by Mark English
Personal and political values can be intertwined in complicated ways and, even within close families, there are often serious, politically-driven divides. Mark English talks about the way his own foreign policy views and attitudes have changed. He refers to the influence of his father on his own views and also to bitter, politically-driven personal rifts which existed at one time within his father’s family. The latter part of this episode is devoted to a review of a recent discussion about China’s regional ambitions and the role that the United States is currently playing in the Western Pacific, especially in relation to Taiwan.
77 responses to “Politics and personal values; Taiwan and U.S. interventionism”
My readings leads me to the conclusion that it is only a question of time until China takes Taiwan. If that needs to be by force they will do that. I have read most military experts think the Chinese will be ready militarily within two years to take Taiwan by force if desired. I have also read that every war game scenario the USA generals have played out with respect to Taiwan ends with China taking Taiwan. Thus I conclude no matter what the USA does China will take Taiwan in the not too distant future. The only question is how much will everyone have to pay for that move in blood and treasure. I figure the American public would be willing to fight to the last Taiwanese for the island but not have the USA go to war to “save” Taiwan. Lastly I will admit I can cognitively totally understand why China wants to take the island back and has a strong case why they should have it back not just because they want it.. Emotionally it is a shame for the Taiwanese to have to deal with this change that is coming. I think they need to be either getting out of Taiwan soon or get into acceptance that they will become part of China in the not too distant future if not sooner than later.
To me the bigger threat is well written out in this article in the December issues of The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/12/the-autocrats-are-winning/620526/ The core issue for the future is which model will prevail or at least succeed in dividing the world up between the “free world” and the “autocracies”. It is really, really impressive and frightening the level of control China has created domestically and is refining these days in their country. They are and will be exporting their model to other countries.
My two cents he says with a smile.
Once again, an excellent analysis of political realities in the far east. Thanks.
As for your claim that politics ruins family life, families fight about money and about power/dominance. There are harmonious families of course, but in my experience they are the minority, probably because harmonious people are the minority.
Often when families fight over politics, they’re fighting over power or dominance. Whatever I say about politics, my son will disagree with me, even if I say something which supports whatever his position was the last time we talked about a week before.
We all need to take political differences with a sense of humor about ourselves and about politics and especially about political discourses and ideals, which are often so empty.
Mark, this is another interesting and thought provoking podcast. I am broadly sympathetic to your point of view but I feel you go wrong by failing to present an adequate, reasoned defence.
The starting point must be to understand China’s perspective. It was only when I lived and worked in China that I began to understand their perspective. I will try to convey it, as best I understand it.
1. Western European nations are inherently aggressive, manipulative and interfering. There is a two thousand year history to this that started with the Romans, was continued with extreme, aggressive expansionism during to colonial period and continues to manifest itself during the cold war and post cold war periods(I need not list the examples, they are legion). The lesson they draw from this is that Western European nations can never be trusted, will always be aggressive and therefore will always be the enemy.
2. The Chinese nation has been deeply wounded by aggressive Western European expansionism, which was continued by the Japanese, and the final humiliation was the oppressive encirclement they endured during the cold war at the hands of Western European nations. The continued support of Taiwan serves to confirm this. The status of Taiwan is a deeply emotive issue to all Chinese. My lovely, diminutive interpreter drove this point home with repeated angry emphasis.
3. Strategically the Chinese people find themselves encircled. There are two huge, unsinkable American aircraft carriers just off the coasts of China. These aircraft carriers can easily mount massive air raid on mainland China and paralyze all shipping. These aircraft carriers are Taiwan and Japan. Only a little further away are the Phillipines and then Australia. The Americans have land bases close to China in South Korea. Perhaps you can now begin to understand how insecure, threatened and encircled the Chinese feel.
4. Western European ideas and values are infiltrating Chinese society, threatening to erode the consensus that binds this huge nation together. The Chinese feel they are being subjected to cultural subversion and they regard this as a foundational threat.
5. China is going through a painful industrial revolution where peasant masses are being drawn on a large scale to the cities. This is causing dislocation on a scale never before seen(think of Charles Dickens to the power of 1000). The Communist Party, with its extremely centralized model of control is not coping and the result is thousands of riots every year. To cope they desperately need high levels of growth that will give the urbanizing masses enough to quieten their discontent. They can only realize this with high levels of exports. The threat of economic and financial sanctions is their worst possible nightmare as it will provoke internal instability that they have no hope of controlling. They will feel compelled to start a nuclear war in this case.
5. They can harness the wounded nationalist pride of the Chinese people to fight the aggressive urge of the Western European nations to dominate. This is exactly what China is preparing for today. They desperately need a triumph that will salve injured Chinese pride. Taiwan is the triumph they need and they will never rest until this has been achieved. They will increase their forces and surround Taiwan in such strength that America can never intervene without suffering a savage defeat.
6. China is not expansionist but it need secure borders and secure sea lanes that cannot be blocked as it is so desperately dependent on trade for its survival.. It has a thousand year history of creating vassal states on its borders that act as buffers. Its long term strategy is to convert Japan, the Philippines, Singapore Vietnam and Korea into such vassal states. It would also like to convert India into a vassal state but that is a very tough nut to crack.
This is my understanding of the Chinese position. What we do must proceed from a good understanding of their vital needs.
Thank you for your thoughts. I read the Anne Applebaum article you link to. Her particular style of campaigning journalism does not appeal to me, I have to say. I may have more to say about Applebaum and the general line she is pushing — which is obviously incompatible with aspects of what I am saying — in the future.
(Applebaum is not just a very successful journalist. She is very well-connected and a powerful political operator in her own right. Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Married to a former Polish Defense and Foreign Minister.)
“We all need to take political differences with a sense of humor about ourselves and about politics and especially about political discourses and ideals, which are often so empty.”
I wholeheartedly agree with you.
Your analysis seemed fine until the point when you said this:
“They can only realize this with high levels of exports. The threat of economic and financial sanctions is their worst possible nightmare as it will provoke internal instability that they have no hope of controlling. They will feel compelled to start a nuclear war in this case.”
First, they have been transitioning the economy for some time away from an export focus. If there was a halting of global trade instability would strike most countries, including the United States. In fact China may do better than the US in maintaining internal cohesion. Obviously they would fight if necessary to secure vital imports.
“They desperately need a triumph that will salve injured Chinese pride. Taiwan is the triumph they need and they will never rest until this has been achieved. They will increase their forces and surround Taiwan in such strength that America can never intervene without suffering a savage defeat.”
There are other ways to triumph. But I agree they will not give up their claims to Taiwan.
“China is not expansionist but it needs secure borders and secure sea lanes that cannot be blocked as it is so desperately dependent on trade for its survival. It has a thousand year history of creating vassal states on its borders that act as buffers. Its long term strategy is to convert Japan, the Philippines, Singapore Vietnam and Korea into such vassal states. It would also like to convert India into a vassal state but that is a very tough nut to crack.”
Japan as vassal state? I agree with the gist of this however.
Hi Mark: Thank you for your friendly and fair-minded account of our differences.
The main point at issue now seems to be whether we must think of China as a Great Power whose future dominance of the Western Pacific is practically irresistible. You think it is; I disagree. You haven’t yet said why you think this. Here is why I disagree.
In my view China is well short of being a Great Power. It may be powerful enough to subjugate Taiwan, if Taiwan is not supported by Japan or the US. But it lacks the military might to project itself beyond the First Island Chain.
And the economic consequences of attacking Taiwan are likely to be very damaging – to itself. Western investment will withdraw. Exports will slump. Its tech base will shrink. And its economy is already fragile. Demographically, China is losing people of working age at a very rapid rate. Lack of blue-water naval power means it would be unable to guarantee its oil supplies.
China’s weakness is evident from its number 80 world ranking in GDP per capita. It has pumped itself up with debt, which is now running at three times the size of its economy. It has a misallocation problem typical of top-down systems, symbolised by its many millions of empty housing apartments.
And so on. What is your evidence?
“First, they have been transitioning the economy for some time away from an export focus”
Yes, that is true. They need increased local consumption to stave off internal unrest and also to reduce their reliance on exports. On both counts they are not doing so well. They remain heavily dependent on exports and switching aways from an export led economy has painful consequences for large parts of the economy.. But the really serious problem is demographics. Chinese society has been conditioned into expecting fewer children. The high price of housing, medical care and education is reinforcing this tendency. There will be a steep population decline in China, rivalling that of Japan. This will severely limit domestic consumption and thus they will remain dependent on exports.
“In fact China may do better than the US in maintaining internal cohesion”
That is not what I saw. They have what is called a tight-loose culture. It is tight, intimate, supportive and loyal in small groups made up of family, school peers and immediate work peers.
Outside these groups there is marked distrust, suspicion and hostility. That is the loose component. But there is a strong overarching sense of Chinese identity that tends to hold these hostile, competing groups together.
It is this tight-loose dynamic that drives China’s internal problems. The seepage of liberal Western ideals into China is greatly exacerbating this problems. China’s leaders are reacting to this problem in four ways.
