exercises in compound storytelling

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Remember Taiwan?

Seal of Taipei City, Taiwan, Republic of China.Image via WikipediaI haven't thought about Taiwan in a long time. I used to work for an organization that forbid me from going there, and my current employer doesn't have customers there, so it's unlikely I'll get there any time soon.

My recollection is that Taiwan used to matter to the Unites States. We supported them as a way of keeping indie cred in the United Nations, and to stick our finger in China's eye once in a while. But all of that changed when Nixon went to China, and we broke diplomatic ties in 1979 (Thanks, President Carter). You can still year Radio Taipei broadcast in English on shortwave, but they're mostly just trying to remind us (well, somebody) that they still exist and they're still worried; worried that all the bad things that totally failed to happen when Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997 will still happen to them someday.

In case you're wondering, we're still committed to a One-China Policy, a nuanced position that by turns finesses nation states and nationalities. China (PRC) of course interprets this to mean that we're committed to the notion that Taiwan is a sort of breakaway republic/autonomous region/not-yet-reclaimed overseas territory, and oppose Taiwanese independence (2003, 2008).

Since China became the world's industrial base, and Taiwan quietly became part of their supply chain, and probably vice versa, everyone has more or less assumed that any sort of military incursion is off the table; Thomas Friedman asserts this explicitly in The World Is Flat: countries whose economic interests are aligned rarely attack each other, and Friedman assesses PRC/ROC interdependence as being sufficient to keep Beijing from sending troops to "reclaim" Taiwan.

I hope for the sake of the people of Taiwan that continues to be true during the current economic downturn; if the contraction is severe then not only could the economic ties weaken, but the balance inside China between the economic progressives and the political conservatives could shift to the detriment of Taiwan. Goodwill pandas and domestic flights notwithstanding.

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