Sunday, March 25, 2018

Bolton, the Taiwan Card, Frameworks and Links

Curing sausage the proper way, with automobile exhaust.

Tumultuous couple of weeks with John Bolton, China hawk and longtime Taiwan supporter, becoming the National Security Adviser, and the Taiwan Travel Act being signed by President Trump. 

Those interpretive frameworks I talked about last week were out in force this week as commentators struggled to subsume the Taiwan Travel Act furor into the Establishment interpretive framework. For example, the Economist coyly suggests  that the transit of the nigh-on useless Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and Alex Wong's visit to Taiwan were both related to the Taiwan Travel Act. Nope. As a friend pointed out, both were planned long before. This is what happens when you use the interpretive framework under which all actions are related to the cross-strait sovereignty issue.

It also shows how, instead of defusing the issue by pointing out clearly that the two events were unrelated to the Taiwan Travel Act and not part of the TENSHUNZ caused by cross-strait sovereignty fights, the Economist writer cleverly exploits the Establishment interpretive framework -- it can only be part of the cross-strait TENSHUNZ -- to hype these two incidents and make them seem part of a pattern. The Economist can count on its readers to share that paradigm. Note how the final sentence is constructed to give the Economist plausible deniability.

Dan Lynch published a piece in Foreign Affairs (slogan: we'd publish a hamster randomly inputting 10.000 characters from the Urdu alphabet if the resultant piece was anti-Taiwan enough) which once again advised that Taiwan should be a good boy and not provoke China. Lynch is worried that the "Taiwan card" might be played....
 In 2016, Bolton called upon Washington to play the “Taiwan card,” going all the way as to recommend recognizing Taiwan’s statehood, in order to coerce Beijing to withdraw from the South China Sea and dismantle its military bases there. Given this possibility, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a strong statement denouncing the TTA, warning that “relevant clauses [of it] severely violate the one-China principle, the political foundation of the China-U.S. relationship, and the three joint communiqu├ęs.” The statement urged the United States to “stop pursuing any official ties with Taiwan or improving its current relations with Taiwan in any substantive way.”
Lynch forwards a common point of view, that Bolton's views were a horror. And yet, while the US did nothing, China annexed the South China Sea. The "engagement framework" for guiding US-China relations has simply resulted in the US ceding everything to China. No one writing from this perspective ever posits the alternatives to Bolton's moves that would have resulted in a strong and credible response to China's annexation of the SCS, let alone an idea to reverse it. Instead, they write as if consideration of the idea were completely out of bounds and there is no need to say that since all rational Establishment people know that.

 Lynch then goes on makes a very telling error.
With strong popular support, Tsai refused to accept, unlike her immediate predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang party, the so-called 1992 Consensus, a policy that proclaims both sides of the Strait belong to “one China” but that each side can offer its own interpretation of what “one China” is.
It is now 2018. There is no excuse whatsoever for not knowing that China has never accepted the "own interpretation" codicil. None. So why do people keep writing it as if there isn't several years of commentary on this?

The answer, once again is the interpretive framework they use to guide their understanding of the Taiwan-China relationship. The "own interpretations" is necessary because it twists reality in a way that assigns blame to Taiwan in part.

Let's imagine you use the Reality Framework like many of us veteran Taiwan observers do. In this framework China is seeking to annex Taiwan. Taiwan is resisting. The 1992 Consensus never existed (reality) and the "own interpretations" claim we know, from reality, to be KMT propaganda which China does not accept. Thus, the 1992 Consensus is just a high falutin' euphemism for Taiwan accepting China's claim to the island. It actually offers only two options: surrender, or be damned. Of course Taiwan resists, since it can't do anything else.

But the Establishment Framework says that Tsai has a third option: the "own interpretation". If this third option exists, then suddenly Tsai and Taiwan are being unreasonable, somewhat. Taiwan could accept the fictional 1992C and stop provoking China by being so obdurate. This enables observers to look "reasonable" and "balanced" and "centrist" (look, both sides are at fault!) when in fact they are writing fiction.

At least Lynch recognizes that Tsai has gone to great lengths to avoid triggering the snowflakes in Beijing. Much of this article is good, but the framework that guides its analysis was dead and buried years ago. It continues to lurch forward like the amputated hand of a destroyed zombie clawing and scratching at the earth in the hope of reaching a new victim.

Last July when I blogged on Beijing's instructions to its reporters on the "own interpretations" claim, I wrote:
1. Some yammerheads in the int'l media will continue to write as if Beijing has never confirmed there is no 1992C and will continue to use the "two interpretations" nonsense.

