Friday, July 31, 2009

Replying to Jerome Cohen

A few days ago I blogged on the Op-Ed of Cohen and Chen in the Asian Wall Street Journal (CFR version) on the KMT, DPP, and China policy here. I did not reveal my full range of thoughts because AWSJ had already taken a letter from me in response. Here is the final version (title is not mine):

Taiwan's KMT Shouldn't Run Foreign Policy
29 July 2009
The Wall Street Journal Asia

Jerome Cohen and Yu-Jie Chen's op-ed ("Chairman Ma's Challenge," July 28) on the accession of President Ma Ying-jeou to the chairmanship of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan serves as a timely reminder of how commentators suffer from grievous misunderstandings of President Ma, the KMT, the opposition Democratic People's Party and the cross-Strait forums.

There are a number of conflicts and omissions in the op-ed, starting with the fact that Mr. Cohen was Mr. Ma's teacher when the president was in law school in the United States. Mr. Cohen should have told readers of this personal connection.

The major problem with the op-ed lies in the authors' approval of unofficial, party-to-party talks between the Chinese Communist Party and Mr. Ma's KMT. Mr. Cohen and Ms. Chen signal strong support for this undemocratic process, which has been hidden from the public eye and carried out by private political organizations and politicians. Mr. Ma claims economic agreements between the KMT and the CCP need not be submitted to democratic oversight in the form of public referenda. The op-ed omits any discussion of this controversy.

The importance of this omission cannot be overstated. By withholding this information from the reader, the authors can then claim that the opposition DPP is adopting a "head in the sand" posture. This erroneous claim is nothing more than a KMT talking point. The DPP will not participate in the Cross-Strait Forum because it is protesting the fact that the talks between "Taiwan" and "China" are actually talks between two political parties completely out of the public view. The DPP position is that talks between Taiwan and China should be handled by official diplomatic personnel trained in international negotiations under the aegis of the government, not a private political party, and overseen by the democratically elected representatives of the people, the legislature and the president.

Without that framework, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the talks are merely dickering between two political parties over how best to divvy up the spoils of annexing Taiwan to China, in which any DPP participants would merely be used for their propaganda value.

If Mr. Cohen and Ms. Chen truly believe that Mr. Ma wants to be president of all the people, then they should pressure Mr. Ma and his party to submit the talks to democratic oversight within the government framework, rather than apologize for one-party politics and criticizing the DPP for defending democratic principles.

The AWSJ team did a bang-up job of editing it and turned it into a better piece than my wordy original. I removed a paragraph taking issue with Cohen/Chen's problematic characterization of Ma as "squeaky clean" -- he did essentially the same thing President Chen is accused of, only there is no dispute that he downloaded government money into his private accounts. They also characterized him as "able" though as anyone following the news here, Ma's two signature projects, the Neihu subway line and the Makong Trolley system, are both a mess. Nor can anyone reasonably claim he did much as Taipei mayor.

I removed that paragraph because I thought it was more important to preserve the idea that the KMT-CCP talks are, without the democratic framework to contain and shape them, merely two allied political parties dickering over the spoils of Taiwan.

Because of space, I could not focus on the incredibly bad logic of their argument, encapsulated in the last paragraph:
The most recent poll of Taiwanese political opinions by Taipei-based Global Views magazine shows some slippage in the standing of the Ma administration, but by far its most impressive finding revealed that 63.8% of those asked said that, if the DPP wanted to uphold Taiwan's interests, it had to engage in direct communication with the Chinese Communist Party. .... By taking an active part in Taiwan's unofficial discussions with the Mainland, the DPP will do more to protect the island's interests than by carping from the sidelines.
Here's the poll he refers to. His figures are correct -- but note the illogic. Even if 68% want the DPP to engage China, it does not follow that they want the DPP to do so in KMT-controlled talks. Everyone I know wants the DPP to talk to China (the issue was always Beijing's unwillingness to talk to the democracy side in Taiwan's politics, not the DPP). There is no basis from that poll for Cohen/Chen to argue for DPP participation in the Party to Party talks in China.

I note, in passing, that Cohen/Chen write "the Mainland" (capitalized, no less!) and not "China." It is interesting how that bit of pro-China propaganda has become a staple of everyday speech. I hope in the future that US-based writers will refer to China and not the Mainland. Unless you are standing on Hainan Island, China is not the mainland.
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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Congrats on getting another letter published. Would you mind showing what the edits were? It'd be a valuable insight to see how big papers do their editing and keep things succinct and to the point.

Readin said...

I note, in passing, that Cohen/Chen write "the Mainland" (in capitals, no less!) and not "China." It is interesting how that bit of pro-China propaganda has become a staple of everyday speech. I hope in the future that US-based writers will refer to China and not the Mainland. Unless you are standing on Hainan Island, China is not the mainland.

When I lived in Taiwan (nearly 20 years ago) the common term I heard for China was "Jungguo dalu" or just "dalu". Has that changed? It will be a lot easier to persuade English speakers that they are incorrect when they say "mainland" if we can point out that in Taiwan they just say "China". The same applies to "mainlanders" or "daluren". Even worse, Taiwanese used to use "benshengren" (this province people) and "waishengren" (other province people) to dinstinguish between Taiwanese people and Chinese immigrants.

Michael Turton said...

Readin -- just because the Taiwanese reproduce that bit of propaganda doesn't mean we have to.

Anonymous said...

Do you know Chinese or not. 大陸就是 Mainland 啦. Dula means Mainland.


Anonymous said...


I don't think it matters so much what they are called, but that Taiwanese imagine those guys from China to be "other".

Anonymous said...

Is this up yet? Do you have a link?

NotSure said...

MT is back! The keeper of the light! All hail MT! All hail MT! Oh MT can you see by the dawn's early light...

(MIB II ~!)

Great work Michael!

Anonymous said...

Readin: The major pro-Taiwan news outlets the majority of the time say "Zhongguo". The "bensheng" and "waisheng" distinction remains useful though because now there are people that later came from China and it doesn't really make sense to group them together with the flood of people that came in 1949.

Michael Turton said...

Anon, it was published but I don't have a link.


Michael Turton said...

Sorry, I don't think it is fair to publish the edits.


dennis said...

great job on getting the letter published! anything to bring to light their propaganda is much needed.

Gerd said...

the answer on your answer

Readin said...

Very nice letter. Way to go!

Readin said...

I don't know if you mentioned it in your blog when it came out, but this op-ed piece by Parris S. Change is very good too.
Beijing's Taiwan Gambit
I ran across it while searching for your letter.