Saturday, September 21, 2013

Links for a Slow Typhoon Day

I know you must be trapped indoors on this ugly typhoon day -- no rain here yet in central Taiwan so far. So enjoy some links....

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!


Jenna Cody said...

That first link was terribly biased. Not even a word about why the "opposition" doesn't want the trade services pact passed. Not even a consideration that it might not be as good a thing for Taiwan as its supporters claim it'll be. And an overall assumption that ECFA was 100% good for Taiwan. Ugh.

Nathan Burns said...

First time comment. I have recently have discovered your blog and have become and avid reader.

I think your overall eye and comments on Taiwan are dead on. I do feel like you put too much emphasis on the Asian-Pacific region though, especially when it comes to the US.

To expect the US to do anything outside its direct clear national interests is to invite disappointment. One can argue about what such interests are but to expect the US to come to the rescue and challenge China in a meaningful way over SEA is clearly not what the Obama administration wants, in spite of this talk about pivoting to Asia.

What got me thinking about this was your comment around the Syria link.
"The South China Sea festers while the US wastes treasure and effort and diplomatic credit in Syria."

I think most people will agree that Syria with its active civil war and use of chemical weapons deserves more attention now than a long simmering conflict around SEA. Not to mention that while the USA can play an important role, this will hopefully be really solved when ASEAN (if they can get their act together) and other Asian powers stand up to China. Its not a key USA-China bilateral concern at all.

Mike Fagan said...

And what exactly is the "U.S. National Interest" in Syria?

Let's see... Bashar Al Assad is a bad guy. He is supported by Hezbollah who are also bad guys.They are fighting a resistance supported by Al Qaeda, bad guys.

Clearly the thing to do is just to sell arms and ammunition to all of them, to accelerate the rates of attrition on both sides.

Nathan Burns said...

Your question Mike is a good one. I would wager that different people would answer that differently. I can tell you the people i know in the US academic/government circles(admittedly a small sample) would consider the Syria question of more importance right now than a potential flash point (no matter how serious) in the Southeast Pacific.

My personal answer to that question is that the US has a vested interest in not seeing the Syrian conflict erupt into a wider conflict which would undoubtedly draw us even further into Middle East conflicts. Many others would argue there is a humanitarian argument, and a few would argue that the US has a interest in keeping our supremacy and the supremacy of our allies (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel) over the region. I am sure some would also argue that the US has NO business in Syria.

To address a wider issue that is brought up by this question. I think many of us feel let down by our nations when they don't support or advocate an issue that is of important to us regionally. I know i have felt let down when the US doesn't advocate for Taiwan or bows to PRC pressure. We feel like our government (Which ever nation that is) should care what we care about and represent us.
But I have to remind myself of a hard lesson that i learned of in university. The USA is a selfish, cold, uncaring, self-interested nation.
Just like all the rest of them.

Readin said...

@Nathan Burns: The chemical weapons problem in Syria is supposedly an "international norm", but no-one outside of America seems interested in enforcing. If America is the only country willing to do anything about it, then it is hardly "international".

Other than that, we have two enemies of the United States trying their best to kill each other. How is that something America has a vital national interest in trying to stop? No matter who wins the result is a disaster and all America can hope to do by getting involved is to share the blame.

How dealing with the problems of SEA are in America's national interest is something Michael Turton does address frequently on his blog.

As for "challenging China in a meaningful way", that is the hard question and well worth exactly the discussion Mr. Turton has here. At the moment, outside of illegal immigration, China is the country most likely to pose an existential threat to American civilization and to America the country. If China grows stronger by squeezing America and America's allies out of important, regions, markets and diplomatic space then that threat may become a reality. Already we see China posing a threat to free discussion in America as people and corporations are afraid to offend China. Looking long term, America may have technical advantage for now, but China has 4 times as many people. That means 4 times as many minds to apply to research. It means that of the top 5 minds in America and China, chances are that 4 of them are Chinese and only one is American. How long can we expect our technology advantage to last?

You may not agree with Mr. Turton's approach to dealing with the problems of SEA, but I don't see how you can claim those problems are less important than that civil war between two weaklings.

Mike Fagan said...

"...the US has a vested interest in not seeing the Syrian conflict erupt into a wider conflict which would undoubtedly draw us even further into Middle East conflicts."

Let's assume for the sake of argument that such a "wider conflict" did somehow happen. Now aside from the natural humanitarian concern for the innocents, what is the clear U.S. interest in the region?

Israel doesn't count because the Israelis are actually benefitting from this war in Syria anyway to the extent that Hezbollah soldiers are getting killed and spending Iranian coin doing so. Also, the Israelis have modern air-defences against any crappy old scuds that Assad might lob at them.

Saudi Arabia? The Saudis are hundreds and hundreds of miles away with an Airforce and a Navy, and like the Israelis, the Saudis have modern air defence systems. I doubt they'd lose sleep over that clown Assad lobbing a few scuds about.

Turkey? Turkey doesn't have air defences, but the U.S. has deployed PACs for them to defend their border towns anyway.

