Twofish's Blog

June 26, 2007

Comments on public opinion on Taiwan

Filed under: china, taiwan — twofish @ 1:47 pm 

Actually the polls reveal that public opinion in Taiwan is really quite complex, and the situation is hardly hopeless for Beijing.  The number of people that identify themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese has remained steady at about 45% since 1990, and the number of people that say that they would consider unification at some point in the future if the Mainland becomes democratic is something like 80%.

There was attrition from the KMT to DPP in the 1990’s, but that trend has ended, and the KMT is today far more “China-oriented” than it was during Lee Teng-Hui’s era.

The situation is hopeless only if you consider a strong Taiwanese identity to be in opposition to a strong Chinese identity, and the thing that both the KMT and CCP figured out is not to try to set the two in opposition.  The other thing that KMT has figured out is that most people in Taiwan are really tired of arguing about the identity issue, and you can most effectively fight the DPP on this issue by not fighting.  If you make people on Taiwan choose between Taiwan and China, they will choose Taiwan, so if you want them to choose China, you must arrange the question so that they are not forced to choose between the two.

Also these junkets aren’t going to change people’s minds immediately, but they may have a lot of long term effects. If nothing else they get people talking to each other and “humanizes” the other side which is good.  

The problem with a lot of these news stories, is that someone goes on these junkets, you ask them if they have changed their minds, and the answer is no, and so they are marked as a failure.  What they don’t look at is the effect that they have on people +10 years +20 years.  I went to a government sponsored junket in the late-1980’s.  It didn’t have any immediate changes in my outlook, but there were huge long term changes, and my views are probably a lot different than had I not gone.

The other thing about public opinion polls is that you have to be careful about how you use them.  If your purpose is to show that Taiwan is permanently lost to Beijing, you can easily do this by asking the right questions.  However, if your purpose is to understand public opinion so that you can come up with a long term strategy to change it, things get more complex.  If group A uses polls to make a point, and group B uses polls to plan strategy, then group B will ultimately win.

I do think that Chen has run out of his bag of tricks.  If Chen plays the “let’s join the UN as Taiwan” and KMT responds by saying “let’s not join the UN or let join as ROC,” Chen will win.  However, if Chen says “let’s talk about the UN” and the KMT responds by saying “let’s talk about the economy” then the KMT will win.  

The other thing that is striking to me is that Chen is talking and not Frank Hsieh, who is the DPP presidential candidate.  This leads me to believe that Chen really isn’t worried about Ma Ying-Jeou, but he is trying to keep Frank Hsieh from going too far.  This could cripple the DPP in the Presidental election.  It’s less than a year, and so far Hsieh has not said what he is planning on doing.

The big question is what Chen will do next.  He has three choices.  1) quietly drop the referendum idea 2) try to get the referendum on the ballot using signatures or 3) get the referendum on the ballot using his presidental authority.  3) is problematic because at this point the KMT can get people to abstain by making this a referendum on Chen.  Chen probably wants 2) because that commits the DPP to a given platform, but 2) may have a lot of resistance from within the DPP.  1) is a possibility, and the fact that 1) is a possibility may be why both the KMT and the CCP are quiet.  If the KMT and CCP start screaming about Chen, then 1) becomes impossible because too much face will be lost.

I should point out that the US saying “we don’t think a referendum is a good idea” changes the political situation considerably since it allows people to be opposed to the referendum on the UN without looking disloyal.


June 4, 2007

From the brilliant planners of the war in Iraq…..

Filed under: china, international law, iraq, taiwan — twofish @ 5:48 pm

This is a scary article about how high level Department of Defense officials were lobbying Taiwan to declare independence. It sounds frighteningly plausible. 

I probably won’t read the original article for a while, since it would be too stressful to think about it. On the other hand, it is interesting that it is coming out a week after the DOD issued its “China plans to take over the world” report.

One of the few good things about the war in Iraq is that it has took up the energy and then totally discredited the people that had in mind a much larger and scarier war.


