I just can't figure out why these presumably smart people have so much trouble wrapping their minds around something I easily figured out as a 24yo. teaching bum.That pretty much sums it up. This will be a long post, so brace yourselves.
The article has been the subject of much commentary in the pro-Taiwan, pro-democracy community, with responses in both Chinese and English (samples from the Taipei Times: Bellocchi, Chen Yin-nan, Huang Chih-ta, Liberty Times editorial). Nat Bellocchi, former AIT Chairman, noted:
However, once every so often an academic publishes an analysis that is so far removed from reality that it would be dismissed out of hand for its lack of understanding and its outright naivete. Bruce Gilley’s article, titled “Not So Dire Straits” — published in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs (January/February 2010) — is such a work.The one-sentence abstract of the piece at FA signals Gilley's entire approach:
As Taipei drifts further into Beijing’s sphere of inﬂuence, the United States must decide whether to continue arming Taiwan as a bulwark against a rising China or step back to allow the Taiwanese people to determine their own future.Note how this simple idea stands reality on its head: continued US support for Taiwan is what enables the islanders to determine their future. As soon as the US "steps back" Beijing will step in and terminate any ability of the Taiwanese to determine their own future. Thus, Gilley's essay succeeds not by logic, but by constructing a fantasy world from which he carefully removes anything that might threaten to shake the foundations of his alternate universe. Without further ado.....
Gilley begins by laying out his thesis:
In many ways, the current thaw serves Taipei’s interests, but it also allows Beijing to assert increasing influence over Taiwan. As a consensus emerges in Taiwan on establishing closer relations with China, the thaw is calling into question the United States’ deeply ambiguous policy, which is supposed to serve both Taiwan’s interests (by allowing it to retain its autonomy) and the United States’ own (by guarding against an expansionist China). Washington now faces a stark choice: continue pursuing a militarized realist approach—using Taiwan to balance the power of a rising China— or follow an alternative liberal logic that seeks to promote long-term peace through closer economic, social, and political ties between Taiwan and China.I've bolded the more interesting parts of this. Note how Gilley ignores what the people of Taiwan actually want: by "closer ties with China" the people of Taiwan want economic ties, not political ties. Gilley then offers us a false dichotomy: our choice is between a "militarized realist approach" or "long-term peace" through closer links. A stark choice between militarism or peace! Given that, who would want militarized realism? Pure rhetoric of course -- there are many possible ways to engage China. One could think, for example, of the DPP's carefully limited approach, which emphasized Taiwan's sovereignty and pursued economic advantage, as an alternative. But that would take us far from the fantasy world that Gilley is busy constructing...
Gilley then reviews the KMT-CCP conflict and wrongly writes:
For nearly three decades, Chiang and Mao harbored rival claims to the whole territory of China. Gradually, most of the international community came to accept Beijing’s claims to territorial sovereignty over Taiwan and a special role in its foreign relations.As any informed individual knows, the international community has not accepted this. This is an error that the editor should have caught. In this reality, the Powers mostly acknowledge China's claim without accepting it, and the status of Taiwan remains undetermined under both law and practice. That is the position of the US and Japan, to name only two. But of course, the reader will search in vain for Japan in this piece; it occurs only once. More on that in a moment.
Gilley next presents a review of the history of the China-Taiwan relationship through the 1980s, and observes:
This “first détente” ended abruptly in 1995, when the United States issued a visa for Lee to visit Cornell University. China, in the midst of a domestic leadership transition, was already hardening its position on Taiwan, and armchair generals in all three places were publishing books on the predicted order of battle to come. Beijing saw the visa as a betrayal of earlier U.S. promises to refrain from any o/cial relations with Taiwanese leaders. Taiwan’s democratization was also leading to domestic popular pressures for a more assertive stance on independence.This is a remarkable uninformed and slanted presentation. First, note its entire pro-Beijing positioning. The tensions in the Strait are not caused by Beijing's desire to annex Taiwan and snuff out its democratic government -- they are caused by (1) the US grant of a visa to Lee Teng-hui and (2) the election of Chen Shui-bian. Poor Beijing! So put upon -- its worst fears realized! No wonder it had to fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing reacted by hurling missiles into the Taiwan Strait in 1995 and 1996. Washington dispatched aircraft carriers and radar ships to the area. Beijing’s worst fears were then realized in 2000, when Taiwanese citizens elected Chen Shui-bian as their president. Chen, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (dpp), now the opposition, promised to seek formal recognition of Taiwan’s de facto independence from China. As a consequence, cross-strait relations deteriorated dramatically between 1995 and 2005, leading to a renewed emphasis on militarization by all three sides.
