The Tuesday: One China, One Taiwan . . . . .

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BY KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON May 03, 2022
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WITH KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON May 03, 2022
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One China, One Taiwan

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The Most Dangerous Fiction

It is a little bit surreal to hear China's rulers and their servants talk about Taiwan. It is a little like a little kid who is very, very committed to his imaginary friend.

In the recent session of China's rubber-stamp ersatz parliament, there were many energetic denunciations of "separatist" elements seeking "independence" for Taiwan, according to English-language media reports. When former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed comparing Taiwan's situation vis-à-vis China to Ukraine's relationship with Russia, the Chinese consul general in Los Angeles wrote angrily to the newspaper:

The situations in Taiwan and Ukraine cannot be compared. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, where the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government. This One-China Principle is explicitly stated in both joint communiqués for establishing China-U.S. and China-Japan diplomatic ties.

In one sense, the consul general is absolutely right. In another sense, he is absolutely full of it.

There is a considerable degree of ritual in Beijing's fretting about the "independence" of Taiwan, which has been an independent country — and a thriving democracy with a sophisticated economy — for many years now. Likewise, to call the Taiwanese "separatists" is very strange in that Taiwan has been separate from Beijing for decades and decades.

On the other hand, it is the case that both the United States and China — and Japan — officially buy into the "One China" policy, which is a fundamental part of the basis of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. Under "One China," Washington officially acknowledges just what the consul general says: "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, where the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government." Washington has no official relations with Taipei — Taiwan in fact has normal diplomatic relations with only a baker's dozen of countries, mostly small and obscure ones (Nauru, Palau, etc.) a few more prominent ones (Belize, Guatemala, Haiti) and one of great symbolic importance: the Holy See.

The United States maintained relations with Taiwan for decades after its establishment until President Jimmy Carter suddenly abandoned Taiwan in 1979 to pursue a closer relationship with the so-called People's Republic of China on the theory that Beijing could be a reliable part of a united front against Moscow and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, then our chief global adversary. The United States maintains robust political, cultural, economic, and military relations with Taiwan, a country that, as far as the official story in Washington is concerned, does not exist. The two nations do more than $100 billion in trade annually, but Washington does not recognize the government in Taipei.

There is a delusional Taiwanese version of the "One China" policy, too, the official view of the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party or KMT) that there is one China and that the regime in Taipei is the legitimate government of all of it. KMT traditionally opposes "Taiwanization" and emphasizes closer relations with Beijing — not exactly what you'd expect from an anticommunist nationalist party, but it is a complex situation. The center-left Democratic Progressive Party, which currently runs the show in Taipei, also calls itself a nationalist party, but the nation it means is Taiwan, not a notional unified China.

Washington accepted the One China fiction as a Cold War expedient, but the expedient has outlived its expediency. As I noted in an earlier newsletter, Russia's invasion of Ukraine was an act of naked international aggression, but a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be — on paper, as a formality, in the official view of the United States — an internal matter, Beijing taking extraordinary measures to reincorporate a breakaway province. That isn't how things actually stand, of course, but the "One China" fiction matters — for one thing, it provides Beijing with a fig leaf if not a moral permission slip, and, for another, it actually encourages Beijing to believe that it can act as though "One China" described the real world. Washington calls its Taiwan policy one of "strategic ambiguity," and, while ambiguity certainly has its uses, it is also dangerous.

Shinzo Abe writes:

Russia's invasion is not only an armed violation of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty, but also an attempt to overthrow the government of a sovereign state with missiles and shells. On this point, there is no controversy in the international community over the interpretation of international law and the UN Charter. While the extent to which countries participate in sanctions against Russia has differed, no country has claimed that Russia is not in serious violation of international law.

By contrast, China claims that Taiwan is "part of its own country," and the US and Japanese position is to respect this claim. Neither Japan nor the US has official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and most countries around the world do not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Unlike in Ukraine, Chinese leaders could claim that any invasion of Taiwan that China launches is necessary to suppress anti-government activities in one of its own regions, and that such acts therefore would not violate international law.

When Russia annexed Crimea, the international community ultimately acquiesced, even though Russia had violated Ukrainian sovereignty. Given this precedent, it is not surprising that Chinese leaders may very well expect the world to be more tolerant should they, too, adopt the logic of "regional" — rather than national — subjugation.

