Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Case No. 59213: China Specialists Don't Get Taiwan

A ladybug predating.

I often complain about how China specialists just don't get Taiwan. Here is another example of it. taiwansecurity.org published an interview with longtime, well-known China specialist Andrew Nathan last week about Beijing and Taiwan. He replied to one question on the Sunflowers.
I think that they had already learned that to settle what they call “the Taiwan problem” peacefully, which is their goal, they are going to have to win over public opinion in Taiwan—the people, the voters. They knew that. But to me, the lesson of the Sunflower Movement is—but I don’t know if Beijing understands the lesson the way I do—is that you can’t win over public opinion strictly with economic benefits. I think Beijing’s strategy had been that we will take care of the Taiwan economy by opening up our markets, by giving privileges to Taiwanese investors and others, and sending tourists, and so forth, and the Taiwan people will understand that their economic interest is in the same basket with us. It turns out that the Taiwan people are instead resentful of growing economic dependence on the mainland. They’re not very trusting of how that economic influence will be used by Beijing. The Chinese leaders are still in some ways Marxist, they still believe in economic materialism, the idea that people will respond to economic incentives. They seem to have a hard time getting a grip on the idea of identity and self-dignity as an important factor that people sometimes fight for.
We just had this problem with Denny Roy, which I commented on below. Once again we see the false idea that Beijing offers those generous economic incentives. But everyone in Taiwan can see that (1) Beijing is not offering generous terms (2) it is only doing econ agreements because it wants to hollow out Taiwan's economy because of (3) it wants to bind Taiwan to China and annex it while destroying the economic basis for Taiwan's independence. The result of the China engagement has not been positive economic benefits for Taiwan, but stagnating wages, reduced democracy, increased smuggling and gang activity, and so on.

China specialists need to face this fact squarely: there are no generous economic benefits from Taiwan's economic involvement with China. That golden age passed in 2008, six years ago. Instead, the people of Taiwan experience assaults on their independence and democracy on one side and the hollowing out of their economy on the other, along with China's continued interference in FTAs and other international agreements. They know that the benefits of the trade relations go to a few big businessmen. They know the tourism profits are taken by a handful of Hong Kong-based tour agencies, while the locals get low paying service jobs while Chinese tourist facilities destroy local lands and the tourists themselves overrun whatever place they go into, driving away locals. As Ian Rowen has trenchantly observed, tourism is a territorial strategy of China in Taiwan. They know that China has special zones on its coast to poach Taiwan's agricultural technology. The public here is well aware that everything the public was told about China by the Ma Administration has turned out to be a lie. You'd think the message would have gotten out by now to the China specialists who study this stuff... no wait, why do I think that?

The whole idea of "generous economic benefits" is Chinese propaganda. Stop forwarding it, scholarly folks.

As a friend of mine commented so much better than I could on Nathan's remarks about China's authoritarian government and Taiwan's shifting democracy:
LOL. Poor China. they must be having fits according to Nathan because of that protean democratic process. They don't know who's in charge in Taiwan; or for that matter, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, India, Australia, Canada...
Nathan also answers the question about what if China became democratic.
If Beijing became a democracy in some authentic sense, I believe that the problem of Taiwan’s relationship to the PRC would then be much easier to resolve peacefully. And I guess I gave in my earlier remarks already the logic of why I think so. The Taiwan people do have an economic advantage in close relations with China, but they don’t want to make that into a political relationship because they don’t trust the authoritarian regime. But if China had a truly democratic regime—I’m not saying a U.S.-type regime or any particular format, but something that was really democratic with political freedom and political security—then I think the Taiwan people would gradually grow to trust the government in Beijing and they would understand that this mainland China political entity has a security interest in an arrangement where both their own and Taiwan’s security will be guaranteed, and we need to provide that to them, and it’s not going to be a threat to us. That kind of a thought would grow in Taiwan.

And then I think on the Chinese side, they would also be willing to negotiate with the Taiwanese for their interests in more autonomy and they could—over the years, many different formulas have been vetted about confederation, and so on—they could probably solve the problem.
There's already poll data on this. As Emerson Niu's survey
Q4. If only small political, economic, and social disparity exists between Mainland China and Taiwan, do you favor or not favor Taiwan unifying with China?

