Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nothing to gain (and lots to lose) by lying to the US

Taiwanese fishing boats mix with Japan coast guard vessels
Ironically, some Taiwan advocates seem to believe CCP propaganda more than they do senior Taiwanese officials 

For once, Taiwan has behaved like an independent country in its response to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) dispute, and yet critics argue that by doing so the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is actually doing Beijing’s work. 

The irony is hard to miss, but this is exactly what some supporters of Taiwanese independence have been saying. Even though Taipei’s recent actions over the islets may have gone against the wishes of its benefactor in Washington, one cannot advocate for Taiwanese independence only to attack the government when it acts to protect its perceived interests, even if one disagrees with the policy.

Unfortunately, the groups in question suffer from a bad case of “groupthink” and remain fixated on an idea — the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as irremediably bad — while conveniently discarding whatever information does not fit their preconceptions. 

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


Mike Fagan said...

" rights, not mindless nationalism nor a desire to work with Beijing, was what motivated them to take action."

Might not the fishermen have undertaken their protest at a later date when tensions had cooled somewhat?

Had an overly excited Japanese CG vessel rammed and sank a fishing boat, might not the conflict have escalated in sharp order? Did not Ma have the Air Force on standby? What about the Japanese SDF? Where would things have gone from there?

The fishermen may have rights, but so do the other 23 million people who live on this island.

Julian said...

I'm a little mystified by this editorial. Who are these unnamed "Taiwan advocates" and exactly what are they saying? It seems like we've got a straw man here. It's also puzzling that the fishermen should chose this particular time to protest their rights, financed by an avidly pro-China Taiwanese businessman, even if he hails from Ilan. Questioning the timing and motive of these worthy fishermen's protests doesn't mean that someone buys into a conspiracy theory about the Ma government. Only that they are acting less than wisely in a highly volatile situation and moment. Surely there's a better way.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

@Mike: You're absolutelty right, and you should have heard my expletives in the office when I first learned they were planning that trip. And I've written elsewhere about the risks of collision and escalation. That being said, there's no evidence to support the claim, nor can we conclude from those and other actions, that this is somehow doing Beijing's work. Was it reckless? Yes. Was it useful? Questionable. But wouldn't a sovereign country do the same? Probably.

The Air Force is always on standby, and they played up the fact that it conducted "surveillance."

@Julian: Sadly, no, we don't have a straw man here. They chose that particular time to protest because that's when the crisis occurred. What would be the synolism of protesting, say, two weeks after the media has shifted its attention elsewhere?

I didn't need, nor want, to name those advocates or organizations, partly because there are some people in there for whom I have a good deal of respect. Questioning their motives and timing is perfectly fine; constantly discounting information that does not support their theories isn't. The Taiwanese government didn't finance their trip; a private individual did — someone who's more into greed than politics, to be honest.

Mike Fagan said...

"...nor can we conclude from those and other actions, that this is somehow doing Beijing's work."


There is a further problem here though which is the entanglement of fishing "rights" with sovereignty; it is commonly accepted that the former entails and presupposes the latter, which is to say that "rights" (qua permissions) are supposedly granted by a sovereign authority such as the government of a nation-state. The fishermen's claim to "rights" thus presupposes sovereign authority.

If that premise is accepted, then the conclusion that the protest was only about fishing rights and not sovereignty cannot follow.

Russell Liu said...

I think the fishermen's action are understandable, & in fact beneficial to their pursuing of fishing rights, as it has push Japan back to the negotiation table. The Ma Administration should take this chance to immediately open bi-lateral talks with Japan to try to resolve the fishing issue. Not only will this solve the most pressing issue of concern to Taiwanese, this is also the preferred way of dealing with this issue, as indicated by no other than a TVBS poll.

However, I do not believe the Ma Administration will take this chance to engage in meaningful negotiation with Japan in regards to fishing rights. It is my opinion that this issue is more of a red herring for the Ma Administration to divert attention from domestic issues, hence they will continue to proclaim sovereignty over the islands. It is also my opinion that based solely on the rule of law, Japan is the rightful claimant of the islands, as detailed in this blog post:
I said this as a native Taiwan too btw. Waging a un-winnable sovereignty against Japan risk destroying the goodwill & friendship between the two nations' population (not government) imo, a relationship that I believe is unique & rivaled by no other relationships for Taiwan. There was also a poll conducted some times ago in Japan that indicate some 70% of the Japanese population will support militarily assisting Taiwan should a cross-strait conflict occur. Therefore, this relationship is a rare diplomatic assets that Taiwan possess, one that I do not wish to simply be wasted on a un-winnable wedge issue.

I could be wrong, & the government might truly be looking out for the interest of the fishermen. But if this is truly the case I want to see immediate engagement in bilateral talks. Otherwise, I consider red herring the more possible motive behind the government's conduct.

Mike Fagan said...

"I think the fishermen's action are understandable..."

Had the fishermen's protest signs and so on referred only to fishing rights and not also to R.O.C sovereignty claims, then perhaps their actions might have been even more "understandable" as a plea to continue fishing undisturbed. They could have even made signs to explicitly disavow any association with the sovereignty dispute.

Didn't occur to them though, did it?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Thanks for the comments, guys, and for the perspective of a Taiwanese, Russell. All good points. However, I would say (and this is ultimately what I hoped to achieve with the editorial), we have to be careful when we refer to "the government" and what motivates its policy decisions. As a former government employee myself, I can tell you that administrations are divided among themselves, with one agency seeking outcomes or processes that often differ markedly from those of another agency. And divisions also exist within agencies, as well as between the center and the peripheries. I think that's what we are seeing here, and what motivates a KMT/DPP official in Yilan isn't necessarily what animates officials back in Taipei.

Couldn't agree more: The relationship with Japan is a tremendously precious one. Talks on having talks about the fisheries are ongoing. Some members in the LY (e.g., Lin Yu-fang said now is the perfect time, with an embattled Tokyo, to seek to maximize one's claims in negotiations).

@Mike: I'm not sure banners that read "We want to protect our fisheries, but we don't fight for the ROC's sovereignty claims" would make for exciting material, nor would they have the place do do so! That said, a good number of them told reporters in Suao, foreign and local, that their sortie was to ensure their fishing rights, and was therefore "apolitical."

Mike Fagan said...

"Fishing, not politics!"

Does that not float your boat?