This logic has made strategic ambiguity untenable.

Under the Biden administration and a surprisingly robust bipartisan congressional consensus, the United States has — to its credit — undertaken unexpected and extraordinary measures to support Kyiv against the predations of Vladimir Putin. Putin complains that the United States is conducting a proxy war against Russia, and Putin is not far from wrong. President Biden dices it pretty fine when he insists, "We're not attacking Russia; we're helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression."

While there are critical lacunae in the U.S. and EU sanctions regime, the United States and our European allies are doing everything short of sending regular troops into the battle. Weapons and equipment supplied by the United States and European governments are being used by a Ukrainian military that is — and should be — conducting operations not only inside Ukraine but also inside Russia. It seems likely that at some point Moscow will decide that the United States is an undeclared belligerent in the Ukraine war, and, if that time comes, Moscow will have a pretty good case. The United States and the Biden administration are right to take a hard line here, but we should as a country be clear in our own minds about what that means. While it is something close to a metaphysical certainty that U.S. forces would sweep the Russians off the battlefield like toy soldiers in a direct confrontation between conventional forces, there are obvious risks to such a confrontation (Putin has a considerable nuclear arsenal) and non-obvious risks as well.

In many important ways, our current confrontation with Moscow is a useful test run for our likely future confrontation with Beijing. It is certainly a useful one for Beijing, which now has a good understanding — one hopes it is a sobering understanding — of the likely scope and intensity of U.S. and European sanctions that might be deployed against a too-adventurous China, and the capabilities and limitations of what the Western world can bring to the fight short of putting troops in the field. President Biden is not exactly an inspiring or energetic leader — or, in many regards, even a credible one — but the country is in some ways less divided than had been supposed, and when figures such as Tucker Carlson and J. D. Vance attempted to pull a cynical Charles Lindbergh on the Ukraine war, they got their fingers burned. Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, and Ursula von der Leyen all together might not add up to one Winston Churchill, but there is reason to think that we can manage in this case without one. This isn't an age of heroes, but there is still work to be done.

Which brings us back to the tense Taiwan Strait.

Senior figures in the Biden administration have been holding talks with their U.K. counterparts with the goal of developing a better-coordinated policy on China and Taiwan. Similar outreach has been undertaken toward our European partners. The new AUKUS security bloc was launched with an eye toward China, too. There are many in Washington, London, and Brussels — and Taipei — who worry that the war in Ukraine is a prelude.

From the Financial Times:

In a sign of the enhanced co-operation with the UK, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a British aircraft carrier, last year spent more than six months deployed in the Indo-Pacific. Heino Klinck, a former top Pentagon Asia official, welcomed the US-UK consultations on Taiwan. He said they came on the heels of European naval deployments in the Indo-Pacific that increased last year after the Trump administration had held discussions with European allies about boosting operations in the South China Sea.

"Deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan is in everyone's interest. It is not just an Indo-Pacific issue, it is a global issue," said Klinck. "US military planners are not counting on Germany or France sending warships, or Britain sending a carrier in the case of a conflict over Taiwan. But when those countries send ships to the South China Sea, or transit the Taiwan Strait, it sends a strong signal to China."

A senior Taiwanese official said Taipei was aware of the US efforts to involve more allies in its Taiwan planning. "They've been doing it with Japan and Australia, and now they're trying to do it with Britain," he said.

It surely is the case that "deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan is in everyone's interest." It is in Beijing's interest, to begin with, even if Beijing doesn't know it.

And so the HMS Queen Elizabeth patrols the Indo-Pacific, and the bland old men who sit behind desks in the world's capitals move their chessmen around the board. The situation is a complex one. But I cannot help thinking that we might simplify it a great deal by dispensing with the lie — which is what the "One China" policy is. Perhaps it was true in some sense at some time. But the fact is that Taiwan today is as much of a real country as Germany or France or the United States.

If we mean to take seriously our historical commitment to Taiwan, then the thing to do is to be plain about the fact that we'd think of China's invading Taiwan the same way as we'd think of its invading one of these.

But that isn't true, either.

And Furthermore . . .

