How to "pin" Taiwan? (& Taoist wisdom in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon)

Taoist Wisdom

"Hold your fist tight, you grasp nothing inside. Open your hand, you will have the sky on you palm." (把手握紧,里面什么也没有,把手放开,你将拥有一切)

- Li Mu-bai to Yu Shu-lien in the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (*), quoting from his teacher Jiang-nan-he (江南鹤).

I think this line bears strong connection to the Taoist view of philosophy (Li Mubai is a Taoist), and probably the Buddhist view as well. One of the concepts in Taoism is to "use tenderness to defeat the hard and strong" (以柔克刚), which has later become the core concept for a branch of Kung Fu called Tai Chi Chuan (太极拳), as you might have seen in the exercise between Beatrice Kiddo and Pai-mei in Kill Bill 2. An analogy is "to wear away rock with water", though I think a better metaphor will be "to dissolve a crystal with water".

  • "What is in the end to be shrunk must first be stretched. Whatever is to be weakened must begin by being made strong. What is to be overthrown must begin by being set up. He who would be a taker must begin as a giver. This is called “dimming” one's light. It is thus that the soft overcomes the hard. And the weak, the strong.“It is best to leave the fish down in his pool; Best to leave the State's sharpest weapons where none can see them.” - Dao De Jing, Lao Zi, Chapter 36
  • "将欲歙之,必固张之;将欲弱之,必固强之;将俗废之,必固兴之;将欲夺之,必固与之。是谓徵明。柔弱胜刚强。鱼不可脱于渊,国之利器不可以示人." - 《老子》第三十六章
  • "Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water; but when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail. For they can find no way of altering it.That the yielding conquers the resistant and the soft conquers the hard is a fact known by all men, yet utilized by none."- Dao De Jing, Lao Zi, Chapter 78
  • "天下莫柔弱于水,而攻坚强者莫之能胜,以其无以易之。弱之胜强,柔之胜刚,天下莫不知,莫能行" - 《老子》第七十八章

Taoism emphasizes comparative strength (and unconvention thinking), as demonstrated in the circular superiority of the Five Elements (Hang), where water quels fire, fire melts metal, metal chops plant, plant holds mud, mud stops water (水克火,火克金,金克木,木克土,土克水). This is consistent with Sun Zi's general view of tactics and strategy.

Chess Game

Curzon provided a great analogy for the Taiwan situation, using the concept of a pinned chess piece. While I do not fully agree with how he applied it, our difference is not fundamental.

In my view, in order to be "pinned" you have to have the choice to act and not to act, and the default ('pinned' situation) is the situation you are currently at (not to act). Because US' unconditional defense for Taiwan is not the position it has put itself at, from 1979 to today, it cannot consider itself to be pinned.

Instead, Taiwan has the choice of moving to either direction. But there are many ways to pin Taiwan into the status quo. The Anti-secession Law (ASL), as discussed in the prequel of this post, is a perfect example for the bishop in the chessboard, pinning Taiwan's knight form moving toward independence. Any side-stepping of the knight automatically trigger the destruction of its king.

For the US, it can insert a piece in the path between the bishop and king. But it has to ready itself for considerable sacrifice, as Thomas Barnett correctly pointed out. However, US has another option. It can send out a "pawn" as in the illustration, so that it is more difficult for the bishop to take the knight (Taiwan will also have to move the king to d7 to guard its knight). This is, in fact, today's situation, except that it is left with some ambiguity.

The only problem/risk today, is the ambiguity of the ASL and TRA, which were created to give China and US more flexibility. Such ambiguity contributes to destabilizing the pinned situation, by allowing for free interpretation of the 'knight', as I discussed before.


Great move from CCP. But is this the best move? Not neccessarily, because in reality the chessboard is not static. China, Taiwan and US are all undergoing tremendous change. In particular, in Taiwan, DPP's support has increased from below 20% 15 years to over 40% today. Time is not on the side of pan-blue (or CCP), as those who are emotionally tied to the mainland are quickly replaced by younger generation who are not. The only favorable development to CCP is the Taiwanese businessmen who had spent time in the mainland, but these experiences may not neccessarily lead to the support of re-unification.

Many observers outside Taiwan, including those in the mainland, failed to understand the fundamental reasons for the separatism trend(see note **). Strategist and politicians in Beijing have been equally ignorant, after failing to think through the rationale and ramification for unification vs division(***), they further adopted a hard-line approach to alienate their "compatriots". Such misunderstanding leads to a childish game of diplomatic bribery to micro-states and became a vicious circle, among other fiascos.

Therefore, ASL is only a ad hoc solution, provided pinning Taiwan is the objective and that this situation is sustainable. Then what should be the objective?

The objectives

Let's first examine the often discussed rationales or myths for unification

  1. Unification good, division bad (myth: see note*** below)
  2. Division and hostility among different parts of China will provide opportunity to foreign (hostile) powers to divide and conquer China, and even leverage one faction to fight against another, or for Taiwan to harm the interest of China
  3. A divided China is weak, because each part can be defeated and conquered separately
  4. "Taiwanese compatriots are our brothers and sisters sharing our blood" (see poster to the right and caption), there should be cooperation, communication, and intimate friendship.
  5. Taiwan has been part of China historically (at least according to what PRC inherits from the two preceding governments: ROC between 1945-1949, and most years of Qing Dynasty prior to 1895), losing Taiwan means humiliation (like the Qing) and damage to the legitimacy and reputation of the current PRC government

In summary, the ultimate goal is to prevent sustained war, align the interests together (also hug our compatriot - see poster on the right), hence acting as a bigger entity with larger scale (in terms of market and also soft and hard power), while saving face and defending honor during the process.

