Responses to Comments about China and Taiwan; Re: Adam Piggott and Heresolong.
Readership: Current residents of North America, i.e. the United States of America; Westerners; Those from China or Taiwan;
Length: 1,600 words
Reading Time: 5.5 minutes
Over the weekend, I wrote three posts related to a potential war between China, Taiwan, and the U.S.
- Σ Frame: Fake News: China and Taiwan go to war (2021-10-08)
- Σ Frame: War between China and Taiwan makes no sense (2021-10-09)
- Σ Frame: A Nugget of Truth about China and Taiwan (2021-10-10)
The purpose of these writings was to give western readers a sense of context for what they are seeing on the news concerning China and Taiwan. I write from the perspective of a person living on the ground in Taiwan who is well familiarized with the culture, people, and history of Taiwan. I am not a political or military strategist, nor am I in a position to make predictions about the future, but I write because I believe western audiences are not very well informed about the situation, and I wish to emphasize that they may be misled by what they see in the news.
This post will review some of the responses these posts have received.
First of all, I appreciate the general concern over my personal safety. I understand that there are potential risks to being here, and yet, I choose to remain. Whether that is stupid or brave remains a question in point.
I was humbled to receive a full post response from Adam Piggott, Taiwan and Data Point Analysis (2021-10-09), who offered a thoughtful assessment of the risks involved with an expat’s continuation as a resident of Taiwan. (Adam’s analysis was also reposted on XYZ.) Getting feedback is important for a thorough consideration of the situation because, as Adam pointed out, it’s hard to think clearly when you have vested interests in the outcome.
I do not believe the very idea of China going to war over the island of Taiwan is absurd (as Adam wrote). China is ready and willing to do whatever is necessary for the accession of Taiwan. However, war is the least attractive option. If there is to be a war, I believe other world powers, such as the U.S. or possibly Australia, would play a hand in that somehow. One possibility is that alliances with western powers would only embolden Taiwan’s leadership to choose a path of greater resistance and prolong the conflict in an unnecessarily violent way.
Cultural Confusion in Communications
Over at Adam’s place, Heresolong wrote,
“…even if China invades Taiwan, they will not take the first shot.” One of the stupidest sentences I have seen in some years.”
A lot of seemingly stupid and contradictory statements have come out of the Taiwan leadership. This particular statement was a political appeal to mercies of China and the citizen’s sense of moral rectitude. They have also said to the Australian government that they would “fight to the last man standing” in the hope of attracting their loyalty as an ally, which is equally inane.
In practice, the Chinese are versatile and opportunistic, and will use any lead to their advantage. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The smart rabbit has two holes”, which can mean many things (based on the context in which it is used), but one meaning is equivalent to the western adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
That said, much of President Tsai’s speech is political posturing and does not represent the views of Taiwanese citizens as a whole, much like President Biden’s stances do not reflect the views of many Americans. Be aware that other Taiwanese spokespersons/statements you might see/hear on the news may have been cherry-picked to fit the narrative.
The western preference in communication is to focus on reasonability and the factual consistency of objective truth. Chinese culture views this as a naïve (if not manipulative) exercise in philosophizing which is removed from reality. Instead, Chinese communication emphasizes the importance of recognizing the context in which a statement is offered, and then reading between the lines about what that implies. Context is everything.
For example, the Chinese/Taiwanese do not believe that “A man’s word is his honor”, nor do they ascribe any mythical power of righteousness to those who pose fealty to “the rule of law” as is common in English speaking nations. This is not the same as lawlessness, but rather, they know that much evil can be done while still conforming to the nitpickings of the law, that all men lie now and then (including police, politicians, and law officials), and that it is wiser to anticipate this as being a part of life. Western readers may be surprised to read this, but it is an honest assessment of human nature.
