Apartheid is more than the occupation, according to foundational analysis by Palestinian group.
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The night before boarding a flight home, at the end of a trip that had taken me from D.C. to Taiwan, Japan, Macedonia, Turkey, and back again, I came across a tweet that succinctly crystallized many of the fleeting impressions I had accumulated on the Pacific leg of my journey. The tweet was from Tanner Greer, a brilliant and iconoclastic China scholar, citing a quote about Taiwan sometimes attributed to Kurt Campbell, years before he became President Joe Biden’s chief Asia adviser on the National Security Council: “I thought I was going to find a second Israel; I found a second Costa Rica.”
“Whether Campbell ever said such a thing is beyond the point,” Greer wrote, explaining that he’d heard it from a Taiwanese think-tank associate. “What mattered was that this retired Taiwanese nat/sec official believed he could have said it, and believed the description accurate.”
The point of the anecdote is that the Taiwanese don’t seem to take the threats to their security nearly as seriously as most observers in Washington do. The Taiwanese worry, of course. It’s impossible not to, especially because China has altered the status quo in the Taiwan Strait after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit earlier this year by repeatedly sending fighter jets and frigates far into Taiwan’s territorial waters. But the mood on the island is much more relaxed than the mood in Israel, a country that similarly faces implacable hostility from some of its neighbors. Indeed, the contrast could not be more pronounced.
So what is going on with Taiwan? The two-day conference on nationalism I attended at Sun Yat-sen University, in the southern city of Kaohsiung, provided some clues. In my discussions with Taiwanese scholars, I quickly apprehended that Taiwanese identity is still in flux. This is not to suggest that Taiwan’s identity has not diverged significantly from China’s. Taiwan was long a Chinese backwater, with a distinct frontier culture, before it was ceded by the Qing dynasty to Japan in 1895. Half a century of Japanese colonialism left its mark, as did the subsequent brutal (and only semi-successful) re-Sinification policies of China’s nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. The advent of democracy in Taiwan in 1996, and its entrenchment since, has only deepened the differences with the mainland.
But the differences are not so cut-and-dried. Spend some time talking with Taiwanese business leaders or policy specialists in the more prosperous north, and Taiwanese identity takes on other valences. Almost no one fully identifies with mainland China, but people believe they understand mainlanders well—certainly better than the panicked West does. There is no way that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, would order an invasion, my fellow visitors and I were repeatedly assured. Such a move would not only be fratricidal; it would be counterproductive—destroying a vital hub in global supply chains that would otherwise fall into China’s lap should peaceful unification happen. One defense expert I spoke with even ruefully floated the idea that Taiwan is a buffer state likely to be drawn into a tragic spiral of escalating tensions between China and the United States as they compete for regional hegemony. He was not quite blaming us Americans for the war that many in Washington think is inevitable—but only just not.
Young people have markedly ambivalent attitudes, too. One researcher at the conference discussed preliminary survey data suggesting that the TikTok generation is developing some cultural affinity for China, especially through a renewed commitment to Mandarin (although it is the island’s official tongue, it competes with several minority languages). Taiwan remains a net exporter of pop culture to the mainland, I was told, but influence is not a one-way street. Dexter Filkins’s recent essay on Taiwan in The New Yorker includes a profile of two Taiwanese university students who started a popular satire show on YouTube poking fun at China. As one of them told him: “We don’t feel connected to China, but there is no way that we can say that we are not related to China, because many people’s ancestors are immigrants from there.”
As someone who carefully watches the Russia-Ukraine struggle, I’m struck by the parallels. Taiwan is, in many ways, where Ukraine was before the 2014 conflict started solidifying its national identity well beyond the legacy of the country’s long and complicated history. Like Taiwan, Ukraine has distinguished itself from its antagonistic neighbor by being a liberal democracy. And just as Taiwan’s business class was conflicted about its ties to China, so too did Ukraine’s post-Soviet oligarchs feel equivocal about their links to Russia. And indeed, like the Taiwanese, many Ukrainians were in deep denial about the threat from next door until it was almost too late; despite all the evidence, even President Volodymyr Zelensky was typical of his compatriots who could not bring themselves to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin would go all in and invade, as he did earlier this year.
Maybe, as in Ukraine, an all-out war with China would make the Taiwanese coalesce in ways that would surprise a visitor to the island today. But the problem for Taiwan is that, unlike Ukraine, it doesn’t have the possibility of trading territory for time, retreating and waiting until the enemy is overextended before delivering deadly counterpunches. Taiwan is more densely populated than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. The seemingly separate cities virtually constitute a single interlocking megalopolis that hugs the entire shoreline facing China. Behind the cities loom steep mountains. There is no equivalent of Poland for Taiwan—nowhere for refugees to flee, and nowhere to stage weapons deliveries.
So the Achilles’ heel of pluralistic democracies like Ukraine and Taiwan may be their inability to see what is staring them in the face, especially when that thing is too horrible to behold. Many Ukrainians (and several Russian liberals I know) found the idea of a fratricidal war like the one Putin unleashed simply inconceivable. Or maybe liberal democracies, which unshackle people to improve their individual lot above all else, just find it hard to price in the part that primal, atavistic impulses play in international relations.