From a post I made in Tom Barnett’s blog

What is interesting is that China has had several thousand years of experience doing grand strategy, and every Chinese political and economic thinker since the Warring States period has emphasized the importance of 1) a strong economy 2) learning from your mistakes and 3) learning from your enemies.

The thing that I find both sad and distressing about the United States is how many people in the political leadership are just playing the wrong game. I’m just amazed that the DOD would issue a report that says that China’s military strategy is “non-transparent” and it’s “motives are unclear.” This says some really sad things about the people that wrote the report. China’s motives are clear as day (become a rich and powerful great power) and has been the same for the last 150 years. It’s strategy is transparent as day (make people rich). If DOD can’t figure out what China’s goals and strategy is (and they aren’t being secret about it), then we are really hosed against al-Qaeda.

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.

May 24, 2007

Response to Lung Ying-Tai

Filed under: china, politics, taiwan — twofish @ 3:17 am

Here is a good link to Lung Ying-Tai’s speech at Cambridge University.  While Lung argues that the international community does not understand Taiwan, I think that one major problem is that many in Taiwan do not understand the constraints of the international community.

The international order is based on relations between “states” and “statehood” is a status that involves recognition by other states and it is something that is rarely given.  The problem is that if you look at any international boundary, it is one that is the result of historical accident and random circumstance.  Question one boundary, and they all are questioned.  Recognize one state over the objections of another state then this opens the door to all groups which aspire to statehood to have their claims recognized.  Taiwan can come up with some good arguments why it should be recognized as a state, but so can hundreds of other groups.  Recognize Taiwan, then this gives the green light for everyone else to press their claims, and since almost every existing state has some secessionist claim, this would create a threat to existing states.

The second issue is that international law is an effort to create some global rules that prevents raw power from constantly being used.  The trouble is that the rules that are created while they can regulate and the direct raw power, they cannot ignore power, and to create rules of international behavior that ignores the political, military, and economic strength of the People’s Republic of China simply ignores reality.  What many in Taiwan would like to see is an appeal to abstract international rules that ignore these political realities, and this is unworkable.

Finally, in trying to appeal to the international community but yet ignoring the real concerns of the community, Taiwan is increasing finding its position more and more ignored.  By insisting on participation in the global community on terms that unambigiously recognize Taiwanese statehood, and rejecting forms of participation that leave the status of Taiwan ambigous, Taiwan presents itself as simply unwilling or unable to understand the real concerns of the international community, and that decreases sympathy for Taiwan in diplomatic circles.  Participation in the international community involves not only rights but also responsibilities, and many of the actions of the government on Taiwan give the impression that Taiwan does not recognize the serious responsibilities that being a global citizen involves.

What I find disturbing is the existence of a bad cycle.  Because Taiwan is isolated from the international community, Taiwan is unable to understand the concerns and realities of the international community, and this leads to further isolation.  To be blunt, Taiwan thinks that is it more important than it really is, and that abstract principles of “human rights” and “democracy” carry more weight in the international community than they do, and underestimates the importance of political, military, and economic power in determning what actually happens.

The truth is not that the international community does not understand Taiwan, the truth is that they do not care that much about its aspirations.  Taiwan is merely one of dozens of flashpoints and hundreds of regions with aspirations to statehood.  Any effort to unilaterally push statehood upon the world rather than undertake joint problem solving will only add to Taiwan isolation, and people on Taiwan really need to understand this.

February 13, 2007

Trying very hard not to care too much….

Filed under: china, politics, taiwan — twofish @ 10:01 pm

I’m trying very hard not to care about political events in Taiwan.  We are at the start of the election season, and election seasons create all sorts of emotional roller coasters.  In 2004, I was very carefully following every bit of news and going crazy with every bump and dip in the polls.  This time, I’m trying to decouple a bit from the election news so that I don’t get on the emotional roller coaster.

The big thing that I learned about elections in 2004 was that in the end, it was pointless for me to follow the polls, because in the end, Chen Shui-Bian getting shot at the end changed everything on the last night of the election.  So I’m trying very hard not to care too much.

