Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 8

Blame in a vacuum

The Beijing Olympics have prompted many to draw parallels with the 1936 Berlin Games. However, it is not the Games themselves but other events prior to World War II we should be considering.

While there is inevitably a polarization of opinion on how the world should deal with China, as demonstrated in recent letters and articles in the Taipei Times, the complexity of the situation entails that a single approach or action will not work — and could ultimately be counterproductive.

The Games are merely a sporting event that China wants to use as a showcase — we all know that. However, this in itself is not a problem. All countries hosting any international event seek to do the same, so begrudging China for this is both naive and hypocritical.

If the Olympics have brought the world’s attention to some of China’s problems, then we have an opportunity to do something constructive about it. Boycotting the Games will achieve nothing other than fanning the flames of Chinese nationalism and anti-Western feeling. Losing face is untenable to many, particularly the Chinese.

There is precedent of a backlash from a nation humiliated. The humiliating terms Germany suffered as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of World War I laid the grounds for a nationalistic leader offering to restore pride and punish a scapegoat. We all know what happened next.

However, mere appeasement is also a dangerous course. The pacts of Britain and the Soviet Union with Hitler now appear laughable but at the time were widely believed to have secured peace.

But would appeasement have worked if deployed before rather than after the Treaty of Versailles? Quite possibly, in my view: as in comedy, timing is everything.

If we take a stand against the Olympics, China may use this as a justification not to negotiate on other more important issues, such as the environment, human rights abuses and the freedom of Taiwan. Equally, if we continue to appease China for economic reasons, we merely weaken our position to negotiate.

China and its government still need our investments and markets to sustain growth, and the reason it hasn’t attacked Taiwan is because of the economic repercussions that would flow from the West. Think forward 10 years and imagine negotiating with an unreformed Chinese government that is economically and militarily stronger, with a secure energy supply through global alliances such as the West exploits in the Middle East.

We therefore can’t afford to look at these issues in a vacuum and advocate knee jerk responses. If we don’t make the connection now between the cheap products we are enjoying from China and what implications there could be from fueling its economic growth, while also failing to appreciate the Chinese psyche and viewpoint and how best to tackle these issues so as not to inflame nationalism, then we won’t be able to point the blame solely at another “evil empire” when things go wrong.

Philip Wallbridge


On reforming academia

A plethora of private institutes in Taiwan have been developing into universities. Successive governments have approved the changes apparently because the applicants met the requirements.

But the government forgot two very important elements: democratization of power structures and the mentality and abilities of teachers, the latter being a product of the former.

Most of these establishments remain authoritarian because they never carried out the transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy along together with the political sphere; their power structures are therefore top-down and they have people in charge whose core values revolve around money. They use their newly acquired status of “university” to attract more “customers,” even on weekends, while busying teachers with Continuing Education classes instead of doing research or even looking after their families.

When these universities are evaluated, they often have a rough time, with numerous departments failing inspections and others staying in place but on parole. They often refuse to admit their deficiencies, speaking of “bad luck” and hoping some political connection with the next government can help them pass the next evaluation.

The goal of maintaining a sense of harmony in universities takes precedence over the importance of forthright language. One of the main ways of maintaining harmony is emphasizing rank and position.

Most of the departments’ directors seem to enjoy tenured appointments. Reluctant to speak up or to take individual responsibility for projects and unable to envision any change, they perpetuate the system, practicing patron-client relations, appointing individuals to key positions and cultivating loyalty among those they appoint.

The first step in the evolution of an institute into a true university must be the mentality of the faculty. They must respect the students’ parents and the students, as well as accept change when the empowerment of personnel of lower rank is placed on the agenda.

Each teacher must have decision-making power and access to information and resources. They must make informed decisions, think positively on the process of bringing change about and learn new skills that improve the prospects of teacher and student. Unlimited possibilities exist in reforming an environment; the problem is where the excitement and the joie de vivre reside.

If this can be implemented, the universities will begin to produce knowledge through research, as well as be more capable of preserving and transmitting it, and will provide intellectual guidance that solves real problems facing society.

Sylvie Allassonniere