Sunday, November 02, 2008

Carpenter on Taiwan

Ted Galen Carpenter has an excellent piece in WSJ covering the public reaction to the accession of Ma and the failure of his policies, and a good takedown of the conventional wisdom in Beijing and Washington that Ma's election was a repudiation of the DPP's pro-independence politics -- it is worth noting again that Ma had to promise not to betray the island to China in order to get elected, a clear indication of the way the public feels about annexing the island to China. Some of it is a mite uniformed -- Chinese tourists have been coming here for years, Mr. Carpenter -- but on the whole, after so many abusive pieces from Carpenter on Taiwan, this article represents a welcome change and a surprising sensitivity. Many thanks, Dr. C. An excerpt:

The key to maintaining the "Ma thaw" will be showing that Mr. Ma's approach can succeed in extracting important concessions from Beijing -- particularly given the ongoing evolution in public opinion regarding the mainland. Public opinion surveys in Taiwan taken since the election confirm the public's hostility to reunification with China. In an October survey published by the Global Views Survey Research Center, 67.5% of respondents disagreed with the proposition that Taiwan and the mainland should eventually unify. Only 19.5% favored that position. Conversely, 50.6% said Taiwan should ultimately become a new, officially independent country, and only 34.1% disagreed with that course. Opposition to reunification and support for independence were both significantly higher than they were in a similar 2006 poll.

Note that Carpenter, while correcting the conventional wisdom on Taiwan, nevertheless argues for the Establishment line that what China needs to do now is make concessions to Taiwan to win over the Taiwan electorate. Yet the evidence suggests that the softer approach that China has taken in the last decade, since bombarding the waters around Taiwan with missiles, has not resulted in increased public acceptance of Chinese rule over Taiwan (part of that must be credited to the DPP for its resolute efforts to build local identity). Quite the opposite -- as everyone is wont to point out, the young identify with Taiwan, not China, and the poll data Carpenter provides support an overall rejection of Beijing's annexation drive.

Supporters for this approach seems to argue that if Ma obtains concessions from China, the electorate will respect him and have warm fuzzies about Beijing -- but the evidence shows that the electorate recognizes that such overtures imply a sellout of Taiwan. The contradictions in Ma's policies ought to be obvious -- each time he approaches Beijing for a deal he gives the impression of selling out the island, irrespective of Beijing's response.

This suggests two things. First, concessions will only reinforce the idea that Ma is selling out the island -- concessions in fact may backfire by being interpreted as proof that Ma is in cahoots with Beijing. Second, the public here is wiser in chinese ways then commentators give them credit for -- the Chinese aren't going to fool anyone here with sweet talk and concessions -- as if locals don't have any insight into Chinese culture -- so why should they hand them out? Such actions are mere political theatre aimed at swaying foreign observers, and providing them with ammunition they can use in their arguments with each other. One only needs to look at the Taiwanese business community in China, where years of contact with Chinese has not resulted in any great surge of pro-China support among them. The fact is that Beijing could make the concessions that the US political establishment wants, and it could have no effect on the electorate, while worsening Ma's position at home.

HUGELY INFORMATIVE: Taiwan Link has a great, long review of Taiwan's four decade-long attempt to obtain submarines.

PURELY FOR FUN: Exhibition on Taiwan's recovery from Japan in China


Anonymous said...

Did anyone catch the news on TV that showed Taipei city workers uprooting ROC flags from city streets in advance of the China envoy?

I have never been a big fan of the KMT party/state flag... but still... talk about capitulation.

China is so much more predictable when angry. And their "anger" costs Taiwanese nothing.

Tim Maddog said...

Carpenter is wrong in all kinds of ways. Here are some examples [followed by my commentary in brackets]:
- - -
needlessly aggressive posture of Mr. Chen's government [It wasn't "aggressive," but his "posture" was entirely necessary.]

discontent about Taiwan's underperforming economy [Despite the 6.06% GDP growth rate at the end of Chen's term ("underperforming economy"?), the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) propaganda machine bombarded people's eyes and ears with counterfactual information (Can you say "經濟不景氣"?) until enough people believed it that Ma could get elected.]

more than 1,200 missiles aimed at the island [It was more than 1,400 in April of this year, and I'm pretty sure they haven't dismantled any.]

Zhang Mingqing was pushed to the ground [We know for certain that he fell, but beyond that, I merely see an official Chinese meme being repeated yet again.]

[Ma's] current approval rating is only 29% [Carpenter had supposedly quoted the October Global Views survey in his previous paragraph, but that very survey put Ma's approval rating at 23.6% -- 5.4 percentage points lower. According to the "67.5" and "19.5" mentioned by Carpenter, it looks like he's referring to Global Views' September survey, which still put Ma's approval rating at only 24.9% -- 4.1 percentage points lower that what Carpenter misquotes.]
- - -

Having said all that, yes, Carpenter gets a few things right in areas where he may have previously gotten them wrong, but coming from a so-called foreign policy "expert," I still consider his take on things to be an epic failure.

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

"China was forced to cede Taiwan, a piece of Chinese territory since ancient times, to Japan when it lost the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895."

"Kao Chin Su-mei, a renowned Taiwanese who heads a delegation to visit the exhibition, said the path to Taiwan's recovery has been a miserable experience, particularly for the aboriginal Taiwanese people."

That was a fun read! Thanks for the link!