The world’s struggling democracies and democratic activists should not be terribly sanguine about the prospects of a John Kerry presidency.
Not if Kerry is serious–and the man aptly described as resembling a dead Abraham Lincoln is nothing if not serious–in his thinking about Taiwan.
In a January debate among the Democratic presidential hopefuls, Kerry said that Taiwan should adhere to a “ne-country, two systems” approach in its relations with the People’s Republic of China.
Now this long-time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee surely knows that “ne-country, two systems” is one of those clumsy shorthand linguistic formulations popular with the Chinese Communist Party, developed in this case during negotiations with the British during the process of the handover of their colony of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. The slogan was described by China at the time to mean that Hong Kong would become a part of China, but would be allowed to keep its traditional freedoms of speech, press, religion, etc., and control over its own economy and courts.
There were promises that after 2007, the public would for the first time even get to elect their own governor, and that later, after 2011, they could elect their legislature, a majority of which under the British were appointed by business interests or the colonial authority. The important point in all this, however, was that China had sovereignty over Hong Kong. Hong Kong law would be subordinate to Chinese law, and Hong Kong government actions would be subject to Chinese veto. In fact, since the 1997 handover China has put considerable pressure on those freedoms it permitted, is now backing off of its promise to permit election of the governor, is saying election of the full legislative counsel may be put off for three decades, and is even accusing democratic activists of being “unpatriotic.”
Taiwan, as would-be president Kerry surely knows, is an entirely different situation. It is in no way subordinated or subject to Chinese rule or law. The island has been completely independent of and separate from China since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s victorious People’s Liberation Army drove the corrupt Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek to retreat there, where he established a ruthless dictatorship over the local Taiwanese population and claimed his government was the legitimate heir to the Republican China founded in 1911 with the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. Over the years, while the People’s Republic remained a stifling Communist one-party dictatorship, Taiwan has evolved into a rough-and-tumble democracy. The majority Taiwanese through the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, currently control the presidency, but also play a major role in the old Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party of Chiang Kai-shek, which advocates a more conservative and conciliatory approach towards China.
The reality is that virtually no one in Taiwan, regardless of party, wants anything to do with the massively discredited “one-country, two systems” charade which China foisted on the people of Hong Kong. While there is bitter debate over whether to boldly confront China by eventually declaring full independence, or to maintain the long-standing ambiguous stance of pretending that there is only one China but that eventually the Communists will fall and Taiwan will rejoin a reborn pan-China “Republic,” Kerry’s notion that the Taiwanese people must or ought to accept Chinese sovereignty on the Hong Kong “one country, two-systems” model is either ludicrous or a treacherous betrayal of a people.
Some in the Kerry camp have tried to suggest that the candidate simply misspoke, and meant to say he supported the “one China” policy established during the Nixon administration, when the U.S. stopped recognizing Taiwan as being the real China, and acknowledged Beijing as the government of China. In that formulation, the de facto independence of Taiwan is acknowledged by the U.S., which has embassy officers there (in all but name), sells it defensive weaponry, and, on occasion, even provides it with military back-up when China threatens (as it has been doing lately in the run-up to the presidential election in Taiwan later this month). The problem is, Kerry is not particularly given to blurting out gaffes, and besides, his background on the Foreign Relations Committee has surely made him quite familiar with the nuances of the China/Taiwan relationship. He can’t claim ignorance.
Besides, Kerry has something of a history of selling out the Taiwanese.
As early as April 25, 2001, before he was a candidate for president, Kerry, in a speech on the Senate floor, actually berated Pres. Bush for asserting that U.S. policy was to defend Taiwan against attack by China. While Bush’s statement was indeed a more direct promise of support than any president had made in recent years, Kerry’s rebuke was a more glaring backing away from support of Taiwan than any president or major policy maker in memory.
It’s worrisome too that Kerry was another recipient of funds from Johnny Chung, a Taiwanese-American businessman and his associate, Liu Chaoying, a Hong Kong businessman, whose political activities became a scandal during the 1996 Clinton campaign. It turned out that Liu, whom Kerry helped in his effort to get a Chinese-based company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, was actually an officer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which was also an owner of the company in question.
While it’s a stretch to imagine that Kerry is or was acting in the interests of the PLA (particularly given that its ownership of business interests, while wide-ranging, is also carefully concealed through front companies), his willingness to accept money from such China-linked businesses, whether foreign or American, suggests where the real problem lies.
China these days is a multinational corporate wet dream–easy money to be made and lots of it–and politicians on both sides of the aisle in America are being buttered up with legal campaign funds designed to induce them to adopt foreign policies that favor China business, and that might make China’s rulers favorably disposed towards the U.S. One way to keep Beijing happy: put the screws to Taiwan.
If this is the kind of pro-corporate foreign policy we can expect from a Kerry presidency, the future looks grim not just for the democratic citizenry of Taiwan, but for struggling democracy advocates in other parts of the world (Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Nigeria and of course Iraq come immediately to mind) where the amount of money to be made likely trumps other more progressive concerns.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is now in Taiwan on a Fulbright scholarship.
A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org