Saturday, January 29, 2005

Schizoid Taiwan & Dollar Diplomacy

Grenada is the latest in a steady stream of tiny nations to abandon formal ties with Taiwan over the past few years. Here they call it "Dollar Diplomacy". If Taiwan shells out more $$$ in aid, these generally 3rd World countries will agree to recognize Taiwan's bid to enter the UN as independent; however, if China outbids this aid and offers more $$$, then like Grenada, they switch formal recognition away from Taiwan and toward China. It is a zero-sum game since the UN decided that only one place can stand up and be counted as the Real China.
China's post WWII civil war split the Chinese into two zones under two opposed governments, and the world had to decide which of these two to officially recognize since both insisted that they represented "China" legally. At 1st, it was the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan that was officially recognized by the UN. But a funny thing happened since then, as now the People's Republic of China (PRC) on mainland China is instead recognized. This leaves Taiwan itself out in some non-place of limbo, some oddly indefinite undefined pre-national, proto-national, post-national, hole in official space. This leads to very interesting revelations about the ideological illusions of nationalism in general, and about the kind of mental problems that result.

Since the mid-70s after Kissinger & Nixon went pro-China in order to contain the Soviet Union, that official place of the Real China suddenly switched from Taiwan's "Republic of China" over to Mao's China, "People's Republic of China." This makes mainland China the real nation, de jure in legalese. Taiwan thus lost its seat in the UN. It also lost a little window of opportunity then to reapply for recognition as independent "Taiwan" rather than as the "R.O.C.". However the ruling party then under Chiang Kai-shek, the KMT, absolutely forbid anyone to move in that direction. The ruling idea was to "take back the Mainland" and leave Taiwan as a province -- a ridiculous fantasy in the '70s. So. . . all of those many people in Taiwan who wanted an independent democracy, nowadays polled as the majority of Taiwanese people (don't buy the propaganda otherwise), were silenced -- and silenced in the old Machiavellian ways: assassination, prison, exile, intimidation, propaganda, bribery. Some of the current politicos in Taiwan, viz., James Soong and Lien Chan, were active bureaucrats of that Machiavellian period in the '70s, a kind of gentler version of the earlier "White Terror" period conducted by the KMT.

Fast forward 30 years to today. The current Vice President of Taiwan, Annette Lu, was back then in the '70s imprisoned under harsh conditions for years because of her activism against the KMT and for independence. She was last year slightly wounded by a bullet fragment in an assassination attempt that is still unsolved, although the would-be assassin is obviously someone who hates the idea of Taiwanese independence.

Now, in general the macro-conflict of international recognition leads to a schizoid public discourse, where Taiwan is a nation de facto but isn't a nation de jure. It has its own elected government, foreign affairs, military, constitution, media, economic structure, currency, recognized borders, passports, military aid from the US, etc. Yet it isn't recognized as a legal entity officially. Unofficially, most countries do have "economic" embassies here, as long as they don't officially call themselves embassies. For instance, the US "embassy" is called the AIT: American Institute in Taiwan. It too is a de facto embassy, but not de jure so as not to piss off the Mainland too much. (It still chaps their hide.)
The schizoid effect is revealed in a new documentary film of college students talking to the camera about this very issue: not only is there no agreement among this generation about their national identity or the various positions one could take, the key moments are when they shrug and laugh, realizing that they're utterly confused. This small film was made on a very low budget and is titled, 《薛西佛斯之福爾摩莎》Sisyphus: Formosa.
It shows the identity issues raised by such a macro-situation of post-pre-proto nationalism off the official map.

So, if you too are a bit confused by the news reports about Taiwan, don't feel bad. You're not alone. Most Taiwanese college students will shrug and laugh about the endless paradoxes of this schizoid discourse.


At 1:29 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

Here's some correspondence from Michael Yeun along with my response:

In your writing about this schzoid Taiwan you wrote:
"China's post WWII civil war split the Chinese into two zones under two opposed governments, and the world had to decide which of these two to officially recognize since both insisted that they represented "China" legally."
It's a way of miscoception or cofusion to consider "the Chinese" were split into 2 zones. There were no "ONE" Chinese/China tobegin with. There were Taiwan(Formosa) and China, Taiwanese and Chinese to start with. Taiwanese have a long history as Chinese except that they did not form a "nation" known to the world since ancient times. Well, so much for confusion about Taiwan and people usually do not bother to talk to you about this history of Taiwan any more. I think they are tired of explaining who they are.
--M. Y.

