“In a move likely to anger the Chinese communists ….” “rising tensions,” “escalating tensions,” “spiraling tensions” …. there, western imperialist journalists and academics, I’ve collated your cliches.
The senator wisely noted the governmental titles and location of this public, official, nation-to-nation meeting between Taiwan and the US. While other western imperialists will practice Chinese communist filial piety by calling Taiwan an “island” or “region” or “area,” none of those weasel words describe any entity in the global stage that have Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs who could visit the capitol building of another nation in an official capacity.
What is the “status quo” between Taiwan and the democratic world? Let me borrow a concept from graduate school, ABD – “All but dissertation” – “All but fully normalized” – AbFN. Whatever angels on the head of a pin style arguments some western IR folks wish to fuss over, I am a pragmatist – if the smartest way to preserve Taiwanese democracy and independence and avoid a Chinese communist war of annexation is to remain at AbFN for now, then so be it. But let there be no doubt, Taiwan has made amazing progress in its international status and statehood since 1996. 23.11.2022
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is at least two decades late in terms of unmanned vehicles – in the air, at sea and submersed, for coastal defense. The gap between Taiwan’s vibrant and creative civil society – economy, commerce, technology, innovation – and its national security establishment cannot be wider than in the UAV sector. And I suspect while the obvious gaps are in the hardware, the greater threat to Taiwan’s national security exists in the ‘software’ – strategy, tactics, openness to new ideas, thinking creatively, and learning from the world. The Chinese communist military has invested decades in unmanned technology – the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense is still discussing bayonets. This Ministry of National Defense is reactive, conventional, and prefers copying past practices, refusing to learn from global counterparts such as the Israelis. A Martian traveling to earth in the 1990s and assessing the balance of power between communist China and democratic Taiwan, would surely assume smaller Taiwan would focus its energy and attention on unmanned vehicles. That it is 2022 and Taiwan’s national security apparatus has barely just started – much less engaging its talented civilian sectors in a wide-ranging discussion of strategy and tactics, is astonishing. Though, better late than never.
There are other public policy discussions a democratic nation such as Taiwan should engage in. The role and purpose of CSIST, for example – should it focus on R&D and subcontract the manufacturing to civilian firms? Should it try to engage R&D in all sectors as it appears to do now? In what ways can CSIST play a leading role in placing Taiwanese high-technology manufacturing into the global democratic supply chain? If Taiwanese civilian firms have an edge on CSIST in UAV technology, what are the global best practices to ensure the talent and creativity of the private sectors are harnessed while maintaining national security? As Admiral Lee and others have rightly argued, Taiwan’s democracy requires open and honest discussions and debates on its national security options. 16.11.2022
Admiral Lee’s main argument is that smaller, resource-poor Taiwan’s best defense policy is to transform its national security establishment’s long-held mentality and focus on smaller, mobile, survivable platforms-munitions in all branches while emphasizing resiliency, mobility, and survivability in surveillance, intelligence, and logistics. These are difficult changes because they revolutionize how things have been done within the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense since 1949. These proposals also revolutionize how the nation’s elected leaders and citizens evaluate their national security and express their sense of national pride – pouring concrete and making small mobile communication vehicles and producing thousands of cheap, replaceable drones make national security sense, but challenges the psychology and emotions of all sectors of this nation.
Which gets us to the mystifying process of how the Taiwanese Navy has been pursuing its surface fleet since the early 1980s. I am not a partisan in intra-Taiwan Ministry of National Defense factions and arguments – I find those arguments, dating back to their China days (big northern fleet versus small attack craft southern command ….) tiresome. It is fascinating to think carefully about Admiral Lee’s stillborn manned and unmanned stealth missile crafts versus recent news that once again the Taiwan Navy will reverse course, delay its larger AEGIS/VLS surface vessels, and build smaller non-AEGIS/VLS frigates.
