Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Burma, Taiwan, and the US

In the recent Pentagon report about China's military Taiwan is shown as not part of China. What does it mean? You tell me!

Therese Shaheen has an excellent commentary in the Wall Street Journal on Taiwan, the Bush Administration and Burma.

The Bush Administration prefers to believe that the problem lies with President Chen, an outspoken advocate for Taiwanese self-determination. But reality is more complex than the U.S. wants to acknowledge. There is growing consensus across the political spectrum in Taiwan the U.S. no longer views Taiwan's democracy as a sine qua non in the three-way relationship between the U.S., Taiwan and China.

Even Taiwan's opposition parties are taking up the banner for U.N. membership. The Kuomintang party's referendum would permit the public to vote on "the Republic of China" entering the U.N. Presumably, between the two "opposing" referenda, a vast majority of the Taiwan people will have the chance to express their desire to join the U.N. -- precisely what the U.S. believes it cannot support.

The Bush Administration seems to believe that Mr. Chen's departure from office next year will lead to some settling back into the status quo that existed for the first two decades after Washington switched its recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen told an audience in Maryland last month that President Chen's decision to frame the issue as a matter for "Taiwan" and not "the Republic of China," "appears to [the U.S.] to be a step intended to change the status quo."

But what has the status quo accomplished? Current U.S. policy is to oppose Taiwan's membership in organizations intended for so-called "state parties." Since the U.N. does not recognize Taiwan as a "state party" and the legitimate representative of China, by definition Taiwan cannot hold membership in the U.N., according to the current policy. But stiff-arming Taipei hasn't served to keep Taiwan's democratic ambitions muffled. Instead, it is hampering the U.S.'s ability to serve as a beacon for emerging democracies elsewhere.

There is obvious irony in Washington's reliance upon Beijing to press Burma's junta to respect self-expression and political freedom even as the U.S. appears to stand side-by-side with Beijing to prevent the same outcomes from flourishing further in Taiwan. The yearning for self-expression by 23 million Taiwan citizens springs from the same human source that brought Buddhist monks flooding into the streets of Rangoon.
The Burma thing also plays up the problem with the Left and Taiwan -- once again, while the Right is out there hijacking words like "democracy," there are no commentaries like this from the Left and Dems in the US, whereas Burma has long engaged the Left's attention. Just another negative legacy of the Chiang Kai-shek years, where Taiwan was scorned by the Left as the fake Free China. There is also still a trace of China The Socialist Utopian out there among a few nutters as well.

The Burma-Taiwan contrast is a problem for the US, but our torture-murder spree in Iraq is what makes the Bush Administration's claims on democracy seem so totally hollow. Nor is Burma the only place where the Administration's Taiwan stance seems a bit conflicted -- see the recent developments in Kosovo, which the US has made independent over the objections of Russia, or longstanding US support for the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithunia. At UPI analyst William Walker argues in an interesting piece that Burma is a problem for China too...

Taiwan is thumbing its nose, preparing to display its military might (including cruise missiles that can hit Chinese targets) with its first military parade in 16 years to celebrate next week’s national day. There are threats of military action if Taiwan acts on the suggestion by President Chen Shui-bian that Taipei should apply to join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan, a direct challenge to Beijing’s insistence on "one China.” Western military observers note with alarm China’s new chief of the general staff has just been promoted from his last job as general commanding the region facing Taiwan.

China’s investors are blithely ignoring official warnings to curtail the floods of savings going into the Shanghai stock market, and an ominous bubble is building, along with inflation spurred on to 8 percent by the surge in pork and other food prices.

And now a campaign is under way by human-rights groups and Western politicians to organize a boycott of next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, in protest of China’s support for deeply unsavory regimes in Sudan and Myanmar. The Internet reports and grim images of the brutal clampdown of Myanmar’s Buddhist monks may have been stopped, but the horror lingers on. China is paying an increasingly high price for its client states.
A boycott of the Olympics will probably backfire -- but note that human rights groups are NOT boycotting Beijing for pointing missiles at Taiwan and threatening to murder dissenters on The Island Of Dissidents in order to possess their land. Nope -- it's Sudan and Myanmar that for some reason have the right cachet. UPDATE: this last line generated some heat in the comments below. I left my apologies for it.


Chaon said...

"There is also still a trace of China The Socialist Utopian out there among a few nutters as well."

So true. All those with such beliefs should go live for a year in China.

It cured me.

. said...

Nope -- it's Sudan and Myanmar that for some reason have the right cachet.

