When global experts in a given field come to Taiwan to see what is actually taking place under the watch of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) overseers, a pall quickly settles over the cliche of Taiwanese vibrancy and openness. The devil in the detail offers instant sobriety for anyone willing to look.
Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng’s (王清峰) renewed defense of her unhappy terrain is merely one instance of this government’s standard refusal to acknowledge international expertise and the legitimate concern of professionals who care for Taiwan’s future. The standard — and acutely patronizing — technique, at which Wang excels, is to say critics suffer from “misunderstandings,” smarmy code for “You are not Chinese and therefore intrinsically ignorant.”
Sadly, decay in governance does not rate highly on the agenda of other governments because its significance cannot compete with the greater interest of defusing the Taiwan Strait as a flashpoint — and as a thorn in the side of better relations between China and the world’s most powerful states.
Taiwan’s cause is not helped by being in a region dominated by governments that have struggled to be more than just structures that keep a population from rioting.
To the Washington policymaker or think tank researcher, fretting over Taiwanese domestic concerns would therefore reflect a grossly disorganized set of priorities when there are insurgencies, epidemics, juntas and terrorists to monitor.
Meanwhile, China’s growing influence in the region is benefiting from a dual malaise in the US government: the shadow of the Middle East obscuring the China threat (for those who acknowledge the threat), and the underlying US establishment belief in the sacredness of a Chinese state and its destiny (for those who do not).
So is that all there is to it? Can Taiwan’s plight — the increasing likelihood of annexation by an oppressive state with the KMT as its shepherd — only be taken seriously when it is far too late to intervene, assuming that the only nation that can do so still has the willpower?
There must be something about the decay of democratic sensibilities that would offend even the most credulous of China-friendly pundits in Washington. Part of this offense would derive from damage to the contribution that forces in the US have made to Taiwan’s economic success and political progress.
Such damage would also have philosophical consequences for a superpower that failed to live up to its promise of support and friendship for reasons that have been — from beginning to end — logical but dishonorable.
The final, crushing message would be: If natural resources are worth protecting, we are happy to generate undefeatable enemies, and if the price is right, by God, we are prepared to abandon our vulnerable friends.
The good, if bittersweet, news for Taiwan is that the fight will go on, in some form, over some period of time.
China might think it has friends in power now — in Taipei and possibly in Washington — but this temporary fillip cannot rewrite hundreds of years of colonial atrocity, nor prevent misrule by Chinese predators who are fundamentally hostile to Taiwan, its people and its way of life.