Monday, March 19, 2007


I was going to write a post about Pan's Labyrinth, but I'll save that for next week after I've seen 300. Instead, I've lately come across a couple pieces/encounters about Taiwanese independence and what it means for China and the U.S. And mostly, I've been pissed with what I've read.

A number of my friends are pretty pro-China, or at least pro-the Chinese position on the issue, which disturbs me a bit because they work for various organs of the State Department. The standard refrain I get from them (and many more within the policy community, though probably not the majority) is that the DPP and other "nationalist" groups on Taiwan threaten stability in the region, by which they mean closer ties between China and the U.S.

This seems backwards to me, and it arises mostly because people within that segment of the policy community are so resigned to the fact of Chinese military aggression that they somehow see the political maneuvers of Taiwan's leaders to be threatening. The only reason a move towards independence by President Chen is threatening is because China makes it so, by pointing missiles at Taiwan which threaten quite frankly the highest value concentration of computer and image hardware innovation in the region, if not the world. And because the U.S. has a legal obligation to come to Taiwan's rescue if it is attacked. But the fundamental issue here is not that people in Taiwan want the chance to make their voices heard (that's not really threatening to anyone), but that China hasn't renounced the use of force. People in that part of the policy community take Chinese belligerence as a given, as the status quo that needs to be accommodated, rather than something that can be negotiated.

And to that extent, they typically fail to recognize how Chinese belligerence is part and parcel of its strategy. It's a curious dynamic: the U.S. essentially rewards China for its threats. Consider, whenever China sees a Taiwanese move that could threaten its hope for long-term reunification (changing the country name on passports to Taiwan, revised history books, etc.), it talks about launching missiles. The U.S. reacts not by denouncing the threats, but by admonishing the Taiwanese for their actions. China, in a limited sense, gets an international veto over Taiwanese policy, no matter the issue. When Taiwan protests Chinese actions on the same issue (like all the preconditions Beijing attaches to final status negotiations), the U.S. doesn't say anything. It's the willingness to use force that is the decisive factor here, and essentially, anything that pisses off China, no matter how idiotic or insignificant a slight, is considered to be the fault of the Taiwanese for not recognizing the "realities" of the situation.

Now, I fully understand that a move towards Taiwanese independence, given China's stated response, is a bad idea. What I don't accept, however, is blame being placed on Taiwan for the situation across the Strait, which often happens when I talk with these individuals. The Taiwanese public has full moral and legal authority (under both domestic and international law) to declare themselves independent. That has to be accepted as a baseline, I think, for any meaningful discussion of this issue. It's when people forget that, when they start blaming Taiwan for China's response, that I have big issues. It's one thing not to want a war between the U.S. and China. It's another to blame Taiwan for China firing missiles at the U.S.


HoBs said...

"The Taiwanese public has full moral and legal authority (under both domestic and international law) to declare themselves independent. That has to be accepted as a baseline, I think, for any meaningful discussion of this issue."


The question of when parts of a country can secede was always a funny one for me, and I never had a clear answer as to what should be allowed. The US demonstrated in 1861, very clearly that attempts by subparts to declare independnece would be responded to with the use of force. Why should China renounce the use of force?

Not that I am picking a side--my family is mostly KMT--I am just curious what the argument is.

Jonny America said...

I hope this reply doesn't come back to bite me in the future... but, I just have to say that I unequivocally support Taiwanese independence. In fact, I think the issue is so morally clear and so black and white that I am completely floored by any non-mainlander who argues against "Tai Du."

Simply put, Taiwan has enjoyed real independence from China for almost 60 years, and the Taiwanese people have every right to decide their own future. Come on. Any declaration of independance will not be real secession, but a formal acknowledgement of the situation that currently exists. If Taiwan becomes independent, what will it take away from China? What real tangible harm can be done to the mainland?