Not Favor: 56.4% 
Favor: 36.4%
NA: 7.2%
...and that data is years out of date. Things are even stronger now. Why do people in Taiwan reject being annexed to China? The reason is simple: they have their own identity, the Taiwan identity. China has a different identity (see Don Rogers' work on the young). Authoritarianism is an issue, but even if China became democratic, the identity issues that separate the two sides would remain (see Scotland, Catalonia, Slovakia, etc). Taiwanese would see a democratic, non-threatening China as "at last! we can be free!" and that the peaceful resolution would result in an independent Taiwan, which most everyone here wants to see.

In any case no one in Taiwan would imagine that a democratic China would keep its word in some kind of security treaty. The Taiwanese would much rather be security linked to Japan and the US, two nations that don't want to annex the island. Nothing in the basic equation of the Taiwan-China-Japan-US quadrilateral would change.

I'm just curious about people who think that China will be less willing to use force if it is democratic. The history of the western democracies does not make one sanguine in this regard....

Finally, Nathan remarks...
And then I think on the Chinese side, they would also be willing to negotiate with the Taiwanese for their interests in more autonomy and they could—over the years, many different formulas have been vetted about confederation, and so on—they could probably solve the problem.
How kind of Beijing to grant us the status of an autonomous satrapy and refrain from murdering us wholesale! Never mind that Taiwan would be negotiating for less autonomy than it has now (and why would it do that?). This remark: "they could probably solve the problem" elides so much. The problem is not between Taiwan and China as something that could "be resolved" by the two sides sliding closer to each other. Taiwan is not the cause of the problem, and thus, nothing it can do will resolve it, save surrender.

The problem is Beijing's desire to annex Taiwan. Only Beijing can resolve that problem.

UPDATE: Some good comments below.
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12 comments:

Julian said...

You're being a little too hard on Nathan here, especially on the first point. Of course Beijing says and probably believes it's being generous to Taiwan. Surely, that fiction dominates in minds of PRC tourists who come to Taiwan and Hong Kong, too. How often have you heard them say how lucky Taiwan is to have them here spending their hard-earned money (usually in reaction to criticism for obnoxious behavior). It's even worse in HK, from what I hear. And Nathan's surely right that this the mark of a materialistic society. As you say, Nathan doesn't understand the actual situation. Beijing and KMT propaganda is partly responsible for this along with the failures of the Taiwanese media, lack of convincing analysis by Taiwanese economists and public policy groups, and so on. But they're all up against a powerful onslaught of false information. ON the 2nd point, you're right to take Nathan to task. Yet don't forget that he's one of the most sympathetic China watchers to Taiwan's political achievements. His work on Chinese democracy is a classic and he's not timid about criticising Beijing for their shortcomings. So it's deeply unfortunate that he's allowed himself to speculate so extensively about a future that no one can see. Still, if someone could get to him with your arguments, I expect he'd take then onboard. The general problem is breaking the mindset that Taiwan has no future as a sovereign territory and that it's people are not sturdy enough to resist the blandishments of the world's largest economy. Sad to say, this is a mindset that is a firm grip on the outside world, even relatively informed scholars like Nathan.

Scott said...

Michael, thank you for calling a spade "a spade". Myself, being a retired US Army "China" Foreign Area Officer (aka China specialist), I have watched during many conferences and lectures, as well as during my days in the Pentagon, the so called China specialists (academics and US Government officials) just do NOT understand Taiwan nor did they actually research and study the history and dynamics of Taiwan.

Please do not get me started on a rant. I could write a book on the stupidity of Washington DC and East Coast academics. What is also funny is 99% of the active serving officials both military and non-military have no idea that once upon a time, the United States had US military bases here. Oh, my head hurts just thinking about this stupidity -- time for a beer.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece Michael. The other problem is that too few who do get it bother to pursue these experts (the same with media outlets who perpetuate the usual mythology of "China and Taiwan split in 19whatever")to address their "misunderstanding" of Taiwan. Nathan is easy to reach, and so are most academics via e-mail...

Cheers

Anonymous said...

The history of China Studies plays into this phenomenon. Much of the way information in regard to Taiwan is received is through a China-centered paradigm that was established during the Cold War. Two of the most instrumental schools on China Studies or East Asian studies were from Harvard under John King Fairbank; an uncompromising sinologist who helped create the myth of a monolithic, mysterious Chineseness that could defy the laws of physics... or at least the analytical frameworks provided to understand and assess other countries. The other major school of thought was the Stanford East Asian Studies programs that sent out postmodernist anthropologists in the 60's and 70's to study Taiwan as an analog to a closed China. Students from both schools, and their academic progeny, have gone out to become some of the loudest voices in the room. Viewing Taiwan through a China-centered paradigm always fails to account for the Taiwanese experience and how that experience has transformed Taiwan from root to shoot.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like all these analysts need to talk to Lee Teng-hui. I imagine they've heard of him.

les said...

