Thu, Sep 24, 2009 - Page 8 News List


Dignity is at stake

A moral crisis is erupting across East Asia and it will lead to a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth when it is over. Across the region, states are slowly aligning themselves with China, especially as doubts about the durability of Pax Americana grow in the wake of the Iraq War and the global financial crisis.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is being hailed as a watershed for Japanese democracy, but his desire for Japan to find its niche in a new and emerging East Asian economic order founded on an ill-defined set of East Asian values (but without abandoning the US alliance) amounts to acquiescence to Chinese domination of the region.

Hatoyama’s position and that of Japan more generally is not unlike Taiwan’s. China is an 800 pound baby gorilla and there seems to be little alternative but to placate it and take advantage of it. At the same time, everybody wants to be on good terms with the US, in case China unexpectedly throws a fit.

If Taiwan is too politically and economically weak to stand up to China on its own, Japan is too morally weak to provide leadership for a more liberal Asian order because of its imperial past. South Korea’s position is perhaps even more precarious, being completely surrounded by historical competitors. To curry favor with Beijing, she commits the minor indiscretion of temporarily detaining a Uighur activist.

Then there is President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). After all the posturing as a genuine democrat over the years, one wonders what this man has actually ever stood for.

Perhaps former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was a crook, whose actions did great damage to his party and people.

Ma, however, is starting to appear as a fawning mandarin who has never stood for anything other than being a mandarin. His rejection of the Dalai Lama’s attempt in December to visit Taiwan and then his grudging and apologetic approval of the exile’s subsequent attempt after Typhoon Morakot reek of cowardice and obsequious opportunism, with the consequence that Taiwan’s international position seems more diminished than ever.

The vituperation directed against the Dalai Lama by the KMT and then the attempt to prevent the film about Rebiya Kadeer from being shown at a film festival in Kaohsiung, on the grounds that Chinese tourists will boycott the city, are beneath contempt. If Ma, the KMT and the Chinese believe that an economic deal with China will be enough to satisfy Taiwanese aspirations in the long run, they are all in for a rude awakening.

East Asia is slowly and collectively turning away from liberal, democratic values and turning toward China, a train wreck waiting to happen. When the flood of liquidity released by the world’s central banks and governments (China’s foremost among them) filters down through the financial and property sectors into commodities and consumer goods in the coming months and years, China will be the least prepared for the social, economic and political consequences of inflation. If the US has a shocking fiscal crisis looming, China has a looming crisis of legitimacy. The Chinese have been praised by investors around the world for their robust reaction to the financial crisis, but the truth is that they panicked and overreacted because of their fear of unemployment and instability. They may have succeeded in delaying the danger by a few years, but the price is probably the dawn of a Great Stagflation.

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