My reply is that I sympathize with the view that the old Taiwanese (or Sweet Potatoes) group considers itself independent, but that this doesn't change the schizoid discourse at all, nor does it change the historical fact that the civil war split China into two competing claims for the legal nationality of "China". Many of the "old" Taiwanese group agree with you, so I really should have acknowledged that. However, it doesn't contradict the macro-political dilemma that the KMT led Taiwan into. We don't even need to argue about whether or not Taiwan was part of China before 1895 under the Qing dynasty. Most international observers will say that it was, but not everyone agrees even about this!
When Japan gave up Taiwan after being defeated in WWII, the KMT colonized Taiwan after 1947 and forced its people under a new government.
No battles were fought at first because they were largely welcomed -- until the corruption and injustice of KMT rule was later experienced.
Here in talking about "nationality" we do not mean "ethnicity" which is an entirely different topic. This is one of many reasons why college
students remain utterly conflicted. They do not agree with each other, and they laugh when they contradict themselves.
The open secret which everyone knows yet refuses to think about is that China has always been a multi-ethnic society of diverse religions, languages, dialects, customs, foods, identifications. But these were from time to time hegemonically unified from the top down under the Empire. The Fujian area is simply another of many such ethnic groups, and when farmers migrated to Taiwan in the 17th century from there, a certain further distancing of ethnicity occured. Yet they continued to identify with some more generalized concept of "Chinese" when faced with Dutch colonialism and Japanese colonialism from the outside, and on the other hand when faced with resistance from the aboriginal tribes (Amis, Atayal, etc.) from the inside. We cannot ignore the fact that before the 17th century, the largest population on Taiwan was not Chinese in any sense of the term: they were aboriginals from the Austronesian peoples. Identification is relative to such differences. Taiwanese language today is not linguistically distinct from Guo-yue other than as a "dialect" even though it really is mutually incomprehensible. The religious practices are similar. The Confucian assumptions about family
and public life are similar. Etc...
However none of that ethnic identity really pertains to the political dilemma: the conflict over nationalism comes down to two different economic systems aligned with two different types of government. If Taiwan wishes to pursue an open society of democracy, it must remain independent from the centralized totalitarian control of Beijing's
government. That has nothing to do with ethnicity. Whether people identify as the "same" or as "different" doesn't change the political dilemma.

As for 2 zones, this is common knowledge found in every reference book. 1st the ROC centered in Taipei was recognized as legal China, then after 1974 (I believe was the date?) the PRC was recognized instead. In terms of international law, the feelings of the local Taiwanese people did not count. Nor could they make themselves heard, as I pointed out about the Machiavellian tactics of the KMT then.
This is actually more common than we suspect: e.g., today in in the state of Vermont a large group of people want to separate from the USA. But just because they think this way doesn't mean that international law will recognize them. According to historical precedents, as sadly ridiculous as they are, Vermont would have to declare war and successfully defend itself before it could apply for internaional recognition as a separate nation. They would probably lose, just as the whole South of the
US lost in 1865 when it tried to separate. This is essentially the situation faced by Taiwanese independence. You can argue until you turn blue in the face that Taiwan is already separate and has never been part of China, but this doesn't change the situation. China is willing to attack regardless, and only a few people are willing to die defending Taiwan. Right now the only factor reventing a military attack is the US treaties and weapons sales. If the US were to change its mind tomorrow, Taiwan would be left alone to defend against an attack. Today, Abian reports that China now has over 700 missiles on the coast aimed at Taiwan.
I only hope that a new solution can be found without recourse to the history of national wars.
Thanks for your feedback!
--E. Heroux


E. Heroux:
What you said above I agree almost 100% except that Taiwan is not Vermont. Taiwan is not the South of the US neither, it certainly is not South Korea or East or West Germany neither. The problem here is the westerners tend to look at Taiwan-China problem as "Chinese" problem, and Taiwanese is an ethnic group of "Chinese race." I appreciate that you seem to sympathize with and "acknowledge" this point. Then, you also bring about the history of Qing dynasty's occupation of Taiwan. Regardless, you also realize that we are talking about "nationality" instead of "ethnicity." Before I get into our schizoid mode here let me focus on the reality. Reality is: "is Taiwan a country?" Further more: Is the ROC a reality or an elusion and deserve to stay alive? Are we looking at the issue with an "Chinese-centered" "macroscopic" view or from a "Democratic and Freedom centered" point of view? And, last but not least, do we respect the human right, democracy and the sovereignty of the Taiwanese? I strongly believe that there is some resolutions out thereto avoid a war. If you don't mind I would send you an article I and my friend wrote for your reference later.

--Best regards, Michael Yeun

PS: Pertaining to your bloodline issue of the Taiwanese,it is believed by some researchers that most of Taiwanese today carry more aborigines blood than the blood of so called "Han's- Holo or Haka."

Again thanks for your interest and your feedback. Do send along your article you mentioned.

This exchange illustrates the state of the discourse.
--E. Heroux


Post a Comment

<< Home