UPDATE: Kane now claims, after a week of abuse, that it was all Swiftian satire. Hahahahahahaha.
As a blogger whose meat and drink is understanding and responding to presentations of Taiwan in the media, a piece as comprehensively awful as Paul Kane's NYTimes opinion piece on selling Taiwan to China in exchange for canceling Chinese-owned US debt should be like a gift from the blog gods. After all, the reaction has been incredible. First, I was showered with the link, including a couple of letters that began "Although I am a longtime reader of your blog, I have never written you. But...." It was also the subject of furious discussion on Chinapol and other discussion lists where they don't permit riff-raff like bloggers to participate. In short, it is bad in a way that triggered universal condemnation. Really Awful Crap like this doesn't come around very often, so everyone wants a piece. More links:
NYTimes blogrunner says it is one of the most blogged pieces on the NYT websiteIt's 3:24 on Monday, Taiwan time, but Kane's Facebook page still doesn't have the link to the NYT piece on it. Who knows what that means....
Patrick Chovanec writing from Tsinghua, China:
The China Hotline
and Richard at the Peking Duck.
I suppose I should feel happy having another awful piece on Taiwan to fisk. But frankly, the whole thing fills me with sadness. This piece in the NYTimes means that the person who wrote it, who quite clearly knows nothing about Taiwan or international finance or the Asian security situation, was able to have a piece in the flagship paper of record, the NYTimes (while someone like me will never have the slightest chance to publish something there). It means that the people in the chain above Kane didn't even bother to do the least bit of quality control on the piece to ensure that their product was up to standard. It means that somewhere all across the US heads are nodding, going: Aha! So this is what Taiwan is like. It means that another opportunity to communicate to the world about our situation here is busted. There's simply nothing positive to take home from this Kane piece. When I fisk one of Foreign Affairs' bursts of enthusiasm for selling out Taiwan, it's easy, it's fun and it feels good. But fisking Kane? That tastes more of mercy killing than fisking.
However, looking at Kane, it is important to locate Kane in the same realm of discourse as fellow Sellout advocates Gilley and Glaser. There's a general pattern to this kind of writing: all make the same points in the same way (1) we can improve US security by selling out Taiwan to obtain peace with China, and (2) to hell with all the nations around Taiwan we'd also be selling out -- we're not even going to talk about them, let alone (3) the Taiwanese themselves. Like all pieces in this discourse universe, Kane's does not seem to grasp that selling out Taiwan won't solve the problem, because the problem is Chinese expansionism, not Taiwan's resistance to it. Kane's piece is merely an outlier, an even more stunted, malformed child of that same ugly inbred clan whose idea of out-of-the-box thinking consists of kissing Beijing's ring. Onward....
Kane's introduction ends:
There are dozens of initiatives President Obama could undertake to strengthen our economic security. Here is one: He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015.Let's be clear on what Kane is advocating: he wants Beijing to accept that the US is not going to do something (defend Taiwan) and in exchange, Beijing will swallow our debt. Patrick C explores the incredible insanity of this from the point of view of Chinese finances, but I'd like to point out a couple of other things.
First, in common with pieces advocating selling out Taiwan, in Kane's piece all other international security considerations vanish. India, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, and other nations affected by this sellout go unmentioned. As I said, Kane's piece is an outlier in terms of its vast ignorance, but it is completely at home in its discourse universe. Again, as I have noted with other pieces of this nature, imagine what would happen in Tokyo (and to the US-Tokyo relationship) if the US simply washes its hands of Taiwan. The obvious next step for Beijing, as I've noted many times, is the Senkaku Islands, followed by Okinawa, which many Chinese privately view as stolen territory. Both of these are Japanese territory, territory whose security the US guarantees by signed treaty. Will Kane then argue that we should sell out our treaty partners like Japan and the Philippines to avoid a multi-trillion dollar war? How does Kane think leaders in other East and SE Asian capitals will react when the US washes its hands of Taiwan?
