15 January 2012
Taiwan: Waiting for China
By Gwynne Dyer
The most important thing in Taiwanese politics is always left unsaid. When I interviewed Ma Ying-jeou in 2008, just before he won the presidency for the first time, he was happy to talk about the details of his plans for better relations with the People’s Republic of China: direct flights, more trade, and the like. But ask him about the long-term future, and all you got was platitudes.
Ma has just been re-elected for a second term as president (14 January). “We’ve won,” he told jubilant supporters. “In the next four years, ties with China will be more harmonious and there will be more mutual trust and the chance of conflict is slimmer.” All true, but it still does not address the question of where all this harmony is taking Taiwan.
In his first term, Ma did everything he promised. Direct flights to the PRC resumed in late 2008, a 2009 agreement between Taipei and Beijing facilitated investment flows between the two countries, and a comprehensive trade deal was signed in June 2010.
Ma’s victory this time was smaller than in 2008: then he had a lead of seventeen percentage points; now he’s down to six. But that’s probably due mostly to the country’s slow economic growth and the widening income gap between rich and poor in recent years. There is no evidence to suggest that he lost votes because he was getting too close to China.
So here’s the question. If Ma, like almost everybody else in Taiwan, has no desire to live under Communist rule, then why is there majority support for closer ties with a giant neighbour (about 65 times as many people) that refuses to recognise the legitimacy of Taiwan’s government? Beijing even threatens to attack Taiwan if it ever declares independence from China. What can the Taiwanese be thinking?
This is where it all goes silent, except for the platitudes. But with a little thought you can figure out the logic behind the position of Ma and his supporters in the Kuomintang Party.
They know that Beijing could do terrible damage to Taiwan if it attacked, but they also know that it won’t actually do that unless Taiwan formally declares independence from China. Beijing is willing to live with the present ambiguous relationship for a long time to come, if necessary.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has to make a living, and it has been losing market share to China’s cheaper exports for two decades now. The favoured solution is to invest in mainland industries and subsidise Taiwan’s much higher living standard with the profits. Mainland Chinese investment in Taiwan’s hi-tech sector would not hurt, either. Time for better relations with the mainland, then – but what about the future?
The thinking goes like this. We can cozy up to China now because it serves the interests of a great many people on both sides, and it doesn’t really endanger our de facto independence. Taiwan is not disarming, and China still can’t move an army across the 180-km (110-mile) Strait of Taiwan; its navy isn’t strong enough. As for the long run, it will take care of itself, because the Communist regime in Beijing will not last forever.
Nobody knows when it will end, but most politicians in Taiwan have a fair idea of how it will end. Sooner or later the Chinese economy will stumble into a recession – the enormous housing bubble in China is currently the most likely cause – and unemployment will soar. People’s mortgages will be underwater, banks will fail, and the regime’s credit will run out.
Ideology is dead in the People’s Republic. The regime insists that it gives the people “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” but in fact it gives them “unbridled capitalism with Chinese characteristics” – including a plague of corruption that mainly benefits Communist Party members. All this is tolerable while everybody’s income is rising; it is no longer acceptable when incomes are falling.
China is a capitalist country, and it has not been granted some special exemption from the business cycle. Every once in a while, in capitalist economies, a major recession comes along. This is hard enough to manage in a democracy. It is potentially lethal for a dictatorial regime whose only remaining credibility is its reputation as an economic miracle-maker.
So Taiwan’s best strategy is just to wait. Make deals on trade and investment, keep talking to Beijing to reduce the risk that some hothead will launch missiles at Taiwan, but don’t get into talks about reunification with a Communist-ruled China. It’s not hard to avoid such talks, since Beijing doesn’t recognise the Taipei government as a legitimate negotiating partner.
And wait. The wheel will turn, and eventually there will be a different, democratic China that Taiwan can safely rejoin (though it will certainly still insist on retaining a lot of autonomy). Meanwhile keep the mainland regime sweet, and make some money.
The United States government, by the way, completely agrees with this unspoken strategy. The last thing Washington wants is to be dragged into a war with China by its defence guarantee to Taiwan, and it was quietly delighted to see Ma win the election. So was Beijing. No crisis here.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 10 and 15. (“In his…2010”; “Nobody…out”; and “The United…here”).
