Twofish's Blog

June 3, 2007

Comments on Joseph Wu

Filed under: china, taiwan — twofish @ 4:51 pm

A pretty good interview with Joseph Wu

The interesting thing is that he uses the rhetoric of “misunderstanding” a lot.  The operating theme seems to be that if Taiwan would “explain” itself better that all of the problems would disappear. They won’t. One of the basic problem is that Wu is trying to “explain” that the DPP is trying to exercise restraint, and then Lee Teng-Hui comes and screams for “independence now.”  Joseph Wu tries to “explain” how Taiwan really isn’t trying to change something, and then Chen Shui-Bian does something that people see is pretty clearly rocking the boat.  Joseph Wu talks about how Taiwan is trying to perserve the name “Republic of China” and then Chen talks as if he wants to get rid of the name ASAP.

The basic problem is that Chen has to be lying to someone.  Either he is serious about promoting Taiwan independence or he isn’t.  If he is, then he is lying to the United States and moderates on Taiwan.  If he isn’t, then he is lying to his deep green supporters.  Chen has tried to get around this by being a lawyer and constructing clever explanations and concepts that are technically true, but that doesn’t work because acting like that just gets people to mistrust you.  Logically, he must be lying to someone, and once you get the sense that the person you are talking to has to be lying to someone, then you start worrying that it migh be you.  In any case, Chen has built such a complicated explanation to try to explain himself that it could dangerously fall apart.  The other problem is that Chen then becomes unpredictable, no one knows what he will do in a given situation, or what he really thinks.  The problem with sincerity especially becomes an issue because for a decade, Lee Teng-Hui was actually being very insincere about what he wanted to do.

By contrast, Beijing is clear as day about what its goals are.  You might not like them, but you know what the goals are and how Beijing is likely to behave in a given situation.  Beijing can be “trusted” to do anything that advance its goals of reunification with Taiwan.  By contrast, since no one knows what Chen really wants, how can you “trust” him to do anything.

In any case, I don’t want to spend too much time discussing it.  My big fear is that there would be a war, and that I’d have to go through the same sorts of hellish experiences that my parents went through.  I was seriously worried about this between 2002 and 2005, but the danger seems to have receded.  The role of Chen Shui-Bian is rapidly becoming an issue for historians to talk about, and a new President (whether blue or green) is something that will offer people a chance for a change.  People are obviously having the conversations that they should be having, and so I can spend my time doing other things.



  1. I share you fear of war, but we should never forget that it is Beijing that is threatening Taiwan with war and not the other way around. Sorry if I’m repetitive, but how do you expect Chen to behave honestly when he has a gun pointed at him?

    Comment by Amban — June 8, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  2. A four year old with a gun is far more dangerous than a Mafia assassin. You can at least be reasonably certain that a Mafia assassin won’t shoot himself and you can at least try to reason with him.

    You can argue that the four year old is more innocent. You can argue that a four year old deserves more sympathy than a Mafia hitman. You may be right. Still the four year old is more dangerous.

    Beijing may threaten war, but it is in no hurry to start one, because it knows that if it has a war now, it will face the US Seventh Fleet, and will probably lose militarily, not to mention the economic losses. The longer it waits, the more economic and military advantages it has, and therefore it is simply in Beijing’s interest to wait as long as possible before trying to solve the Taiwan situation with non-peaceful means.

    By contrast, one theme that is clear in some pro-independence talks is the sense of “now or never.” In particular, Lee Teng-Hui has advocated very provocative moves toward independence and has stated quite seriously that he thinks that the PRC is a paper tiger, and that if Taiwan takes assertive action, the US will back up Taiwan, and the PRC will back down. The trouble is that it is obvious to everyone that the PRC *won’t* back down, and you’ll end up with a possible war between nuclear powers.

    You seem to think that because Taiwan is the “victim” that it ought to have the world’s sympathy. This sounds reasonable, but I don’t think you are completely aware of the implications of this view. In particular, there are people in Taiwan that will interpret “sympathy” as a blank check to do actions that will certainly cause a major crisis with the belief that the world will blame Beijing for whatever happens.

    If things fall off a cliff, then the consequences are so horrific that I doubt that future historians will care about who was to blame for the debacle, and more than disputes over who started World War I seem a bit silly. The important thing is to keep things from falling off a cliff, and between 2001 and 2005, the main problem simply was not Beijing, since Beijing had no intention of starting a war that it would lose. The problem was people within the DPP who for whatever reason believed that triggering a crisis would have been in Taiwan’s interests. It had to be made very clear to them that the world’s sympathy had limits, and that being the “victim” did not give it a blank check.

    In trying to stop a war it is important to be honest and trustworthy. Beijing may be many things, but it has never been dishonest or vague about what its aims are, what it’s strategy is, and how it will react to certain things. This forthrightness is beneficial because it allows other parties to figure out how to react to Beijing.

    The same is not true with Chen Shui-Bian. Let’s leave aside its behavior with respect to Beijing, the fact that he did a double flip with the referendum left zero trust for him among the Taiwanese opposition. Beijing tends to keep its word on things (witness Hong Kong). Chen Shui-Bian makes a promise and then immediately tries to find a clever loophole or wiggle out of it, and this has been a persistent behavior. Let’s not forget that right now Chen is looking at 20% approval ratings.

    Personally, I think that either of the two candidates for President are going to be better than Chen. Right now, I think the big fear of Chen Shui-Bian is not Ma Ying-Jeou, but that Frank Hsieh is going to move things in ways that Chen does not want. Frank Hsieh has already spoken about a “constitutional one China” which I think is close enough to have talks start with Beijing should he get elected.

    Comment by twofish — June 8, 2007 @ 4:48 am

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