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10 August, 2018

Taiwan's Past Matters Less Than Taiwan's Present

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The time was, sir, when we loved the King and the people of Great Britain with an affection truly filial. We felt ourselves interested in their glory. We shared in their joys and sorrows. We cheerfully poured the fruits of all our labour into the lap of our mother country, and without reluctance expended our blood and treasure in their cause... We felt ourselves happy in our connection with her, nor wished it to be dissolved; but our sentiments are altered. 
Malden, Massachusetts "Statement of Independence" (1776)

But admitting, that we were all of English descent, what does it amount to? Nothing!
Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

United States Naval War College professor Lyle Goldstein has an uncharacteristically snide piece out in the National Interest this week. His piece is a response to an earlier essay by Gordon Chang that the National Interest published the week previous. At issue is the posture the American people should take towards the inhabitants of Taiwan. Let's quote the section that drew my attention:
Chang and I do somehow agree on a few things, however. We are evidently in agreement that “… war can start over Taiwan.” We both apparently assess that “… the People’s Republic [of China is not] … the Third Reich …” Our geographical reckoning is likewise similar enough that he does admit that Taiwan is indeed “on the other side of the planet.” He even concedes that “At one time, the leaderships of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China were linked by the same race, culture, and language.”

The last point is actually a rather powerful statement, considering that identities are not “constructed” overnight (even allowing for their considerable malleability). Indeed, that fact of history flies in the face of Chang’s bizarre claim that the Taiwan issue is not a “family quarrel” as I put it in the penultimate line of my original piece. Indeed, he reveals what many Taiwan nationalists would like to cover up and what few Americans seem to know: that to the present day, “… Taipei formally maintains it is the legitimate government of China.” Chang’s claim that this is not a “family quarrel” is nonsensical based on his own candid admissions. One may sympathize with the aspirations of the people of Taiwan to control their own destiny, of course, but the polls Chang cites cannot change the above facts of modern history.


And yet since the vast majority of Americans are completely unfamiliar with Taiwan history—quite understandably given it’s on the other side of the planet—let’s review a few basic points that are always omitted from standard pro-Taiwan independence polemics, such as Chang’s. After Ming remnants fled to Taiwan in the mid-seventeenth century, the ascendant Qing dynasty invaded the island and solidified Chinese rule in 1683. In other words, Beijing formally ruled Taiwan for almost a century before the American Revolution. That makes for a rather strong historical claim. Speaking of historical claims to territory, Americans probably do not want to delve too deeply into the details surrounding certain American annexations like Hawaii. It’s best to probably leave those bones where they are buried.


In 1895, not many years after the Chinese government designated Taiwan as its own province (separate from Fujian Province), Japan conquered the island. As a colony of Tokyo, many Taiwanese tragically fought and died for the losing Japanese side in the Pacific War. The bottom line, as our great President Harry Truman realized and stated unequivocally in early 1950 (see introduction), is that the Cairo Declaration is very clear: all territories conquered by Japan should be returned to China—including explicitly the island of Taiwan (then called Formosa). Of course, many in Japan (and more than a few in Taiwan) have nostalgia for the “good old days,” and a hint of this is indeed revealed in Chang’s critique when he states: “There are Japanese islands south of Taipei, and on a clear day one can see Taiwan’s mountains from Japanese soil.” While Japanese nationalists may sigh with emotion at such florid descriptions, Americans are rightly skeptical. What about all the Americans who suffered grave atrocities at Japanese hands and have never seen any kind of justice? Japanese nationalism and related threat inflation tendencies are unlikely to stir Americans to take massive risks for Taiwan. Then again, there is the other inconvenient fact of geography that the main islands of Japan (e.g. Kyushu) are some 700 miles northeast of Taiwan, and the soil Chang mentions with such reverence (Ishigaki island) amounts to barely a speck.


