Freedom is the Road to Resolving Taiwan, Tibet, Sinkiang
First published in The Statesman, December 17 2007, Editorial Page special article
War between China and Taiwan would lead to nothing but disaster all around. Everyone recognises this yet China’s military and political establishment threaten it sporadically when provoked by Taiwan’s leaders, and both sides continue to arm heavily and plan for such a contingency. China’s military is mostly congregated in its North West, North, East and South East with between one third and one half of its total forces facing Taiwan alone in an aggressive posture for an amphibious invasion. Taiwan faces 900 Chinese missiles targeted at it. China’s South West has been left relatively unguarded as no threat has been perceived from India or the Tibetans in fifty years.
The 23 million people of Taiwan have made themselves relatively secure across the 100 miles of sea that separate them from the Mainland. A sea-borne Communist invasion following a heavy missile barrage and blockade would undoubtedly leave the Taiwanese badly bruised and bleeding. But there is enough experience from World War II to suggest that trying to invade and occupy islands turns out as badly for the invader as it does for the defender. The Taiwanese military are confident they may be able to defeat an attempted invasion after two or three weeks of fierce fighting even if their promised American ally fails to materialize by their side.
In any case, for China to succeed in forcibly establishing its rule someday over Taiwan would be a pyrrhic victory, since it would lead to tremendous political and economic costs upon all Chinese people. Gaining control after a terrible war would rule out the Hong Kong “One Country Two Systems” model, with nominal Chinese sovereignty being established over an otherwise unchanged Taiwan. Instead the Chinese would have to institute a highly repressive political system, which will incorrigibly damage Taiwan’s flourishing technologically advanced economy, as well as lead to drastic irreparable political and economic retrogression on the Mainland.
Political repression will lead backwards again to the long-gone era of Mao-Zhou communism, displacing the glacial positive trends seen since Deng Xiaoping. Foreign confidence and investment would vanish, boycotts may cause China to lose lucrative and hard-earned new markets in the USA, Europe and Asia, as the world recoiled from the bloodshed to wait to see what the new repression led up to. The Chinese Communist Party (CPC), tiny as it is in size compared to China’s vast population, would become much weakened and lose whatever little confidence it has among an increasingly modern- minded and aware Chinese public. Occupying Taiwan in the 21st Century will not be a tea-party.
The alternative to war is “peaceful reunification” which is the official policy of the CPC, and which also has been a major plank of United States foreign policy since the time of George C Marshall. Unlike Britain, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, even Sweden and Belgium, the Americans were not among the 19th Century powers that exploited China, and that is something that has left some residual goodwill, implicit as it may be, since all Chinese despise the fact their country was humiliated by greedy foreign powers in the past. The USA has subscribed to “One China” and peaceful unification even after its cynical near-betrayal of Taiwan since 1972, having normal diplomatic and trade relations with Communist China while agreeing to help Taiwan if the Communists attempted a military invasion.
Communist China’s strategy towards peaceful reunification with Taiwan has been unlimited allurement: offer Taiwanese businessmen a free hand in investing in China, offer Taiwan students places in Mainland universities, offer Taiwanese airlines flying rights etc. The Taiwanese see their giant ominous neighbour offering such allurements on one hand and threatening a missile attack and invasion and occupation on the other, as if they are animals who will respond to the carrots and sticks of behaviourism.
Taiwan in recent decades has seen its own history and future much more clearly than it sees the Communists being able to see theirs. A marriage can hardly occur or be stable when the self-knowledge of one party greatly exceeds the self-knowledge of the other. It is thus no wonder that the Taiwan-China talks get stalled or retrogress, as the root problem has failed to be addressed which has to do with the political legitimacy of a combined regime.