1) The great firewall of China is an attempt to seal off China from contamination by western liberal ideals.
2) Increasing domestic consumption/entertainment to sedate internal hostility.
3) Strong attempts to denigrate and discredit western ideals while at the same time harshly suppressing unfavourable internal news.
4) increase Chinese national pride as a force to unify the loose components of Chinese society. Sport is one of the ways, think the Olympics. The military expansion and aggression we see in the South China Sea are also motivated by this. But their number one prize, that stands head and shoulders above all else, is the reconquest of Taiwan. This will do more than anything else to validate the Chinese Communist Party and solidify their hold over their peoples. This is vital to the survival of the CCP and they will do it. But they are also calculating the cost and will seize an opportune moment when they think the cost can be minimized. They will act in concert with Russia so that the Americans face two severe threats. The Americans will protect Europe rather than Taiwan. Which is why the US acted with unbelievable stupidity when their policies turned Putin into an implacable enemy.
“Japan as vassal state? ”
Yes, that is hard to imagine but it is an important long term component of Chinese foreign policy for the following reasons.
1) They have huge resentment towards the Japanese and this would be a most satisfying conclusion, giving Chinese national pride a further huge boost after the reconquest of Taiwan. The CCP’s life would be greatly extended.
2) The presence of US bases in Japan is an insupportable threat to the Chinese. One way or another they must remove or neutralize this threat.
I expect that the Chinese navy will continue to grow in numbers and strength until it is so great that it can essentially suffocate Taiwan without firing a shot and making it impossible for the US to intervene. Once that is done the same tactic will be used against Japan. By this stage the US will be so vastly outnumbered and discouraged by the loss of Taiwan that it will retreat from Japan, which will sign a so called friendship and co-operation treaty with China, on very favourable terms to China.
This is a very long term strategy but the CCP does not have the luxury of time as internal pressures ramp up. Thus they will be forced to act prematurely, with horrific consequences.
The alternative and wise course for the US would be to preempt all of this by reaching an accomodation with China that
1) cedes Taiwan peacefully allowing it to be re-united with China on the Hongkong model.
2) closes down US bases in Japan.
3) ceases interference in Chinese internal affairs on the grounds of human rights.
4) actively seeks friendly cooperation.
These measures will defuse burgeoning Chinese nationalism and defang the conflict. In the meantime western liberal ideals will continue to infiltrate Chinese society, no matter how much they try to tamp them down. China will slowly, over a long period, transform internally towards a democratic liberal state. So what I am advocating is a long term, gradualist policy of accommodation(and also containment from a distance) until China transforms itself internally. I think this is an inevitable process and we must hold off conflict to give this process time and space to complete.
Alan, if China is permitted simply to take over a large, modern, industrialized, democratic country, the damage to the international system and to the chances of any kind of serious, collaborative global efforts (on environment, arms control, etc.) will be immeasurable. Far from lowering tensions, what it will signal to every country is that it had better arm itself to the teeth, get nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction as soon as possible, and render its borders impenetrable, lest it be the next country to get gobbled up by its stronger neighbor.
I’m not arguing the issue here, because doing so is pointless and will get nowhere. We’ll just have to see how the currents drift. Though given the general collapse of authority in the West and so many advocating for turtle-like foreign policies, it seems to me quite likely that we will simply leave countries like Taiwan — and their millions of citizens, who duly and legally elected their government — to the dogs.
“if China is permitted simply to take over a large, modern, industrialized, democratic country”
Permission is beside the point. Soon the US will be compelled to accept a fait accomplis. In any case this is a rebellious Chinese province. It brings to mind the American civil war.
“the damage to the international system and to the chances of any kind of serious, collaborative global efforts (on environment, arms control, etc.) will be immeasurable”
Serious armed conflict will cause far greater damage.
“it will signal to every country is that it had better arm itself to the teeth”
That is happening today. The arms dealer’s rejoice.
“I’m not arguing the issue here, because doing so is pointless and will get nowhere.”
That could be said of every discussion we have. What you say is true if one adopts a combative approach with the goal of winning the argument. But nobody wins the argument. They just retire bruised with their cognitive biases reinforced.
So why bother? Because, when we engage in the discussion,
1) we are motivated to think more carefully and refine our arguments
2) our curiosity is aroused and thus we become open to more influences.
3) we are exposed to other points of view which inevitably modifies how we think.
4) consequently we begin to learn that other people have valid perspectives that differ from our own. This is why I tried to understand the Chinese perspective.
5) then we discover the beginnings of wisdom which is to learn to think from the other person’s point of view. Every chess player knows that.
As read your words I realized that wokeness is embedded in the American nature. It began with this ardent desire to impose on other nations their concept of the good. Now this ardent desire to impose some concept of the good is being turned inwards on the American people themselves, hence the blossoming of wokeness. It is rich in irony.
I simply said what I think will likely happen. I have no idea who you think you are conversing with, but it sure isn’t me, as I was speaking with Alan.
“I simply said what I think will likely happen.”
Yes, that is the central topic of the conversation and I enjoy reading your words for what they reveal about American attitudes.
“I have no idea who you think you are conversing with, but it sure isn’t me”
I quoted your words and replied to your words. That is normally appropriate in an open conversation. In my last paragraph I generalized and that is always a dangerous move. But I did so in the hope that it provided an interesting, even if provocative, insight.
Peter, you rightly (I think) present the permanent U.S. military presence in the Far East as being intrinsically provocative to China — it necessarily becomes moreso with every passing year (even if it is not expanded) — and as increasing the prospect of armed conflict which could all too easily escalate.
“The alternative and wise course for the US would be to preempt all of this by reaching an accomodation with China that 1) cedes Taiwan peacefully allowing it to be re-united with China on the Hongkong model; 2) closes down US bases in Japan; 3) ceases interference in Chinese internal affairs on the grounds of human rights; 4) actively seeks friendly cooperation.”
Most of this seems unlikely, but closing down bases in Japan could happen. For many in Japan, the American presence is unwelcome. By signalling that they would be closing their bases, the US would be pleasing many Japanese as well as the Chinese, thus not only lowering tensions but also creating a degree of goodwill and trust.
“These measures will defuse burgeoning Chinese nationalism and defang the conflict. In the meantime western liberal ideals will continue to infiltrate Chinese society, no matter how much they try to tamp them down.”
This sounds plausible.
“China will slowly, over a long period, transform internally towards a democratic liberal state.”
Not so plausible, in my opinion. We can guess, but such things are impossible to predict.
I live in a country, Chile, where we went through 17 years of brutal dictatorship, that of Pinochet, due to the intervention of the Nixon administration and the CIA in the subversion, destablization and overthrow of a democratically
elected leftwing government, that of Salvador Allende.
Would it have been better if Russia or China had intervened to support Allende and defeat the military coup? No, that would have started a civil war that would have caused many more lives than the coup and the ensuing dictatorship.
After 17 years of dictatorship, democracy returned and as you point out, it will probably return in Taiwan and maybe be instituted in mainland China after a number of years.
Many more people would perish in a nuclear war between the U.S. and China than in a Chinese dictatorship in Taiwan.
What’s more, as Mark points out, the U.S. is incredibly clumsy in its military attempts at spreading democracy. They fucked up in Afghanistan, in Libia and in Iraq and in fact, when was the last time the U.S. invaded someone or intervened somewhere without fucking up? In Panama maybe in 1989?
The U.S. is very good at making movies and developing aps and software, but they are not good at military adventures overseas.
“In my view China is well short of being a Great Power. It may be powerful enough to subjugate Taiwan, if Taiwan is not supported by Japan or the US. But it lacks the military might to project itself beyond the First Island Chain.”
I would claim no more than a general sense of the current power balance and of the direction in which things are moving. The exact nature of present capabilities are difficult to assess.
“And the economic consequences of attacking Taiwan are likely to be very damaging – to itself. Western investment will withdraw. Exports will slump. Its tech base will shrink. And its economy is already fragile. Demographically, China is losing people of working age at a very rapid rate. Lack of blue-water naval power means it would be unable to guarantee its oil supplies.”
The Chinese are all too aware of the importance of energy and other imports and have long been setting up arrangements, including many involving land-based routes. Sure, sea lanes remain vital but China would not need to project naval power to the four corners of the earth to protect the most vital routes.
“China’s weakness is evident from its number 80 world ranking in GDP per capita.”
I haven’t looked into this claim but GDP-based measures are sometimes misleading.
“It has pumped itself up with debt, which is now running at three times the size of its economy. It has a misallocation problem typical of top-down systems, symbolised by its many millions of empty housing apartments.”
Both the debt and the misallocation problem have been recognized and attempts are being made to deal with them. Overall I see China as being more resilient economically than either the US or the EU. This is a big topic and I don’t have a fully-worked-out case. But I read and listen to various experts on a regular basis and there is certainly a strong body of independent opinion which takes the line that the current US dollar-based financial system — which, incidentally, has allowed the US to live beyond its means for decades — has become highly unstable and will soon need to be replaced with a new system. Even many liberal, mainstream figures — like Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England — accept this.