Perhaps Henry Kissinger also understood the stark fact of the Cairo Declaration when he went about the arduous but nonetheless vital process of dismantling the U.S. relationship with Taiwan during the 1970s in an effort to open formal diplomatic relations with the PRC. To conclude this historical discussion, Americans need to realize that, given Truman’s clear decision not to intervene, it was only the actions of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung in June 1950, of course, that made Taiwan into a semi-permanent protectorate of the United States. If not for that decision by Pyongyang, Taiwan’s fate would have been similar to Hainan —another sizable Chinese island. [1]
There are folks who will dispute Goldstein's historical claims point by point. I will let them strain at such gnats, if they wish to do so. Here I want to narrow in on Goldstein's larger problem.

On the eve of American Revolution, somewhere between 15% and 20% of Americans were Tories. This percentage varied by region. In places like South Carolina it is likely that one in four colonists identified more with the British government than the American revolutionaries. Their commitment to Britain should not surprise: most American colonies had been British possessions for more than a century. The free inhabitants were overwhelmingly of British stock (though the Mid-Atlantic colonies were already taking on the character of large immigrant melting pots), they spoke the English language, worshiped at the Church of England (congregationalism, another English invention, was almost as common), and praised the glories of English race and their British heritage. [2] 

Contrast this with the Taiwanese situation. As Chang reports, the percentage of Taiwanese that identify as Chinese (中国人) is comparable to the number of loyalist Americans in 1775. The percentage of Taiwanese under 35 who identify with the mainland is even smaller. It has been more than a century since the Taiwanese were ruled by the same regime as the people across the strait. Among other things, this is important because—as the generation of reformers and intellectuals that came to power in the early 1900s recognized—national identity and cohesion was extremely weak under the Qing. A strong sense of shared Chinese identity had to be built from the ground-up. Built it was, but the Taiwanese were never part of that building (Chiang Kai-shek's attempts to instill the same sense of national identity in Taiwan that he had successfully fostered in many parts of the mainland were fatally undermined by the massacres and terrors that accompanied them; even the imposition of the Mandarin language upon the populace, the symbol of modern Chinese national identity par excellence, is slowly being rolled back). The nature of the institutions that divides the two places is stark. The gap between the political values and practices of modern Taiwan and modern China is far and away more different than those which divided the Americans from the British in 1775.

Goldstein privileges historical precedent and cultural kinship above all else. As an American, he should know better. If historical precedent and cultural kinship truly did decide the fate of nations, America would not exist. By these standards very few modern countries would exist. The national identities, borders, and ideologies of the majority of states on this earth are 20th century creations. Historical accident has played a grand role in the creation of these peoples and nations. Goldstein would strip the people of Taiwan of self government because their regime would not exist today except by dint of Kim il-Sung's decision to march south in the early days of the Cold War. But curious path dependency is a mainstay of international affairs. The division of the Arab world into a dozen different states, the fracturing of Gran Columbia, the existence of India as a centralized state—in all these cases and more, the borders of today were the result of arbitrary political maneuvers of decades past. The accidental nature of these borders does not make the nationalist yearnings of those whose lives are ordered by them any less real. Goldstein's cant is not too different from the declarations of that blinkered sort who call Palestinian nationalism a terrible conspiracy, for the Arabs of Palestine lacked a strong and distinct identity until recently in their history. In either case, even if the claim is true it hardly matters. We do not live in the 1940s. The world has changed in the eight decades that have passed since the victors of Second World War divvied up the world between them. Our policy towards Taiwan should reflect the realities of Taiwanese society today, not its character decades or centuries ago.

Goldstein's general attitude towards history is a bit mysterious to me. In both his editorials and his book he is fast to accuse Americans of not knowing or caring about Asia's history, but he is extremely selective in the history he chooses to call his readers attention to. [4] In this piece, his digression on Japanese war atrocities is odd and largely irrelevant to his thesis. Why is it there? One of the great accomplishments of the post-war order was the United States and Japan's ability to build a truly cooperative relationship despite the evils each inflicted upon each other years before. We are now decades past that rapprochement. Most who lived in the age of anger, fear, and racist rage that defined U.S.-Japanese relations in an earlier era are now dead.  In 2018, how could the Bataan Death March conceivably be a useful lens through which to view Asian politics?

