By Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado

Creating analogies to illuminate the elusive nature of one object of study by comparing it with a more familiar one is a common form of explanation. But it also entails a conscious way of discursively constructing meaning according to the interest of the subject elaborating such analogy. First of all, analogies are not innocent tools of analysis, insofar as the mere choice of the object B with which A will be compared depends on a starting point, a common sense, as Gramsci (1971) would put it, in which the creator and the reader are unavoidably embedded. At the same time, as will be seen in this article, the analogies about Taiwan reproduced in mainstream media embarked in an anti-China narrative are not merely intended to explain to the rest of the world—and to the Taiwanese society itself—what Taiwan is or should be. Rather, these discourses seek a performative result through the establishment of a chain of equivalences around what Taiwan means, until it becomes naturalized as the truth—a mechanism perfectly explained by Laclau and Mouffe (1985)’s discourse-theoretical approach.

This short article begins with a recent analogy comparing Taiwan to Gibraltar, made in the Taiwanese media outlet, published in English, the Taipei Times, and written by Jerome Keating (2021), a “writer based in Taipei”—these are the credentials with which he signs—who shows in each of his articles an undisguised hatred of China. His recent article, which does not deserve additional analysis, ends with this assertion: “For the US and its Asian allies, Taiwan remains a solid rock of democracy; it can also be their Rock of Gibraltar for peace; they only need to step up to the plate”. Gibraltar has officially been a “crown colony” since the territory was “ceded” in 1713 after war negotiations and until 2002. In that year, instead of returning this colony to Spain as it did Hong Kong to China, the United Kingdom must have thought it too shameful to continue to call Gibraltar a colony and the label was shifted to a more politically correct “British overseas territory”. But Gibraltar is still an obvious reminder of colonial and imperialist times. Indeed, more than a safeguard of peace, Gibraltar is a centre of conflict. As a product of colonial occupation, Gibraltar has been a reason for constant sieges and threats between countries: it is now a source of diplomatic conflict due to the desire of the Spanish nationalists to recover the rock and the nostalgia of those who want to maintain the British colonial pride. But even more important is the role of Gibraltar as a tax and fraud haven: in fact, on March 13 of this year 2021, a treaty was signed between Spain and the UK that aims to finally end the consideration of the Rock as “tax haven”. Freedom in the purest neoliberal style was the one that reigned in Gibraltar for decades, something that after Brexit seems to be changing for the better (something good had to come out of Brexit, after all). Does really Taiwan want to become a Gibraltar? Is Keating suggesting that Taiwan should become a colony of the “free world”—i.e. the United States (US)—in its crusade against China?[1]

Some answers can be found in a previous article by the same author, published in 2017 and titled “Taiwan as the Gibraltar of Asia”. Let us see the main arguments embodied by this analogy. First of all, Keating (2017) reproduces the idea of Taiwan as the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” of Asia. What does this imply? An aircraft carrier is an offensive weapon, the most powerful tool of imperialist projection and the best example of military intimidation. How this idea fits with the rock of Gibraltar for peace suggested by Keating can only be the result of discursive prestidigitation. This idea of a legendary “anti-communist unsinkable aircraft carrier” (Chen, 2020) off the Chinese coast portrays an unambiguous militaristic and aggressive role of Taiwan against China, a Damocles sword threatening communism face to face. The immense investment in weaponry by Taiwan is justified by Keating (2017) with charming analogies: “During World War II, Gibraltar became the bastion that prevented the Axis powers from making the Mediterranean their mare nostrum”. Of course, if Taiwan is Gibraltar, then China is implicitly constructed as the fascist enemy in this discourse. Who could oppose Taiwan becoming Gibraltar when it becomes a conflict between the perfect evil and the magnificent British Empire!

The idealistic analogy is finalised with the goal that this new Western colony would undertake: to corner China on its own shore, because “Beijing desires Taiwan as an immediate access point to the Pacific Ocean as it seeks to expand its empire”. Of course, China expanding its empire is illegitimate under the “Western” hegemonic common sense, insofar as it threats its own empire, and here is where the analogy becomes hilarious: “China wants to expand its empire by taking ours, so it must be stop by the militarization of our own new Gibraltar!” Put it differently, what is here depicted as negative is not imperialism, but Chinese imperialism. The connection of this narrative with the current wave of Sinophobia is clear: anything coming from China is evil and jeopardizes “all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to” [my emphasis], just as Anthony Blinken boldly stated (see Toosi, 2021).

In the end, Taiwan is not a rock for peace but, as Keating admitted (2017), for Western-hegemonic countries “a free, democratic Taiwan” is “their rock of security; it is their Gibraltar”. This is rather a rock to suppress, a rock to continue imposing their hegemonic will and keeping the world the way they want it to be. The main function of Gibraltar was not to maintain peace in the world but to maintain the hegemony of the UK, a reason utterly absent of altruism. Indeed, the cession of Gibraltar came attached to a concession absolutely opposed to freedom: in the same treaty, the British obtained from the Spanish a 30 year monopoly of the Asiento de negros (the permission to sell slaves in Spanish possessions), which was precisely the main casus belli for the War of Spanish Succession that ended with Gibraltar in UK hands. After this, English slave trade boomed and the acquisition of Gibraltar meant for UK the maritime, commercial and financial supremacy in the seas, a boost for its imperialist expansion around the world. Continuing the analogy, the real reason that justifies the transformation of Taiwan into a new Gibraltar is to instrumentalise Taiwan in order to subdue China or, better still, to incite a military conflict of which the main beneficiaries would not be neither China nor Taiwan but the US and its world hegemony.

 

References

Chen, C.-K. (2020, October 16). Making an anti-communist fortress. Taipei Times. Retrieved from https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/10/16/2003745227

Chien, L. (2020, November 17). Following the Swiss defense model. Taipei Times. Retrieved from  https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2020/11/17/2003747038

Gramsci, A. (1971). In Q. Hoare and G. Nowell-Smith. Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers.

Keating, J. (2017, November 21). Taiwan as the Gibraltar of Asia. Taipei Times. Retrieved from http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2017/11/21/2003682630

Keating, J. (2021, March 24). Beijing concocts a Thucydides trap. Taipei Times. Retrieved from https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2021/03/24/2003754376

Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.

Toosi, N. (2021, March 3). Blinken, Biden outline global strategy with China as key focus. Politico. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/03/blinken-biden-global-strategy-china-473182

 

[1] My passport indicates that I am Spanish, so an article mentioning Gibraltar could seem to hurt my national pride. Nothing could be further from reality: “recovering” Gibraltar for Spain is something that, in nationalist terms, I find totally unnecessary. Nevertheless, Gibraltar seems to me an absolute aberration that should be avoided rather than copied.

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