Taiwan Matters — A Guest Post

Below is a contributed post from my friend in Taiwan Bill Stimson. This post was printed yesterday in the Taipei Times.


Taiwan Matters

by William R. Stimson

For the U.S. to stop defending democratic Taiwan from China’s military in return for the $1.14 trillion of America’s debt that China holds? That so harebrained a scheme made it onto the op-ed page of the New York Times this past week shows that there are those who really believe the myth that with China looming ever bigger on the horizon, Taiwan assumes less and less strategic importance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That China is on course to becoming tomorrow’s superpower is not the issue at all. The issue is that if this super-powerful China of tomorrow thinks and acts anywhere near the way it does today, it is on a collision course with the interests of the rest of the world – and, as we can already see beginning to happen today, the rest of the world can very easily come out the loser. China does not play by the same rules as everybody else. It cheats on everything, bullies everybody, and demands that far and wide the lies it defines as truth be seen as true. Its Nobel Peace Prize winner sits in jail – as do so many of its noblest spirits who have dared to fight illegally polluted lakes, censorship, official corruption, and the like. The line we hear from China’s leaders, not too different from what we hear from dictators everywhere, is that these reformers and protestors seek to impose on China alien outside ideas and norms that have no place in a Chinese society or a Chinese culture. Taiwan’s existence as a real free market Chinese economy, thriving Chinese democracy and two-party Chinese system – a sovereign and independent Chinese republic whose Chinese people enjoy all the basic human rights and freedoms as do those who live in America or Western Europe shows China’s party line to be a lie and by doing so lights the way for another path of development China might pursue. For this reason, Taiwan matters.

It is very much in the world’s and in America’s strategic interest to protect Taiwan’s right to determine its own destiny. Whether Taiwan becomes part of China or not is much less important than that the Taiwanese themselves, and only the Taiwanese, make that decision. This is what China actually fears more than Taiwan’s independence – that the example might be made, the idea might get out, to the far-flung corners of the People’s Republic that the power can come, should come, and deserves to come from the people themselves. This idea very badly needs to get out if the culture, economy, and political system of tomorrow’s super-powerful China is to more closely resemble a global leader that can be a co-operating partner and friend to the world and to America, not a more powerful, selfish, and conniving adversary than it is today. And so Taiwan’s strategic importance is out of all proportion to its small size and unfairly marginalized role in today’s world. Like a catalyst, it has the power to change everything all around it.

Trade this possibility in for a piddling $1.14 trillion? The idea of ditching Taiwan for money is absurd. By publishing the piece the New York Times did us all a wonderful service by showing the festering depths of the economic determinism that has crept into and corrupted America. Were America to ditch Taiwan, it would be ditching just about the only thing it has left – its core values. Because of a narrow-minded focus on material gain on the part of more than a few, it has already ditched its own economy and that of the free world, ditched the future of the promising young men and women pouring out of its universities and universities everywhere, ditched its worker’s jobs and with them its competitive edge in so many manufacturing technologies, and even ditched the pretense that it is a democracy as the very bankers it bailed out spend the billions given them to buy up its elected officials.

It’s time Americans as a whole stood back and took a look at their currency. The faces on it are those of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. The vision of these men, not money, is what America primarily stands for, and what America has to give, not just to the disenfranchised and downtrodden in China and everywhere – but, as the Occupy movement demonstrates, to those at home as well.

In Asia, Taiwan stands in a unique way for everything America’s founding fathers believed in and it deserves America’s support, today and in the future.

* * *

William R. Stimson is an American writer who has lived in Taiwan for nine years now.

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Dump Taiwan

Paul V. Kane is a former international security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of government, and a Marine who served in Iraq. His op-ed in today’s NY Times is a stunner. No, really. A stunner.

WITH a single bold act, President Obama could correct the country’s course, help assure his re-election, and preserve our children’s future.

He needs to redefine America’s mindset about national security away from the old defense mentality that American power derives predominantly from our military might, rather than from the strength, agility and competitiveness of our economy. He should make it clear that today American jobs and wealth matter more than military prowess….

