Sat, Dec 31, 2016 - Page 14 News List

Book Review: A misunderstood crisis

Through debunking misconceptions and providing detailed history and analysis of numerous issues surrounding Taiwan, J Michael Cole’s new book calls for the international community to pay attention to Taiwan’s plight and its people’s wish to continue their way of life

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Convergence or Conflict in the Taiwan Strait: The Illusion of Peace, by J. Michael Cole

This book is written from a pro-Taiwan perspective by a long-time foreign journalist and researcher residing in Taiwan, and should be read as such. Cole announces his stance in the introduction, stating that he has “strong views on the notion that the 23 million people of Taiwan should be able to determine their own future, a right that far too often is denied them due to Chinese pressure and international complicity.”

Few English-language books come from this perspective, not to mention one that is very well-written and researched. There’s barely any academic jargon, and the concepts are clearly organized and easy to understand. Cole is opinionated and is not shy to express it, but that is the point of the book -- to provide an opposing perspective from someone who lives and works in Taiwan and is concerned about the country’s welfare and future.

That said, Cole does take a few digs here and there at KMT politicians — Lien Chan (連戰) is opportunistic, former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would shed tears only in memory of (former president) Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) — and appears to be more sympathetic toward the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). That position is not surprising given his stance, although he does argue that the pro-Beijing faction in the KMT is fading and now both parties, while still at odds with each other, are moving toward a common “Taiwanese nationalism,” which he explores at length.

As the author explains in the first chapter, Taiwan’s situation is often misunderstood by the international community for a variety of reasons. This can be due to political, corporate, academic or media self-censorship in fear of angering China, or simply because as a safe, prosperous and stable state that underwent a relatively peaceful democratization process, Taiwan’s plight not as dramatic or newsworthy compared to, say, Kosovo, where much blood was shed.

Some even wonder why Taiwan doesn’t just give in to Chinese demands of unification, which to them is the logical choice. But as China continues to grow, this “cloud of ignorance” could lead to serious implications down the road for foreign governments, as Cole explains why Taiwan should not be ignored later in the book.

In the chapter, “What Should Taiwan Do?” Cole suggests increasing “counterpropaganda” to dispute Beijing’s claims and put forth the Taiwanese viewpoint.

“Ultimately, what Taiwan could do better is to show that opposing Beijing’s efforts to annex their country is not irrational but rather legitimate … why the existence of Taiwan as a sovereign state matters to the international community..”

And that counterpropaganda is exactly what Cole sets out to achieve in this book.

Many chapters involve debunking a common misconception, for example, in Chapter 2, Cole argues that despite the Ma administration’s markedly improvement in relations with China over the past eight years, “what has developed does not even come close to peace” as this rapprochement mostly took place on a cultural and economic level and rarely involved politics.

Despite improved relations, China is still intent on absorbing Taiwan, and continues its military buildup and political warfare in undermining Taiwan’s international status and democracy — hardly signs of peace, Cole argues.

And unfortunately, the “international community liked what it was hearing and chose to believe it,” and “had the effect of obviating the one last aspect about Taiwan (the risk of war) that made it newsworthy,” noting the people who shared his viewpoint were treated with disdain and branded as “alarmists.”

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