In the real world, the PRC's anti-Taiwan missile build-up began long before Lee Teng-hui went to Cornell -- the visit was a classic case of Beijing using the excuse of a pro-Taiwan move by claiming that tensions had been raised -- when all along it was Beijing raising them. Let's reiterate: it is Beijing that controls the level of tensions, not Taipei or Washington. "Increasing tension" is policy choice of the CCP leadership in their quest to discredit Taiwan's pro-democracy side. It is sad when commentators from democratic states buy into this oft-used propaganda line.
And then there is that hoary chestnut, the "deteriorating relations" claim. Let's recall what was really happening in the 1995-2005 period of "deteriorating relations": Direct government to government negotations over concrete exchanges. $200 billion in Taiwanese investment in China. Legalization of Taiwanese investment of China. Negotiations over Cross-Strait charter flights. Exchanges of students and scholars. Religious exchanges. Busiest air route on earth between a city in Taiwan and one in China. Yada, yada, yada. Of course, in Gilley's alternate reality, all this disappears. The Lee-Chen years were the Dark Ages....
...with a construction like the above, you know what's coming next: Hu and Ma save the day from the dastardly Taiwanese democracy and independence advocates with their "pragmatism" and flexibility:
The “second détente” in cross-strait relations began with a 2005 speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao downplaying demands for reunification. Beijing was shifting its view as a result of an emerging grand strategy that stressed regional and global influence; accordingly, it came to see Taiwan less as an ideologically charged and urgent matter and more as a pragmatic and low-key management issue. Ma’s election in 2008 signaled the resurgence of a similar vision in Taiwan. He promised “no unification, no independence, no use of force.” Within months, in rapid and unprecedented fashion, the heads of the contact groups began holding semiannual meetings and signed more than two dozen previously unthinkable agreements. Although most of these involved economic matters, they had political implications, too. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan—including Taiwan’s long-militarized islands directly off the coast of China—surged by a factor of ten, to 3,000 per day. China sent students to Taiwan, and the two sides authorized 270 flights per week across the strait.An error-studded fantasy construction. Ma's promised during the campaign to pursue economic closeness and to protect Taiwan's sovereignty. The public mandate was for economic talks, which is why, even today, Ma -- knowing this -- regularly claims that the time is not right for political talks. "Two dozen previously unthinkable agreements"? As anyone who follows Taiwan knows, what the KMT did was ink deals in areas already laid out by the DPP, plucking the "low hanging fruit", as several commentators noted at the time (Shriver, for example). There are not 3,000 tourists a day here, the figure is about half that ("the actual volume of PRC travellers averaged only 1,307 from December 2008 through September 2009" -- Taiwan News). While Gilley says tourist arrivals in Kinmen "surged", Kinmen opened in 2003 (another example of the "deteriorating relations" under Chen) and as Reuters observed, were hitting 3,000 a month by 2007, the year before Ma was elected. Student exchanges were occurring years ago; there were students from Shanghai and Beijing in my PHD classes at NCKU during the Chen Administration. The 270 flights did not include something the DPP long struggled for: the so-called "fifth freedom." The KMT was able to ink these deals because it sold out the island's interests in exchange for quick agreements, something the DPP would never do. Gilley's fantasy world naturally elides all that; it would dent his thesis. Besides, everyone knows how hard it is to use Google to find out this stuff -- heck, it took me three or four minutes....
There isn't space to go over the slant in the remainder of this section of the presentation. It ends:
Taiwan and China are now approaching their relationship using completely different assumptions than those that governed cross-strait relations for decades. Whereas they previously saw the relationship as a military dispute, today both sides have embraced a view of security that is premised on high-level contact, trust, and reduced threats of force. Their views of economic issues, meanwhile, have placed global integration and competitiveness ahead of nationalist protectionism. This represents a fundamental shift in the political relationship between Taiwan and China.Did the CCP and the KMT see the cross-strait dispute as a military issue? No, they saw it as a clash of competing sovereignties. Have both sides embraced a view that is premised on "reduced threats of force"? China has been constantly increasing the number of missiles facing Taiwan, and building up its navy and armed forces to attack the island, as Richard Bush noted with puzzlement in a recent piece. The threats of force may not be emanating from the top, but it would be easy to find underlings making threats or reiterating the PRC's hardline position. Gilley naturally ignores all that complexity. It should also be noted that the phrase "both sides" coupled with "reduced threat of force" creates a bizarre world in which Taipei, laughably, threatens Beijing.