There are dozens of initiatives President Obama could undertake to strengthen our economic security. Here is one: He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015.

This would be a most precious prize to the cautious men in Beijing, one they would give dearly to achieve. After all, our relationship with Taiwan, as revised in 1979, is a vestige of the cold war.

Today, America has little strategic interest in Taiwan, which is gradually integrating with China economically by investing in and forming joint ventures with mainland Chinese firms. The island’s absorption into mainland China is inevitable.

But the status quo is dangerous; if Taiwanese nationalist politicians decided to declare independence or if Beijing’s hawks tired of waiting for integration and moved to take Taiwan by force, America could suddenly be drawn into a multitrillion-dollar war.

There will be “China hawks” who denounce any deal on Taiwan as American capitulation, but their fear of a Red China menacing Asia is anachronistic. Portraying the United States as a democratic Athens threatened by China’s autocratic Sparta makes for sensational imagery, but nothing could be further from reality.

The way this Harvard scholar talks you’d think Taiwan is on an inevitable track to integrate with mainland China. I see it differently; I think they’re going to grow a lot closer, but “reunification” is not in the stars. Not for many years, if ever.

This is an extraordinary piece. The author believes that ditching Taiwan (“slowly and gradually”) will help turn the US around and boost Obama’s standing everywhere. It would, he said, immediately eliminate 10 percent of the US’s national debt (which could well be true.) Taiwan would be a super-bargaining chip, giving us leverage to get China to agree to stop supporting terrorist states and to write off our $1.4 trillion debt owned by China.

The only thing missing from this op-ed: the Taiwanese. I lived there for nearly two years. This “solution” would be met by abject horror, and not just by the Green fanatics. (And not all Greens are fanatics; I know some splendid ones. But I also know a few fanatics. And when I say fanatics….) I know plenty of politically apathetic Chinese who emphatically say Taiwan will never accept being ruled by the CCP. And they really mean it.

Read the whole column. You can’t criticize him for not being bold enough. But does bold equal bright?

Update: James Fallows goes after Kane, and you have to go there.

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“Why China Will Never Rule the World”

Canadian Troy Parfitt, an English teacher in Taiwan for ten years, believes passionately in the title of his new book, Why China Will Never Rule the World. “China, China, China: it seems it’s all you ever hear these days,” he laments. His book, part travelogue, part tome, argues, at times persuasively, that a country that clings to Confucianism, Legalism, totalitarianism (his claim, not mine) and education by rote memorization can never, ever be the word’s No. 1 superpower.

As I read the book, which Parfitt sent to me, I had all sorts of thoughts.

Thoughts like, Oh my god.

And, What the fuck?

And, Is he really saying that?

First let me say that despite all my problems with this book, I recommend you read it, if only for the beautiful writing, attention to detail, the delightful anecdotes and some thought-provoking questions it raises about China’s future. On the other hand, I was appalled at Parfitt’s attitude toward both China and Taiwan. In spite of his finding some things to praise about each, it is more than clear from the very start that he harbors a good deal of contempt toward both countries.

Let’s look at the book’s attributes first. It’s written as a travelogue of the writer’s extended trip through China. Wherever he goes, Parfitt recreates the scenes with large frescoes that then go into the finest details, giving you such vivid imagery you feel like you’re there, and the pages turn by themselves. It immediately brought to mind Simon Winchester’s travel diary, The River at the Center of the World (which I reviewed some years ago here). Like Winchester, Parfitt is a wonderful spinner of yarns; the book is really a string of anecdotes laid end to end, but Parfitt is a good enough writer that it all holds together quite well.

Here’s an example of his writing, a depiction of a cruise up the Yangtze in a boat with 40 tourists.