What possible reasons could those state department phonies have for not siding with Taiwan? I can only think of moral cowardace in the face of an intractable situation. And yes, it is completely intractable. China is going to swallow Taiwan, the Taiwanese people will suffer, the U.S. is morally obligated to help, but we cannot. China is to big, and armed conflict would be way to costly. I figure the only reason our political frauds lash out at Taiwan is because they feel week and ashamed at caving into to appeasement, and they punish Taiwan for their feelings of weakness. If you can somehow imagine Taiwan, not as the victim, but as the aggressor, than it is easy to ignore or explain away the outcome that is sure to come.

Kofi Anon made a big push for the East Timor independance movement. We get nothing but silence on the Taiwan question. Frankly, everyone is to scared of China to tell the truth, and rightly so.

I wouldn't want to be sucked into some corrupt authoritarian state. Why would you expect anyone else to?

hcduvall said...

Interest (self, national, and otherwise) is an infinitely scalable thing. I think it's obvious that disregarding another party's interest is done more unconsciously than not. Which, theoretically, shouldn't have a bearing on the actual decision, other than it does.

The question of China or anyone else accepting the principle of self-determination is answered when you pick your pov. A non-Chinese's entities desire for China or anyone not to use force should be pretty obvious, international concordance, in the end, being a big trust game.

I think there are quite a few better examples than the American civil war if you want to debate this, the South hardly being representative and all.

Chengora said...

For legal and moral authority, two primary sources. Domestically, the referendum is widely recognized to be a legitimate means to settle this kind of question: national, pretty binary, requiring various thresholds, etc. to be legitimate. Internationally, the UN Charter provides the legal framework for self-determination, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention, which holds that sovereignty inheres to the people living on a particular territory.

As for the American South, remember, they "began" the war by attacking Fort Sumter. In other situations, like East Timor say, or Kosovo, the situation was rather different. Now, this is all about moral and legal authority, not power. That's a different issue, and the main reason I'm cautious about independence.

But, I really liked your idea, Jonny, of blaming the other, and perhaps it's something I should bring up with my friends. Or not. :-)

HoBs said...

hm, not convinced. what about basque independence, corisca, quebec, scotland, wales, catalan, kurdistan, chechnya, california (or at least berkeley), northern ireland, foxwoods, sealand, palestine, chinatown, the banlieu of paris, little kabul, libertarians in new hampshire, petoria.

Plus if 51% say yes, what about the 49% that say no? What if 49% say yes, but 51% say no? Not sure if referendum is the legitimate way to settle this.

What if I hold a referendum in my living room that gets 100% of the vote to secede from the US. What if I get 51% of my apartment complex to secede?

These debates pop up all over the world. I don't yet have a satisfactory answer as to when it is ok, and when it is not.

(Bonus points for catching the Petoria reference)

Chengora said...

"To answer your question, something like that."

Couple small things first. A referendum doesn't just have to be straight FPTP. There are plenty of ways to build in mechanisms that ensure supermajority support.

And second, a referendum isn't the only means to do so. Certainly military conflict is one way of going about it. But this whole situation is about finding the least bad solution, not the perfect one. You'll almost never get into a situation where 100% of the people support one side or another. The U.S. certainly didn't have that when it was established nor, I imagine, did most countries.

So a couple principles underpin international law on this issue. The first is that territory cannot be annexed without the explicit consent of the people living on the territory. Obviously, Tibet and Xinjiang come to mind, but it also answers a deeper question that you're asking, Hobs. You're not convinced that sovereignty of the people is the best way to parse out when it's okay or not to secede or declare independence (which are not the same thing). The flip side, however, is that there isn't a better principle. Obviously a lot of this will be messy, and much of it has to do with politics. But, it at least is grounded in the principle of public legitimacy, which cannot be said for forcible annexation or "security" as a principle.

The second principle, as I mentioned, is public sovereignty, that people should governed by the people that they want. Basic idea is, if all those places you mention can hold a referendum or some other process whereby the public overwhelmingly declares that it wants independence, they have the moral authority to do so.

Of course there are limitations. One of the ones you point is territorial demarcation. Can your house go independent, for example? Well, a couple things. First, you need an expression of legitimate authority - public investment in your right to make that decision, etc. ideally through democratic means. Second, you've got to be prepared for the consequences. Petoria is a great example. By all means, go independent. I hope you have your own electricity grid though, because the state you are separating from has no reason to support you without payment of some kind.

