Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Our moral nakedness: a response

Adar Primor’s piece in the Nov. 6 edition of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz does a good job analyzing the underlying strategy of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) bid to join the United Nations under the name “Taiwan.” Primor is fully aware that Chen’s chances of success in this endeavor are, at least on the surface, rather quite slim, as Taiwan is confronted to the harsh realities of Realpolitik and “international hypocrisy.”

Beyond the attempt itself, however, Primor sees a second — and perhaps even more important — bid to expose the moral nakedness of the international community, which continues to deny “the freest country in Asia” the place it deserves under the sun. Primor spares no one; the US, European countries, even Israel, the author says, have been “going with the flow,” meaning that China’s lure trumps the so-called “shared” values that, as he rightly puts it, are by no means reflected in the Chinese leadership.

Sadly, the author concludes with a flawed analogy by comparing Taiwan with Israel, “two small and effervescent ‘real democracies’ engaged in their own security-existential troubles, exposed to threats from a huge external enemy and dependent on American protection and aid.” Foreign editor at Haaretz, a newspaper with a long, enviable tradition of even-handed reporting on Israeli politics (see Amira Haas’ clear-eyed columns on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, for example), Primor should know better than to equate Taiwan’s struggle for survival with Israel’s, as the “David of the Far East,” as he puts it, does not face “a huge external enemy” because of its long history of colonialism and military adventurism, at least not since dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) left the scene.

Unlike Israel, Taiwan does not threaten its neighbors, does not invade their airspace or bomb capital cities back to the stone age. Nor does it hold millions hostage in Apartheid-like submission — all misguided policies that (a) most Israelis do not agree with and (b) are largely responsible for that “huge external enemy” in the first place. Beijing denies the very existence of Taiwan; most Arabs do not deny Israel’s right to exist and those who do certainly do not have the means to bring about such a reality. If it wanted, Beijing could raze Taiwan to the ground (It would help if Israel stopped selling military technology to China). Conversely, given its tremendous military (largely the result of US “carte blanche” military transfers and billions in annual aid, as well as its nuclear arsenal), it is Israel, what with its unconditional support from Washington, that is in a position, if it wanted, to annihilate its enemies — not the other way around.

What this means, therefore, is that no policy “correction” on Taipei’s part would bring about a cessation of hostilities. No matter what it does, Beijing will continue to threaten it — at least as long as it struggles for sovereignty. With a corrective in how it manages its conflict both with Palestinians and its neighborhood, Israel can appease “Goliath,” fix its “security-existential struggle” and sideline the remaining lunatics who call for its destruction.

Primor’s piece is a most welcome one that shows Chen’s efforts to publicize Taiwan’s cause are not in vain. But by conflating Taiwan’s struggle with that of Israel, sadly, he undermines the power of his argument.

In fairness to the author, I subsequently learned that the “David of the Far East” analogy was picked up by Mr. Primor during his interviews with Taiwanese and, furthermore, that it is often used by Chinese-language media in Taiwan. As I argue above, this analogy not only misinterprets the roots of Israel's security challenge but, ironically, misrepresents the underlying causes of Taiwan's predicament.


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful response to the misinformed Haaretz writer, Primor.

MikeinTaipei said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. Mr. Primor's heart is in the right place; sadly, it is the analogy - which I am told he picked up while visiting Taiwan - that is flawed. In fact, if we were to continue down the road of incorrect analogies, we should rather say that Taiwan is like Palestinians: Facing an much more powerful enemy that relies on might to impose "peace" on its own terms.

Taiwan Nushu said...

You are right. There are limits to the analogy between Taiwan and Israel. Here are some more differences:
- Chinese visitors in Taiwan don't blow themselves up in crowded (or even remote) locations,
- China doesn't forbid Taiwanese people to come to China and live in China. There are some wealthy areas around Shanghai where almost everybody is from Taiwan. Yet no one in China thinks of them as 'colonies' and tries to murder them because they are Taiwanese.
- Chinese media are not full of hatred against the Taiwanese (just some hate against the DPP government), but Palestinian media and schoolbooks make no excuse for hating Israelis and jews in particular.
- China didn't send over 2000 rockets on Kinmen (or even Taiwan) in the last couple of years. And Taiwan didn't even evacuate Kinmen! (But Irsael evacuated Gaza).
- China's military doesn't hide in civilian centers, which makes collateral damage difficult to avoid,
- China's economy doesn't depend on international aid.
- The government in China brings basic infrastructure to its people. Hamas is only providing candles in Gaza...

Anonymous said...

I think that comparison is only legitimate from the perspective of economy nowadays. Not to mention the city settings of Tel Aviv is really like Taipei, except for the beach and security checks by armed guards at crowded places.

However, as a Taiwanese, I'm really assaulted by this analogy because two places are not alike at all from a democratic perspective just as this response pointed out. And yes, we're like Palestinians fighting to have our own country recognized by the nations.