What has CCP achieved today? Other than some partial economic integration, CCP has managed to push Taiwan further away and defeated objectives 2 and 3 totally. With the current spat, it is very unlikely that Taiwanese people will side with the mainland in a conflict with Japan. In fact, today we even have certain Taiwanese who support the ultra-right militarist faction in Japan.

There is a better way to "pin" Taiwan

The best way to pin Taiwan is, counter-intuitively, to encourage Taiwan to hold a referendum, and do it when the friendly KMT led by Ma Ying-jeou comes to power in 2008. The package should contain incentive for choosing the 'desirable results'

  • A frozen period of [30] years where no further referendum regarding unification/independence should be held
  • Options will be (A) Unification under conferation; vs (B) Independence, and (C) status quo. indecisive result (less than 50% turnout or less than 67% for any option) will be interpreted as (C) -- PLA will remove its missiles and even promise peace in return
  • Under the unification option (A),
    • Taiwan will be supported for a UN seat, like Ukraine under USSR.
    • Taiwan will have full autonomy like Deng Xiaoping has promised, including maintaining its army, currency, and democracy
    • Establish a Senate system for the federation, where Taiwan (also HK, Macau) will be represented.
    • The Federation will support Taiwan to defend disputed areas in Spratly and Diaoyu.
    • The most delicate issue is diplomatic right of Taiwan, which both sides have been persistent. But it is not impossible to work out a compromise, where Taiwan yields partial right to the federation
    • Others minor issues already widely discusses in the last 20 years (will be linked to later when I find them)
  • Option (C) after the referendum could include mainland's support for Taiwan to in Diaoyu and South China Sea as well

The concept of federation is not new. What is new is the timing of the referendum. From mainland's perspective, further waiting is only going to further severe the tie. While a vote today presents extremly low risk for a support for (B).

The objective of such a referendum is to force both sides to recongize a stalemate (option C: which is the most likely case), and hence to guarantee the status quo for another [30] years. The difference between a status quo after a referendum and the status quo of today is important

  • risk of 'independence declaration" will be greatly reduced (analogy: Quebec referendum)
  • the possibility of failing objectives 2&3, as it already is today, will be greatly reduced and most likely reversed
  • the hostility between the strait will end and closer economic and cultural ties will flourish. Taiwanese people's vote will drift toward (A) in the next 30 years as a result
  • less waste on arms race for both sides
  • less squandering of money in luring micro-states in diplomacy

The upside/bonus is, objectives 1-5 will all be achieved if (A) is chosen.

President Hu Jintao, if you hold your fist tight, you grasp nothing inside; open your hand, you will have the sky on you palm. DPP asks for a referendum, give them the referendum. There is nothing to lose. Treat our Taiwanese compatriots like how we treat our brothers and sisters, you will win their hearts.

The downside of obstructing such a referendum is, you will continue to lose votes to (B). If, when China changes to a democracy, or if there are other unexpected event in the world or in China, Taiwan will grab the opportunity to hold its own referendum. The vote then would be much less favorable as a result of the prolonged hostility. You will lose you sister and she will become your enemy. This will make you "One Sinner in A Thousand Years" (千古罪人).



(*) About the movie

(**) Factors that drive Taiwan toward separatism

  • Total disappointment of being ruled by mainland official, based on the performance of KMT and CCP from 1945-1978. Especially deep contrast of Chen Yi/CKS regime in 1945 vs the milder Japanese colonist governor
  • Wary of mainland chauvanism and oppression, exploitation
  • Further alienation due to diplomatic war, which led to extreme inconvience for Taiwanese travelling and doing business abroad, and hurts pride
  • Taiwanese identity, while most spoken about, is a very new concept and not popular 20 years ago

(***) Unification is not the objective. It is only a means to reach peace and proposerity.


88 said...

That is a lot to digest..but my preliminary comment is this: 笑傲江湖2 is the best martial arts movie i've seen -- and jackie chan sucks. ;)

LfC said...

I knew you would quote that! Now I should start writing my supplement.

Mr Chan sucks. Alas and alack he always appears to believe that he represents Hong Kong.

ZHJ said...

hmm, you try a kind of mathematical approach. Very interesting, but I do not agree with you that Taiwan should be like a Ukrain within the Sovjet Union. I believe China as a Federation or Union should have only 1 seat, or else it would not be fair. The idea of some kind of Federation may be a way to solve this dispute.

Sun Bin said...

mathematical? maybe :)

That is for the longer term. and i think it is unfair that 1.3bn+23m get 2 seats, if a 10k nano-state in the pacific can have one seat.
in fact, i would like HK and Macau each have a seat as well.
OTOH, continue to be mathematical, if china wants to pay less fee contribution in the UN, it could spin off the rich provinces into SARs:) then "China in UN" does not count the pearl/yangtze delta for GDP when it UN Tax :) just kidding.

My main point is though, a quick referendum is a better choice for the re-unification advocates. If the trend of the past 15 years tells us anything, delaying this will only make things worse.

zhj said...

I am convinced that Ma will win the 2008 elections. Things can change overnight. The DPP has rapidly won support, but that support can go away that rapidly as well. This is how democracy works. Nothing is fixed.

Sun Bin said...