So there are both legal and political questions that impact an assessment of the morality of a situation. However, in Taiwan's case, these are fairly clear. The legal issues, as I mentioned, are clear cut. The referendum, for example, is not 51%. It's a supermajority of a supermajority of the population. For the other levers, Taiwan obviously has its own power supply, separate economy, etc.

Let's return to a point I made earlier. If this isn't the principle that is used, what would be? And what would be allowed if this principle weren't used? Look at Montenegro or Kosovo, for example. They probably existed as independent states beforehand, and certainly the public within those regions think of themselves as independent. They were forcibly annexed to another country. Does this annexation remove their right to feel pissed off or want to be independent again? Consider Tibet. Does the Chinese government's importation of Han Chinese into the region (which is illegal, by the way) in some way diminish the moral claim of self-governance by the Tibetans?

The reason why public sovereignty is used is because the alternative is much worse. It's obviously not the best solution, and these things are graded on a scale rather than being full states of one or the other. But it's far better than sporadic claims of authority and territory by distant capitals. Alsace-Lorraine, for example, or East Timor. And Chechnya is a prime example of what happens when a government is unable to co-opt the population of a region/semi-independent state. At that point, it really is the fault of the government for not convincing its "people" of the rightness of their claim. You start blurring the line then between domestic insurgency and occupation.

HoBs said...

Actually Tibet is a good example. Why is the emigration of Han Chinese into Tibet illegal? Why is emigration illegal or immoral? And if the Han Chinese form a majority in Tibet and no longer want to secede why is that illegal or immoral?

And sure, you can have a super majority rule (which is not the case in Taiwan as I undertand it where you might barely have majority support at best) but then why does 66% vs 33% or whatever percent you choose make it ok? what about the 33% who don't want to secede? They have rights, and any liberal conception of justice/morality will mean you can't trample theirs.

(Though not sure what you mean by supermajority of a supermajority. Doesn't that mean potentially less than 50%? 2/3 of 2/3 for instance is 4/9)

But so, let's go through my list. You would agree that in all of the following that if some high enough percent voted for independence, they should be granted it?

basque independence, corisca, quebec, scotland, wales, catalan, kurdistan, chechnya, california (or at least berkeley), northern ireland, foxwoods, sealand, palestine, chinatown, the banlieu of paris, little kabul, libertarians in new hampshire, petoria, my apartment?

My apartment can satisfy that criteria. I was elected with 100% of the vote in a fair election. And I have stockpiled enough water/electricity or made deals with local utilities. (There's no particular reason why they shouldn't want to trade with me, except out of spite. Every country imports/exports lots of stuff.) Heck lots of random groups in the US have made this claim recently (often to avoid paying taxes or maybe for polygamy), and all have been denied, often in bloody showdowns with the ATF/FBI.

Sealand certainly does.

Foxwoods is just a placeholder for the chance for other groups in the US who might band together to form casinos. Maybe that's what I'll do when I secede. Start a casino in my apartment.

Some libertarian groups have a grand plan to all move to New Hampshire, so there's a majority, and then somehow form a libertarian state. Maybe one that decides to secede.

There is far from universal agreement that any of those examples listed are entitled morally/legally or otherwise to independence if they have a referendum. There must be some better metric than referendum.

Chengora said...

Emigration to Tibet is illegal because it is at the least disputed territory. Consider occupations. If a state occupies another state, under international law, you can only occupy without a view to annexing the territory. Towards that end, you cannot change the facts on the ground either, by, say, shipping civilians in to suddenly form a majority of people who believe your way. You've simply annexed another country (or part of another country), dumped your people in, hold a sham election/referendum, then you take the territory through "legal" means. Obvious problems there.

