The temptation, though fundamentally altruistic, to try to help others by adopting their “cause” can have the unintended consequence of inspiring resentment among those who are being “helped.” Part of that outcome derives from the condescension or “I know best” attitude often inadvertently taken by individuals who are, and always will be, external to the conflict in question.
It may come as a shock to the interventionists among us, but as David Reynolds points out in his biography of the anti-slavery activist John Brown, many African-Americans came to resent the condescension and paternalism of (white) anti-slavery organizations that hijacked the cause in abolitionist US.
The same, in my view, applies to a more contemporary cause celebre, that of Taiwan’s independence. How often have expatriates, bloggers and academics abroad made policy prescriptions for Taiwan, as if they knew more than the Taiwanese themselves, only to disconsolately shake their heads when those ideas are not lovingly embraced, or when Taiwanese appear unmoved by the repeated insults from Beijing? I myself have often been guilty of that practice, inspired no doubt by a romantic, if not Hemmingway-esque, desire to make that fight my own.
Provided with the assured safety net of having one’s home country to return to should the situation in the Taiwan Strait take a turn for the worse, it is easy for expatriates to advance policies for Taiwanese that are far more intransigent and confrontational than those supported by their Taiwanese friends. I think one of the shortcomings faced by non-Taiwanese who nevertheless choose to “adopt” the fight is that ultimately, the consequences of that fight remain abstractions to them.
Take, for example, one of the most extreme proposals made by certain expatriates recently, that Taiwan should adopt a strategy of guerrilla warfare if faced with an invasion by China’s People’s Liberation Army. While I intend to revisit that subject in a future article, suffice it to say here that this mortally flawed proposal could only be supported by someone incapable of connecting emotionally with the carnage that such a policy would inevitably result in.
What the expatriate community and the well-intentioned supporters of Taiwan abroad fail to understand is that the battle for Taiwan’s future belongs to one people and one people alone: the Taiwanese. We foreigners may express outrage when Taiwanese vote into office an administration that seems bent, by design or ignorance, on facilitating annexation by China, convinced that we have more clarity of vision than Taiwanese. But that is not our call to make. It is their country and rightly or wrongly, they get to decide where it’s headed, based on social, historical, political and economic considerations that in all likelihood elude our comprehension.
I remember being somewhat shocked when my friend and Defense News Asia bureau chief Wendell Minnick said something similar during a conference where we were both panelists. I now see the wisdom in what he said.
This is not to say that expatriates and foreign academics should not seek to extend a helping hand when it is sought, but I have come to realize that humility should replace condescension whenever one decides to participate in someone else’s fight. I often get the sense that behind the veneer of respect and awe that accompanies visits by foreign academics to Taiwan lurks a certain resentment, and that a direct line can be drawn between that emotion and the hubris that animates the celebrated (and inevitably occidental) academic or official, who more often than not spends very little time in Taiwan to impart his or her “wisdom.”
How else can one account for the undercurrents of anti-Americanism that so often come to the surface, even among strong advocates of Taiwanese independence?
The same principle applies to the failed “mission civilisatrice” in places like Afghanistan and Iraq recently, or Vietnam — and even occupied Japan after World War II, as historian and Japan expert John Dower convincingly puts it in his book Cultures of War. How seriously did the Spanish take Hemingway after he injected himself into their fight, joining the Loyalists against Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s forces? Would history have been any different had he not gotten involved? Would the Spanish have known any less which side to fight on absent his reportage?
On my way home this afternoon I saw a car speed by on Minquan E Road atop which a large People’s Republic of China flag was flying, to the accompaniment of communist propaganda on a loudspeaker. My initial reaction was one of anger, and I could feel the expletives well up inside my throat, but it isn’t my fight. Only Taiwanese have the right to decide whether this is acceptable in their country. Who am I, as a Canadian, a journalist, to get angry at such acts, and to presume to have the authority to tell Taiwanese that such displays are unacceptable and that something should be done about them?
J. Michael Cole is deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.
An old Latin adage reads: Si vis pacem, para bellum. Translated it means: “If you wish peace, then prepare for war.” This adage has many variants and claims to authorship, but what is most important is its message for a peaceful Taiwan. Why should Taiwan prepare for war? The reasons are many and obvious. Certainly, such preparation is not because Taiwan wants war or is a warlike nation. Instead, the answer is found in its neighbor, China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a one-party state, is ambitious and troubled — and that combination makes war a viable option,
Unless Hollywood movies like Greenland, Deep Impact, and Armageddon have predictive powers and a rogue space rock is heading our way, stopping Chinese Communist Party expansionism is likely to prove the single most challenging and dangerous problem of our lifetimes. How can the United States, Taiwan, and other liberal democracies prepare for and prevent attacks from China? How can Washington bolster Taipei’s confidence when it doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a real country and, so far, lacks the political will to make major adjustments to its ossified China policy and Taiwan policy? How can Taiwan make itself heard on the world stage when
Hypersonic weapons are defined as armaments capable of traveling at speeds faster than Mach 5 and can be broadly classified into two types: hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) and hypersonic cruise missiles. The former are launched into the upper atmosphere by ballistic missiles. The vehicle is then separated from the booster to maneuver, or glide, toward its target. The latter can be launched from a jet plane or rocket to reach supersonic speed before igniting a scramjet engine to achieve hypersonic speeds. As the US engages in a great-power competition with China and Russia, all three countries are racing to field hypersonic
As a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet, I frequently get asked how quickly the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might overrun Taiwan if it invaded before 2040. My answer is that the PLA will not be able to take over Taiwan within that time frame, because the more eager the PLA is to complete the task in a short period, the more likely it would fail — and fail big. Having a slim chance of winning is what keeps the PLA from taking action. From time to time, some PLA leaders or keyboard fighters make threats — one of the