I do not have the professional-academic background to argue which model makes the most sense. Whether Taiwan is better off with a large vessel fleet, small fast attack craft fleet, a combination of both, and/or focus on submarines (and if so, what size and how many ….) I do have the background to conclude that Taiwan has not had an adequate, democratic, public policy debate over such an important issue. Admiral Lee’s argument is that if the US warning that dictator Xi and the Chinese communists want to be ready for a war of annexation no later than 2027 – then quickly getting hundreds of small, cheap, rapidly manufactured missile crafts into service is far more sensible than programs requiring decades. He further makes the argument, convincingly, that the Chinese communists would like nothing more than a grand, conventional, force-on-force battle – reminiscent of how Chiang Kai-shek’s army melted into thin air in 1948-1949 China I think.
And if these smaller frigates take too long to build, require too many sailors to staff, take too long to train to bring online, and are too easily sunk by the Chinese – well then in the same issue of this Taiwan-based military magazine, the additional mystery of Taiwan Navy building a massive amphibious landing vessel. In an ideal world – say if you are cheating in a computer game and money can be infinitely replaced, then sure you buy everything. In the real world, Admiral Lee argues correctly, one needs to prioritize – and the priority is not choosing weapons that make people proud, but choosing weapons that will survive the initial strikes from China and be able to inflict enough damage on the invaders so as to deny them the victory they seek.
But then the peculiar modern history of Taiwan is this. In the early 1980s when Taiwan was still under China KMT martial law military publications began to appear, but military affairs were very much seen as highly confidential, only the military ought to discuss the military. Taiwan has a long history of civilians rightly avoiding politics, military, history, and diplomacy – no one wanted to become yet another political prisoner of the China KMT. This is what I thought of when Admiral Lee pointed out Taiwan is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of high-end speed seacrafts – one of many, many areas where the democratic, civilian Taiwanese civil society thrives, yet this historically created chasm between the national security establishment and Taiwanese civilians remain. In this sense, the greatest proposal from Admiral Lee’s book is not about a particular model or approach, or a particular weapon or munition – I’ve noticed in publications and online discussions these shorthands, asymmetry, porcupine, Javelins and Stingers. I think the main conclusion from Admiral Lee’s book, and the experience of Ukraine, is that a democracy cannot compartmentalize its national security policies from other realms of democratic policy debates. That in order for a democracy to make difficult national security decisions, in order for the democracy to harness all of its talents, its national security apparatus must be as democratic and modern as the rest of the nation. Admiral Lee pointed to the thriving and creative ship design and building industry in Taiwan – contrast that with the uncreativity and directionlessness of the Taiwan Navy since the 1980s. I see similar gaps in unmanned vehicles (design, manufacturing, deployment-uses), in gaming, in information warfare, etc etc. Taiwanese businesses are perhaps some of the most creative and resilient in global logistics – whereas the Taiwan military has had a reputation for weaknesses in logistics. Democratizing and modernizing the national security establishment are the only ways forward to ensure Taiwan’s national security can withstand the challenge posed by its imperialistic autocratic neighbor.
阿中部長凍蒜！On the boulevard that used to greet the invader-dictator and then renamed for the indigenous people 凱達格蘭大道, next to the memorial that still inexplicably honors the dictator-invader, thousands of us participated in a political rally on behalf of Taiwanese democracy — a democratic Taiwan Republic that belongs to its citizens — as President Tsai said, a Taiwan that belong to the Taiwanese, a better Taiwan for the world — free from threats and violence.
Have you ever noticed how some too-cool-for-school western reporters, academics, and talking heads find focusing on democracy and human rights corny and not “realistic/realist/adult enough”? The more clever ones will go around in wordological circles and pretend to care, and the more honest ones will just tell you a version of “might makes right” – in the end, the main idea remains, smaller nations with darker people do not get to have self-determination. Interesting too to see overlapping circles of this unwillingness to engage democracy as a core, existential subject in domestic American elite discourse – see the corporate media and chattering heads twisting themselves into knots over President Biden daring to give a speech on democracy; or the core issue of democracy and self-determination in the Russian invasion of Ukraine; likewise, the nature of Chinese imperialism and Taiwanese democracy.
Well, democracy and self-determination are verbs for Taiwanese citizens – not abstract theoretical concepts, not frameworks for which egghead academics negotiate away on their behalf. And it is a concept as many are in Taiwan, borrowed and then modified for local taste – Mickey Mouse paws wearing street bowing by politicians, a parade of too loud vehicles, traditional market sweeps, the chanting at rallies that feels like a Taiwanese-Japanese baseball game.