Now imagine you are in Beijing. Think you can trust America's word not to come to Taiwan's assistance? What if the next President is a China realist who doesn't want to be responsible for handing Taiwan to China.(Thanks for swallowing our debt! Now we can borrow enough again to fight you!). Even if you could, if combat operations against Taiwan become necessary, Japan might be dragged in since fighting would occur in Japanese air and sea space, which would almost certainly result in the US becoming involved. In fact, if you were China and thought maybe the US would break its promise, you might hit US bases first. Moreover, if Beijing's leaders choose a slow approach such as a blockade, as long as Taiwanese resistance is maintained, sympathy for Taiwan overseas will grow, and pressure on the US to intervene despite any agreement will increase.
As noted above, selling out Taiwan won't solve the problem, because the problem is Chinese expansionism, not Taiwan's resistance to it. Once China has Taiwan, the multi-trillion dollar war in the South China Sea or over the Senkakus will loom as China starts looking around to see what it will swallow next. Recall that Taiwan has a large base in the South China Sea -- how will our friends and allies around that lake react when Beijing takes possession of that base? Handing Taiwan to China simply ensures that we'll have our multi-trillion dollar war without Taiwan's 23 million people, its industries, and its armed forces supporting us. Great strategic thinking.....
Kane then releases a flock of platitudes:
This would be a most precious prize to the cautious men in Beijing, one they would give dearly to achieve. After all, our relationship with Taiwan, as revised in 1979, is a vestige of the cold war.Why should we reward the "cautious men in Beijing?" They are a gang of corrupt authoritarians who imprison and kill those who disagree with them, and foment instability all along their boundaries by claiming the territories of other nations. Kane wants to reward this behavior?
Since when is "being a vestige of the cold war" an argument against something? The claim is mere emoting.
Kane even drags in the inevitability thesis as if it were an argument, claiming that Taiwan's annexation to China is inevitable. Sort of like Canada's inevitable absorption into the US, the inevitable defeat of Israel in the first Arab-Israeli War, the inevitable defeat of American rebels by the UK......as the Asia Society points out, if Taiwan's absorption by China is inevitable, why would Beijing pay for it?
He then glurges:
But the status quo is dangerous; if Taiwanese nationalist politicians decided to declare independence or if Beijing’s hawks tired of waiting for integration and moved to take Taiwan by force, America could suddenly be drawn into a multitrillion-dollar war.Let's point out a couple of things: (1) Taiwanese nationalist politicians aren't going to declare independence as long as China's military threat exists (never mind that domestically it is politically and legally impossible) and (2) Kane's thesis explodes right here: if the US does not want to get dragged into a multitrillion dollar war, it doesn't have to be. It doesn't have to defend Taiwan, no law or treaty says that it does (the TRA is written precisely to avoid that and you can be sure, as a commenter remarked on this blog, that in the event of war it will be read as narrowly as possible). In principle, there is no reason the US can't pat Beijing on the back when the CCP's thugs finally decide to move, and say "you go boy!"
I'll repeat: no need for debt negotiations. No need to talk to Beijing. A US defense of Taiwan is not an immutable natural law, it's a political calculus. If the US doesn't want to get dragged into a war, it doesn't have to enter the war! It can simply sit on its hands when Beijing moves. D'oh!!!!! So why should China pay trillions to get what it might get for free if it can sufficiently frighten policymakers and observers in Washington?
Kane goes on:
The battle today is between competing balance sheets, and it is fought in board rooms; it is not a geopolitical struggle to militarily or ideologically “dominate” the Pacific.There's no military or ideological struggle to dominate the Pacific. Whew! Yes, that's why China isn't acquiring aircraft carriers, isn't working on asymmetric warfare capabilities, isn't ramping up its military, isn't claiming the whole South China Sea, isn't seizing fishing boats in those waters and isn't warning that the US is playing with fire if it gets involved. That's why Beijing isn't pressing Japan on the Senkakus and isn't developing power projection capabilities.... one could go on. Yeah, verily, none of these things exist, because Kane says so. Isn't that a relief?
In fact, China and the United States have interlocking economic interests. China’s greatest military asset is actually the United States Navy, which keeps the sea lanes safe for China’s resources and products to flow freely.I doubt in Beijing they look at the US navy's hegemony in the Pacific and say to each other: aren't you happy we have this asset? Never mind that history affords many examples of war between nations with interlocking economic interests; apparently it never occurs to observers of current history that it is often precisely such interests that generate the tension that creates the war.....