I will not speculate about Goldstein's motives for focusing on the atrocities of Japan's imperial past, especially in an article that is ostensibly about Taiwan. I will, however, point out its consequences: Goldstein's framing obscures imperial Japan's actual relationship with modern Taiwanese identity. For fifty years, Taiwan was a part of the Japanese empire. Japanese imperialism was not destructive in Taiwan the way it was in most of the mainland. It was accompanied with little violence but a great deal of mutual trade, investment, and economic exchange. That does not make it right. But it does give substance to the notion that the Japanese occupation is just as much a part of Taiwan’s heritage as Qing suzerainty was. Even today, decades later, Taiwan has a cultural affinity with Japan that China proper does not. You see this in everything from the apps they use (e.g., the Taiwanese forgo WeChat and use the Japanese app Line instead) to the Taiwanese skill at queuing in quiet, well ordered lines. My personal impression is that the Taiwanese feel a stronger sense of kinship with the Japanese than they do with their "brothers" in mainland China. There are lots of ways to measure this (I'm partial to the LA Times writer who pointed out that one in three children books published in Taiwan are by Japanese authors), but lets stick with a financial one. After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, Taiwanese sent $95 million dollars across the strait. In response to the Tohoku tsunami, Taiwanese donated more than $250 million dollars of relief, more than half of it from individual donations. [5] I would wager (though I admit I have not seen any polls that confirm it) that if the Taiwanese were forced to choose between a political union with Japan and political union with the mainland, they would opt for the former by a large margin.

None of this really matters to Goldstein. For him nothing a Taiwanese feels or thinks ever matters. My frustration with Goldstein is that in his strivings to understand minds in Beijing he forgets that Beijing is not the only place that gets a say in the affair. As I wrote in my review of Goldstein's book:
Goldstein is curiously dismissive of [America's Pacific] allies’ concerns. One can sympathize with the time constraints that shaped his treatment of them—a titanic amount of research was required simply to survey the existing debates inside Washington D.C. and Beijing, and it would be too much to expect Goldstein to provide a thorough survey of the debates being had in Seoul, Manila, Taipei, Tokyo, Singapore, and New Delhi as well; but this unwillingness to consider events as seen by anyone outside of Beijing or Washington leads Goldstein to bizarre places. He outright dismisses Taiwan’s 23 million citizens with the curt (and unsubstantiated) claim that those who seek to put Taiwanese opinion first in discussions of their future “lack an objective view of history, culture, and identity.” Goldstein dismisses other allies’ fears that Beijing’s growing strength might harm their interests by comparing them to children’s “talk of monsters hiding under the bed or in the closet.” Patronizing comments of this sort undermine the spirit of mutual understanding Goldstein claims is central to successful strategy for peace. Meeting China Halfway begins with an earnest appeal to not treat the Chinese with arrogance, paternalism, or undue hypocrisy. This appeal would be far stronger if he avoided these same vices when discussing the lesser powers in the region. [6]
Years later we find Goldstein making the same errors. He still does not ask and does not know how people in Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, Hanoi, or Taipei think about the fate he has decided for them. He writes as if their actions will not matter. He sees the world as a place to be divided between Washington and Beijing, and cannot conceive of local powers working to subvert that end. His "cooperation spiral" approach to ending Sino-American conflict assumes that these countries will do whatever the U.S. and Beijing agree on. This is lunacy. That is the real lesson of 20th century international history. American foreign policy ventures have rarely failed because Americans did not understand their enemies. They failed time and again because Americans did not understand the true interests and intentions of their allies. Goldstein would have us make the same mistake again and again.