The main issue here is that you're thinking of states as fully nationalistic entities. And you're focusing a bit too much on the referendum as a single vote. It's not simply a vote, but also the political debate that goes along with it, and that involves many more considerations. (In the case of Taiwan, the procedural issues have been resolved however, which is why it’s an almost ideal case.) The chief difficulty in your argument is that you’re assuming that a state has the power and authority to enact its policy (say, prevent secession), that it is in some sense ontologically prior to the subgroup looking for independence. But of course, in many cases that doesn’t hold. In Tibet, there was no Chinese nationalism because they aren’t Chinese. The further back you go, the more you discover that all states were built this way, and it is often a very organic (and political) process to get different groups of people to view each other as living in a common community. If a state is unable to get “its own people” to believe that, then are they really a community? Look at Iraq. In many ways, the bonds of nationalism are just as illusory as those of ethnicity or regional factionalism, and there’s no way to effectively evaluate which one wins out. It’s a mistake to assume that, somehow, national unity is ontologically and morally prior to separation, unless separation crosses a high threshold. That’s a political question, not a moral one.

Also, consider that in weak states, a key problem is that regions simply become autonomous because states don’t have that authority. Burundi, Turkey in the 1970s, DRC, Rwanda, etc. In those cases, the state failed to provide its citizens for a rationale for why they should remain together as a state. On top of that, they didn’t provide any services, so the citizens in those regions looked to themselves for support. After enough time has passed (which is obviously one of those messy political questions), why should they owe allegiance to a central authority? And if they don’t owe that allegiance, what is a principle besides state rule that policy makers and ethicists can use to determine who has legitimate authority in a region?

The best, although by no means clean, rule is that the sovereignty of the people is key. Now, as I’ve mentioned, there are some limiting factors. For example, outside of your apartment and Petoria, all those other entities gain benefits from the central administration. Inevitably, their decisions about independence will depend on how far and to what extent the central administration is willing to support them even if they separate. And there’s the question of state property (should the original government dig up and remove all the water pipes, for example, they could do so). There are foreign treaties to consider (if you were your own state, you wouldn’t be able to make an arrangement with the utilities companies without first negotiating with USTR). But these are issues of procedure and politics, and ones which inevitably define the majority of the territory under question (note that many secession negotiations falter on slivers of land). However, on the basic moral issue, the best principle that can be found, and one that most agrees with democratic impulses, is the sovereignty of the people. If the people feel they are part of a state, great. If the state hasn’t convinced them that they belong to it, it’s hard to gainsay that. The big question is, can you suggest a better principle?

Oh, couple minor points on the referendum. The Taiwan one requires a majority vote by 60% of the population. Now, you are correct that this could mean that a minority makes their voice heard and wins. However, it’s the same way with democratic elections. If only 40% of the people turn out to vote (assuming no voter fraud or intimidation), what about that silent 60%? Essentially, tough luck. They had their chance to vote, and they didn’t take it. If they felt that strongly, then they should have gone to vote. Also, be careful with using a liberal conception of rights. Simply because minority rights in certain areas are protected doesn’t mean that they are inviolate. Again, the election example is useful. George Bush won by just under 2% of the vote. So, let’s say that 48% of the public did not agree with the vote. Does that mean they should be able to override what 52% of the public want? If what you’re looking for is 100% agreement, it’s not going to happen, for both political and “legitimate” reasons. You need a better and looser rule that nevertheless allows for proper authority while recognizing the need for political debate. And a referendum is often the best means for that. Don’t forget, there are a number of other workarounds. Federalism or autonomy works in certain cases. But again, if you think there's a better measure than a referendum, I'm certainly willing to hear it. As I've said, referenda aren't the only means to settle this kind of issue, but they are often the best because of their allowance for clear political debate and moral authority.

HoBs said...

hm, too many sticky issues there.

i always agreed with Dewey, democracy is not about voting. because voting is very flawed. sadaam husein always got 99% of the vote. so that's why i can't accept referendum as the end all and be-all.

an interesting definition of the strenght of a democracy i've heard is the set of institutions that defy majority will.

also, you talk about the will of the people. but that's the trick. what is a "people"
the example is one of subsdivision perhaps. THe problem with my apartment is that it subdivides too far. likely the majority of chinese, would say that tibet is part of the "chinese" people, and that a referendum by the "chinese" people is necessary to give them independence.

so i can accept that a "people" should be given independence if they decide according to some "democratic" process.

but whether tibet and taiwan constitute two "people"s and whether a referendum is "democratic"

that is sticky.