One thing that makes it easier is to know that there are competent people who basically see the world like I do running things.  In 2003, the Kuomintang had undergone a number of defeats, and the message that the DPP was presenting was that there was an inevitable march toward independence and the Kuomintang was finished as a party.  People who had views similar to mine were supposed to be dinosaurs, and the message from the DPP was that we should agree with them and “face reality.”

The situation in 2007 is very different.  The KMT managed to bounce back, and no one talks about the Green pro-independence agenda as inevitable.  Perhaps more importantly, people with views similar to mine aren’t afraid or ashamed of them, and that’s a good feeling.  Also, the experience of being declared dead once only to bounce back to life gives at least some hope to carry through the next time people declare you finished (and there will be a next time).

If pan-blue retains control of the legislature and if Ma Ying-Jeou wins in 2008, then there will be a flood of changes and possibilities, but I don’t want to think too much about them right now.  Politics is very uncertainty, and so I don’t want to get my hopes too high.  There will be enough time to figure out what to do if it happens.

January 1, 2007

Thoughts on Peter Perdue’s “China Marches West”

Filed under: academia, asian am, china, hayek, massachusetts institute of technology, taiwan — twofish @ 1:45 am

I had the pleasure of reading Peter Perdue’s book “China Marches West – The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia” this afternoon. One of the things that I found most useful about the book was the last chapter in which Perdue summarizes a lot of the recent scholarship in the Qing dynasty, and then tries to connect them with recent scholarship on nationalism. Perdue points out (correctly) that nationalist readings of history tend to have several characteristics, one of which is that they are telelogical, in that they imply that the present is the inevitable result of the past, and they imply the existence of “natural boundaries.” Unlike a series of what I call “China-debunking” literature, Perdue even-handed (and I think correctly) points out that these characteristics are common across all nationalisms.

Personally, I tend to agree that nationalist histories are “constructed products” and my own thinking on this is borrowed from Benedict Anderson’s work “Imagined Communities.” By “constructed” I don’t (and I don’t think either Anderson or Perdue) mean “fake.” But rather than a natural outcome of facts, to create a history and nationalistic narrative or national identity requires conscious effort.

I know, since I’ve had to create my own narrative.

One of the interesting connections was that one of the first classes I took at MIT was a seminar on the Asian-American identity given by Professor Perdue and Professor Sally Deutsch. Creating an identity has been a struggle for me, and it has also been increasingly important now that I have kids, and am trying to figure out what to teach them. National identity has touched every aspect of my life. It touches who I married, what I teach my kids, what jobs I take or don’t take, where I live, and every other decision I make. And the discovery that I made was that none of the “off the shelf” identities really worked for me. So it was a liberating discovery to learn that national boundaries, national histories, and national identities, were constructed. If the “off the shelf” identities don’t work, then I can create my own, and I have proceeded to do so out of Chinese nationalism, American nationalism, combining with the “nationalisms or sub-nationalisms” of Taiwan and Texas. I’ve come up with something that works……

As long as war doesn’t break out in the Taiwan straits….. Fortunately that is looking less likely, and one thing that I figured out a few years ago, was that if a war did break out in the Taiwan straits, my life would be in shambles, and so would the lives of the people around me even if they had blonde hair and blue eyes and ancestors that came from Ireland.

One thing that is very different in 2006 than in 1987 is how far progressed globalization has progressed. In 1987, I was a little embarassed to have as strong feelings for Chinese nationalism as I did. The dominant paradigm was the “melting pot” in which I and my kids would lose their Chinese characteristics and assimilate into the American mainstream much as the immigrants of Eastern Europe did. This made me uncomfortable because I felt as if I’d lose some precious if that happened, even if I was unable to articulate exactly what. At the same time, I had this deep fear that I’d be completely out of place in “China” and find it totally alien and different.