Given all of this, the insult Goldstein decided to end his piece with is poorly chosen:
Chang wrote a book in 2001 titled The Coming Collapse of China. This asinine title causes most genuine China specialists to chuckle—though many journalists and ideologues have admittedly been quite enraptured by the notion. No doubt, the book has sold well. But American diplomats and defense officials know better than to rest strategies on proven failures of judgment. [7]
Look folks: Gordon Chang gets a lot of flack for his book. And you know what? His book was clearly wrong. But in being wrong Chang really is not that different from any other analyst. I have written about political psychologist Philip Tetlock's pioneering work in this field before. [8] The short version: the average analyst, regardless of whether he is a famous pundit, think tank bottom feeder, academic egg-head, CIA stiff, or military desk jockey, is no better at predicting the course of world affairs than a dart throwing chimp. The difference between Chang and the rest is that Chang had the gumption to make his prediction so public and so unambiguous that he cannot avoid being judged for it.

Gumption alone does not make a good analyst. Accuracy matters. But given the rate of human failure in this domain, it makes little sense to judge an analyst solely for the accuracy of his or her predictions. A better metric: a good analyst is the one learns from past mistakes. Ideally, an analyst's internal models of the world should change as the international situation does. If new inputs are not changing outputs, then they have a problem. The analyst too committed to a favorite proposition, policy, or ideology to see the world transform before him is not an analyst that deserves to be taken seriously.  

I will be honest: I have not followed Chang close enough to know if the wares he has for sale are simply old brews in new bottles. I don't know if the Party's success in overcoming one challenge to their rule after another has changed the way he understands Chinese affairs. If the events of the last two decades have not caused him to update his priors, then he deserves all the derision folks like to pile on him.

On the other hand, I have followed Goldstein quite closely over the last few years. I am disappointed to find that nothing that has happened since he published his book has caused him to reassess his policy formula. Consider what has happened in just the last year and a half: we have seen the Hong Kong's independent institutions strangled. We have witnessed the slow erosion of Hong Konger's liberties. We have seen the Party construct a surveillance state unlike anything that has ever existed in human history. Most ominously for the Taiwanese, we have learned exactly how the Party deals with provinces full of separatist ideologues. These events have raised the stakes. One searches in vain for any recognition of this in Goldstein's writings. If you want to argue that Taiwan is impossible to defend, or that this defense would create an unacceptable risk of nuclear war—well, fine, go ahead and do so. But at this point the game, any analyst who argues that the United States should retreat from the defense of Taiwan needs to be brutally honest about the fate they are consigning the 23 million people of Taiwan to.


EDIT (18 Aug 2018): See my follow up post to this: "Taiwan will be defended by the bullet or not at all"


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[1] Lyle Goldstein, "The United States Must Be Realistic on Taiwan," National Interest, 7 August 2018.

[2]  For the classic investigation of these numbers, see Paul Smith, "The American Loyalists: Notes on Their Organization and Numerical Strength," The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 2 (Apr., 1968), pp. 259-277

