By Alain Brossat

It is understandable that the precipitous withdrawal of the United States from the Afghan quagmire produced on the Taiwanese ruling elites, engulfed in their mentality of protégées of the big brother from across the Pacific, the effect of an icy shower. Their eagerness to repeat over and over again that the respective situations of the two countries, Afghanistan and Taiwan, could not be compared, gave the measure of their dismay and their concern. Under the coated and smoky formulas, moreover, the dirtiest and most arrogant of cultural presumptions were clearly heard: how to compare our prosperous country, a jewel of the global North in an East Asian version, embellished with human rights and Western values, our “vibrant democracy”, with that tribal and obscurantist rat hole that is Afghanistan?! – such was good, for who can read, the subtext of all these solemn and martial declarations plastered on the headlines: “Afghanistan, not a parallel with Taiwan”, “Premier dismisses Afghan comparison”, “Taiwan’s fate is not Afghanistan’s”…[1]

Under this surge of culturalist prejudices intended to reassure an opinion supposedly disoriented by the US retreat in Afghanistan, nonetheless could be perceived a very tangible concern. Recalling that this inglorious withdrawal had the unfortunate appearance of a remake of the images of the precipitous retreat of American troops in Saigon, in the last days of the Vietnam War, and whose images had then toured the world, the little hands of Taipei Times could not help but note that, even though “The Afghan government is extremely corrupt, while Taiwan enjoys a stable democracy” – still, the American Beresina in Kabul drew attention to the dangers inherent in the extreme proximity between the Taiwanese administration and that of the US, more precisely, the extreme dependence of the first on the second.[2]

On the other hand, the glowing lesson that emerges from Biden’s unilateral decision to repatriate American troops instantly, without consulting any of his allies (not even the loyal British pet), and that Taiwanese power elites will have a hard time avoiding is this one: the United States, today as yesterday, has proxies, obligated, clients, protégées, allies of circumstance – but, in substance, they consider that they are not bound by any commitment that does not stem directly from their own interests, by any obligation of loyalty towards their partners – America first, in all circumstances, under Biden as under Trump and, frankly, as always.[3] The list of clients who took themselves to be respected interlocutors and allies and who paid the price for this sacred selfishness, since World War II, is endless: from puppet generals in South Vietnam to Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq today, now recycled into the unenviable role of guards of those concentration camps where jihadist prisoners, their wives and children, rot… The United States does not contract with these supposed allies: it only makes calculations of interest, large and small, short and long term…

The Taiwanese leaders of today, however short and approximate their historical memory may be, are not badly placed to know something about the question: when they considered it in their strategic interest, in the context of the end of the Cold War, the men of Washington did not hesitate for long before recognising Mao’s China and abandoning the country of the patibular dictator presiding over the destiny of the residual Republic of China…

It is therefore easy to understand that, seeing the manner both cavalier and expeditious in which Biden has just dropped his Afghan puppet, they feel the wind of the ball passing… No wonder then that we have seen appear, in these editorials from Taipei Times where the boots of professional saber-draggers are usually heard, openly defeatist formulas like: “A future US administration might determine that Taiwan is a lost cause”, “Taiwan could become this generation’s Czechoslovakia: a sacrificial morcel of red meat tossed to China in a futile attempt to satiate its voracious appetite” – Xi’s China figuring here, of course, as the equivalent of Hitler’s ferocious conquering appetites whereas Taiwan becomes the unhappy Czechoslovakia abandoned by France and Britain…

 

With all this, however, and beyond this rhetoric of consolation, it must be admitted, if we examine the present geopolitical conditions, that the rapprochement between the failed occupation of the United States in Afghanistan and the protectorate exercised by them over Taiwan has its limits. As many observers have noted, the military irruption of the United States into the Afghan theatre was entirely overdetermined by September 11, the event that triggered the endless campaign led by the American Marshall against Al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism – a typical retaliatory action driven by the thirst for vengeance and the infinite presumption of the wrongdoer. For the rest, the strategic interests of the American hegemon in this part of the Asian continent, poorly provided with raw materials and as landlocked as possible, are not visible to the naked eye. Afghanistan is not Iraq, and not just because there is no oil there.

Conversely, everything tends to indicate, now that Israel seems better armed than ever to police the Western order in the Middle East in a relatively autonomous manner, that the strategic refocusing of the policy of global restoration of US hegemony around the Chinese issue and the control exercised over this great vital space that is the maritime façade of East Asia is bound to continue, accelerate and harden. Biden was elected by playing the role of the anti-Trump in all respects – except for one: the continuation of the policy of containment of China and the intensification of efforts to isolate it in the East Asian regional space.

It is now as if, for the United States, the objective of contain and roll back China, even at the cost of a showdown of unpredictable calibre, had become the top priority; everything happens as if China, as it is today, was defined by the rulers (and more generally the power elites) of the United States as an existential threat; and everything happens as if this threat – the embodiment of the vital question, to be or not to be the hegemon – crystallized around the power issues located between land and sea, from the Korean peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago.

