Garrett Dee (葛瑞迪)

Garrett Dee (葛瑞迪)

Raised in Texas, transplanted to Taipei. Studied International Relations and History at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Tweets @grrtt

Monday, 07 July 2014 00:00

Internet as Body Focus Response: Has technology changed the way we date?


When I first started to toss around the idea of exploring the stories of the gay male community in Taipei I'll admit I was a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was attempting to narrate. How could I tell the varied and diverse stories of these men living, working, and loving in such a large city and focus the narrative enough to make something of the multitude of anecdotes I was hearing? Trying to weave together a thoughtful, honest, and accurate portrait of such a large, diverse community while doing justice all points of view within the group seemed almost too large of a task to take on within a single piece and threatened to kill the project before it even started.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:00

The Promise to Taiwan

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States Congress held a hearing on March 18 on the subject of US-Taiwan relations on the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, a hearing they chose to title “The Promise of the Taiwan Relations Act”. It may have just been semantics, but the use of the word “promise” in the course of the discussion seemed to reflect less of a sense of the opportunities created because of the legislation than a literal promise made between the United States and the Republic of China. Wading through the purposeful obscurity that so characterizes the relationship between America and Taiwan, it is hard to arrive at an answer to a very important question: what exactly is the promise that the United States of America has made to Taiwan?

When I was at the protests at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei the week they began, I witnessed a man speaking about the resilience of the Taiwanese throughout their history in the face of constant takeover by imperial and colonial powers. He likened the current struggle against the Cross-Strait Trade Service Agreement to this history of resistance, but he made a comment that piqued my interest. He told the crowd that concerning the growing threat of a Chinese takeover that China was too big, and that the Americans could not save Taiwan now, it was Taiwan that would have to put up the resistance itself.

Was this true, I wondered? Had the much-talked-about growth of China reach a critical mass, to the point where the Americans would decide that, in the face of an attempted takeover, Taiwan was simply not worth fighting Beijing over? The relationship between America and Taiwan is not simply a curiosity, it is a relationship that has proven to be absolutely critical to the develop of Taiwan into what it is today. It is a relationship that both sides of the debate over the Trade Service Agreement have acknowledge to be vital to the success of their vision of the future in Taiwan. Early in the Sunflower Movement, student protests sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama to support their occupation, and on the same day that President Ma of Taiwan held a video conference with a major American think tank on the US-Taiwan relationship, the leaders of the student protest held a conference with students at the George Washington University vindicating their point of view (the English version of which can be viewed here).

The relationship between the United States of America and the Republic of China is a unique one. One has simply to spend a few months in Taipei to see how much of an influence American fashion, language, and entertainment has on the culture and self-identification of Taiwanese people of all ages. On the American side, there is constant discussion of a sense of “shared values” with Taiwan, a nation that has moved from being merely a strategic partner in the containment of communism to a nation that shares the values of multi-party democracy and free market capitalism with the United States.

However, the relationship is also at times an ambiguous and uncertain one, especially since the de-recognition of the sovereign status of Taiwan in favor of the People’s Republic of China in 1979 by the Carter administration. Since that time, all decisions made by the United States with regard to Taiwan have always been made with Beijing in mind, something that causes quite a bit of anxiety amongst the Taiwanese. Though the United States did sail an aircraft carrier group through the Taiwan Strait in 1992 in response to the launching of missiles off the coast of China in the direction of the island, conditions twenty-two years ago are much different than they are today, and China occupies a much more potent place in the international system.

The Americans tend to tread a very thin line when it comes to the issue of Taiwan, a position that may not always be viable even in the near future. They continue to sell billions of dollars of weaponry to the Republic of China, but the decision to scrap upgrades to Taiwan’s aging F-16 fighters and its subsequent reinstatement amidst China’s 12.2 percent defense budget increase shows how tenuous the relationship can be in times of contention. The United States claims that its relationship with Beijing is fundamentally based on the assumption that there will be no forced solution to the Taiwan question, but allows Taiwan to be further diplomatically isolated by China’s growing diplomatic influence. The fact that Taiwan has become so dependent on Chinese trade that it needs to pass these very controversial cross-strait trade agreements is due to the fact that Taiwan is not allowed to join major trade organizations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Americans formally support but have not advocated.

All of these tepid signs of support as Taiwan becomes more and more dependent upon China economically are worrisome to advocates of Taiwanese self-determination on both sides of the Pacific. The promise that the United States made to Taiwan in the Taiwan Relations Act seems to undergo constant reinterpretation through the lens of America’s support of China’s “One China Policy”. If indeed the Americans are such staunch supporters of democracy and human rights in East Asia, perhaps it is time to make more concrete assurances to Taiwan, and for Taiwan in turn to assure the United States that it will be a responsible partner in the region.

