Charter Member of the Sub-Media

April 23, 2005

Oops! I Screwed Up Again! « China/Taiwan »

You can read the whole train wreck here.

I didn't want to post a defense over there, because it's their blog and I've irritated Jay Tea enough.

Look, I am proud of my knowledge of China. I've put lots of work into studying and understanding China over the last 11 years, and it may well be the focus of the rest of my career and life. I thought I had a perspective worth sharing, to help people understand more. Y'know, share the benefit of my knowledge. It does no one any good sitting in my skull.

Maybe I adopted the wrong tone? Too didactic, perhaps? In fact, the last thing I want is for someone to ever just take my word for it on an issue like China (or old rifles, or guitar playing, or great family sedans, or anything else I feel like I've studied deeply). I just want my opinion to be noted. To be given respect for my understanding. I don't care if someone disagrees with me, but one of my hot buttons is if someone tells me I need to research more before I can hold my opinion, implying I don't understand it enough...that if I just actually studied the issue, I'd agree with them. Grrr!

The other interesting thing I see whenever China is brought up is the hypocrisy.

The attitude I encounter seems to be:

China is evil because of all the horrible things the Chinese Communist government has done over the last 60 years. Each one of them is horrible, and unforgiveable, and evidence that China is the worst nation in the world.

Okay, fair enough. But the people making that accusation don't care about what the US did 35 years ago (Kent State and Tian'anmen Square were identical situations, albeit different scales). They defend "free" Taiwan against the "oppressive" China, totally ignoring how oppressive the KMT govt was toward the native Taiwanese. Sure, Taiwan does have completely democratic elections now that everyone can participate in...but that didn't come about until just under a decade we just ignore Taiwan's evil? If we defend Taiwan just because they are democratic, what was the basis of our support from 1949 to 1995, then? The Taiwan govt forced the people to live under martial law for nearly fifty years! If we catalogue China's crimes (and we should, let me be clear on that), then shouldn't we also catalogue Taiwan's and our own crimes, too?

Because there are darn good reasons to oppose China, to be worried about the aggressive stance they are taking.

But a catalogue of their crimes against humanity while ignoring our own, or those of our chosen allies, is hypocrisy. And makes it more likely that we will continue to ignore crimes against humanity in the future. I don't want that. When we catalogue crimes, I want them all noted, so we never forget, never whitewash.

When I do that, I tend to get accused of moral relativism. I don't think that's accurate.

I'm not excusing China for what they've done. I am trying to say approaching the argument from that direction is a non-starter, because of the whole glass houses/"those without sin can cast the first stone" issue.

Here's an example. It was 19 years from the Kent State Massacre to the Tian'an Men Square Massacre. It has been 16 years since the Tian'an Men Square Massacre to today. Do you think we would stand for China criticizing another country's massacre of student protesters if one happens three years from now? Of course not! We'd be all over China's hypocrisy...conveniently ignoring our own on that issue. Both massacres happened because the people in power were afraid of student protests getting out of hand, and sent in a military force to do police work/riot control. A disaster is just about inevitable in that situation. China learned from the mistake, however, and developed a nationwide riot-police to deal with such situations...and we've had no masscres in China for 16 years and counting.
So here's the thing: if China knows that 30 years from now they will still be blamed/punished for the Tian'an Men Square Massacre, what reason do they have to try and do the right thing? To prevent further massacres? To be considered an equal with other nations?
The US didn't do a thing to the KMT (Chiang Kai-shek's party/govt that fled the mainland when the Chi-Coms took over) when they massacred thousands of native Taiwanese to solidify their rule. Why? Because we feared the Communists, and so ignored it. Not a single censure. How many of you had even heard of the 2-28 Incident?

But I'm not trying to excuse China for their past. I just don't want us to excuse ourselves and our allies, either. We actually try to do better because sunlight has been shone on our past mistakes. So I'm going to continue to shine sunlight, in hopes that we don't go into the shadows again.

Another problem I have with looking to past actions as the basis for current postures and future oppositions is: how far in the past do you go?

Americans think that 100 years is a LOOONG time, and so we ignore the US' greedy and expansionistic past, when we picked a fight with a weakening Spain so we could take their territories, establish our Empire, and compete in the colonial exploitation game.
Heck, specifically regarding China, when the European powers were carving up China in the 1800s because it was rich but weak, the US rode in...but not to protect China's territorial sovereignty, but to demand that we get our fair share of the booty, too.
To us, that's just 150 years ago. Too far in the past to blame us for...
But what is 150 years to a nation that counts its history in millenia? 150 years is yesterday. I'm not saying their view is more correct than ours, but we can't insist on our own view without at least acknowledging that their view has some validity, as well. Or at least remembering and accounting for their opinion.

