by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: DTRocks/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0
New Bloom/No Man is an Island presents “Bad Taiwan Takes,” a new column collecting and responding to bad takes on Taiwan.
COMMENTS BY LEFT-WING Greek economist and politician Yanis Varoufakis defending remarks by French president Emmanuel Macron prove a noteworthy demonstration of lack of knowledge of Taiwan. In this context, Macron was advocating the maintenance of the status quo over Taiwan and a peaceful resolution to the situation. Varoufakis seems to misunderstand something fundamental, however.
Firstly, what is the status quo? Obviously, if the status quo were to be defined as the situation today, it would be for Taiwan to maintain its current democratic freedoms that result from its de facto independence from China.
Clearly, Varoufakis is aware of the fact that Taiwan is not currently controlled by the CCP. This is, of course, the status quo. But in his definition of status quo, Varousfakis still insists that “historically” Taiwan has been part of China, therefore Taiwan is still part of China–something that quite obviously contradicts the fact that Taiwan is not controlled by the CCP at present. Though Varousfakis claims that “Taiwan is not Ukraine,” on the contrary, Ukraine is also de facto independent of Russia in spite of Russia’s claims that Ukraine has no independent national culture, sovereignty, or identity outside of what was given to it by Russia in the past and its present invasion. So does Varoufakis not understand what the word “status quo” means?
Dispiriting demonstration of a lack of knowledge and insight into Taiwan’s history, politics and international status from @yanisvaroufakis. pic.twitter.com/v86OlGjByP
— @firstname.lastname@example.org (@mhar4) April 20, 2023
Varoufakis goes on to compare this to the Greek Civil War. Varoufakis suggests that the situation in Taiwan is as though the Communists won and the Greek Right had retreated to Crete, setting up a right-wing state. Varoufakis then suggests that this would only be an “ideological split”, but that both would remain part of the “Greek realm”, as both share the same languages and same ethnicities. Varoufakis claims that 50% of the Taiwanese population voted for the KMT, which maintains the view that “Taiwan is the real China”, and which further illustrates that Taiwan is part of China because the KMT believes that Taiwan is part of China.
First, one often wonders why self-proclaimed members of the left wing are so preoccupied with citing the KMT to justify Chinese territorial claims over Taiwan. The KMT, after all, ruled over Taiwan by way of a one-party dictatorship and it is often viewed as a settler colonial regime for those that previously were present in Taiwan–whether Indigenous or descended from previous waves of Han migration.
But contemporary Taiwan is not ruled by the KMT, with Taiwan having democratized in the decades since KMT rule. The DPP, the center-left party which emerged from Taiwan’s democracy movement in resistance to the KMT, currently holds power. It is not 50% of the population that votes for the KMT in elections, as successive defeats for the party in Taiwanese presidential elections go to show.
Likewise, in what world does having the “same language” or “same ethnicity” entail being part of the same polity? Varoufakis should simply examine his own native Europe to observe that this is not the case. Such a comment also evinces a view of nation-states as though they all comprise a single ethnicity with a single language.
Does Varoufakis support the rearrangement of the world as a whole into unitary monolingual ethno-states, then? With a single nation for each “ethnicity”, seen as all having a single language? If this is his worldview, one also notes that Varousfakis is a mere step away from justifying imperial expansion on the claim that the residents of a country are not sufficiently culturally distinct to warrant their own polity. This certainly is what Russia claims about Ukraine and is also what he advocates regarding Taiwan here.
18th-century Chinese map of Taiwan. Photo credit: Public Domain
To this extent, whatever Varoufakis’ comparison to an ill-defined “Greek realm” is meant to entail, the PRC has never controlled Taiwan. Taiwan only became a province of China under the Qing, the last imperial dynasty, for a short seven years before it was ceded to Japan. Neither the Qing nor the preceding Ming controlled all of Taiwan geographically. This renders the claim that Taiwan was always part of China deeply suspect, never mind that it wholly disregards the Indigenous sovereignty of those who have resided in Taiwan for millennia before Han settler colonialism.
Furthermore, is it logical that modern nation-states simply inherit the borders of the premodern empires that they overthrew or succeeded? Would Varoufakis also advocate restoring premodern Greek city-states or empires? If so, why does he advocate this regarding Taiwan?
As with many Westerners–on the left or otherwise–with Varoufakis a great deal of murky thinking prevails about Taiwan. Because Taiwan is not part of the West, logical absurdities are allowed to pass muster, as justified by ill-thought-out comparisons that he would certainly scrutinize closer to home. But the insularity of the Western left never fails to surprise.