Sunday, February 11, 2007

There they go again

I blogged last week on the rectification of names in Taiwan and how completely normal it is in postcolonial political settings, but apparently the US State Department wasn't listening. The Taipei Times reported today that our elder brother in Washington, fresh from successful decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and now preparing another brilliant war against Iran to world acclaim, criticized the Taiwan government's decision:

The remarks came in response to comments made by US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who on Friday said the US did not support "administrative steps by Taiwan authorities that would appear to change Taiwan's status unilaterally or move toward independence."

Several state-owned enterprises, including the Chinese Petroleum Corp (CPC, 中國石油), China Shipbuilding Corp (CSBC, 中國造船), and the Chunghwa Post Co (中華郵政) decided in their board meetings on Friday to drop the references to "China" and include "Taiwan" in their titles.

In a particularly strong statement, McCormack also said the changes could affect Taiwan's "relationship with others," a possible warning that US-Taiwan ties would be hurt if President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) goes ahead with his plans.

McCormack said that Chen's actions on the issue "will be a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship."

To underscore its concern, the department also took the seldom-used step of issuing a formal statement, in addition to the comments made by McCormack in answer to a question at his daily press briefing.

That's right folks, you don't have a fever -- those are actual printed words. In the twisted world of Washington's view of Taiwan, if you change the name of a local state-run company from "China" to "Taiwan" you are committing a violation so great that it requires a formal notification of deathly fear from the US State Department, but if you are China and increase the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan by 100 annually, that is a profound act of statesmanship that the State Department apparently feels no need to comment on. It's a wonder everyone who follows the State Department's remarks on Taiwan hasn't checked into a rehab farm for substance abuse.....

McCormack said Washington's main interest was maintaining peace and stability in the strait, and repeated the standard mantra that the US did not support Taiwan independence and opposed steps to change the status quo.
While the department's formal statement largely repeated what McCormack said, it added a reference to Chen's "four Noes" pledge in his 2000 inaugural address.

The inclusion of that sentence may indicate that the US feels changing the name on stamps and other enterprises might violate those pledges, which some observers feel US officials may have helped write as a gauge of Chen's commitment not to exacerbate US-China relations.

The fascinating thing is that it is not Taiwan that is causing the trouble here, but the US State Department. Let's suppose the State Department hadn't said a word about changing the names of state-owned companies in Taiwan, which everyone except the pro-China crowd feels is a necessary and logical step -- since, after all, they are from Taiwan. Let's suppose the State Department had instead simply shrugged and looked on benignly. Not applauded, simply did nothing. What would have happened?

Nothing.

Instead, we have a newspaper report that notes:

The issue could sour Taiwan's relations with the Bush administration at a time when relations were improving, as the brouhaha over Chen's decision to mothball the National Unification Council early last year became a distant memory.

The NUC change had zero repeat zero concrete effect on the cross-strait relations (in fact, the agency hadn't operated in years and its disappearance had no effect on anything). China did not attack. The US did not get involved in a war. Investment from Taiwan to China continued. Life went on, the planet still spun on its axis, and the stars remained in their courses. The very reasonable name changes that the government is proposing will also have zero concrete effect on cross-strait relations, but will very much ease the confusion that Taiwanese have to deal with in their day-to-day relations with other countries.

As with the NUC change, they are also part of the DPP's package to rally the party's core support, in this case for the upcoming elections later this year. The State Department could have at least indicated it had some understanding of that issue, as well as indicated support for Taiwan's democracy. It could also have simply asked why China was upset, since there are thousands of companies that bear the names of Chinese cities, provinces, and regions. I assume the State Department has similarly complained that using the name Air Macau may lead to independence for the island, and that China Eastern Airlines may cause rampant splittism on the east coast?

Apparently the US has failed to heed the lessons from its past errors, turning normal evolution into a faux-serious problem, when nothing need have occurred. Changing the names of the state run companies will not make Taiwan independent nor move it one whit closer to formal independence. Not only is the US reaction plainly shortsighted and ill-considered, it also serves the needs of Beijing and of the pro-China forces in Taiwan, who promptly accused Chen of causing trouble in Taiwan's relations with the US. In the long run, each time the State Department makes noises at Taiwan, it validates Beijing's drive to annex the island, leading to even more demands on Beijing's part that it must fulfill, and increasing the probability that violence will break out.

Looks to me like someone in Beijing made a phone call to someone in the State Department and demanded that harsh words be said, and the State Department leaped to obey. The sad part is that six months will go by, nothing will happen, and the US will then have to issue a statement reassuring everyone that US-Taiwan relations are peachy-keen and that it has no problems with Chen. That's what happens, folks, when you decide to serve Beijing instead of democracy.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, a former AIT head calls for the US to rethink its Taiwan position.

9 comments:

Hai Tien said...

Sometimes the whole name rectification thing reminds me of the whole debate in the US over the "Under God" part of the Pledge of Allegiance. When originally written, the Pledge made no religious references whatsoever, it was only in the 1950s during the height of paranoia of the "godless commies" that religious groups successfully lobbied Congress to change "One nation" to "One nation under God". Yet today, you see some groups on the Religious Right frothing over how the godless atheists want to defend the Pledge against "alteration" to remove those two words.