The immense hills that guide the river grew dim, becoming featureless masses which rose up at intervals to lick the thinning strip of hazy blue which hovered just above. Overhead, the sky drained itself of color. It turned wine dark and offered a pair of glistening stars for consideration. Before long, we were moving atop an onyx slate dotted with visual echoes of extinguished suns. Lengthy stretches of nothingness were punctuated by towns and villages that appeared in the distance as bracelets and pendants. Our searchlight remained fixed on the southern bank, illuminating man-made bits and pieces (a window pane, a guardrail) within a circle of murky green. When the horn sounded, 80 hands shot up to cover as many ears.

Nice. And that’s just a random paragraph. He has also done a remarkable job researching every location he visits, and offers an engaging overview of Chinese history that the layman will find quite useful.

The problem is that Parfitt can find practically nothing in China that he admires. In most cities he sees squalor, drudgery, poverty and backwardness. Now, those things certainly exist in many Chinese cities, but there is much more to China than that. Parfitt seems to seek out and dwell on the negative. He has some nice things to say about Nanjing (it’s “pleasant” and “attractive”) as well as Xiamen, where he enjoys visiting the island, but the praise is lukewarm at best and is totally drowned out by his hostility toward the PRC. He finds nothing to admire in Qingdao (quite the contrary), and says of Hangzhou that “it wasn’t beautiful at all when I went there.”

As for the lake itself, it was just a lake; steel grey and surrounded by dim brooding hills that were marked by pagodas. Having grown up minutes from a whole host of lakes that were much finer, not to mention free of man-made objects, I failed to see what all the fuss was about.

I suppose we all have our own opinions. My own is that Xihu is one of the world’s most gorgeous, enchanting natural wonders. And it’s not “just a lake.” It’s some of the most lush and beautiful scenery on earth, surrounding a magnificent lake with breathtaking hills behind it, creating a perfect and serene balance of nature. Does he want to see Hangzhou’s beauty?

Unsurprisingly, upon arriving in Beijing, the first things he deems worthy to comment on are the spitting, a car that nearly hits a pedestrian and the brawl that ensues, and the people’s general unfriendliness.

Beijing residents, or Beijingren, are not the world’s softest, most cuddly people. China, after all, represents the cultural center of China. The capital’s inhabitants are notoriously conceited, strident, aggressive and obtuse. They seem to be in constant possession of a horseradish temper and appear to like nothing more than a good argument. They absolutely have to have the last word, and they smoke and spit like there’s no tomorrow.

Alright. This so flies in the face of everything I know about Beijing, I simply can’t understand where he’s coming from. I and all my friends in China love Beijing in large part because the people are so wonderful. They are nearly the exact opposite of Parfitt’s description. He then spends a lengthy paragraph telling us how popular and gruesome public executions in Beijing used to be, how awful the audio tour of the Forbidden City is, and how Beijing taxi drivers don’t know where anything is. This is a recurrent theme in the book; wherever he goes in China, no one knows where anything is. And no one wants to be responsible for anything.

Certainly this rising superpower, this fearsome dragon, this nation that was supposedly shaking or on the cusp of shaking the world, had a slogan, this would be it: meiyou banfa. There’s nothing that can be done. You can actually see people mentally moving toward it. It’s like a goal that, once attained, alleviates one from all responsibility.

There’s some truth to this, of course. Anyone who’s worked with Chinese companies, for instance, knows that there’s a natural inclination to pass the buck and avoid responsibility. Better someone else be accountable for it if something goes wrong. But there’s much more to the Chinese than that. My friend Lisa and I recently traveled through Guizhou and when we got lost and asked for help, people didn’t just tell us where to go, they took us there. These sweeping generalizations about the Chinese, all negative, every single one, soon wore on me.

And then we get to politics. I thought I used to be hard on the CCP. I can’t hold a candle to Parfitt. In arguing there is no shred of evidence China will ever become a democratic state, he writes:

China was, pure and simply, a totalitarian state, and those who advocated an alternative tended to deny the obvious: communism fit China like a glove. It was Legalism, Confucianism, feudalism and the teachings of Lao Tsu all wrapped up into one, which is to say it represented a potent and frequently lethal blend of a number of native ideologies that were in and of themselves highly toxic and remedies for disaster.

