Bad Taiwan Takes: American Leftists Seeing Asia Only in More Familiar Terms

by Brian Hioe

Photo credit: Foxy1219/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

SEVERAL VIRAL TWEETS on Twitter in past months reflect how western leftists seem unable to perceive the world outside of western contexts except in terms more familiar to their own, as well as how they seem unable to reckon with the passage of history in Asian political contexts.

In the first incident, writer Nury Vittachi–who labeled the 2019 Hong Kong protests as having been fomented by the CIA and other nefarious forces backed by the US–posted a speech by US anti-war writer Scott Horton criticizing the US “arming” Taiwan.

Horton, who is known for his opposition to armed support for Ukraine, framed US support for Taiwan as analogous to Russia’s support for the breakaway Ukrainian provinces of Donbas and Luhansk. Horton’s suggestion, then, was that the US’s actions were parallel to Russia, which he framed as otherwise having been unfairly demonized by the US.

In the second tweet, streamer Hasan Piker framed Tibet as analogous to the American South in the US Civil War, regarding the existence of slavery in Tibet. Piker framed this as put to an end by China. It is not incorrect that feudal Tibet had slavery. Strangely enough, however, this was then retweeted by another Twitter account as though this referred to Taiwan, as though it was Taiwan that had slavery which was ended by the CCP taking political control of it.

For one, the PRC has never controlled Taiwan, though apparently Tibet and Taiwan are indistinguishable for western leftists. But in both incidents, one can see how lack of knowledge of Asian contexts leads to one making political judgments based on extrapolating from what one is more familiar with–in this case Russia or the American South during the Civil War. Always the attempt is made, however, to return the rest of the world outside to more familiar American terms.

With regards to Piker’s framing, one notes that colonial powers have historically justified themselves as wiping out native savagery and, in that sense, civilizing the uncivilized. Such is the case with China’s framing regarding Tibet and its crediting of itself with wiping out slavery there.

However, one also notes in both cases how only western powers are framed as having any agency. For Piker, this was with regard to the suggestion that the US was intervening in China’s affairs where it had no place, which was also the case with Horton’s claims. Yet Horton seems unaware entirely that China has had missiles pointed at Taiwan for decades and Taiwan’s militarization–a self-directed process that does not occur solely because of the US–has also taken place for decades.

Photo credit: Howard61313/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

At the end of the day, the lacuna in thought for such western leftists is precisely the US. The world is only understood in terms of the US being the prime evil, while any force that opposes the US is idealized. There is no attempt to understand a multipolar world in which there can be more than one empire.

This is, of course, a failure by such individuals to look beyond America. The rest of the world only exists in relation to the US and one’s moral criterion for all other places outside of the US is the relation to America.

At this point, this is of little surprise. In a similar timeframe, one has seen the idealization of the rightist, anti-immigrant pro-Russian party that came to power in Slovakian elections by Code Pink and other left groups, who claim that this party is in fact of the left and is being unfairly smeared by international media. This occurs only because of the party’s stance on Russia–and by extension, its relation with the US–with its other views overlooked and it idealized in the rosiest of terms, though the tweet was later deleted. So much for internationalism.