I stood for three hours with thousands of Taiwanese citizens primarily to thank 阿中部長 for preventing the pandemic the Chinese communists are responsible for from harming my elders. It was very moving to watch Taiwanese democracy as a way of life and an emerging national identity — to be greeted in Taiwanese as ‘The nation of Taiwan’s owners’ in front of the same building where the invader-dictators tried to wipe out Taiwanese as a language. To watch the old school Premier at the end of his speech giving ninety-degree bows three times, sincerely asking for our votes in three languages, Taiwanese, Hakka, and Mandarin. Imagine a Chinese communist, China KMT dictator, or a western imperialist doing that.
The path of decolonization and transitional justice will be crooked and difficult for Taiwan, but there is this energy in this young democracy, irreverent, nontraditional, heterodox, good-humored, and pragmatic. Nothing gave me more faith that this democracy will survive the onslaught from the Chinese communists, the China KMT, and western imperialists, than how orderly and peacefully the rallygoers left at the end — picking up their own trash, waiting for the traffic light, keeping relatively quiet to not disturb the neighborhood. Democracy and nationalism are pointless without love for their fellow citizens inside this nation — they are also pointless if the nation is filled with violence and chaos. May the Buddha bless our beloved ancestral homeland, and our hard-fought and blood-soaked democracy. 12.11.2022
This is an important book regarding the national security of Taiwan, and it is a pity that it has provoked little earnest discussion and debate among Taiwan’s civilian and military leaders. This does not mean I believe Admiral Lee’s ideas should all be adopted – but the lack of debates is indicative of the greatest danger posed to Taiwan’s national security – the inability of its hyper-conservative (in this instance, I mean not ideology but a culture – reluctance to embrace new ideas, take risks, debate openly) national security apparatus to adopt democratic and modern norms in order to make necessary and rapid adjustments.
At nearly five hundred pages, this book could have used more thorough editing. The writing can be repetitive. In a polarized national identity climate, nothing in public policy Taiwan can escape quick and ideological dismissals. Probably I disagree with Admiral Lee on most political and diplomatic issues. I respect his expertise, and I see no reason as other reviewers have, prematurely jump to conclusions regarding his patriotism and loyalty.
If I were to choose a few pages as a microcosm of what makes this book important, it would be the section on Admiral Lee’s proposed manned and unmanned stealth mini-attack naval crafts (pages 344-357). Many words have been spilled by many parties over this aborted proposal – but the admiral’s convincing explanation here, and the unhealthy political process by which other leaders in the Taiwan national defense establishment ended this project without engaging in a proper and fair democratic debate, serves as an important example for what policymakers in Taipei, Tokyo, and DC ought to focus on – not merely weapons and platforms, not how much money to provide for military aid, not denial versus control, not porcupine or not – but that Taiwan’s military leadership is in dire need of a revolutionary change in culture.
Elsewhere I have noted this, that in the decades of Taiwanese democratization, the national security institutions have been the least touched by democracy and openness to engage the rest of the world. One may generally argue that this is the case in most nations. Yet I think one can reasonably argue that this phenomenon is particularly pronounced in Taiwan. And Taiwan’s civilian leaders from all parties lack the expertise, and rightly fear the instability of a menacing authoritarian neighbor, by pushing for democratization and openness within its military.
This is where a constructive avenue is to adopt the models of the 1950s, where Taiwan turned to Japanese and American officers – retired and active service – for advice. Again, refusing to participate in simpleminded name calling one sees in some Taiwan-based military publications – this is not about whether Taiwanese officers have expertise and insight. I think they do, no less than foreign officers. I have never had doubt about the quality of the Taiwanese rank-and-file military – only doubts and worries about its generals and admirals. The problem is not expertise, but bureaucratic, institutional inertia, decades in the making – requiring a push from the outside to cut through decades of habits and precedence. In many ways while reading this book and other related articles the inertia in the Taiwanese military leadership reminds me of the American higher ed thought leaders – everyone knows a demographic tsunami is coming, everyone agrees that the economic model makes no sense – yet there is zero incentive structure for anyone to be the one to say this, much less to make substantive changes.