Consider the case of China Shipbuilding Corporation, according to their website, the company has in the past been called:

1937: 台灣船渠株式會社 (Taiwan Ship and Canal Corporation)

1946: 台灣機械造船公司 (Taiwan Machinery and Shipbuilding Corporation)

1948: 台灣造船公司 (Taiwan Shipbuilding Corporation)

1973-1978: 中國造船公司 (China Shipbuilding Corporation) established as a state run enterprise, aquires assets of Taiwan Shipbuilding Corporation.

1978-present: 中國造船公司 (China Shipbuilding Corporation)

If anything, the issue sure as hell isn't about cost as some of our LY-critters seem to enjoy claiming.

Michael Turton said...

Bingo. Lots of name changes over the years for the state-owned firms, and privatization has made some disappear while others have had name changes. The State Department is simply making itself look ridiculous.

Michael

STOP Ma said...

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The State Department is simply making itself look ridiculous.

With Rice at the helm -- this is par for the course, Michael. Where are those comments about the "birth pangs" for Taiwan? LOL!

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taipeimarc said...

Timing is everything and now is definitely THE worst time for Taiwan to start making a ruckus on name changes.

I have to wonder, Is the DPP not paying attention to what the hell is going on in the world today?

The US is on the verge of going into Iran. If they do, imho, there could not be a better time for China to make a move on Taiwan.

As we know China has set into law the conditions of invasion in their anti-secession declaration. Who is to say where China draws the line on how far Taiwan can go with renaming everything except the country itself? They can easily use this as an excuse. I think it is the worst timing for Taiwan to do this now.

On a different note, sometimes I wonder why Taiwan doesn't just use the name Formosa instead of Taiwan for some of the business names. When you think about it, many large companies have beening using this for years already such as Formosa Plastics. I think its a great name but for some reason, Taiwan just doesn't want to use it. (yes, I know one of the arguments is that it doesn't rep the other islands, but neither does Taiwan. (or Hawaii for that matter)

Lastly, that state department talking head that is always on TV (is it McCorrmack? I'm not sure) I wish he would stop with the shit eating smirk on his face all the time. When a Taiwan reporter brings up a worthy subject, all he does is piss people off with his smirk and non-answers.

zocalo said...

I had a good laugh out of this blog entry! Condi should have been admitted into psych rehab clinic years ago. State Dept's stand on Taiwan independence is definitely very confusing. Plus, who in the world seriously cares if Taiwan postal services eliminated the word China from its name?

Michael Turton said...

As we know China has set into law the conditions of invasion in their anti-secession declaration.

Marc, they don't need a law. They can invade any time they want, for any reason they choose.

Who is to say where China draws the line on how far Taiwan can go with renaming everything except the country itself? They can easily use this as an excuse. I think it is the worst timing for Taiwan to do this now.

I think China will wait a little while to see how Iran goes before moving against Taiwan, assuming they even move against Taiwan.

Michael

Anonymous said...

Woohoo, that is no big deal. Just another additional 40+ NT, on top of the 180 thousand+ NT per person worth of National debt that we, the current and future generations of Taiwanese, are going to pay off.

Here you go, here is the 40+ NT I was going to spend on my lunch, but we just have to have Taiwan Postal instead of Chunghwa Postal, alongside countless of other useless governmental programs. Maybe someone can now wank off on getting voted again, I am pretty sure it’s almost that time of the year again. By the way, now I have a good incentive to completely change all my wire transfer account to my other banks, as well as completely switching to Emails, Fedex, DHL, or UPS; just so I know things will still get timely transferred internationally, and not late or lost due to some international postal arrangement policies.

Formosa is sooo cool as well, now if we just get the Portugal government on board. Too bad we just missed a Portugal referendum, but hopefully they will have another, just so we can put this Formosa colony issue on their next referendum alongside the possible abortion issue, then we might be eligible for the Portugal passport, just in case we need to bail in the event of war.

Speaking of which, any of you Independence people want to give up your non Taiwan passport? So you will be more determined to kill the PLA. I mean, you are going to say around to die for this Republic of Taiwan, right?

Michael Turton said...

Wow! I think you should probably take your meds. You're not making any sense there.

Speaking of which, any of you Independence people want to give up your non Taiwan passport? So you will be more determined to kill the PLA. I mean, you are going to say around to die for this Republic of Taiwan, right?

That's right, because as history shows, dying is the only way independence can be accomplished. Just consider the massive war that East Germany and Poland had to fight to get rid of Russia in 1989, the years of bitter fighting between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the brutal conflict between the Philippines and the US in the 1940s, the years of incessant guerilla fighting between Canada and the UK and Australia and the UK....

Michael

Clancy said...

Now let's get on with rectifying "China" Airline please... (yes, I know it is technically a private company but it's still majority state owned... just privatized). Of all the State-owned companies, China Airline is really the most confusing one out there.