At any rate, this is a reality that the United States faces in Taiwan. Americans, too, must not flinch and think that things are other than they are. Despite what many diplomats, politicians, and pundits say, the U.S. would not fight for Taiwan because it is a democracy. Taiwan would probably be worth defending even if Chiang Kai-shek were still ruling it with a bloody fist. Whether the island sometimes seems ungrateful for American largesse, or is even suspicious that the U.S. will drag it into a conflict it does not want, makes no difference.
To continue with the parallel, the U.S. is helping Ukraine not because it is a democracy, but because it makes sense for us to do so. Ukraine is weakening one of the main revisionist powers in Europe at comparatively low cost to us, and is thus helping lay the groundwork for a lasting security order in Europe. Taiwan is of greater strategic significance to the U.S. than Ukraine will ever be. And unlike aiding Ukraine, defending Taiwan could be much more painful.
What is America’s cost-benefit calculus? I’m up for that debate. But spare me the democratic sentimentalism.
This article was originally published by The Wisdom of Crowds.
Shortly after the final appeal of her nine-year sentence for drug smuggling and possession was denied, WNBA champion Brittney Griner was suddenly moved to a Russian penal colony. On Nov. 2, the transfer process began, with the basketball star’s lawyers and the U.S. government unaware of her whereabouts for several…
Back in 2015, when I started covering climate change, climate war meant one thing. At the time, if someone said that climate change posed a threat to the world order, you would assume they were talking about the direct impacts of warming, or its second-order consequences. Analysts and scholars worried over scenarios in which unprecedented droughts or city-destroying floods would prompt mass migrations, destabilizing the rich world or giving rise to far-right nationalism. Or they worried that a global famine could send food prices surging, triggering old-fashioned resource wars. Or they fretted over social science showing that weather fluctuations could lead to revolutions and civil wars.
The world of 2015 is not the world of 2022. Countries have made remarkable progress averting worst-case climate scenarios since then: Canada taxes carbon pollution, Europe has its Green Deal, and the United States somehow passed the Inflation Reduction Act. What’s more, elected leaders have run on these policies and won. Thanks to a global turn away from coal power, the world will likely not warm 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, as had once seemed possible.
The success of the past seven years was driven home for me when I saw a German public service announcement last month that added decarbonization to the old Enlightenment trinity: “Demokratie, Vielfalt & Klimaschutz. Du Bist Europa,” it read: “Democracy, diversity, and climate protection. You are Europe.” What a victory. And what a complicated one. Since 2015, the risks of climate war have not entirely decreased. Instead the risks have shifted. As more countries have integrated the energy transition into their economies, a chance now exists that efforts to address climate change could encourage conflict in their own right.
This shift has not happened intentionally, to be clear. It’s the result of a process that climate advocates, to their credit, were among the first to note: that batteries, renewables, and zero-carbon energy are the next rung on the technological ladder. Climate hawks have rightly celebrated the news of Ukrainians using ebikes and electric drones for recon or to raid Russian tanks. But that only drives home that these innovations are “dual use”—they can be deployed in civilian and in military contexts, and thus are non-optional for countries pursuing their security.
Conflict over dual-use technologies is already at the center of U.S.-Chinese trade spats. Last month, the Biden administration effectively banned the sale of any modern semiconductor-manufacturing equipment to China. It also forbade “U.S. persons”—a group that comprises American citizens and green-card holders—from working in the Chinese semiconductor industry. As Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine, the policy amounts to a type of economic war, because “it is now official U.S. policy to prevent China from achieving its development goals.”
This is a dangerous logic when you consider that semiconductors are crucial for decarbonization: The shift to electricity all but necessitates greater use of semiconductors. Computer chips govern nearly every part of how electric cars, scooters, water heaters, induction stoves, and more use energy or preserve it. One of the major ways that electric-vehicle makers secure a competitive advantage is by eking out tiny improvements from the computer chips and software that govern a car’s battery pack. Now, the type of semiconductors affected by Biden’s policies is far more advanced than the cheaper kind needed for decarbonization. But you can see how trying to prevent the other country’s development can cascade from an economic disagreement into a military one.
Part of what makes this dynamic tricky to manage is that the U.S. and China are productively using climate policy as a venue for their own diplomatic competition. Perhaps the most important international climate announcement of the past few years was President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China would aim to reach net zero by 2060. He announced the goal less than 2 months before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and it was widely understood as a “pointed message” for—if not a rebuke of—the United States and the Trump administration. “It demonstrates Xi’s consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes,” Li Shuo, a Greenpeace analyst, told The New York Times then.
