Monday, October 10, 2011

The China Conundrum

Today is “Double Ten,” a very special day for some of the Chinese who live on the island of Taiwan, and to a lesser degree for all Chinese.
The Chinese Revolution began on October 10, 1911. It resulted in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the last imperial dynasty, and the establishing of the Republic of China (ROC), which was formed on January 1, 1912.

So today is the centennial celebration of Double Ten Day, the national day for the ROC.
 A symbol often seen during Double Ten Day (it is the combination of two characters for "10" (十)
Long called Formosa (“beautiful island”) Taiwan is the name of an island off the east coast of China, home to about 23,000,000 people. While most of the people of Taiwan are Chinese (only about 2% are aboriginal people, like the Native Americans in this country), only about 15% of them are from the mainland. And they are the ones who lead the celebration of Double Ten.
Several memories linger from the first time I visited Taiwan many years ago—such as being surprised at seeing beautiful poinsettia trees, many over ten feet tall. I hadn’t known poinsettias grew so tall.
I also remember the feeling of incongruity when I was visiting an old shrine erected in veneration of Confucius—and at the same time seeing Taiwanese Air Force jets screaming overhead.
One other memory: seeing many portraits of Sun Yat Sen, the first President of the Republic of China. Actually, he was only Provisional President and served less than three months, but still he was, and is, widely celebrated at the founder of the Republic of China (ROC).
In 1949, however, the Communists under Mao Zedong (Tse-tung) overthrew the ROC and established the People’s Republic of China, which is still the name of the nation on mainland China.
On March 1, 1950, ROC President Chiang Kai-shek moved the government of China to Taiwan, and formally resumed duties as President. And, sixty-one years later, the U.S. is still supporting Taiwan. Should that support continue? Or should the U.S. recognize that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the only legitimate government for the country, including the island of Taiwan?
That is a difficult question.
Just last month, the Obama administration approved a $5.8 billion arms deal to Taiwan, including upgrades to the island’s fleet of old F-16 fighter jets. Not surprisingly, that did not set well with the government of the PRC. In fact, Beijing warned that U.S.-Chinese relations would suffer “severe obstacles” as a result of that action.
On the other hand, Republican critics accused the Obama administration of bowing to Chinese pressure with its decision only to upgrade aging Taiwanese warplanes rather than sell the island the later generation fighters it had requested.
According to CBS News, GOP presidential aspirant Mitt Romney said, “President Obama’s refusal to sell Taiwan new military jets is yet another example of his weak leadership in foreign policy.”
In light of the vital American economic and financial relationships with the PRC, what should the U.S. stance toward Taiwan be? That’s a difficult question, and one that I’m glad I don’t have to decide how to answer.


  1. Congratulations to the Republic of China on this centennial year of celebration.

    For the past 50 years the United States has maintained a good treaty with the ROC to maintain a good military balance in that part of the world, as other treaties have disolved. Treaties are important to global relationships for all countries. As we have seen even recently in other parts of the world, the dissolution of treaties leads to regional instability.

    It was the Republicans who formalized relations with the PRC - a wise move given the size of that country. (Although neither the ROC nor PRC recognize the other, they really are two separate countries.) It was also the Republicans who have made us beholden (and over a barrel) to the PRC by asking them to fund two of our wars. The Democrats have expanded that to include massive operational debt. Both were foolish moves, with a country of an antithetical long-term world view. These moves have not only further diminished our own productive capacities, but have put us in a place where we could be threatened with financial ruin (calling in the debt) if we support an traditional ally.

    It is time for an ethical reevaluation of our long-term national interests and monetary policy.

  2. David Frum as posted a thoughtful article on the same subject at:

    Americans have spent 150 years trying to come to terms with, now is it, The War Between the States, or the Civil War? I am sure China will take a while sorting out its two revolutions, too. My hope is that America will handle China with the understanding and respect we wish to receive from others. We like quick fixes, and silver bullets. Patience and humility are harder work.

  3. Thinking Friend Glen Davis was one of my closest friends for many years in Japan. He was a missionary sent there by the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and then he returned to Canada and spent 18 years as a mission administrator in the national office of the PCC.

    Here are significant comments Glen sent by e-mail (and I post them here with his permission).