Chengora said...

But don't forget Churchill's view of democracy. It's the worst system around, except for everything else that has been tried. Now, I fully agree with you that elections alone are not democracy. But don't go too far the other way and say that elections aren't an important part of democracy, either. I deal with this perception all the time in my work. An election or referendum is far more than just a tabulation of votes. My organization, others like it, and the UN have entire departments devoted to pre- and post-election procedures, and the high-profile election delegations that you sometimes hear about in the news are usually preceded by long-term observers who monitor the process for months beforehand.

As I said in my last post, I'm assuming that there isn't voter fraud or intimidation. Now, that's of course a big if, but it's also a reason why Taiwan is a near ideal example (but those elements are pretty minimal), and why, say, Tibet is not.

Now, theoretically, I agree with you about the subdivision issue. There's a danger of going too far down, but fortunately, that's never really been an issue, for two reasons. First, like I said, people have the legal and moral right to secede or declare themselves independent. It's, for example, the rationale for civil society organizations. You can have multiple allegiances in your identity (at least within a liberal democracy), and I would say this is perhaps quite natural. But, can you give up the amenities that come with state authority? Individuals likely can't, and there's a clear question of property here. If you receive public assistance or public works, the public has some part of ownership in your "territory". There's an interesting debate about how far down does one person's property extend (i.e. How much dirt on your property do you own? Does it go all the way to the center of the Earth?). Either way, there's a problem of capacity.

Second, as I also mentioned in the last post, most disputes get stuck on slivers of territory. WB/G and Israel are a good example. With Barak's offer, they were essentially fighting over about 4% of pre-1967 borders. Kosovo is the same way: it's about who owns some pretty rich mines on the border between the territory and Serbia. Either way, the majority of territory is usually pretty well defined.

Now, I mention this because the critical component is how the people who actually live on the ground feel, not people outside the territory. You have the practical limitation against anything too small or weak (which is why the Dalai Lama is pushing for autonomy, not independence), and some matters of defensible borders, etc. The other limitation is, quite simply, arrogance. The Chinese could conceivably claim that all territory in the world belongs to them. When the first British ships landed in China during King George 3's reign, the Emperor in fact made that claim. A previous emperor also said that to Tamerlane, who promptly gathered together an army and marched to ravage China. And in point of fact, it’s a common refrain among Chinese wonks to say exactly what you do, that they have a say too in these issues.

But there’s an ethical and political problem here. At what point do you stop? Because we’re all part of a global community, does the UN get involved? Or does the referendum depend on global public opinion? And how far back can we go for claims of ownership? Do the Jews own Israel because they were there first? Do the Palestinians because they lived there for centuries? How about me? I’m sure my ancestors crossed through that territory at some point.

Which is why the issue has always been limited to what the people on the ground want. There is both a practical element here, as well as a moral one. The danger of expanding things too much is the same problem you point to with minority rights. If their fate is determined by a larger group of individuals falling outside their jurisdiction, they’ll likely always be a minority. But, then you have to ask, why should, say, the people in Arkansas have a veto on the matters that pertain to New York? Think of China and Tibet. There, it was pretty clear the Tibetans didn’t want the Chinese around (the PLA invaded after all, and the Tibetans fought back). There were ample historical documents showing that Tibet was an independent country (which had demanded tribute from China at times), and their government fled to India. Now, you had asked why immigration was illegal. Well, consider that Tibet was forcibly annexed to China. Does that mean that China can effect a change on the ground, such that a “majority” of people there support China? Does the wrong committed against the Tibetans go away? Would those immigrants, in the absence of the war, have been allowed in by the Tibetan government? What prevents a fait accompli by the Chinese, which would probably be an even worse solution than a referendum? The Geneva Conventions want to keep things in occupied territory as close to the original conditions as possible to avoid these exact problems. You could also think of it in more mundane terms. If I force you out of your apartment, changing the locks and all, and I live there for a week, does that mean that there was no wrong done to you? Do I not owe you some measure of compensation? Do you not have a claim to your property, even though I kicked you out?

