Sunday, March 09, 2014

Five Lessons for Taiwan from the Ukraine Mess

Almost to Donghe.

1. The propaganda struggle
It's been exceedingly depressing to watch my feeds fill up with propaganda about the Ukraine, with reliable information hard to obtain. A number of my lefty friends seem to be forwarding Russian propaganda claims as fast as Moscow can put them out (there's a whole swath of the "anti-imperialist" left that will embrace any imperialism, as long as it is not western), while my right-wing friends and the US mainstream media have simply ignored US involvement in the pro-western protests. Lots of the lefty websites I frequent are overrun with slanted pro-Moscow stuff (Counterpunch seems to have a good mix, however), a pain to slog through.

We on the pro-Taiwan side can expect this same mess if and when China moves. In fact, whether it moves on the Senkakus, Taiwan, or one of the South China Sea claims, a huge swath of Left will simply forward its propaganda claims; indeed, it will probably be worse in the Taiwan case because sympathy for China is a kind of madness on the Left. I have had writers tell me that no one has died in Tibet, the Taiwan is an ancient part of China, and so on. I know many people who will say, if you tell them that China's invasion of Tibet was imperialism, that it was ok because China owned Tibet in 1756. Laugh if you will, this mindset is widespread. This team will claim that the US is real driver of events and that poor victimized China is only protecting itself from the predator US and the fascist Japanese.

In fact China is already doing this in its current spat with Japan.... and many on the Left regularly forward its propaganda. Sad.

The sad part is, as we have seen, that the mainstream media and many many commentators, as well as many in government, are essentially pro-China in views and presentations, and even when not, routinely reproduce Chinese propaganda claims in the guise of explaining what China is doing ("Chinese feel that Taiwan is an ancient and inalienable part of China") and have no idea what US policy is or what the agreements and treaties mean. This sort of thing will be far more difficult to counter; propaganda is often easily dispelled, but the default Establishment position is liberally salted with ignorance. That is more difficult to overcome.

Anyway, just want to point out: the propaganda war is gonna suck. Hard. We'll all have to take tranquilizers just to read the news....

2. The Partisan Issue
Looking at the way the Republicans have abused Obama over the Ukraine crisis (John Stewart rips them hilariously here), you gotta wonder whether the same crap is going to happen with The Beautiful Island. Fortunately we have strong bipartisan support, but Taiwan supporters will have to struggle hard to make sure that a Taiwan crisis is addressed in a bipartisan manner and that Congress rallies around the President. Just imagine if half of Congress simply gave up on Taiwan and started essentially fronting for Beijing because we let Taiwan become a partisan issue....

3. Europe is useless.
No need to elaborate here. Next point.

4. Your opponent's ethnics are his allies whether they want to be or not
Sometimes when I explain Taiwan to outsiders, I use Ukraine and the Baltic states as an analogy. But one of the lessons here for Taiwan is how Russia has used "ethnicity" as an excuse to annex Crimea. This idea that Russia is a protector of Russians everywhere is mirrored by China, which used the excuse of Vietnamese mistreatment of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam to attack Vietnam in 1979.

In Taiwan where the CCP claims everyone is Chinese, the usefulness of this tactic might not be obvious, but you can see how "Chineseness" could be deployed against a DPP government. "They're deSinicizing Taiwan! We've got to save those people!" or some such nonsense. If ethnicity can be an excuse for invasion, Taiwan has got it in spades. The more we are able to differentiate ourselves from China and establish that idea in the international media, the better off we will be in this regard.

5. Integration is a bomb
The root of the issue in Ukraine was whether the nation would integrate with the EU or with Russia and its rival organization. When President Yanukovych switched from the EU to Russia, that triggered the protests. Taiwan actually faces an analogical choice in whether to join the US TPP or integrate even more with China, but more fundamentally, in the choice between integration with China or with the outside world.

The current president, Ma Ying-jeou, is a nationalist and Chinese expansionist. At present he seeks to place Taiwan into China's orbit. When a DPP president is elected, a slowdown in integration of Taiwan and China may well result in a strong Chinese reaction.

The good thing for Taiwan is that unlike Ukraine, the populace is not split evenly on the issue of annexation to China. Among the young support for it has almost vanished, just as in Ukraine the young of every ethnic group strongly supported integration with the EU rather than with the authoritarian state next door.

However, many sectors of the local economy are now tightly linked to China, which means that there are groups that might potentially support annexation to China outside of the mainlander core of the KMT and their followers. The obvious one is of course the Taishang with their investments there, but also organized crime, the tourism industry in Taiwan, and the construction industry, which is partly dependent on imports of gravel for that key Taiwanese political ingredient, cement.

The tight links between China and organized crime in Taiwan are both fascinating and scary... and could be used by China to foment excuses for intervention. Remember that the Anti-Secession Law has some language about invading if internal affairs become disorderly...
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Nathan W. Novak (李漢聲) said...

Working on something similar at my place myself, although applied to East Asia in general. Will hopefully be posting shortly. You and your readers are more than welcome to pick it apart once it is up.

Good stuff.~

Anonymous said...

On point 5, you state that Taiwan faces a choice of joining the US (world) and TPP, or integrating closer with China. I'm not sure you can frame that as an either / or option (which is how I read your point). Ma is obviously trying to move closer into China's orbit, yet at the same time he's pushing hard to join the TPP.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Once again thank you for being a widely-read voice on the side of reason against Chinese propaganda when so many people talk about China's claims as though their opinions on Taiwan should matter in terms of what the Taiwanese want.