Dan: Yes, “the international system” is being threatened. Mark and Peter think this system must be allowed to lapse, and seem happy to sacrifice Japan along with Taiwan. On their view there would be two systems, the Chinese and the American. With friends like these …
Peter thinks that we who resist China’s claims have “an ardent desire to impose some concept of the good” on others. But, quite obviously, there are various conceptions of the good at issue: Taiwan’s, Japan’s, South Korea’s, not to mention the medley of viewpoints that make up SE Asia. If Taiwan wishes to join the PRC then let them do so. Just run a UN-supervised referendum first.
The casual talk about giving away major industrialized countries with tens or hundreds of millions in population is indeed remarkable. I prefer not to engage with it.
I appreciate Mark’s talk here, especially the discussion of his family background. And the bulk of his talk raises important questions worth considering going forward ion these issues. But the comment thread, while starting off well, has rather deteriorated. It seems to me that some of the comments here have tended toward what Heidegger called idle talk: “Idle talk is something which anyone can rake up, it not only releases one from the task of genuinely understanding, but develops an undifferentiated kind of intelligibility, for which nothing is closed off any longer.”
The notion that the US or “the West” can “cede” the 24 million people of Taiwan to the PRC is laughable. The notion that even a weakened US, even under the possible leadership of a Trumpist fascist “isolationist” clique in Washington, will not act to secure its massive Pacific borders and its massive economic interests in the Pacific and elsewhere in Asia is laughable.
And where here has anyone mentioned Japan, with its historical investments in Taiwan and South Korea? Japanese appeasements for China will only go so far – beyond general expressions of regret concerning WWII, they won’t even fully admit or apologize for the Nanjing Massacres. And this is just a bow of the head and a loss of some face, but they won’t go that far. Of course they technically do not have a military officially – although the Self-Defense Force is hardly some small militia – but what they do have is considerable clout, especially in the US, regardless of which party runs Washington.
The notion that somehow the US has annoyed Vladimir Putin unnecessarily is laughable. Russia, too, is a Pacific Rim power (Vladivostok) and surely has its own interests at heart in its dealing with the Chinas and the Koreas. Former KGB agent and admitted admirer of Stalin, Putin is an opportunistic dictator, who gets annoyed because he is what he is.
Much same can be said of Xi Jinping. With an economy now on the brink, continuing difficulties in Hong Kong, the suppression of which can only go so far, a series of neo-colonial adventures in Africa and the Indian subcontinent starting to go sour, Xi has revealed himself as a brutal autocrat. (For a brief time, I thought China could take the “one nation, two systems” policy seriously and move toward some form of federalism; but Xi has chosen the Qin path toward “unity” – at the point of the sword.)
However, that doesn’t mean he’s truly contemplating invading Taiwan. The leadership of the CCP has always treated the Taiwan question – as with their relations with North Korea – as pawns of political strategy. Taking over Taiwan, like putting their foot down on Kim’s head, would actually lose them a pawn.
Of course the Australians are concerned. Australia has a small population with a healthy economy – but which economy is dependent on the US, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong – which is now under the governance of Beijing. In other words, despite its geography and the pride of its people in their history, Australia is really a small link in a very large chain, with less influence on the world stage than its leaders sometimes pretend to. But Australian arguments for – or against – American intervention in the Pacific or in Asia are themselves a matter of voicing their own self-interest, and why should their self-interest trump that of America? – or of China? or of Taiwan? Trying to make such arguments on the basis of some higher ethic or morality strikes me as disingenuous. And it happens that the Chinese have a long history of coming to any negotiating table with a question not on their lips but in their attitude – ‘What’s in it for us?’ They have been simply quite adept at playing certain cards that other players either haven’t got or do not know how to play properly.
China has the oldest continual history of civilization in the world. It also has one of the earliest collections of sophisticated political philosophy in the world. Yet never in its history nor anywhere in its political philosophy before the 20th century has there been efforts at imagining, let alone realizing, any form of government looking like a Western democracy. Although most often governed by some form of autocracy, the Chinese political ideal has always been some form of meritocracy – a notion we toss around in the West without fully understanding, since realization of a true meritocracy would require establishment of rigorous education requirements and social and institutional gate-controls which would offend Western faith in individual wit and determination to achieve personal redemption and success. That doesn’t mean that the Chinese have no sense of the individual or of individual possibility, but it’s rather of a different nature than we find in the West.
The point is that there is no ‘democratic tradition’ in Chinese culture; and the assumption that China will develop into a Western style democracy is as laughable as assuming the US will develop into a Chinese style autocracy. We may be headed down the fascist path, but we will do so looking pretty much like any other Western fascism. And if we end up looking like any Eastern country, that would be India – pluralistic, fragmented, governed by a myriad of different gods, each with their own sect.
However, perhaps the greatest vanity in this whole discussion is assuming that any country – again, no matter how weakened – will not act in its own interests nor speak on its own behalf, however dishonestly or hypocritically. The fundamental necessity of government is population control, which requires some management of the economy, which in turn requires policies of self-interest in relation to other governments, other peoples, other economies – the rest is all rhetoric anyway.
“Mark and Peter think this system must be allowed to lapse, and seem happy to sacrifice Japan along with Taiwan.”
I don’t speak for Peter, just for myself (though Peter and I agree on some fundamental points). I was *questioning* Peter’s reference to Japan as a future vassal state. I don’t envisage Japan surrendering its sovereignty or independence.
Also, the phrase “happy to sacrifice” is inapt and not a fair description of my attitude or point of view.
I am just presenting what I see as a realistic assessment of the current situation and looking at certain developments which seem to me to be increasing the likelihood of military conflict in the region, conflict which — certainly if the US is directly involved — will not be easy to contain.
“If Taiwan wishes to join the PRC then let them do so. Just run a UN-supervised referendum first.”
Whatever we may think about the desirability of such a resolution of the problem, we all know the Chinese will never agree to this and, if it were done without their agreement, that it would be perceived as a direct challenge and would provoke precipitous action.
Part of the problem is that we are looking at parties with very divergent views of history and, in particular, of the nature of the role that the US has played since WW2 and its right to play the role it has played. There is such a thing as moral authority. The US has pretty much squandered whatever moral authority it had (and arguably there was a time when it had a considerable amount). This is a widely shared view — and it matters greatly and greatly hinders the ability of the US to play a leading role on the world stage.
I have never (except perhaps very briefly in my late teens) been attracted to left-wing politics and nor am I now. The fact that I find myself in agreement with many radical and left-wing thinkers reinforces my view that this issue goes beyond ideology.
“The notion that somehow the US has annoyed Vladimir Putin unnecessarily is laughable.”
Putin et al. were given assurances which were reneged on. This is a matter of historical record. These events contributed to distrust and diplomatic tensions and set the tone for future developments.
“However, that doesn’t mean [Xi is] truly contemplating invading Taiwan. The leadership of the CCP has always treated the Taiwan question – as with their relations with North Korea – as pawns of political strategy. Taking over Taiwan, like putting their foot down on Kim’s head, would actually lose them a pawn.”
All the more reason for us not to meddle. I never claimed that an invasion was imminent. My claim is that Western actions and propaganda are potentially going to provoke action that *nobody* wants (apart from psychopaths and warmongers).
“ I was *questioning* Peter’s reference to Japan as a future vassal state. I don’t envisage Japan surrendering its sovereignty or independence.”
Yes, at first sight it does seem far out. But there are degrees where neither sovereignty nor independence are given up. For example, from the Chinese perspective, the UK is an American vassal state. It is that sort of relationship that the Chinese expect from their immediate neighbours. What the Chinese want from Japan is a close friendly and respectful relationship that takes its lead from China, accommodates Chinese needs, supports Chinese goals and follows where China leads.
“Also, the phrase “happy to sacrifice” is inapt and not a fair description of my attitude or point of view.”
Nor does it reflect my point of view. I am not happy to have it mischaracterized in this way.
“The US has pretty much squandered whatever moral authority it had … and it matters greatly and greatly hinders the ability of the US to play a leading role on the world stage”
Yes, that sums it up well. The liberal urge to transform and improve things has been transformed into a demonic urge to impose a particular concept of the good on others. As I said before, it is ironic that this demonic urge has been turned inward on the American people themselves.
“The casual talk ”
I have tried to give a reasoned account.
“ or hundreds of millions in population”
Taiwan has a population of 24 million, similar to that of Shanghai, 27 million.
“I prefer not to engage with it.”
I think you should. Apart from the fact that this is really important, I have found that when you apply your mind you produce some really good analyses.
Isn’t this the real point of philosophy? To apply the skills and mindset of the philosopher to understanding the problems we are surrounded by? This is what gives the philosopher relevance in society.
“In my view China is well short of being a Great Power”
Yes, that is true, for the time being.
“And the economic consequences of attacking Taiwan are likely to be very damaging”
Yes, also true. But, as I have said elsewhere, they are subject to other imperatives that might persuade them that the cost is bearable. For the time being, at least, they still think the cost is too high.
“China’s weakness is evident from its number 80 world ranking in GDP per capita”
Also true but misleading. China is still in the early stages of its industrial revolution with the result that the great majority of the population are peasants with low income. This depresses the GDP per capita, making them seem weaker than they really are.
