Friday, 6 November 2015

The Formosan Blue Magpie and The Xi-Ma Summit

IN the context of the Xi-Ma summit in Singapore, the People's Daily reports that Ma will present Xi with a statuette of a Formosan Blue Magpie and says that, as this bird is only found in Taiwan, presenting it to Xi 'symbolizes that "people across the Strait are one family”'. The People's Daily is well known as a mouthpiece of the CCP, but this bit of spin seems a bit counter-intuitive, even for this newspaper. I would have thought the gift might be interpreted as  a coded message to Ma that the Taiwanese were one family, since
Formosan  Blue Magpies are reported to exhibit strong nest defence behaviour and 'will attack intruders mercilessly until they retreat'.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Guardian reports that China is extending its military capabilities in the South China Sea by filling in and extending Fiery Cross Reef so that it includes a landing strip capable of taking fighter jets and surveillance aircraft. Barrack Obama has expressed the usual concerns about Beijing “using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” saying: “Just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside.” John McCain says China is being aggressive, claiming "when any nation fills in 600 acres of land and builds runways and most likely is putting in other kinds of military capabilities in what is international waters, it is clearly a threat to where the world’s economy is going, has gone, and will remain for the foreseeable future.” 

Yet it is not the PRC, but Taiwan, that occupies the largest of the Spratly Islands. Taiping Island, or Itu Aba, which was claimed by the ROC under the 1947 Constitution, has always been the most highly militarised island in the archipelago. It has regularly hosted large-scale military exercises, features a 1,150-metre runway that can take C-130 military transports and Taiwan plans to extend the runway  to 1,500 metres. US$106.5 million has also been earmarked to build a dock for large ROC Navy ships. The island also features a 7-metre-high tactical air navigation facility, anti-aircraft batteries and mortar units.

The problem for the US here is that it needs Taipei to continue to occupy Taiping as part of its strategy to prevent Beijing from extending its military reach to the Nine Dash Line and so that it can continue to fly surveillance missions along the Chinese coast. However, despite beefing up its military presence in the Spratlys, Taipei is cosying up to Beijing economically and culturally while maintaining its status as the ROC. This must present the US with a dilemma. It was the ROC that created the so-called Nine Dash Line that Beijing repeatedly invokes and Taipei has always maintained its claim to sovereignty over the whole of the South China Sea. Yet this ROC claim might end up creating a further intractable conundrum,conflicting with Taiwanese nationalist sentiment in Taiwan itself.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

I’ve been reading Michael Turton’s incisive and caustic pro-Taiwan (anti-China?) blog since 2011 and have always admired his encyclopedic knowledge of Taiwan’s history and political scene. It’s clear that he is outrageously biased in favour of Taiwanese independence and against the PRC, the ROC the CCP and the KMT, but once you’ve understood and accepted that, his blog  probably provides the most thorough and accessible gateway to politics in Taiwan and the island’s relations with the rest of China ;-).

On 18th March, though, I was doing an early morning surf through my regular sites when I came across his piece on a recent Economist article on Taiwan that included this comment:

For some reason, my hackles went straight up and I dashed off a comment, spilling my coffee in the process:

Michael responded with a cryptic “That’s what they claim to be…”

Discourse. Whether you define it in terms of postmodern French philosophy, Marxist critical linguistics, a particular style of writing or simply political talk and spin, the words and grammatical structures that you choose send a loaded message that negotiates the boundaries of power , hegemony, solidarity and resistance and they do this implicitly and explicitly, consciously and subconsciously. Discourse also relies on the writer and the reader sharing and engaging with a whole host of background context to read between the lines and interpret the text. Most of the time we get it wrong.

I was pretty conscious of the discourse that I was creating here – it was an aggrieved and slightly prissy response to what I saw as an Americanized discourse that sought to frame Taiwan independence in the context of Western liberal democratic norms that see liberal democracy as the zero or nul starting point from which to measure the legitimacy of all other political systems and ideologies.  Democratic Taiwan good – Evil Chinese Dicktaydurs bad. I was also irritated by what I saw as the tired old trick, beloved of conservative politicians in the US, of misusing the verb ‘to socialize’ along with the adjective 'social' in a way that lodges it next to ‘socialist’ in the reader’s mind (social programs, socialized health care). The result of this in the US is that 'social' and ‘socialized’ have become shorthand to refer to the slippery liberal slope that runs from taxes through big government to Communism and everything that threatens the free world. So much so that this has become the prototypical meaning of the word 'socialized' in the US. Call the KMT nasty fascists, corporatists, statists, but don’t call them socialists. They were and are no such thing.

