Sun, Aug 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

The vagaries of US ‘commitment’

By Strobe Driver

The implication is that the East is not as culturally diverse, civilized and articulate a group of people. This smacks of the Roman Empire and its accusation that any group of people that did not want Rome’s view of the world and its “civilization qualities” must be inherently stupid — the Romans even invented a word for these types of people, barbari,” or as the vernacular of the English language stipulates, “barbarians.”

Harnessed within the advice that the West offers Asia in general is that the ideals of previous centuries have not diminished as completely as they should have, which is resplendent in a speech that then-US president John F. Kennedy made during the early phases of what would become the Vietnam War.

Kennedy suggested that if Vietnam fell to the communists, the doors of communism would be “open wide” and the defeat of all of Southeast Asia would follow. As communism made its way throughout Southeast Asia, it would be blindly and humbly accepted by each Asian nation-state — each of which would be too stupid to respond in a proactive or articulate way, due to its dire political consequences.

Once again, the question is: Why would a US president think and say such a thing? The answer lies in the homogenization of the Asian population — the assumption that all Asians are the “same.”

For a privileged, xenophobic, culturally isolated, God-fearing, eurocentric, “civilized” and wealthy white, elite male — and his advisory group — he had absolutely no understanding of Asia. That an Indonesian could possibly be culturally, religiously and politically different from a person born in the Philippines was simply beyond Kennedy’s and his advisers’ thinking. All these people were simply a “bunch of Asians.”

That the Vietnamese fought against the French, that Malaysians defied the English and that Indonesians reacted violently to the Dutch had no place in their understanding of the East.

To be sure, some Western institutions, such as the EU, do not accord with past practices of Western idealism and promote a much more moderated version of good government and governance practices. This stated, one does not need to look far to find that there still exists in some Western nation-states a residual of Kennedy’s notions of homogenization — take far-right groups for example.

As the West begins to lose its unipolar grip on the world, it is these groups and their power through voting blocs that are a worrying precedent for nations having difficulties.

What would happen if far-right groups — such as the Tea Party in the US — revert to the past and observe all of Asia as a homogenous group not worthy of US intervention?

This is a real and present danger for Taiwan, as it would put paid to any commitment beyond supplying military hardware and political handwringing. Taiwan would become just “another Asian country.”

Taiwan as a part of Asia should be wary of any advice given to it by the West — in particular the US — when it comes to “commitment,” bearing in mind the history of the West and its fickleness when staying in the fight to the very end.

Whatever government is in power is by and large capable, and an astute and articulate regional actor.

While there might be problems at times (“Trump still a wild card for Taiwan,” July 22, page 8) and the CCP continues to put pressure on foreign actors (“US lawmakers condemn PRC pressure on airlines,” July 27, page 1), if Taiwan is to go down the path of the commitment of others in a Taiwan-China shooting war, it needs clear and concise understanding from its allies of what a commitment comprises of.

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