“It has a misallocation problem typical of top-down systems”
You are absolutely right. It is a most serious problem exacerbated by the tight-loose dynamics of Chinese society.
There are many other problems, such as rolling blackouts, tainted water supplies, hyper-competitive educational system, etc. And of course, their demographics will make it all much worse, as you said.
But this is the whole point of my argument. They cannot solve these problems within the machinery of the CCP. They can only just contain them. For this they badly need a unifying force and this is why Xi has resorted to amplifying Chinese nationalist sentiment. He is also resurrecting a Chinese variant of Communist thought as an antidote to the virus of western liberal ideals. The great firewall of China was intended to be the vaccine that protected it from the Western virus. But breakthrough infections still occur so they are also resorting to the harsher “chemotherapy” of internal suppression in the hope that this will contain the virus.
I believe that in the long term the virus of Western ideals is unstoppable and that ultimately Chinese society will thus transform itself. But our behaviour is provoking their “immune” system which produces adverse side effects and delays the ultimate transformation.
Phew, so many medical metaphors! That is what Covid has done to us.
“What’s more, as Mark points out, the U.S. is incredibly clumsy in its military attempts at spreading democracy. They fucked up in Afghanistan, in Libia and in Iraq and in fact, when was the last time the U.S. invaded someone or intervened somewhere without fucking up? In Panama maybe in 1989?”
You put it rather more bluntly than I would, but I agree with you.
“The U.S. is very good at making movies and developing aps and software, but they are not good at military adventures overseas.”
They seem to conduct their foreign policy like another Hollywood movie.
Mark, I read with interest what Dan and EJ say, not for their content, which is not persuasive, but rather because they so faithfully reflect the received American “wisdom“. The first thing I notice is an inability to understand the perspective of other parties. This seems to be a peculiarly American sin. I suspect that power confers a certain arrogance on Americans that leads them to disregard the perspectives of others. The bully does not have to worry about the feelings of the victim.
But the world is not a schoolyard and that makes this a grave mistake. I strongly urge multiple perspective taking and in this case it means trying to genuinely understand the circumstances, motivation and thinking of others. My period of employment in China was a shocking experience in that it overturned all my preconceptions. I came away with a deep appreciation for their strengths and also a strong awareness of their internal problems. Thus I am much more sympathetic towards the Chinese people than others here are. I really like them and think they have some terrific strengths.
As I read EJ’s comment, with its liberal use of derisory adjectives(idle talk, laughable, vanity, rhetoric), my reaction is not one of annoyance but one of interest. By reading his comment I am learning more about an ever so typical American perspective and style and that is important to multiple perspective taking. Therefore I thank EJ for his informative comment.
While reading your commentary and that of Alan Tapper I am reminded that Australians also have an important perspective. I know from following Australian news that that you guys feel deeply apprehensive about your big Northern neighbour, which is a product both your interactions and geographic proximity. Alan voices these apprehensions quite strongly. I sympathize. In your place I would probably also feel apprehensive.
“Putin et al. were given assurances which were reneged on. This is a matter of historical record. These events contributed to distrust and diplomatic tensions and set the tone for future developments.”
Indeed. Duplicitous is a mild description. Russians have lost all trust in the good faith of Americans.
EJ Winner: A few comments.
(1) “And where here has anyone mentioned Japan”, you ask. Japan is mentioned often and is central for all of us in this discussion. It’s reaction to a Chinese move on Taiwan will probably determine the scope of the conflict.
(2) The notion that the US will not act to secure its Pacific borders is laughable, you say. I’m not so sure. I think we don’t know what the US will do. Why are you so sure? The US Congress, and Biden himself, may be tired of fighting long-distance wars.
(3) The Australian economy is “dependent on the US, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong”, you say. Not really, it is much more dependent on exports to China. But that has a reverse side: China is very heavily dependent on Australian iron ore. Which makes China vulnerable to Australia more than it makes Australia (a rich country with many potential trading partners) dependent on China.
(4) China has never had a democratic polity, you say. True. But it did have a somewhat liberalised economy for a few decades. That could have continued. It could again choose that path. Instead it seems to be choosing the path of internal autocracy and regional domination. Which, in my view, threatens its own stability.
Your point that Taiwan is just a pawn in a game China is playing may be a good one. I hope you are right. I think in Australia we are learning to not believe anything said by the CCP, no matter how sincere-sounding.
“China’s weakness is evident from its number 80 world ranking in GDP per capita. It has pumped itself up with debt”
Yes, debt is a serious problem. But that is just as true of the US who are sleep walking into the world’s largest debt mountain. Given their serious debt problems neither country can afford an all out war. But China will only fight the war on one front, with short supply lines. The US will be fighting on two fronts, both with long and vulnerable supply lines that can easily be interdicted.
The second front will be with Russia over the ill advised encouragement that the US is giving to the Ukraine. The canny Russians and Chinese will act together in coordination to create two fronts for the US. Right now the US is playing right into their hands with a most dangerous game over the Ukraine. They are conducting naval exercises in the Black Sea at the same time that the Ukraine is massing its forces on the border with Crimea, newly re-armed by the US. Putin has responded by mobilising his army and this time it is not for show. The US and the Ukraine are hoping that with a quick push they can retake the Crimea. What they seem not to appreciate is the grave importance of Crimea to the Russians just as Taiwan is important to the Chinese. Crimea is the red line that Putin keeps talking about. Putin will certainly launch a full scale war in order to retain the Crimea, it is that important to the Russians, just as Taiwan is that important to the Chinese. China will see this as a welcome diversion that will enable them to seize Taiwan.
Is it really in American interests to provoke and fight two large wars at the same time, so far from their own borders, to protect things the American public has no interest in? Especially when one considers their enormous debt mountain.
The real problem is neither Russia nor China. The real problem is aggressive Muslim expansion through relentless waves of migrants. They are moving southward through Africa and are penetrating Europe in ever larger numbers. The problem will become incomparably worse as the world transitions to a green economy since this will impoverish Muslim countries, for obvious reasons. This is the problem that the US should be bending all its efforts towards solving. Both Russia and China would be supportive of this since they are also vulnerable to aggressive Muslim expansionism. But the US does not see this since they are so possessed by this demonic liberal urge to impose a certain concept of the good on others. Increasingly I see the US as behaving like a rabid dog with no regard for common sense.
EJWinner certainly hit the nail on the head about idle chatter and Ill formed opinion, e.g. China making vassal buffer states of its surrounding nations such as India, Vietnam Japan etc. Besides completely antagonizing these and the lesser players in the area and on its borders, they offer no incentive other than possibly fear for these countries to abandon their cultural and economic ties to America and the Western paradigm, no matter its past and current warts. China is a proximal and ever present looming presence that casts a potentially ominous shadow over its neighbors.
At the possible cost of embarrassment I’ll offer a bit of my own idle speculation. I find the strategic/tactical circumstance of Taiwan remarkably analogous to the situation Israel finds itself against an overwhelming landmass and military force. And we all know what Israel’s ace in he hole answer to that is.
I don’t know if Taiwan has a similar card up its sleeve but if I were in a similar existential situation I know what I would do. Whereas the US can’t pose a credible nuclear threat to Chinese aggression on Taiwan, the Taiwanese threat would be quite believable and a meaningful deterrent.
I want to make a point with a little thought experiment that might help Americans to understand the feelings of the Chinese. It is quite fanciful but bear with me since it is intended to be illustrative and not realistic. So don’t reply by saying it can’t happen. Of course it can’t, but that is not the point.
So sit back, sip your favourite whiskey and enjoy the ride.
Just for the sake of argument, imagine that the culture wars deteriorate to such an extent in America that civil war breaks out between the Woke Left and the Alt-Right. They fight long and hard, devastating much of the country, to the delight of the Russians and Chinese. Sadly, the Alt-Right lose. They hastily assemble a flotilla of ships in San Diego and flee to Hawaii which they occupy in force and where they set up the newly independent republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of the Alt-Right. This new republic thrives on the liberated energy of its peoples, becoming a world class centre for high tech innovation and chip manufacture. Which just goes to show what can be done when one is free of the demonic urge of liberals to impose control on all they see.
China greatly values this source of high tech manufacture and they send their fleets to guard Hawaii’s shores. The US is too busy mending its ravaged economy to pay much notice. But the US does rebuild its economy and restore its military power.
Now it looks West towards Hawaii with covetous eyes and wounded pride. This is US territory, they cry. Hawaii is a rebellious province that belongs to us. How dare the Chinese prevent the US from reclaiming its own territory? And so they plot, scheme and plan the recovery of their own territory with the full intention of imposing draconian punishment on the treasonous Alt-Right. Ah, revenge is so delicious. And who could blame them? This is US territory after all. Every patriotic red-blooded American supports this cause. Yes, I know it is surprising but the Woke Left have metamorphosed into patriotic red-blooded Americans. Amazing. The Chinese retort that this is a free, independent, democratic republic with the full right to rule their own affairs. They argue that no free people should be forced to endure the evil dictatorship of the Woke Left.
Now do you begin to understand the feelings of the Chinese? If not, read again and pay close attention. The whole point of my story is to encourage you to understand the Chinese perspective by imagining yourself in the same situation. If you can’t do that then you are irredemiably Woke Left. Woke Leftism is noted for its close-minded myopia. They are an offshoot of New Atheism!
Terran, embarrassment doesn’t seem a significant concern in this convo, so have at it. As for me, I’m staying out for my mental health.
I was trying to come up with a similar analogy, but you did well before I could.
As you say elsewhere, the U.S. tends to lack the ability to see the world from the perspective of other societies.
A friend from the U.S., who is very critical of U.S. foreign policy, wrote me the other day and mentioned that the U.S. with a drone had just destroyed a whole family in Afghanistan, while a short while ago the Israelis assassinated a Iranian nuclear scientist with a robot machine gun without touching his wife who sat beside him in the car. Why can the Israelis do that and not the U.S.? It seems that the life of non-U.S. citizens does not matter to them.
I find your analogy a good read and an excellent theme for a fictitious novel. Other than that it’s quite condescending to think anyone here couldn’t grasp or appreciate the simple historical reality that nations despise giving up territory as much as someone losing a limb.
Continuing on the same thought, I found your narrative more revealing about your own social attitudes and vision of reality than any insight into the Taiwan problem. No doubt the South African experience has left a very sour taste in your mouth.
I am not criticizing or condemning your politics or your moral foundations. Only that I find them interesting in the liberal atmosphere that I perceive permeates this site and I wonder if you were conscious that some, including myself, would find your scenario not very palatable. But, carry on unimpeded .
I’m on the left and let’s try this analogy.
Due to mass immigration from Latin America, both legal and illegal, the state of New Mexico becomes 85% latino/a in its population. Sick of discrimination and prejudice from the white population of the U.S., New Mexico declares its independence.
Since they, rightly or wrongly, blame all their ills on white anglo USA, they ally themselves with all the anti-yanqui Latinamerican govenments, with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. What’s more, they become very friendly with the Chinese, who invest heavily in the New Mexican economy. As relations sour between New Mexico and the U.S., China sends “friendly” troops to protect the New Mexican border, establishes a couple of military air bases there, and trains the New Mexican army in military strategy.
How would the U.S. react?
“I find your analogy a good read and an excellent theme for a fictitious novel.”
“it’s quite condescending to think anyone here couldn’t grasp or appreciate the simple historical reality that nations despise giving up territory”
Yes, I would have thought it was obvious but since no one will admit to this reality I thought it was worth driving the point home.
“I found your narrative more revealing about your own social attitudes and vision of reality ”
That is interesting. I wonder if you could expand on that. Hold up the mirror, as it were.
“No doubt the South African experience has left a very sour taste in your mouth.”
I wasn’t aware of that.
“I am not criticizing or condemning your politics or your moral foundations.”
You are allowed to but please do it without the decorative adjectives that at least one commentator is prone to use. They add nothing of value to the conversation.
“Only that I find them interesting in the liberal atmosphere that I perceive permeates this site”
I think it is healthy that the commentariate reflects a diversity of opinions. For example the NY Times has a Christian opinion writer and a conservative opinion writer.
“I wonder if you were conscious that some, including myself, would find your scenario not very palatable”
My scenario was written in a playful, tongue in cheek way that was intended to be teasing. That is not to everyone’s taste[!].
“At the possible cost of embarrassment I’ll offer a bit of my own idle speculation … I don’t know if Taiwan has a similar card up its sleeve but if I were in a similar existential situation I know what I would do”
It is interesting to speculate. Has there been any talk along these lines, or any kind of indication? We, in South Africa, developed our own nuclear weapons in almost total secrecy so it can be done.
Then you appreciate quite well, the rational and the effectiveness of a solid bluff or desperate intention. Again, going back to Israel, the Taiwanese would be perched on Mount Masada with the choice of self annihilation with a vengeance, or capitulation and enslavement to the Red Empire. Would Emperor Xi be willing to risk incinerating one or more of his cities and in lieu of a nuclear retaliation, (what good is a radioactive island?) be content with sending in the marines as Shanghai glows in the dark? Stalemate is the life force of Taiwan and the bane of the Middle Kingdom.
I hate to admit the efficacy of nuclear deterrents in geopolitical gamesmanship. But, damn if they aren’t effective, turning a mouse into a roar.
But, no, I’ve never come across such a speculative scenario before.
Actually, it only came to mind recently, spurred on by a similar conversation.
But, unless you were intentionally trying to tweak the libtards, I would conclude that you most assuredly dress to right:)
I know how I would react. First I wouldn’t send in the Navy. (that should give you an indication of the unsoundness of your analogy) Secondly and unfortunately, your fictional scenario is so wildly fanciful that it makes Pete’s all the more plausible and applicable. I appreciate the effort but, I’m having a difficult time reconciling your narrative that it is somehow a “Liberal” analog to Pete’s ascent of the Proud Boys scenario. I do glimmer the “Leftist” influence but that’s hardly any more palatable than a proto-faschist takeover.
You definitely get an A for imagination but the Blue Ribbon goes to Peter. All in good fun.
However you would react, the U.S. has a long history of overthrowing or trying to overthrow regimes in Latin America which don’t follow orders.
Let’s start with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Then the 1964 military coup in Brazil, backed by the CIA.
The 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic. The 1973 coup in Chile backed once again by the CIA. The 1976 coup in Argentina with the same sponsorship. The contras trying to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua with U.S. backing and financing. The 1983 invasion of Granada. The 1989 invasion of Panama. The attempted coup against Chavez in 2002. I’m surely leaving some interventions out. Ex-Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, not an ultra-leftist, joked: why has there never been a military coup in Washington? Reply: there’s no U.S. embassy there.
So given the U.S. record of trying to dominate the Western hemisphere, all in the name of democracy, even though it often means installing a repressive military government, why get so upset about the Chinese trying to control an island off their coast, that is, Taiwan?
I like to keep my feet in both camps. It gives me a lot of flexibility to seek out the truth. That is because the truth is not determined by ideology. In one issue the truth may lie with the liberals while on another issue the truth may lie with the conservatives. Neither possess a monopoly on the truth although liberals cherish this obsessive illusion that they have an exclusive lock grip on the truth. The truth can be found scattered across ideologies and all I want to do is follow the evidence towards the truth, no matter where it may be found. And so I avoid labels because labels prejudice the search for the truth by creating cognitive bias.
By contrast the ideologues panel beat the facts into the shape that represents their preconceptions. There are a couple of panelbeaters in this forum. The more threatened their world view is the harder they beat the panels until the end result is a grotesquely malformed version of the truth.
“why has there never been a military coup in Washington? Reply: there’s no U.S. embassy there”
Now that gave me a good chuckle. I will still be chortling as I drift off to sleep. Good night.
Taiwanese nuclear capabilities in terms of weapons and delivery systems is not the sort of topic I feel comfortable discussing or competent to speculate about but, since the matter has been raised, it’s probably worth at least summarizing Wikipedia on the topic. In a nutshell: they did have a nuclear weapons program but it was halted apparently.
On chemical and biological weapons:
Peter: Your analysis of the dominant Chinese viewpoint seems broadly right to me. But the viewpoint itself seems egocentric and paranoid. If China were willing to play by the international rules then we could all benefit. But, instead, China wants to be the dominant power in the Western Pacific (and probably the Indo-Pacific).
For a while China thrived under those rules. Since 1980, GDP per capita increased fourfold. No-one threatened them. But they invented a story about ownership of Taiwan, which implied conflict with all its neighbours. And it’s not just ownership of Taiwan. It’s also ownership of the South China Sea, which they set about militarising.
At the back of my mind is always WW2. The Americans saved Australia from oblivion under Japanese hegemony. But they also saved China from the same fate. What then happened was that China fell under a regime descended from Marxism and Stalinism. Then Mao imposed his own destructive personality on the country. How much bad luck can a country have? And just when they seemed to be growing out of that sad history, the CCP has plunged themselves back into it.
You, I think, are using this issue to make America and Americans look small-minded and self-centred. Why? I don’t get it. And doesn’t your personal creed require something different? Okay, delete that last sentence.
both of your hypotheticals are historically blinkered.
“So given the U.S. record of trying to dominate the Western hemisphere, all in the name of democracy, even though it often means installing a repressive military government, why get so upset about the Chinese trying to control an island off their coast, that is, Taiwan?”
This ignores the long history of American anti-war, anti-Imperialist activism, of which I have been a long time participant. The bastards often win out, but we continue to try and sway the country in a different direction. We certainly have thus earned the right to try to sway the Chinese to a different direction on the world stage.
Your hypothetical concerning New Mexico has already been answered, back in the 1860s, for legalistic as much as for ideological reasons. Right-wing blatherers who shake secession at Washington as a threat seem to forget this – to their decided risk, since the US military is still among the largest, best trained and best equipped in the world, and is committed to defending the Constitutional government against enemies foreign and domestic.
