News about the US official who claimed that Taiwan's government could be overthrown in a matter of minutes may have been fabrication or simply an instance of bad journalism, but the truth of the matter is more of this is to be expected in the lead-up to next year's presidential election -- more bad journalism, sadly, and more veiled, deniable threats out of Washington.
Forget about CIA-orchestrated coups d'etat in Iran in 1953 or Guatemala in 1954. As veteran New York Times journalist Tim Wiener writes in his history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, with roughly half its workforce still trainees in their 20s, the CIA has begun to "abandon the techniques of the past -- political warfare, propaganda, and covert action -- because it lack[s] the skills to conduct them." In other words, in its present state, the agency probably could not even overthrow the principal at a high school in Virginia.
But the US doesn't need the CIA to act upon its discontent with a regime, friendly or otherwise. In fact, beyond covert operations, it has a long history of meddling in the domestic affairs of states -- even allied democracies -- when it perceived that doing so was in its interest. A little known example of this is the 1962-1963 plot by the John F. Kennedy administration to overthrow Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker by launching an elaborate propaganda campaign involving journalists, the business sector and politicians and even dispatching a secret campaign adviser to the opposition in Ottawa.
What had prompted the US was Diefenbaker's opposition, just as the Cold War was picking up steam, to the deployment of a US missile system in Canada. In the end, the pressure paid off, Diefenbaker was knocked off, and Lester Pearson, whom Washington had identified as amenable to their missile scheme, walked into office. The missiles were deployed, and Washington celebrated.
Forty-five years later, as President Chen Shui-bian (
And the theme will be an undeniable one, for it has become obvious that Washington wants the trouble-some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) out of power. Unless its presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh (
The US is an unequaled master at the game and, when it didn't achieve it via the CIA or militarily, it has used its political and economic clout, as well as its conservative media, to interfere in foreign elections and, occasionally, change governments. Ideological opponents, suspected communists, alleged state sponsors of terrorism or would-be nuclear proliferators are not alone in facing the threat of Washington's pressure. As the Diefenbaker example shows us, even its closest, democratic allies can fall from grace with Washington.
But while it undeniably has the means to bring about change in the domestic politics of other countries, what Washington lacks is the foresight that would allow it to fully comprehend the long-term consequences of its actions. More often than not, the coups it engineered ended up creating more misery than good and ultimately proved not to have been in the best interests of the US.
Coup or no coup, everyone could benefit from a little more foresight stateside.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably