwan. Does that exist?"

Informed that it did, indeed, exist, and was actually quite economically and democratically successful especially given the odds stacked against it, Medeiros declined to comment further, amid rising tensions. 

He added that it would fuel conspiracy theories that the United States is behind the unrest in Hong Kong. These theories already exist and would have existed regardless of any US moves on Taiwan, but that apparently doesn't matter. 

Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was less perturbed. “China never likes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” she said. “Will they object? Yes. Is this going to trigger a crisis in the relationship? No. This in and of itself is not going to derail progress on a trade agreement.”

Tsai faces reelection next year and is casting her leadership as a counterpoint to an increasingly repressive and assertive mainland China. This has endeared her to Trump administration officials who are hawkish on China, but Trump’s own views are unclear.

This paragraph should clarify that Taiwan not only exists and has its own democratic political system, but that system differs from China. In fact, even mentioning that the two systems are entirely different is a move likely to anger China. 

Taiwan split from China in 1949 when nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled from the Communists led by Mao Zedong and set up a rival government in Taipei. Before that, Taiwan had not been a part of China but did, in fact, exist. Its pre-1949 existence does not appear to matter, however, as it had been a territory of Japan for 50 years previously. Taiwan's existence only counts when it is in relation to China. Absent that relationship, it still exists, but is best not mentioned so as not to anger China.

Beijing continues to view Taiwan as a renegade state that will one day return to China. Although this is an odd perspective to take given that the People's Republic of China has never governed Taiwan, we always include it so as to anger China slightly less.

As of press time, Taiwan continued to exist and China continued to be angered. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

We all know how this ends: a howl for Hong Kong and Taiwan

Support rally for Hong Kong in Taipei in mid-June

A lot of op-eds and thinkpieces have come out recently regarding the events in Hong Kong and Taiwan's status - in fact, one side benefit for Taiwan (other than a boost for President Tsai) is that the turmoil in Hong Kong is causing the world to also take a closer look at Taiwan. I may blast the international media for not getting Taiwan 'right' (and they often don't, even the most well-intentioned among them), but these past few weeks, journalists who aim to raise awareness about Taiwan to the world have really come out in force to tie the two issues together, and I am grateful for that.

Instead of linking throughout the piece, let me draw your attention to some of this excellent work:

Taiwan's Status is a Political Absurdity
Wishful Thinking and the China Threat

Hong Kong Has Nothing Left To Lose
Support for Hong Kong rises in Taiwan amid fears for a future under Beijing's rule

Hong Kong And Taiwan Are Bonding Over China (in fact they've been close since 2014 but nobody in the international media cared until a few weeks ago)
Hong Kong's Desperate Cry

...and more.

All I could think while I read this excellent work were of two things I experienced recently. First, at the 'support Hong Kong' rally outside the Legislative Yuan, one of the speakers quoted Dylan Thomas - slightly out of context but I'm cool with it - exhorting us to "rage against the dying of the light".

And another context, over a week later, in which a friend made me her plus-one to a reception at AIT and I told some random employee quite directly that it was time to officially recognize Taiwan - not as the Republic of China but as Taiwan. He wasn't wrong when he mentioned anger from China, or that the US does do what it can (generally, depending on whose in charge). But I said to him:

"Look, you know where this ends, right?"
Random Guy: ...
"You know this ends in war."

And that's just it - all I can see in Hong Kong's future is bleakness. War, massacre or the dying of the light. I don't predict a much brighter future for Taiwan, though at least there's a sliver of hope remaining.

I mean, pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong should not back down, and will not back down. There is no legal pathway for Hong Kong to go from where they are now to full democracy, and the protesters realize this means civil disobedience is necessary (I have a link for this as I'm not the only one who's had this idea, but I can't find it). In any case, if you accept that there is in fact a 'right' and a 'wrong' here and those who want greater freedom and autonomy for Hong Kong are right, they should not back down: Carrie Lam, LegCo and their Beijing handlers should. It's not the protesters' job to ensure peace - it's their job to fight for what's right. Peace will come when the bad guys stop being bad.

But that's not going to happen.

It's even worse than that - the anger here isn't just over the extradition bill. Withdrawing it won't fix the problem.

The problem is that what Hong Kongers want - as a general consensus - is actual democracy and a greater degree of sustained and guaranteed autonomy (with a vocal subset wanting full independence). And that is like oil to Beijing's water. Worse still, there is no emulsifying agreement in the world that could make them mix. This isn't just because democracy anywhere on Chinese soil (or on claimed Chinese soil) scares Beijing as it might give their own citizens ideas they find unacceptable, but also because they fundamentally don't understand why it should matter. They just don't see why Hong Kongers should need or want it. They have no intention of negotiating an agreement that gives Hong Kong real democracy and human rights, let alone allowing such a system in perpetuity - and yet that's exactly what Hong Kong wants. And nothing less will do, because anything less is not democracy or human rights, period.