The essence of his argument is that China’s future will be determined by its past, and that that past precludes China from ascending to international leadership. China cannot integrate with the world, cannot give up its obsession with harmony and control of its people’s minds through rote memorization and propaganda. He comes to the conclusion that China does not want change.

Along with Lu Xun, one of the author’s heroes is Bo Yang, the Nationalist Party member who believed China’s only path to greatness was to embrace Western civilization and who wrote The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture to stake his claim. In one of the most outspoken parts of the book, Parfitt delves into Bo’s worldview.

Chinese history is not glorious at all, he argues, but rather thousands of years of uninterrupted warfare, carnage, violence, oppression, mayhem and misery…. Crucially, he points out that the Chinese notion of a harmonious society revolves around the quote-unquote harmonious relationship between inferiors and superiors. Beyond that, harmony does not exist… Bo Yang goes on to argue that China has contributed virtually nothing to civilization. He characterizes the Cultural Revolution as entirely normal; the Tiananmen Square Incident as “back to normal.”

It’s hardly surprising that Bo Yang is Parfitt’s hero — this is coming from the mouth of a Chinese intellectual, not an obnoxious foreigner, and it’s much harder to dismiss it as “anti-China” propaganda.

All of this makes for compelling and thought-provoking reading, mainly because Parfitt makes his argument so well. For all my irritation with his negative tone and broad generalizations, there were definitely many times when I found myself agreeing with him, especially about education and propaganda and the lack of eagerness to embrace meaningful change.

One of the things I liked least about this book was a little game Parfitt enjoyed playing: approaching Chinese people, engaging in discussion with them and then ambushing them, asking what China, or Confucius, have to offer the world. He seems to enjoy putting these people on the spot and watching them squirm. One of these discussions takes place with a director of Canada’s Confucius Institutes, and I truly felt for her.

When he asks her, “What does Confucius have to teach non-Chinese and non-Asian people?” she responds, somewhat predictably, with a single word, “Harmony,” the reason why China was able to enjoy “5,000 years” of peace and stability. Why is he doing this? He already has come up with his own answer to the question, which is Nothing.

In Nanjing he walks up to some young people, strikes up a conversation and then asks, “What’s an aspect of Chinese culture that the West ought to copy?” (Isn’t this kind of rude?) They had no answer, which is the answer Parfitt wanted them to have. But here I need to throw in another “On the other hand…” And that is, Is there another answer to Parfitt’s question? What should the West copy? It’s not an invalid question; I just don’t like the way Parfitt asks it.

In the last section of the book, Parfitt’s animosity toward China reaches over the Straits to embrace Taiwan, his home for ten years. He praises much of Taiwan’s natural beauty and does not deny the many charms of living in Taipei. But he spends far more time on the negatives – the Keystone Cops-like Taiwanese police, the political fistfights, the bad driving, but especially the education system, which he sees as nearly as awful as the Mainland’s. (Which begs the question, “What was he doing teaching there for ten years?” He never tells us.) While he acknowledges Taiwan’s huge strides forward since the 1980s, he still seems to delight in making fun of the country.

This is not Parfitt’s first book, and looking at the reviews of his earlier book, Notes from the Other China, it seems he is entirely consistent. The book deals with Taiwan, and the Taipei Times had this to say:

What Troy Parfitt comes to sound like…is a bad traveler, an insensitive loud-mouth ranting on about the absurdities of life “abroad.” As his epigraph he quotes a sensible sentence from Samuel Johnson that points out that travel allows you to modify fantasy by exposure to the real thing. The assault on Asian ways of life that follows – and the same treatment Taiwan receives is handed out, at lesser length, to the other Asian countries the writer visits – consequently comes as an even greater surprise.

(Michael Turton, a blogger in Taiwan who I admire, had far kinder words for the book.)