According to this vision of things, Taiwan obviously represents a central piece on the East Asian and Pacific chessboard, and it is precisely there that is the limit of the rapprochement between the respective conditions and statuses of the Afghan and Taiwanese famuli tuorum.

But this is precisely where things get complicated. If, in all likelihood, the US leadership is not about to, according to rational interest calculations (from their point of view), consider Taiwan a “lost cause” and withdraw support for its leaders, to turn tail and run as they did pitifully in Afghanistan, they are not necessarily prepared to engage in a showdown with an unpredictable outcome over the island’s status. Even less are the people of the United States prepared to “die for Taipei” in a military conflict potentially long and even nuclear. This is the double bind in which they find themselves on this issue: to pursue their policy of containing the advance of Chinese power, they need to constantly increase the pressure, multiply the incursions of warships into the Taiwan Strait, multiply the “small gestures” in the direction of an increased recognition of the island’s de facto independence. It has also increased pressure on Chinese installations in the South China Sea, pursued a regional policy of turning China’s neighbours against it, openly encouraged the headlong rush of neo-nationalist and militaristic elites in Japan (etc.), knowing that all these initiatives increase day by day the risk of an incident leading to a confrontation, from which they are not entirely sure to come out on top – even if their military superiority remains constant and unchallenged.

Symmetrically, the Chinese leaders are entangled, over Taiwan, in the same type of double bond: for multiple and obvious reasons, they cannot lower the flag and let go about the island, but the more they remain intractable on this issue in the face of Western activism (and not just the United States), the more they run the risk of finding themselves drawn into a direct confrontation, the consequences of which they have every reason to fear.[4]

These constraints, which weigh structurally on the two main protagonists of this clash which has crystallized widely around Taiwan, is what, paradoxically, tends to suspend hostilities indefinitely. But indefinitely does not mean here forever and we should especially not be lulled into the illusion that the respective strategies of the opposing opponents based on rational calculations of interest, this would be equivalent to a perpetual peace treaty: the historical experience shows exactly the opposite; the rational calculations of interest have never prevented exits from the road and the steps to the abyss – the chancelleries of today are not more enlightened on this subject than those which did not know how to prevent, in Europe , the disaster of August 1914.

 

One of the (many) Achilles heels of Taiwanese democracy so pathetically bent on presenting itself as exemplary and unique in its regional context is the deplorable level of public debate that is evident there. The shock produced by the pitiful US retreat in Afghanistan spurred the most heartbreaking ramblings on the part of officials of the independence cause, both official and unofficial. No, it is not Afghanistan that Taiwan compares to as an ally of the United States, it is Israel! The ever-increasing armaments supplied to us by our powerful allies are proof of this, as is the role they have given us, that of a lookout, an outpost against the Chinese enemy – just as they rely on the state of Israel to contain any hint of emancipation of the Arab masses in the Middle East. Taiwan will increasingly be, in its privileged relationship with the US, the Israel of East Asia, hurray, three times hurray…

Brilliant analogy which, simply, breaks on the reef of two “details”: first, there is a flagrant contradiction between the loud claim of the status of model democracy (“vibrant democracy”) for Taiwan and this rapprochement with Israel, which, as a state founded on apartheid and ethnic supremacism, an expansionist and racist settler-state at its very core, is the very model of what calls itself a rogue democracy – the US “model”, only worse, if that is possible. On the other hand, the US administration will never accept the kind of proximity and sometimes even intertwining that exists between the US, Washington’s high political echelons and Tel Aviv, such as has hardly been denied since Clinton’s tenure – and spectacularly reinforced under Trump with the missions of proconsul Jared Kushner. This is so for the good reason that the fear will never dissipate in Washington that what would be entrusted to Taipei – sophisticated weapons, means of communication and other state secrets – could tend to leak to Beijing… It is clear from these minor details that what constantly characterises the officials of the independence thinking under the US protectorate is amateurism and wishful thinking above all else…

 

But not only that: more than a sheer spirit of propaganda, the perseverance in deliberate lying – such as when the island’s only English-language daily publishes a nebulous column entitled “Taiwan and Poland tied by love of democracy”[5] – demonstrates that they know what they are doing. Those who officiate this job are not so ignorant that they do not know that Jaroslaw Kaczinski’s Poland today is, together with Viktor Orban’s Hungary, precisely the illiberal shame of Europe that calls itself democratic, the country where judges not aligned with the executive power are sanctioned and where local administrations of cities and regions boast of their anti-gay campaigns and programmes (homosexuality being, in this context, constantly associated with paedophilia), dreaming of a Poland free of gays as the Nazis dreamed of a Reich free of Jews (judenfrei).