Could the Chinese have invoked similar ideological principles in 1949 and invaded Taiwan then? Probably, but chose for practical purposes not to, and are left with a situation we agree is awkward and cumbersome; but which cannot be resolved either through Chinese sloganeering, nor the kind of childish cant we’ve seen in the comments here.
We’re talking science fantasy scenarios here, we’re talking about real world governments – and the living people who lead them, the living people led by them, the possibilities all human lives face confronted by various conflicts. Some people may not care about the lives of Taiwanese or Chinese, or even Australians – but some people do, and their concern cannot be reduced to the simple choices your hypotheticals present us with. The whole point of my original reply is that the situation is complicated, very much so. Whatever our disagreements, I read that Mark understands this. But other comments here have not shown much interest in the complexities involved.
Well, you’ve rather diverted the course of our little tet a tet somewhat, but why not? You would be woefully remiss not to mention our Marine’s favorite and multiple proving grounds in Haiti. Now, Grenada, I think was a good invasion to thwart a handful of Cuban thugs with automatic weapons from high jacking an innocent and defenseless country best known for its medical college for second tier American students. Let’s say that was one for the Gipper;)
If you are expecting me to defend or sugar coat our self serving and criminal foreign policy in the Americas, you are barking up the wrong banana ree. Why defend Taiwan in the knowledge of our undermining democracies in other lands? I’m sure someone with greater acumen on this subject than I, could probably encapsulate a detailed and cogent response based on history, and the current geopolitical reality. All I could offer, which in no way exonerates our past and present hypocrisies, is that times and contingencies evolve and change and each case has to be considered on its own merit. In any case it’s rather difficult for me to imagine that we would actually go to conventional or nuclear war over it, any more that Herr Trump saying as much about the Baltic states. Yet the game of chicken goes on and the military industrial complex fattens on resources that would better suit the world in useful products and services.
The discussion above wasn’t about about an anti-imperialist march about Chinese expansionism, but about U.S. military action to defend democracy in Taiwan against Chinese communist aggression. If the U.S. anti-war movement wants to march in protest against China, fine. However, when the Pentagon and all the mainstream media want the U.S. to send the marines and whatever the contemporary equivalent of the B.52’s is to protect the independence of Taiwan and human rights, I’ll just repeat what Chomsky always says, look in the mirror first. That is, a country like the U.S. which has used direct military intervention and CIA financed coups to impose its will and domination over the Western hemiphere for over a century (Woodrow Wilson’s sending troops to quell the Mexican Revolution) seems plainly hypocritical when it gets upset over Chinese doing the same along its borders.
The sword of Damocles is forever hanging of the head of Taiwan. The question is, would they avoid its fall by all means possible or not? If they are willing to concede to losing all, should push come to shove, then their demise is in the cards and their way of life only hangs by a thread. How they proceed, I’m sure, will be kept close to the vest until a critical juncture becomes paramount. Neither Wotan nor Chemical and biological weaponry will not turn the red tide that will envelop them.
I said nothing about military action, nor would I think that would be the best strategy for protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty [and that of other major industrialized nations in the region], which, as I’ve said, I think is absolutely essential.
“As for me, I’m staying out for my mental health.”
Quite wisely. I don’t know how I get caught up in the nonsense sometimes. I suppose because I feel strongly that loose lips sink a thousand ships, and some reply must be made. But perhaps those ships were always doomed. The most remarkable thing about our species is that it didn’t destroy itself with irrational ‘rationality’ many centuries ago. But there’s always somebody’s future to look forward to….
I’ll stop here.
It’s just harmless chat. I just don’t need to irritate myself.
True, all true but eventually the US removes its boot off the heads of these nations, whereas Taiwan once under Chinese dominion will forever be subjugated and transformed like the Tibetans and Uyghurs into Procrustean cultural oblivion.
Thanks Mark, that was very informative.
“Your analysis of the dominant Chinese viewpoint seems broadly right to me”
“But the viewpoint itself seems egocentric and paranoid”
You are right, it is. This is the result of their bruising encounters with the surrounding world. These dark memories of a recent past colour all their perceptions.
“And just when they seemed to be growing out of that sad history, the CCP has plunged themselves back into it.”
Yes, for sure the CCP are bad actors. But they are tapping into legitimate grievances, which is where you and I fundamentally disagree. You do not think their grievance are legitimate while I do. I had hoped that my colourful and wildly imaginary story of the Democratic People’s Republic of the Alt-Right might give you insight into their perspective.
Like it or not, but this is how the Chinese feel and they genuinely believe their cause is legitimate. Moreover they are utterly determined to resolve the issue in their favour.
How should we react when confronted with these realities? Right and wrong no longer has any relevance since both sides sincerely believe they are right. What has relevance is the chess player’s cold, hard calculation of intentions, probable actions, likely outcomes and the best mitigation strategy. International affairs is not a morality play.
“You, I think, are using this issue to make America and Americans look small-minded and self-centred. Why? I don’t get it”
It is much more complicated than that. I am a huge admirer of the American system of government. I greatly admire the form of participative democracy that the Americans have. Their social capital is greatly to be envied. And of course we have all benefited immeasurably from American science and technology. The open source movement was born in the US and, mark my words, this is going to be utterly transformative. These are just some of the things I admire and I could go on and on about the strengths of the US.
Then we have their quite profound weaknesses but I am not going to beat that drum any more(for the time being). The important thing to note is Lord Acton’s dictum that all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. My point being that American power has tended to corrupt her actions in the world abroad and blinded her to the perceptions of others.
“And doesn’t your personal creed require something different? ”
You have actually asked a very interesting question so there is no need to delete your sentence.
Our parish priest(a delightful, highly intelligent black man with a nearly impossible to decipher accent!) often comes back to the Sermon on the Mount in his homilies. I listen and read the Sermon on the Mount humbled by its profound implications.
One of the lessons that I take away from it is that we are, first and foremost, called upon to transform ourselves and not to intervene to transform others. By transforming ourselves we become the example to others so that they may be inspired in turn to transform themselves. This is the first lesson.
The second lesson is that we transform ourselves by offering help, love and succour to the suffering around us so that in turn they are enabled to transform themselves.
This is a non-interventionist philosophy aimed at inspiring others to emulate our example. Of course we live in a rough and tumble world where there are many bad actors who will overstep boundaries and then we need a policy of containment. The problem plaguing the discussion so far is the disagreement about what constitutes the boundaries and this is where you and I, in good faith, disagree.
I value the fact that we disagree in a civil thoughtful manner by constructively engaging with each other’s arguments. The decorative adjectives that some throw around add no value so I simply ignore what they say. Happily people like you and Mark are not prone to doing this.
I’m with you here, Dan.
Empires lose territory sometimes. In Europe alone in the previous century, Great Britain lost Ireland, Germany lost a considerable part of its territory, Austria lost too much territory to name here, Finland only became independent in 1917-1918 and the Ottoman Empire lost Greece and the territories they controlled in the Balkans. Even godforsaken Belgium got a tiny piece of Germany, can you imagine?
History in Europe shows that the best way out is to bury your imperial ambitions and create friendly relations with your neighbors. Nationalism based on century-old claims is definitely *not* the way to go.
I suppose China has too much history of its own to care about recent history in Europe, but the uncontested military takeover of a prosperous, democratic “rebel province” by an imperial power would project the world right into 19th century thinking, when “superior races” drunk on “historical rights” thought it was quite OK to subjugate everyone who didn’t agree with them.
Good day Sir Peter of the Veldt,
I once listened to a commentator describe his first visit to South Africa. His immediate response when breathing the air and looking out over the Savanna and Veldt of your beautiful nation was, as he expressed it, a homecoming. Home to the ancestral birthplace of humanity where the electric ambiance of eons coursed through his racial memory. I’ve never forgot that emotional tableau. I hope some day to make the pilgrimage.
Let my first response be that for better or worse I think and write in terms of metaphors and evocative adjectives. You may be technically correct that the overuse of such devices are to be avoided in proper pros but they have served me well in the past. In the future I will attempt to be more sensitive to your preference should it come again that we communicate. But for now, I’ll be my self. We all have our faults even if some are less prone to point them out.
Secondly, before I get down to business, I want to confess that I feel guilty on imposing on Dan Kaufman’s gracious indulgence by being as responsible as others in turning his forum into a personal message board and at times ignoring the specific topic at hand. My apologies also to Prof English who deserves better use of his work. I will severely try my best to avoid further infractions.
““I found your narrative more revealing about your own social attitudes and vision of reality ”
That is interesting. I wonder if you could expand on that. Hold up the mirror, as it were.”
To hold up the mirror, so to say, I reread your post to refresh my memory so as to offer a clear unobscured vision. You start off your narrative by decrying, not in fanciful terms, but obviously personal bias, that “… sadly the Alt-Right lose” the Civil War against the forces of the Woke. Seems strange that someone weaving a fictional tale as an illustrative analogy would bother to interject a superfluous word like “sad” unless reflecting one’s inner feelings about the left. And it only gets more disparaging as the paragraphs roll along; literally reeking of contempt for the left at every opportunity available.
