Friday, September 21, 2007

UN referendum Commentaries, Sept 21

More commentary out there on the referendum. This excellent piece from Michael Fahey, who lives in Taipei, appeared in the South China Morning Post (No link, hidden behind the pay wall). A generous excerpt:

But the US influence in Taipei is more limited than it thinks. There is simply too much at stake politically for President Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party to back down on the referendum. The party believes referendums make the Taiwanese people the final arbiters of any decision about the island's future status. In particular, the ruling party sees the right of referendum as an effective veto on unification even if the DPP loses power next March. They are probably correct, since well under 10 per cent of the Taiwanese public support unification.

For these reasons, the DPP doesn't really care what question is put to a referendum, as long as it passes. Everyone knows Taiwan has no hope of gaining entry to the UN under any name, but the proposition to do so enjoys nearly universal support on the island: Taiwanese feel strongly they should be allowed to join the UN, and deeply resent any outside attempt to prevent them from voicing that aspiration.

In the short term, the UN referendum issue has helped the DPP regain control of the public agenda, focusing the election campaign on the big issues of national identity and Taiwan's future status. The Kuomintang is vulnerable on those issues due to its commitment to closer relations with mainland China. Indeed, KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou, who has opposed referendums in the past, is now backing one on rejoining the UN, but not necessarily as "Taiwan".

By opposing the UN referendum, the Bush administration is helping to create the wave of nationalistic sentiment that the DPP's presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, needs to have a chance of winning in March. Taiwanese nationalism is a potent, though generally passive, force in island politics. Voters become more likely to vote for the DPP if they feel the island is being threatened.

Ian Williams in the Guardian tells of his interactions with officials from Beijing who accused him of supporting Taiwanese independence because he showed up on a panel for a telephone debate. A nice piece that warns China of the dangers of bullying, it also shows the pressure on media personnel in dealing with Beijing:

Last week I got a personal taste of Beijing's diplomacy. Their mission to the United Nations called me up and warned at the beginning and end of a 20 minute impromptu telephone debate that if I appeared on a panel with Taiwan's "so-called" President Chen Shui-bian they would "take it very seriously."


China's diplomat told me that Chen was a trouble-maker, and took even more umbrage when I pointed out that in fact it was the mainland that was pointing almost a thousand missiles at Taiwan, and not the other way round. "We will consider that you support Taiwanese independence," she accused ominously. Actually, I pointed out that I was neutral on that question, which was up to the Taiwanese to decide, but that I did strongly support their right to decide, just as I had vociferously supported the right to self determination of the Timorese, the Sahrawis of the Western Sahara, Palestinians and Kosovans.

"That is in violation of international law," she snapped. Well, no, I pointed out. Self-determination for former colonial territories was a basic principle of the United Nations, and indeed Mao told Edgar Snow, as reported in Red Star Over China, that Formosa - as Taiwan was then known - would be able to choose its own destiny when Japan was defeated.

The PRC is more used to an attitude of "whatever you say, comrade," than being argued with, and it all just seemed to make her angrier. However, as often, the discussion made me think. Possibly the worst way to dissuade people who are determined to secede is to try to bully them. I pointed out that if forty years ago Spain had made nice with the Gibraltarians, then by now the people on the Rock would be petitioning to join Spain and buy all those giveaway fincas along the coast.

If the British had given Ireland dominion status before the first world war, Mrs Windsor would likely be making annual visits to open the Irish parliament. In contrast , much later in the century, London had conceded bilingualism, and Welsh radio and TV and in the end almost had to force the Welsh to accept devolution.

The negative examples, from Timor to Kosovo are quite clear. Battering people into loyalty is a highly ineffective strategy.

One interesting thing about the US position is that it is widely deplored by observers on all sides of the political spectrum. As Williams noted, not many topics bring together people like himself and people like John Bolton....


MJ Klein said...

the Ian Williams piece is one of the most revealing i've yet read on this issue. it's refreshingly well written, neutral and balanced. thanks for blogging on it.

昆蟲 said...

Maybe the US Government bullied Taiwan on purpose. Maybe they really want Taiwan to become independence. You know, a lot of arms sales, a robust ally, a "never-sinking" carrier.

Am I dreaming, probably XD

Michael Turton said...

You're welcome, Michael!

Runsun: everything I've seen and heard suggests that US government does not have that goal. George Bush is running US Taiwan policy, and he's about as subtle as a fart in Church.


Haitien said...

What bothers me more is the attitude displayed in some of the comments. It seems that a lot of people are so consumed by their hatred of the US that they'll automatically side with anyone the US is at odds with, regardless of context.

Heck, just look at the comment by the person who tried to invoke the White Terror as a reason not to support Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Staying out of the UN may actually make Taiwan more independent and sovereign.

channing said...

hai tien, you needn't look too far from Taiwan for the same phenomenon. For example, the greens systematically hate China and all mainland Chinese people so much that they willingly side with any organization or country that is at odds with China. People burn US flags even though the US is the only country with legislation supporting Taiwan defence.

Every time someone in Japan visits the Yasukuni shrine the China haters in Taiwan will roar in applause. The KMT will criticize the US when it opposes the UN referendum, but it will clap its hands in glee when State Department makes comments against TI. DPP officials specifically promoted trade with India over China because India is the shining beacon of freedom, democracy, equality and accountable governance!

Bottom line is, green or blue, people will influence each other in controversial ways to meet their political objectives.