Friday, June 28, 2013

When will the American Left learn about Taiwan? Eli Clifton in The Nation

What is wrong with the US Left on Taiwan and China? Too often, my fellow lefties are peering at East Asia through thick Cold War goggles. The latest example of the ignorant Cold War lenses that shape the thinking of the US is Eli Clifton's godawful article in The Nation this week.

Just skim it; it's largely a waste of time. Instead pick up J Michael Cole's excellent rebuke of Clifton's commentary at The Diplomat:
Those are perfectly legitimate questions, and we’re all for transparency in the funding of research institutions — especially when it comes from abroad. The problem is that the article’s claims are based on two assumptions that belie a poor understanding of the think tank world and, more importantly, the maddeningly complex workings of U.S.-Taiwan relations.

On the first issue: U.S. think tanks receive funding from a plethora of governments, institutions, foundations, universities, and individuals. Some of those donors, for various reasons, choose to remain anonymous. For example, the Brookings Institution’s 2012 annual report shows one anonymous donor in the $1,000,000-$2,499,999 category, and three in the $500,000-999,999 range — the same bracket as the “problematic” TECRO identified in the article. That same year, TECRO’s donated between US$250,000-US$499,999 to Brookings, which is hardly a strident advocate of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Like a lot of other foreign entities, the Taiwanese government funds a number of other think tanks in the U.S. There is nothing unusual, or even illegal, in this.

Moreover, while the article focuses on TECRO’s financial contributions to AEI, it makes absolutely no mention of the much more substantial — and oftentimes less transparent — donations to U.S. think tanks and academic institutions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government, wealthy Chinese individuals, or corporations with strong business interests in China (to that we can also add the co-optation of retired U.S. generals and government officials via highly lucrative corporate positions). Nor is it said that through those institutions, the PRC is attempting to sever U.S.-Taiwan ties, end U.S. arms sales to the island, and encourage the perception that the “re-unification” of Taiwan and China is inevitable, by force if necessary, even if this goes against the wishes of Taiwan’s 23 million people.

In short, by being so selective, the article completely omits the tremendous influence that the much stronger party in the dispute, China, has on U.S. policy on Taiwan.

The second major problem with the article is that it assumes that TECRO was using its (presumably un-kosher) influence on AEI to push for arms sales — especially 66 F-16C/Ds — at a time when, as anyone who follows U.S.-Taiwan relations closely would know, Taipei was dragging its feet on arms sales and, later on, seemed to be doing everything in its power to kill the F-16 program. In other words, rather than dictate to the researchers at AEI, Taiwan was funding analysts that were growing increasingly critical of and impatient with Taipei’s passive attitude to arms procurement — the exact opposite of what the article claims.
Of course China is omitted, that practically goes without saying. Argh. The idea that TECRO wants arms sales is part of the Cold War view that lefties still use to assess East Asia, also present in Lee Fang's piece from last year which makes exactly the errors that Clifton does. In this upside-down view of the universe, F-16 sales to Taiwan "militarize" the conflict between China and Taiwan, while apparently there is nothing China can ever do to militarize the conflict....

Walter Lohman observed that Brookings, also a recipient of TECRO funding, hosted DPP Chairman and likely presidential candidate Su Tseng-chang at a reception a couple of weeks ago, which is certainly not something the KMT-run government wants to see, yet TECRO gives money to Brookings. Some friends of mine who were there told me Su was warmly received... good!

The other reason this article peeved me, in addition to its by-now bog-standard Leftish ignorance of Taiwan, is that all the stuff that Cole writes about is available on this and other political blogs, including Cole's own, as well as in the local media. Clifton didn't have to do much, just send around emails to us and we'd have been happy to explain everything to him. *sigh* Why ever do they think we blog?

Great work, J. Michael.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I read your article titled "Teaching at a University in Taiwan" and I just laughed. It is probably very true and accurate, and the observations that are made of the Taiwanese educational system by a foreigner are critical but hilarious.

Greg Hao said...

Michael, as always, another trenchant and timely reminder that it is so difficult for someone who is a liberal in america to find support from the "left" of taiwan.

Readin said...

I find that many on the right also view Taiwan through a cold war lens. Of course since the people on the right were more opposed to communism that tends to translate in to support for the ROC, but too often it is support for the good "China" rather than an understanding of the aspirations of the Taiwanese people.

Liovushka said...

I came across this article in a Google search. Today is Mar. 26, 2014, more than a week into the student occupation of the Taiwan Legislature. Now here's a people practicing direct democracy, taking their government to task and opposing bogus "free trade" that would only benefit Big Capital... and not a PEEP from or!? I did a bunch of searches and found nothing. Seriously?! This is beyond reprehensible.

As a lefty-anarchist in the U.S. (former community and union organizer) I still value the commentaries from these programs/sites. As a Taiwanese-American lefty, I can't help but feel betrayed by my comrades here. It seems that for them, if the revolution doesn't come out of China, it doesn't happen at all.

I understand that these self-professed vanguard of the Left don't want to be caught backing the wrong horse. They need to vet the protests for astroturf or entitled Venezuelan bourgeoisie. But COME ON! This time in Taiwan it is SO clear-cut!

China has since decades ago entered its nationalist (hence terminal) stage of the Chinese dynastic cycle. The old KMT did get humiliated on the battlefield by the CCP. But it was the Taiwanese progressives that stamped it out. When Chinese kids get on freenet and watch Taiwanese kids opting not just for representative democracy, but for direct democracy under a KMT government, they're watching Taiwan complete the revolution their grandpas started. Don't the Taiwanese deserve some solidarity for that?

But this is the nature of the beast... Taiwan is kind of doomed to fight its own fights. And it will need to do so more often as the Communist Dynasty in China descends into its final hours of total-batshit-crazy nationalism... remember the Boxers and the xenophobic religions at the end of the Qing Dynasty?

The yoke of Confucianism is addictive and immersive. And no amount of cultural revolution is going to knock a continental country out of its cycle. Islanders can do better, and do not need to be along for the ride.