Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Status Quo Club

"The only culture people brag about here is China's '5,000-year history,' and people buy it. It's all bullshit. It's got no place for Aboriginal people and it's got no place for Taiwanese people," he said. "Taiwan's already holding itself, so why not be proud of that instead of just teaching the kids about 5,000 years of China's history and give them all that Confucius shit? That stuff will just make you a slave." -- local reggae artist Red-I

In the bygone authoritarian age, the KMT placed a statue atop Yu Shan, a statue of one of Chiang Kai-shek's ferocious recover-the-mainland types, as before them, Japanese colonizers had placed a Shinto shrine on one of the mountain's peaks. This statue has since been removed, but for some mysterious reason, its elimination did not cause an international incident. Similarly, when the government sensibly removed the statues to the late dictator Chiang Kai-shek and placed them in storage, the US State Department did not feel compelled to issue a fatwa warning that Chen Shui-bian may or may not be violating the chimerical status quo.

The interesting thing about status quo violations is that in US eyes they only occur when Taiwan attempts to exercise its democratic right to establish itself as a separate entity. China's military buildup has gone practically uncommented on by State Department spokesmen, but more importantly, consider this report from Taiwan News:

A Taiwanese plane departed for China on Tuesday to kick off special chartered flights between the rivals for the lunar New Year holiday.

A Mandarin Airline Boeing 747-400 jet left for the three hour flight to Shanghai, taking 230 Taiwanese to spend the biggest holiday of the year on the mainland.

The Chinese New Year falls on Sunday. During the holiday period, 12 Taiwanese and Chinese airlines will fly a total 192 flights until Feb. 26, mainly to take Taiwanese from the mainland home for the holiday.
The nature of the status quo is dramatically illustrated by this: there could hardly be a more blatant violation of the status quo than direct links between Taiwan and China, forbidden by both sides for decades. But somehow I doubt the State Department will be conducting any formal press conferences to complain about it. Nor do I recall any public whining about how the visits of Lien Chan and James Soong to China violated the Status Quo. Far from it -- the US fell all over itself supporting that particular violation of the status quo:

The US State Department said on Tuesday that the US supports Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) trip to China as a development that can increase dialogue and facilitate cross-strait peace.

The remark by spokesman Adam Ereli during his regular daily press briefing was the strongest endorsement so far of the Lien trip by the Bush administration, which is believed to have pressured President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in recent weeks to accept contact between the pan-blue camp and leaders in Beijing.

"We believe that steps that increase dialogue, support dialogue, support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait tensions are to be supported, to be welcomed," Ereli said.

"And that's the case with this latest visit. And we support the expansion of those kinds of contacts," he said.

Earlier, department statements said the US "welcomed" pan-blue contacts with China, but this was the first time a spokesman had expressed US "support" for those efforts.

Ereli refused to comment on Chen's warning to Lien not to engage in state-to-state style negotiations during his trip, or whether the US was concerned that the KMT might act to undermine US policy. "I don't have any comment to share with you on those discussions," he said. .

In other words, you can go to Beijing, plot with China's leaders to undermine democracy, disrupt US policy on Taiwan, and sell out the island, and all the US will say is that it has no comment, but if you change the name of the post office, the US State Department will hold a formal press conference and condemn you publicly.*

What is the Status Quo? Well, clearly, from the point of view of the US State Department, it is simply a club for beating Chen Shui-bian over the head with. It is hard, when you look at US State Department pontificating on Taiwan, not to believe that it is firmly in Beijing's pocket.

Meanwhile, President Chen put the name changes in perspective:

The president related that the late Qing Dynasty governor Liu Ming-chuan (劉銘傳) established the "Taiwan General Post Office" in 1888 which issued the first Taiwan postage stamps," eight years earlier than the Qing Dynasty set up its wn general postal administration.

Chen also noted that the name "Taiwan Post" had been retained through the period of Japanese colonial rule and most of the postwar period until 2003 [MT-CHT was established in 1996], when its name was changed to the "Chunghua" (or Chinese) postal service at the same time the state telecommunications company Chunghwa Telecom" was set up.


