Monday, May 09, 2005

Long Gone Green I

One thing that defines adolescent thought is the double-hitch pattern of, first, an epiphany in which it is revealed that the world is not as pure as one originally thought; followed by, two, unbridled indignation that this should be so and a radical, no compromises plan of action to restore the world to its proper, pure state. An opinion column in Saturday's Taipei Times by Michelle Wang exemplifies the limitations of this kind of thinking. She's identified as the deputy secretary-general of the far green Northern Taiwan Society, but if she's a day over sixteen, we're looking at a serious case of arrested development.

Chapter XIII: In Which Ms. Wong Discovers the Limitations of Freedom.

“We do enjoy freedom of communication, speech, publication, traveling and relocation, but we do not have the freedom to choose what we really want. Although we can cast our ballots to pick our national leader, legislators, and councilors, we cannot choose to write a Constitution of our own, decide the future of the nation through referendums or change the national title…..I really doubt if we have 100% freedom.”

Okay. Fair enough. Taiwan is a small country trying to carve out a place in the world in the face of an expansionist, authoritarian China, so its freedom to act is circumscribed by that reality. Right? Well, not exactly. It seems there is another culprit denying Taiwan "100% freedom". You guessed it:“Although the U.S. champions the causes of democracy, freedom and human rights, Washington has never given up its desire to direct Taiwan's future. Their logic is that the fate of Taiwan must be decided by the U.S. and that Taiwan has to follow Washington, D.C. In other words, the extent of freedom that the Taiwanese people are allowed to enjoy must be dictated by the U.S.”

Is it the policy of the Taipei Times to have fifteen year olds write op-ed columns? Let's be clear: if the U.S. did not provide a counterweight to China, Taiwan would today be a part of the PRC. Game over. No more Taiwan independence/democracy movement. Because certain actions taken by pro-independence advocates could drag the U.S. into a catastrophic war with China, the U.S. gets a significant say in whether those actions are taken. The U.S. does not "dictate" that this is so. It only gets a say because Taiwanese voters, wisely, take the U.S. position into account.
Prior to the legislative elections, A-bian was pushing policies that the U.S. felt were crossing some red lines clearly drawn by the Chinese, and the U.S. expressed its disapproval. This, then, became part of the mix in the pre-election debate. This is what the Taipei Times has been referring to recently in editorials as "the State Department's last-minute intervention in last December's elections." Freedom does not really mean what tenth-graders think it means. It does not mean "I can do what I want without consequences, or taking the position of others into account." Freedom means "I make my choices in a complicated, fallen world, and take responsibility for those choices." Taiwan has the freedom to isolate itself internationally. Some of the polities Ms. Wang most admires –Cuba; the Palestinian Authority – have taken stances that were ideologically or emotionally satisfying "pure", and brought the house down on their heads. Ms. Wang sees them as positive models, but Taiwan voters don't.