Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Michael Tsai Again

"Lee Deng-ker, Dean of the College of International Affairs at National Chengchi University, said that according to a publication Balance of Power, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London in 2003, Taiwan's per capita defense spending was lower even than Europe's neutral states.
According to that publication, he said, Switzerland spent US$480 per capita in 2003, and Austria spent US$308.
Although Taiwan faces one of the most serious military threats in the world, the country spent only US$200 per capita on defense in the same year, he said."

Let more casual observers admire the big fish - after more than a decade here, I'm entitled to more esoteric heroes. Michael Tsai Ming Xian (see post below - "Taichung's Favorite Son") fills the bill for me. Michael is prominently featured in this article on the ambivalent Taiwanese attitude toward defending the island militarily. He is deeply committed to making it less ambivalent, and he has his work cut out. Israelis the Taiwanese are not.

This begs the perfectly legitimate question: What business does a foreigner living in Taiwan have suggesting to people here that they should spend more on defense, or strap on helmets and put their lives on the line, if they clearly show a disinclination to do so? One clue is found in the way many of us had our thinking changed by the 9/11 attack. Prior to 9/11, the predominant attitude toward rotting Middle Eastern authoritarian states was that these governments could do what they liked to their people, as long as they kept the oil spigots open. What we found in a place like Saudi Arabia was that intense anger at a corrupt government could be pretty easily deflected toward external targets, and that made their corruption our business. The Asian equivalent of this pre-9/11 attitude is what we see from the EU: as long as their products are being made available to this enormous market, what the Chinese do internally is not to be examined too critically, and that includes Taiwan. American neocons have been demonized around the globe, but, essentially what they are saying is: "This way leads trouble."

I have no interest at all in whether the people of this island ultimately define themselves as "Taiwanese" or "Chinese". We can see that in the optimistic years of the Camp David process, Israeli historians like Benny Morris began to concede that not all Palestinian refugees left voluntarily. If China backed off on its pressure on Taiwan, I believe you would see a flowering of awareness and pride in the very real and deep connections that exist between China and Taiwan. Identity issues like that are for the people of this island to decide.

Where I do have an interest is that I believe that if the goal of social organization is to provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people, then liberal democracy is clearly superior to the alternatives. Democracies are also less prone to the crises of legitimacy that lead to cycles of nationalism and militarism. If the people of Taiwan decided that they wanted to join China , we would have to let them go. Japan's oil lifeline would be endangered, and they would rearm and this would destabilize Asia, but we would have to deal with that. I agree with the Chinese Communist Party that the existence of a democracy on Taiwan presents the likelihood of the virus spreading to the mainland. We just disagree on whether this would be a good thing or not. I can't think of anything that would be better for China, the region, or the world. That's why Michael Tsai's consciousness - raising is so important.