So basically, I can't see what the fuss is about aside from the humanitarian concern for the innocents. But the only way to address that problem is a massive troop deployment and occupation of the country over 5-10 years. But that only works by attrition - by looking for Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Assad warriors and killing them - and though it might save some civilians, it's not going to save them all. And in any case, the U.S. government doesn't have the coin to do that sort of thing anymore because... long story short, the U.S. is now more banana republic than constitutional republic.

So no, I can't see any rational argument for U.S. interest in Syria except what I've already pointed out - selling arms and ammo to the lot of them so that they can kill more of each other faster. The longer they keep doing that, the better.

For the civilians caught in the middle, it's terrible. But maybe someone can email them an mp3 of Obama's "soaring rhetoric" for comfort. Paid for by Obama voters, of course.

Readin said...

"But I have to remind myself of a hard lesson that i learned of in university. The USA is a selfish, cold, uncaring, self-interested nation.
Just like all the rest of them."

I think you still have a lot to learn. You're black and white view of America does not reflect the reality. America is sometimes cold, uncaring and purely self-interested. Other times America is incredibly generous. Most often on the big issues America is some combination of both.

What unarguably makes us not "Just like all the rest of them" is that we are a democracy. Other things to consider, though much more open to debate, are ways Americans see themselves and their history, their religious beliefs, and even their ancestral ties to other lands.

Of course within America there is a huge variation of opinions, so it isn't always easy to predict where Democracy will take us.

Further complicating matters is the role that special interests play in shaping American policy.

I think this often leads us to be generous on the big issues and tyrants on the small issues.

Hardly anyone in America cares about some trade pact with Taiwan, and even fewer will bother to learn the details. But the people who do bother are most likely to be monied interests hoping to expand their wealth. The guys in Washington want their campaign donations and will play hardball.

On the other hand we can risk lives and spend treasure protecting Kosovars from genocide with very little tangible benefit.

Mostly on the big issues - especially wars - Americans have to be convinced that it is both in our national interest and the right thing to do morally. One can argue whether the American people are very bright about making those judgements, but the fact is still there that when Americans are paying attention they do want their government to both do the right thing and act in their national interest.

Countries like China, Cuba, Russia, Zimbabwe, Iran, etc. are under hardly any pressure to do the right thing, and often aren't even under pressure to act in their national interest but instead act solely in the interest of their leaders.

Nathan Burns said...

I would like to start by saying that i don't want to start a internet argument in the comments section on a blog about Taiwan. A offhanded comment i made about one link comment in a long list of links from a well written and considered blog should not be taken as anything more than what i intended.

That being said, Readin raised a point that i felt like i must address. I like to consider myself a political realist. My worldview allows for countries and nations to do very generous things. I would agree that USA has done very generous and great things in the past (I would point to the Japanese occupation among others). Your point about "I think this often leads us to be generous on the big issues and tyrants on the small issues." is very well taken.
Where i disagree is the expectation of generosity. Often American's like to think of their country as exceptional. I would agree that the USA can be, and has been exceptional but to expect that is folly. Political Realism tells us to applaud the generous but to expect the self interested. A little depressing and certainly an appeal to the lowest common denominator but useful when dealing with nations. I am sure many a nation, including Taiwan, has felt the bite when the previously generous Americans suddenly turn out to be self interested (see Nixon to China).
The reason I tend to always expect the selfish USA is because that way i am rarely disappointed and sometimes pleasantly surprised. For the rest of the world it must be confusing and odd. Who shows up? The white knight Americans who protect Kosovo, saves Kuwait and rehabilitates two of the greatest enemies of the world (Germany and Japan) or the Americans who refuse to get involved in Rwanda, supports brutal dictators when is suits them, and engages in vengeful wars?
You right, the world is not black and white, anybody who says it is, is either uneducated, dangerous, or selling something. But when making and observing foreign policy, I tend to agree with those people who argue for a "real" America rather than the hoped for America.

Your argument about democracy i am of split opinion. On one hand, i tend to dislike and disagree with the idea of American Exceptional-ism and the idea that Democracy (especially the american kind) some how makes us more rational or better. On the other hand (shout out to Fiddler on the Roof) i can not deny the impact that democracy has had on the world (overall positive in my small estimation). I haven't definitively made up my mind so i will have to defer to and read more from minds smarter and more mature than I. I will say that Readin you made a very valid and impact point. I don't know if i agree with it all but nevertheless a good point.

As for Syria, @mikefagan and @Readin, You have raised positions that many others have also raised. I have to say i disagree especially about the importance you seem to place on it. Syria is one of the most important international issues current on the table. It is symptomatic of bigger issues and problem and one that currently threatens to consume a large part of the world. I agree that China's rise to world power status and the SEA conflicts are important, but to think that it is the MOST important or even more important that other issues in other places is wrong. I feel like the question of what to do in Syria (and in the middle east in general) deserves to be discussed around coffee and beers, in colleges and cafe's. I love a good debate and certainly welcome worldviews and opinions different from my own. I just don't know if the best place to do it is in the comments on a blog about Taiwan. I will leave it up to Mr. Turton to decide.