Finally, let me make one point about Parfitt’s premise that China will not shake the world: It already has and it always will for the rest of our lives. This effect is economic, but what in this world matters (sadly) other than economics? China’s thirst for industrial metals like copper and steel and silver creates huge ups and downs in the markets, and Chinese labor has changed the face of the workforce across the globe. China’s purchase of our debt makes it joined with the US at the hip. China’s investment in resources in Africa and elsewhere is creating whole new spheres of influence and changing the balance of power. And due to the sheer size of the Chinese market, there is simply no question that Western businesses, like automakers and producers of luxury goods, see it as the planet’s Last Great Hope — and it really is, at least for some industries. No matter how much you might dislike the CCP, and no matter how convinced you are they will not rise to be No. 1, China’s economic might and influence are undeniable. It is not for nothing that you keep hearing, “China, China, China.”

By this point, if you’ve managed to make it this far, I suspect you’re wondering why I’d bother to write such a long review of a book like this, and why you should ever bother to read it. The answer is, as I said at the beginning, that Parfitt has done an amazing job in collecting and tying together hundreds of great anecdotes, combined with a good deal of history and political analysis, to create a highly readable and even enjoyable book, despite the parts that caused my blood pressure to rise. I actually think you would find it worth the time (I finished all 400+ pages in two days), and you’d definitely find yourself laughing at his trials and tribulations in China. A most interesting experience. I’m glad I read it.

You can see a video of Parfitt discussing his book here.

And yes, I know, this post is much too long. Apologies.

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Google, China and Taiwan

Below is a guest post by my friend in Taiwan Bill Stimson. This post doesn’t necessarily reflect my own viewpoint on the subject. There are a few points, in fact, that I’d take issue with, though I agree with the piece in spirit.


Information Imperialism?

by William R. Stimson

What if the Chinese government stopped lying to its people and admitted inconvenient truths? What if some in power were swept away as a result and others arose to take their place? Would this be the end of China as we know it? Would this spell the defeat of Chinese culture at the hands of the West?

Look at Taiwan. An opposition party, free elections, an uncensored Internet – still the environment is one every Chinese would recognize and feel at home in. These necessary modern developments are not a threat to China or its culture. The only ones they might threaten are those who grab for themselves a bit too much of what belongs to all. To preserve their prerogative to do this, and pass this on to their children, though it be at the expense of their culture, their nation, their people, and even their Communist ideology – this tiny percentage of the population in the People’s Republic strives at all cost to cover up what it is doing. It’s dishonest to its own people. It does everything in its power to prevent embarrassing truths from reaching them from foreign sources.

This latest bundle of untruths – that the Chinese Internet is open, the United States uses the Internet to dominate the world, and Western insistence on an uncensored Internet amounts to “information imperialism” because less-developed nations like China cannot possibly compete when it comes to information flow – contains one very interesting admission that has curiously not received the attention it deserves. Lies cannot stand, they’re not convincing, unless bundled with truths. The truth in all these falsehoods is that to the extent China continues to shackle itself by dominating the flow of information to its people, then no matter what impressive external manifestations of progress and prosperity it manages to feather itself with, in substance it remains, in the most important respect, a less-developed country and one that can never catch up.

The Chinese government’s cyber attack on Google is telling. A system that is closed, controlled, and dominated by a small minority – which is not the most creative or innovative segment of the society – can only progress by stealing or grabbing what does not belong to it. China’s whole foreign policy seems to boil down to grabbing Taiwan and preventing any discussion of how it grabbed Tibet. It unconscionably befriends whatever unsavory regime it needs to in order to grab resources. It’s even intent on grabbing tiny little islands way out at sea from neighboring countries all around. China is already big enough. What it has of most value is already inside it – it’s people and their superior creative potential. It needs to grab nothing. It needs instead to release its people’s vast potential so that it can stop being wasted; and the world needs this too of China.

Nobody knows from what tiny point in China’s vast society its most creative and innovative element might spring. It can come from anywhere, so everywhere needs to be free. Who could have predicted, for example, that a particular little Jewish boy brought by his father from Communist Russia to America would grow up to drop out of Stanford and become the co-founder of Google. Sergey Brin was a wonder who came, like true creative innovation always does, out of the blue.

