Calls by what remains a small number of voices in the US academic community for Washington to “ditch” Taiwan for the sake of better relations with China reached a new low last week with the publication of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Paul Kane, a former international security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Earlier this year, a handful of articles were published in journals, including Foreign Affairs, making the case that realist US foreign policy required the abandonment of Taiwan to clear the way for a full relationship with China in difficult economic times. Reactions to those pieces then showed beyond doubt that the arguments advanced by those academics failed on several grounds, including moral.
As this newspaper argued in response to the previous articles, the 23 million people who inhabit this nation are not mere commodities who can be traded by larger nations on a diplomatic chessboard. Not only is the commodification of human beings morally bankrupt, it is also a recipe for disaster, as the subjects — treated as pawns in the machinations of great power politics — are unlikely to regard such decisions with equanimity.
Just as Cambodia was treated as mere sideshow to the Vietnam War by the administration of then-US president Richard Nixon, creating, among other things, the political conditions that allowed for the emergence of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, regarding Taiwan in the same manner for the sake of diplomatic or economic returns by Beijing is dangerously shortsighted and naive. For one, no Taiwanese would accept the imposition of a political system that is not only alien to them, but that is also repressive and undemocratic. Not to mention that Beijing is unlikely to become a responsible stakeholder simply because Taiwan has been “returned” to the “motherland.”
It was not originality that set Kane’s op-ed apart from its predecessors, but rather how poorly it fared in every respect. So much so, that in the backlash that ensued, it managed to make academics who do not see eye-to-eye on Taiwan agree with one another. Even in economic terms, Kane’s proposed strategy of “selling out” Taiwan so that Beijing would forgive the US’ trillion-dollar-plus debt would, as Business Insider showed on Friday, only succeed in crippling China’s banking system.
It boggles the mind that a reputable publication like the New York Times would open its coveted editorial space to a “defense expert” whose credentials are far less than meets the eye. Kane, who has a bachelor’s degree in political economy from the University of Maryland, was a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School for only one year and did not obtain a degree there. He served in Iraq for one year, in 2003, in political affairs. Sources describe him as a “poseur” and a “climber” who should not have been allowed to set foot in Harvard to begin with.
The question, then, is why, given the author’s rather dubious academic credentials and the many flaws in the article, the Times allowed what can only be described as facetious hogwash to appear in its pages. Should it bother to get Taiwan’s story right, there are a good number of academics in the US and abroad to whom it could have turned for columns on China and Taiwan. Kane is not one of them.
His piece, rather than convincing decision makers, achieved the opposite and undermined the paper’s credibility in the process.