And if we accurately understand exactly what mistakes every nation has made in the past, then we can focus in more on current and future behavior.

My goal is that our govt and public opinion would adopt and communicate an attitude toward China like this:

Okay, guys, the past is the past. But we're watching you, and we won't stand for anything like the Tian'an Men Square Massacre again. We won't stand for you messing with Taiwan, either. Not because they are better than you (their past is just as bad), but because even though they are being jerks about the whole re-unification thing, that doesn't justify an armed invasion and the attendant deaths. Find a better way to do it. If you go that far, we'll fight you, and it will hurt you more than us.

And I'd like us to say to Taiwan:
Quit farting around, hoseheads. We'll defend your freedoms with our lives, but we'd rather not have to, y'know? Can't you find a less-risky path to get what you want?

But I'm tired of the vilification of China. No one in China has the power that Stalin had. Mao had more power than Gorbachev, sure, but no one currently has that much power these days. It's all power brokering and compromise and people trying to maintain their own personal security. If they could figure out a way to retain wealth and freedom while converting to Democracy, I think the Chinese govt would go for it. But they seem to fear (justified, I think) something like the French Revolution happening, where the first act of a new Chinese govt would be to execute the old one. I can't say I blame 'em for not stepping down under those likely circumstances.

But if we continue to engage China, give them disincentives for attacking Taiwan and provide incentives for them to continue giving their people more freedom, they might just hit a tipping point and transform the nation in a matter of months.

That's what I want to see. But in my heart, demonizing China is counterproductive to that.

It's almost like people want there to be another evil empire like the USSR to hate and oppose; that someone else has to be wholly evil so they can feel good about the US. I don't think there's justification to consider China that bad. I think that the communist movement, being liberal, was inherently immature; I'd like to encourage their maturation, to convince them that more political freedom and strengthening the Rule of Law in their nation is a desirable goal.

So that's where I'm coming from. If it isn't clear, well, let me know where and I'll try to clarify.

Aside: we can't actually prove Jesus lived on the earth. The Shroud of Turin aside, we don't know where Jesus was buried. That's so far in the past, we don't have any expectations of proof. And yet, I've seen Confucius home, his family temple, and his grave. He lived 500 years before Jesus was born.

Posted by Nathan at 12:48 PM | Comments (8)
» links with: Instead of demonizing China.....

Yeah, you irritated me. Not too severely, though.

I was just annoyed that you took a single tossed-off reference I made ("brutally conquering" -- I was thinking of Tibet) and made that an entire focus. The gist of my piece was that France was siding with China for all the wrong reasons, while extending my sympathies to the Taiwanese. I really don't think that much of the past is overly relevant to today; it's a very clear question -- in the conflict between China and Taiwan, who should we support, if either?

Taking the pragmatic approach has cost us too dearly in the past (the old "yeah, he's an SOB, but he's OUR SOB" bit that made us buddy up to some truly despicable people before), so I voted with my heart and chose the Taiwanese. I know that, economically, politically, and in a host of other ways we'd be better off backing the Communists (or, at least, staying out), but I don't like what they've done to Tibet, Hong Kong, Mongolia, and their continued sabre-rattling towards the Japanese. And that doesn't even begin to cover their current treatment of their own people.

And I think we are in an economic war with them -- one we're not doing too well in. They engage in wholesale pillaging of our intellectual properties, they use cheap labor that borders on slave wages, they toss up huge protective barriers to our products... in general, I really, REALLY don't like the Chinese government, and I relish the opportunity to stick it in their eye.

Add in Taiwan's support of us over the decades (often more supportive than we really deserve, considering how we've treated them, especially when we let them get kicked out of the UN), and it's a no-brainer: support your friends, oppose your enemies.

And if, in the process, you piss off the French, then everybody wins.

Simplistic, perhaps even jingoistic. But it works for me.


Posted by: Jay Tea at April 23, 2005 01:23 PM

This isn't the first time this has happened, tho, so I am trying to consider better ways to get my point across without being so annoying...

Posted by: Nathan at April 23, 2005 02:29 PM


I tried to add a trackback to your article, but for some reason it didn't work.

Anyway, enjoyed this particular post and here are the comments I left on my site.

Sometimes I find it really hard to think about China in a positive light, at least in regard to politics and that is why I enjoy reading posts like this from people like you who are able to offer a more rational and objective view.

I find it refreshing when someone puts something to me in a way that forces me stop and reevaluate my own thought processes.

As you mentioned, the US government isn't exactly all that innocent. In fact, I have to wonder if some of the blame for the current crisis in the Taiwan Strait doesn't belong to some of the policies put forward by the US government.