Western sensibilities are completely unfamiliar with this form of communication, and of course any such context, no matter how important, is usually neglected in translation, and more so when reported in the news, at which point it takes on a different, and yet graver impression of “truth” according to the western understanding of it as a factual thing. One common context that can be safely assumed behind all these statements is that the Taiwanese know they are a sitting duck, and are hoping to come through this with their lives, fortunes, and dignity intact. Hence, the political theatrics.
Eastern vs. Western Perspectives
Heresolong also wrote,
“Taiwan would end up welcoming China…”
“My understanding of the Taiwanese is that they mostly favor reuniting China because they view China as one country currently split due to their differences. I doubt many of the people are hoping that it happens because China invades, enslaves the free Taiwanese, and destroys their economic and political system. If that were their goal they could easily have just called the CCP at any time during the past fifty years and said, “Hey, we’re done with this whole revolution thing. Come on over”.”
I need to clarify a couple things before I can address Heresolong’s main point.
The phrase, “China invades, enslaves the free Taiwanese”, is a hypothetical scenario cooked up by western interpretations of the situation which assumes that “democracy = freedom” (of the individualistic sort). This is a uniquely western concept of freedom as I wrote about in yesterday’s post. In China, the American concept of freedom is regarded as selfish and disruptive. They will point to the civil unrest and higher crime rates in America to justify this belief.
Underneath this assumption that “democracy = freedom” lies the “us versus them” mentality, which assumes that Taiwan should be more like the west (and all of its problems) than like China (with all of theirs). This attitude is similar to The White Man’s Burden which is summarily misinterpreted as a justification of imperialism. China is well aware of this and views it as a challenge to their sovereignty.
In the past, this assumption (codified by the Marshall Plan) has been used by the U.S. as a justification for waging unwanted wars on distant corners of the planet. For example, the wars in Korea and Vietnam were essentially proxy wars with communist China. The Chinese version of history regards both of these wars as a U.S. “invasion” of Asia.* Now, about 3.5% of infants in Vietnam suffer birth defects related to Agent Orange, and this is expected to continue for another 6-12 generations! Many Vietnamese continue to carry resentment towards America to this day, and China has not forgotten either.
The recent debacle in Afghanistan only proves to the Chinese populace that the U.S. has never changed its ways!
On another technicality concerning, “we’re done with this whole revolution thing”, the government in Taiwan (KMT) traces its history back to the overthrow of the last Qing dynasty in 1911. (By that reckoning, it is now year 110 in Taiwan, and this is the date used on currency and official documents, not the Gregorian calendar year used in the west). So the KMT (Taiwan) is not currently in a revolt, the CCP (China) is, and as long as an independent government in Taiwan exists, that revolution remains unfinished. This stands as another impetus to “answer” what is called “The Taiwan Question“.
Finally, I’ll address Heresolong’s main point.
Although it is widely recognized that Taiwan is independent by any defacto measure, less than 6% of Taiwanese want to declare independence. The grand majority favor “maintaining the status quo”, which means that they want life and business to go on as usual. However, the general sentiment in Taiwan is that a reunification will happen eventually. There are a number of people in Taiwan, mostly upper class, who would prefer reunification mainly because it would make doing cross-strait business easier for them (tax structures, chains of management, regulations involving investments, visa requirements related to business trips, etc.). But the problematic issue is how, and what would that involve? If China could somehow guarantee certain conditions, then Taiwan would agree to reunification. But China continually ignores the issue of incentives to focus more on politicized issues and “saving face“. And then there is the whole question of trust, which China has not been nurturing. Hong Kong did not set a very good example for a merger. In sum, too much uncertainty in too many areas is why Taiwan has been dragging its feet towards reunification. It’s better to maintain the status quo as long as possible.
On a final note, some readers might think I am justifying China or Taiwan or “hating on America”. No, I’m simply explaining the differences of viewpoints.
* Calling this an “invasion” is not far-fetched. China has a long history of being invaded by foreign powers. For example, The First Opium War (1839-1842), The Second Opium War (1856-1860), The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), and The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). During WW2, Japan was the “invader” and KMT controlled China was allied with the U.S.