26 June 2009
The Mortality of the Dalai Lama
By Gwynne Dyer
“The Dalai Lama equals non-violence, and without him there would be violence,” said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, a couple of months ago. In Beijing, Chinese writer Wang Lixiong agreed: “If…the Dalai Lama does not return to Tibet before he dies, the moment that he dies will see general riots across the Tibetan areas of China.” And he is going to die, probably fairly soon.
The Dalai Lama will be 74 next month, and he has been in hospital three times in the past year. He presumably believes that he will immediately be reborn as soon as he dies, but the traditional search for the child who is his next incarnation could take years. Waiting for that child to grow up and become the Tibetans’ next leader will take several decades. That is a big political problem.
One measure he has already taken to ease the difficulties is to announce that he is most unlikely to be reborn in Chinese-ruled Tibet, which greatly narrows the search area for his successor: there are only 120,000 Tibetans in the diaspora, mostly descendants of the 1959 refugees. Three-quarters of them live in India, and most of the rest live in Nepal (15,000), the United States (5,000), Canada (3,000) or Switzerland (2,000).
But this almost guarantees what was already quite likely: that the Chinese authorities will “find” a rival reincarnation within Tibet and promote him as the next legitimate Dalai Lama. Even if that does not happen, the twenty-year gap while the current Dalai Lama’s successor matures leaves a political vacuum that must be filled one way or another, and he long ago suggested that he might name a regent to exercise his authority during that period.
The core of the problem is that his role as defined by tradition embodies both political and religious authority. Religious questions rarely require instant answers, and Tibetan Buddhism has flourished for many centuries despite these recurrent twenty-year gaps in the highest leadership job. Political decisions, on the other hand, need to be made promptly — so maybe the solution is to separate those two roles.
The Dalai Lama has been raising this possibility for years, only to have it repeatedly rejected by his adoring followers. He brought it up again at a congress of the Tibetan exile community not long after last year’s bloody anti-Chinese riots in Tibet, saying that his moderate, “middle-way” approach to the Chinese authorities in Beijing, seeking only autonomy and not independence for the country, was having no success.
Maybe it was time for him to take a back seat and let the younger generation of leaders in the community deal with that thorny problem as they saw fit, he suggested. The congress rejected the suggestion, reaffirming him as their political leader. They simply could not imagine a uture without him.
The Dalai Lama himself, however, knows that such a future will
arrive. So he has now released a video in which he urges the Tibetan exile community to embrace democracy and stop depending on a political leader who is essentially (at the risk of sounding disrespectful) picked at random.That may serve for religious purposes, but for the material world something different is required.
“The Dalai Lama held temporal and spiritual leadership over thelast 400 or 500 years. It may have been quite useful, but that period is over,” he says in the video. “Today it is clear to the whole world that democracy is the best system despite its minor negativities. That is why it is important that Tibetans also move with the larger world community.”
It’s a nicely crafted statement that does not trample on anybody’s religious sensitivities, but what it means is that political leadership of the Tibetan exile community must move from the Dalai Lama to an elected prime minister. Such an office has existed since 2001, but until now its holder has deferred to the Dalai Lama in all important decisions. That has to stop, says the man himself — so maybe now it actually will.
That is a neat solution to the succession problem, but it has
implications that should concern the Chinese government. A Tibetan prime minister elected solely by the exile community cannot hope to have the political authority of a “living Buddha” within Tibet.
For almost half a century the Dalai Lama has used that authority to restrain Tibetans from open revolt against China, always seeking negotiations with Beijing on Tibetan autonomy and discouraging talk of outright independence. A prime minister elected only by the diaspora could not do that even if he wanted to — which he might not.
China has never appreciated the Dalai Lama’s services, of course. In classic imperial style, it assumes that material improvements in the living standards of its subjects will make them forget their nationalist aspirations. When it turns out that Tibetans have not forgotten them, as was brutally demonstrated in last year’s anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa, Beijing blames “outside agitators” and “plotters” like the Dalai Lama, whom it calls “a jackal clad in monk’s robes.”