(Of course they do matter - my argument is that they shouldn't and in a just world, they wouldn't).

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Although for what it's worth, my lefty friends (meaning basically all of my friends) are pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia. Nobody on my feed is forwarding propaganda (I do get pro-China bullshit on my feed and I try to either ignore it or challenge it. It's almost always wrong).

Michael Turton said...

On point 5, you state that Taiwan faces a choice of joining the US (world) and TPP, or integrating closer with China. I'm not sure you can frame that as an either / or option (which is how I read your point). Ma is obviously trying to move closer into China's orbit, yet at the same time he's pushing hard to join the TPP.

I am skeptical of Ma on the TPP, because we saw how he was on the F-16s.Its not an either/or choice, you are right.

Anonymous said...

Point One: Propaganda

This has been going on for a long time. Both Chinese nationalisms are built upon the foundation of the racial nation. The racial nation is predicated on the acceptance and validation of authentic and essentialized races and that race is enough to bond citizens to a nation state.

In reality, the model of the racial nation has been a poor model for the success of a nation as races are political inventions that hinge in the liminality of their invention. They break down over competing interests despite their conception of singularity and homogeneity.

China has not been a true racial nation in practice as the early republicans sought to retain the peripheral people and places of the Qing empire and incorporate those lands into the map. To satisfy both desires for a racial nation and a multiethnic border, China invented and promulgated the fantasy that 98% of Chinese were Han. Moreover, as Chinese nationalism was a modernist movement, they conflated modernism with Han and progressed on a civilizing project to transform the peripheral people into the type of Han imagined by the state. The state was the supreme arbiter of Han-ness/ Chineseness.

The result is an etherial concept of Chineseness that has no discernible form and can be deployed to fit both essentialist and nominalist constructs. Concepts of Chinseness are often deployed by the Chinese state in ways that are seemingly contradictory, yet seem to satisfy the CCP and their western audience without question. This may be explained by the west filling their ignorance of China and Chineseness with stilted fantasy. China is more than willing to fill in the missing narrative.

2. The Partisan Issue:

This may very well be. After a decade of being lost in the desert, U.S. foreign policy may reflect a public apprehension for, what may be portrayed as, another military adventure rich in blood and poor in treasure.

3. Europe is Useless:

In an echo of the first point, the biggest problem with Europeans is that they have failed to move beyond the age of colonialism when dealing with Asia. Too often, European leaders still see asian nationalisms through the clumsy, racially tinted lens of the colonial enterprise where there are multiple distinct regions of Occidentals and a gradient shade of Oriental. China's rhetoric plays well to the European ear for it reinforces established beliefs.

For Europeans, the distinctions between each other are explicit and rooted in the rise of the colloquial languages of the small kingdoms against the heavy-handed centralized Latin influence of the Catholic church. The differences are "obvious" and accepted for the European nations (no matter when the last borders were drawn).

But if Vietnam, a nation and new national culture that was built out of French colonialism, is imaginable, why isn't Taiwanese?

4. Opponent's Ethnics:

China tried to play this both ways. On one end they supported the self-determination of the Ukraine and opposed Russian hegemony. On the other end they seek racial-cultural hegemony in its campaign against Taiwan while denying self determination.

5. Integration is a Bomb:

Once Taiwan's sovereignty is annexed by China through economic or military means, it may regain that sovereignty, but probably only in a realignment following some type of violence in which China falls. This of course would set up a repeat of the scenario we are seeing today.

Readin said...

You left one lesson out: you can't always count on America for defense so you'd better be sure to have your own deterrent.

What's really scary about the Ukraine crisis is that America and Russia signed an treaty saying they would guarantee Ukraine's borders in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.

It is no surprise that Russia under Putin would violate such an agreement. Indeed Russia's interest in Sevastopol is much like Britain's interest Gibraltar or America's interest in the Panama Canal. Just as no competent patriotic leader of Britain would give up control of Gibraltar, and no competent patriotic leader of America would give up control of the Panama Canal, we should expect that no competent patriotic leader of Russia would allow the loss of Sevastopol, so it is no surprise that Putin would take positive actions to guarantee access.

However, we signed the agreement to guarantee Ukraine's borders. If we fail to do so we undermine all similar agreements we've made around the world. And in particular, we make it nearly impossible to persuade emerging nuclear powers to exchange security guarantees for nuclear weapons. If Ukraine loses Crimea, can we expect Iran to sign any agreements with us? Could North Korea trust us to keep China and the South Koreans out?

But this isn't just America's problem. The whole world has an interest in stopping nuclear proliferation. European countries and every other civilized nation should be willing to pay some price (hopefully just economic) to stop this aggression.

Sadly, so far it looks like our current president doesn't understand the severity of the situation. I hope he's doing a lot more behind the scenes because his public stance has been pretty weak.

An early strong response might have allowed Putin to back down with a lot less loss of face - before he had committed so many troops and indicated how far he wanted to go. Now it is hard to imagine any good solution to this situation.

In any case, the message to Taiwan should be loud and clear. Taiwan doesn't even have a clear guarantee of protection like Ukraine did. Were China to invade at the right time (when the right (or wrong depending on how you look at it) president is leading America, Taiwan will be on its own for a very long time - perhaps for as long as 8 years.