Sovereignty is a subject that seems to draw to itself all sorts of funny little fictions. We pretend that China and Taiwan are one country and that Taiwan isn't sovereign. We treat countries such as Pakistan as sovereign even though the government doesn't actually control much of the country. I think about this sometimes in the case of the U.S. government's relationship with the Indian nations, whose sovereignty is an official fiction to which we remain very strongly committed. I am no expert on native issues and am entirely open to the argument that Washington should take tribal sovereignty seriously, but Washington doesn't — see, for example, how little tribal sovereignty means when it comes to the so-called War on Drugs. I can't help thinking that some kind of rectification is needed, that we should either stop pretending we believe in tribal sovereignty or start acting like we do.

And Further-er-more . . .

There is a scene in The Lion in Winter that perfectly encapsulates the might-makes-right politics that we liberals and idealists are always trying to get past but never can. In a testy confrontation between Henry II of England and his French counterpart, Philip II, Hank the Deuce insists that a certain French territory is his. "By whose authority?" Philip demands. "It's got my troops all over it," Henry answers. "That makes it mine."

Words About Words

A reader writes:

Your recent use of the term "sacralized" is a bit jarring for your medical readers.

For us it refers to a lumbar vertebra which — by virtue of a common and usually benign anatomical variation — is immobile relative to its immediate neighbor, the sacrum, and hence "sacralized."

This obviously has no religious or cultural significance, my use of the word "virtue" in my explanation notwithstanding.

I thank my correspondent.

Context is everything: I don't think any of my readers is going to mistake an adjective referring to a politician for something suggesting the existence of a backbone.

The same goes for "virtue."

More mail:

Kevin, what do you think of the use of "Nazis" here?

The "here" links to a Federalist headline reading: "Mask Nazis Who Terrorized Americans For Years Are Worried They Might Get Mocked For Mask Obsession."

About that, a few thoughts:

First, I will give myself a preemptive "Lighten up, Francis." We've been talking about the Soup Nazi, grammar Nazis, HOA Nazis, and the like for a long, long time. In terms of the things that have contributed to the coarsening of our political culture, I put the humorous abuse of "Nazi" way down there with those "In This House, We Believe" signs. It isn't something to be taken seriously, probably.

(On a related note, I think that comedians such as Mel Brooks are right that, having defeated Adolf Hitler and his National Socialism, the best thing we can do is to ridicule their memory.)

That being said . . .

I think we should call each other "Nazis" a lot less in our political conversation. The same goes for "Marxists" and "fascists" and "Stalinists" and a great many similar terms of abuse.

There are a few Nazis in American public life and have been over the years: I recently wrote about the ACLU's defense of the National Socialist Party of American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell's rights under the First Amendment, a reminder that the American Left was once liberal. (It is a great loss to our civil society that the ACLU no longer believes in that sort of thing.) But there are not many actual Nazis or Nazi admirers. We have Jew-hating weirdos such as Louis Farrakhan and people of that ilk, and a handful of Twitter trolls who loom large among the Very Online. (It is easy to exaggerate how many: As Megan McArdle recently pointed out on the Remnant podcast, the people involved in a headline-generating Twitter convulsion would all together not fill up a good-sized Texas high-school football stadium.) A Nazi is a specific kind of person with a specific point of view, and there are all sorts of ways to be bad and wrong without being a Nazi. I think it is important to pay attention to those distinctions: If you want to understand a white nationalist such as Richard Spencer, for example, it is helpful to understand what he actually thinks and what he actually wants to do.

People got their noses out of joint when I twitted Bernie Sanders, whose views are both strongly nationalist and socialist, as a national socialist. But the thing about National Socialism is, those maniacs were serious about the nationalism and the socialism — we do ourselves a disservice to pretend that antisemitism and dictatorship were the whole of National Socialism.

There are a few actual Marxists and Marxians in public life, such as Slavoj Žižek, and a considerably larger number of socialists, including self-identified socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. One of the best — and most honest — professors I had in college described himself as a Marxist (back then, it was still sort of fashionable), though I am not sure he still does. And you should listen to people when they tell you what they are: Take Steve Bannon seriously when he calls himself a "Leninist."

As I wrote in The Smallest Minority, Americans who have made a religion of politics — and who have become disconnected from such traditional sources of meaning and connection as family and church — dream of an apocalyptic conflict between themselves and those they perceive to be their enemies, and they can understand themselves only in terms of their enemies because their own characters lack sufficient content to construct an identity on a positive basis rather than a merely reactive one. That is why the only thread connecting the various elements of the contemporary Right is anti-Leftism and the only thread connecting the factions of the Left is anti-Rightism. If they're for it, we're against it — it's as simple as that.