And in 27 years, these two notions of how a country should be are headed for a game of chicken, with millions of lives at stake - with no real middle ground for negotiation. Either you have a democratic system with a trustworthy assurance that it will not be eroded, or you don't. There is no universe in which the CCP has power and is willing to offer that assurance.

I mean, look at who the pro-democracy forces are talking to - a leader who cries more over broken glass and spray paint than people who actually died, and is now presiding over the widespread arrests of demonstrators, and a huge government that once rolled over their own people with tanks, is in the midst of a literal genocide in Xinjiang, and will do it all again if they can get away with it because they fundamentally don't see what's wrong with any of it.

So when you've got one side that isn't going to readily accept anything less than this, and another (more powerful) side that doesn't even see why it should be considered important, and the second side basically owns the first...well. None of the thinkpieces on Hong Kong want to go that far or say the words, but come on. We know where that ends.

All I can say is I don't know what the UK was thinking when it assumed that 50 years - or any number of years - would be an acceptable period of time in which to convince an entire city that the democratic norms they never really had but do want were not necessary, and that it would be acceptable to let a regime like the CCP determine Hong Kong's future. They had to know that at the end of the One Country Two Systems timeline, that Hong Kongers wouldn't be clamoring to give up what limited rights and freedoms they had to be more like the rest of China. Was the UK really that shortsighted - thinking it was doing the right thing by giving up its colonial rule to deliver Hong Kong to an even worse master?


Is there any way to stop the inevitable? Perhaps if the world does more than pledge verbal support to Hong Kong and actually does something to make China feel a bit of pain - though probably not. I don't think any country is willing to actually send in troops to stop the slow erosion of Hong Kong, when the process by which it is happening is entirely legal and was in fact somewhat negotiated. I also somewhat doubt that they'd put the economic screws to China, because it'd blow back on their economies as well. If there's one thing I've learned in the 21st century, it's that even when it might be effective, wealthy countries are terrified of doing anything that might cause economic discomfort.

It's not much different for Taiwan. We know where that ends too.

China's not going to stop insisting on annexation, and Taiwan is just going to move further away from China. There's no common ground there either: either Taiwan is sovereign, or it isn't. Either Taiwan has a real democracy with real democratic norms and rights, or it doesn't. China can promise this under a unification framework, but it doesn't understand why it should have to keep such a promise. Beijing either genuinely can't tell the difference between a "democracy" in which all candidates are pre-approved by the CCP and other freedoms or limited, or they don't care, and they're not exactly known for keeping promises, so there is no incentive to follow through in good faith.

So what happens to Taiwan when China finally has the wherewithal to actually force the issue? Does Taiwan fight and hold off the first wave, only to possibly/probably lose later? Does it become a protracted bloodbath not unlike Syria, because annexation isn't exactly an over-and-done deal and Taiwan is more of a poison pill than an easily-subjugated territory? What happens if a future KMT president tries to ram through a "peace treaty" the way they tried to ram through CSSTA? Do we have another Sunflower Movement, except bigger and with escalating police violence this time?

What happens when Taiwan and the world fully wake up to what many of us have known for awhile: that there is no middle ground that can be negotiated with China? That there is no "you two sides have to settle this peacefully", because one side cannot be trusted?

Does the world step in?

Because "we're doing what we can" (under current frameworks, agreements, treaties etc. that are in place) isn't exactly reassuring. When we're down to the wire and troops are rolling in, do you do something or not?

If we don't do anything - if we cry and wail and make verbal statements of support, or "talk behind closed doors" (or even open doors) but don't actually lift a finger, if you're afraid to even wobble the economy just a little bit...where does it end?

Does it end with a victorious Taiwan, sovereign and rejoicing that it fought off a massive enemy on its own?

Does it end with a victorious Hong Kong, with true, full democracy and all the rights and freedoms that implies?

Does it end with a free world that can co-exist peacefully with China, their raging expansionism sated? A world free of debt traps, Chinese-owned transport infrastructure that is never held hostage whenever China wants something from the country that infrastructure is in, and technological infrastructure that is safe for the world to use?

Obviously not.

When we say "well, we're doing what we's complicated...I mean, Hong Kong is a part of China...we know Taiwan deserves better but China might get angry...I mean, it's tough to do anything about those concentration camps" and pretend that that is sufficient, we all know how this ends.

When we try to talk about these issues as though it's still acceptable to kick this can down the road - okay you guys, just sit in the morass for awhile because cleaning up the morass would make Beijing angry, eventually we'll figure out how to drain it even though Beijing is opposed to every form of drainage system that works - we know how this ends.

I know that's been how tricky diplomacy has worked for decades - just find a way to put it off until later, even if the people who actually live there have to exist in an anxious limbo for generations - and I'm not the first person to have this thought. But it's not going to keep working. So why are we letting the ghosts of the '80s and '90s try to convince us that it will?

When we pretend that short-term band-aids can fix long-term disagreements, and pretend that there is always a middle ground if we just "keep talking" until we find it, and keep telling the good guys to "just wait" because the bad guys need to "agree" to a solution, when we pretend that the only 'evil' or colonial powers in the world are Western ones, and when we pretend that an oppressive authoritarian regime might possibly - with the right negotiations - be acceptable someday to people in freer places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, or that Beijing is interested in working towards an acceptable solution at all...