How different is Google’s view of information to that of the Chinese government. It’s not about domination at all – but freedom and empowerment of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. How ironic that a Communist regime views information as a means to dominate while Google, an American company, views it as a means to liberate. Things are not what they seem. The consensus that China, in its present form, is the future begins to look wrong. The future may actually be Google, or some combination of China and Google. The company has hit upon a new way to do business that’s not the tired old exploitative American capitalism, which fits in so well with Beijing’s schemes – but that’s not Communism either. Rather it falls somewhere in between. This business organization has found a way to earn money by benefiting the collective, and doing it in a way that enables and develops the creative vision of its employees. Google does business in a different way. There is no end of riches in the direction it’s taken and no end of business niches where its ideas can be replicated and further developed. More profit can be made by cultivating than by exploiting people and the planet. It’s that simple. Compare this to Chinese companies that put poison in toys and fake protein in baby formulas.

This venture that Google has started out on in the end can’t help but make China and the U.S. partners rather than adversaries. It behooves the Chinese government to rise to the occasion and let Google come through unfettered to the Chinese people. Whatever destabilizing effects this may have on China’s corrupt bosses will be offset a million times over by the deeper stabilization that can’t help but arise as thousands of Chinese Sergey Brins are empowered to surface from the most marginal and unlikely spots all over China’s vast map with innovations that make China’s glitzy prosperity and progress not just a surface phenomenon based on what has been grabbed, stolen, or diverted from the West – but a true manifestation of China’s underlying cultural greatness and the genius of its people.

* * *

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Taiwan seeks World Heritage status – for traditional Chinese characters

I’m not making it up:

Taiwan plans to apply for World Heritage status for the complex Chinese characters that China stopped using after 1949 but Taiwan continues to use today, President Ma Ying-jeou said Saturday. “In order to preserve the world’s oldest and most beautiful language, I have entrusted minister without portfolio Ovid Tzeng to prepare for making the application,” he told an international seminar on teaching Chinese, held in Taipei.

Ma said he has asked Tseng to “actively apply” for world heritage status for complex Chinese characters, but did not say when Taipei will make the application.

Ma reiterated his appeal to China that the Chinese mainland, while using the simplified Chinese characters, should still let people know how to read the complex characters.

And from the AFP yesterday:

Ma said he was afraid that the traditional system, which he said was a “beautiful language” that has documented China’s history for more than 3,000 years, was giving way to the simplified one.

“Only about 40 million people in the world, mostly in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau are using traditional Chinese characters,” Ma said while addressing hundreds of Chinese-language experts at a seminar in Taipei Saturday, according to a statement published on the presidential office website.

“The number accounts for a marginal one-33rd of the people using the simplified system,” he added.

Ma said he had ordered the government to set up a special committee tasked with pressing the UN to place the traditional Chinese characters on its world cultural heritage list.

I’ve heard all the arguments about why each system is better, and even heard arguments for the abolition of both in favor of pinyin. (This site has some interesting thoughts on the subject.) All I can do is speak for myself. I started learning traditional characters in Taiwan and after a year switched to simplified when I moved to the motherland at the end of 2006. The verdict: simplified characters are a hell of a lot easier to memorize, and traditional are undoubtedly more like works of art. Easier doesn’t mean better. Esperanto is probably a lot simpler to learn than English, but I want to read Shakespeare and Milton and Dan Brown in their native language.

No matter which you feel is better, is Ma’s approach a sensible one? It almost has the makings of a publicity stunt. What will World Heritage status actually mean for traditional Chinese?

Thanks to the reader who sent me this story and links. It’s a strange one.

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Fun in Taiwan

No time to add brilliant commentary. I just want to say this reminds me of the fen qing throwing eggs at Japanese cars and businesses back in 2005. What a great way to further your cause.

Hundreds of Taiwanese protesters surrounded a hotel Wednesday where a Chinese envoy was attending a dinner banquet, tossing eggs, burning Chinese flags and trapping him inside into the early morning hours.

Chen Yunlin, the highest-ranking Communist Chinese official to ever visit Taiwan, has drawn daily protests since his five-day trip began Monday.