And these are the people, I mean those who publish these pathetic incantations in the Taipei Times, who are outraged about the prosperity of fake news… And these are the same who come to present us as a formidable diplomatic breakthrough, for the Taiwanese cause, the vote by a foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament of a “recommendation in favour of bilateral investments and an intensification of the efforts (of the EU) in favour of the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait” – motion adopted by a majority of 60 deputies against four abstentions… In the columns of the Taipei Times, this kind of non-event, resulting, one can imagine, from laborious lobbying activity, is described as if it were a strategic turning point in European policy in favour of Taiwan (and therefore against China). This is not information, it is black magic – here we are not sure whether these people know what they are doing or, after repeatedly reproducing these lies, they became accustomed to confuse their dreams of greatness and their incantations in favour of the recognition of the independence of Taiwan (often embellished with “American” military bases[6]) for reality. From the pen of a smart student whose prose is published under the vindictive title “Taiwan is China’s sworn enemy”, in the same columns, the little publicity stunt of the pro-Taiwan lobby in Brussels or Strasbourg takes grandiose colours: “On Wednesday last week, the European Parliament (sic) passed the EU-Taiwan Political Relations and Cooperation report and related proposals by a landslide (sic) 60-4 vote, with six members abstaining. The proposals urge the EU to bolster political ties with Taiwan and rename its European Economic and Trade Office the ‘EU Office in Taiwan’”.

In case the writer of these lines ignores it: the European Parliament has more than 700 MEPs, even after the recent withdrawal of British MEPs…

 

Let’s continue: in an editorial titled “‘One China’ compromise crumbling”,[7] we are trumpeted that Taiwan’s cause at the UN is progressing irresistibly and that the days of the Chinese veto against its recognition by the international community are already numbered. The proof? The Wall Street Journal has allegedly noticed that “a Colorado high school, a French nature society called ‘The Association of the 3 Hedgehogs’ and at least five other groups” had just taken a bold stand in favour of the entry of Taiwan to the UN. A brief search on the internet is enough to discover that the local micro-structure entitled “The 3 three hedgehogs” and which nothing proves that it is anything other than a hollow tooth (there are thousands of phantom associations in France) is based in Carpentras, alma mater of neo-fascism à la Le Pen… The avenues of pro-Taiwan lobbying are, in France, as elsewhere, unfathomable… This is a textbook case of a flight of fancy in the form of the fabrication of a new reality – the irresistible movement to promote Taiwan on the international scene…

 

Nothing is more dangerous than people who lock themselves in a virtual reality – especially when they get involved in politics. Nothing is more dangerous than sleepwalkers who think they are prophets. Wake up, readers of the Taipei Times!

 


 

We would like to share one of the responses that this article recieved on the question of the US bases in Taiwan:

In 2019, a spokesperson for AIT, the unofficial US Embassy in Taiwan, acknowledged that US Marines and other active-duty members of elite units from four branches of the US military would be stationed at the huge new AIT complex (the spokesperson also acknowledged that such personnel have been present at US representative offices in Taiwan since 2005). There are also US technicians rotating in and out at the radar station in Linkou. Their presence, like that of the many thousands of US civilians living in Taiwan, offers a predictable pretext for various forms of intervention.

With US forces based in Okinawa and the presence of US civilians and military personnel on the island of Taiwan, there is little need, either from the perspective of rapid deployment or from that of providing a political pretext for intervention, for a US military base in Taiwan. A US military base on the island of Taiwan could potentially have unintended adverse affects, including adversely affecting US arms sales to the island nation, one of the top ten consumers of US military hardware (why buy so many weapons systems if you know that the US is definitively committed to the island’s defense?) and disrupting plans well underway in academia, industry, and government to transform Taiwan into Israel with a similar national civilian mobilization system and hi-tech military/industrial/cybersecurity complex.

 


 

 

[1] Taipei Times, 17/08/2021, 18/08/2021, 04/09/2021.

[2] «Some are saying it should serve as a warning to Taiwan, not to get too close to the US, and even use it as a taunt about China mounting a military invasion of Taiwan», Chen Yun-peng, DPP legislator. Cite appeared in the Taipei Times editorial «Afghanistan not a parallel with Taiwan: academics», retrieved from https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2021/08/17/2003762746

[3] In fact, comparisons between Biden and Trump publicly emerged in France after what was considered as a “treason” regarding the Australian nuclear submarines.

[4] The symmetry established here between the two double bonds in which the two opponents are caught does not in any way amount to sending them back to back: it is enough to open a history book and look at a geography map to grasp that their “reasons” and the causes they support are not the same.

[5] Emilia Chen, 15/09/2021. Retrieved from https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2021/09/15/2003764383

[6] E.g. “US should have bases in Taiwan” by Kenneth Wang, Taipei Times, July 31, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2021/07/31/2003761756

[7] Retrieved from https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2021/09/14/2003764324

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