Against Amoral Realism on Taiwan

Taiwan: The Tail That Wags Dogs,” by Michael Turton, The View from Taiwan, 26 July 2006,

Later today I will be going on my third Greyhound voyage this month. The first was from Omaha, Nebraska, to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the second was from Fort Wayne to Nacogdoches, Texas. Now I am going to The Good Life, Nebraska, possibilities…endless. But before I go, something more serious:

Flag of Democracy

Below is an excerpt from an attack on a report by Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt (retired), of CNA. Admiral McDevitt wrote a report, Taiwan: The Tail That Wags Dogs, for the National Bureau of Asian Research. McDevitt pushes the same fear of Taipei’s influence that some other strategists do, so I am grateful to Michael Truton of The View from Taiwan of highlighting the reports rhetorical slights-of-hand.

An except:

Instead, Taipei’s new guidelines accepted the PRC as the legitimate government of the part of China that Beijing controlled. This move effectively nullified the underlying premise of the 1972 Shanghai Communique that “Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that it is a part of China.” As Harry Harding has stated, “Taiwan basically abandoned the vision of one country, one legitimate government that had been pursued by Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-kuo, and for that matter Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.” The 1991 Guidelines for National Reunification softened the political blow of backing away from the old formulation of “one China” by stating that the ROC still envisioned a “one country, one system” future but only when the PRC had become”democratic, free, and equitably prosperous”—just like Taiwan.

This move effectively nullified the underlying premise of the 1972 Shanghai Communique that “Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that it is a part of China.”

Whoa! McDevitt does not add that prior to the Shanghai Communique the US position was that the status of Taiwan was undetermined (the ethically, democratically, and politically appropriate position). McDevitt does not add that Shanghai Communique was a memorandum of understanding among two governments about the status of Taiwan, neither of whom was the legitimate owner of the island, and none of whom consulted its people about its disposition. If don’t get the consent of those whose lives and property you dispose of, you are hardly in a position to complain if they later decide your plans are worthless. But then the Czechs were not invited to Munich either….

In other words, Taiwan democracy is not the problem here. The problem is that the original plan to sell out Taiwan to China failed to take into account the wishes of the people of Taiwan, and policymakers are now paying the price for their urgent need to enjoy that feeling of Playing God with Other People’s Lives. It was easy in 1972 to anticipate that the Taiwanese would take steps to avoid being annexed by China if given democracy, as that was known to both the Chiang government and to US policymakers (lobbying for Taiwan independence began in the 1960s, and there were numerous public and secret reports that gave accurate accounts of the island’s political attitiudes). McDevitt represents a foreign policy establishment that resembles a man who becomes infuriated that the marriage he arranged for his daughter to make himself rich has been rejected by her.

Essentially, this analysis simply blames the people of Taiwan for the errors of US foreign policy decisionmakers. Had the US maintained its original position that “the status of Taiwan is undefined”, it would currently have a great deal more strategic flexibility and it would still retain the moral high ground. It would not be locked into the clearly unacceptable goal of “pushing Taipei into a unification dialogue in order to bring an end to Washington’s 50-year security obligation.” Kissinger, not Taipei, trapped Washington in this moral and political nightmare where it has to sell out a democratic state to an authoritarian dictatorship.

Read the whole thing. The Mandate of Heaven is also impressed.

2 thoughts on “Against Amoral Realism on Taiwan”

  1. Let the Taiwanese determine there own fate…and they want independent democracy.

    The US should not have as policy that a smaller Democratic nation should be joined to a larger non-democratic nation.

    If the PRC truly wants to connect and be part of globilzation and create a prosperous autocracy, they can mumble about Taiwan, but they won’t act.

    If the PRC acts against Taiwan then the PRC leadership really just wants to be a slow-motion-growing empire.

    Taiwan should have a 4GW counter-PRC deterent much like you described in a prior post that would make use of small networks of high-tech infiltrators.

    I don’t see any moral reason to throw Taiwan to the PRC for appeasement purposes. Appeasement (signals of weakness or lack of will) breeds agression.

    First, so as there is no musunderstanding, the US should have an overt policy of: “Let the Taiwanese determine there own fate…and they want independent democracy.”

    Next, the US should lead the effort to create APSO (Asia/Pacific Security Organization) with members: US, PRC, Aussies, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and maybe India. This should worry military-wise about North Korea and Islamofascism, and be the arm of state-building / institution-building / sysadmin / etc type activities.

  2. Purpeslog,

    Excellent comment!

    When I was in China, one of the hopeful things I saw was the coverage of the Montenegro Independence referendum on CCTV9: they covered it accurately and objectively. China’s state media (at least in English, but I believe also Chinese) reported that a province of a country voted for freedom, and that such a vote will quickly result in independence, a UN seat, etc.

    If this is Beijing’s new strategy, we should be happy. If the CCP places hope in a KMT pro-Beijing stance, that’s fine. If the Taiwanese people elect the such a government, fine.

    The important thing is to guide China towards democratic norms, and away from dictatorial government. We do the Chinese people no favors by being ambiguous in our lessons. We should not jump ahead of Taipei, but nor should we let Taipei be militarily bullied by China.

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