So then back to Admiral Lee’s mini-missile crafts. I do not have the expertise to decide whether they were the right approach for the defense of Taiwan. I think the fact that there was basically no national discussion and debate, from the proposal, and adoption, to the removal of both the policy and Admiral Lee himself from office, illustrates the gap between Taiwan’s democracy and its national security policy-making apparatus. Even the fact that this book has received relatively muted responses from Taiwanese political leaders, military establishment, journalists, and scholars, illustrates this dangerous gap – an otherwise vibrant democracy, yet cannot engage in honest and direct conversations and debates regarding its fundamental survival.
And I admit, as I read Admiral Lee’s thorough proposals, moving away from jet aircraft and large warships and armored vehicles, my initial reactions were emotional and reactive – my decades-long sense of Taiwan’s national defense and identity intertwined in these weapons and systems. Yet Admiral Lee’s analysis is rational and thoughtful – how does a smaller nation invest very limited resources so that it could deny a larger neighbor the military victory it seeks? And Admiral Li is a rare Taiwan military leader who is neither defeatist/too political, yet is willing to risk the unpopularity of speaking the unvarnished truth.
This reminds me of something I have thought about for decades as I watch Taiwanese military maneuvers and read interviews and articles published by the Taiwanese military – a core question for me has been: Are these generals and admirals honestly preparing to fight for real? And I think Admiral Lee has convincingly answered this question as sadly being no. This is where Taiwan’s civilian democratic leaders require the most assistance from their US, Japan, and other democratic allies – expertise and credibility to push for a revolution in Taiwanese military leadership. A few recent examples are alarming indications. That the Taiwan military leadership reacted so slowly to the Chinese communist unmanned aerial vehicle intrusions is a clue of deep-seated institutional problems. The recent special forces maneuver preparing for a Chinese communist landing at the mouth of the Tamsui River – they have been practicing against that scenario for as long as I have been reading the news – do you suppose the Chinese communists have noticed that too? And if so, why would they follow the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense’s scenario? And finally, this is subtle but to my thinking indicative and fundamental. A Taiwanese college student, a music major, on his own initiative used open-source information to map out major Chinese communist military installations on Google Map. In most functioning democracies he would have been invited by the Ministry of Defense – if only for the PR/marketing/recruitment drive – and an even smarter military would see this as a way to draw strengths from the democracy it is trying to protect. Yet thus far, to my knowledge, the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense has not reacted.
This is where Admiral Lee’s policy suggestions should meet actual global policy moves. All of the particulars he has offered are debatable in a democratic process. I think one of the most important first steps for Admiral Lee’s proposal to have a chance of taking root inside Taiwan’s national security institutions is for a US-Japan led global effort to share expertise – civil defense and modern military concepts by Finland, Sweden, and Norway; logistics and civil defense by Israel; how to modernize the Ministry of National Defense by the US. And perhaps a pressing issue is to find ways to send Taiwanese and American officers to learn from their Ukrainian counterparts. How did Ukraine manage to transform its authoritarian, Soviet-based national security apparatus to adapt to its modern democratic reality? How did Ukraine manage to deal with members within its national security apparatus who had loyalty-identity issues without violating democratic norms? How did Ukraine manage the vast logistical and supply issues [recent Taiwan military publication rightly focuses on this issue – where will foreign military supplies reach Taiwan during a war? Has Taiwan planned on how to move them from air and sea ports to storage and distribution?] What lessons have the Ukrainians learned regarding the resiliency of local governments, police, reserve forces, transportation, and communication?
Taiwan has had a long history of sending officers and fact-finding teams abroad, similar to those US higher ed task forces and committees, where findings and reports sink slowly into an entrenched bureaucracy full of reasons why needed reforms cannot occur. Taiwan Can Help, Taiwan in military affairs needs that push from abroad – expertise, resources, reassurances – so that it can transform its mentality from fielding a force for the parade grounds, into a military force prepared to fight, prepared for the unexpected. Admiral Lee has provided invaluable service to his nation by writing this book – a thankless task really, he could have easily kept his mouth shut, become the head of another state-owned industry, and collect his pensions, he should have the gratitude of everyone who cares about Taiwan’s democracy. 12.11.2022
Because few Taiwanese dared to go into filmmaking, TV, radio, journalism, the arts, history, and politics during the days of the China KMT occupation-dictatorship, even decades after Taiwan’s democratization the decolonization process remains stalled. Taiwanese do not have the institutions, the people, nor the vocabulary to yet fully recover their historical memory and examine their own histories. This new film about the invading China KMT’s political prisoners and white terror during the 1950s and 1960s is an attempt to reverse that tide – for Taiwanese to reclaim their memory, and to tell their own stories. It was a difficult film to watch, much tears, sometimes I just closed my eyes for minutes to shut out the pain. But I told my wife going to a theater is no less important than voting – a small, personal vote against Chinese colonialism.
