Monday, October 06, 2008

I Only Say This Because I love You

Maybe some young hotshot political anthropologist can write a book about it. Call it Chinese are from Mars, Taiwanese are from Venus. -- Johnny Neihu

All day long people dispense advice to Taiwan, criticizing it for its foreign policy, and yet so often they fail to penetrate to the heart of the problem. Case in point: local expat and student David Pendery had another one of his wonderful letters in the Taipei Times (link for amusement purposes only, previous go-round with Pendery discussed here). As a whole the letter is priceless, but its complete misunderstanding of the situation is succinctly on display in these two paragraphs:

Admittedly these suggestions are problematic. Along with a constitutional amendment based on Japan’s — which states that the people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” — Taiwanese disarmament would have to take place. Though a dramatic move, this is by no means out of the question, having already been adopted by a select group of other peaceful, progressive nations. Of course, harsh international realities and threats cannot be ignored, and the maintenance of a viable national police or self-defense force would be necessary. This may acceptably be combined with a peaceful national posture.

In the short term, threats from China would probably not disappear, but in time we might well find that the nation would find its more aggressive tendencies limited. Were China to threaten a nation that had renounced war, for example, it would probably be subject to a storm of criticism and pressure from other nations. As well, other nations could likely support Taiwan politically and militarily, and pressure China to soften its stance if a neutral, non-violent stance were adopted. These developments could require China to pragmatically re-think it’s current positions vis-a-vis Taiwan.

Let's set aside the issue of who Taiwan threatens with its current military posture (nobody) and why it is not neutral now (it has no formal defense agreements with anyone and does not belong to any multilateral treaty system). Let's set aside how the international storm of criticism has been instrumental in the establishment of the Republic of Tibet. Let's set aside the problem of whether a non-state can do what a state can do. Let's look instead at the real issue...., I know my old pal Johnny Neihu will rip me into steaming chunks of Taiwan's finest stinky tofu for doing this, but I just can't help but explain this problem using the Dysfunctional Couple analogy: just imagine if the beaten wife comes to the David Pendery Memorial Women's House, and there's David out there dispensing advice:

ABUSED WIFE: My husband beats me and threatens me!
DAVID: Now, now. If you just stop struggling and appear completely non- threatening, I'm sure that over time he'll stop hitting you.

The metaphor may be painful but the insight it provides is not: just as the woman's problem isn't her own behavior but her husband's, so Taiwan's problem isn't caused by Taiwan, and it can't be changed by anything that Taiwan can do. The change has to come from within China, a nation desperately in need of a twelve-step program.


Taiwan's ex-presidents have been out in front recently, though I haven't seen much reporting of it in the Taipei Times. Lee Teng-hui slammed Regional Administrator Ma Ying-jeou for being incompetent, too slow in responding to the many crises overwhelming The Beautiful Island. Lee's remarks are dead on, but the fact is that Lee never campaigned very vigorously for Hsieh, angling, it appears, for some influence in the Ma Administration. Well, Mr. Lee, ya got it comin' and goin' -- we have an incompetent KMT Administration AND you have no clout in it. Thanks, but no thanks.

Meanwhile the sex-n-scandal sheet ESWN has been earnestly tracking the progress of ex-President Chen Shui-bian as he wends his way across the island speaking to his followers in his usual overblown, egocentric way -- in other words, the way politicians around the world tend to talk about themselves, but especially in Taiwan. You're not a real politician here unless you've threatened to (a) step down or (b) kill yourself over some kerfluffle. Naturally, since A-bian has caused a huge problem, his verbiage is correspondingly exaggerated.

One good thing ESWN has this week is a piece on the treatment of Radio Taiwan International (RTI), whose tiny little radio show on Taiwan proved to be entirely too much for China. Taiwan News has the call:

According to Taiwan media reports, GIO officials cited reports by the Guangzhou-based "Global Daily" (Huanqiu shibao), an internationally-directed subsidiary of the PRC's official "People's Daily," that "the independence faction controlled the voice of Taiwan to attack Ma Ying-jeou" and called on RTI management to "make improvements."

Cheng, a widely respected former journalist with the vernacular Commercial Times and ex-chairman of the Taiwan Television Network, has not been known for "pan-green" partisanship, stated that he had resigned with one year left in his contract because he had been "tagged with the colors of a particular political party and subjected to doubts of not endeavoring to propagate the new government's policies."

According to Taiwan media and RTI contributors, GIO claimed that RTI was an agency for "international broadcasting" and should "uphold the image of the Republic of China" and should also not be "too" critical of the Chinese Communist Party-ruled People's Republic of China, apparently in accordance with Ma's policy of promoting cross-strait "reconciliation" and his unilateral call for a "diplomatic truce" with Beijing.

The targets of the criticism included RTI talk show hosts, such as former "Contemporary Monthly" editor-in-chief Chin Heng-wei, whose shows have been critical of human rights and news freedom in the authoritarian PRC and Beijing's actions to isolate Taiwan form the global community.

The apparent demand by the KMT government that the RTI should not be critical of Beijing is highly ironic since its mission for decades has always been to criticize the PRC.
The influence of RTI should not be underestimated; it has a huge audience in China. [UPDATE: I've removed a claim I can't prove. UPDATE II: new information says it was a VOA poll that put VOA 1, BBC 2, and RTI 3 in China, not publicly released]. With this attack on RTI you can expect that "improvements" will be necessary at the Central News Agency (CNA), widely regarded as very balanced and informative among international media reps here (and by me too) and a key source of news for both locals and foreigners.


Anonymous said...

I read Pendery's editorial early this morning- it left me with a mild case of indigestion. Wrote this quick mail to the Taipei Times before I took a Rennie:

Dear Madam, Sir,

The editorial in your 6/10/2008 edition by David Pendery is a disgrace for your otherwise solid editorials.

I'm a foreign professor, not pro-blue nor pro-green, who first came to Taiwan in 1989. I also happen to love this island too much not to set you straight on having published this piece of uninformed and misleading propaganda.

I question Mr. Pendery's motives on having written this, something you as editor have obviously not done prior to publication.

Signed: >>>

Anonymous said...

"a nation desperately in need of a twelve-step program..."

So much ink spilled; so many keys stroked; so many payments for articles; so much arguing; and so many academic, consulting, and bureaucratic careers built on "specialized" knowledge and "understanding" rather than the plain-as-day truth: Chinese irredentism -- faux, no less -- doesn't go away because PRC leaders and their nationalistic Han supporters have no idea how to self-soothe or otherwise manage personal anxiety and self-doubt in more adaptive ways.

If they only knew, they'd be so ashamed.

And I'm being too wordy, too, aren't I? Great pith, Michael.

Anonymous said...

RTI has fan clubs in China, among other places. That's unbelievable reach in a media market that is to this day still largely closed to outsiders.

RTI has both Green and Blue hosts, and it's pretty funny they are picking on a green host, since all have a pretty critical view of China when it comes to openness and human rights in China. If they really want to stop RTI critical of China, they are going to have to get rid of the Blue hosts as well.

Oh. So maybe they don't really care about its criticism of China. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

The battered wife/abusive husband metaphor is spot on. It's also kinda' depressing and bleak. For the abusive husband to reform seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

The continuation of the metaphor would be, Taiwan joins the U.S. as 51st State, the U.S. resembling the women's house. After maybe 10/20 years Taiwan declares independence - does the U.S. constitution allow this?