While I commend the comments I heard at the Sunflower movement protests about the indomitable spirit of the Taiwanese, spirit is not an effective missile deterrent, nor does it stop Chinese acquisition of Taiwanese businesses. Ideally, Taiwan would be able to share an equal burden (if not the full load) of the defense of its self-determination, but realistically Taiwan will never be able to defend itself against China. It is inevitable that Taiwan’s defense will always have to be subsidized by its friends who are stronger diplomatically, economically, and militarily. It is important for both America and Taiwan to remember, however, that theirs is not a relationship built simply on strategic necessity; both sides share a fundamentally compatible world view, and despite their cultural differences, they are allies in containing the growing power of China in the Asia Pacific region.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

The Sunflower Movement

 Image Courtesy of AOL News   

Taiwan’s peaceful democracy has been wracked by  protest over the last few days in response to the passage of the Service Trade Agreement with China, a follow-up agreement to the Economic Cooperation Framework agreement (ECFA) passed in 2010. The police violence surrounding the events has left many Taiwanese citizens scratching their heads, wondering how this could have happened in a country known for its friendly and peaceful society. Many wonder what has happened to the democracy in Taiwan, and what this means for its future.

The protests began on Thursday, March 18 when a group of students entered the Legislative Yuan in Taipei around 8pm and occupied the chamber. The occupation began as a response to the announcement by the administration of president Ma Ying-jeou the previous day that the agreed upon line-by-line review of the Service Trade Agreement had reached its expiration and the agreement would pass through the legislature without review. By the end of the day, over 300 people had entered the building and occupied the chamber.

The politics of Taiwan are divided between the Kuomintang party and the Democratic Progressive Party, respectively known as the blue and green parties. The ruling Kuomintang is the more conservative of the two, often shying away from any talk of Taiwanese independence and seen as more conciliatory to the People’s Republic of China. It is under the leadership of the Kuomintang that the first government-to-government meetings between Taiwanese ministers and their counterparts in the Chinese government occurred since the end of the Chinese civil war. Their leadership has also seen the expansion of Chinese trade and tourism in Taiwan, and a dampening of talks of a Taiwanese nation.

The Service Trade agreement opens up 64 sectors of the Taiwanese economy to direct Chinese investment, a move which is seen by many of these protestors as being one step too close to integration of the two economies. In my previous article, I wrote that the much feared takeover of the Taiwanese economy by China has yet to happen, and that still seems to hold true. However, the ways in which the KMT party pushed the agreement through the legislature, by executive order rather than open debate, appears to many Taiwanese citizens to be a quite tyrannical move.

One can only imagine what the Ma administration is trying to accomplish by insisting that there be no compromise and that the agreement will pass through the legislature as previously planned. The pressures on the Ma administration by the Taiwanese population may not be as strong as their suspected desire to impress Beijing enough to have a face-to-face meeting between Ma and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

If indeed Ma wants to go down in the history books as the hero, he is certainly pursuing an odd course on his way to fame. Ma’s domestic approval ratings have already hovered at around 10% for most of the last year before the protests even began. Yet, despite his abysmally low popularity, Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah thought it a good idea to send in the riot police on the night of Sunday, March 23 to break up the protests. There were reports of over 100 injuries to unarmed students, reports, and citizens following the incidence of violence.

I have heard several critiques of the protestors, that young students cannot possibly understand the complexity of these issues, and that most of the demonstrators there have little knowledge of the real stakes involved. Many people I have spoken to believe these young protestors are just there to be with their friends. While it’s true that the sunflower painting, arm band making, and constant Instagraming of selfies may seem juvenile in comparison to more violent protests going on in Crimea or Bangkok, this is an important distinction of Taiwanese culture not to be trivialized. Taiwanese society is characteristically nonviolent, the jovial events going on at these protests are a result of a Taiwanese shared consciousness that values peace and social gathering. It is these values that the Ma administration seems to be so out of touch with, and the reasons that the use of water cannons and riot police is so shocking to observers in Taiwan.

At this point, it seems that the protests have become about more than just Sinophobia or concern over ECFA and the Trade Services Agreement. Other Taiwanese groups, like the strong anti-nuclear and gay marriage movements, have also joined in the protests to voice their concerns and oppose the administration. Taiwan is still a very young democracy, less than 30 years old. The protests are now about the vision Taiwan has for its self-determination and the way it wants its democracy and society to be shaped for future generations.