[4] On this point, see the following passage from my review of his book here:
This hypocrisy is most glaring in Goldstein’s discussions of history. Goldstein states that his “book is built on the premise that history cannot be overlooked or papered over,"(14) and to drive the point home, he devotes an entire chapter to the history of U.S.-Chinese relations, driving in on the history of U.S. imperialism in China and the psychological after effects America’s imperial presence has in the China of today. This contrasts greatly with his treatment of China’s own foreign adventurism. Goldstein’s gloss of the Sino-Indian war of 1963, for example, devotes several paragraphs to the CIA attempt to arm and train Tibetan rebels, something the Chinese still remember. What he does not emphasize in this account are the events at the center of India’s historical memory—Nehru’s generous and unilateral concessions in favor of China in the 1950s, made in hope of a new partnership between the two countries, spurned by Mao on the grounds of domestic struggle. In India this rejection of Nehru’s offers is known as the “great betrayal,” and the culmination of this “betrayal” in the surprise attack on Indian forces in 1963 still defines Indian images of China today. This history as surely as important—I would argue far more important—to the future of Sino-Indian security than the CIA’s attempts to infiltrate Tibet. It is not mentioned. Readers also learn nothing about the violent legacy of China’s cold war policies in other countries discussed, despite the that every regional single power of note either fought a war directly with China or fought an insurgency funded and trained by Beijing. Goldstein describes attempts to stoke the flame of Maoist insurgency across southeast Asia in the 60s and 70s are as “certain errors in diplomacy,”(266) but anyone remotely familiar with the countries in question know they have left much larger historical scars than this. These wars lie within living memory; their influence on contemporary Asian politics is far clearer than the early 20th century imperialism Goldstein devotes so much time to. Goldstein either does not know about this history or he does not care about it.
[5] Ralph Jennings, "Taiwan finds a lot to like about its former colonizer, Japan," Los Angeles Times 6 November, 2017; The wikipedia page has a lot of information about Taiwanese donations to Japan; my numbers for the aid to China comes from the Chinese Red Cross, who report substantially larger numbers than international media did.
[6] Tanner Greer, "#Reviewing Fire on the Water & Meeting China Halfway," Strategy Bridge, 7 November 2018.

[7] Goldstein, "The United States Must Be Realistic on Taiwan,"

[8] Philip Tetlock, Expert Political Judgement: How Good is it? How Can We Know? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); See also Tanner Greer, "The Limits of Expertise," The Scholar's Stage, 18 January 2018; Louis Menard. "Everybody's an Expert: Putting Political Expertise to the Test.The New Yorker, 5 December 2013. 

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post but has anybody ever written a book about American foreign policy or strategic thinking as a whole in how it repeatedly fails to "understand the true interests and intentions of their allies"? I've seen a lot of commentators make either this point, or a related point about how America refuses to think about the interests of 2nd or 3rd-rate powers and denies them agency. It seems like it would make for a fascinating read if anyone were to specifically write a whole book on this recurring theme.

Michael Turton said...

Goldstein just forgot to include himself among those who know nothing about the history of Taiwan....

hungry fox said...

Regarding the analogy with American independence from Britain and the "shared racial/ethnic ancestry between Taiwan and China" argument, you could also point out that Taiwan also has non-Han people -- the aboriginals -- as analogy with the native Americans (do old colonial stock Taiwanese Han ever use the "I'm part native, not only Chinese" argument the way their white American counterparts might claim "I'm part Cherokee, not only white European"?) to ground their "rooted-ness"?

Also, just as the mid-Atlantic states early on had non-British European immigrants, Taiwan also now has a non-trivial number of non-Chinese immigrants especially from poorer parts of Asia nearby (like Indonesians, Vietnamese etc.) and these people, if they eventually contribute to the Taiwanese populace, settle down and have kids (and aren't just temporary migrants) will also dilute the "shared ancestry with China" argument though to what extent is hard to tell.

Then again I believe non-British stock Americans (even excluding Native Americans and African slaves that were not counted as and were denied citizenship) at the time of the revolution were still a higher % of the populace than non-Han-descent Taiwanese (be they Taiwanese aboriginals or later immigrants like the Southeast Asian foreign workers).

Not that any of it matters even if hypothetically, there weren't these non-Han people and Taiwanese were wholly Han-descended, since as your post argues, nations are "imagined communities" that people have come to identify with and ancestry alone gives no claim to legitimacy in that case.

But the presence of pre-Han people (the aboriginals) and new immigrants should surely be used to argue in favor of Taiwanese identity among Taiwanese localists right?

Mishik Sharma said...