Those fears are still there, but globalization has lessened a lot of it. It is becoming more and more obvious that being able to more or less move between a Chinese and an American identity is not a handicap, but it is something in fact that multi-national corporations find desirable. There is still the fear of being seen as a “traitor” or a “foreigner” but that is increasingly being lessened by the fact that more and more of the world is becoming like me. A person with connections to various parts of the world, and has to figure out how to integrate these different parts of themselves.

And in this all, I find one commonality between Qing China and the United States which is very touching and gets back to MIT. Both societies faced the difficulty of trying to integrate people of very different languages and ethnicities into a functioning whole, and in both cases, part of the solution involved creating an academic system. In the case of Qing China, it was to use the system of Imperial examinations to create a shared sense of communal values. In the case of the United States, it was through the use of public schools and an excellent university system. In the case of Qing China, the value system that was promoted was one based on classical Confucian learning. In the case of the United States, the value system is a civic religion based on the Constitution and the values that underlie it. Ultimately, these two value systems are not in conflict (I would hope).

And looking at history, this correspondence is not accidental. My great-grandparents adopted the value system that was promoted by the Imperial examination system. Those values were transmitted to me, which is why I was attracted to something similar and feel such a strong attraction to academia and why I ended up at MIT.

But in trying to puzzle all of this out, I had to cross a lot of boundaries, which made me question the “naturalness” of the historical boundaries, and made me realize that they were as “constructed” as the national histories.

One final thing. One characteristic of national histories is their telelogical nature (which is known as the Whig view of history), every event is portrayed as being the inevitable set of events which leads up to the present. In giving up the sense of historical inevitablity, one gives up a lot of security, but one gains something far greater. Freedom and the scary realization that people’s decisions matter.

If the present is not the inevitable result of the past, then it follows that the future is not the inevitable result of the present. The world we see today is the result of people’s decisions and random events mixed together. If people had decided to do different things, the world would be different, but that means that the decisions we make today will influence the future. This puts an awesome and scary responsibility on us to make correct decisions.

And on what basis should those decisions be made???

One thing that I’ve learned in looking at history is that the decision about what flag you wave or what uniform you wear is largely out of your hands. I find myself a deep blue supporter of the Kuomintang because of who my parents where. There is some scope for choice, but that is limited.

December 25, 2006

Protected: I still hate Christmas

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December 22, 2006

Director’s notes on previous article

Filed under: china, confucianism, taiwan, war — twofish @ 4:31 pm

A lot of my previous comments came out of the years that I spent arguing the Taiwan issue.  What I found was that most of those arguments involved logical, rational arguments that wasn’t convincing anyone.  Usually these arguments involved started with a self-consistent logical framework and rule and then arguing based on that rule.  The trouble is that if you came up with an answer that you didn’t like, you could reject that logical framework and come up with another one.

Ultimately, I had to think deeply about what is “real” in international relations or domestic relations, and focus on things that could be justified based on observation and empirical data rather than stuff based on logical frameworks without connection to reality.  What is “real” in international relations is “will” and “power.”  This goes back to Clausewitz.

One problem thinking in terms of “will” and “power” is that it destroys power of “rational generalists.”  If you come up with a rational theory of international law and behavior, then you can apply it to every situation without knowing that much about each situation.  However, that theory just will not describe the real world in which people are irrational, and if you want to understand the real world, you have to dig very deep to understand the details of any conflict.  I think I have a good sense of what people are willing to fight and die for in the Taiwan conflict, but this knowledge is totally useless if I were to look at Uganda, which probably has some equally complex set of parameters.

Also, I talk about the irrational, and one of the major fallacies of the twentieth century is that irrationality is bad.  This isn’t the case.  I would go through extreme pain and suffering for my wife and kids.  I wouldn’t go through anywhere near the same amount of pain and suffering for someone elses wife and kids.  This is irrational.  It is also not necessarily a bad thing.  Part of the paradoxes of the discussions of international law and international relations, is that the actors are all based on this irrational human quirk.  The same sort of “sense of belonging” that creates families also creates nations.  Confucius understood this, but most international lawyers don’t.

