Sun, Jun 29, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Irony and the US view of Taiwan

By Ian Inkster 音雅恩

Or we can jump forward in time to the effect of Japanese technology and investment on the so-called Four Tigers, the then-newly industrial economies of Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. Each benefited from very high rates of growth, technological modernization, and prosperity. In the case of Taiwan, this took place under a KMT regime that could ride high growth rates while maintaining austere discipline, political autarchy and a longer period of martial law than any other Asian nation, indeed matched only by Syria in the 20th century.

Throughout most of those years of dependency on Japanese technology and US military power, the KMT kept up its anti-China rhetoric, and indeed its policy that Taiwan was the only China and was duty-bound to defeat the mainland by force, whilst hiding under the military and cultural umbrella of the US; which you will note was the position also of Japan. How much irony can reality give us?

So it is more a packet of salt than a pinch. None of the above argues that economic dependency could not under restrictive conditions lead directly to political dependency. However, neither history nor circumstance support Clinton’s contention for Taiwan, which is anyway hypercritical in the extreme.

Historically, relationships based on economic dependency have had mixed political results, but it should be noted that very differing and highly capitalist nations have developed through dependency, from the US or Japan through Australia or Canada — long-dependent on unequal relationships with the UK and the US respectively — to the Four Tigers, and it happens that in all these cases the political trajectory has been toward, rather than away from, democracy.

It is very easy to be populist, and in Taiwan, commentators and politicians will jump to support Clinton. This may not do too much harm in the long run. However, any party that builds its electoral case for 2016 on the basis of an outdated anti-China perspective without combining that with a consistent and coherent program of economic and social reform will merely repeat the mistakes of 2012.

In particular, if the DPP follows Clinton to the letter and uses such claims to build a more radically critical position on China in coming months, it could be that by the 2016 electoral campaign it will once again be shattered by repeated US support for the KMT. So beware the rhetorical soothsayer and remember that irony is not always funny.

Ian Inkster is professorial research associate of SOAS, University of London, and professor of global history in the department of international affairs at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, Kaohsiung.

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