The incongruities and complications of modernity and modern Taiwan are these – to walk out of a beautiful and heart-wrenching film, subtle and tastefully done, into a western-style shopping mall complex in downtown Taipei. And then, a few minutes later, on a subway, to transfer to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial stop – the same invader-dictator who is responsible for these crimes against humanity, yet Taiwanese citizens are still forced to host a memorial in his honor. And for extra incongruity, one of the Taipei mayoral candidates claims to be Chiang’s illegitimate great-grandson. And he may actually win. None of it makes any sense, yet all of them must coexist, parallel universe-like, democratically and peacefully.
How to reclaim historical memory, tell one’s own stories, and decolonize one’s own nation peacefully and democratically? The greatest strength of this film, I thought, was complicating and humanizing all of the characters, from China KMT political prison guards to political prisoners who are from China to Taiwanese victims – without descending into moral relativism and “What a tragedy of that era ….” b.s. These are my initial thoughts – I am going to take a while to think over my notes and ponder all of this. The range of linguistic diversity, accents, and languages brought over from China to the beautiful code-switching between southern Taiwanese to Japanese to English, speaks to a level of multiculturalism and diversity inherent to Taiwan that the China KMT dictatorship tried mightily to erase. The film did a masterful job with a light touch – this is a subject and a story that’s constantly at risk of tipping over into melodrama. The China KMT crimes and the human suffering were drama enough when simply illustrated. Something about the way the film was filmed and narrated and the stories interspersed felt immersive throughout – a deep sense of sadness and anger, sadness for the needless suffering and injustice, anger that the criminals remain unrepentant and unpunished, beautiful shots of the Pacific Ocean waves and the natural beauty of the Green Island almost as momentary reprieve.
It also occurred to me that decades of China KMT brainwashing into their particular brand of neutered in service of the Chiang crime family dictatorship “Confucianism” and decades of enforced forgetting have nearly erased most of modern-day Taiwanese memory of highly educated and super strong-willed Taiwanese women leaders in its history. A history that films like this is beginning to remember.
The film’s thankless task is also President Tsai’s thankless task – tell a fair and complicated historical memory story which some will take offense for not being harsh enough; while even touching the subject is making Chinese reactionaries inside Taiwan upset. Yet these are necessary steps for the future of Taiwanese democracy and nationhood – requiring brave, selfless Taiwanese to take – to engage the pain and suffering while opening a democratic and peaceful path for national coexistence. 8.11.2022
I am not naive about semiconductors and global finance, but I think the greatest contribution Taiwan Republic offers the world (Taiwan Can Help!) is a heterodox, pragmatic, peaceful, and democratic national identity. A challenge to a world quick to violence and tempted by utopian perfectionism – bloodshed and authoritarianism in the name of orthodoxies.
I love temples. I always remind students to look up and study their ceilings. I love Taiwan’s anti-utopian, heterodox, mishmash with a gentle shrug approach to even religious lives. Yesterday I visited a temple that was basically a United Nations/Mall of America of deities, Buddhist to folk to Taoist to everything in between. One could hear imperialist academics and theologians critique how it really doesn’t make sense – but it works for Taiwan, peacefully, and largely without discussion. And it occurred to me that this kind of incoherence for now works broadly – RoCTaiwan73years.
The first temple we visited had a birthday ceremony for the resident God, with major Goddesses and Gods – again of different localities and heritage and tradition and theological origins – from other Taiwanese temples visiting to celebrate the occasion. That temple, like many in Taiwan Republic, came about during a plague/pandemic, it was built to honor the God’s work putting down the plague.