Finally, your definition of democracy (or at least the one you find interesting) would seem to preclude any kind of majority rule. Some element of that is at least necessary in a genuine democracy, and especially to resolve these major issues. Like I said, you’ll never get 100%, but then you start salami slicing: is 75% enough? Why? Why is it better than 66%, etc.

Anyway, to get back to Taiwan, many of the issues you're worried about don't apply. Taiwan is a pretty clear case of self-governance. It is geographically defined, so there are no real problems with who should be given a say under international law. And the referendum process closely mirrors that of other democratic countries, and in all likelihood, the process would be free and fair. Hence, the legal and moral issues are essentially taken care of under existing frameworks, which are the best that can be accomplished. (If you want to argue otherwise, you'll have to provide a sample system. It's easy enough to try to poke holes, until you realize that there really aren't many improvements that can be made that also account for the reality of procedure.) And the rest is politics, which of course is hugely problematic. :-)

HoBs said...

"But, then you have to ask, why should, say, the people in Arkansas have a veto on the matters that pertain to New York?"

But that's exactly what happened during the US civil war. Holding off on the slavery issue, which only entered later, it was a question of state's rights. Was Lincoln immoral for stoping secession.

Yes, duvall's point on the south not being totally representative is well taken, but even if blacks were counted, I'd imagine that a majority would still have agreed with secession in most southern states.

Though the concept of democracy, I do maintain is not about majority rule. Majority rule was eloquently called tyranny by Madison and others.

Democracy is about "people" rule. Dewey was conveniently nebulous about what "people" meant. And that's probably the best we can do.

Thinking about it more, another principle might be that immigrants shouldn't be allowed to vote for secession, because arguably, by immigrating, you tacitly (or even directly) sign a contract to abide by the rules of the country you are entering. That would solve your objection to the Han Chiense in Tibet, and my objection about China town.

But then what about the children of immigrants? What about the children of those Han Chinese? What if they form a majority some day? But then if you rule out the children of immigrants, then we are all children of immigrants at some point in the past. (Except maybe in some tiny place in Africa)

Heck, most of the current "Taiwanese" residence of Taiwan are also immigrants if you go back 200 years.

Actually, they are mostly also Han Chinese, so you could say they have as much claim to Taiwan/Formosa, as the new Han Chinese have over Tibet.

Chengora said...

“Yes, duvall's point on the south not being totally representative is well taken, but even if blacks were counted, I'd imagine that a majority would still have agreed with secession in most southern states.”

Well, that’s a little questionable, as you’re talking about a counterfactual here. Either way, the fact that there wasn’t representation or anything near free ability to choose already calls into question procedure.

Majority rule is not always mob rule or tyranny. It can be, but to have a government ruled by a minority is almost patently NOT democratic. Look at Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc. The key distinction in liberal democracies is protection of minority rights and opinions. But that, again, doesn’t mean that the minority always prevails over the majority. We don’t do so for presidential elections, for example, and while the Bill of Rights is extremely important, there are other aspects that preserve majority rule within the Constitution. Those are just as important to democratic governance. Now, we can keep discussing the democratic nature of referenda, but I don’t think you’re really talking in practical terms, but rather theoretical ones. You’re using the idea of unlimited majority rule to argue against the practical application of a referendum. In some sense, using an extreme version of a portion of democracy to argue against a moderate version of another portion (unlimited majority rule versus minority rights protection). But no one’s arguing that. Democracies are about balance, about holding minority rights secure while still allowing majorities to enact their will in certain areas. In certain cases, minority “rights” or prerogatives SHOULDN’T be secured. I’ll note that you didn’t directly respond to the election examples I made in the last comment, which is really the crux of the matter. Thus, when you say,

“Democracy is about "people" rule. Dewey was conveniently nebulous about what "people" meant. And that's probably the best we can do.”

quite frankly, that’s not good enough for a policymaker, for practical, political, and (politically) ethical reasons. I fully acknowledge that there are difficulties with these concepts. But I will also point out that you haven’t offered any workable solutions to some pretty pressing issues. Until you do so, you make nice criticisms, but ones that have been answered already because of their untenable nature, were you to dig in a little deeper. Making a workable system – that’s the key.