I don't disagree with either Goldstein or Greer, but I see this article as more relevant. Post-WW2, state formation has been more about political contingencies than historical moorings. I only disagree with the writer on his small reference to India. He seems to believe that the Indian subcontinent existed more as a loose collection of autonomous states with cultural/religious similarities, than as one centralized state which it became only recently. For more than 4000 years, India had been ruled by various dynasties of various religions, before the British took over. The zenith of each dynasty's rule covered the subcontinent (sometimes beyond) through direct rule or through vassal states. The Hindu and Buddhist rulers called this state Bharat, the Muslim rulers called it Hindustan, and the British called it India. If post-WW2 states were formed only on the basis of historical moorings, then British India would be the current India. It is only because of political (mis)management that a Muslim India (ie, Pakistan) emerged. And it is because of the same reason a that a Bengali Pakistan (ie, Bangladesh) emerged. This is the history we millennials are familiar with, and this is the history we accept and move forward with. Today's states are not what a historical ruling party had, but what it has. Mao's Communists have China, Chiang's nationalists have Taiwan. That Taiwan is not a full-fledged state is because of China's hardball tactics on the basis of history. Had the basis been politics, Taiwan would be independent.

zednought said...

"They don't deserve our support."

That is the propaganda point the Washington establishment serves up when they have decided to leave an ally hanging on the wire. They do that because they don't have the moral courage to say we can't afford the cost or the risk anymore. So they transform the ally into a morally deficient entity that deserves what it will get. They know what the the Party taking over Taiwan will mean to the Taiwanese. They don't care. And they don't care because the the Taiwanese deserve it, or so they have convinced themselves. That is the beauty of the this approach, you get to cut an ally loose to mollify a mortal enemy and feel good about yourself for doing so.

The intellectual flaws in Mr. Goldstein's arguments are immaterial. They all serve to further the propaganda point. Don't look for him to concern himself about the fate or opinion of the Taiwanese, for whatever it is, they deserve it. It doesn't matter they will lose their freedom, they deserve it. And when they do, the inside-the-beltway will go to work with a clear conscience because the Taiwanese deserved it. This is what we did to South Vietnam and we will do it to Taiwan.

I commented once before on the uselessness of defense intellectuals like Mr. Goldstein. I stand by that comment, but only insofar as their being useless to the Americans. They are very useful propaganda point men for the Washington establishment as Mr. Goldstein is in this case.

lcrees said...

The ROC exists because:

1. the US doesn't want the PRC to have it
2. the PRC doesn't have the strength to take it in the face of American resistance

Until that 1-2 dynamic changes, or some alternative correlation of power (thermonuclear ROC, PLA soldiers who can walk on water, Neo-Imperial Japan with giant robots with friggin' laser beams, &tc.) arises, all the fine parsing of ancient sources will not amount to Jack Diddley except if it manages to sway gullible Americans. Americans can be gullible: TPM Barnett infamously thought that, if you bought low on Chinese power c. 2010, you could lock in American preferences of how the world should be into a hypothetical 2050 where the PRC dominated the world and the price would be too high.

I doubt Barnett's option contract would have any more persuasive power in and of itself in a world where the PRC held sway any more than the VOC's claim on Formosa c. 1650 has power in and of itself to sway Washington or Peking today. If the VOC still dominated the Strait of Taiwan, then such a piece of paper might have kinetic force. The Dutch Navy sailing up the Yangtze and burning the PLA Navy at anchor would be as amusing as it is unlikely. However, the VOC is long gone and His Majesty's government in the Netherlands shows no sign of reviving it. Dutch naval power in the Pacific has been nil since 1942.

On the subject of the inception of the Korean War, I've encountered a thesis I was unfamiliar with: Stalin pushed the war by letting his sock puppet Kim off the leash in order to drive a wedge between the PRC and the West, leaving the PRC reliant on the USSR for modernization. The Korean War was intentionally started to divert Mao's military resources away from Taiwan (Mao was pestering Stalin for help with Formosa) into an alternative theater Stalin had more control over. If this alternative scenario is accurate, it largely succeeded: Stalin's option contract here, festooned with the legal authority of T-34s and MiGs, is a better example for how to buy into PRC power while the price is low or property titles are being accepted.

Ji Xiang said...

While I agree with you in general, I find your examples of how Taiwan is supposed to have a cultural affinity with Japan rather dubious.