The same cultural association that organized the incongruent yet beautiful Taiwan National Day show I wrote about organized this historic Bang-Kah street fair – from temple to temple they laid out the festivities, three stages for three series of Taiwanese kids playing their music – from rock to pop to jazz to hip hop to emo? – most of which I don’t quite get. Another of these Taiwanese incongruities – the Cultural Association was started by the China KMT dictatorship during the bad old days when Chiang Kai-shek needed to pretend that his China is the real China, and that his dictatorship was the preserver and inheritor of real “Chineseness” – the characters “Chinese” was removed from the association’s name, put back during Taiwan’s reactionary retrenchment, and left alone by the pragmatic Tsai administration – though their logo emphasizes the two mandarin characters “Cultural Association” – and they are leading the charge in melding President Tsai’s compromise – RoCTaiwan73 years, democratic sovereignty, Taiwan has never been a part of the PRC. Instead of fighting over orthodoxy and symbols and names, President Tsai changes the meaning from within seeking a stable governing majority.
We listened to the band whose name is a multilingual pun on poop – I chuckled as if I was suddenly a junior high student. What struck me the most was not the music, I’m just too old to be jumping up and down, and I can’t dance, and I have a ginormous oldster chest pack – but that the concert and event is a microcosm of this emerging Taiwanese national identity – a relatively peaceful coexistence of one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods, full of young people, setting up a rock concert stage right in front of a temple, no way they did not make the proper offerings and asked the resident God permission to do this, and then to have their semi-ironic, sometimes profane, I wondered what the God made of this kidsnowadays concert, and no one says a peep. Imagine the kind of utopian-perfectionist orthodoxy debate and outrage in an imperialist power like America, or communist China – or maybe even Japan and Korea. My point is not that Taiwan is a harmonious utopia – far from that. Taiwanese politics is polarized, its cities tightly packed, there is for now a willingness to not debate everything endlessly – to be pragmatic, to let differences be.
As we walked around the Bang-Kah neighborhoods and temples and took notes, it occurred to me when my wife asked about a building being pre-Japan, Japanese, or China KMT, or western, that so many had likely fusion/mishmash – layers of Han immigrants, maybe with indigenous connections, trading with Fujianese and Okinawan and Japanese and Koreans and westerners, who may have seen the kind of “Ocean-foreign” buildings in other harbors and rather than borrowing the whole design, took parts, say windows while fuzing the new with geomancy and local material.
Utopianism and perfectionism and modern nationalism are impossible without bloodshed, left or right, fascist or communist, American or Chinese. Taiwan frustrates because the randomness of life and human imperfections frustrate. This emerging Taiwanese national identity is a model, an ongoing experiment with global implications: Can heterodoxy and imperfection and things not fitting and making no sense democratically and peacefully coexist as a modern nation? Past and present, religious and secular, descendants of the 1949 refugees with Taiwan independence activists, Hakkas and Minnan, indigenous and new immigrants from SE Asia, returnees from the global Taiwan diaspora, and immigrants from the world, peacefully and democratically coexisting in a nation.
This is sentimental and emotional on my part. Standing there in a historic temple’s courtyard, watching Taiwanese youths bopping up and down while doing their Texas Long Horn rock and roll hand gestures, with the temple and the resident God as the backdrop, I love this heterodox-based national identity. Live peacefully and democratically, don’t try to resolve and solve everything, and leave other people alone as much as possible. And the most endearing part of Taiwan Republic is, last evening (oldsters like me do not like standing out in the dark too close to bedtime….), my beloved Taiwanese independence rockband FireEx performed at the main stage, and the resident temple provided the Farcebook live stream. This emerging Taiwanese national identity is the most important resource to offer for Taiwan Can Help – it is a model for a different way to manage modern national identity, for a violent, angry, and troubled world. 6.11.2022
In a world full of cowards, only a few heroes emerge. Something I tell students often — when assessing actions of historical figures and others, we tend to imagine a utopian standard for ourselves — surely we would face down the Nazis, of course we would risk jail or worse when the Chinese communist tanks rolled in the streets of Beijing, we would never ponder our livelihood by ratting out friends to the China KMT dictatorship — this is not making excuses for evil acts, just a caution that while watching films and reading novels we like to transpose ourselves as the hero, in beliefs in previous lives somehow we are almost always prince and princess and never dirt poor peasants, yet in reality, most of us do not make the cut. We are not rockstars. We are average, and fallible. A more cautious, realistic, humble view of human behavior — whether in warfare or in everyday life.
