Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

It is hard for me to understand, speaking as a longtime resident of Taiwan, why Scheer's piece, which evinces no understanding of the situation, continues to gain traction at progressive websites. Except that it isn't really very hard to understand at all.

In Scheer's view the flights herald "peace," China has no designs on Taiwan, the Taiwanese have made peace with China and the Bush Administration is trying to push weapons on the island. All of this is completely wrong.

Scheer's piece is shaped by the outdated, uninformed cold war lenses that continue to prevent progressives from taking a good look at Taiwan.

You'd think that the success story of a determined group of democracy and independence activists overcoming the right-wing authoritarian government and instituting democracy would make American progressives stand up and take notice--and commit to defending our democracy here--but just the opposite has happened: US progressives ignore Taiwan and know nothing about it.

As an ironic result, the US defenders of the progressive pro-democracy side in Taiwan politics are all neocons, while the US left either sides, as Scheer does here, with the authoritarians in Beijing or the right-wing party, the KMT, which now controls both the executive and the legislature in Taiwan.

What has actually happened is that the KMT, which gave Taiwan fifty years of martial law and a totally corrupt developmentalist state that continues to impair the growth of progressive politics and policy, took total control of the legislature in January, and put Ma Ying-jeou, who built his political career in opposition to democracy before experiencing a sudden conversion in the 1990s, into the presidency in March.

The KMT had long been coordinating policy with Beijing to suppress the growth of the island's democracy movement and its unique identity. The KMT party Chairman, Wu Po-hsiung, who indeed went to China after the presidential election, went there as part of this ongoing cooperation, the key components of which are back-channel and unknown to the public.

Both the KMT and Beijing hated the previous president, Chen Shui-bian, a former corporate and human rights lawyer who came to power in 2000 and thence negotiated with China from the firm position that Taiwan's sovereignty was non-negotiable. The current flights between Taiwan and China stem from the groundwork laid in the negotiations by the pro-Taiwan and pro-democracy party, the DPP, with Beijing. China, for its part, was very successful in portraying Chen as a "troublemaker." In this it has been supported by the Bush Administration, which has, in the words of veteran Canadian journalist Jonathon Manthorpe, "outsourced its Taiwan policy to Beijing." Obsessed with its defeats in the Middle East, the Bush Administration does not want Taiwan to joggle its elbow. Further, it wants China's cooperation on North Korea. Hence, it has decided to sell out the island.

To understand how uninformed Scheer's piece is, imagine that it was discussing not Taiwan but Ukraine. Imagine further that a pro-Russian anti-democracy party came to power in Ukraine and wanted to annex the nation back to Russia. Now imagine that Scheer was praising the resulting situation in which Ukraine's sovereignty was impaired for no gain at all, but because the pro-Russian party hopes to annex the nation back to Russia. And imagine that the US was backing the pro-Russia party and smearing the pro-democracy side. That is what has happened in Taiwan, where the current president, Ma Ying-jeou, was backed by both Beijing and Washington. In other words, this is a situation in which a progressive ought to call into question the actions of Beijing, Taipei and Washington, not laud them as "peace moves."

Far from Taiwan being some cold war stalking horse for a war with China, the Council on Foreign Relations and other Establishment groups are quietly pushing for Taiwan to be annexed to China, because they want to make big bucks off China and find Taiwan's democracy an irritant. Progressives having abandoned Taiwan's democracy, the only support the island has in the United States is in Congress, and among right-wingers.

The flights are not "Taiwan declaring peace" because Taiwan is not the cause of conflict, China is. China wants to annex Taiwan, a nation no ethnic Chinese emperor ever owned, and which the PRC has never controlled, and China has threatened to kill anyone who gets in its way and to plunge the region into war. Far from "making money," China is continuing a massive military build-up aimed at Taiwan, and is claiming not only Taiwan but also other islands in the South China Sea and abroad. At present 1,300 missiles are pointed at the island. There cannot be "peace" until the military threat to Taiwan ceases.

The DPP, which had already instituted limited flights and tourism, had bundled tourist flights from China with cargo and shipping links, which the island really needs. China does not want those, because Taiwan's logistics firms are far better than its own. The KMT instead accepted a flight agreement under which all Chinese tourists travel only on Chinese aircraft to Taiwan. This is not "declaring peace." It is capitulation. Because the DPP drew the limit at sovereignty, it had a strong negotiating stance. By the same token, because the KMT does not care about Taiwan's independent sovereignty, there is no limit to what it can give away.

Ironically, Scheer's wrongheadedness is driven by his outdated cold war analysis of events. Bush is not trying to sell weapons to Taiwan--quite the opposite! As a number of major publications have reported--including Defense News and the Washington Post--the Bush Administration has maintained a de facto arms freeze on Taiwan since 2006, when it decided not to sell Taiwan the F-16 fighters we Taiwanese need if we are to keep our democracy here. The Bush Administration's policy is, in fact, just the opposite of what Scheer claims: the Administration is quietly shoving the island into China's arms and refusing to give it weapons. If Scheer was not guided by his out-of-date cold war analytical stance, he might, with a ten-minute Google search, have discovered this far more interesting and tragic betrayal of Taiwan.