I'm sorry but I find this line outrageous. You know perfectly well (as well as everyone else who has read this post) what 'for some reason' is. Genocide and mass rape in Sudan, almost everything in myanmar.

Where is the threat beyond hypothetical to Taiwan - a rich democratic nation of 23 million people able to speak for themselves?

You do (y)our cause no favours by making such crass, heartless comparisons that everyone can viscerally see through.

Michael Turton said...

Ben --

Does this mean that Taiwan has to wait for the Chinese to actually start wholesale killing here before the Left actually wakes up and says that democracy in Taiwan might well be a thing worth supporting? If so, what does that tell you about the Left?


Anonymous said...

I agree with Ben. It's insulting to compare the situation of the people in Sudan to that of those in Taiwan. Taiwanese often seem to forget how good their situation really is, from a global perspective.

Taiwan is being wronged, but if we look at all the wrongs in the world, it's not in the top 5. (I would say not even in the top 20, but exactly where it ranks isn't crucial, provided it's not in the top several.) Each person has only so much effort to give, and so it makes sense that few activists around the world will make it a priority. That's a harsh reality for pro-independence forces in Taiwan to deal with. To answer Michael's question: If there is wholesale killing, it'll become a priority; before that, probably not.

Michael Turton said...

Ben, anon, I'm not comparing the situation of Taiwan to the situation of Sudan!!!!!!!!! I'm comparing the Left's response on each!


. said...

I really applaud your criticism of the left's silence on Taiwan. I also agree with the broad implied points the questions in your response raise.

But my complaint (and I think anon's and many silent others' as well) was - and still is - your comparison of the left's response towards Sudan and Myanmar with the lack there of towards Taiwan.

I really hope and trust that you fully appreciate why I find any such comparisons deeply troubling and highly inappropriate.

I also hope that on refection you may conclude that (I re-state) you do (y)our cause no favours by making such crass, heartless comparisons that everyone can viscerally see through.

. said...

P.S. The tone of my comments has given me cause to remember a sentence you left on my occasional blog.

"It's a hazard of posting that one's net persona tends to be much worse than one's real one."

. said...

I suppose that for the sake of clarity I should expand on exactly why I take offence (wow, I had no idea 'offence' was another Britishism. How long, I wonder, before red lines homogenise (there we go again) English spelling) at the comparison.

Although the stupendous difference in urgency is an unignorable factor, the stupendous difference in the victims' power is the real issue.

Taiwanese people can speak for themselves. So where are the regular full-page advertisments in western newspapers? Where are the vocal, powerful, rich NGOs constantly there to set western governments and journalist straight? Where are the tireless Taiwanese campaigners trying to make Chinese people see reason?

Taiwan can easily afford, and has far greater cause for having, its own version of the Israel lobby. So why does it not have it? You're not too far off effectively being a one man show in the English language, Michael.

These are questions that really bother me. Why should I care if they themselves don't make the effort to?

Michael Turton said...

That's a fair question, Ben.

I think I too should clarify. A few years back the government of Uzbekhistan murdered thousands in a protest. It's as ugly -- probably uglier -- than the junta of Burma. But western humanitarian groups practically ignore it. Nobody held vigils for Uzbekhs (world governments bitched, fortunately). One can name similar situations all over the world. So why Burma? For some reason dead monks have cachet, dead islamic tribal protesters don't. Tibet gets plenty of attention, but who notes that Mongolia is also a divided country, and how many vigils have been held for the oppressed of Xinjiang?

The construction of humanitarian intervention fascinates me (speaking as a former Peace Corps volunteer). The current regime in China has killed, and will kill, many more people than Darfur ever will. Yet to declare opposition to that regime is to place oneself on the political right (!) and become an object of scorn. Why are the Olympics boycotted in the article above? Chinese foreign policy. But that's a peccadillo compared to Chinese domestic policy. Or look at Iraq: where is the boycott of the US? Yet the US has killed and displaced more people in Iraq than the militias will in Darfur. So where are the vigils, the boycotts? I have to admit that when I hear Europeans lecture and criticize the US, I always think: then please! Boycott us! I'd love it!

I'm aware that one person can only do so much. But I am also aware that humanitarian intervention accomplishes a lot more if it doesn't wait until people start getting killed before moving.