...well, we all know how this ends.

Don't pretend that the rest of the world can decline to step in and there will still be a happy ending. Don't pretend that China is actually interested in any sort of happy ending that doesn't result in them getting everything they want, regardless of what others want.

So gird your loins, folks. It might be taboo to give voice to what we're all actually worried about - to say "this could be another Tiananmen, or another Syria, or worse", but...

...unless we make Beijing back down now and stop pretending a compromise exists, that's where it ends and you know it.  

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nobody should need a personal "refugee fund" to feel safe in a developed democracy


Hey Taiwan residents - both foreign and local - do you have a refugee fund?

That is, personal savings or some other safety net that you are preparing in the event that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan forces you to leave?

I do. I don't want to leave, and would not do so unless I absolutely had to - we're not talking "the invasion is coming soon", we're talking "my house just got bombed, people are dying and I have nowhere to go." And I only mean that in the event that I am not a citizen: I don't owe my life to a country that won't even give me a passport. If I had obtained Taiwanese citizenship by that point, however, that's a different obligation and I would stay and fight.
The money I have set aside could be used as a down payment on property. If I don't need it, it will be part of my retirement fund. I could use it to pay off my student loans. There are a million other things I could do with it, but I may need it for this purpose and don't feel safe not having it available, so here we are. 

Of course I'm very privileged that I'd even be able to leave (a lot of locals would not be) and that the money is there, but here's the thing.

I should not need to set aside money specifically for my escape from a free and developed democracy due to a highly possible invasion by a hostile foreign power. Nobody should have to.

Not in a country that actively wants to exist in peace, and has no desire to start any wars with any other nation. 

I should not need to wonder, quite pragmatically, whether the rest of the world will tolerate a brutal dictatorship violently annexing the world's 22nd largest economy, one of the US's top trading partners, with a population comparable to that of Australia which is free, basically well-run and friendly to other nations. I should not need to consider whether my decision to stay or go - and the money I need to do that - may well hinge on whether that help comes. 

I'm reasonably sure all of my friends in Taiwan - local and foreign - can understand this.

I am not sure at all that my friends abroad do, though. I'm not sure especially if people I know in the US, Europe, Japan (all developed countries/regions, a group in which Taiwan also qualifies) and beyond are aware of what it's like to have a practical, non-insane notion that they might have 30 days' notice that their life and livelihood as they know it is about to be over. Where "getting out" and losing everything would be the better outcome, and how many more people (again, the population of Australia) might not even have that option.

So I still hear things like "oh but you don't want US help, it'd be just like Iraq or Syria, they'd wreck the place!" or "I don't want your city to become another Fallujah."

Do they understand that it is China who would turn Taipei into an East Asian Fallujah? 

And that their and their governments' wishy-washy response to Chinese threats against Taiwan are a part of why I need to have this fund at all? 

That they think they support peace, but in fact they'd leave us (foreign residents and Taiwanese both) to run or die in war? Do they understand what it would be like for Taiwan to be forcibly annexed by China? Do they understand that giving in and just surrendering to authoritarian rule - and the loss of very real and important freedom and human rights - is not an option? That there is no One Country, Two Systems?

Over the past few years I've come to realize that while at heart I want to be a dove, I can't. Sure, I agree that the US is a neo-imperialist murder machine. Fine. We suck. I won't even argue that we don't. We've done so much harm in the world.

But Taiwan is not Iraq. It's not Syria, it's not Iran or Afghanistan or Central America. It's just not. It's not even comparable. It has its own military and simply needs assistance (or the promise of it, to keep China from attempting an invasion). It has its own successful democratic government and rule of law (I mean...basically. Taiwan does okay.) There'd be no democracy-building or post-war occupation needed. It just needs friends. Big friends, who can tell the bully to back off.

So, y'know, I don't give a crap anymore about anyone's "but the US is evil!" I just don't. Y'all are not wrong, but it simply does not matter. China wants to wreck this country, not the US. China's the invader and (authoritarian) government-builder, not the US. China will turn their guns and bombs on Taiwanese, not the US.

And if you're not the one who has all those missiles pointed at them, you're not the one with lots of friends who could lose everything (including their lives), or lose everything yourself, and you're not the one actively building a refugee fund to escape an otherwise peaceful, developed and friendly country, then you can take all that "but the US is evil!" and shove it. This is a real world situation where we don't exactly have the luxury of choice in who stands by us. There isn't a "better option". There just...isn't.

Unless you think a friendly, open and vibrant democracy being swallowed by a massive dictatorship and losing all access to human rights is totally fine, or that having a refugee fund when living in said open democratic nation is normal.

It's not normal. My refugee fund should not have to exist. Please understand this. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Even policy wonks legitimize China and delegitimize Taiwan


Something very specific has been bothering me about this policy paper on "Taiwan's Democracy and the China Challenge", published in 2018 by Richard Bush and Ryan Hass.