Perhaps the Taiwanese don't use WeChat because they rather understandably don't want all of their daily interactions to be recorded by the Chinese government, and what they share to be censored? As to why exactly they use Line I am not sure, but the Japanese messaging app is also very widespread in Thailand, which hardly has a cultural affinity with Japan.

The Taiwanese have a skill for queueing in quiet and well-ordered lines? So do the Singaporeans, for instance, and so do lots of people around the world. This just shows that they are not the Mainland Chinese (and actually, even in some social environments in some places in China you will see quiet and well-ordered lines nowadays). I have only spent a brief time in Taiwan, but my impression is that Taiwan is quite far from having the sort of impossibly quiet, tidy and well-organized cities that Japan does (which is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way).

Clearly a lot of Taiwanese still have good memories of Japanese rule, and feel some sympathy for the place. It is quite probable that more Taiwanese would prefer a political union with Japan than one with China. Then again, they would probably also take a political union with South Korea or even Malaysia over one with China, for obvious reasons. Still, I have yet to see compelling arguments that they really have a cultural affinity with Japan.

J said...

(1/2)
I am Taiwanese, by birth and by blood. My father's side is 外省人, my mother's side is 本省人. This is not an academic distinction, my maternal grandfather went to college in Japan and served in the Japanese Imperial Army as an NCO. He was later involved in the Taiwanese independence movement. Many of his friends disappeared during the White Terror. His personal journal was written completely in Japanese. His last overseas trip was a college reunion. His last gift to me was a book by a Japanese right-wing author. My paternal grandfather was a mid-level officer in the Nationalist forces. After the retreat to Taiwan, he served in the KMT civilian administration. Every new year, we called his brothers in China. His ashes are interred in Taiwan, but his wishes are to be buried, alongside his parents, at the ancestral plot in Shandong. Let's just say my parents didn't have the easiest time getting married.

The Taiwanese affinity for Japan is real, but in recent decades, has also been politicized and weaponized. Taiwanese nationalists recognize its usefulness as a cultural wedge, and there has been a romanticization of the Japanese colonial era, and, of course, corresponding counter-narrative. In the battleground for the minds of the young, Japan is winning by a landslide. As a Taiwanese (who also speaks Japanese), it's a bit embarrassing, honestly. The Japanese national conversation hardly recognizes Taiwan, and only the ultra-rightwing WWII-apologists in Japan bother to acknowledge Taiwanese goodwill, mostly as a weapon in their domestic political disputes. The revival of Taiwanese-dialect culture maps to the same political dynamics.

However, Taiwan is also deeply demoralized. Successive governments have all but given up on the idea of national defense, the conscription term has been cut to almost nothing. What was originally a national rite-of-passage - universal male conscription - is now basically a joke. The military is a pension farm, and throughly compromised by Chinese intelligence. Taiwanese industry is very dependent on Chinese markets and labor, and the business elite of Taiwan have all named their price. Similarly, Mandarin Taiwanese pop culture is integrated with China, and must toe the line. At the university level, administrations are dependent on Mainland Chinese students, who, by and large, are more disciplined, more focused, and more ambitious than the native Taiwanese student. Unsurprisingly, intermarriage between Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese is also ticking up, both at the college-educated level, and at the mail-order bride level. Taiwanese tourism heavily relies on Chinese visitors. As with all of the former Asian Tigers, birth rates are far below replacement nationally, and they are catastrophically low in Taipei.

J said...

(2/2)
Even as Taiwanese culture grows (partially by DPP policy) more defiantly differentiated from China, the actual capability to resist Chinese coercion, either economically or militarily, continues to wane. The CCP doesn't need to do anything, except keep their mouths shut and allow current trends to continue. The Taiwanese attitude towards China appears to be an exercise in denial and wishful thinking. And that takes a toll on the national psyche. The younger generations may have Netflix and sub-titled Japanese TV shows, eating at gourmet restaurants and taking trips to Sapporo, Singapore, and Sydney. They may laugh at the gawking Chinese that are too poor to visit Europe, and visit Sun Moon Lake instead, but these bumpkin Chinese have what they don't have - a comprehensive vision of the future, and a deep belief that they are standing on the solid rock of history, and that they aren't going anywhere. Whereas for Taiwan and the Taiwanese, everything is contingent.