Here's another thing: right now the stock market in China is one vast bubble. When that goes ka-boom it will cause massive destruction of lives....and that's not even mentioning its secondary political fallout. Interestingly though, it's not construed as a humanitarian problem. The rise in oil prices has also killed far more people than Darfur ever will, but it's not on the humanitarian agenda either. Meanwhile thousands of organizations work on worthy causes from global drug prices to amazon deforestation...but they don't get the publicity they need. I guess I expressed a "WTF is wrong with the world!" thought in a particularly bad way.

As for why the Taiwanese don't communicate more, I think they do -- on bulletin boards, in visits to China, etc. I think they need to do more, and in sustained, reasoned ways that will get the Chinese to accept that they want to be on their own.

Please accept my apologies.


. said...

Gratefully received and unreservedly accepted.

I have made a rare foray onto my own blog to further articulate my current feelings.

Best wishes.

Angry Taiwanese Guy said...

Ben Findley says: "Taiwanese people can speak for themselves. So where are the regular full-page advertisments in western newspapers? Where are the vocal, powerful, rich NGOs constantly there to set western governments and journalist straight? Where are the tireless Taiwanese campaigners trying to make Chinese people see reason?"

Actually we here in NYC and the East Coast of the United States have done exactly that. We have put many full page advertisements in popular NYC papers out of our own pockets. Over $15,000 have been spent on this alone the last 2 years. I campaign or go one something Taiwan politics related at least 3 days a month, usually much more. Everyday FAPA and other organizations lobby congressmen and senators in DC. We have written countless press releases and in the last 3-4 years I cannot even remember the number of rallies I've been to. Almost everyone knows my name, I cannot even remember theirs; its just a blur. My picture at rallies have been in the center of newspapers so many times I no longer bother to care. I've blasted China multiple times on TV via CNN.

I'm not the only one, there are thousands of others that have as much spirit as me.

But its hard, I've personally been given death threats, I had to report to the FBI. My window has been broken during those threats and my phone number, workplace, real-name, and home address was made public. Virtually all of my Chinese American friends have ditched me on my beliefs alone (I can respect their difference of opinion, they cannot respect mine sadly). A fellow activist of mine was beaten and sent to the hospital.

Its not like the Taiwan government supports us either. Many in the government do not support us, they are pro-KMT. Others simply are afraid due to their upbringing, and many more are taught by their parents to stay out of politics lest they get death threats like me.

The public certainly rarely cares. We are essentially a bunch of chinks that want Americans to care. We're not being attacked, we have a democracy, and China is an "ally on the war on terror" so no one feels the urgency. Except us.

I'm 26 and I already have white hairs over this. Most of us do. We are stressed, we work hard, and we try our best but its not enough because we don't have "Blond Hair, Blue Eyes", few if anyone, "Gives a rats ass about Taiwanese" as said by a pedestrian during one of our protests.

To write that the Taiwanese "do not want to fend for themselves" gives me indescribable sadness, I'm on the verge of tears. We are fighting, we just don't know how to get anyone's attention, or we're doing it wrong. Its frustrating because we are like ghosts in America, we're desperate for help but no one sees our pain.

. said...


An extraordinarily moving comment.

Your lack of proper funding is scandalous, contemptible and mystifying.

The brutal, sad truth is that I won’t feel in a position to offer you or your cause anything more than a salute until I fully understand the cumulative apathy and indifference - perfectly illustrated by your own case - of Taiwanese people towards their country’s future.

Robert said...

I'm not going to jump into the debate, though it's tempting, for fear of flogging a dead horse.

Sean, I just want to mention that I truly believe that things are changing. I don't know if it's just because I myself have become more cognizant of the situation here in Taiwan, but I honestly believe that awareness of what's happening in Taiwan is increasing outside of Taiwan. You don't see it, because you work so hard for it and you risk so much. The change is so slow, it must be maddening for you.

I write for a small newspaper back home, and, just from that, I've had numerous people email me and thank me for giving them understanding about the situation, and this is in the deep south where, perhaps, the cause of some "chinks" wouldn't make many waves.

It spreads, though, because every time people back home read these little page 22D stories in the margins of their newspapers, they can read between the lines. They've become fascinated with Taiwan.

People care.

And I'll tell you, I think the most important aspect of it all is giving it life. When you just talk about international law, rights, and who's developed what weapon, you dehumanize the cause (I'm not talking about you specifically, I don't know you).

In everything I write, I try to make it human to show that you're talking about people here. It may seem redundant to say that (of course a country has people), but it's easy to forget when you're talking about things like this.

Again, I don't know you, but if you're doing what you say you're doing I appreciate it. I wish you the best.