Lately the strange rightward shift in certain editorials of the Taipei Times has sent any number of people scurrying to their keyboards to ask me WTF is going on with those editorials. This week's piece was hard to classify....
The effort continues and only last week, Taiwan supporters were excitedly clamoring over the release of a declassified CIA document from 1949 which said that from a legal standpoint, Taiwan could not be considered to have been part of the ROC. All that is fine, but in the end, no amount of legal documents, historical findings, maps, obscure quotes or other materials will convince Beijing to abandon its longstanding claim that Taiwan is a renegade province of China that needs to be “reunited,” by force if necessary.Does the Taipei Times really imagine that anyone who studies these matters thinks if they wave a document that Beijing will suddenly change its mind? Probably there is a nutcase or two who thinks that, but no one sober does. Who is the Taipei Times talking about here?
Actually, no one was excitedly clamoring, for I was on the discussion list where the document appeared in its wanderings around the web, that appearance being the one that triggered the article in the Taipei Times about the report "CIA report shows Taiwan concerns". Erudite list members quickly pointed out that the document was released in 1993. Hence, no clamor. Just a document of historical interest. This did not stop the Taipei Times from making the same point again in the next paragraph.
Beijing’s recent behavior with regard to its territorial claims in the South China Sea, or the even sillier contention made more than once during the past weeks in the Chinese Communist Party-controlled media that Okinawa, Japan, might also be part of Chinese territory, should be enough to drive home the reality that historical facts and international law will not influence Chinese thought.So I'll make the the same point again: no one seriously believes Beijing will pay attention to international law. But the editorial goes on to repeat the same point a couple of more times, in case you missed it the first two times...
....Relying on prayers and entertaining fantasies about a Eureka document that will succeed in deflating Beijing’s claims where everything else has failed serves no purpose other than delaying an outcome that should not be inevitable.Yes, we should have a consensus on resisting China. But part of constructing that consensus is building a shared identity. And that identity has to have a past that presents a strong and true alternative to Beijing's false claims. That past must be plausibly legitimate. That's one of the key uses of history, and of documents like this.
....However, Taiwan should not kid itself — old maps and declassified missives are a waste of time, no matter how valid the cases they make.
....Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, the French and others would have been foolish to sit and wait for the Nazis as they advanced across Europe armed only with legal documents and maps.
Further, knowledge of the past is extremely useful in summoning help for the present and future..... One can imagine how the TT's position would play in reality:
Taiwan independencista: You should support Taiwan independence!The flaw in the Taipei Times' position is simple: China legitimates its position via appeals to history (among its many approaches) and it is necessary to know that history in order to respond to those claims. Moreover, since history legitimates, proper use of it can help others who might want to rally to Taiwan's side to support us. We are not just talking to Beijing here, but to the whole world, including uncaring and uncommitted Taiwanese at home. By legitimating our position through law and history, we define ourselves as different from the expansionists in Beijing who ignore law and history. Key!
American Shiao Ming: Why? The Chinese say Taiwan has been part of China for centuries.
Taiwan independencista: Never mind that! We are looking to the future! We don't believe we are part of China!
American Shiao Ming: Why not? Aren't you Chinese? Weren't you given back to China in 1945!
Taiwan independencista: I don't know! Who cares!? Why is this history important?! What I think now is more important!
American Shiao Ming: Ok, sure. Whatever.
The Taipei Times should take notice that it is common for people who delve deeply into the history of Taiwan to have very little support for annexing it to China, and for the political parties that advocate annexation. Instead of accusing people of searching for a magic bullet, perhaps the editorialist should make a better attempt to understand the uses, functions, and effects of historical knowledge.
One of the great victories of the KMT in shaping the Taiwan consciousness was getting the Taiwanese to care so little for their own history. Let's not ape that trend.
UPDATE: J Michael responds here.
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