He was able to leave at 2:15 a.m. after police with riot shields and clubs began shoving the protesters away from the front of the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei hotel. Some demonstrators had to be dragged or carried away

The Chinese official came to sign a trade agreement with Taiwan that many believe will greatly ease tensions between the rivals. But many of the protesters distrust Beijing and oppose closer ties with the island’s biggest security threat….

Many of the approximately 800 protesters Wednesday night supported permanent independence, and some chanted ”Communist bandit get out.” They tossed eggs and pounded on cars that tried to leave the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei hotel.

Brave heroes or crazed idiots? Your call.

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PRC meets ROC: “As important as US elections”

As Chinese diplomats prepare for their first meeting ever with Taiwan on the colony’s own soil, John Pomfret slams Taiwan’s “sclerotic” pro-independence activists and makes the case for improving ties to China as soon as possible for the good of Taiwan’s citizenry. He also slams the CCP for the usual reasos when it comes to their stance on Taiwan: they’re dogmatic and they’re stupid. Even the issue of calling Ma “president” becomes a huge deal.

The reason that I am not that optimistic that the Chinese will act like good guests and call Ma ‘president,’ is because in general the PRC is a lousy winner. Right now, its position — its military, its economy and its geopolitical heft — dwarfs that of Taiwan. So why not give a little? Call Ma ‘president.’ The reason is that China is run by a group of nine guys — on the standing committee of the Politburo. If any of these characters suggested that China back off of its global full-court press to limit Taiwan’s influence by addressing Ma Ying-jeou as ‘president,’ that official — and all the thousands of people who work for him and rely on him for patronage — would be weakened. China’s leadership is run by men (and they are 99.99 male) who are paranoid of being seen as too conciliatory. They basically don’t understand that in order to improve ties with Taiwan, China will need to woo not just Taiwan’s business class but its people. China’s failure to see this limits the Communists’ wiggle room on issues like these. The Chinese government will justify its failure to break any ground with Taiwan by cloaking itself in its “principled” stand. And Chen will return to Beijing with a few new deals but nothing else.

Now for the Taiwanese independence activists. Since Ma was inaugurated, there have been a number of protests against Ma and his moderate stand on China. Most recently on Oct. 25, 600,000 turned out against Ma. In late October, a Taiwanese legislator and six associates helped beat up a Chinese official, Zhang Mingqing, who was holding initial talks in Taiwan about Chen’s visit…[I]f you look at Taiwan’s situation honestly, the only way actually to ensure its continued existence as a government separate from China, is to improve ties with China. That’s what Ma is trying to do. Why would Tsai and her people want to stop it? The only reason I can determine is that they want to create a crisis because only in a crisis do their politics have any traction among most of Taiwan’s people.

I became disillusioned with Taiwan’s green movement a long time ago (sorry Michael, nothing personal) for very similar reasons. Just because the PRC is dogmatic and reactionary and obsessive doesn’t mean the ROC has to be as well.

Pomfret says the meeting is as significant as the US elections, but based on his own argument I’d have to disagree: at least the US elections will have a meaningful (and probably dramatic) conclusion. If it goes according to Pomfret’s scenario this will just be more of the same.

On a somewhat irrelevant note, I wish Pomfret would stop stringing a bunch of questions together, a habit he continues in today’s post. A commenter here once delivered some classic snark on this annoying tendency.

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Open thread, or whatever

[Bumped up to keep an open thread on top.]

Busy with some big events. But want to share some links and open a thread now that the ones below are running out of steam.

First, a superb book review on the life of China’s female migrant workers who leave the countryside for work in cities like Dongguan.

The women’s road from village to factory job is lined with manipulators and cheats, and the schools, which busily copy one another’s curriculums, in turn teach the virtues of lying as a means of getting ahead. “People who are too honest in this society will lose out,” one instructor told the author.

That’s true in a lot of places. Here especially, for lots of reasons.

Second, a surprisingly intelligent Dowd column of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama and the knee-jerk revulsion so many Americans feel at the notion of a Muslim in their midst.

