Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making Taiwan an end in itself

China has had plenty of opportunities to learn from democracies in the past decades, and yet remains authoritarian. The idea that contact with Taiwan will yield different results is a mistaken one

Despite the occasional suggestion by a handful of US academics that Washington should “abandon” Taiwan to its “inevitable” fate of unification with China, a good number of experts and officials maintain that the nation of 23 million cannot simply be willed out of existence and must therefore be dealt with.

Welcome though this defense of Taiwan may be, a surprisingly large number of such proponents, often in the same breath, add that democratic Taiwan is useful because it serves as an example for China, encouraging the incremental democratization and liberalization of the authoritarian giant next door.

Using terminology like “the first Chinese democracy,” such individuals fail to recognize that Taiwan is a distinct entity unto itself, or that the existence of its 23 million people is more than a means to an end.

Although qualitatively better than the argument that Taiwan should be forsaken by its allies and protectors for the sake of better relations with Beijing, the case that the nation is “useful” because it can foster change in China fails on moral grounds.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Michael Fagan said...

I think that's a fine rebuttal (though I don't agree with one of the premises). Surely you must have put that to Wolfowitz at some point the other day?

There is another way of looking at this. Would a democratic China be any less nationalistic and latently aggressive toward Taiwan? I think there is ample reason to doubt this.

As we have seen in Miaoli and other places, the mere fact that a State has undergone a process of democratic reform does not mean it will respect the rights of the individual - far from it, even the most egregious and obvious violations of property rights for instance will always find both cheerleaders and apologists from within any "democratic reform movement" (which will be dominated by the Left). So there is also ample reason to believe that many of the atrocities being inflicted upon the Chinese people today will simply continue under a democratically reformed Chinese Republic - just as similar atrocities occur in Taiwan now.

It seems to me that the democratic aspect of any future reform is often overplayed whilst the far more important Liberal (i.e. reduction and limitation of government) aspect is under-emphasized. This is a serious flaw.

FOARP said...

"There is nothing special about Taiwan, mis a part a shared language and culture, that would make China more willing to embrace and experiment with democracy."

Mr. Cole, have you genuinely managed to miss the oft-touted argument that China cannot become democratic exactly because of its culture? Have you really failed to understand that it is exactly because of this, because Taiwanese can speak of their experience to people from the mainland in their own language, that Taiwan is such an important example to the people of the PRC?

愛國 (愛台灣 國) said...

FOARP: If there is one thing consistent, it's that J. Michael Cole is pretty much consistent on the mark despite being a westerner and even more knowledgeable then most Asians including Chinese and Taiwanese. Your misunderstanding already shows because you use the often misused term of "mainland." There is no country called "mainland." The 48 states would be considered the mainland to Hawaii. Unless Ma and the KMT are successful in the quest of "unification." They are not people from the mainland. If speaking in the same language was such an effective tool, then explain how Kuo Kuan Ying could go around telling people that he is a high class Chinese? He out of all people has benefited greatly from Taiwan, yet how can he say what he did..

Anonymous said...

Interesting article today on The New York Times by Paul Kane, titled "To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan".

If such output might come to reality, it'd be extremely harmful for many political proselytizers, so just for that very reason, such a proposition would hardly go forward.

It'd mean a cut on the jobs of so many people between lobbyists, at the U.S. arms industry, and also a substantial loss of votes to politicians, especially those who rely on jingoistic speeches and Chinese hawks as Mr. Kane well noted on his article. Wrapping up: phew!