Kane then gives his laundry list of why the CCP wants Taiwan:
First, Taiwan is Beijing’s unspoken but hard-to-hide top priority for symbolic and strategic reasons; only access to water and energy mean more to Chinese leaders.Perhaps on Kane's planet Taiwan is an "unspoken priority." Here on earth Chinese officialdom is loud and clear about how they feel about Taiwan and it is not difficult to find examples of this. Do they not have Google where Kane is?
Second, a deal would open a clearer path for the gradual, orderly integration of Taiwan into China.Let's ask the Taiwanese people what they think of a gradual, orderly integration into China. Oh wait. Kane never asks that. After all, the quarrel over Taiwan is about a far-away country between people of whom Kane knows nothing. There's nothing ethical about selling out a democracy with whom we have long and cordial relations, to please authoritarians who hate us. No one here wants to be part of China. In common with all such pieces in this discourse universe, Kane simply ignores what the locals want -- he-man diplomacy doesn't think about the eggs broken when making omelets!
More practically, why would integration be gradual or orderly, without the US threat of force to keep it that way? Kane seems not to understand that cross-strait stability -- gradual and orderly change -- is founded on the US threat of war over Taiwan -- without that nothing stops China from doing whatever it wants, when it wants. If you were the Chinese leadership, wouldn't you annex Taiwan ASAP and damn the messy results, to ensure that the US couldn't change its mind?
My favorite of his reasons:
Third, it would undermine hard-line militarists who use the Taiwan issue to stoke nationalist flames, sideline pro-Western technocrats and extract larger military budgets. And finally, it would save China the considerable sums it has been spending on a vast military buildup.This was written from some ivory tower height so isolated from reality it suffers from a kind of hypoxia that has induced political hallucinations. If the US sells Taiwan to China, it will not discourage the Chinese expansionists, but reward their hardline behavior. After all, isn't it Kane's own position that we would be selling out Taiwan to avoid war? What a massive contradiction! D'oh!!!!!
In Kaneworld, the hardliners will point out to their equally expansionist moderate brethren (the difference is tactics, not goals) that the US was so afraid of war that it turned tail and we got Taiwan for nothing but some cash which we can easily earn again. Yay for our hardline position! It was rewarded with 23 million hardworking people, their island and economy intact! Then everyone will pore over the map, saying to themselves, now over what territory that we covet can we work this trick again?
Meanwhile the military budget will keep rising because Beijing will go on inventing "threats" -- did the US military budget fall when the USSR fell? If you were the CCP, wouldn't you simply redirect that spending toward Japan, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and other nations that Beijing has territorial disputes with? D'oh! Too, one could add that Kane writes as if there are no internal political dynamics driving the PLA's acquisition of new toys. Finally, it should be pointed out that there is already an example from the Taiwan case of what happens when Beijing is pleased: the Taiwanese elected a pro-China president -- what happened to the military threat against Taiwan? It increased.
The next two paragraphs follow the false argument outlined above: if we sell Taiwan to China, Beijing will turn up sweet -- Kane simply expands the range of issues that will be affected. Beijing might stop helping Iran and other Middle Eastern nations that cause trouble for us, he says (why on earth would they do that in the face of our demonstrated weakness?). Heaven on earth will result, if only Taiwan is sold out. Kane sums:
The deal would eliminate almost 10 percent of our national debt without raising taxes or cutting spending; it would redirect American foreign policy away from dated cold-war-era entanglements and toward our contemporary economic and strategic interests; and it would eliminate the risk of involvement in a costly war with China.As longtime readers know, when Beijing grabs Taiwan, war will not be averted. Because the problem isn't Taiwan, but Beijing's expansionist dreams. The threat of war will only abate when Beijing gives up being an expansionist state. Selling Taiwan to Beijing will not solve any of Beijing's numerous other territorial claims which are also potential causes of war, because it does not address the fundamental issue: Beijing is the problem, not Taiwan.
Shame on the NYTimes for publishing this.
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