The KMT will almost assuredly suffer severe political backlash as a result of the way the current administration has responded to the demands of the student protestors. Taiwanese politics are notoriously divided and at times raucous, especially where the issue of Taiwanese independence and Taiwan’s relationship with China is concerned. The opposition party has a chance to seize on this political capital and vindicate everything these student protestors have been saying, turning this from a fringe student movement into a mainstream political change that will drive the KMT out of office. Regardless of what happens in the halls of the government, however, the anger and hurt associated with this Sunflower movement will almost certainly continue far into the future, spelling only sadness for Taiwan’s young, fragile democracy.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 00:00

Say Goodbye to Taiwan?

I recently had a conversation with a Taiwanese-American friend of mine visiting Taipei from California about the future of Taiwan in relation to the rise of China. He was of the opinion that Taiwan had already lost the long term battle for sovereignty, and that it was only a matter of time before it would be absorbed into China in a manner similar to Hong Kong, the "one country, two systems" model. As a business man, however, he viewed this eventual unification as likely to take place in the manner of a corporate merger, with the possibility of a military conflict between China and Taiwan completely forgone.

John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, a renowned theorist on US-Chinese relations, weighed in on the debate last month with his much talked-about piece "Say Goodbye to Taiwan", published in the National Interest. Mearsheimer is an academic known for his solid support of the realist theory of international relations, namely that all states exist in a state of anarchy and are constantly seeking to maximize their power vis-a-vis competitor states. In Mearsheimer's estimation, every country would relish the chance to rule the entire world given the opportunity. It is this course of the accumulation of regional hegemony that will eventually bring the United States and China into conflict over the issue of Taiwan.

While it is true that successive leaders of the People's Republic of China have made it clear that China's stated intention is eventual unification with Taiwan, Mearsheimer's quite pessimistic view of the future of Taiwan is based upon the assumption that the current status quo is unsustainable. The 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and the subsequent Trade Services Agreement signed between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, however, demonstrate some of the headway that the countries have made in mutual recognition of the other. Critics of the agreements would argue that the agreements actually bring the two sides closer to unification, but the much feared Chinese takeover of the Taiwanese economy following the signing has yet to occur. If anything, the recent conclusion of the first government to government meeting since the end of the Chinese Civil War gives credence to the idea that, at least for the time being, China is willing to at least partially acknowledge the authority of the government in Taipei.

Taiwanese national identity has undergone a rejuvenation in the past two decades, particularly since the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the emergence of a multi-party democracy. Should pro-de jure independence advocates have their way, China will almost certainly respond with military force, despite the doubts of those who believe Beijing would never resort to such an extreme solution. However, the issue of Taiwanese independence is something to which the Chinese government would almost assuredly respond to with a fervently nationalistic knee jerk; there is little room for a rational, measured response where issues of high sentiment are concerned.

Mearsheimer argues that the best way for Taiwan to solidify its current status would have been the bomb, though he concedes that neither Beijing nor Washington would be comfortable with a nuclear-armed Taipei. Mearsheimer, however, reveals his tendency to view all these developments through the lens of great power competition. There are other ways Taiwan can preserve its current status into the the long term, namely by coalition building with other Asian states anxious about the rise of China in the region. By remaining relevant in the continuing territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Taiwan asserts its position as an agent in the Asia Pacific region rather than merely a bystander. Though few states recognize Taiwanese sovereignty, building closer economic and cultural relations with states like Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia would give Taiwan valuable Asian allies in its struggle for self-determination.

In the estimation of realists like Mearsheimer, a strong offense is the best defense, and Taiwan, with its limited military might, cannot stand against the Chinese for very long. While this is true, it is not necessarily true that Taiwan would be completely abandoned by the United States were it to be threatened by mainland China. While China sees the issue of Taiwan as an internal challenge, and an attempted takeover of Taiwan would most likely not be a prelude to Chinese expansionism throughout Asia, in terms of strategy a Chinese Taiwan would not bode well for the United States. By shifting much of its naval might to the Pacific, the United States has made a strong statement that the region is of great value to its interests, interests that include containing the growing might of China.

Mearsheimer, though an accomplished academic, has a penchant for a viewing events in a way that feels more like a Netflix series than a balanced interpretation of facts. In the long term, China is facing an environmental crisis far more devastating than is being talked about and an economy burdened by an aging population and growing inequality. Their military, though rapidly modernizing, is still at least a decade away from catching up to other world powers. The political consciousness of young Chinese is growing at a fast pace thanks to new exposures to media and communication, and an invasion of Taiwan may do more harm than good to China's face. None of this is to say that China will forgot about the issue of unification with Taiwan anytime in the near future, but if Taiwan is careful about the way they approach the issue, their doomsday may not be as imminent as Mearsheimer believes.

 

Originally published on the blog: One Student's Thoughts on the Way the World Works

Image source: WebProNews

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