For awhile, I couldn't pinpoint what didn't sit right, but despite seeming like a wonkish paper that ostensibly made recommendations in Taiwan's best interest, it somehow seemed to do the opposite.

After some thought, I've isolated what's wrong. Take a look at some of the language from the very end of the paper, quoted below.

To China, they say:

Take seriously the views of the Taiwan public (however discordant they may sometimes seem) and the centrality of the democratic system through which those views are expressed (despite its weaknesses). If China is ultimately to achieve its objectives concerning Taiwan, that will require fundamental changes, which in some cases will require amendments to the ROC constitution, which in turn can only occur if there is a very broad public consensus that those changes are in their interests. (Emphasis mine).

To Taiwan, among other more reasonable things, they say:
Maintain a consistent declaratory policy of not supporting Taiwan independence and opposing efforts by either side of the Taiwan Strait to alter the status quo.

The problem is that these two pieces of advice take for granted that China "ultimately achiev[ing] its objectives” is seen as a possible fair outcome, but in which the objective of Taiwan must be opposed.

This is a clear double standard, treating Beijing’s goals as acceptable and Taiwan’s as mere provocation, and reframes Taiwanese de jure independence as a goal of the government, not the will of the people.

And it is the will of the people. Data consistently shows support for Taiwan maintaining its sovereignty. This is expressed as "support for the status quo", but everyone knows that the status quo not a permanent solution and cannot hold forever, as China has made it clear that it will invade Taiwan if it must (or if Taiwan takes too long in surrendering everything it has fought for - freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equality, same-sex marriage, all of it).

The status quo also describes a state in which Taiwan is already sovereign. In other words, what these polls show is that Taiwanese want to keep the sovereignty they already enjoy and already see themselves as independent.

Consider this alongside consistent lack of support for unification with China, and this survey showing that a majority of Taiwanese would fight in the event of a Chinese invasion (I don't know how sound or flawed the survey was, but my anecdotal experience supports the results). Consider as well the fact that Taiwanese people are still not given a way to express their desire for independence, as changing the name of their country from "the Republic of China" to "Taiwan" could well precipitate a war with China: an outcome nobody (except possibly China) wants. As I've said before: to tell Taiwan that it cannot change its status due to threat of war, and then to say that their current status as the "ROC" means they must want to be "a part of China" is an insidious and unfair Catch-22.

Put another way:

The ROC provides protective (if misleading) cover, staving off invasion by maintaining the polite political fiction that the Taiwanese have not already declared their wish to be recognized as separate and independent.

How can a policy paper that claims to address challenges to Taiwan's democracy be taken seriously, when China's goals are given legitimacy as something that may be achieved, but Taiwan's are dismissed as hogwash, not even acknowledged to be the will of the people? The CCP's goals are ultimately the will of the party as the Chinese people don't get a say, and yet they are treated as the goals of China. The public will of the Taiwanese people is, in fact, the will of the country (messy and divided as it may seem, on this point things are pretty clear), and yet it is treated as simply the messaging of a few wayward politicians.

This is deeply unfair, if not deliberately misguided. It is not the position of a true friend of Taiwan, and not even reflective of the truth of Taiwan's position.

I can only think that Bush and Hass, despite claiming to care about the future of Taiwan, see the best or only possible outcome to be some sort of integration with China - they are quite willing to ignore what the Taiwanese themselves actually want. Perhaps this is because Bush and Hass don't have to live in the simmering mess of this unresolved conflict, a situation which they and people like them helped create. In any case, they aren't considering the feelings of the Taiwanese themselves.

Further to this, the notion that the necessary "amendments to the ROC constitution" for China to win this cold war require a "very broad public consensus that those changes are in their interests" is a garbage barge of poorly-considered perspectives. I would have expected better from two respected experts.

I cannot imagine any situation - short of the unlikely fall of the People's Republic of China - in which these necessary changes could ever be in the interests of the people of Taiwan, nor any future in which the Taiwanese would agree to them freely. Look at how China is treating Hong Kong: do Bush and Hass honestly think that Taiwan could ever trust China to safeguard their best interests? If so, what rock are they living under? 

Finally, here is what bothers me the most: experts like Bush go off on a writing bender whenever Taiwan so much as pipes up that it would like independence, thank you very much, which isn't even a controversial position in Taiwan (and shouldn't be on a global scale, either, seeing as they already have it). And yet, whenever China starts frothing at the mouth about Taiwan, talking about how it "cannot renounce the use of force" or that "Taiwan and China must and will be reunited", these same people who claim to care about Taiwan are silent. 


Friday, March 1, 2019

Deliberately Lost in Translation: How Language Is Used to Obfuscate Taiwan's Reality


Consume any mainstream English-language media about Taiwan, and you'll come across an abundant lexicon of terms that sound as though they help define the Taiwan-China situation: "renegade province", "split in 1949", "dialect", "Mainland", "reunification", Chinese", "One China Policy" and "status quo" are probably the most common. More recently, there's also the term "one family", though that doesn't seem to have made the leap to English quite yet, and there's the perennial "tensions", a term which has already been covered extensively for its problematic usage.