I have no problem, as I’ve already said, about your political barometer, but please don’t play the innocent purveyor of a neutral objective lesson that ostensibly, the only purpose being, is to only draw a parallel with Taiwan. If any independent third party would read your thought experiment and not be cognizant of your not so subtle subliminal messaging, I will stand corrected but not convinced. I don’t see how you could be more blatant in your anti Left sentiments. And, and I’m sorry to have to bring this up, this is not your first rodeo in expressing rather unkind (in my opinion) jabs at the left in general and the trans community specifically. Whether its a rather insensitive sense of humor, situationally awkward social skills or just some devilish teasing, I don’t know.
I hope the mirror isn’t cracking. LOL! But, you asked and I’m giving my honest feedback. Does this make you any less likeable than the others here, to me? Of course not. We obviously differ politically and all that entails, psychologically, but I really think you are an amazingly great and interesting guy and this site would be unimaginably the less if you were to ever depart.
Now, based on what I just said about what I perceive to be your unfavorable views of the Left, it came to mind that maybe it was germinated or at least nourished by the coming to power of the ANC and the conditions that have since developed. Hence, my comment on the sour taste anything smacking of the Left may have left in your mouth. Perfectly comprehensible.
Yes. The suggestion is madness. I’m happy to have a serious conversation about what to do about China’s increasingly threatening posture, but alas, this ain’t it.
“I said nothing about military action, nor would I think that would be the best strategy for protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty [and that of other major industrialized nations in the region], which, as I’ve said, I think is absolutely essential.”
Firstly, the U.S. is *already* involved militarily. Nor can you ignore the long, checkered history of European and American involvement in China which inevitably colours the way current U.S. words and actions are perceived.
One obvious question is: on whose behalf are you speaking when you say that it’s “absolutely essential” that Taiwan’s sovereignty be protected? As individuals we are quite powerless. I can only imagine that you are implicitly tasking your own government (and, in the last resort, the military) with this essential task. But, as I pointed out, in the wake of recent diplomatic and military failures, the moral authority of the U.S. has been severely eroded.
My view is that even the current level of U.S. involvement is making matters worse, not better. Subtle, quiet diplomacy is the way to go in my opinion. Not the populist nonsense that large sections of the Western press have been pushing, especially since the COVID outbreak.
Even assuming that all this talk of imminent invasion is not largely propaganda designed to garner popular support for Taiwanese independence, raise the political temperature in the region and provoke China to precipitous action — even if we assume that it is all plausible and well-motivated — it still has the same unfortunate consequences (raising the political temperature, making military conflict more likely).
Also, you are going way beyond anything I have been talking about by putting “other major industrialized nations in the region” in the same category as Taiwan. The Republic of China’s position is unique in a number of ways which I don’t need to spell out here. And it’s not as if current policies have *unanimous* support. From memory, at the last election (2020?) 38% of the population voted for a party wanting improved relations and closer ties with Beijing.
As I say, quiet, subtle diplomacy is what is called for here, not the public threats, deliberate provocations and ultimatums we are currently seeing from both sides.
You’ve made an awful lot out of very few words. For the most part, I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about.
I shall bow out.
“I think and write in terms of metaphors and evocative adjectives. You may be technically correct that the overuse of such devices are to be avoided”
No, I was not referring to you but another who makes a practice of sprinkling his comments with derogatory or derisory adjectives. I was being polite when I called them “decorative adjectives“. But it is not important. I simply don’t read anything he says.
My use of “sadly the Alt-Right“.
Sorry, but you got it wrong. Before a conservative audience that would be a sincere expression of regret but before a liberal audience it is heavy handed irony that was intended to be humour.
“your unfavorable views of the Left”
Both the left and the right amply deserve some quite savage criticism. I am an equal opportunity critic. But there is no fun in repeating their received wisdom to the disciples.
“maybe it was germinated or at least nourished by the coming to power of the ANC”
They defy standard political nomenclature. There is nothing leftist about them. What they really are is corrupt, incompetent, violent, indolent, dishonest kleptocrats. That describes their political leanings in a nutshell. I vote for and have always voted for a liberal party. There, my guilty secret is out.
“I said nothing about military action, nor would I think that would be the best strategy for protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty ”
In that case how would you recommend that we deal with an utterly determined foe that is willing to pay the reputational and economic costs of reclaiming its lost territory?
1) The threat of harsh sanctions and diplomatic isolation of China?
That will greatly increase the levels of embittered hostility that will play out in all sorts of adverse and unforeseen consequences. Is that the kind of future relationship you wish with China?
Sanctions will harm us just as much as it harms them. Can we endure the ongoing costs before our allies start to desert us in droves in order to look after their own interests?
2) Friendly persuasion of China as to its best interests?
We have long passed that point because so many countries do not believe that the US acts in good faith, least of all China
3) Shore up Taiwan’s defences to make it impregnable?
This has a very high cost and is probably not achievable. It will further embitter China and cement in place a century of implacable hostility with unforeseen consequences.
China’s intentions are clear and their determination is indubitable. They are rapidly acquiring the means to realise their intentions. They are biding their time for a suitable opportunity that will minimize their costs. They will likely act in concert with Russia and the stupidly provocative actions of the US in the Black Sea and Ukraine may just possibly create the diversion they need to act against Taiwan.
“which, as I’ve said, I think is absolutely essential.”
If it really is essential(which I seriously doubt) what cost are you prepared to pay for Taiwan’s sovereignty? You seem to be avoiding this question.
You have been critical of the conversation, which is fine, but there comes a time when you need to make a substantive contribution, otherwise your criticisms lose their force.
This is one of the defining questions of our time and it really does deserve a thoroughgoing analysis and discussion. As the host and resident philosopher you could play an important role in enabling this. Not least because philosophers should demonstrate their relevance.
“Empires lose territory sometimes”
Yes, but China is utterly determined not to do the same so your examples have no relevance.
“History in Europe shows that the best way out is to bury your imperial ambitions and create friendly relations with your neighbors.”
I agree but internal Chinese dynamics far outweigh that consideration.
But the same thing applies to our relationship with China. Are we striving to create friendly relationships with them? We maintain a host of armed forces close to their borders. They see this as being anything but a friendly act. In fact they see this as a threatening posture that endangers them.
Peter, I won’t be baited, no matter how much you try. I have no interest in having this conversation with you. And I am allowed to talk to other people about the issue, without talking to you about it.
Also, I don’t need to “demonstrate my relevance” to you or anyone else, and I’m a little sick of being lectured about what my responsibilities as a site owner and host are. The magazine is going gangbusters, so I’m not looking for advice.
“ But, as I pointed out, in the wake of recent diplomatic and military failures, the moral authority of the U.S. has been severely eroded.”
Yes, there can be no doubt about this. The problem is that this severely eroded moral authority weakens alliances. That is because the allies have dometic audiences with the final say. At best the US will receive token support from its allies. And others will get quiet satisfaction when the US gets its comeuppance.
“As I say, quiet, subtle diplomacy is what is called for here”
I agree completely. The crucial question is the aims of the quiet diplomacy. They could be:
1) to continue with the present status quo by persuading China that it is in in its own best interests.
They don’t agree. The emotive need to retake Taiwan is huge. The popularity boost that the CCP would get would be unprecedented. The great majority of Chinese ardently desire re-unification of Taiwan and think it is morally justified.
The cost to trade will be large but they will calculate that this is temporary because we are so dependent on Chinese trade.
They will calculate that the West has no appetite for war far from their shores over an issue that only marginally affects them.
They are developing the means to realise their intentions and with it will come a large temptation to use those means.
Given these factors I can see no reason why they will be persuaded by quiet diplomacy to accept a situation which is plainly unendurable to them.
2) we could negotiate a best deal settlement with them. one that gives them something substantial. Such a settlement could be one that recognises China’s rights and allows for a gradual, orderly transition to Chinese rule, over a period of, say, 30 years. The Hongkong model would serve as a guide, except that Taiwan might be given a super-federal status with the Taiwanese president becoming one of China’s vice-presidents. This would
a) preserve many rights that the Taiwanese possess.
b) preserve international trade.
c) avoid a very dangerous war.
d) avoid the awful humiliation of military defeat that is the most likely prospect for the US.
e) allow the US to move its attention to the existential threats posed by Muslim expansionism. This is where the real problem lies because Iran will go nuclear and the tide is turning strongly against Israel with the steep rise of anti-Semitism among the Left, both in America and the US.
Unless the US steps up its game in the Middle East Israel will be exterminated. This threat makes the Taiwanese problem pale into insignificance. The US needs to move its attention and resources to the theatres that really matter.
And one renegade Chinese province is just not worth the large cost, military, economic and opportunity.
Peter, old man,
I must say this posting format gives me a devil of a time. The comment one wishes to reply to is not always right above for reference and one must continually scroll up to refresh one’s mind. Is the only recourse to copy and paste and then delete?