One needs to understand that DPP's support is fueled by the hardline approach from CCP.

(see my note ** above)

Hu-Wen has softened it a lot recently, so it could help Ma.
But Ma's winning cannot solve the problem. The balance of vote is shifting to DPP day by day, as old people die and young ones do not feel any emotional attachment to the mainland.
So a referendum has to be held sooner rather than later.
After that, a closer tie would hopefully forge the emotional attachment.

zhj said...

If even overseas Chinese or "foreign" ethnic Chinese feel proud about the rise of mainland China, why can't Taiwan be? I have the theory that part of the drive for a developed and modern China by mainland leaders is to win Taiwan back. I believe this is even a corner stone.

We know that most people in Taiwan support the status quo. We know what the outcome of a referendum will be. A referendum will only heighten tensions. Let controversial politics fade away and let's focus on soft things that links Taiwan with mainland, such as culture. Let both sides re-discover each other, after more than 5 decades of separation. I support reunification, but I define this reunification very broadly. Taiwan does not have to be ruled by Beijing, neither does Taipei have to become a local government. The point is sharing power and alignment. It is very dangerous for Taiwan and the mainland if the island aligns itself with nationalist forces in Japan and (neo-)conservatives in the US.

I think the CCP's previous hardline approach could have fueled support for Taiwan independence, but this is also caused by the KMT and its mismanagement of some events. The DPP has distorted the ROC with Taiwan. The best the KMT now can do is to increase the support for the real ROC, as e.g. Sun Yat-sen had envisioned, on the island, because the ROC is the link with the mainland and hopes for reunification. Peace can be secured if both sides engage with each other softly and the hope for reunification is kept alive.

Sun Bin said...


Unfortunately, It is a lot more complicated than that now. You view is right maybe 20 years ago.

Though emotionally attached to China, many overseas Chinese I met really identify with their host nations today. They are also many generations apart from the 1st gen immigrants. Emotionally they become more detached for each additional generation.

The situation is even worse for the separatists in Taiwan. Both KMT and CCP are responsible for that. The moderate separatists just want to be a 'Singapore', but some are more attached to Japan's right wing.

This can now only be solved by a very 'soft' approach.

You also have to be careful about reading the data. Even though there are about 10% who support immediate independence. A lot within the 'status quo' group said so only because they are afraid of war. If there is no such threat, the independence support could go up to 25% or even 45%.
AND it will only increase if the current situation persists.

Yes, the conventional wisdom is to defer a referendum. But if you are confident about the result of referendum, why not do it? Again, Quebec is the best lesson for CCP. It will ease tension and will even win back some of the separatists.
"Rediscovery" and "Trust" will be much more efficient if mainland show real care about their benefits -- and allows for a referendum to show respect and sincerity.

The situation today only helps to push them toward Japan's far right. When Lee Tenghui first did this his view was in the extreme minority in Taiwan, now his view gets more popular each day. Reason: distrust and even hatred toward CCP and all mainlanders. I think CCP needs to read some of the T.I. publications to understand what had pushed them away, esp events prior to 2-28 (I suggest you read one of such book as well, try to read it empathetically from their angle).

DPP certainly put their spin into their propaganda. But it is dangerous if CCP simply discount it as 'distorted view'. There are a lot of truth in their stories.

Sun Bin said...

this CSM report (hattip to michael thurton) again is saying that CCP's new soft-line approach is on the right track, and that the middle of Taiwan can be wooed but not scared.

DPP has no defense to a soft line appraoch, simply because the normal people just want a good life and to be respected.

zhj said...

Thanks for the link. Robert Marquand is treating both sides as different countries and nations, and therefore he misses the point and could have answered/clarified the question/suggestion he raised if he would have been more objective in choosing his words. The overwhelming majority on the mainland sees both sides as one nation, country. The same is true for a significant portion on the other side. This clarifies why. Both the KMT and PFP and other smaller opposition parties support One China, and oppose Taiwan independence. They support the ROC, and may distrust and hate the PRC, but this does not sway them away of their belief that they are part of China. As the PRC does not equal China, but equals the mainland only. Or as the consitution of the ROC states, they are the "free" part of China. The distrust at Chen Shui-bian is only logical, as many Pan-Blue supporters believe he stole the elections by faking the shooting and because of his persistent flipflopping. Without the shooting, Chen Shui-bian would have been out of office for years and the dynamics in Taiwan and the mainland would have been different, e.g. better and more stable.

Sun Bin said...

You can ignore the rhetoric based on DPP POV, wetsern reporter needs that to maintain 'balance'. The latter paragraphs are probably debatable (and it is pretty stupid to require the opposition to share their secret with DPP)

But the point of this article is, a soft line approach is a lot more productive.

You are right the pan-blue probably has slightly higher popular support (this is exactly why I said there is no need to be afraid of a referendum). However, this support is waning everyday for reasons I explained above. DPP's vote in 2004 was significantly higher than that in 2000 (51% vs 39%). It would only increase.
As a matter of fact, I am not as optimistic about Ma as many others.

Anonymous said...

As long as the Taiwanese were led to believe that there is the slightest chance of breaking away from PRC they would hold out for even more 'concessions' from PRC in the hope that at the end of a prolong period of 'paring down the sausage' the day would come when the entire sausagse, aka, the political link to China will disappeared. This Taiwanese hope is kept alive by America and Japan. This is also the kind of encouragement that you, Sun-bin is holding out to the Taiwanese with your so called 'soft' approach.