Now, the immigrant issue is quite interesting. I think you’re imagining things as too short-term. Once “immigration” becomes a reason to bar someone from decision-making or having a voice, you lose the moral clarity offered by, say, the Geneva Conventions and immigration law. Chinatown is something of a poor example. Many people there are not naturalized U.S. citizens. They were allowed to enter the country, but they do not have residency, are not citizens, etc. As such, they are there based on the willing tolerance of the American public. If they decide to naturalize, or follow U.S. laws (like having kids in the U.S.), they’re fine and dandy. There’s no coercion, no violence to speak of in this situation, and that’s the salient point about the Geneva Conventions, which seeks to separate the political implications of force from the political legitimacy conferred to democratic rule.

In China, it’s a different issue. The Chinese invaded Tibet, held its people in various forms of arrest, and (sometimes forcibly) imported its people into the region. Here, we are no longer talking about a mutually-entered contractual obligation, in the way that immigration is. Rather, we are talking about force. Again, think of it like an apartment. Just because I’ve kicked you out and have lived in “your” apartment for a while, does that mean I now get to decide the morality of my actions? Seems a little dubious, no?

Now, I’m not saying that the current international system over self-determination is perfect. In many ways, it has solidified the situation of the 1950s. However, the international legal system has evolved over the past 60 years to account for the often messy political, practical, and moral situations that arise in international relations. It enshrines freedom of conscience in its guarantee of self-determination. It also, however, recognizes that declaring self-determination and acting upon it are very different things.

In the case of Taiwan, though, the legal and moral precedents are clear (Fourth Geneva Convention, UN Charter, East Timor, Montenegro, etc.). Have the opportunity to debate the issue, define the territory in question, have the people on the territory vote in a free and fair manner. You can keep quibbling about these theoretical issues, but you’ll also need to come up with a workable alternative.

HoBs said...

oh sure. my general mo is to take the easy way out. not to offer answers, because I don't have any. I just tend to be opposed declarations of to absolutes and moral clarity when none exist. (I can't say anything about legal clarity, as I'm not a lawyer, but I'd guess it wouldn't be so cut and dried either)

i certainly do think minority rights are important in cases of self-determination. in taiwan, I have lots of family in taiwan who are against independence. I think their opinion should be respected. in the US, if the rest of my apartment chose to secede, I would want to be able to veto that.

and yeah, china may have invaded tibet, but the issue is more complex than you make it. the us invaded california (and most of the US for that matter). and england invaded the rest of america, except that which was purhcased by the french who obtained that land by invasion. england was invaded by the germans (well anglo saxons which predate germany). taiwan was invaded by the fukinese. heck the indians that were in the us before were invaders, some from canada, some from mexico.

you said it exactly, the current system tries to enshrine the boundaries set in 1950s, but that's pretty arbitrary. you could pick older dates, and china would have perfect claim to tibet.

hcduvall said...

But that mo ends every conversation, at best, with a shrug. It's a given that debates might not have a right and wrong, but if "You may be wrong" is the point you're trying to make, as opposed an actual other can see frustrating aspect of that sort conversation. And I actually think that here, that point is mostly a given, do we have to qualify all discussions with, "But that's just my opionion, I could be wrong?"

I'm of the mind that if right now most Taiwanese want independence (don't ask me for methods, please) or anyone else, they should get it. And that includes the Tibet staying with China, if a "vote" went that way. However lamentable their methods were, I've always said "Too late for Free Tibet," and the current population, for me supersedes all prior claims. I don't actually think 1950's lines for Taiwan is a arbitrary, under the terms of thinking who occupies that land now. Likewise, Isreal should continue to exist because it's there now, even if I think it was a creation made under some wrong principals. Wrong meaning I don't like them, obviously. But then, I don't like historical precedent as a reason for anything, in social traditions or politics.

On another hand, I would actually quibble with the China historical justifications for Tibet in the first place. Just 'cause you say you're the heirs to every freaking dynasty doesn't mean you are. I suppose it depends when people stopped thinking of themselves as Han, Qin, or so such, and instead of Chinese. But that's me thinking of Chinese (as a national) identity as a fairly recent and frequently tweaked construct, mostly.