Any way, Kudos and well done on your response to my looking glass. Coincidentally I too often find myself in need to clarify my own brand of irony and sarcasm and I am often frustrated and perplexed why the ninnies reading my “obviously” wry comments don’t get it. But, even so, you really put quite a burden and onus on the reader to make sense of your rhetoric, especially if they don’t know you from Adam. And, your target of ridicule is preponderantly against the left. You often seem to put the Left up as the poster child for unreasonable truculence, inflexibility and dogmatic activism, when we both know there is always a mirror image doppelganger on the Right. I.e,
“In one issue the truth may lie with the liberals while on another issue the truth may lie with the conservatives. Neither possess a monopoly on the truth although liberals cherish this obsessive illusion that they have an exclusive lock grip on the truth.” As if the conservatives don’t?
And this other, rather ambiguous quote of yours can only make one wonder who you are trolling and what motive to attribute to it. Surely you can admit this can lead to mixed feelings depending on subjective interpretation? I think certain comments shouldn’t be left to the imagination of the reader. A follow up by way of explicit clarification or a more mild and explanatory use of the semantics would be helpful and spare feelings.
“November 18, 2021 at 12:42 pm
“maybe the EA should be doing more to encourage female contributors”
“Gosh, I am surprised that our esteemed host should publish such a politically maladroit comment. You have knowingly trampled on the delicate sensitivities of our most important sub-culture, that of the transgenderites. Now they feel more bruised and excluded than ever before. Woke up and smell the roses before it is too late.”
There was also some ambiguity about who you were referring to when stating your disapproval of derisory and derogatory adjectives. Strange prohibition coming from someone who can be just as biting, intentionally or not, by other means of language. Admittedly I was prone to think your warning was directed at me since when I get my nose open or the demon gets in me, I’m quite apt to add a flourish of facetious garnish to my adjectives. . I thought maybe I had done so somewhere along the line on the EA and was being called out. So that was a perfect storm for me to fall into. Funny how communications are perceived and why civil dialogue can clear up these misunderstandings. How many wars and interpersonal strife have been caused by simple misunderstandings that could have readily been remedied?
“My use of “sadly the Alt-Right“.
Sorry, but you got it wrong. Before a conservative audience that would be a sincere expression of regret but before a liberal audience it is heavy handed irony that was intended to be humour.”
This made no sense to me upon the first read, though I appreciated you were trying to convey you weren’t being serious nor blaming any particular ideology. On the second read it made perfect sense to me that it was to be interpreted from the perspective of the audience and not your own. On subsequent reads, I’m no longer sure what you are trying to express. I think I can understand you, unbeknownst, to the conservative audience, tweaking their noses with a feigned allegiance by insincerely using the word sincere. (Quite the clever sardonic coup if that was your intent.) But, I don’t have the foggiest notion what you are getting at or why would one come to the conclusion that telling a liberal audience why the Alt-Right losing your fictitious war would be ironic, heavy handed or with a velvet touch? You are a tough read.
Like I said, as someone who frequently finds himself backed into the same having to explain himself corner as you, I am willing to accept your equanimously expressed explanations. As a fellow provocateur, I’m sure I will be more charitably perspicacious in interpreting your comments as I become more familiar with your style.
Peter: You seem to switch between saying that Taiwan can be conceded to China with no great adverse consequences to anyone else and saying that what China really wants – and is determined to get — is dominance of the whole Indo-Pacific. I think the second story is more plausible than the first. In which case, the fight for Taiwan is the first stage in a fight for the whole region. And, in that case, Japan, South Korea, SE Asia, Australia and India have a very large stake in the outcome.
I think that China will lose, even if it somehow takes Taiwan. The Chinese people will not celebrate for long, if at all. They will see their economy collapse. They will have to choose between being a part of the global system (the Singapore option) and being resentful, poor and autarkic (the North Korean option).
Peter Zeihan (in “Disunited Nations”) predicts the biggest winner of this conflict to be Japan, which will be able to protect its energy supplies from the Gulf, whereas China will not. It’s a perspective worth considering.
As for your “civil war” story, I would say that the North would have no right to invade the South, seventy years after the breakup, if the South is now well-governed, peaceful and democratic, while the North is autocratic and domineering and badly-governed, as you agree it is.
Alan, your latest comment was addressed to Peter but I would like to say a couple of things in response.
You say that Peter seems to “switch between saying that Taiwan can be conceded to China with no great adverse consequences to anyone else and saying that what China really wants – and is determined to get — is dominance of the whole Indo-Pacific. I think the second story is more plausible than the first.”
This is a false dichotomy, I think. Dominance is a matter of degree, not necessarily all or nothing. If Taiwan became a part of or more friendly towards China, this would enhance Chinese dominance (as you put it) of the region.
“In which case, the fight for Taiwan is the first stage in a fight for the whole region.”
Your rhetoric and the general logic of the argument makes me slightly uncomfortable. “Fight.” Is it a fight? Maybe. Metaphorical now, maybe not metaphorical tomorrow. Does it not concern you that your argument seems to follow the logic of the domino theory that was used to justify the very regrettable American interventions in Indo-China in the 1960s?
“I think that China will lose, even if it somehow takes Taiwan. The Chinese people will not celebrate for long, if at all. They will see their economy collapse.”
This is *so* speculative.
“They will have to choose between being a part of the global system (the Singapore option) and being resentful, poor and autarkic (the North Korean option).”
Another false dichotomy.
“Peter Zeihan (in “Disunited Nations”) predicts the biggest winner of this conflict to be Japan, which will be able to protect its energy supplies from the Gulf, whereas China will not. It’s a perspective worth considering.”
Maybe so. But Zeihan’s past association with Stratfor (“shadow CIA”) does not instill confidence in his impartiality. Also, it seems that he built his reputation on bold predictions about shale oil which haven’t played out at all.
You say that North Korea “would have no right to invade the South, seventy years after the breakup, [as] the South is now well-governed, peaceful and democratic, while the North is autocratic and domineering and badly-governed.” But your point is really about what you see as a parallel case: the Chinese civil war, and Taiwan.
Obviously, China is not North Korea. Its people are not on the verge of starvation etc.,etc.. Your point is, I think, basically a moral one, however. On moral grounds I would agree with you. But I am less sanguine about the possibility of applying moral principles (beyond basic consequentialist ones) to international relations.
Mark: I was not referring to North Korea but to Peter’s story about the American civil war as an explanation of why China claims ownership of Taiwan.
Regarding Zeihan, read the book. It won’t take long and it would be an interesting experience, I should think.
Regarding the domino theory. No, there are no dominoes in my perspective. Chinese Marxism has no attraction to SE Asians today. There is however the “logic” of sealanes and trade and energy supplies from the Gulf, which China wants to control.
Dominance is no doubt a matter of degree. The question is what degree of dominance is China willing to settle for? Peter thinks China wants Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore as its vassal states. You largely agree, only quibbling about Japan. And why not throw in Indonesia and Malaysia just for fun? So dominance is a matter of degree, but the degree at issue is at the high end of the scale, in my judgement and yours too, I think.
“On moral grounds I would agree with you. But I am less sanguine about the possibility of applying moral principles (beyond basic consequentialist ones) to international relations.”
I believe this is the seminal “truth” that is evading the thoughts of many here, who are trying to justify or condemn an all too common political occurrence. Morality more often than not is a subjective gambit in political affairs that explains little of realpolitik. Did North Vietnam have the moral high ground in wanting to unify with the south? Could North or South Korea claim as much? Does Quebec have the moral grounds to succeed as the Southern states attempted? Where was any morality evident in the fracturing of Yugoslavia? Do all people have the right to self determination if already a part of a sovereign nation so that the world shatters into thousands of duchies?
As you wisely say, morality may serve as a self serving element with some situational consequences but it is too often in the eye of the beholder and virtually plays second fiddle to statecraft.
Sorry about the “civil war” confusion. I realize what Peter was trying to do with his thought experiment but I skimmed over that section of the thread, not being particularly enamoured myself of elaborated counterfactuals.
“Dominance is no doubt a matter of degree. The question is what degree of dominance is China willing to settle for?”
Simply, this is impossible to know in advance.
“Peter thinks China wants Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore as its vassal states. You largely agree, only quibbling about Japan.”
You are again mischaracterizing my point of view. In part this may be my fault. When I quoted Peter’s claim and said I agree with the gist of it I was referring mainly to this point: “China is not expansionist but it needs secure borders and secure sea lanes that cannot be blocked as it is so desperately dependent on trade for its survival.” “Vassal states” was Peter’s term and he clarified what he meant by it (defining it very loosely, giving it a very broad sense, as I recall).
You ask: “And why not throw in [i.e. add to the list of vassal states] Indonesia and Malaysia just for fun?”
I realize that you have a strong emotional commitment to the cause you are espousing and I respect that, but this sort of rhetoric is not helpful in my opinion.
“So dominance is a matter of degree, but the degree at issue is at the high end of the scale, in my judgement and yours too, I think.”
As I suggested, I think it is futile to speculate about what degree of dominance China will be willing to settle for beyond saying: whatever level they see as ensuring that trade routes and sea lanes which they depend on for vital imports cannot be blocked by hostile powers.