Taiwan Versus the Beijing Narrative


 

As a European in Taiwan, I came to understand why the conflict of Taiwan is often misunderstood in the West. The knowledge about the civil war between the Kuomintang and Communists, resulting in the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek and his troops to the island, is not widely known. The implications of the term “One China,“ therefore, leaves many Westerners clueless. When Chinese President Xi Jinping deals with the island as if it were a defecting province, as he did at the 19th Communist Party Congress this week, he sounded somewhat legitimate.

 

Surely, Western governments are aware of the complicated situation and the pending threat, but they may feel that their hands are tied. Europe has always looked to the United States of America when it came to supporting Taiwan. Now, with declining support for the values of liberal democracy across the Old World in recent years, as evidenced by the Brexit vote and the rise of far-right xenophobic movements, little compassion is left for a far-away country such as restricted Taiwan. The stance that US President Trump takes on the issue is still unclear.


Prior to the National Day on October 10th, an article was widely shared and discussed on social media. The text claimed that the Chinese military would finally meet the necessities to invade Taiwan by the year 2020. Observers, however, would argue that the Mainland’s military would neither dare nor have the capacity to invade and long-term occupy Taiwan. Alas, that doesn’t mean Taiwan will not see some serious infringement on its liberal democracy. 


For Beijing, Taiwan is a threat because the leader of the Communist Party sells the idea to his followers and the West alike that being Chinese and simultaneously a liberal democrat is impossible: the tradition of Confucianism can only live on in the form of the one-party state. Mr Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption and moral misconduct needs to be seen as him catering to the narrative that he has deployed during his first term as president of the People’s Republic of China: emerging to the very top is only possible by applying the highest ethical standards


In the West, where democracy is typically deliberately limited by the rights of individuals or specific groups such as minorities, leaders do not cease to praise the Chinese president (and leaders before him) as visionary, innovative, and thoughtful. What they mean is that, due to the autocratic one-party rule, Beijing is capable of following through with policy ideas – such as tackling climate change – that would take years in a democratic framework.


The existence of Taiwan, however, reminds Mr. Xi Jinping and the West of the existence of a democracy in a Confucian context. As a matter of fact, Taiwan is not the only liberal democracy of the region. It has potentially powerful allies in South Korea and Japan. All three are allies of the United States, and all three have a similar set of interests when it comes to fighting off a power-hungry China.


Yet, for historic reasons, the three have not elaborated on their common policies. And it is doubtful that they will do so anytime soon. Beijing is anything but sad about the disagreements of its democratic rivals across the Sea. In Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo observers may already be nervous when they anticipate Donald Trump’s visit to China in a few weeks. The US president seems to have been marveling autocratic rulership.


One can only hope that the result of the meeting between these two power-hungry men of dubious mindset and character when it comes to civil liberties and liberal freedoms will not be frightening the three truly democratic countries in the region. As for Taiwan, the leadership and the people should be eagerly trying to strengthen their ties with Western allies and the liberal democracies in South Korea and Japan. For China may not be able or willing to invade the country, but it will also not tolerate any further development of a free and independent society for this may, in the logic of Beijing, inevitably lead onto the street of independence. 


Alexander Görlach is an affiliate professor with the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He’s a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a senior advisor to the Berggruen Institute. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. This academic year he is a visiting scholar to National Taiwan University and City University of Hong Kong. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions.

The Harvard Cubans: Film Screening and Q&A with Director


Our friends at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies invite Harvard undergraduates and friends of the FDR Foundation to  Monday’s screening of the documentary film The Harvard Cubans (Los cubanos de Harvard), produced by the Cuba Studies Program at DRCLAS/Harvard. The film covers the Cuban Teachers’ Expedition in 1900, when 1,273 Cuban schoolteachers attended Harvard Summer School in the largest people-to-people exchange between the two countries, at the time or since.
As background, here is an interesting article from the magazine OnCuba about the Expedition and the documentary (also available in Spanish). FDR arrived at Harvard around the same time as the Cuban teachers, while cousin Teddy and other Harvardians played key roles (both pro and con) in the Spanish-American War which led to the Expedition.
David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
October 23, 2017 | 6:00pm | CGIS S-010*

In the year 1900, more than half of all Cuban public school teachers from across the island boarded five American military ships to travel to Cambridge to participate in a Summer School organized by Harvard, the largest such endeavor ever undertaken by the University. The Cuba Studies Program sponsored the making of a documentary film about the expedition. Visit our website for the full synopsis.

Following the premiere screening of the film, a question-and-answer session will be held with director Danny González Lucena and historian Dr. Marial Iglesias Utset, Visiting Research Scholar at the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard. Please note the 72-minute film is in Spanish with English subtitles. Reception to follow.

About the director: Danny González Lucena is a journalism graduate of the University of Havana. He currently works as a cultural journalist on Cuban television, where he specializes in music. He has also been involved in issues related to heritage conservation and folk traditions, with several international special reports. His work as a filmmaker includes the titles: Por qué luchamos (2011), dedicated to the life and work of the Saíz brothers; La Perla de Oriente (2016), which investigates little-known aspects of Guantanamo musician Lilí Martínez; and Los cubanos de Harvard (The Harvard Cubans) (2017).


“Fake News,” Disinformation, and “Election Hacking” 11/13 (NEW DATE)


[NEW DATE AND TIME]

Concerned with foreign interventions in your elections? In your news? Do you trust the media? Should you?

You may be surprised to learn the FDR Foundation and Adams House are on the cutting edge of the struggle of democracy against disinformation. Come by to chat informally with Jed Willard about current trends in international media manipulation, defensive media monitoring and analysis, and counter propaganda.