These terms are readily employed by writers wanting to appear knowledgeable about the region  - especially non-specialist journalists, though some specialists do it too.

The problem?

Many of these words phrases don't translate well into English, and the ambiguity created by imperfect translations is, in my opinion, being intentionally used to imprint an inaccurate narrative of Taiwan in the international media.

In other cases, the meanings of the terms are clear, but the most common translation is simply wrong, yet encouraged - by China that is - because it promotes their preferred perspective.

And in still others, the implications of the terms call to mind a state of affairs that simply does not exist.

All of these are invisible hurdles that Taiwan advocates must vault in order to make Taiwan's case to the world - every minute we spend arguing over the meaning or use of a term, we waste precious time of other people's attention span to actually make the arguments we want to make in the first place. We are literally held back by language. And I daresay this is not an accident. It is entirely deliberate.

There doesn't seem to be a comprehensive breakdown of this strategic use of language anywhere else and why it's a problem for Taiwan, so I've created one here. Let's have a look - starting with the biggest headache of them all.


The Mandarin term for Taiwan and China (ostensibly peacefully) uniting is 統一 (tǒng yī). It means "unify" or "unification". If you wanted to add the meaning of the "re-" prefix in English to that, it would be something like 再統一 (zài tǒng yī). I've also recently heard the term "回歸" (huíguī), and there's 光復 (guāngfù), which means 'retrocession' or 'recovery', but is rarely used outside of formal speech.

So here's the thing - nobody actually says these in Mandarin. They always use "tǒng yī". The Mandarin term for this concept is "unification". It doesn't mean -  and has never meant - "reunification", though I suspect many in China view it that way, because they've been taught to.

It's not a natural perspective arising from history: the Qing era - an imperial era, really - and the brief interlude between 1945-1949 are the only times in the history of both China and Taiwan that one could argue that the two were united. Both are open to interpretation, however. During their reign, the Qing were not considered Chinese (they were Manchu, which was considered a different group of people). Qing Dynasty China was arguably a Manchu colonial holding; Taiwan was too. And not even all of Taiwan - for most of their time 'claiming' Taiwan, the Qing only controlled the western part of the island, and for most of their reign it was not considered a 'province' in its own right. Before that, Taiwan was not considered 'Chinese', as the people living there were indigenous, and China's borders were considered to end at the sea

So was there one China under the Qing Empire or were there two colonial holdings - Taiwan and China? That's a discussion worth having for a clear historical perspective (though as far as I'm concerned it changes nothing about Taiwan's right to sovereignty now). The government which accepted Japan's surrender on behalf of the allies was not the same government that ceded Taiwan to Japan. Likewise, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China were never united.

The problem with "reunification", then, is not only that it's not an accurate translation of the Chinese. It also assumes a particular historical interpretation - that Taiwan and China were once clearly unified and that the change in government from 'empire' to 'republic' doesn't matter. "Unification" is a less politically marked word; regardless of one's interpretation of history, it provides the linguistic room the conversation to happen. For that reason alone, it is the more appropriate term when discussing peaceful integration (non-peaceful integration would be "annexation").

So what to make of news outlets using "reunification" as though it's the correct term? I can only assume the editors don't know what they're talking about. Reuters, especially, has just put out some hilarious junk on this point:

China translates the word “tong yi” as “reunification”, but it can also be translated as “unification”, a term in English preferred by supporters of Taiwan independence who point out that Beijing’s Communist government has never ruled Taiwan and so it cannot be “reunified”.

The CCP does promote the use of "reunification" over "unification" to describe 統一, but the rest of this is laughable. It subtly gives credence to the CCP's preferred term by referring to it as "China's" choice of translation, not that of a political party with a particular objective regarding Taiwan, and marks the less problematic and more accurate/directly translated term as political by saying that it is used by "supporters of Taiwan independence" - as though to use it is to make a political statement. When, in fact, the opposite is true: "reunification" is an inherently more politicized word, as it is promoted by a particular political group (pro-China/CCP supporters) and is not a direct translation of the Mandarin term.

"Renegade Province"

This one is interesting, because it doesn't seem to appear in Mandarin-language media regarding Taiwan. A friend of mine asked about this recently, and the answer he got was that media from China discussing Taiwan never use "renegade province", because that would imply that the majority of the people in that province wanted to be "renegades", and that they'd elected a government that represented that wish. China can never admit to its own people that this is in fact the case (and it is!) - it has to refer to those who support Taiwanese independence as "splittists" and make them seem like a loud minority.

This view that Taiwanese national identity is a minority separatist movement is underlined by the recent comments of a Chinese general, who warned that "Taiwanese independence supporters" would be considered "war criminals" if China "were forced" to invade. That would only be possible to carry out if it were a minority of Taiwanese - otherwise, the implication of that statement is that the majority of Taiwanese (so, somewhere between 11 and 23 million people) would be war criminals. But that's exactly what would happen! This general - and China as a whole - cannot admit openly that the majority of Taiwanese favor independence (more on that under "status quo").

