Monday, December 05, 2016

Taiwan Trumps


Never mind the Rohingya Crisis. Forget those Singaporean troop carriers seized in Hong Kong. The real news is the unprecedented phone conversation between the US President-elect and Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen. The problem is there's still no consensus on what it means

Was it part of a calculated shift in US policy towards the "Renegade Province" or yet another example of the "Here, Watch This!" ersatz statecraft which is becoming the public face of the Trump Presidency, before it even starts? Despite the opportunity for hand-wringing the affair provides, the tea leaves seem to indicate the former. It's no secret that Trump's eye on China is a baleful one. He knew what he was doing - at least in a general way. Meanwhile the foundations for the details had been laid out previously. The remaining questions are ones of intent and timing.

Intent comes into question, because what appears to be a reorienting of late 20th Century neoconservative policy from confronting a mendacious Soviet Union to a mendacious People's Republic of China may suffer from a failure to recognize that the rules have changed. Taiwan is no longer a redoubt for an anti-Communist vision of China. It is instead, despite facile protestations, increasingly its own nation, its own people and its own history. That history was set when the Guomindang, not so much a Taiwanese political party but a Chinese one in exile, began its decline. Taiwan is also a full-fledged democracy with modern values, including increasing support for marriage equality, among other issues. Will a Trump administration see Taiwan as a valued partner in and of herself, or merely as a disposable cudgel against Beijing?

Meanwhile, despite the trappings of Globalization and a new middle class, the Mainland seems to have devolved politically, from Communism to Mercantilism; an absolutist state with a modern window treatment. Chinese people may indeed be more free than they ever have been in history, but in one sphere only, and the social contract upon which that grant is based is eroding. Xi Jinping is merely the prime exemplar of China's ruling generation - a Lost One, born of the tail of the Cultural Revolution, bellicose and entitled, with glass hearts and chips on their shoulders - who, despite being named "Core Leader" lacks the foresight and empathy of a Deng Xiaoping.  This is where timing comes into play. Is this really the right season to press a Beijing which sees corners everywhere?

Well, it looks like we're going to find out.

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