A great number of books have appeared in recent years focusing on relations between Taiwan and China. Most, if not all, have one thing in common: the narrative adopts a US-centric perspective. While the authors agree that Taiwan needs to be protected from Chinese political intrusion or military aggression, their exploration of the consequences of failure in the Strait usually focuses on Washington.
Bruce Herschensohn's new book, Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy, does not depart from this tradition. A deputy special assistant to disgraced former US president Richard Nixon, Herschensohn makes no attempt to conceal his political beliefs. Reflecting a right-of-center publisher that avowedly sees the world in Manichean, "good" versus "evil" terms, and sees capitalism and democratic republicanism as the means to protect the world from spreading evil, it is clear from the beginning that Taiwan is the good democracy and China the evil authoritarian regime.
But Herschensohn's cast of evil characters is not limited to Beijing: it also includes the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the US State Department, whose diplomats, he reminds us, "are not paid to be honest."
After skimming very briefly over the formation of the Republic of China and the KMT's defeat at the hands of the communists in 1949, the book uses as its point of departure Nixon's visit to China in February 1972 and the Shanghai Communique that emerged from his meeting with Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東).
In Herschensohn's opinion, not only was the communique intentionally misinterpreted by the US State Department, but the misinterpretation became the foundation of two subsequent communiques buttressing former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan's policies on China.
The initial communique, the author argues, did not explicitly state that the ROC was part of the People's Republic of China. The error, it seems, stemmed from a failure to include native Taiwanese in the equation and a perspective that only depicted the conflict in terms of the KMT in Taiwan and the PRC in China.
The communiques, followed by official recognition of Beijing by the Carter administration on Jan. 1, 1979, led to engagement, which Herschensohn claims was a failure, as continued repression and the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 starkly demonstrate. He omits, however, to describe what could have happened had there been no engagement.
Herschensohn then spends a great deal of time demonstrating, through numerous quotes from State Department officials, Foggy Bottom's deviousness over the years. The list of crimes is long: from careerism to obfuscation, avoidance and a failure to define the so-called "status quo," the author argues that, aside from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), no other entity has been more detrimental to Taiwanese liberty than the State Department, which, he argues, has gone from what it should be — adviser to the president — to policymaker. Of course, the motivations behind the State Department's lack of a moral stance are mostly predicated on the need to maintain the sacred "strategic stability" and — no surprise here — to encourage and facilitate trade.
Money talks, and business trumps human rights.
One of the more interesting sections in Herschensohn's book is perhaps his exploration of the slow erosion of human rights following Britain's handover of Hong Kong in 1997. The value in the otherwise dry laundry list is that it shows what could happen to Taiwan were it to become a Special Administrative Region like Hong Kong. For generations of Taiwanese who did not experience the hardships of life in China or the transgressions of a police state and who may, therefore, succumb to the temptation of China's market, the section presents a cogent warning.