Next comes the explanation of Finlandization:
To understand the evolution of the Taipei-Beijing relationship, it is useful to consider the theory and practice of what has become known as “Finlandization” in the field of political science. The term derives its name from Finland’s 1948 agreement with the Soviet Union under which Helsinki agreed not to join alliances challenging Moscow or serve as a base for any country challenging Soviet interests. In return, the Kremlin agreed to uphold Finnish autonomy and respect Finland’s democratic system.After explaining some of the underlying theory, Gilley writes:
Taiwan shares many of the key features that characterized Finland in the late 1940s. It is a small but internally sovereign state that is geographically close to a superpower with which it shares cultural and historical ties. Its fierce sense of independence is balanced by a pragmatic sense of the need to accommodate that superpower’s vital interests. Most important, the evolving views of its leaders and its people today focus on seeking security through integration rather than confrontation. This approach could help defuse one of the most worrying trends in global politics: the emerging rivalry between China and the United States."The analogy is not perfect." Actually it is, as the opening abstract suggested, completely upside down. Finland Finlandized to preserve its sovereignty. Taiwan cannot preserve its sovereignty by moving closer to China; only by maintaining distance. My friend Feiren neatly laid out the problems:
The analogy is not perfect. U.S. security guarantees for Taiwan today are more explicit than they were for Finland during the Cold War, although few doubt that nato would have defended Finland against a Soviet invasion. And China’s 1,000-plus missiles targeted at Taiwan are a more direct threat than anything the Soviet military ever mustered across the Vuoksi River. But in general the thinking that has motivated the second détente on both sides parallels that which led to the Finnish-Soviet détente of the Cold War. Although it is still early, Taipei is moving in the direction of eventual Finlandization.
.....Gilley also doesn't seem to understand how deeply out of touch Ma is with mainstream Taiwanese views of identity and the possibility of unification with China.Gilley's understanding is upside down and backwards. In Gilley's view Finlandization is a stable end state, but in the real-world China-Taiwan relationship, it is simply another step into Beijing's maw. Sure, Taiwan can be Finlandized, but will it stay that way? Nope.
Anthony Chiang had a far better piece in the Apple Daily a few weeks ago. His first point was that Finland accommodated the Soviet Union for the purpose of keeping its sovereignty. Ma Ying-jiu however is accommodating China so that Taiwan will lose its sovereignty. Secondly, the Soviet Union always recognized Finland as country. Third, what is happening in Taiwan is not Finlandization, it's Hong Kong-ization.
In Gilley's view Ma is pursuing a "more pragmatic" foreign policy; in the real world, Ma's foreign policy is driven by his pro-annexation ideology (this ideology is one of the many things Gilley makes vanish in this paper). On several occasions, such as declaring Taiwan's relations with China to be region-to-region, he has downgraded its sovereignty and has repeatedly emphasized the social and cultural links between Taiwan and China as a way to move toward annexation. Moreover, Taiwan's people are not seeking "security through integration" but "wealth through economic integration" -- they just want to keep their distance while making money off China's economic growth. As Ma's plummeting approval ratings demonstrate, the public does not like it when the island moves toward China politically. Global Views noted last year:
When asked whether both sides across the Strait should move toward unification eventually, 15.7 percent of people said yes while 69 percent voiced opposition. Amid the pan-blue supporters, 27.5 percent were supportive of the eventual unification while 63.7 percent opposed it. Even among the people with ancestors from mainland China, 55.9 percent did not support the idea andonly 22.9 percent did. The poll implied people in Taiwan had reached an overwhelming and stable consensus on whether two sides across the Strait should march toward unification eventually.There is a consensus in Taiwan, and it is simple: nobody wants to be part of China. More to the point: support for joining the PRC version of "China" is nil.
"The analogy is not perfect." No shit, really? Lessee: Finland's sovereignty was accepted by all nations. Taiwan's status is undetermined. Finland's independence dates from 1917. Taiwan has never been an internationally accepted independent state. Finland did not host a ruling party ideologically and officially committed to annexing Finland to Russia. There was not a significant minority of Finns who sought to annex the nation to the USSR. Under Finlandization, the USSR promised not to annex Finland -- whereas Beijing is committed to a long-term annexation of Taiwan. Recall also that the USSR kept its agreements with Finland, whereas Beijing has a long history of disregarding its agreements. The reason that Tibet is not mentioned in this paper is quite clear: China tore up its 17 point agreement with Tibet and brutally invaded and annexed that nation. Not a good precedent for Finlandization agreement with Taiwan!