The phrase "renegade province" in Mandarin would - to the best of my knowledge - be 叛變的省份 (pànbiàn de shěngfèn). That phrase pops up in Internet searches, but doesn't seem to make any appearances in any major Chinese-language media.

So where did "renegade province" come from?

The best I can puzzle out is that it was picked up by foreign-language media, first appearing in 1982. Prior to that, China had used it to describe northern Vietnam, and the foreign-language media started using it to describe Taiwan out of a desire to summarize the CCP position succinctly (apparently Lee Teng-hui used it too? I have no evidence for this but someone I trust said he did).

The unfortunate side effect is that it gives the international media an easy way to avoid clarifying that China calls pro-independence support in Taiwan the work of "splittists", but that in fact, such a category would include most Taiwanese.

I assume some good faith from the international media - I don't believe they are intentionally trying to distort the narrative. They just don't know better. The CCP, on the other hand, tacitly encourages it, as it keeps Taiwan's perspective from being fully included. It frames the Taiwan issue as being similar to 'separatist movements' that Westerners, at least, seem to think of as destabilizing, overly ethno-nationalist or not their business (how many Westerners do you know who actively support a Kurdish state?), rather than accurately portraying the desire of most Taiwanese to merely maintain the sovereignty they already enjoy.


In Mandarin, there are two ways to refer to a person as "Chinese". The hypernym for this is "華人" (huá rén), and it means a person of Chinese ethnic heritage - whatever that means. Not everyone from China is similar genetically - the Uighurs and Tibetans certainly aren't - and plenty of people who are certainly not from China are Chinese, and not all Chinese speak the same language or are Han, so it's really a reified sociopolitical construct rather than a real definable thing.

But, anyway, let's say you had ancestors from China whom most people would consider "Chinese". It is quite possible in Mandarin to call oneself huá rén the same way I call myself "Armenian" even though I'm a US citizen: without making any statement about one's nationality. You can be Singaporean, Malaysian, Taiwanese, American, Australian or whatever and also huá rén. 

The other term is more of a hyponym: 中國人 (Zhōngguórén), and it specifically means "from China, the country" - as in, a citizen of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwanese who also claim Chinese ethnic identity overwhelmingly refer to themselves as huá rén - only a unificationist or someone actually born in China would call themselves Zhōngguórén.

And yet, in English, both of these terms are translated as "Chinese". It's very confusing, and the Chinese government benefits from the ambiguity - and wants to keep it that way. So much so that it considers all Chinese regardless of citizenship to be primarily Chinese.

This bleeds over into another confusing term: "overseas Chinese". "Overseas Chinese" can be citizens of China who happen to live abroad, or citizens of other countries who emigrated from China, or from other countries with ancestral heritage from China. The Chinese government also benefits from this ambiguity because it makes it easier to defend not only their harassment of Chinese citizens abroad, but their interference in the actions of citizens of other countries (many members of the Chinese Australian community referenced in the pieces above are citizens of Australia, not China).

So, when some know-it-all Dunning-Kruger type says "but the Taiwanese are Chinese!" as though that is a good argument for Taiwan being part of China, he's confusing huá rén (a person of Chinese ancestry, the same way most Americans have ancestry outside the US) and Zhōngguórén (a person from China). Or he's deliberately equivocating: deliberately using the 
huá rén meaning of "Chinese" to convince listeners that Taiwanese are the Zhōngguórén kind of Chinese.

If you're wondering whether this quirk of English translation is intentionally exploited by the Chinese government, well, they equivocate in the exact same way. So yes, it is.

Bring this up, and you might well get some version of "yeah but to be Chinese is a different notion, because of...uh, cultural differences, so the two terms connote more closeness than when Westerners talk about their ethnic backgrounds!"

Except it's not and never has been. First, if it were, there wouldn't be two clearly separate terms for it. Second, ask any Taiwanese what they think of the term 
huá rén and you won't hear that it's similar in meaning to Zhōngguórén. If anything, they'll tell you the opposite. And in order for this "but they are the same" nonsense to have any purchase, the Taiwanese would have to agree with it - and most don't. Otherwise you're just telling people what they should think of their own language and identity. Don't be that person. 

This makes it difficult not only to talk about the parts of Taiwan's cultural heritage which come from China, but for Taiwanese to talk about their ancestry without it being politicized. I'm sympathetic to Taiwanese who don't want to cut off their connection to their Chinese ancestral heritage, and how difficult it is to express that clearly in English without implying that one wants to be a citizen of China, when the two words are the same in English.

And if you're wondering why Singaporeans, Malaysians, Americans and others of Chinese heritage refer to themselves as "Chinese" without hesitation, it's because China's not trying to take over Singapore, Malaysia or the US. They are trying to take over Taiwan. The political implications are simply more dire, and that is not an accident.


As someone who studies Applied Linguistics, this one has me clawing at the air with rage.

