The Fog Of History: Taiwan On

time china-1time china-2

It turns out that the phone call from the President of Taiwan to the Insult Comedian was a deliberate-as opposed to accidental-fuck up. The Trumpers want to be disruptive and shake things up. That’s how they’d characterize it. I’d call it dick waving or undiplomatic diplomacy. One thing we’ve learned from this episode is that the Trumpers plan to export their penchant for impulsive, poorly thought-out gambits to the world scene. Heaven help us; make that son of heaven since we’re talking about China policy.

I’ve seen some on the right argue that United States China policy makes no sense. The whole “One China and Taiwan is part of it” has been policy since the Nixon to China days. It’s a way to finesse Taiwanese independence without unduly pissing off the Kleptocrats who run China in Communist drag. I agree that it makes no logical sense.

Here’s the deal: American China policy has never made sense. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, we posed as benevolent benefactors trying to “Christianize” China whilst exploiting the hell out of it. Then we mindlessly supported Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang government until they fled the mainland to Taiwan in 1949. After the advent of “Red China,” we allowed the China Lobby personified by Time-Life’s Henry Luce, to control Chinese policy from 1949-1972. In that era, we pretended that Mao’s China did not exist and that tiny Taiwan was the true Republic of China. Repeat after me: American China policy has never made sense.

One reason that Tricky Dick was able to do the Nixon to China thing was that Henry Luce died in 1967. Luce’s parents were Presbyterian missionaries. He was born in China and lived there until he was 15 years old. Luce was the most important GOP press baron for decades. He was convinced that Chiang was the Chinese George Washington and that Mao was Satan. Neither was true but Luce dominated US China Policy for many years. He was also the dominant force in the Dewey-Eisenhower-Nixon internationalist Eastern establishment wing of the GOP. A wing that is well and truly extinct. Poppy Bush was its last gasp.

The current “One China” policy is a way to keep the peace between the PRC and Taiwan. In the late 1950’s hostilities nearly broke out. It was even a hot issue during the 1960 Presidential campaign: Nixon and Kennedy spent time discussing Quemoy and Matsu, which were flashpoints in the 1958 crisis.  I bet most of you have never heard of Quemoy and Matsu. Why? Because of the “One China” policy. It makes no sense but it’s kept the peace. That’s what really matters.

There’s a certain irony that a man who rarely makes sense about anything has allowed ambitious staffers to shake things up in an area of the world that’s relatively stable right now. The idiomatic expression “bull in a china shop” applies here;  both literally and figuratively.

  1. an awkward or clumsy person.
  2. an inconsiderate or tactless person.
  3. a troublemaker; dangerous person.

That’s Donald Trump in a wingnut shell. Stirring things up between China and Taiwan can only cause trouble. It will not lead to an American China policy that makes sense. It never has and likely never will. I’ll take polite fictions or diplomatic niceties over macho posturing any day.

Since I opened the post with Time Magazine covers featuring Chiang Kai-shek, I’ll let the post-Luce Time have the last word, uh, cover:



3 thoughts on “The Fog Of History: Taiwan On

  1. I recently read David Halberstam’s book about the Korean conflict, “The Coldest Winter.” In it, he goes into quite a bit of detail about Christian missionaries in China, Old China Hands, and the affinity of conservatives like Henry Luce for the good old days, even after those days (not particularly old at that time, and not particularly good) had passed into history.

    Can it be very long before we hear someone out of the Trump administration pining for the days when we could have/should have “unleashed Chiang”?

  2. This – foreign policy – has worried me the most with PE and cabinet. It’s a delicate balancing act for a good portion of the world and us. We, the only so called ‘super power’, put ourselves in a precarious position. Russia is quietly building it’s military as it plans to take it’s satellites back and China flexes it’s might in southeast Asia. If the administration deals it’s death blow to the country economically, we become vulnerable, I don’t care how big our military is.
    The ridiculous array of people that have been paraded by for the Sec of State job is one indication that he doesn’t take the importance of that job seriously.
    I don’t care where he fake graduated from 50 years ago, he isn’t brilliant, presidential, or even mentally stable.

  3. Speaking of impulsive, poorly thought out policies, how’s Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen workin’ out for ya? The official chinese reaction seems to be to wait until Trump is actually a thing before “officially” getting upset about it. Right now there’s far too much speculation being treated as settled fact. The omens are not auspicious, but let’s keep our eyes on things that have actually happened. What are you going to do about it, anyway? Oh, I’m grateful you brought up Henry Luce. I thought I was the last person who remembered what a pernicious influence he was. The youngs don’t know.

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