    "I look at this issue from the perspective of churches which enjoy good relationships with both the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (a long time proponent of independence for Taiwan) and the China Christian Council (which carries on its woak under the principles of the Three Self Movement, and operates with the blessing of the Chinese government as long as it follows the conditions laid down under the freedom of religion laws of China). My church, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, is one of those churches.

    "We have had to walk a fine line between supporting the aspirations of Taiwanese Christians for independence on the one hand and, on the other hand, respecting the difficulties our Christian sisters and brothers in China would face if one of their western partner churches were to be seen to openly support Taiwanese independence and thus oppose the fiercely held position of the Chinese government that Taiwan is, and always has been, a province of China. We have not been able to speak out in unconditional support of Taiwanese independence, but we have stated clearly our support for the right of the people of Taiwan to determine their own future. This is, admittedly, a fine distinction, but it is ambiguous enough that our church partners on both sides of the strait can interpret it in ways that are favourable to their future aspirations and their current survival.

    "This is, I believe, similar to what you call the conundrum faced by the U.S. government as it seeks to walk the line between meaningful support for its long time ally, Taiwan, and its need to keep the Chinese government happy. The U.S. needs good relations with China for many reasons, not the least of which is its reliance upon China to keep North Korea in check, plus its heavy indebtedness to China, not to mention the importance of China as a major trading partner. Surely these are among the reasons that the U.S. finds it impossible to stand up in any meaningful way against the gross human rights violations of the Chinese government.

    "Historically, there is much evidence that China gave up its claim to Taiwan, both during and after Japan's occupation of that beknighted island. It seems to me that the just thing to do would be for the U.S. to stand firmly with Taiwan in its aspirations for independence and self-determination but, unfortunately, economics often trumps justice, so we can expect many more years of fence-sitting by the U.S. The conundrum will continue!"

  4. Thinking Friend Les Hill, a retired missionary to Southeast Asia, wrote in an e-mail that Sun Yat Sen is also honored on Mainland China. Here is the response I made to him by e-mail that I am also sharing here:

    "Thanks for mentioning that there are memorials honoring Sun Yat Sen on Mainland China. While since 1950 he has been honored far more in Taiwan than on the Mainland, as I understand it, there are still remembrances of him there and some limited celebration of the 1911 revolution this year."

  5. I just returned from Okinawa, where I attended (as interpreter) the 3rd Asia Inter-Religious Conference on Article 9 of the Japanese Peace Constitution. In Okinawa October 10, 1944 is remembered as the day on which an estimated 90% of Naha was destroyed under heavy bombardment by US planes.

    Today Okinawa is the lynchpin of the so-called "good military balance" found along the West rim of the Pacific. The once-independent and peaceable Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa) accounts for just 0.6% of Japanese land, but hosts 75% of Japan-based US military facilities/personnel. This is the largest concentration of US military might outside of the US. If the US was TRULY interested in upholding the principle of "self determination," US bases on Okinawa would have been removed decades ago, in accordance with the overwhelming will of Okinawans. This just to say, the "military balance" in East Asia is/has been "good" (i.e. lucrative) for military grifters everywhere---in US and Japan, in Taiwan and South Korea, AND in China and North Korea---but it has NOT been good for democracy, self-determination, justice, or peace anywhere.

    We're taught that the "Prince of Peace" greeted strangers with the words "Fear not." Surely such a man/God would not call upon followers to peddle lies on behalf of fear-and-security/war-mongers.

    The final statement of the inter-faith Article 9 Conference calls upon "the communities of faith in the United States to consider their complicity as US citizens in US policies toward Okinawa, examine their conscience, and join in advocacy for the closure of Futenma and other bases in Okinawa, as well as the abandonment of plans to build a new base in Henoko."

    Just imagine what might be accomplished if all the money and energy now wasted on fake security was channeled into peace-making.

  6. I appreciate Thinking Friend David McIntosh sharing about his recent activities in Okinawa and also his thoughts about the ongoing problem of the heavy ongoing U.S. military presence in that southernmost Japanese prefecture.

    I hadn't remembered the significance of October 10 for Naha, the largest city in and capital of Okinawa. Maybe I will make a blog posting about that on 10/10/12.