No, I'm not talking about the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. I'm talking about the need for it in the first place. What would the current situation be like if the US hadn't started the ball rolling in switching official recognition of government from Taipei to Beijing? It's just a hypothetical question, but non-the-less I think it is an interesting one and I'd be willing to dig into it a little deeper if anyone's interested.

Posted by: Gordon at April 25, 2005 07:39 AM

Finally a refreshing post on this issue. You go on these online sites and all of them are for use of force, etc. etc.

The fact is, China like the status quo between China and Taiwan. Are they modernizing their military? Yep, is it a concern? Yes. But you have to look at what happened.

In 2001, prior to 9/11, Bush said "he'll do whatever it takes to defend Taiwan". Beijing took that as a declaration of formal support of Taiwan independence. Chen Shui-Bian took it the same way and started to make comments about changing the Constitution and from Republic of China to Republic of Taiwan (in other words, crossing the "line" that Beijing considers as declaration of independence). Both of those events prompted the fast and huge modernization efforts currently underway. Frankly, they'd rather spend that money on fixing the economic issues (particularly banking).

BTW, i read your Tibet post -- what you said is right. Dalai Lama DID invite Mao into Tibet and Mao secured the rights to based troops in the region, in exchange for a seat in the Politburo (there still is a seat reserved for Dalai Lama in the government today, though it's probably symbolic and carries no power). He did just that and a Tibetan uprising occured which resulted in over 2000+ soldiers killed. Obviously what Mao did next was to oliterate the opposition and that's where all the "Tibetan masscre" claim come from, but it was Tibetans that fired the first shot. What resulted is truly tragic to the Tibetan people, but i don't think we should make excuses for them either.

Posted by: Tony at April 25, 2005 08:33 AM

Actually Tony, China's modernization of its military started long before Bush even came into office.

During the Gulf War, China watched the might American military power in complete astonishment because they realized just how far behind they were. It was after this that the Chinese government began the rapid modernization of its military forces.

Then, in 1996 China sent to missiles over Taiwan in an attempt to intimidate the voters in Taiwan's Presidential elections. Clinton (can you believe it?) responded by sending two aircraft carrier battle groups to the South China Sea. That display of power on their shorelines freaked the hell out of the CCP and as such they stepped up their military modernization program up a few more notches.

Granted, W's comments in 2001 didn't help the situation, but neither did ramming an American EP-3 plane and forcing it to land on Hainan Island.

The comments Bush made in regards to defending Taiwan had both good and bad consequences, but I'm still not sure which one out weighs the other.

Posted by: Gordon at April 25, 2005 05:47 PM

I'm glad he made those comments, myself. In a situation like what's going on between China and Taiwan, ambiguity is the biggest danger. I think President Bush clarified some aspects well enough that it may act as a deterrent against China being stupid.

Posted by: Nathan at April 25, 2005 05:56 PM


The problem is that Chen Shui Bian took it as a clear support of him and his DPP party to move toward formal declaration of independence, which will guarantee a Chinese response. China knows it won't win against a direct confrontation with the US but they'll do it anyway. Bush, by saying that, encouraged Chen shui bian to move toward independence and the buildup intensified.

80% of the current missles pointing at Taiwan is right after Chen moved towards independence. I thinK China's view on Taiwan is that Taiwan is going to declare independence no matter what, and thanks in large part to Bush's support.

I don't think Bush would support Chen declaring independence. In fact, it's somewhat questionable that if Chen declares independence first and that results in a Chinese response, whether Bush will even order the US navy into the region. Certainly if China attacks without provocation, then US will support Taiwan 100%, but the real question to ponder on is whether Bush will act if Taiwan moves and defies what Bush told Chen in 2003 not to do so. Chen only backed down after Bush made those comments and his party haven't gotten enough votes in the legislature.

Posted by: Tony at April 26, 2005 11:35 AM

So the question is: which side is the biggest threat to stability in the Taiwan Strait?

I gotta say it is China, and so the proper target for warning speech is still China, regardless of how little I like Chen Shuibian (I call him Chen Xiaobian, for those of you who know Chinese) or his opportunistic political grandstanding.

Yeah, China can't stand against us in a prolonged, direct conflict. But they don't have to. All they have to do is have enough credible force to make it painful for the US to get involved militarily. If they can make us hesitate long enough to consolidate their hold on Taiwan, they probably won't have to fight us at all. And that's what most of their defense acquisition has been aimed at over the last decade, no?

Except that President Bush has said and shown that he won't allow China to take Taiwan militarily. That must give China pause; if they can't get the US to stay out based on a calculus of US military lives, they can't win. And China wants to win this one easily; loss of face would be far worse than any possible human/materiel destruction.

So I like President Bush's unambiguous support of Taiwan, even if I don't like what Taiwan is doing to escalate tension.

Posted by: Nathan at April 26, 2005 12:01 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?