In fact, he has been feeding tranquilisers to the Tibetan
population for decades, in the (probably accurate) belief that Tibet cannot win its independence by violence. But a lot of Tibetans would like to try,and Beijing will miss the Dalai Lama when he’s gone.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 4. (“One measure…that
14 July 2009
China: Trouble in the Colonies
By Gwynne Dyer
“The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise,” said Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan last Friday. He was talking about the deaths of at least 184 people in the recent street violence in Xinjiang, the huge province that occupies the north-western corner of China.
A majority of Xinjiang’s people are Uighurs who are Muslims and speak a language closely related to Turkish, so Erdogan’s comments were bound to appeal to his audience in Turkey. The Chinese government, predictably, condemned his charges as “irresponsible and groundless.” The Chinese government was right – but also terribly wrong.
It wasn’t a genocide. The deaths of 184 people, for whatever reason, do not constitute a genocide. Erdogan was claiming that there had been a genocide against the Uighurs, but three-quarters of the people killed in the riots were Han Chinese.“Genocide” is a word that should only be used very precisely, and Erdogan owes Beijing an apology.
Even if the Chinese authorities exaggerated the number of Han dead and understated the Uighur death-toll, as Uighur nationalists abroad claim, there is no doubt that this violence started as an Uighur attack on Chinese immigrants. However, Beijing owes the Uighurs more than just an apology, for it is Chinese policy that drove them to such desperate measures.
The Chinese authorities genuinely believe that the development they have brought to Xinjiang has been for the Uighurs’ own good, even if it has also brought huge numbers of Han Chinese immigrants to the province. But they are certainly not distressed to see this sensitive frontier province that was 90 percent Uighur and Muslim sixty years ago become a place where a majority of the residents are instinctively loyal Han Chinese.
More importantly, they lack the cultural imagination to see that this process will be profoundly a lienating for the Uighurs. It may sound preposterous, but most of the men who rule China simply could not come up with an answer to the question: “Why don’t they want to be Chinese?” So if there are anti-Chinese riots in Xinjiang, it must be “outside agitators stirring up our Uighurs.”
That is how Beijing explained the riots to itself and to the nation. As Xinjiang’s Communist governor, Nur Bekri, said in a televised address, exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer “had phone conversations with people in China on 5 July in order to incite [the violence].” Beijing explained the even bloodier anti-Chinese riots in Tibet in March of last year in exactly the same way, except that that time the outside agitator was the Dalai Lama.
What’s more, most Chinese believe it. They have been schooled to believe that Xinjiang and Tibet have been an integral part of their country since time immemorial. They also believe the Uighurs and Tibetans who live in those places are (or should be) profoundly grateful for the development and prosperity that have come to their provinces as a result of their membership in the Chinese nation.
The gulf of incomprehension is so vast that it is reminiscent of the gap between the Russian and non-Russian inhabitants of the former Russian empire before the collapse of the old Soviet Union in 1991. Almost all Ru ssians believed that the non-Russians were (or should be) grateful for all that had been done for them, and even resented the fact that they got more investment per capita than the Russians themselves. As for the non-Russians, they took their independence as soon as they could.
The truth is that the Chinese empire first took effective control of Tibet and Xinjiang in the same period when the Russian empire was conquering the other Central Asian countries. Whatever vague claims to “suzerainty” Beijing can dredge up from the more distant past, they do not convince the Uighurs and the Tibetans themselves, who would cut loose from China instantly if they got the chance.
; It’s called decolonisation, and China is the last hold-out. The only way it can ensure a different final outcome to that of the other empires is to swamp the local people with Han Chinese immigrants – and that, oddly enough, is the principal result of its “development” policies. The development creates an economy that the local people are not qualified to work in, and Chinese immigrants come in to fill those jobs instead.
The Tibetan Automous Region still has a large Tibetan majority, but in Xinjiang the Uighurs are already down to 45 percent of the population, while the Han Chinese are up to 40 percent. The Uighurs feel that their country is disappearing in front of their eyes, and they are right.
So they attack innocent Chinese immigrants, which is shameful but all too understandable. Chinese mobs attack them back, which is equally shameful and equally understandable.