Theoretically China has only two choices. Squash this Taiwanese hope by cutting away the American and Japanese support is the first and the more difficult in the short to medium term. The other, and the more practical and humane, alternative is to onvince the Taiwanese that 'surrendering' sooner when China is still weak relative to America and Japan is better than surendering when China has removed the 'interventionist' threat from America and Japan. Carrots may be offered but they must be aware thay the big stick is never far behind.

By the way there is no comparison between Taiwan and Quebec. Quebec will not be the 'unsinkable' aircraft carrier of France or a third country as Taiwan is and will continue to be such to Japan and America. Tiwanese must see that either they pledge their loyalty to the Chinese nation or they perish in a confrontation between China and America or China and Japan. Taiwan at present is not in the 'hand' of China so your Taoist principle is inapplicable. It is America and Japan which must let go of Taiwan to reap the bigger benefits from a rational relation with China. If either of them close their hands around Taiwan they risk nuclear war as was well enunciated by General Zhu of PRC.

Sun Bin said...

Anon above,

Yan Jiaqi has an essay on Taiwan, 9 discussions on Taiwan. You might not have to agree with him about democracy or his view in general, but he has made some good points in the Quebec comparison.

It is naive to think that US/Japan can influence Taiwan to the extent you speculated. Yes, maybe certain strong influence. But ultimately it is still up to the local people's will. CCP and many in mainland's failure to understand this (or denial of such facts) is undermining their objectives, and fueling the support for the desire to break away from China. You really need to talk with Taiwanese businessmen in China with an open mind, and send more people to visit Taiwan to understand what they think.

Without such understanding, even if there is no external force, and even if PLA win a war, Taiwan will break away sooner or later.

If you can win the heart of the people, there is no way any external force can manipulate the Taiwanese, be it Japan or US. Don't treat the people as children. DPP may be childish, but you need to respect the ability of the Taiwanese people as a whole to make choices as adults.

In fact, a conquering war, even if it is won, will ensure Taiwan's breakaway in the future, whenever there is such opportunity.

Sun Bin said...

"Taiwanese must see that either they pledge their loyalty to the Chinese nation or they perish in a confrontation between China and America or China and Japan."

This is precisely the arrogance and condescending attitude that have helped DPP's election machine and pushed CSB into the presidency.

Sun Bin said...

"Carrots may be offered but they must be aware thay the big stick is never far behind. "

That is fine as a negotiating tactic. You can always use the hawks to show them the downside. But it is important that there should be enough carrot to address the fundamental need, and convince the Taiwanese people that you really care about them and treat them as your compatriot.

CCP has learned a good lesson when dealing with HK and dumping the idiot Tung Chee Hwq. It should apply this lesson to Taiwan. (I think they are already doing this, but they still failed to understand why DPP has such strong popular support) In the case of Taiwan, the stake is a lot higher, i.e. the East Sea/Daiyu and even Spratly situation would be totally changed it CCP is able to woo Taiwan

Anonymous said...

Dear Sun-Bin,

Our arguments are derived from two completely different premises. You believed in the democratic wisdom of the leaders and common people of Taiwan, I don't. You are thoroughly versed in the polemics of democracy I had my democratic baptism in actual democratic politics.

There are true idealists; there are those who convinced themselves that their pursuit of power is for the democratic good of their people; there are scoundrels who cloak themselves in democratic atire. The above are the political leaders. The masses are followers and endlessly manipulatable. If their leaders are good enough the followers can be driven along a path of destruction. All Chinese knows this, especially those 'revolutionaries', democratic or otherwise. The conclusion is that these Taiwanese political leaders must never be allowed the illusion that they can decide what is going to happen to a piece of Chinese territory called Taiwan. Whether the CCP are criminals or mass killers makes no difference. They are the government of China, they will decide. They could out-manoeuvre America or Japan or they could lead the Chinese to a apocalyptic hell, it is still up to them.

The Chinese had frustrated the Japanese design on the 'Manchurian' provinces of north east China; the Russians, American and Turkic design on Xinjiang; and the Anglo-American and Indian design on Tibet. It has nothing to do with liberal democratic election. It was raw nationalism and the appeal to fight for the peoples survival. The same 'primodial' urges which had driven them to fight for Xinjiang, Tibet will stand them in good stead in the recovery of Taiwan. I would be a cruel joke to hold out to the Taiwanese that a referendum on the island would decide their fate.

I know what that bloke Yan Jia Qi is all about. If he and his cohort had their way China would be 'democratic', 'federal', weak and no threat to America or Japan. He and his cohorts do have supports even among the leaders of the CCP. But if you are able to understand the intricacies and nuances of international relationship you will see that his school of thought can never win the support of the majority of the leaders or the majority of the thinking Chinese.

America and Japan have little influence on the Taiwanese? You must be kidding yourself. They not only have strong influence on the Taiwanese leaders but leaders of the PRC too. But the thing is, they have long lost the fight. Starting from the Tiananmen Conspiracy they are going down hill ever since.

The choice has already been made between 'neo-liberal capitalism, democracy, federalism and joining the American harem', and 'capitalism with Chinese characteristics, authoritarianism, centralised political structure and independence'. The imperial pressures exerted by the Americans and the Japanese have the opposite and unintended effect on the Chinese leadership. They convinced the Chinese leaders that the path they had followed was the correct one.

It is understandable why you can still hang on to that dream of 'democratically' uniting with Taiwan before the Neo Cons in America and Japan came into power. But to persist in holding on to that view now is really anarchronistic, if I may say so.