All a long-ish way to pay tribute to this fallen Taiwanese hero — most of us will think and talk and feel behind our phones and keyboards, and few of us will get on a plane, pick up a gun, and kill and die for democracy. Taiwanese hero Tseng’s criticism of the Taiwan military leadership excerpted above should not get lost, either, it is nothing new – Taiwan has sent hundreds and thousands of talented young women and men abroad to study modern military doctrines, only to have them return and get chewed up by the China KMT national security apparatus. The best way to honor his memory is to take these ideas to heart and engage in difficult reforms of the Taiwan national security establishment.
This slowly emerging, complex modern Taiwanese national identity based around democratic sovereignty is another way to honor his sacrifice, and it relates to Taiwan’s pandemic slogan Taiwan Can Help. The China KMT dictatorship brought to Taiwan a contradictory identity – at once self-pitying (refugees forced to a barbarous hinterland island, dependent on American generosity and Taiwanese tolerance but unable to face this embarrassment directly ….) and arrogant (“we” are the real China, the cream of the crop, “we” brought the gold and high culture and the essence of real Chineseness to you lessers ….) One sees a microcosm of this pitiful interplay among the Taiwan national security press – the inaccurate often repeated myth that the Taiwanese defense industry would have made world-class weapons had it not been for American manipulation; one still sees the China KMT legislators at parliament asking whether foreign nations will come to Taiwan’s assistance when the Chinese communists attack.
A slow but significant transformation in democratic Taiwan, and a significant feature of this emerging Taiwanese national identity, is to normalize this democratic nation by stepping away from this self-pitying/arrogant prison brought by these outsiders. Taiwan, as any democratic must, should not focus on who will help during an invasion but must focus on what we must do to defend ourselves. Taiwan Can Help is an important democratic and universal human rights principle – we are not beggars, we are a member of a democratic community and we have a duty to help others whenever we can. This principle applies domestically, and globally. A small detail I noticed when Taiwanese Vice President Lai briefly chatted with US Vice President Harris in Honduras – VP Lai did not ask VP Harris for anything, instead, VP Lai offered Taiwan’s assistance to US-led humanitarian work in Central America. A seachange in attitude from the China KMT dictatorship days.
May the Buddha bless this Taiwanese hero and his family, and may the Buddha protect Ukraine, Taiwan Republic, America, and all democracies.
Taiwan news, Thursday (3/11/2022) print newspaper. Most important news is tucked away inside A6, I find the only print newspaper left in Taipei confusing. A global security dialogue took place in Taipei, a second-third track quasi-official conference full of leaders from the Indo-Pacific. That the focus is on the China Threat is not surprising. That a former US official called on Taiwan Republic to focus its resources to defend its soverignty is fantastic — this echoes President Tsai’s main idea, and is why the China communists-KMT and some American academics are staging such fierce information warfare against Tsai and Taiwanese democracy.
On the same page is the other significant news: the head of the American FCC is visiting Taiwan Republic to discuss cybersecurity. Taiwan Republic just established a Ministry of Digital Affairs and assigned their genius cabinet member Audrey Tang (part Taiwanese, part Vulcan) to head it. Remember the head of the Taiwanese FBI visiting the head of the American FBI? Then I pointed out that whether the Library of Congress style categorizing has the heading of hacking, cybercrime, industrial espionage, illegal drugs, or human trafficking, these are all spokes leading back to the Chinese Communist Party. And so once the Americans started counterattacks against the Chinese communists in semiconductors, then I am looking at ways the US will lead its democratic allies to combat the Chinese in financial, cyber, and other related realms. Taiwan is an interesting frontline beyond the obvious geography — China, HK, Taiwan, California — the movement of people, multiple passports, nationalities, know-how, capital — dictator Xi plugged up HK as a conduit to strengthen (temporarily) his dictatorship, the US, in turn, shows up in Taiwan Republic with FBI, DEA, Coast Guard, and Homeland Security. A multifront, all-domain, global struggle. 4.11.2022
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