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Feb 21, 2008

Analysis on Beijing's framing of "Taiwan's Independence Plot"

An easy to read, thought provoking article by Edward Friedman on Taiwan's Independence Plot. I found several passages particularly interesting. First, on the CCP narrative which has been accepted by the international media:

In this constructed narrative of the CCP, there are only two viable possibilities, either Taiwan provokes war with China by seeking a legitimate international voice or it surrenders to China which treats the continuation of a separate Taiwan as a provocation. This article will show that this Hobson's dilemma for Taiwan— lose your democratic autonomy by either war or peace— is a historically comprehensible construction of the CCP which serves particular CCP interests at a certain historical moment.

And on how Beijing decides what amounts to a provocation even when Taiwan changes some domestic education policy (I suppose they'd rather have Taiwanese still being forced to worship the great Chiang Kai-shek):
In fact, identity changes inside of Taiwan culture and politics need have nothing to do with international politics, except that the CCP makes them an issue....

Taiwan is actually ever more internationally isolated and has no way of changing the peaceful status quo in its favor. China's rulers know it. In the 1950s Mao made nationalistic propaganda in China about an Eisenhower administration supposedly preparing to unleash Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) military against China when he well knew and privately averred that President Dwight Eisenhower had actually leashed Chiang to prevent him from provocative actions. Then, as now, the big question was, what is the political logic behind a CCP propaganda campaign which turns the truth on its head? Why does the CCP treat a relatively weak Taiwan as if it were about to get international recognition of its de jure independence, and why do international observers not see through the CCP propaganda to the core reality of politics in Beijing?

And an explanation of Beijing's motives for creating such a narrative:

Saunders is typical of top international analysts of China who reverse historical cause and effect and describe the PRC's threatening military build-up as an "important response to increasing U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation,"28 when, in fact, that cooperation began only after the China initiated Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996; that is, long after the CCP decided to build a military threat against Taiwan. China was not militarily reactive. It was the initiator.

Making believe there is a threat from Taiwan which could achieve de jure independence is a tactic of the CCP to obscure its real goal— undermining Taiwan's de facto independence.

One might ask why the CCP uses an Orwellian discourse about a peaceful rise when the CCP actually legitimizes military action.... The reason, international relations analyst William Callahan explains, is that, within this discourse about a peaceful China, for others to reject a CCP demand would back-foot them, make them seem against a peaceful China. If you insist that the PRC's demands on your territory prove China is not peaceful, you thereby reveal yourself to be China's enemy....

However, the CCP sees Taiwan as an obstacle to China's establishing itself as the predominant power in Asia [author goes on to quote PLA documents] .... The discourse emanating from China about a Taiwan independence plot that threatens the peace of the region is a smokescreen to camouflage actual CCP policy ambitions. Like the humiliated and vengeful Goujian (勾踐), the CCP has been patient. Its objective is not a secret, however.

And the solution?

Perhaps it is true that China is trapped by its own post-1989 reconstruction of Chinese national identity, hoisted on its own petard. Perhaps the CCP has chosen to jump on the back of a man-eating tiger and now cannot dismount and back off without risking being eaten alive. Perhaps. However, the key point is that the source of the threat to the peace lies in Beijing and not in Taipei. However much an annexation policy agenda toward Taiwan has, for the moment, been embedded in Chinese nationalism,that is a construction with a recent history. It is not some deep Chinese cultural essence.

War or peace, therefore, is not about politics in Taipei. There is no Taiwan plot which threatens to end the mutually beneficial Taipei-Beijing relationship. Taiwan is ever more economically integrated into the Chinese economy. Rather, the threat to the peace is about politics and policy in Beijing. That is why it is important to see how, in the post-1989-91 era, a certain ruling group in Beijing redefined patriotism to serve its core purposes—monopolizing domestic power and expanding international power.

So there you go. Read and enjoy. Feel free to comment here.

1 comment:

chinaphil said...

Interesting article, some good, some bad.

Good is his repeated insistence that it's Beijing that's making the running here, not Taiwan; this is well backed up by information from the timeline - that China's threat came first. Good also is the point about how malleable Chinese "public opinion" seems to be.

Bad is some of the failures to logically connect his points. The paragraph starting "Wanting to incorporate Taiwan..." on p. 77 is a major part of the exposition: an attempt to show why Beijing has constructed this narrative. And it's a mess. Two quotes - one from a source he's trying to discredit - and a "therefore" do not an argument make.

Even worse is p. 76, where the author appears to concede the very point he's been arguing against: "identity changes inside of Taiwan culture and politics...compel less
hawkish forces in Beijing to show that they are not soft on Taiwan. That is, these readily understood maneuvers in Taiwan politics endanger Taiwan's security..." WHAT?! Your whole article is about how this isn't the case. Duh.

Two things really interest me in this. One is the idea of "strategic significance". It's often said that Taiwan is militarily important, but I just don't get this. It might just be my ignorance about modern weaponry, but Taiwan is, what, 80 miles from the mainland? What can China do militarily with a base on Taiwan that it can't do with a base in Fujian? Honestly?

The second is this writer's bizarre refusal to answer his own question: "Why does the CCP falsely insist
that there is a worrisome plot by Taiwan's presidents which is on its way to making Taiwan de jure independent?" (79). There seem to be two answers to this. One is the west of China. If Taiwan were to declare independence, the fear is that forces in Xinjiang and Tibet would follow suit, and while Taiwan is pretty much on its own, Russia and India respectively would be only too glad to help out independence movements in those two areas.

The second is the myth of the Han. China is still doing the 19th century thing of national/racial identification, and wants all "Chinese people" to feel some mystical tie to the "motherland". This produces huge amounts of soft power around the world, give the size of the Chinese diaspora. But if Taiwan - a place claimed as "Chinese" can develop an identity and loyalties unconnected with Beijing, then so could all those ethnically Chinese voters in the US, Europe, Australia...

But the possibility of change on this front is intriguing. "The passions of the people were actually a product of the policies of the ruling party and its potent propaganda." (87). I find this malleable version of patriotism bizarre. Just yesterday these was an article in the Global Times (Chinese language rag focusing on foreign affairs) about the capturing of a mainlander who spied for Taiwan. Not once in a full-page feature article was the man's patriotism mentioned. It only came up when he said. "I drank toasts and bullshitted on the patriotic line with my friends, but I felt bad about deceiving them." That he might have genuine patriotic feelings himself was not raised. Instead the focus was on the difficulty and danger of being a spy and the monetary rewards. The implication seems to be that patriotism is a convenience only. Perhaps this is true - China was only invented 100 years ago after all. Maybe there is no real patriotism here.

Sorry about the long comment!