Chengora said...

“oh sure. my general mo is to take the easy way out. not to offer answers, because I don't have any. I just tend to be opposed declarations of to absolutes and moral clarity when none exist.”

This, unfortunately, is an issue. It’s fine to criticize, but you’ll have a much better understanding of the issues if you try to actually apply the principles to practical situations. The moral and legal propriety of the Taiwan and Tibet issues are pretty clear. There are precise international standards for that kind of behavior, underpinned by a recognition a. of the political realities and b. of the difficulty of the moral claims.

It's one thing to recognize these complexities. It is another, however, to say that the moral issues enshrined in the international system are incorrect and undemocratic. In that, you're on thin footing. Public sovereignty is probably something you won’t argue with (or at least, I hope not). The difficulty is procedure, which I’ll get to in a moment.

“you could pick older dates, and china would have perfect claim to tibet.”

On the other hand, Tibet could have had a claim to China. The timing of a referendum is a political matter, and obviously that timing affects the outcome. But the principle behind it is secure. Given the baselines and issues I mentioned earlier, groups of people have the right to declare independence. They have to be prepared for the consequences of that, but at a minimum, the use of force in coercing a decision, or creating a fait accompli following the use of force, is not allowed, and for good reason. Also, notice that the historical aspect of these issues is largely ignored, in part because, as I mentioned, everyone has a claim to every other place. The issue is whether you can draw up the political will and democratic process to effect a proper public debate and decision.

By the way, you misinterpreted my original statement. It was not a question of picking a particular historical timing and freezing things. It was that a new set of rules – rules based on human rights, public sovereignty, and freedom of conscience – was applied to the existing conditions of the world. In that sense, the current regime solidified the situation of the 1950s, principally by making it so that governments had a harder time, say, invading other territory and annexing them. Just look at Israel-WB/G.

Of course, in Taiwan, that’s not been a big issue. With economic and political separation from China, you don’t have the issues of territory, disaggregation of assets, etc. that plague, say, Kosovo or East Timor. The question is then one of politics, which I covered in my original post.

Now, the weakest part of your argument:

"in taiwan, I have lots of family in taiwan who are against independence. I think their opinion should be respected."

Sure, your opinion can be respected. You get to speak your mind and you get to vote. But you don't get to veto everyone else. And if you think this is an issue where the minority should be protected, you need to prove it. Are you claiming a possible violation of a civil right, a political right, a social right? It’s insufficient under the law to simply say “My voice should be allowed to override everyone else’s!” Tell me why it should be so. Does the minority lack the ability in Taiwan to express their opinions? Do they not have the right to vote on the referendum? Can they not organize groups to oppose the referendum? In what way are their rights being violated versus their opinions being defeated?

Neither Dewey nor Madison nor any other democratic thinker would say that the voice of the minority should trump the majority per se. You’ve got to give a stronger justification. And in that, you need to talk about both rights and procedure. Again, answer the election issue. If everyone gets to vote, and your guy lost, does that mean you don’t need to respect the final vote total? If a bill runs through the legislature that you don’t support, does that mean you don’t have to follow the law? Are we then discussing selective and self-elected application of the law? You would be upholding minority rights against the rule of law, due process, and elected governance, which I’m sure you don’t want to do.

This is precisely the problem with conjecturing about criticisms and theories without actually applying them. You (speaking generally) don’t test your ideas against what is feasible, practical, and moral. I would ask, before you respond, consider how the impartiality of the law – international and domestic – will be affected by your argument. And consider the procedural ramifications of what you say, because that’s the only way you get good policy. Right now, you’re staking an untenable position, theory over practice, and no one’s ever going to follow those ideas because of it, except out of their own political motivations (China, anyone?).

hcduvall said...

This is the point in the Nikopol Trilogy where the chess ends, people mop brows, and the boxing begins. I suggest we retire to the veranda for some lemonade, and then go inside and play Wii instead.

Which is to say, tread lighter, and change tact.