Political China consisted historically of the agricultural plains and river-valleys of “China Proper” and the arid sparsely populated mountainous periphery of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Sinkiang. The native people of Formosa (Taiwan) had their own unique character distinct from the Mainland until 1949 when Chiang Kaishek’s Kuomintang moved there after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Today the Hong Kong Model of “One Country Two Systems” can be generalized to “One Commonwealth/ Confederation of China, Six Systems”, whose constituents would be Mainland China, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Chinese Hong Kong, Tibet, Sinkiang and Inner Mongolia. A difference between a commonwealth and a confederation is that a commonwealth permits different heads of state whereas a confederation would have one head of state, who, in view of Mainland China’s predominance, could be agreed upon to be from there permanently.
Taiwan is the key to the peaceful creation of such a Chinese commonwealth or confederation, and Taiwan may certainly agree to “reunification” on such a pattern on one key condition ~ the abolition of totalitarian Communist one-party rule on the Mainland.
The CPC’s parent party was the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which became the Bolshevik Party which became the All-Union Communist Party in 1925. This still exists today but to its great credit it agreed sixteen years ago, more or less voluntarily, to abandon totalitarian power and bring in constitutional democracy in the former USSR. East European Communist Parties did the same, mostly transforming themselves back to becoming Social Democrat or Labour Parties ~ so much so that Germany’s present elected head of government is a former East German.
Hearts and minds
Mainland China must follow a similar path if it wishes to win the hearts and minds and political loyalties of all Chinese people and form a genuine confederation ~ which means the CPC must lead the way towards its own peaceful dissolution and transformation.
Historically, China’s people followed an admixture of three non-theistic religious cultures, namely, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, individually choosing whichever aspects of each that they wished to see in their daily lives. Lamaist Buddhism governed Tibet and Mongolia and deeply affected parts of Mainland China too. China’s theists include the Uighurs of Sinkiang who were and remain devout Muslims, as well as the many Catholics and other Christians since the first Jesuits arrived five hundred years ago. Sun Yatsen himself was a Christian. Marx, Engels, Stalin, Mao and even Deng have never really been able to substitute as a satisfactory new Chinese pantheon.
A free multi-party democracy in Mainland China, flying the Republican or some combined flag and tracing its origin to the 1911 Revolution, even one in which Communists won legitimate political power through free elections (as has been seen in India’s States), would earn the genuine respect of the world, and be able to confidently lead a new Chinese Confederation. The Chinese people who have been often forced against their will to resettle in Tibet and Sinkiang under the present totalitarian regime would be free to move or stay just as there are many Russians in Ukraine or Kazakhstan today. And of course the Dalai Lama would be able to return home in peace after half a century in exile. Freedom is the road to the peaceful resolution of China’s problems. Let freedom ring.
First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, 6 April 2006
Ayatollah Khomeini was the Ho Chi Minh of Iran. Ho was both a communist and a Vietnamese nationalist, but America’s Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon failed to see the latter. Khomeini was both a devout Shia Muslim and an Iranian nationalist yet America’s Presidents from Carter to W. Bush refused to see his Revolution being as much about Iranian nationalism as about creating an Islamic Republic. As a general rule, Western countries allow for nationalism among other Western countries but not among non-Western countries. Immanuel Kant’s dictum of treating everyone as an end in himself/herself and not as a means towards one’s own ends, is applied in intra-Western international relations but often not when the West deals with others. But Indians did not have to be communists to sympathise with Vietnam’s struggle against first France and then America, and Indians do not have to be Shia Muslims to sympathise with Iran’s struggle against an impending Anglo-American aggression. The opaque Manmohan- Montek deal-making with America on behalf of India’s people may need to be set aside in such a context — while it might benefit several dozen businesses on both sides and several hundred bureaucrats may become even fatter with bribes, it may have next to nothing to do with any dimension of India’s national interests.