Speaking at the same ceremony, Premier Su said the the name change also restored eight years to the history of the Taiwan postal system by tracing its origins to January 21, 1888, when the service was established by Liu Ming-chuan instead of March 20, 1896, the date of the Qing Dynasty establishment of its central postal system, which was the date used by Chunghwa Post to celebrate its "110th birthday" on March 20, 2006.

The Post Office museum is an excellent illustration of why history needs to be reclaimed on Taiwan, and names need to be rectified. The Manchus set up the first modern postal service in China in 1896, or eight years after Taiwan did. Although the Postal Museum does mention Taiwan's postage stamps under Governor Liu Ming-chuan in 1888, it starts the history of Chinese post offices in 1896. The famous Taiwan Tiger stamps of the short-lived Taiwan Republic do not appear to be mentioned. They appeared in 1895, the year before the Qing (Ching) Dynasty opened the first post office. In other words, by the time someone got around to opening a post office in China, Taiwan had already had two governments issuing stamps and running a post office. No wonder the Chinese wanted to make this history disappear....

President Chen went on to announce that the Taiwan Post Office will issue the first set of Taiwan stamps to mark the 60th anniversary of the 2-28 Incident.

*unless you go from Taiwan to Chunghwa. Quick, what was the name of Chunghwa Telecom before 1996?

UPDATE: The Big Picture blogs on Bruce Herschensohn's (Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy) recent talk on the US and why it should support democracy on Taiwan.


Prince Roy said...

I find that these kinds of rectification campaigns border on absurdist theater. It is squabbles like these where Taiwanese show just how much they have in common with their Mainland cousins.

Ma has already come out and said that if the KMT wins, they will switch all the names back to what they were. It'll be just like the pinyin/tongyong pinyin romanization fiasco.

This is one strong argument for privatization.

Michael Turton said...

Good, I'm glad Ma said that. How popular is that comment going to be with the local electorate? Especially after a year has gone by, the name is still Taiwan, and the sky hasn't fallen in?

Anyway, Ma has bigger problems for the nonce.


Anonymous said...

I have no idea ...why government always tired to come out somethings before the election.

the name of Taiwan and ROC were funny facts actually happened and to be well know.

Both of the facts were not confirmed to the world. and so do each Taiwaner. What should we believe? Which country were we in? Taiwan, is just a name where we live.

Where we belong?

Anonymous said...

Prince Roy:

If you left it up to the marketplace, my guess is a lot of these companies would change their names just because of how damn confusing it is internationally for people unfamiliar with the difference between P. Republic of China / Republic of China. But absurd why?

The protests against the name changes show that there was meaning in changing the name and there was meaning in the previous names. You may think that there's nothing really Chinese in something called Zhonghua Post Office or Chinese Petroleum Company and it's meaningless, but that's not what most Taiwanese think.

Are names powerful?

Can I call you shitmonkey? I don't mean anything by it, I mean I barely know anything about you. But can I?

Politically, it will be much more difficult for the KMT to switch back the names if they win the presidency in 2008, which is becoming somewhat less likely.

Roy Berman said...

I'm pretty sure Ma didn't say that actually. He said he would cancel printing of postage stamps that say Taiwan, but he knows that another round of corporate name changes would be so bad for business people would never accept it.

Oh, and did you know that many of the Shinto shrines in Taiwan were actually not removed until Japan severed relations with ROC and recognized the PRC? I had always assumed the KMT mopped them up when they took over the island until I read that.

nanheyangrouchuan said...

The US state department is at the beck and call of the right wing bible thumping nut jobs concerning Africa and the Islamic world and at the beck and call of the US Fortune 500 regarding China.

Anonymous said...

The fact that the US State Dept endorsed the Lien Chan/CCP summit flies in the face of what some militant pan-blues have screamed at me that the US is hell-bent on turning Taiwan into the the next State.

Anonymous said...

Its stupid for taiwanese to change the status quo.
Mainland china by no means is a democratic country. Any dangerous sigh of splitting china will be retaliated by chinese government, military action worst case.