Notes to Ian Williams

Filed under: academia, china, law, taiwan — twofish @ 4:11 pm

Comments on

The problem with that article is that it ignores nationalist sentiment on the Mainland, and misunderstands the complexity of popular sentiment on Taiwan. Also it attempts to analyze a situation by applying rational rules, which causes problems because 1) other people may not accept those rules and 2) without referring to fundamental issues of “will” and “power” any rules you come up with are disconnected from reality.

With regard to “will” and “power,” the basic reality is that public sentiment on the PRC is such that people are willing to fight for and die to keep Taiwan from being independent, whereas the number of people on Taiwan that will fight for and die for independence is relatively small. The other basic reality is that while the major powers of the world will fight in case of an unprovoked invasion by the PRC, no one is willing to fight and die to defend a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan.

The reason that popular sovereignty trumps historical claims is that claims that people are willing to die for trump claims that people are not willing to die for, and any discussion on Taiwan has to take into account the fact that there are huge emotions on this issue among the population of the PRC, and any PRC would be forced to take strong, possibly suicidal, action to prevent “de jure independence”.

The other thing that is missing is that while no one on Taiwan wants to be ruled by Beijing, there is a large fraction of the electorate that is against “de jure independence” or “one China, one Taiwan” for emotional reasons, and pushing Taiwan to one of those options rather than keeping the situation ambiguous is extremely destablizing for Taiwan democracy.

Finally, analogies with other situations are useless if you don’t take into account “will” and “power”. What matters is what people are willing to fight for and what people are willing to die for. The willingness to fight and die for a cause is fundamentally irrational, and therefore trying to come up with a rational rule that explains why one situation is analogous with the next is rather pointless. Also trying to come up with a political sentiment that doesn’t take into account “irrationality” is also pointless.

This makes Taiwan different from a lot of other situations, and it also makes this different from other PRC disputes. Askai Chin, the Spratlies, and Senaku/Diaoyutai simply don’t arouse the passions that Taiwan does, and this limits and constrains the situation. Also once you recognize that the root causes of political conflict are because of inherent and *necessary* human irrationality, you can come up with solutions that address these issues. No one really cares if Beijing effectively rules Taiwan, what matters are names, flags, and colors, and you can deal with those relatively easily.

December 21, 2006

So what did SASAC say / Xinhua articles on Taiwan elections

Filed under: china, finance, taiwan — twofish @ 3:35 am

I’ve been puzzling over this article 

Because I can’t find any Chinese source in which SASAC identifies strategic industries.  It is the case that the State Council issued an opinion on 12/18 which did refer to “key industries” but it did so in vague terms.  I don’t have much respect for China Daily’s reportage, so in absence of any other independent source for these remarks, my guess is that they got something wrong.

Xinhua didn’t mention anything like that 

The other thing that China Daily sort of got, but got stripped away when the news made it to the West was that SASAC was talking in the context of the state-owned enterprises which are directly managed by the central government.  This is a subset of the total number of state-owned enterprises.

Also in other news, Xinhua has started talking about the 2008 elections in Taiwan 

and this other article critical about Chen’s efforts to create a second republic 

The interesting thing about both articles is the tone.  The second article has an anti-Green slant, and both are critical of Chen Shui-Bian, but neither article is screaming at you, and there isn’t any of the loud rhetoric that was typical of the articles that were written a few years ago.  The articles on the rivalry between Frank Hsieh and Su Cheng-chang were rather factual and cast neither in a particularly negative light, and the article seemed to highlight both candidates “moderate” approach in contrast to CSB.  Except for the quotation marks and the simplified characters, both articles could have been written by the pan-Blue press in Taipei.

My guess is that Beijing is looking past the 2008, and hoping to turn over a new leave with whoever gets elected.  I do suspect that Beijing would prefer that Ma Ying-jeou gets elected, but making that obvious would kill his chances, and so Beijing has to maintain a disinterested outlook over what happens in Taiwan.

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