This is an interactive discussion, limited to 14, undergraduates only if numbers allow. RSVP here:

www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C0E44AEAD29A4FA7-fake

(There is an RSVP option for those who cannot make this time slot but are interested in future events on this topic – make sure to indicate your interest even if you can’t make it!)

Date: 11/13/2017 (Mon.)

Time: 7:00pm – 8:00pm EDT

Location: FDR Suite, B-17, Adams House


Populism in America and Europe 12/4


The liberal order has recently come under threat from uncountable angles in all corners of the world. New populist leaders have learned to successfully deploy divisive and forceful rhetoric along with seemingly reasonable policies. Will there be room in 2018 for cosmopolitanism, secularism, reason, and empathy?

Join Prof. Alex Görlach at a fireside chat about our new age of real and manufactured identity crises.

Monday, December 4, 7:00-8:00pm, at the FDR Suite (Adams House B-17). Limited to 12, undergraduates given preference. RSVP here: www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C0E44AEAD29A4FA7-populism 

Alexander Görlach is an advisor to the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times.


How the New Right-wing Party AfD Dominates German Politics


Now Germany…
 
After all other European countries, the Federal Republic will also have a right wing party in the midst of its national parliament. The 13 percent, which the party achieved on Election Day, September 24, can be called a landslide victory. Beyond strongholds in the East of the country where they gained nearly thirty percent of their followers, their voter base now also extends to wide parts of the West of the country, where they numbered, in many places, in the double digits. 


The country, however, even 26 years after its reunification, still shows regional electoral preferences. In the nineties and the early ‘aughts the far left party Die Linke attained power in all states in the former East. They have now lost plenty of voters to the new right. In the West, on the other hand, right wing parties have sparked every ten years or so, only to disappear after a short while. Usually, they had a try-out period in state parliaments where they did not convince the electorate. They were not voted for again.


Until now Germans in the West, so it seems, had had enough of this extremism, for it led the country into the catastrophe of the Second World War and the Shoa. Nazism should never return to the country. The notion of a strong leader with claims to have the capacity to solve all the country’s problems was frowned upon. Moreover, today’s right wing extremists, the so called Alternative for Germany, did not fall in with one chairman but with a whole array of front row politicians, some of them using extreme right wing vocabulary. That included praise for the German Wehrmacht and revisionist utterances when it comes to German’s commemoration of the Holocaust. The new right wing populism is a pan-German phenomenon. And that was the real news in the results of this year’s election in Europe’s largest country.


Since the election, both German and international media are trying to wrap their head around the success the AfD had in this years voting. Undoubtedly the refugee crisis of 2015; where up to one million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia made it into Europe and further on to Germany; has played a role. The Alternative for Germany before the crisis had plummeted in the polls. Created in 2013 as a party mostly opposing the European Union and the European currency, they had initially lost momentum. When the refugees entered into Germany, one of their AfD chairs, Alexander Gauland, cheered: the refugees were a godsend to his party.  With their xenophobic, anti-Muslim voice they indeed quickly re-gathered followers: in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt they gained 24 percent of the votes in the state election, in Baden-Württemberg 15 percent. Mr. Gauland is the one who recently claimed that Germans ought to be proud of the Wehrmacht, the German army, and their doings in both two world wars; this outrageous statement only surpassed in egregiousness by Björn Höcke, who claimed that the Holocaust Memorial Site in Berlin should be considered a monument of shame for the Germans, urging the country to move on and leave any narrative commemorating the Shoa behind. The pundits disagree on whether the AfD receives their support for this sort of rhetoric. They are now in 13 of the countries 16 state parliaments and in the national parliament, the Bundestag.


The Bundestag in the Reichstags-Building is now the international stage for the party. They are in their view on equal terms with other similar movements all across Europe. But, more importantly, they are also on the radar of the international media that usually does not report about the ongoings in state-level German politics. That’s why the former right-wing movements disappeared rather unnoticed. Focusing on a single topic, they fail to govern once confronted in parliament with actual legislative work (“what is your stance on the pension funds, the retirement age or environmental protection?”). As a matter of fact, AfD made it into the Bundestag without having a concise pension model. And this in an aging society such as Germany! 


In the weeks before the Election Day, the AfD had sunk to seven percent in the polls, as one could expect given the prior experience of right-wingers. But all of a sudden – and there is lots of guesswork why this has happened – it went up again to 12, 13 percent, a figure very close to their final result. As a result of the success of the right wing populists the political spectrum in Germany has shifted to the right. It is a dangerous approach: the hope that people will return to traditional parties simply because they may use sharper rhetoric against the AfD is delusional. In Bavaria the conservative CSU (Christian Social Union), sister party to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) that governed the country for almost seventy years, lost 11 percent in the federal election. They tried to mimic the new appeal and rhetoric of the AfD. But when people have the choice between an original and the copy, they go for the original. Very sadly so in this case.


Alexander Görlach is an affiliate professor with the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. This article represents his views alone, rather than those of the FDR Foundation.

Jed Willard


Jed Willard is Director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement at Adams House, Harvard University. The FDR Center honors the 32nd American President’s legacy by pursuing solutions to current global challenges while keeping in mind their historical origins. Over the past decade, Willard has been pleased to consult to a number of governments and other international actors, helping them to understand prevalent and emerging narratives – the drivers of public opinion and sentiment – and creating strategies and structures to effectively engage citizens around the globe. His current efforts focus on adaptation to climate change, coping with disinformation, and revitalizing faith in liberal democracy.

Willard is a native of New Orleans, with a Bachelors Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Harvard.