Has Mr. Nathan ever once visited Taiwan? This is not much better than the usual rubbish penned in Beijing by the usual 'Greater China' correspondents who never venture further the lobby bar of their 5-star hotel.

Brian Castle said...

I agree with Julian that it is possible many people in the Chinese government including some of the decisions makers believe they're being generous to Taiwan. For one thing, as Michael Turton points out their are benefits to certain Taiwanese people - it's just that those Taiwanese people tend to be the rich rather than the mainstream. But if you're a Chinese official which Taiwanese do you meet and interact with? Which Taiwanese do you learn about when you look at how the Taiwanese economy is being run?

Also, I would imagine that there is some disconnect between what many Chinese leaders want or say should happen and what actually happens. There is money involved, after all, and Chinese are certainly not immune to corruption. Speaking of which, a class of wealthy individuals and wealthier companies has developed in China. I have to imagine these individuals and interests have a say (behind the scenes of course) in setting policy just as they do in America. It would not surprise me to see different groups within the government acting at cross-purposes on foreign economic matters as some try to act on ideology while other serve special interests.

Tommy said...

Another thing. I think that Nathan's problem is a mix of a belief in the sanctity of FTAs and a lack of blame of the Ma administration. I do not blame Chinese negotiators for seeking the best deal for their side. All trade negotiators from all countries attempt to do the same thing. Actually, the problem is that the Ma administration is too eager to accept an imperfect deal for political reasons. If you were a Chinese trade negotiator, wouldn't you exploit that?

As for the sanctity of FTAs, there are many academics who genuinely believe that they are good for all concerned. Actually, the problem is less the concept of free trade than it is the way in which FTAs are used. China does not sign FTAs that lead to tariff barriers. China only signs agreements that allow for protection of its interests. If one side enters negotiations with this mentality and the other side is less careful, you can have an FTA that is much more beneficial to one side than to another. In short, an FTA, does not necessarily result in "free trade", despite the name. Of course, China also does not sign FTAs with places it claims. It signs "arrangements" that lead to "closer cooperation" or "partnership" or something of the sort. After all, an "agreement" would give one side the right to refuse.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Julian, those are good comments.

Michael Turton said...

Another thing. I think that Nathan's problem is a mix of a belief in the sanctity of FTAs and a lack of blame of the Ma administration. I do not blame Chinese negotiators for seeking the best deal for their side. All trade negotiators from all countries attempt to do the same thing. Actually, the problem is that the Ma administration is too eager to accept an imperfect deal for political reasons. If you were a Chinese trade negotiator, wouldn't you exploit that?

yes, I'd be really curious to hear what is actually said in those negotiations, and then what changes the Ma Administration makes.

Anonymous said...

I think these "China" Experts might do better if they pay more attention to the Facebook/Blogs/Twitter. They need a tool that can filter/analyze Facebook posts to get a handle on the real mood of the population. Good Analysis need good data and right interpretation. When data is bad, the result will not be good. What is "right" interpretation that is open to debate but collecting the hard data is essential. True Taiwan expert only exist in Taiwan since he/she will have access to raw real-time data. That is why US setup embassy in every countries that matter. DPP needs to do a better job in getting the information out, but it is a difficult task. We remember last time when DPP people send a letter to a Washington DC based newsletter and get smack by a "former" State department official. Sometime I wonder if US States department deliberately try to distort the information coming from Taiwan to suite some specific narrative. When you distort the data too much and too long, things dose not ends well.

At the end, effort needs to be focus on the things that have real impact and matter which is people of Taiwan. I think we are moving in the right direction. Rights dose not fall from sky. People needs to fight for it. When the time come, I hope US will do the right things and honor its commitment to democracy.

Jerome Besson said...

China specialists will never get Taiwan. And wire services offering Taiwan related news from their Beijing desk office do not help either.

The list of culprits is too long to apportion blame in a single comment. Rather, "what can Taiwan do to solve the issue?" should be tackled first.

And Taiwan, in keeping with the history of its development should represent itself through its own Japanese language media, for a first. Next, the education system should give preeminence to its 国語 (kokugo). That is, the Japanese language as named from within a Japanese speaking territory.

Last, Japanese ought to resume its status as Taiwan's official language and lingua franca.

Have a better, less confrontational way to stave off China and all involved with China?