Sun Bin said...

I understand you have a point.

The real situation is complicated and it is never black and white. I created a white picture for simplicity and you painted a black one. Reality is somewhere in the middle.

Therefore, I agree with you both stick and carrot need to be both employed.

Try to envision it this way, taking a softline will weaken the support of your enemy within their own backyard, you can make more sense out of this approach. Ultimately the ideal outcome is to win without having to fight.

Also think about that China might change (out of CCP or anyone's control) in future. If that happened, if the government in mainland is popularly elected, there will be very weak reason to not allow for a Taiwanese referendum.

So the choice comes down to:
1) referendum today
2) referendum 10-20 years laters (where more people grow up in an environment alienated from the mainland)

I am saying, you need to eb proactive and ask for a referendum asap, when the votes are favorable to you, and to use this gesture to solicite for more support to your view. And this has a high chance of success (for your objective)

as for XJ, you do not need to worry, because there are other minority who do not like Uighur domination, and there are significant Han votes.
(In fact, many Hakka/Kejia in Taiwan are pro-unification, because they fear a Minnan domination)

The situation for TW is very different from that of Manchuria, or XJ, or Tibet, you know. TW is culturally and genetically Chinese. They will come back even if they are gone for 200 years. (TB and XJ may not). The reason you need to woo Taiwan today is because you do not want them to be used by Japan.

I know you may not like YJQ, but his comparison with division in Chinese history has a good point.
US/Japan influence on Taiwanese. I said there is a limit to such influence. The can influence but they cannot force them to do what they do not want to.
I am not saying which path is the right one. I actually do not have a sure answer for either. But there is a possibility that the situation can evolve in such a way that you cannot control the Taiwan situation with stick alone.

Sun Bin said...

One final point.

The problem with leaders in mainland today is "不知彼".
You really need to send more people to Taiwan, to understand why DPP was able to get its way. There is really no harm collecting more information and understanding them.

I see this as a fundamental problem, and the mistakes they made in the past 20 years. They still do not have the best info to determine what carrot is good or what stick is effecive, based on what I can observe today.

Recent moves were great moves. Anti-Secession Law is a reasonably effective stick, though it could have been worded more clearly. But Hu-Wen could do better if they take the approach they took for HK, study the situation harder, and apply it to Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sun Bin,

I can see that you have given the topic a lot of thoughts. The fundamental principle that underwrites a nation's existence is importrant but when it comes to practical politics or what you would call 'Realpolitik' political principle takes a second place to 'costs', political, economic, cultural, strategic, etc.

You seem to believe that multi-party politics is advantageous to China's national survivability and growth, that it would come about sooner than we think and that Taiwan must hold out for such pre-condition to unification. I do not. I shall approach this question from two angles. First, the CCP's future action is to be guided by 'internationally accepted principle'. Second the CCP's action will be decided by what I have earlier on termed 'costs' to the Chinese nation, both long term and short term.

The short answer to the first speculation concerning future CCP political action, that is one to be based on 'principle' is that it isn't going to happen. The previous British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Robin Cook, pushed for the so called 'ethical' principle that every government should adopt in their treatment of national minorities. The British felt they can take the moral high ground because they no longer have such minority problems and this principle (beside the one about 'democracy') would afford them the perfect 'excuse' for intervening in another nation's internal affairs. China would not allow her political decision to be circumscribed by adherence to such principle in dealing with the question of national unity and security, period.

Based on this principle the West have been quick to challenge China's policies with regards to Xinjiang and Tibet saying that CCP's unwillingnes to extend the same considerations and terms to Xinjian and Tibet as it has extended to Taiwan is a policy of discrimination against minorities. This fact strengthen my conviction that the only 'principle' involved is 'cost'.

Now what is the cost to China of adopting democracy and federalism in the near future which, according to some China watchers, is partly determined by PRC government's 'pressing' need to recover Taiwan? In my opinion China cnnot and need not bear the 'costs'. First and foremost, allowing 'democracy' to have a play in the question of the recovery of Taiwan, such as allowing for a referendum among its people is treacherous and will lay the minefield which will blow up in China's face in China's future dealings with the separtists in Xinjiang and Tibet. This principle is different from the first principle I have enunciated above. This priciple is based on realpolitik, not on any idealistic philosophy from some academics. This priciple is one based on 'cost' and one which China will persist with reference to all future policies concerning national unity and security. Put in succinct term, this means that local populace will not have the final say in their future or the future of Chinese territory in which they happen to reside.

Some of the leaders in Taiwan who were brought up and continue to be fed on a diet of 'democracy' will find this reality hard to swallow, but the CCP had said that they are willing to wait. In their own words, they are not afraid to negotiate, not afraid to wait and not afraid of a full scale confrontation with Taiwanese backers, the Americans and the Japanese.