2. Not a single international media organization will issue a public correction/apology for misleading their readers the next time the 1992C comes up.
Still coming true....

Lynch ends:
Now with the passage of the TTA, and given the recent and possibly pending personnel changes in the Trump administration, there is a very real possibility that at some point Trump might play the Taiwan card in a way that risks military conflict with China. While there would probably be jubilation in Taiwan if Trump were to radically upgrade U.S. relations with the island nation, it would be wiser for Tsai to resist the temptation to accept such a change. She should recognize that doing so would turn Taiwan into a pawn in Washington’s struggle with Beijing. The Trump administration is too unfocused and chaotic to be a reliable partner, and Trump’s nativist political base would likely reject the United States going to war on Taiwan’s behalf. Taiwan would best be served if Tsai were to return to her cautious roots and keep Taiwan’s comprehensive, long-term security foremost in her mind.
There is so much to unpack here. For one thing, Taiwan is already a pawn in "Washington's struggle with Beijing" and except for capitulation, nothing Tsai can do will change that. For another, Lynch, like so many using the Establishment Framework, does not consider what upgraded US relations with Taiwan might mean for Japan (and SE Asia nations resisting Chinese expansionism). The Establishment Framework simply views the problem as a Beijing-Washington-Taipei issue, other nations do not exist. The Trump Administration might be unreliable, but the foreign policy establishment in DC will still be there after Trump -- knowing that, they will resist major change, which is why the "Taiwan Card" whatever that may be, will never be played. Finally, the US is at war all over the world, including its longstanding and insane attempt to pacify Central Asia for Chinese expansion, and Trump's base has not revolted. Why would it in a war against China?

Lynch's advice, though, is classic: Taiwan must suppress its own space. Whatever the issue is, that is what Taiwan must be doing. Surely, in the unlikely event that the US offers upgraded relations, some compromise can be found.

I can't resist pointing out another minor bit of fallout from using the Establishment Framework:
Tsai’s rejection of the 1992 Consensus angered Beijing, which responded to her defiance by cutting off hotline communications and inflicting a degree of economic pain by sharply reducing the number of Chinese tour groups allowed to travel to Taiwan.
For the one millionth time: there was no economic pain. Chinese tour groups were a net loss for the island even using the government's inflated figures. How many times must it be said? Only China's supporters in Taiwan suffered (and not many of them), because as Ian Rowen shows in his forthcoming book, the tour groups all went to places owned and staffed by KMT supporters. As nobody in the international media ever seemed to report...

Because of this paradigm which says that China must have been punishing Taiwan for the heinous crime of electing Tsai Ing-wen and provoking Beijing, nobody ever asked whether Beijing was peeved at its supporters in Taiwan, or whether the tour group cut off was related to something in China and Taiwan was a convenient excuse. For example, in Dec of 2016 the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office in China was charged with bribery. Surely the investigation had been going on for some time. Readers may recall that Taiwan local media had reported that the tour group companies were close to the Taiwan Affairs Office. Readers may also recall that the independent tourists were not cut off -- just the tour groups.

The interpretive frameworks observers use to understand the cross-strait relationship are boxes that too many people never learn to think out of.

Meanwhile, John Bolton. Stephen Yates, longtime Taiwan friend, and one of the kindest and merriest people I know, wrote:
Congratulations to long time friend Amb. John Bolton on his appointment to be the President's next National Security Advisor. I've had the pleasure of working with John since the 90s as colleagues at conservative think tanks, in the Bush Administration, and at Fox News. In this day and age I know how easily public figures are reduced to simple categories and labels. All I can say is that from long experience I have found the breadth of John's government service and depth of his intellect to defy simple labels. The President has a strong, professional, experienced, conservative as NSA, and I am grateful for that.
Here is Bolton on Youtube last year talking about Taiwan. I really don't have much to say, except that let's not forget -- there are plenty of people inside the government pushing in all sorts of directions, and Bolton's expressed desire to bomb N Korea is going to get pushback. Bombing North Korea would be a pointless, stupid act, and could well result in.a US war with N Korea which would be the greatest victory in Chinese history, very bad for Taiwan. Let's hope Bolton is just making noise.
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1 comment:

Wayne Pajunen said...

And don't forget that the KMT never uttered the "own interpretation" codicil outside of Taiwan, rather they preferred to tow the Beijing line in the international community, fooling nobody, hence their removal from power.