So take another trip to the wine countries of France, forget about having kids, and try to enjoy the moment.

In an alternate universe, Taiwan would be like Israel or South Korea - ferociously devoted to defense, fiercely determined to resist coercion. Or, for a more realistic example, to be at least as devoted as our ethnic cousins in Singapore. But perhaps that is only possible with the iron-fisted rule of a LKW for four decades. It would take herculean effort to shake Taiwan out of it's current complacent stupor.

G said...

@J Excellent writing. A look into the contemporary Taiwanese psyche that is rarely reported or understood by majority of the western media.

Taiwan would have been a robust industrial power, a strong mid-size military power - indeed, a la South Korea or Israel - were it not trying to break free from China, the only country in the world that can withstand the US hegemony and go toe-to-toe in the near future.

And that's the primary reason this blog author is arguing for Taiwan's separate identity and independence from China, much like his arguments for instigating India to concentrate its resources to compete against China on land instead of maritime and naval development to avoid conflict with the US.

In other words, American hegemony and the US national interest.

T. Greer said...

Lots of one letter pseudonyms out there this round.

J's comment is excellent. I have responded to it with its own post, which you folks can find here: http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2018/08/taiwan-will-be-defended-by-bullet-or.html

The trouble isn't that Western reporting on Taiwan ignores perspectives' like J's... the problem is that there is no Western reporting on Taiwan.

As for 'why' I wrote this piece... well, Lyle Goldstein is full of himself and needs to be brought down a few pegs. That is why I wrote this post. One may add to it a familiar affection for Taiwan and her people. I have lived there. It is my favorite place in Asia. I rebel at the notion of it being destroyed or subsumed within the PRC. My views reflect my experiences in both countries. I was not so anti-Party before I moved to Beijing, nor so pro-Taiwan before I lived in Taipei.

It would be unwise to assume that all Americans feel the same attachments I do.

U.S. hegemony? I'm a fan. But not a fan enough to want another American soldier deployed between the Jordan and Indus in my lifetime. Others see that as a necessary for the US national interest.

I don't know what the hell they are talking about.

T. Greer said...

@Mishik--

Nah. Ther eis nithing natural about India's modern borders. If it is cultural Sri Lanka ought to be in; if it is geographical or historical you might as well annex Afghanistan. The Maurya included bits of modern Iran but not most of modern Kerala; the Gupta had all of Northern India but could not swallow the Tamil lands. The Chola claimed both of those places but got nowhere near New Delhi. The Mughals stretched into Tajikstan but never reached India's southern tip. "Bharat" has long been a civilization, but it has not long been one kingdom.

@Ji Xiang-- The key point is not that they would choose Japan over China, but that they would choose Japan over all other comers as well. This goes for the apps, tv shows, et. al as well.

@Hungry fox-- Yes, kind of. The DPP plays up "aboriginal" culture for essentially this reason, just as they play up Taiwanese (the language), and Taiwan's Japanese heritage.

stx said...

@T. Greer -- U.S. hegemony? I'm a fan

Interesting. If speaking as a thir party outsider, I would say that, the US Taiwan policy (especially the 1996 crisis) and the changes in domestic Taiwan politics (decline of KMT and rise of DPP) since the 1990s, actually become the major impetus to the PLA military modernisation and the endorsement of CCP nationalist propaganda. Without the US intervention and containment since the 1990s, it's really doubtful if CCP could still exist in the 2010s.

If you know the real situation of PLA and the Chinese military industry back in the 1980s and 1990s, or if you know the changes in political spectrum of Chinese populace in 1990s and 2000s, you should know what I mean.