In a gratifying “have you no sense of decency, Sir and Madam?” moment, Colin Powell went on “Meet the Press” on Sunday and talked about Khan, and the unseemly ways John McCain and Palin have been polarizing the country to try to get elected. It was a tonic to hear someone push back so clearly on ugly innuendo.

Even the Obama campaign has shied away from Muslims. The candidate has gone to synagogues but no mosques, and the campaign was embarrassed when it turned out that two young women in headscarves had not been allowed to stand behind Obama during a speech in Detroit because aides did not want them in the TV shot.

Violence in Taiwan:

Taiwanese television showed Zhang Mingqing, vice chairman of a mainland association handling cross-strait relations, lying on the ground beside his eyeglasses. Other footage showed an elderly woman hitting his car window with her cane and a pro-independence activist with a green headband stomping on the roof of the car.

That followed an incident Monday in which about 200 demonstrators yelled, cursed and heckled Zhang as he took the podium at Tainan National University of the Arts. Zhang was in Taiwan for an academic symposium, ostensibly in a nonofficial capacity. Taiwan and China often communicate through unofficial channels, given their strained relations.

Finally, Pomfret sounds gloomy about how the global financial crisis will affect China.

Any time the official New China News Agency files a piece with the headline: “Experts: China’s economy has ability to recover from slowdown,” it’s time to worry about China’s economy. You’ve already heard the news, no doubt.

Five straight quarters of slower growth. China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced this week that the nation’s economy grew at an annual rate of 9 percent in the quarter ending Sept. 30, the lowest since 2003 — when the SARS epidemic turned the economy upside down. Exports are shrinking so fast that some economists are predicting the sector will not grow at all next year.

More ominously for “social stability,” however, are the lay-offs. More than half of China’s 7,000 plus toy makers are out of business. More than 67,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises have gone belly up in the first nine months of this year, according to a report in the China Business News this week. There are an increasing number of reports about labor unrest among those turfed out of work.

For the record, I think Pomfret’s view is way too bleak. China has what it takes to deal with the situation: Money.

I think the only good news today is that Al Qaeda “endorsed” McCain. They endorsed Kerry the last time and look what happened.

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Taiwan to switch to Hanyu pinyin?

I’ll believe it when I see it but it is certainly about time. Source article here; the article they got it from, in Chinese, is here.

This is one of those super-sensitive topics in Taiwan, and whenever I asked my friends over there if they wanted Taiwan to standardize using dalu pinyin they nearly shouted at me, “No!” Thus one shop window is selling xiabu xiabu, another shabu shabu, another syabu syabu, etc., all on the same road.

If it’s true, it could be an important turning point as Taiwan faces reality and returns to the motherland.

Update: Just to be safe, knowing how hysterical some readers get: that last line is semi-tongue-in-cheek. Semi. I do think Taiwan has already faced the reality that it is tied to China in many ways, and that most of its people favor some form of reconciliation, if only to help shore up their woeful economy. Being something of a pragmatist, I would have to say that a joining of the two is a matter of when and not if, even if such a joining is not justified by history (and what a bitter debate that topic can ignite).

English description of the new legislation, from a message board and unverified at the moment:

Hanyu Pinyin will be adopted as the main transliteration in Taiwan, instead of the Tongyong Pinyin, which had been used island-wide for the last six years. The Cabinet approved a proposal by the Ministry of Education (MOE) Tuesday. Hanyu Pinyin is to help Taiwan’s internationalization and international competitiveness, said the MOE.

Now, onto simplifying the characters….

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An essay on Taiwan and China

I’ve been corresponding a bit with a writer in Taiwan, William Stimson, who has a very interesting site – not a blog, but more a collection of writings that’s well worth a look.

He also sent me an essay on one of our favorite topics, the smoldering Taiwan-China conflict [PDF file], written by a friend of his, Jerome Keating. So here it is; it, too, is worth a read. If you’re of the school that Taiwan rightfully belongs to China, your blood pressure may increase several notches by the time you’ve finished the piece.

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