There’s not much more oppressive ‘out there’ than a tropical summer and I have to tell you that Taiwan in ‘right up there,’ when it comes to summer: baking -tropical, sticky and oppressive heat. When I walk down the streets of New Taipei city and as I watch people cooking in this heat (July 2018), I have to say that I feel nothing but admiration. The upshot of the diligence of the street vendors’ and the shopkeepers’ who choose to let the summer heat into their stores, is, the food is delicious. What could be hotter than Taiwan in summer? One may indeed ask that question. That would be the political situation. In the process of the everyday there is a multitude of political machinations going on—and off. It is hard to believe that this island with approximately the same population as Australia could be such a maelstrom of regional and international activity—the ‘international’ consists of only one nation, but we’ll get to that.
But before we get to Taiwan, there’s a broader political perspective that one needs to have come to grips with, and that’s what happens when you’re an island nation and others need your ‘strategic locale’ to bolster their own needs—this will happen to Australia and the Port of Darwin but we’ll get to that too. Back to the ‘problem’ with being an island nation, well just look at Crete and Malta in World War Two, and Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa in the same war and it didn’t stop there, as it happened to the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvina in the early-1980s. It also happened to Hawaii—stolen form an Hawaiian princess by the United States of America (US). And oh yes, it happened to the Australian Indigenous peoples too, their island got stolen from them as a collective, but after the apology to their stolen generations, they will get something to show for their ongoing suffering—the Turnbull government in its recent budget has allocated 48 million dollars to building a statue of Captain James Cook, for no doubt, the purposes of adding a little salt to the wound; and to show that there is and remains no limits to what a neo-conservative government will do to show that it has a will and a way. If you are a neoconservative you just have to secret yourself away, wait long enough, like a submarine, and just when no one is expecting you—there you are! I wonder if the Canadian prime minister is going to build a conquering statue for the Mohican’s to ponder? The Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau does seem too sophisticated and cosmopolitan for that, and not being a neo-conservative and pre-determinist will also help him to not go down that path, I would suggest. But, I digress, back to Taiwan or at least, the Asia-Pacific and island nations, which is the problem for Taiwan.
It seems if an island nation is what ‘you are,’ then someone, somewhere, is going to come after you, and such a pivotal issue of rancour in the Asia-Pacific (now conveniently called the Indo-Pacific in order to include India and exclude China in the grand scheme of things) is. The hope is that as the Indo-Pacific keeps getting referred to as the Indo-Pacific then China will decide it’s all too much and go home, back to where they ‘belong’—which is on their mainland only. This hope will not happen. As much as the West and its prudence in demanding that ‘navigation rights,’ and ‘sea lanes’ are part of the ‘international order’—you know the ones designed, expanded upon and valued-laden for the West in its robust management of the known world (then), and the global world (now)—and that went down particularly well with another Asian nation (Japan), when it was commanded by Commodore Perry to stop being recalcitrant, and damn well open its borders to trade. Just a small mention here that according to Noam Chomsky when Japan got better than the West at trading, the West then went and shut it off—the Dutch, British and Americans were the main players in the process—which after much angst by the Japanese would eventually lead to the ‘surprise attack’ (the Japanese called it a ‘revenge attack,’ funny how it’s all about perspectives) on Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t really a surprise attack and more of a cathartic happening which President Roosevelt allowed and needed, because most of the US’ population supported Nazi Germany and he was too frightened to intervene before this event because of the domestic voter-backlash.
That abovementioned aside, the problem here is that China, just like Japan before it, never agreed to the Western ‘order’—commonly referred to as the Westphalian order—as it had the order essentially thrust upon it after 1648, and it has resented it ever since. A bit like in more recent times in the Australian domestic sphere being told that as a member of the tax-paying public you are not allowed to protest on Crown Land (read: government owned) anymore, even though in a liberal-democracy you as a citizen technically own it. That would never happen, surely! Oh, the New South Wales (NSW) government has just passed that law, so if you don’t agree with what the NSW government wants to do, you’re free to protest, just not on ‘their land,’ which is technically yours, but try telling that to the arresting officer.
Back to the broader point that is trying to be made. Anyone doubting the difficulty with which China had to come to terms with such a situation should simply read Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World. The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New World Order, and this will allow you, as it did me, to come to grips with the horrors of having something so insulting thrust upon you. Understanding of this type of situation is to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown which is the course of pain that the Native American Indians had thrust upon them (for decades). If you can read it through the tears you’re a stronger person than me. China is rising and as unpalatable as that may seem to those of us who have watched the West become the ultimate power, to acknowledge that things have changed would (possibly) diminish the need for conflict. Try it Australia, it might work. You know all that talk about diplomacy trumping (pun intended) war!
More to the point. When I was first in Taiwan some fifteen-plus years ago I thought the situation was tense. The situation back then, now, seems like a walk in the park, a leisurely stroll followed by a picnic. It’s also a bit unnerving to observe how when I have been back to Australia on albeit short visits, that there is barely anything mentioned about what is going on in the Asia-Pacific with regard to the crisis that is unfolding before Australia’s eyes—plenty of comment on Brexit and the US trade war, barely any on the Asia-Pacific, ooops sorry, the INDO-PACIFIC. Get it right!
Every day here in Taiwan there is comment on the ‘China threat,’ the Taiwan response, the scrambling for political certainty, what will happen, the rise of China, the number of allies Taiwan has, the change in military strategies by both actors … the list goes on. The commentary involves a situation that will (one day) come to a head, as it must, and therefore, the commentary is worthwhile and necessary. The problem is after six months or so of being here in Taiwan, the dialogue is Taiwan-China-US. Serious and critical commentary from any other international entities seems severely lacking. I thought we lived in a global world.
Something is wrong here.