Abraham Lincoln, who was active during a considerably more challenging and bloody chapter of American history, rejected the notion that we should understand each other as enemies. (As a matter of rhetoric, that fluffy stuff about the "mystic chords of memory" seems to me to be much less moving than the sturdy plain syllables: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.") In these times of relative peace and prosperity, we ought to be able to do at least as much. At some point, we are going to have to deal with the fact that "Own the Libs!" is not compatible with: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

I think that if your politics necessitates that you regard your fellow countrymen as enemies, then you need to rethink your politics. And, possibly, that you need to grow the f*** up.

Of course, I have contributed to that at times, and have repented of the fact. I expect to repent of it again, and to keep repenting of it for as long as I am writing.

And that being written . . .

If I'm being totally honest, I'm more irritated by the hijacking of the name of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist for some dopey knucklehead newsletter than I am about Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi."

Rampant Prescriptivism

"Hank the Deuce" was the nickname of Henry Ford II. Wikipedia identifies him as the son of Edsel Ford I and the grandson of Henry Ford I, but, unless you are writing about a king or a pope, putting "I" after the name of a person who has namesake descendants seems to me a bit much.

And, of course, you don't use a "I" after a name if there is no II, or if you are writing in a historical context that precedes the II. William Shakespeare's purportedly virginal patroness did not become Elizabeth I until June 2, 1953, with the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Hank the Deuce was Henry Ford II and not Henry Ford Jr. because his father was not Henry Ford (I) — that was his grandfather. This comes up in some families that like to stick to a few names, as old East Coast WASP clans used to do. Properly, a man is a Jr. if he has exactly the same name as his father, and he is a II if he has exactly the same name as his grandfather or another direct ancestor. The second president named George Bush is sometimes wrongly called George Bush Jr. or "junior," but he is not that, because he does not have precisely the same name as his father: The younger Bush is George Walker Bush, while his father is George Herbert Walker Bush. Walker is the maiden name of President George H. W. Bush's mother, Dorothy, the wife of Senator Prescott Bush. Certain names have a way of sticking around in politics and cropping up: President George H. W. Bush has a daughter named Dorothy Walker Bush Koch, who is sometimes assumed — wrongly — to have married into the family of famous libertarian political activists, but her husband, who has what is probably a pretty fun job as the wine industry's No. 1 lobbyist, is unrelated to that family.

Traditionally, a man retired "Jr." upon the death of his father, but William F. Buckley Jr. remained known as that to the end of his days, even though his father, William F. Buckley Sr., is known to history mostly only for being the father of William F. Buckley Jr.

(And editor of the Cactus yearbook at the University of Texas.)

(Incidentally, WFB's grandfather was the elected sheriff of Duval County, Texas, holding office — almost inevitably, given the time and place — as a Democrat. According to one newspaper account, he was still showing up at the polls to vote Democrat as late as Lyndon Johnson's 1948 Senate election, which bespeaks a truly incredible political commitment for a man who died in 1903.)

So, to sum up: Henry Ford II was not Henry Ford Jr., George W. Bush is not George Bush Jr., and William F. Buckley Jr. technically should have stopped being Jr. with the death of his father in 1958.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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Recommended, Sort Of

When it feels like the world is falling apart, I seek refuge in religious rituals — but not because I believe my prayers will be answered. The prayers we say in synagogue remind me that evil has always been with us but that people persevere, survive and even thrive. I take my kids so that they feel connected to that tradition, so that they know the world has been falling apart from the start — and that there's beauty in trying to put it back together.

Soon, Rex will stand before our congregation and pray to a God he can't quite believe in. It will be a magical morning, and for that moment, at least, we'll transcend the troubles of the world.

This is a sort of reverse recommendation — you should read it, but not because it is good. Rather, it is worth pondering the fact that an actual philosophy professor writing in the New York Times cannot manage more than this remarkably superficial engagement with the basic questions of religion. Recently retired Times editor Dean Bacquet once observed: "We don't get religion," that nobody on the Times staff really understands the role of religion in American life. Well, keep looking.

Don't blame me if you read that and end up taking the Lord's name in vain.

In Closing

Abraham Lincoln invoked "the better angels of our nature." Can you guess who asked: "Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something? 

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