Saturday, March 1, 2008


When I was doing the preparation for Thursday’s diary on “Invisible Taiwan,” Vorkosigan’s recent post painfully reminded me of the Left’s general silence on Taiwan. He said that except for occasional diaries by “myself, Taonow, and Zenbowl, at DKos, there is very little out there.” I first learned about DailyKos because of excellent diaries on Taiwan here. Vorkosigan goes on to explain his, and my, dilemma:

At the same time, the deafening silence on the Left is mirrored on the Right by an almost fantastic flow of discourse… When newspapers need commentary they turn to people like John Tkacik of Heritage or conservative Arthur Waldron at Penn. Nothing on the Left compares to this incredible range of material. And of all the silences on the Left, none is more amazing than the almost total neglect of Taiwan as both a place and an issue.

Another fascinating aspect of this silence is that there does not appear to be an easily identifiable reason for it. Over the years I've had the opportunity to speak with many on the Left with Taiwan experience about the neglect of Taiwan, and while all deplore it, none has a ready explanation for it.
I leave it to you diligent readers to explore how Vorkosigan tries to make sense of it. I can only respond out of my experience in Taiwan in the late 60s and early 70s and when I came back to the U.S.

Not long after I arrived in Taiwan, I had the good fortune to be introduced to several Taiwanese in opposition to Chiang and KMT rule. Even though I considered myself well-read on Taiwan before arriving, it was nothing compared to hearing the experiences of these men and women, nearly all of whom had been political prisoners. If only other foreigners who visit Taiwan could talk to these people, I thought, they wouldn’t see this as ‘Free China’ and they would see that there was another group—the majority Taiwanese—on the island whose aspirations were not given voice. Silly me, at first I thought that if our State Department knew what the KMT was doing to the Taiwanese they wouldn’t be giving unqualified support. Okay, so I was really naïve!

Since I lived in Taipei and regularly had contact with visitors, I began to arrange clandestine meetings with these Taiwanese leaders so the visitors could experience what I did. Soon I learned that few of the visitors knew enough about realities in Taiwan to take advantage of talking to these friends of ours. The KMT lobby in cooperation with our State Department had done a masterful job of creating an image of Taiwan as a bastion of freedom. So, a few trusted friends—Taiwanese and expatriate—put together a packet of materials containing both original and reprinted materials discussing various aspects of the Taiwan situation. Yes, under martial law in effect since 1947, it was an illegal act. The materials were not distributed to Taiwanese. Who were we to tell them what the situation was in their country? The packet was intended for foreign visitors who wanted to know more about the situation. To that end, we distributed the articles to many visitors in Taiwan as well as to interested parties in the U.S. When people read the material and wanted to know more, then we would take the risks to set up face to face meetings.

I share this experience to say that when visitors met these real people and heard their stories, almost without exception, their perspectives (Right, Left, or Center) were changed, and in several instances, their lives were changed. Some U.S. Left-leaning publications, whose reporters, and in a couple of cases editors, who participated in these meetings, began to publish the stories of Taiwanese aspirations and even editorialize on behalf of this voiceless majority on the island.

Unable to stay in Taiwan, when I got back to the U.S. in the early 70s, I found that many on the Left (Democrats, Liberals, Progressives) were too preoccupied with excitement about the People’s Republic of China, and maintaining access to get there, to care much about 12 million Taiwanese. They didn’t seem at all upset that the Taiwanese were not considered at all in the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972. Even when Taiwan became a democracy in the 90s, I think the Left had invested so much effort in three decades to get our government to recognize the People’s Republic they didn’t know what to do about the Taiwanese. I wanted the PRC recognized, but not at the expense of a whole people.

To my dismay, I found that even some liberal church leaders who said all of the right things about the importance of human rights, were prepared to sacrifice the Taiwanese for the greater good of relations with China. I am pleased to report that some regional and national church bodies are becoming advocates for the security, stability, and self-determination of the people of Taiwan. In my view, it has been a long time in coming.

However and to whatever degree the silence of the Left came to be, that silence, or the perception of it, has had consequences. On Wednesday J. Michael Cole’s article in the Taipei Times is sharply critical of the Right's interest in Taiwan; he wonders if the Right really is a friend of Taiwan:

Is the "freedom" they refer to the universal human right, or is it instead the word cynically used by the Bush administration to justify wars in the Middle East and elsewhere? To put it differently, do these experts really care about a democratic Taiwan, or is their penultimate goal rather the containment of China to ensure that, as envisioned by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992, no power ever manages to rival US hegemony?

For the most part, these "defenders" of Taiwan are hawks at think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, the Project for a New American Century and Armitage International. One thing these organizations have in common is their intimate ties to the US defense establishment. In their view, international security is best served through further militarization -- greater investment in weapons, more reliance on force to solve problems and preemptive military action. All, furthermore, tend to ridicule the UN and have served as proponents of a "Pax Americana."…

These hawks do not really care about democracy; what matters to them, rather, is preserving US hegemony. If that means supporting Taiwan as a hedge -- or an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" -- against China, so be it. But it is hard to imagine these same experts clamoring for Taiwan's democracy absent a China that, at some point in the future, could threaten US primacy.
Cole may have made the Left feel a little giddy, but his last word dispels that mood:

Until left-leaning think tanks add their voices to the chorus and come to Taiwan's assistance for principles that are truly based on a belief in the value of democracy, hawks in China and experts the world over will have good reason to doubt that US voices pretending to care for Taiwan are not doing this for cynical, if not more obscure, reasons.
Vorkosigan challenges the Left in a different way:

Nor can Dems claim to be the party of democratic, progressive politics when it ignores the claims of a vibrant, economically advanced, democracy like Taiwan, and are silent on China's aggressive military buildup, including more than 1,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan, the acquisition of a broad range of capabilities aimed at the island and at US dominance in the region, and widening regional influence, also aimed at Taiwan and rivals such as India (China is creating a large naval base in Burma). When the Right speaks on these issues, they are not inventing scary facts so they can sell weapons to Taiwan and Japan. They are responding to a burgeoning problem that the Dems have not begun to clearly grapple with.
Vorkosigan’s eight-point China policy for the Democrats is a start in the right direction. Check it out. (Besides, you'll find some great Taiwan pictures there.)

What do you think? Will/should the Democrats find their voice on Taiwan?
- Milo
PS: If you want to see what debate this blog generated when I posted it on DailyKos check it out here.

1 comment:

Michael Turton said...

Great stuff, Milo. And I am humbled to think of what you were doing in those days... it is a privilege to have you link to me.