Thus, the analogy between Taiwan and Finland is in fact poor, and necessary ingredients, such as domestic support for impairment of sovereignty in exchange for preservation of it, as well as all parties in Finland being committed to preserving the national sovereignty and democracy, along with credible expressions of restraint from the nearby superpower, do not exist in Taiwan.
The second half of the paper is where Gilley ruthlessly eliminates all consideration of Beijing's actual behavior to construct an alternate reality of geostrategic pragmatism:
In recent years, many Western analysts have rejected this nationalist interpretation of Beijing’s Taiwan policy and opted instead for a geostrategic one. Unrecovered territories are legion in the history of the prc, and the ccp has found it easy to let go of others (including disputed regions bordering Russia, India, and the Spratly Islands, as well as control over Mongolia and Korea).Taiwan, however, by virtue of its geographic location, represents a potential strategic threat to China. It could serve as a base for foreign military operations against China and even in peacetime could constrain Beijing’s ability to develop and project naval power and ensure maritime security inEast Asia.There's so much to deconstruct here. Did the Chinese ships "trail" the US Impeccable? Reality says:
Beijing’s core goal from this perspective is the preservation of its dominance in its immediate offshore region, as became clear in 2009 when five Chinese vessels trailed a U.S. Navy ship sailing near a Chinese submarine base.Taiwan represents an obstacle to this goal if it remains a U.S. strategic ally armed with advanced U.S. weaponry, but not if it becomes a self-defending and neutral state with close economic and political ties to China. Beijing’s constantly changing position on Taiwan—which has incrementally moderated from “liberation” to “peaceful unification” to “one China” to “anti-independence” since Mao’s era—in fact reflects a concern with Taiwan’s geostrategic status, not with the precise nature of its political ties to China. According to this interpretation, Beijing has no interest in occupying or ruling Taiwan; it simply wants a sphere of influence that increases its global clout and in which Taiwan is a neutral state, not a client state. Seen through this lens, Taiwan is a means to an end and the second détente is a tactic intended to achieve this strategic objective through Taiwan’s Finlandization.
Five Chinese vessels in a possibly coordinated effort yesterday “shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity” to a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in international waters, the Pentagon said.The boats actually buzzed the US ship, creating the possibility of a dangerous incident (there were several such incidents in which Chinese vessels threatened US vessels). Further, the US boat was not "near" a submarine base on Hainan Island but was 75 miles away in international waters. This construction, trivial as it is, shows how Gilley simply makes actual Chinese behavior disappear.
Two of the vessels closed to within 50 feet (15 meters) of the USNS Impeccable, waving Chinese flags and telling the U.S. ship to leave the area, according to a Defense Department statement issued today. The Impeccable sprayed water from its fire hoses at one of the boats to protect itself.
Has the CCP found it easy to "let go" of territories? Let's ask the Tibetans and the Uighurs. Has it let go of the Spratlys? Nope, still claims them. In fact in December of '09 Beijing passed a new "island protection law" that contains a claim to 3 million square miles and more than 16,900 islands in the South China Sea, sparking protests from Vietnam. Has it let go of its disputed regions with India? Nope, it is expanding its troops and military infrastructure in the Himal, obviously preparing for conflict. Far from "letting go" Beijing's territorial claims have grown in recent years, beginning in 1969 with its bogus claim to the Senkakus and continuing through its insane claim to Arunachal Pradesh. Don't bother searching for India in this piece; this is the only mention of that nation, so important for understanding Chinese expansionism.
That observation goes to the heart of Gilley's "argument": it doesn't deploy logic, it simply waves a magic wand that makes everything disappear. No mention of India and Arunachal Pradesh, no mention of Japan or the Senkakus. No mention of its "string of pearls" strategy in the India Ocean or its pursuit of ties with India's neighbors, to India's detriment. China's enabling of Sri Lanka's military? Not a word. Tibet and Xinjiang don't appear here either. No mention of how China's grab of Tibet has led in turn to further claims to Indian territory as "South Tibet" in which every person is "Chinese". No mention of these and other issues because it is impossible to make a case for a changed China if they have to be dealt with. Hence, they disappear. Gilley's Asia is a fantasy Asia bereft of Chinese expansionism. The reader can nod as she reads Gilley only because his world is nothing like the real world.
Moreover, Gilley's claim for a "constantly changing position on Taiwan" in Beijing mistakes a selection of rhetoric for a robust description of reality. What is China's position? It is laid out again and again and again in policy documents and public statements: Taiwan is part of China, period. Everything else is rhetorical smoke. Gilley is making the classic mistake of listening to what Chinese say instead of watching what they do.