The Chinese government will not be pressurised into accepting any other perspective, calculations and timing concerning the recovery of Taiwan axcept their own. This, you can bet on. If you pay attention to the international manoeuvre of China in the last two years you will not fail to see that China is preparing for such a confrontation with America over Taiwan. Her independent stances with regards to relation with EU, the Russians, the Japanese, the Iranians and Central Asian republics, India etc. are indicative of this long term preparation for the inevitable recovery of Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sun Bin,

I will now address one of the salient point in your argument. You believe that the Chinese authority in charge of cross-straits affairs failed to understand the Taiwanese people and what drove them politically. You would be wrong. You must remember that the CCP are past masters in 'working the ground'. They claimed to have achieved a 'democratic revolution'. Even if you think that they are a dictatorship now you must believe that they know the importance of winning heart and mind. But there is a limit as far as carrots go. What they had done for the last twenty odd years is derogatively termed 'bribery' by the democratic purists. Be that as it may they do know that what they had done, 'the bribery', had not reached the ground level and they are now trying hard to make up for the lost ground by pushing for the importation of Taiwanese farm produce and opening up Taiwan to benefit from an influx of Chinese tourists. But they know, more than anyone else, that they do not have the Taiwanese in their hand. It is an uphill struggle for them when their oppssing forces are long time backers of Taiwanese like the Americans and the Japanese.

To put it in another way the Americans and the Japanese and their comrades in Taiwan know which butttons to push and they know when and how often to push those buttons that will produce the Taiwanese political responses they look for. They will keep nudging the Taiwanese to ask for the 'impossible' in the sense that what they are asking for could never be granted by a Chinese government which has to protect and further their own long term strategic interest. They are asking the Chinese governemt to sacrifice the interests of 1.3 billion Chinese to accomodate the wishes of 23 million Taiwanese. An anlaysis of this Americo-Japanese strategy would take many pages and surfice for me to say here that this is one concession that the Taiwanese will never get in our lifetime. Democratization and federalisation of China according to the design and timetable of the Americans and the Japanese? No way, Josey!

I am afraid the Taiwanese, in their shortsightedness, will very likely allow themselves to be used as pawns in the furtherance of the interests of the American and the Japanese vis a vis those of the Chinese in the PRC. I think I am correct to surmise that the authority in PRC put more weight on influencing the leaders of Taiwan rather than the masses. As I have said the voters are limitlessly manipulatables, and I believe tha Chinese authority shares my view of this kind of 'democracy' in Taiwan where the votoers are pawns mostly. The CIA had passed on to the political leaders in Taiwan the intelligence that the Chinese plans on eliminating the ruling class on the first sign of confrontation, prior to any military action. This is nothing new, the Americans had tried to do it to the leaderships of Lybia, Iraq, etc. The Chinese, knowing that it is difficult to eliminate the foreign 'button pushers' will just have to eliminate those 'buttons', namely, the Taiwan political leaders and manipulators.

Sun Bin said...


1. What we do not disageee is that CCP failed miserably at its PR effort (or United-front 统战) throughout the poast 20-25 years.
Let me put it this way, 1/3-1/2 of DPP's votes were a results of CCP's intimidation which pissed off the moderates in Taiwan.
Not US, nor Japan, it was CCP's stupidity which promoted TI sympathizers.

Signifant improvement since after 2005, but there is just not enough evidence fir me to belive that they learned, yet.

2. You have pointed out that they have relative success since 1989 in 'managing' domestic discontent. But Taiwan is somewhere they have much less control, esp freedom of information.
To illustrate my point: 95% of mainland I talked to believed HK people elected Tung Chee Hwa and that Tung is a nice guy, even in the end of 2003. The fact is Tung is an idiot and any county mayor in Gansu is more competent than Tung. That is what they can manipulate (in mainland) and what they cannot (in HK).

2. Yes, US/Japan has its agenda. It somehow succeede in certain extent in swaying Taiwan populace into that agenda. So what? there are obvioud strategy that mainland can take to neutralize this, even by playing with their rule. But ignorance prevailed (until this year) in CCP leadership, and it failed to take any of the correct paths.

3. It is easy to blame CCP's failure on Japan/US. This is no different from DPP's blaming TVBS for the corruption within DPP.

4. 'influence the leader', you are absolutely right about CCP's approach. but that is exactly where they failed. the "leaders" are incompetent. this works only if you have chosen the right leader. CCP failed miserable when it used this appraoch in HK. fortunately Ma ying-jeou is more competent than Tung. But still, they missed the point totally.

5. you are also right that voters are manipulatable. then why don't you try to manipulate them instead? it is a lot easier and a lot more effective.
Come back to the theme of my post. What I suggest is to play by their rule and you can win. It is a much easier way to win and it will ensure a long term win. Giving them a referendum (while Ma is in control and with some caveat) will sealed the voice for TI'ers, for good. It will also accomplish your objective of 'manipulating' voters to your side.

Sun Bin said...

a) multi-party politics. No, i do not have any assumption on that. All I said is you may not be able to control how the political situation in mainland evolve, and you have to be prepared for such case. The chance may be small, but that is something CCP or you cannot control to 100% certainty.

As for taiwan, that is the status quo today, nothing we can change, we just have to play by that rule.

A quick move to democracy/multi-party could be a diaster to China (or a bless). I really do not have a firm answer.

b) I did not say China has to move to democracy to achieve unification, though the possibility would be much higher if so. But as you said, the cost may be losing Tibet/etc, and you may not want to do that, for many practical and justifiable reasons.

I was suggesting an approach in which Taiwan will accept status quo and more people will be supportive and sympathetic to pro-unification while we all wait. It it works out, great. If it doesn't, the door to unification is still open and you have a lot of sympathizers across the strait and they will stand by you if there is conflict with the Japanese.

c) China building up its power base and be prepared for the worst case scenario, fine. it is part of the "stick". But you do not have to flash the stick to let your counterpart know you have one. Just do it, and do not brag about it. Maybe it is more effective. :)
e.g. Tell the Taiwanese "we are moving the missile away for the year 2008". You did not lose anything, you help Ma's election. and you can move them back to where it was whenever needed.