First, forget the stupid adage that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy, or however it goes. That was an off-the-cuff joke by a non-linguist. It explains the political reasons why we have separate "language" names for dialects (e.g. Hindi and Urdu), but linguistically it means nothing.

The labels "language" and "dialect" can only be applied in relation to other languages/dialects. In relation to Urdu, Hindi is a dialect, but in relation to Tamil (which is entirely unrelated), it's a language. American English and Australian English are dialects in relation to each other; in relation to German, each is a language.

Languages are mutually unintelligible. Dialects may sound different and have some different features, but are mutually intelligible.

By that rubric, Minnan (Southern Fujianese) and Taiwanese are dialects of each other. In relation to Mandarin, they are languages. Cantonese is a language in relation to Mandarin. Taiwanese, Mandarin and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible.

But oh look, here comes Dunning-Kruger Guy again, and he took Chinese 101 as an elective in college. "But the Chinese [he means Mandarin] word for them translates to 'dialect'! Hah! I explained it!" 

That's true - in Mandarin, the word 方言 (fāngyán) - as in 地方的語言 or "language of a place" - is translated to “dialect", but the underlying implication is more like 'tongue spoken by people of a nearby [in China] place'. This is entirely a sociopolitical construct: in defining what "is" and "is not" China, the tongues spoken "in" China are more conveniently referred to as "dialects" so as to promote a sense of political unity that helps the leaders of China to maintain control and discourages the formation of unique cultural/national identities within China.

It is very convenient for the Chinese government to refer to Taiwanese, which is intelligible by people from southern Fujian, but nowhere else in China - as a "dialect". It implies that Mandarin speakers can understand Taiwanese...but they can't. It promotes a sense of unity where there is otherwise none. It makes it more difficult to talk about this aspect of Taiwanese identity in English, especially as Mandarin was essentially forced on Taiwan by the KMT's language policies, so that the vast majority of Taiwanese now speak it.

Dunning-Kruger Guy: "But they can understand each other through writing because the writing systems are the same! Nyah!"

Sort of, but no. It's more that Taiwanese doesn't have its own writing system, so Chinese ideographs were adopted in order to write it. In that sense, someone who can read Mandarin can puzzle out some Taiwanese writing, but that doesn't mean they are mutually intelligible, any more than Japanese and Mandarin (two different language families) are mutually intelligible just because one can write Japanese in Chinese ideographs (kanji). What's more, with underlying differences in how the characters are used and how the grammar works, it's not as intelligible as you think.

Don't believe me? Ask a Mandarin-speaking/reading friend who is not from Taiwan and doesn't speak Taiwanese or Minnan what this says:

哩講三小! 恁祖媽係大員郎。

Go ahead, I'll wait.

"...split in 1949"

I'll try to keep this one short - the issue here isn't that it's completely wrong, it's that it leaves out key details that change the entire story.

First, I'm not so sure that the ROC (Republic of China) and the PRC (People's Republic of China) "split" in 1949 so much as the ROC fought a civil war with the Communists; the Communists won, drove out the Nationalists and their ROC government, and formed the PRC. To split, two sides must have once been united, and the ROC and PRC were never united.

It also implies, through omitting the history immediately prior to 1949, that before that date Taiwan and China had been united. For how long? Who knows! The media never says!

It's true that from 1945-1949 the ROC controlled both Taiwan and China after a fashion (I mean for most of that they were in the process of taking over for the Japanese on Taiwan while fighting a progressively more dire civil war in China so they would not have actually controlled both places at the same time for even that long, but let's not nitpick).

But before that, Taiwan was a colony of Japan, and before that, a colonial holding of the Qing. To boil that complicated history down to "split in 1949" makes it easier to write succinctly, but also implants in readers' minds this idea that for a significant period of time before 1949, Taiwan and China were part of the same country. And that is simply not the case. To the point that many people who consider themselves well-versed in international affairs likely don't even know that Taiwan was Japanese, not Chinese, before it became part of the ROC. Why? Because the media rarely mentions it!

And why doesn't the media mention it? In part because it takes up valuable word count, but in part because the "China experts" that the media talk to never bother to emphasize this point. And why would they? It helps China's case that Taiwan is Chinese if the rest of the world conveniently forgets that Taiwan used to be Japanese. 


I hate to be one of those people, but let's take a quick look at the first dictionary results for the term "mainland":

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The clear connotation of "mainland" just going by these definitions is that it is the main/continental part of a territory, and that outlying islands which are referred to in relation to it are also part of said territory.

By that metric, the only reason to use the phrase "Mainland China" in relation to Taiwan is if you want to imply that China and Taiwan have some sort of territorial relationship, or that Taiwan is a part of China. If you believe they are two sovereign or at least self-ruled entities, it makes no sense at all. In that sense, Taiwan doesn't have a mainland, unless you want to refer to "mainland Asia" (as Taiwan is a part of Asia, but not a part of China - you can also refer to "mainland Asia" in relation to, say, Japan).

