West in China’s pocket
The other day I remarked that I ought to start a pool on how long it would take before establishment analysts started labeling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) a “troublemaker” if she became president. However, I see David Brown has trumped my cynicism by deploying that trope before Tsai has even been elected (“DPP must clarify its China policy,” Aug. 19, page 8).
A self-appointed speaker for the “international community,” Brown’s piece is an object lesson in how pro--Beijing propaganda is absorbed and then refracted by analysts in the US. It also shows how the Taiwan-China issue clouds Washington’s eyes when US officials view Taiwan. Finally, it warns how the establishment is likely to treat Tsai.
Brown worries that Tsai will “provoke” Beijing. This is a common pro-China trope that presents Beijing as the helpless victim of the omnipotently provocative DPP. Reality is the opposite: Beijing chooses whether it will be provoked. “Being provoked” is a policy stance, not a visceral reaction, that China deploys to gain leverage over the minds of observers like Brown in the “international community.”
Hence, the question is not whether Beijing will attempt to marginalize Tsai by labeling her “provocative,” but whether the “international community” will support Beijing in that effort. Brown’s presentation gives little reason for hope.
Brown warns that pro-Beijing moves, described as “pragmatic,” foster “stability,” while pro-Taiwan moves harm relations with Washington and Beijing. Yet, Washington is currently advocating policies in the South China Sea, the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and elsewhere in Asia that are certain to anger China.
Brown thus exposes the flagrant contradiction at the heart of Washington’s Taiwan policy: It makes no sense to sell out 23 million allies with a robust armed forces to appease Beijing and then pursue confrontation with Beijing over barren rocks in the ocean.
More practically, with the US confronting China, how could Tsai, as president, be expected to preserve good relations between Beijing and Taipei? Once Washington signals a willingness to sell out Taiwan to avoid angering Beijing, won’t Beijing take that lesson to heart in other areas of the relationship? And what kind of signal does Washington’s mushiness on Taiwan send to other regional capitals?
The “Taiwan problem” is a problem of the postwar Chinese territorial expansion that embraces territories from Central Asia to Japan and no amount of “pragmatism” on Tsai’s part can solve it.
Adoption of the “one China” principle, the “pragmatic” stance Brown demands of Tsai, is unacceptable to locals, as President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) current political weakness demonstrates.
Taiwanese do not want to be annexed by the People’s Republic of China. Neither the fictional “1992 consensus” nor Beijing’s “one China” principle has widespread local support. Nor can policy clarity help the DPP. Brown needs to offer a more pragmatic and nuanced approach than demanding that Tsai commit political suicide.
Finally, out here many of us wonder why such demands are not made of Ma, whose personal and political stances on Taiwan-China relations could surely use more clarity. We wonder why the “international community” fails to demand that Beijing cease threatening Taiwan and stop its relentless territorial expansion, the actual cause of the Taiwan problem.