Anonymous said...

You have pushed the envelop on the 'do nothing' theory of unification. If you think back it has always been the Taiwanese who were aggressively making significant moves on undermining the status guo, from Jiang Jin Guo to Chen Shui Bian.

(I do not understand how you can draw a parallet between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Back to the question of realpolitiks I must say that the fate of Hong Kong is sealed the moment Margaret Thatcher relent as she must. The CCP saw a danger of a class of colonial remnant anglophones coming to power in Hong Kong working at cross purpose to the policy of the Central Government and they make sure that they install a puppet there in the person of Tung Chee Wah. Tung may have been a disaster as an administrator and he might have put the Central government in a bad light but the Central government had achieved the strategic goal as far as stopping a batch of political leaders who looked to London and Washington for approval from coming to power. The Central Government has stopped the 'democratisation' of Hong Kong dead in its tract. Whether that is good for Hong Kong/China or not is beyond the scope of this discussion.)

I must say you have been taken by those proposing this line of reasoning for the rise of DPP. It is disingenuous to lay the blame for the loss of power by the Kuomintang on the CCP. I know as a democrat you hate the conspiracy theory but the facts speaks for it. Washington wanted to see 'democracy' being established in Taiwan in double quick time as a pressure on the Mainland to democratise and as a moral rationale for Washington's meddling in Taiwan. Even if democratisation of PRC never happened, as part of the strategic goal Washington would be happy to see that Taiwan will have a 'strong case' internationally to resist 'reunification' and its political leaders a political tool to work the ground against PRC. This 'democracy' thing, added to fifty years of Kuomintang's anti-communist propaganda is quite formidable really.

The lost of power of Kuomintang is inevitable and Washington hasten this process to make sure that the world and the Mainland got to see how a 'democratic' change of power in Taiwan is achieved. There shall be no 'Tiananmen Massacre' only a 'Tiananmen' democratic revolution. They did everything they could to weaken the Kuomintang and setting up the DPP to take power.

It is unnecessay for me to run through the sequence of events to show how this conspiracy has come to fruition in the rise of the DPP. It is plainly silly to put the blame on the hardline adopted by the CCP for this course of event in Taiwan. The breakup of Kuomingtan is carefully planned and executed, the communal polarisation tactic of the DPP is perfectly chosen as part of the grand strategy of alienating the populace of Taiwan from the Mainland. The rest, as they say, is all water under the bridge. The ultimate goal is clear from the very begining, starting from Lee Deng Hui. What do you know? Kuomintang is a alien force and Taiwanese is not Chinese. Need I say more?

Each and every step of the way the CCP have been caught wrong-footed and reacted the only way that was open to them. Washington made sure that Beijing had no handle on Taiwan. The watershed arrived last year when Washington and DPP made a dive for the clean cut confrontation with Beijing by publicly pronouncing that the Constitutional revision will take place in 2006. They have underestimated the CCP and the the cards in Beijing's hand by which they could undermine Washington's interests in East Asia, Middle East ect. The upshot was a retreat by Washington and DPP and a victory by the Kuomintang in the Legislative Yuan election.

Here is another conspiracy theory if you don't mind. Now that the 2004 'checkmate' has failed to corner the CCP government Washington is now reverting to the 'democracy card' by working all out to put that pretty boy Ma Yin Jeou in power. The process to bring down the DPP is in full swing and by 2008 they would be out in the cold. The communal polarisation has worked its magic and it is now back to 'democracy' with a 'pretty face'. Ma would be Washington's pointman in Taiwan and he would work for the long term interests of Washington. Top on the list would be turning the Legislature around to agree to the massive purchase of arms and the integration of Taiwan's 'defence' with Washington's geostrategy in the Far East. Whatever 'gains' Beijing had achieved so far with Taiwan would be diluted in a grand Washington Asian chess game which will include Japan, South East Asia, Central Asia, North East Asia and South Asia.

You can take my word for it, Ma will win the 2008 election hands down. Just as they had done with the Kuomintang in the last twenty years Washington will see to it that the DPP come down very 'democratically'. The world and the Chinese in Hong Kong will see how wonderfully 'democracy' has pan out in Taiwan and what a force for good Washington has been and will be for the world. Long live 'Democracy' !

Sun Bin said...

1. HK vs Taiwan. They are not much different. If CCP continue its mistake on HK (use intimidation and support teh idiot Tung), HK people will eventually be turned into separatists.
HK is a testing field for how mainland deal with Taiwan, a lot of lessons to learn and a showcase for Taiwan.

yes, the fate was sealed, but there would be riot and there is a possibility that people would be forced to act against PRC. just don't take things for granted.

you are wrong. it was Tung who pushed the extreme left (Martin Lee) into popularity. As soon as Tung was replaced, the support for Martin Lee faded immediately.

2. Chiang King-Kuo did not push to undermine status quo. He had no choice but to left the loca people into politics. Lee TH was the one who started it.

3. No, i do not deny there could be conspiracy. I do not disagree with your assumption on Washington's intention and actions. I just disagree with you how effective a conspiracy could work.

4. I am sympathetic to democracy as a long term goal. I am also a pragmatist. I do not believe in shock therapy, and i think Deng XP did a great job. If you really want to categorize my thinking, maybe Lee-Kuan-Yew'ism is closer to my belief.