US pledge 1981, policy 2006
On January 19 1981, the Government of the United States signed what came to be called the Algiers Accord, the first point of which stated: “Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs: The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” This was part of a comprehensive truce between Khomeini’s Iran and the USA in regard to the war-like conditions then prevailing between them. That pledge now seems about to be broken. British newspapers reported on April 2 2006 that the Blair Government is holding “secret talks” with its own Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Defence Intelligence and others to discuss “an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb… if Tehran’s leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.” This is despite the British foreign minister saying last month “that a military attack against Iran was ‘inconceivable’”. America’s “National Security Strategy” dated March 16 2006 states the policy clearly: “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. For almost 20 years, the Iranian regime hid many of its key nuclear efforts from the international community. Yet the regime continues to claim that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime’s true intentions are clearly revealed by the regime’s refusal to negotiate in good faith; its refusal to come into compliance with its international obligations by providing the IAEA access to nuclear sites and resolving troubling questions; and the aggressive statements of its President calling for Israel to ‘be wiped off the face of the earth’. The United States has joined with our EU partners and Russia to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations and provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided. As important as are these nuclear issues, the United States has broader concerns regarding Iran. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy. In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct. The problems lie with the illicit behavior and dangerous ambition of the Iranian regime, not the legitimate aspirations and interests of the Iranian people. Our strategy is to block the threats posed by the regime while expanding our engagement and outreach to the people the regime is oppressing.“
In one scenario, America will make a surprise cruise-missile attack on Iranian buildings “suspected” of producing biological weapons. If the Iranians respond in any way other than total submission, it will be sufficient to launch a major bombing of Iran’s military facilities using B-2 bombers based in Diego Garcia, England and other American bases, possibly using nuclear “earth penetrating” weapons to attack underground facilities. Of course it is not impossible the British and Americans are merely setting up a bluff to scare the Iranians into complying without a fight, but the existence of aggressive war plans and preparations cannot be doubted.
Now it is possible the Americans will say they are not bound by the pledge made in the Algiers Accord in January 1981 to not intervene in Iran’s affairs. In breach of all diplomatic law, 66 Americans had been taken captive by Iranians seizing the American Embassy on November 4 1979. Six others escaped with the help of the Canadian and Swedish embassies. Of the 66, 13 women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. The remaining 52 including two women and one black American were released on January 20 1981 by the terms of the Algiers Accord just before Ronald Reagan took over as President of the United States. Eight American military personnel were killed on April 25 1980 in a failed attempt to rescue them. The official designations of the 52 (who had been held captive for 444 days) included 10 military attachés; 6 “communications and electronics specialists”; 8 political and administrative officers, and 12 diplomatic/consular staff. In addition there were 12 guards and 4 others. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran was a den of spies as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and to have ended diplomatic relations in accordance with international law. What explained Iranians’ anger for them to have violated international law so brazenly? That was the age before terrorism, and nor was Iran a player in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.
Iran’s anger stemmed from having felt being used by Britain, America and Soviet Russia for half a century before the 1979 Khomeini Revolution – from having been merely means towards their ends in violation of the Kantian dictum. It was almost as if Britain and America had said to Iran and the entire Middle East, “We invented the internal combustion engine and the automobile which uses it, and we also discovered the petroleum that runs it; the mere fact you happen to sit on this petroleum does not make you own it; we own it too and we will take it by force whenever necessary.” During the Cold War, the USSR followed suit, and now after the Cold War has ended, the new Russia is a Western ally in the same kind of attempted domination over non-Western countries like Iran (or Pakistan and India, who get sold a lot of useless weapons to fight each other with).
Mossadeq the democrat
Specifically, if the January 1981 Algiers Accord was signed by the USA under duress, the Iranians could say that Iran had been cheated into signing the 25 year agreement of September 1954 with an international oil consortium led by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Iran would receive 50% profit on all Iranian oil exported, after paying the AIOC ₤25 million in compensation for having nationalised it in 1951 under the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadeq which had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain. Mossadeq was overthrown by an Anglo-American coup détat in August 1953, and replaced by the compliant General Fazlollah Zahedi and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Arthur Millspaugh, an American invited by the Iranians to help their public finances, once wrote: “Persia cannot be left to herself, even if the Russians were to keep their hands off politically. …Persia has never yet proved its capacity for independent self-government.” Millspaugh’s 1925 book titled America’s Task in Persia seems to have remained the handbook of Western policy towards Iran. Khomeini’s Revolution was its antithesis.
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