When it comes to the Taiwan Strait the actors and players, however different they are, converge on the quasi-religious, allegedly sacred principle of the “status quo.” But what does it mean, and is it that important?
President Biden and Secretary Blinken recently – and accurately – framed the status quo as no side using violence to change the de facto reality. What has been the reality? In China there is unfortunately a ‘People’s’ Republic of China with a Chinese communist dictatorship – and in Taiwan, there is a “Republic of China” that used to be a warlord Chiang dictatorship, but since the 1990s has become a stable, electoral democracy. Whatever official name one gives to the political entity exercising democratic sovereignty over Taiwan, Taiwan has never been a part of the PRC.
Is this “status quo”? Philosophically the concept of the status quo has always been a fudge, a placeholder, an illusion. World history and human behavior are always dynamic – we build monuments and write last wills and testaments all in desperate, futile attempts to pretend that there can be permanence, unchanging, but this is impossible. The “status quo” hedge was formulated in the 1970s to get to pressing business – US-communist China facing down the USSR – moving, and deferring irresolvable differences over Taiwan.
The US government has been inconsistent, and self-contradictory for decades on its own Taiwan policies. The one constant element regarding its meaning of the status quo is no war – and no military coercion to change the status quo. This is ironic given some American anti-war activists rhetorically converging with some US think tankers converging with Chinese communist propaganda about what the status quo means, and who is allegedly pushing for war.
So, if the historically accurate definition of the status quo is that “RoC/Taiwan/Make up any name it actually matters less than democratic sovereignty derived from free and fair elections in Taiwan” has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan’s future must be peacefully and democratically decided by its 23 million citizens free from coercion and threats, then I cannot think of a major political party nor likely presidential candidate in Taiwan who would dare to veer far from this democracy red line. Can we say the same for American academics and think tank experts? Their relative reluctance to center democratic sovereignty is fascinating and ought to be a separate study/book.
I think a particularly bad habit pushed by the China communists and China KMT is to overload the system with character salads and mind-numbing numerical formulations – the fictional 92 consensus that’s not a consensus, the three yes and four no’s and the five musts and twelve something somethings and on and on and on. Cutting through the junk, the fundamental belief of the Chinese communists, some in the China KMT, and some in American academia are that might makes right – communist China is bigger, its status quo, which is invasion and annexation of democratic Taiwan, is the meaning of status quo. This is also why some American experts will do almost anything to avoid using the words democracy/dictatorship – ever notice that? I bet they talk about democracy plenty when it comes to domestic American politics though. As Mr. Spock would say, fascinating.
Two additional issues are usually ignored but worth thinking about. Historically, in terms of “separatists” and “splittists” – in 1949, it was Mao and the Chinese communists who added the tragic comedic word “People’s” to the Republic of China and created the reality of two Chinas – so, who split from whom? What would geopolitics have been like had Mao kept the national name and declared Chiang a bandit?
And I know this is difficult to swallow given concerted China communists and China KMT, and some US academics’ propaganda to vilify the democratically elected president of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen. Decades from now world history will show that Tsai’s moderate, intricate domestic and foreign compromises are the last plausible opportunity for the China communists and China KMT to have a facesaving option to avoid a wasteful, unwinnable war. Yes, President Tsai has danced around RoC RoC-Taiwan RoC is Taiwan. Her red line is democracy and peace, not having or not having China in the national name – and notice, she has never, ever made pronouncements about the future. Like any good world historian and believer in democracy, she knows that that is a bad habit brought to Taiwan by Chinese authoritarians – to have the arrogance and imperiousness to leave edicts to descendants on what they may or may not do. Democracy, peace, and letting the future citizens of Taiwan democratically and peacefully choose their own path. In an era of narrow ethnonationalism (China CCP and China KMT, plus fascism all over the democratic west), Tsai’s policies are a bulwark for principled democratic values. Would be lovely to see self-styled progressives and enlightened western academics and journalists support this kind of thoughtful policy from President Tsai, both for democracy and for true peace. 29.10.2022
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