So why do people keep saying it? I think partly force of habit - because former president and slightly deformed voodoo doll Ma Ying-jeou was pro-unification (yes he was, and is) and his administration used it, or if one is a journalist, perhaps because everybody else still does for some reason. I'm not sure how people came to believe the word was neutral or apolitical. It's not.

If you are wondering just how political "mainland" is, remember that it is required as a corresponding term to "Taiwan" in Xinhua's style guide, which is a reflection of Chinese government policy (seeing as Xinhua is state-run news, as basically all news in China is).

And yet it's become so ingrained in English discussions about Taiwan that people I know have asked what other option there is to refer to China (like, oh, "China"), and then resist, saying that just calling it "China" is political, but "Mainland" is not, when the opposite is true. That's frankly tiring. 

So if you want to talk about Taiwan exactly the way the Chinese government prefers, by all means use "mainland". I don't know about you, though, but I prefer not to be a useful idiot.

"Status Quo"

The thing about the term "status quo" is that it's not wrong - it describes the situation of Taiwan being de facto independent but not de jure independent.

That said, the status quo as it exists today does allow Taiwan to rule itself. It has sovereignty. From the Taiwanese perspective, it may be said that Taiwan is already independent (if we leave aside the compelling argument that the ROC is a colonial entity and true independence will come the day we formally change to a government of Taiwan).

Yet, when people who don't know Taiwan that well refer to the "status quo", they seem to think it means that Taiwan is in a much more precarious state of limbo - I've met people who genuinely think that Taiwan's current status is "a part of China but wanting independence" (like Xinjiang), or that China has some official say in how things are run here (they don't), or that Taiwan simply doesn't have a government (how would that even work on an island of 23.5 million people?). In any case they don't realize that the 'status quo' effectively renders Taiwan as de facto sovereign.

So if you are wondering why I would say that the Taiwanese favor independence when polls show they favor the status quo, it's because the status quo basically is independence. Considered alongside the fact that there is almost no support for unification, the public will is clear.

I do believe this is somewhat purposeful: while the Chinese media refer to Taiwan as a part of China in their own media, internationally they are quite happy to encourage the misconception that "status quo" means Taiwan does not currently have sovereignty in any form, when in fact it does. 

"One China Policy" 

Last but not least, we have the most misunderstood policy in...quite possibly the history of modern international relations.

A frightening number of laypeople and writers confuse the US's "One China Policy" with China's "One China Principle".

The American "One China policy" (which is not so much a single, formal policy as a set of confusing and ambiguous policy decisions, acts, communiques and official documents) stipulates that there is one government of China. Somewhere in this dizzying array of papers, there's an acknowledgement that people on "both sides" agree that there is "one China" and Taiwan is a part of it (wording that was penned back when the government of Taiwan felt that way, but was a military dictatorship and therefore not representative of the will of the people).

These documents, however, are more of a recognition or acknowledgement of the situation rather than a formal statement about what the US believes vis-a-vis China. That is to say, the US government acknowledges China's position that their territory includes Taiwan, but does not say that the US necessarily agrees (or disagrees) - only that the issue should be settled bilaterally.

Leaving aside the fact that a bilateral solution is not possible, the clearest interpretation of the "One China policy" is that the US takes no formal stance other than that there should be no unilateral moves. That means Taiwan can't unilaterally declare independence, but also that China can't take Taiwan by force.

So why do so many people seem to think that it means "the US believes Taiwan is a part of China"?

First, because China's own "One China Principle" (which does say that Taiwan is Chinese) sounds so similar to the "One China policy" - and there's no way that's unintentional. Of course they want it to be confusing.

Second, because every time someone points out that Taiwan is already self-ruled, and that the US maintains close (unofficial) ties with Taiwan which include arms sales and trade as well as unofficial consulates, a bunch of yahoos butt into the conversation with "but One China Policy! The US says Taiwan is Chinese!"

Some of these are surely Dunning-Kruger Guys, but I suspect a fair number of them are PRC trolls who deliberately muddy the issue and crap all over these conversations, so that we Taiwan advocates spend time fighting with them rather than getting our message out to people who might listen.

Let me repeat: China wants you to think that the US agrees that Taiwan is a part of China, and so it (probably) deliberately gave its own policy a similar name in the hope of confusing you, and is all too happy to let Internet trolls (who may be on its payroll) further obfuscate the truth. 

* * *

It's quite late now and I've just spent my whole evening writing about the deliberate use of language to confuse non-experts into believing half-truths and untruths about Taiwan. Sometimes this is done through exploiting ambiguous translations into English, sometimes through promoting certain word choices and unhitching them, through repeated use, from their political origins. And sometimes through deliberate style choices and other means.

I can only hope the international media will wise up and start reporting on Taiwan and China with more accurate terminology and clearer explanations, but I've got to be honest. Most of the folks writing for said media don't know the region well enough, and I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, everyone reading this should take a long look at the language they use to talk about these issues, and start using accurate terms that make Taiwan's case to the world, rather than holding ourselves back with terminology deliberately put in place to make it more difficult for us to do so. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where Richard Bush is right, and where he is wrong


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.


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.


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.