…which brings me to the issue of the word ‘neoliberal’.  Liberalism is another slippery concept that causes no end of bother. What is it that connects classical liberals, neoliberals, Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher, liberal interventionists, Joseph Nye, wishy-washy liberals, the liberal media conspiracy, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Party, the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, the UK Liberal Democrats and the people that Sarah Palin routinely denounces as liberals? I’m told that at some point around the First World War the term liberal in its non-academic, popular political sense shifted in the US and the UK, but not in continental Europe, Latin America, Russia and so on. At the end of the 1970s, a neoliberal reaction to the social democratic consensus that had typified British society after 1945 sought to get back to the core ideology of classical liberalism. Margaret Thatcher was its public face and the rest is history.

The Economist certainly supports a hegemonic economic neoliberalism based on free markets and the Washington Consensus (there, I’ve gone and discursively nailed my colours to the mast), but I’m not sure the DPP does. A quick glance at the Wikipedia page for the DPP indicates that the party espouses civic nationalism and has policies that are centre-left and socially liberal as opposed to neoliberal. In this sense, then, the DPP might be seen as being similar to the Scottish nationalists in terms of their policies and positions on the political spectrum.

Last night I watched a UK election debate on the TV here in London and thought about the DPP as I listened to Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru espouse policies that were far to the left of the Labour Party (but were not actually that left-wing in historical terms). I then thought of Irish nationalist parties like Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and wondered what the factors were that might decide how, when and why emancipatory nationalist parties shift from left to right economically. Is actual independence and control of a sovereign state the catalyst for this shift? Perhaps that’s something for another post.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

This is an article about Jeremy Lin, the Chinese/ Taiwanese - American basketball player, that I posted on the University of Nottingham China Policy Institute blog last year and just came across again. It deals with the contested nature of national identity and the multiple identities that people carry.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Chinese Comment on the Senkaku/ Diaoyu dispute

My friend, fellow author and former star student at SOAS, Yu Ge, appeared recently on a French English-language news channel, France24, where he commented on the Senkaku/ Diaoyu dispute. His calm, reasoned approach is in contrast to the images of rabid nationalist demonstrators burning Japanese flags and calling for war that Western news media tend to focus on. As he pointed out, most of the comments on Chinese microblogging sites tend to be a lot less bellicose than some Western media would have us believe - and this goes for the Taiwan issue as well.

Summer and the Senkakus

Preparing to start the new term and get down to work after teaching on the pre-sessional programme at the University of Leicester ELTU. The students were mostly Chinese, but there were also a number of Iraqi Kurds, Saudis and Turks. Planning to stay in the Midlands/ Leicester area after offers of teaching hours came in from Warwick and Nottingham Trent. I wouldn't have had to do this if the promised term-time teaching at Kent had actually materialised but, as always, this has gone to new PhD students in their mid-twenties who have never taught before. So, rather than banging out the draft of a chapter on power in London over the summer, I'm going to be doing it this Autumn while teaching in the Midlands.

The spat over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu dispute provided an interesting discussion point for the Chinese students at Leicester. Simply setting it in the context of the phenomenon of nationalism through a mini lecture and providing a comparison with the Falklands Islands dispute and other nationalist-inspired bones of contention around the world opened their eyes to the thinking behind territorial disputes and sovereignty issues. A couple of the more thoughtful students saw the dispute in the context of the upcoming PRC leadership changeover - a chance for the leadership to look strong. Another way of looking at it might be in comparison to the British Silly Season - it'll die down once the legislatures in China and Japan get back down to business in the Autumn. These are bright postgrads, most of whom are going on to study Business and Finance-related subjects. They are the Chinese business class but (and) their education and training (much like that of British students in these fields, I guess) does not really equip them to think critically about the news. 

Michael Turton's ever-useful blog on Taiwan has continued to provide insightful and critical, if somewhat partisan,  analysis of Taiwan's position re: the Senkakku/ Diaoyu dispute. It does go to show, though, just how entwined the sovereignty position of the CCP and the KMT is.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Bo Xilai

An article in the London Review of Books claims that The Fall of Bo Xilai is part of a plot by neo-liberal-leaning reformers within the CCP.