Gilley moves on to argue that Finlandizing Taiwan will enable China's liberalization:
At present, a rising China threatens the world primarily because there has been little in the way of domestic political liberalization to keep Beijing’s increasing economic and military power in check. Taiwan could play a far greater role in China’s liberalization if it were to become a Finlandized part of the region and its officials were able to move across the strait even more freely than they do now.Actually, Taiwan officials are free to move across the Strait anytime. Many of them are and have. Further, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese live in China, running businesses there. Hundreds of thousands of more have visited as tourists. Has China moved toward democratic liberalization as a result of Taiwanese engagement with that nation since the early 1990s?
Just the opposite has happened, the most recent example being the rising self-censorship among local reporters in Taiwan in dealing with China (my post): as we move closer to China, we move farther from democracy. It is not Taiwan that is going to change China, but China that will bend Taiwan.
Remember when US corporate engagement was going to foster reform in China? Ah, those days were the bright morning of our naivete. One word: Google. As Gideon Rachman recently noted in his FT blog:
But all this economic growth shows little sign of provoking the political changes anticipated by Bush and Clinton. If anything, the Chinese government seems to be getting more repressive. Liu Xiaobo, a leading Chinese dissident, was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for his involvement in the Charter 08 movement that advocates democratic reforms.Quite. Twenty years of Taiwan engagement in China has failed to move China off its quest to annex Taiwan one iota. But apparently, Finlandization will.
I suppose I should also mention PRC view, laid out in statements from PRC officials, that the closer economic integration is simply the first step in political annexation. Gilley of course makes that disappear. Finlandization can't work because from the PRC perspective, integration leads inexorably to annexation.
The rest of this disaster is quite predictable. For example:
In recent years, the U.S.-Taiwanese relationship has been increasingly dictated by the interests of narrow lobbies rather than grand strategy.The U.S. arms industry, the Taiwanese military, and Taiwanese independence activists together make a formidable force. Before the current détente, Taiwan’s staunch anticommunism and adversarial policy toward China aligned well with Washington’s own ideology and militarized approach to the Taiwan Strait. But the recent evolution of tactical and strategic thinking in Taipei and Beijing has created a disjuncture. The adversarial status quo that the United States has protected is no longer the status quo that the Taiwanese want protected.Hmm....the Taiwanese want and like the current status quo, one in which they have full sovereignty and can invest in China. Note how Gilley slams the independence activists as "narrow lobbies". Yes, we are lucky that Dr. Gilley is here to support the robust authoritarians in Beijing rather than the narrow lobbies of democracy activists!
By focusing solely on Taiwan, China, and the US, Gilley fails to spot one of the most important developments of the KMT's China policy: it has enabled China to ramp up tensions elsewhere. Finlandizing Taiwan will not lead to peace, but to increasing tensions in other nations' relations with China. This is because the source of tensions isn't Taiwan, but China, and those desiring cross-strait peace will have to change China, not Taiwan's relation to it. If you make things easier for China in one place, it will simply shift resources to pressure other regions.
Gilley says that Finlandization will create The Best of All Possible Worlds:
....The tragic result of this policy, however, has been that it has played into Beijing’s fears of encirclement and naval inferiority, which in turn has prompted China’s own military buildup.This argument can make sense only because Gilley has removed all other nations from consideration by the simple expedient of not mentioning them. But Finlandizing Taiwan will not resolve the US involvement in Japan's security against China (codified by treaty!). It will not end the Chinese threat to India. It will not ameliorate the Chinese claims to numerous islands in the South China Sea and elsewhere. Instead, the obvious conclusion is that it will lead to calls from future Bruce Gilleys to Finlandize Japan, along with everywhere else that China claims. Indeed, I look forward to his upcoming article: Hawaii: the Case for Finlandization.
Finlandization will allow Taiwan to break this cycle by taking itself out of the game and moderating the security dilemma that haunts the Washington-Beijing relationship.
Even from a strictly realist perspective, there is no need for the United States to keep Taiwan within its strategic orbit, given that U.S. military security can be attained through other Asian bases and operations.Taiwan’s Finlandization should be seen not as a necessary sacrifice to a rising China but rather as an alternative strategy for pacifying China.
Towards the end Gilley again raises the fantasy that Taiwan will change China, rather than vice versa, and argues that Taiwan's territory is secure and its democracy is consolidated. This is good news, because I had thought that Freedom House had just become the latest in a long line of observers to warn on our democracy, and that the Chinese military build up continued apace.
Clearly I am living in an alternate universe.
You know, the one where Japan and India actually exist. And where a democratic Taiwan and a PRC already co-exist.
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