The Taiwanese and Chinese are not acting like they are one nation. Few Taiwanese want to become part of the PRC. Rather, they are doing what any pragmatic people might do: invest where they can make money. Peace cannot prevail across the Taiwan Strait until China gives up its desire to annex Taiwan by force, and that cannot happen until US progressives and conservatives get together on this issue--until Taiwan means something to progressives, the way Tibet does.

There's so much that is wrong in this awful article, but I think the saddest part of this misguided piece is that it is just another example of how progressives have completely failed Taiwan's democracy, because they refuse to see Taiwan as it is, and instead use analytical stances that are now forty years out of date. Tragically, while history has advanced, they have not.

Michael Turton

Tanzi, Taichung, Taiwan

Jul 10 2008 - 7:36pm

Web Letter

While such optimistic views on China with regard to cross-strait relations is surprising and unusual to see in the mainstream western media, Mr. Scheer's article accurately reflects the current political climate on this issue in Taiwan. I do not consider it to be misleading.

It expresses precisely the view shared by a good segment of the so called "pan-blue" voters, and articles reflecting similar views are a dime a dozen in Taiwanese newspapers. To be sure, opposing views on the issue have always existed in Taiwan, and Western reader have never had any problem reading about them (e.g., China is undemocratic; human rights violations; missiles, missiles, missiles etc...).

This article simply offers the other side of the story, which is gaining momentum in Taiwan after the last election.

Jack Wang

Taipei, Taiwan

Jul 10 2008 - 1:03pm

Web Letter

This article has been circulating for the last two days, and I just don't understand why it's been able to get such a hold on various--what I view as--respectable news organizations. The article, though, couldn't give a more misleading picture of what's happening over here.

Let me start by stressing the woeful regard I have concerning the truism that the only people in the US who seem to pay any attention to Taiwan are the likes of Wolfowitz, Tancredo, Bolton etc. Hawks certainly do rule the US’ Taiwan policy, and I personally don’t really get too worked up when Taiwan doesn’t get the American weapons that it wants or that the US wants to sell them.

I believe peace is possible between Taiwan and China, and I look longingly toward the day that our military industrial complax gets the label it deserves: wasteful and dangerous. On these points, I presume I agree with Mr. Scheer.

However, Scheer's entire article is misleading. Where is the declaration? There has been none.

Why doesn't Mr. Scheer mention the fact that the first thing the Chinese did before the flights started was to update the 1000+ missiles they have pointed at Taiwan? Everyone knows that Taiwan has absolutely no designs on attacking the mainland, yet the PRC insists on boosting the numbers of strong arms it has on the other side of the Strait.

Now, call me crazy, but that doesn't seem like a wholehearted endorsement of peace.

Of course, this has all been allowed to happen without a peep from Washington, because it took to the strategy of pouring cold water in a boiling pot when it came to China and Taiwan because it was too busy losing two wars in the middle east. The US acquiesced to China's demands on just about every single count because it couldn't allow upsetting the bipolar nation.

What is so angering about this article is that Taiwan can't declare peace in the strait. Hell, arguably it has tried to, several times, but China won't let it. The missiles are still there. The threat of war has not gone away. China runs the show and makes the rules. Taiwan could do all that it wants to make peace, but it comes to nothing if the PRC doesn't accept it.

Right now, it seems that China has gotten everything it wants out of the deal, and Taiwan’s gotten little (Note: Chinese tourists cannot fly in on Taiwanese airlines, undercutting Taiwanese airlines' profits from the monumental transits), because the KMT isn’t willing to stand up and make sure that Taiwan gets its cut. It should be remembered that what the KMT has pulled off in about a month and half was made possible by years of negotiations by the DPP, for which they will likely get no credit.

To be clear, I am no DPP diehard, nor do I think that Taiwan must absolutely be independent. Yet, Scheer’s oversimplification for the purpose of making the argument that the hawks in Washington lack the nuance to understand the relationship between Taiwan and China as anything but military proves that, well, he also lacks that nuance.

The Only Redhead in Taiwan,

Robert Maguire Jr.

Charleston, SC

Jul 10 2008 - 3:57am

Web Letter

Though by no means a scholar on China, I did take all the available history courses on that country as a history major in the late '60s. Since the Korean war, they have been the major native player the Far East. Naturally the Vietnam War was going on, which make them additionally interesting. I have, after those courses, not considered them a major offensive military threat. Chinese are justifiably rather proud of their culture and somewhat ethnocentric. They are, naturally, interested in having friendly countries within their "sphere of interest," but they have shown no interest in territories outside of what they regard as part of China. While others may disagree, Taiwan and Tibet are regarded as Chinese. This belief was shared by the nationalists and the Communists. Scholars have always been more respected than the military by the Chinese; however, their military has become very effective since the Communists gained power.

But as business people, you had better hold on to your wallet, because they are very aggressive. They are an economic threat, and they are practicing economic imperialism. I was not surprised that trade would bring Taiwan and mainland China closer together. It is better than war.

As for the American military/industrial complex, The "Axis of Evil" countries have been magnified into threats to justify worthless missile defense systems.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Jul 9 2008 - 2:12pm