It is already ugly, and it’s probably going to get a good deal uglier. The repression needed to hold down Xinjiang and Tibet may lead to increased repression in China in general, and it will almost certainly lead to more violence in the colonies.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 13. (“The gulf…could”; and “So they…understandable”)
27 February 2009
Obama’s Climate Strategy
By Gwynne Dyer
For a decade now, the deadlock between the United States and China on how to deal with global warming has crippled the effort to make an effective international treaty. It’s why the 1997 Kyoto accord was such a botched job: with the US refusing to sign and China under no obligation to control its greenhouse gas emissions, over 40 percent of the world’s total emissions were excluded from the treaty.
The US-Chinese quarrel could have the same poisonous effect on the attempt to negotiate a replacement treaty in Copenhagen by the end of this year, so Washington and Beijing need to sort out their differences first.
This can only be settled at the highest level, and there isn’t much time left, so what is needed is a summit meeting between the two countries to make the deal.
John Holdren, President Obama’s chief scientific adviser, has been pressing for such action for years. In an interview last year, he told me that “I run research projects in collaboration with government organisations, think tanks, universities in China and India on climate change and what to do about it. And what I can tell you is that the Chinese and the Indians are not less knowledgeable and not less worried about this problem than we are in the United States or Canada or Europe.”
“They are waiting for us to lead, in part because we in the industrialised world caused most of it up until now. But they understand that climate change is already harming them. You go and sit privately with the political leaders of China and they will quote to you the results of their own Chinese climate scientists’ studies showing that China is being seriously harmed today by climate change.”
“The Chinese and the Indians in my view are going to sign on to a global approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions within three to five years of the United States making the transition from laggard to leader.
They’re waiting for us to do it, but they’re going to join.”
There was no announcement about a US-China summit following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Beijing on 21 February, although Obama and President Hu Jintao are already scheduled to meet during the G20 summit in London in April. However, there are many hints and signs that a summit is coming up quite soon. The most striking one was the publication in early February of a report jointly published by the Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
The report was produced by a committee chaired by Stephen Chu, Obama’s new energy secretary, and John Thornton, tipped as the new US ambassador to China. John Holdren was among the contributors. It explicitly calls on President Obama to hold a summit with the Chinese leadership on the climate issue.
Zhou Wenzhong, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, attended the launch of the report at the Brookings Institution and spoke in much the same terms: “Cooperation between our two countries on energy and environmental issues will enable China to respond to energy and climate change issues more efficiently, while at the same time offering enormous business opportunities and considerable return to American investors.”
If the summit does happen, its main job will be to recognise the fact that China and the US cannot be expected to make equal cuts in their emissions, and that China needs help in meeting even a less demanding commitment to cuts. For a decade American politicians have been unwilling to accept that it has to be a very lopsided deal, and now they have to bite the bullet.
The problem is history. The United States, like the other fully industrialised countries, has been emitting greenhouse gases for a long time, and is very rich as a result. China, like the other rapidly industrialising countries, has only been producing large emissions for a couple of decades, and is still relatively poor.
The two countries now emit about equal amounts of carbon dioxide each year, but China has four times as many people, so its per capita emissions are still only a quarter as big. Over time, the United States has put three times as much carbon dioxide as China into the atmosphere. So the United States, in Beijing’s view, has a moral obligation to make much deeper cuts, much sooner, than China.
China must at least stabilise its emissions in the relatively near future, too, but it must do so in ways that let it keep growing its economy. That means it has to go on growing its electricity generating capacity, but the new power must come from renewable sources like wind and sun or from nuclear energy. Those are all more expensive than dirty coal-fired power stations, so China will need help with the extra cost.
A US-China deal must include all that: much stronger emission curbs in the US than in China in the early stages, technological help from the United States and large-scale American investment in clean Chinese energy sources, and probably a carbon-trading deal as well. But if it can be done, it will provide the template on which other industrialised and industrialising countries can join up to a global deal for steep emissions cuts in Copenhagen this December.
For the first time in years, there is a real chance that an effective climate agreement might replace the abortive Kyoto accord in 2012.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“They are…change”; and “Zhou…investors”)