10 January, 2014

Customs & Some History

An important aspect of Chinese culture is saving face. This makes it hard to tell someone that something is wrong, if that person is in a senior position to you. So if you have a system or policy in place in a school – for example – that doesn’t work well, you cannot directly criticise it. You especially cannot complain about it to the administration if it’s a policy they have put in place, for it will imply they are doing a poor job. Instead you need to come up with a new system to replace it and then propose your new system to them, explaining how it will work better, but without directly attacking the current system.

A brief history lesson:
With the communist uprising in China near the end of World War II, the government in China fled to Taiwan. The new government in China chose not to pursue as they had many things to deal with in restoring China after the damage the war had caused.
The old government arriving in Taiwan claimed to still represent China and to be the true Chinese government, living in exile. The local Taiwanese people at that time were made up of a collection of original inhabitants and others who had migrated over many years from the Philippines, southern China, Japan and various other islands. They tried to reject the rule of the ex-Chinese government, so the arriving group of Chinese did what any political power would – they committed acts of aggression and forced the people through fear and violence to accept their rule.
For a long time the United Nations (fearful of “scary communists”) accepted the Taiwanese government as the voice of China. After a time this became ludicrous and China (mainland) was invited to the United Nations to take the seat representing China. The Taiwanese government was offered its own seat representing Taiwan as an independent country, but in an act of frustration and flippancy they refused it and left the U.N. Since then China has made it impossible for Taiwan to get the offer of that seat back.

China (The People’s Republic of China) – sometimes referred to simply as Beijing – has declared Taiwan to be part of China, but acting as a rogue province.
Taiwan (The Republic of China) is a divided country. Some of the inhabitants want Taiwan to be declared independent and allowed to have an international voice of their own. There is a third option which is Taiwan joining China in the same manner that Hong Kong did. It is effectively considered part of China, yet it retains its own government, currency, etc. This has been offered to Taiwan, but China won’t sit down to the negotiating table and discuss the details of it unless Taiwan accepts that it is a rogue province of China. The moment Taiwan agrees to that they will lose all negotiating power, so they have refrained.

Their two main political parties also seem divided over the issue. The Nationalist Party (KMT) keep trying to build ties with China, but whether it’s to work toward merging the two countries or simply to appease China to keep them from invading, I’m not sure. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants Taiwanese independence internationally recognised.

A problem arises with the custom of saving face. China has declared Taiwan is part of China. They have also put a clause into their constitution which states that if Taiwan declares itself independent they are obliged to invade, as (for them) it will be seen as an internal affair – a province trying to break away.
The U.S.A. – doing its best to stick its nose into everyone’s business – came to intercede. In 1982, under Reagan, they agreed to “acknowledge” China’s ‘One China’ policy, but not “recognise” the same interpretation of what it means. This means that the U.S. could internationally agree to recognise China’s claim, helping them save face, but also secure Taiwan’s independence from China’s government. They backed this up with six assurances and by posting military bases all over the Pacific – which was their goal to begin with.
One of the six assurances was that the U.S. will not alter its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.

This is essentially a compromise. Two governments agree to a statement and then choose to interpret said statement two different ways. It’s like two people in a relationship agreeing to have a monogamous relationship and then taking monogamous to mean different things.

The U.S., not surprisingly, had ulterior motives. Stepping in the middle of China and Taiwan may have been good for Taiwan’s de facto independence (even if not it’s internationally recognised), but it also gave the U.S. the ability to establish more military camps in the Pacific. It also allows the U.S. to use its influence to ensure all of the U.S.’ excess, low quality produce has an outlet. They pressure the Taiwanese government to pass Free Trade Agreements which prevent the Taiwanese government from stopping the importation of food from the U.S., even if the food does not pass the health and safety regulations.

So why have I mentioned this now? On Monday King Pu-tsung, the representative to the U.S. told lawmakers that he had never heard of the U.S.’ “One China” policy that Washington does not recognise Taiwan as part of China. In essence he was suggesting that he knew only of China’s interpretation of the “One China” policy and that he believed the U.S.’ interpretation to be the same.
His motives for doing this are unclear. It could be that he was simply trying to show his affiliation for the KMT political party. It could be that he wanted to stir up trouble before his next meeting, for he was in Taibei to “[brief] the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defence Committee on US-Taiwan relations.” Maybe the U.S. is getting ready another bill they wish Taiwan to pass for the U.S.’ benefit and want to remind Taiwan how much it “owes” them. Who knows?