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The ‘China Threat’ and the ‘Taiwanese’: Taiwan’s Security Policy and the Politics of Identity. HKPSA Conference on ‘Inside/Outside: 60 Years of Chinese Politics’ Chen Ching-Chang Ph.D. (Aberystwyth) Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University 20 August 2009. Central questions.

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The china threat and the taiwanese taiwan s security policy and the politics of identity l.jpg

The ‘China Threat’ and the ‘Taiwanese’: Taiwan’s Security Policy and the Politics of Identity

HKPSA Conference on ‘Inside/Outside: 60 Years of Chinese Politics’

Chen Ching-Chang Ph.D. (Aberystwyth)

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

20 August 2009


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Central questions Security Policy and the Politics of Identity

  • (1) How is China perceived as a threat in mainstream Taiwanese security discourse and why?

  • (2) What are the political consequences of adopting the predominant modes of interpreting China as a threat?

  • This analysis is intended to explore how China’s threat images come into being in Taiwan, their underlying assumptions and practical effects, NOT the extent to which China may be a threatening revisionist vis-à-vis Taiwan.


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Why this research? Security Policy and the Politics of Identity

  • International perceptions of China as a destabilising power are typically associated with Taiwan’s claim that China is a threat to the regional stability, but...

  • So far cross-Strait security issues are mostly examined as offshoots of PRC-US rivalry.

  • Few inquiries have been made regarding TW’s threat perceptions and security policy (Cole 2006; Chase 2008).


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Why this research? Security Policy and the Politics of Identity

  • The puzzle: why Taiwanese leaders and people alike are generally alert to any slight indication of oppressions from the PRC?

  • According to Jervis (1976), weaker states tend to ignore or minimise the importance of the threat than are stronger ones (perceptual defence vs. vigilance)

  • Deterrence theory: the weaker target state should de-emphasise the sender’s threat image rather than play it up (e.g. ‘US imperialism is a paper tiger’)

  • Alliance politics…


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The ‘reaction-against-China threat’ or ‘pushing force’ argument

  • The literature about the origins of Taiwanese nationalism provides a potentially plausible explanation of the puzzle.

  • Beijing’s (perceived) hostility towards Taiwan has functioned as a ‘pushing force’, which, together with the ‘pulling force’ (Taiwan’s democratisation), has been playing the most important role in contributing to the surge of Taiwanese consciousness.


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The ‘reaction-against-China threat’ or ‘pushing force’ argument

  • ‘The long-existing and ever-growing threat from China is fostering a sense of common suffering among all people of Taiwan regardless of ethnicity. To protect their hard-earned civil rights against the Chinese Communist regime, the people on the island are being forced to overlook their differences and recognize one another as an indispensable part of this new democratic community that is under threat’ (Lin Chia-lung, 2002)


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Alternative explanation force’ argument

  • Shih (2007) has challenged the ‘pulling force’ argument by showing that the rise of un-Chinese consciousness took place before democratisation and could not have been possible with Taiwan being discursively treated as an independent reference point in the first place.

  • This research disputes the ‘pushing force’ argument: rather than see China as a threat to the Taiwanese state’s identity or existence, the former can be understood as the latter’s condition of possibility.


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Alternative explanation force’ argument

  • The need for an external threat affects the way in which China is viewed as a menace in the eyes of the Taiwanese in the post-Cold War era (compare CCP as an internal enemy for the two Chiangs during the Cold War).

  • A different, antagonistic China is needed to consolidate TW’s nascent identity through the constant construction of reference points that can bring into the difference b/w the two.

  • Looking for signs of anti-democratic incidents or human rights violations in China is often employed by indigenous regimes and political forces to establish such a difference.


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The ‘useful adversary’ force’ argument

  • ‘The shock and anger that the Thousand Island Lake Incident invoked in Taiwan are universal and [felt] across parties… Our people are angry because a civilized society would never allow things like this to happen. What makes it even more serious is that a modernized government would never behave as irresponsibly as the PRC authorities, and act so slowly and clumsily in critical events like this when human lives are involved’ (Lee Teng-hui, 1994).


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The ‘useful adversary’ force’ argument

  • But this perception of a Chinese violation of Taiwanese human rights would not have been so pervasive without Taipei’s total neglect of eight Chinese guides and staff who were also murdered on the yacht.

  • Evidence to the contrary of the mainstream perspective rarely receives attention in Taiwan, for speaking positively about China is likely to invite an anti-Taiwan label.

  • The politics of difference in TW, then, relies more on defining someone outside as an antagonist than improving one’s self-understanding.


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Analytical framework force’ argument

  • Drawing on an alternative formulation of foreign policy that does not conceive it simply as the policies of pre-existing states oriented towards the external world but rather a political practice that draws boundaries between states (Campbell 1998), this study argues that Taipei’s post-Cold War security policy can be interpreted as such a practice in constructing Taiwanese national identity through its repeated claim of China threats.


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China as an economic threat force’ argument

  • The rationale of Taipei’s previous restrictive economic policy towards the PRC: (1) concerns about relative gains; (2) fear of industrial hollowing out and insufficient domestic investment.

  • These regulations could not stop/slow China-bounded investments but were enough to prevent Taiwanese businesses from fully exploiting a world economic powerhouse.

  • The overlooked identity function of prohibiting ‘direct three links’ (santong).


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China as a political threat force’ argument

  • Images of China in Taipei’s UN membership campaigns (1993-2007) were portrayed in almost total opposition to those of Taiwan (authoritarian/ democratic, hegemonic/civilised, violent/peaceful…)

  • Taipei’s preoccupation with the ‘democracy card’ in its foreign policy conduct is not about the actual effectiveness of this approach in breaking through Beijing’s diplomatic blockade, but about drawing boundaries that separate Taiwan from China.


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China as a military threat force’ argument

  • ‘The PLA’s modernisation is changing the cross-Strait offence-defence balance to Beijing’s favour, which increases the likelihood of a Chinese use of force’.

  • But, if so, why did TW’s regular defence budgets as a percentage of GDP continue to decline during most of Chen Shui-bian’s presidency?

  • The idea that there exists a cross-Strait ODB works best to construct a peace-loving Taiwanese identity threatened by the war-like Chinese than to provide a baseline on which TW’s national defence is built.


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Security and subjectivity force’ argument

  • TW’s confrontation with CN represents an important moment in the (re)production of Taiwanese identity in ways consonant with the Foucauldian logic of a society of security.

  • Cross-Strait conflicts thus construct sites of both ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ marginality, constructing Taiwanese identity through the negation of Chinese behaviour.

  • The emerging Taiwanese state has no ontological status that exists prior to its foreign policy.


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The consequences of Taipei’s identity strategy force’ argument

  • Beware of the destructive potentials of divorcing ethics and interest and of building up the firewall b/w foreign policy and domestic politics (Lebow 2003).

  • Inattention to the substance within the boundaries that constitute ‘Taiwan’ leads to the disregard of some principles of justice and the breakdown of foundations on which the political community is built.

  • Understanding ‘chequebook diplomacy’…


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The consequences of Taipei’s identity strategy force’ argument

  • Two seemingly unrelated developments – rising threats as perceived from across the Strait and rampant political corruption at home – can be understood as two sides of the same coin (i.e. the problem of identity formation in Taiwan).


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Conclusion force’ argument

  • China’s threat images in Taiwan are indicative of the emergence and consolidation of the boundaries b/w the two created by TW foreign and security policy.

  • These practices have produced pernicious effects on TW domestic politics.

  • ‘China threat’ in the eyes of the Taiwanese represents a symptom rather than a cause of their identity transformation.