24 March 2014

Trans-Pacific portents

Taking a break from the travails of Kænugård and Taurica for awhile…

It seems there is something of a misnomer about the CSSTA, though an understandable one. If Taiwan is a part of China, then it is not and cannot be considered a ‘free-trade agreement’ any more than is the interstate commerce clause in the American constitution. To frame the issue thus is therefore precisely to beg the central question of the debate over what Taiwan’s status should be. Hence, why both the US government and the Chinese government support the CSSTA, though for different reasons. And also, why US support of the law is seemingly contingent upon its being thought of as a ‘free-trade agreement’.

I can sympathise completely with the economic concerns of the protesters; naturally, they don’t want to see depressed wages and a ballooning wealth gap like what the mainland has experienced. And I can agree that if these economic integration measures are taken too fast, out of step with political integration measures, the only people who will be hurt by them in the meanwhile are ordinary Taiwanese. But what the protesters seem to miss is that reunion with the mainland will happen one way or the other; I’m convinced of that. The appropriate question to be asked is: how shall it come about? Shall it come about peaceably, on equitable terms? Or shall it come through a course of protracted geopolitical strife and all the clandestine manoeuvring, violence, hardships and resentment that will entail? And what will Taiwan’s government and economy do then?

Taiwanese independence is, to me, as much a non-starter of a cause as is Southern secession. American liberals and progressives in particular ought to summon up at least a fraction of the scepticism of the former as they apply on a regular basis to the latter, and for some of the same reasons. And even though the Democratic Progressive Party makes all the noises that tend to appeal to the average American progressive, they have been known to take a disturbingly hard-right, historical-revisionist turn when it comes to Japan’s historical role in Asia. (This is just the most egregious example, though. The DPP has shown some disturbing tendencies to cosy up to the whole gallery of Asia’s hard right, including Tibetan and Uyghur ethno-nationalists.)

But there is something quite alluring about the energy these protesters can work up, even if it is wholly misdirected. If only we could summon that kind of energy and careful scrutiny of our own elites when they try to railroad through a real free-trade agreement (along with every ugly consequence to the environment and the job market that entails) written by corporate proxies without any kind of legislative scrutiny, but which might have a huge and negative impact on the quality of American health care, labour rights, environment and civil liberties – let alone the similar impacts such a trade deal will have on all of the other nations looking to join this monstrosity! And the real kicker is: for all their bluster against the current trade deal with China, Taiwan’s pan-Greens support the TPP, and have been making enquiries into Taiwan joining it! (I’m not a great fan of the KMT’s role in this either, by the way. Ma Ying-jeou also supports the blasted thing, but at least hasn’t shown himself eager enough for it to have made any concrete inquiries into joining.)

At this point, to me, the Sunflower protesters come off as dupes – though to be honest, faced with a bad option and a worse one, opting for the worse is in some ways understandable. Even so, the two-faced hypocrisy of the Taiwanese pan-Greens is breathtaking. On the one hand, they are willing to play up the potential harms of the CSSTA to domestic labour-rights and local businesses. But on the other hand, they salivate over the possibility of joining the TPP, and thus selling out those exact same labour and local business interests to an unaccountable cabal of multinational corporate and financial concerns based, one may safely assume, not in Taiwan or anywhere else in China, but in the offshore tax-havens of American and Japanese tycoons.

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