Sunday, November 03, 2013

Kerry Brown in The Diplomat

Kerry Brown's piece in the The Diplomat argued that the PRC is Biggest Obstacle to Unification with Taiwan. He writes:
This second issue is where the hope lies. Taiwan’s political evolution remains a great inspiration for change on the Mainland, a political transition within a Chinese cultural polity which was stable. For this reason, while Xi’s comments might unsettle people in the short term, in the long term they just expose the great secret about modern cross-Strait relations: that the People’s Republic of China’s political system is the greatest barrier to reunification. A reformed polity in China that was more pluralistic, open, based on the rule of law and accountable, whether the Communist Party is at the heart of it or not, would pose much harder questions to opponents of unification in Taiwan.
The last line is rank nonsense. J Michael Cole observes of it:
This is the author’s assumption and, if I may be so blunt, it is an unproven one. Similarity of political systems, values, languages, culture certainly facilitate exchanges, but by no means do they guarantee willingness for any form of political union. Based on this premise, we would immediately conclude that if the U.S. democratized (I couldn’t help it; after all, as the great Canadian bard Leonard Cohen once said, democracy is coming to the U.S.A.), somehow Canada would agree to become part of it. Nationalism is a river than runs far deeper, and after more than 100 years-plus of separate existence, we simply don’t know whether Taiwanese would agree to become part of China. My informed bet is that they wouldn’t, for reasons similar to those that differentiate Americans from British, New Zealanders from Australians, or Belgians from French. Hell, the Czechs and Slovaks dissolved Czechoslovakia in 1993 after the country had once again become democratic!
Cole asks why not consult the polls? and points out that poll data show most Taiwanese favor independence, especially if you give them the choice between independence or annexation (pro-KMT TVBS' most recent poll!). But in fact there is credible poll data on this issue. Emerson Niou's paper on this topic observes:
Q4. If only small political, economic, and social disparity exists between Mainland China and Taiwan, do you favor or not favor Taiwan unifying with China?
Not Favor: 56.4%    Favor: 36.4%    NA: 7.2%
Less than 40% want to annex Taiwan to China even if disparities disappear. The only thing keeping Taiwanese even interested in the issue is the military threat from China. If China did not threaten to maim and murder and spark a regional war over its desire to annex Taiwan, no one in Taiwan would be talking about annexing Taiwan to China.

This raises the real issue, whether a democratic China would change its militant stance toward annexing Taiwan. My feeling is no (think a democratic China will give up Tibet or Xinjiang? How many in the UK wanted to give up the empire in the 20s and 30s?). Democracy doesn't make nations less belligerent (far from it; it appears to legitimate belligerence by giving it a widespread popular basis). The Chinese have been raised on the idea that Taiwan is "theirs" as are the territories of other nations. What is really needed is not democracy, but culture change, changing the way people in China think about what "China" is.

Brown makes another egregious move, reproducing the propaganda claim that Chen Shui-bian "provoked" China:
...As long as the leadership in Taiwan did not stray towards the dreaded territory of asserting its independence, anything else was tolerable. And with Ma’s election in 2008, the provocations from the Chen Shui-bian era at least stopped.
There were no provocations of the Chen Shui-bian era. What happened was that China made noises and complained whenever Chen did something, hoping to marginalize him and get him and the Taipei government treated as a bunch of radicals, especially in the international media. This strategy was effective in part because US officialdom cooperated, not the least because so many in the policy community have lucrative consulting and other work with Beijing (here, for example). The PRC chooses to be provoked, because being provoked is a policy choice that Beijing executes to manage its relations with Taiwan.

The state of international media discourse and diplomacy is such that if you imprison religious cultists and political dissidents, suppress speech, loot life, land, and labor from ordinary people, and otherwise run an intolerant, oppressive authoritarian state while threatening war with most of the nations on your border, you are not a provocative radical but statesmanlike and important, but if you host a referendum and carry out democratic politics, you're provocative and radical and making a victim of poor, put-upon China. Those of us on the pro-Taiwan side can't do anything about the moral fecklessness and worship of power of international editors, but we can at least refrain from catapulting Beijing's propaganda. Chen Shui-bian was a perfectly normal democratic politician operating in a completely mad media and political context, period. That needs to be said more often....
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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