5. Yes, i think CCP's failed policy helped DPP significantly. But that is not the only reason, the corruption, incompetence and in-fighting of pan-blue also made DPP look good. to be honest, you should not discredit DPP is a lot cleaner than KMT/PFP, even counting the recent scandal.

6. Of course I think Ma should win, but he could do this only if CCP cooperate. If you fire a couple more missiles, the undecided will vote for DPP again. Remember DPP was an underdog in both 2000 and 2004.

7. I think both the mainland and US can try to influence Ma. It really depends on what you do. You have significantly under-estimated the value of having Taiwan on your side.
e.g. imagine if the mainland is successful in making a conferation with Taiwan, and have it outside of the system. Taiwan's navy can go out to get Diaoyu, Spratly, etc. and mainland just have to silently endorse. No one can bring up the 'china threat' topic.

Anonymous said...


On the one hand CCP may be able to dampen Hong Kongers' impulse for democracy but will never be able to suppress it.

It is not strange at all that Washington 'talked' Chiang Jinguo into opening the door for democracy and the British tried introducing it into HK only when they are leaving it for good (or is it?). I have already explain why 'democratisation' was aimed at furthering the interests of Washington and London.

What is Lee Kuan Yewism? It is a mini state closely tied to to the fortune or otherwise of Europe and America, without which it could barely survive. It is a successful totalitarian state. Some prefer the label 'Mafia-ism'. You have no idea how complete was the state's control of its people and how their dissidents were treated. They do not have slave camps because the whole place is a gulag. They do not execute their political opponents because they were sophisticately murdered in hospitals, in the streets, at home, etc.

You keep harping back at how simple gesture from CCP would affect election in Taiwan. This is the foundation of a widespread advocacy by interested parties in America and Japan for China to adopt a 'hands off' approach. For a while China took the advice and the result was an advance made by DPP to change the Constitution to achieve the much awaited de jure independence. Consider this, it was alright for America to have the Taiwan Relation Act and for America and Japan to include Taiwan in their bi-lateral defence pact but not alright for China to have the Anti-cissession Act. In fact China should not even make harsh comments on the situation in Taiwan. You should think deeper along this line.

Letting Taiwan take the initiative over Diaoyutai or sprately would amount to granting the status of an independent state to Taiwan. You are joking, are'nt you? To tell you the truth, in my opinion, CCP's protection of the lebal 'Republic of China' from the 'abandonment' of DPP is a sign that they do not know what to do next. They have no choice but to wait. In the meantime they would watch Washington, Tokyo and Taipei like a hawk and would protest at any subtle move to raise the status of Taiwan whichever direction it may come from. Yes, they would slamp down hard on Taiwanese hand when they try making any sneaky move into the UN, OPEC or any organisation that might confer any kind of recognition to an independent Taiwan, however indirectly or miniscule it may be. Of course you will hear howling from the 'hand off' advocates telling us how this would alienate the Taiwanese from the Mainland. Well, the logic followed by Beijing is this. When you eliminate all possibilities for a gradual peaceful, quiet slithering towards an independent Taiwan the only choices left is submit or war.

Sun Bin said...

1. i advocate 'engagement', not hands-off approach. you need to positively engage taiwan.

2. no, it is not ok for US/Japan to meddle. and ASL is a good 'stick' if written properly.

3. Lee Kuan Yew is the most brilliant politician in this century. he is above deng. do not belittle the little city state's achievement.
I quoted LKY to show you i believe pragmatism (and judgment by results) is above ideology such as democracy

4. lettng TW to take charge of diaoyu is AFTER they agree to be incorprated into the federation. -- i.e. they have everything Deng XP promised (army, democracy), but they will have to relent some of the diplomatic right, and join in a federate senate system.

Sun Bin said...


This may have some reference value in our discussion.

James @ CST said...

Dear Sun Bin,

This is one of the best thought-out pieces on “pinning Taiwan” I’ve read in a while. Some questions:

1. Do you see the CCP actually allowing Taiwan to hold a referendum soon after the 2008 election?
2. If MYJ ascends the presidency and the pan-Blues retain a majority in the legislature, do you see them allowing a referendum to happen?
3. Would a DPP-initiated referendum, with Hsieh as president, be more harmful to the cause of reunification as opposed to a KMT initiated one, even if one were to be held in 2010 regardless of which political party is in power?
4. Both Ma and Hsieh are proponents of opening the Three Links. If the PRC were to withdraw its missiles and sign an official cease fire with Taiwan (as Ma promises), would the carrot of Three Links be sufficient to draw Taiwanese more towards option (A) without any need for a referendum?

Noting that many in my age group (18-24) identify more with “Taiwan” than “ROC” and that 70% of Taiwanese favor joining the UN as Taiwan instead of ROC, I suspect that in the case of a referendum that even option “(C) status quo” might not be a forgone conclusion. For how long (in terms of years) do you think that status quo will remain the popular choice until independence wins over?

As you noted before, the status quo is not static. If the Taiwanese pick status quo, what would it mean? Would Taiwan still get the UN seat that it has been longing for, supported by the PRC? Would the PRC still continue to diplomatically block Taiwan from international organizations? And what would happen in the off chance that independence were picked?

As a KMT supporter from Taiwan, I would prefer MYJ to win the next presidential election and for the pan-Blues to maintain a majority in the legislature. Even though we are 10 months from the election, I’m not optimistic about a KMT landslide victory nor that a KMT victory will further better cross strait relations. But I can hope.