October 10, 2005

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Avoiding Armageddon

Michael Turton and David Thailand both report on Paul Monk's controversial suggestions on China-Taiwan relations. On the surface, Monk's argument doesn't seem worth noticing, until one gets past the safe rhetoric to the bottom of the transcripts and editorials. At first, Monk reads like a good realist, with his talk of calculating costs of war and maintaining balance. It's when he talks about doing politics like economics, that I had to clear my throat. There's no intuitively suspect notion, then the realist pipedream, that power is calculable. It doesn't always work in economics, either, but politics is never tidy.

Until Monk goes back to 1912:

The pivotal moment in China's modern history was not October 1949, when Mao established a dictatorship that was to bring suffering and death on a staggering scale to China and keep it impoverished for a generation. It was in December 1912, when national legislative elections were held in China for the first and, so far, the only time. Forty million people voted and they elected 596 representatives, of whom only 269 belonged to the Guomindang, Sun Yat-sen's party. (There was no Communist Party at that point, of course, and it has never subjected its mandate to a popular vote.)

From this point, it's possible to talk about the real problem in Sino-Taiwan relations, or why Beijing needs to have Taiwan. By defanging the dragon, the threat to Taiwan is neutralized while the mainland is consumed in its own political problems. But, Monk then puts his realist-cum-government hat back on, and starts talking like a very Australian realist:

Well Australia is an unusual country. Australia has very good access in the, let's say, the culturally and geo-politically dominant Anglo-American part of the global economy and the sort of geo-strategic environment. So we're an advanced English-speaking country with very good access in Washington, better than ever now, and we're a major trading partner of China. We're an unusual country in the Asian region. We're the oldest democracy in the Asian region. And we're non-threatening because we're not a major power with military ambitions, despite the paranoia of some people in Indonesia from time to time. So there are very good reasons why thoughtful people in China might think we can sound out ideas in Australia.

II seriously doubt a foreign country can convince the Chinese Communist party to cede control, to downgrade the 1949 revolution, or to give Taiwan any share in the historical credit for China's world role. Monk wants to compare Britain to China, and Australia (or Hong Kong) to Taiwan, to set a precedent for a peaceful devolution of power. But, like Britain and America, China and Taiwan are part of an international contest between China and Japan, as the Anglo-French wars of the 17th-19th Centuries gave the American colonists a chance to break from London. In this sense, Australia's courtship with Beijing doesn't make sense, because Australia would lose economically if it had to choose between Japan and China. Monk's vision of Australia's mission to reform China is the most ridiculous part of his re-think.

Rethinking realism is a good part, but only if Monk realizes that the zero-sum game Beijing sees is not related to economics, but to Taiwan's place as a pawn in its contest with Japan. Australia does have an interest in delaying armageddon, so it can keep getting rich off both antagonists for as long as possible. Tokyo and Japan will have to come to the end of that path by themselves, and no country that didn't have to bleed for its independence will convince the two blood enemies to put down swords.

Cross-Posted at Barbarian Envoy

posted by Infidel on 10.10.05 at 08:05 PM in the Taiwan category.


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Martyn on Peking Duck covered this a few days ago.

posted by: Brian on 10.10.05 at 11:10 PM [permalink]

I wasn't aware there was a freshness date for blogging.

Besides, you all miss the point about the conflict by making it solely into a China-US thing.

posted by: Infidel on 10.11.05 at 06:32 AM [permalink]

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