Competition has improved American policy, too. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act—a law that passed in part because American legislators did not want to cede the clean-tech industry to China—the United States is about to subsidize domestic solar-panel manufacturing at a massive scale. It’s possible that a decade from now we will have more cheap solar panels than we know what to do with. And while that may cause substantial economic deadweight loss, it’s probably good, on net, for the climate. If geopolitical competition leads America to subsidize a solar industry, then competition is probably helping climate action, not hindering it. Flooding the world with cheap solar power will not only speed up decarbonization, but also push companies to find new and creative ways to use solar panels.
The most likely trigger—possibly the only trigger—of a full-blown war between China and the United States remains Taiwan, but we should be attentive to how conflict over trade, even when it emerges from politicians’ virtuous desire to have a domestic clean-tech industry, can degrade relations between countries and push them toward zero-sum thinking. And the greatest risk from mitigation-fueled violence is not, we should be clear, to citizens of America or China or Europe. Over the past month, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen its heaviest rebel fighting in a decade as groups allegedly backed by Rwanda try to lay claim to the country’s minerals, The Wall Street Journal recently reported. Congo produces two-thirds of the world’s cobalt and has the largest reserves of tantalum, a metallic element used in capacitors.
At the same time, the old idea of a climate war has not vanished either. The past year has shown how much climate impacts, such as drought, can drive up the price of key commodities, fueling inflation in the rich world and food shortages elsewhere. Conventional energy sources, such as fossil fuels, are far more likely than renewables or climate technology to trigger such a conflict, Dan Wang, a technology analyst at the China-based economic-research firm Gavekal Dragonomics, told me. China remains dependent on oil and natural gas from abroad; the U.S. has become a large and growing exporter of natural gas to the country. Were the U.S. to cut off those exports—as it did with oil to Japan in the run-up to World War II—then the risks of a bigger conflict could be far graver.
For years, climate advocates argued that their issue deserved to be at the center of economic and social policy making. Climate is everything, they said. Well, to a degree, they won: Decarbonization is now at the center of how the U.S., China, and Europe conceive of the future of their economies. Climate advocates have won a seat at the table where the life-and-death matters of state and society are decided. What progress the world has made; what a long way we still have to go.
He’s known as the Father of the Country and as the man who couldn’t and wouldn’t lie about chopping down a cherry tree. But if Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman have their way, George Washington will also be remembered as “the town destroyer.” That’s the title of a new documentary that they have written, directed More
Author Tony Greenstein talks about his new book “Zionism during the Holocaust.”
Much of the excitement over the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law this summer, focused on the boost it should give to the sales of electric vehicles. Sadly, though, manufacturing and driving tens of millions of individual electric passenger cars won’t get us far enough down the road to ending greenhouse-gas emissions and stanching the overheating of this planet. Worse yet, the coming global race to electrify the personal vehicle is likely to exacerbate ecological degradation, geopolitical tensions, and military conflict. The batteries that power electric vehicles are likely to be the source of much international competition and the heart of the problem lies in two of the metallic elements used to make their electrodes: cobalt and lithium. Most deposits… Read more
On Friday, investigators working for the United Nations delivered a sobering statement to the UN Human Rights Council detailing evidence of Russian war crimes committed as part of the nation’s ongoing occupation of Ukraine, including the rape of children, torture, beatings, electric shocks, forced nudity, and the disappearance of people taken into Russian detention.
These findings came as part of the first official update from three experts who were asked to investigate allegations of war crimes that first arose this spring, soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Their investigation focused on four areas of Ukraine—Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy—where horrific reports of alleged war crimes, including the rape of civilians and summary executions, began to emerge between late February and March of this year as Russia began its war. Friday’s report is the first from the UN to bring forth extensive evidence backing up these allegations, including through interviews with dozens of victims and witnesses.
“We are concerned by the suffering that the armed conflict in Ukraine has imposed on the civilian population,” Erik Mose, chairman of the investigative commission, told the UN.
Mose’s team told the UN they’d interviewed 150 victims and witnesses across 27 towns and settlements, studied documents, and inspected graves, weapon remnants, and places where detention and torture occurred. Across all this research, they found:
- Russia engaged in attacks, including air strikes and rocket-launches, where the country made no effort to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
- Evidence of widespread executions: “We were struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited,” the investigators said in their report. The group said it is investigating executions in 16 of the locations it visited, and has collected evidence of such acts that include: “hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats.”
- Widespread sexual violence towards adults and children: “In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years,” investigators noted. They said that they’d found cases where relatives were forced to watch Russian soldiers commit these crimes. They’ve also documented situations where children were raped and tortured.
- Evidence of torture and unlawful confinement: Investigators said that they’d heard from victims who were tortured after their detention by Russian forces in Ukraine. Some said they were then forcibly taken over national lines to Russia and detained in prisons there—backing up allegations of forced migrations that came out as early as March. Witnesses spoke of beatings, electrical shocks, and forced nudity that occurred in detention.
This UN report came out the day before the seven-month anniversary of Russia instigating the war in Ukraine, and at a moment when the conflict is at yet another inflection point. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilization for men of military age in Russia—what effectively amounts to a military draft of 300,000 people to replenish the manpower Putin needs to continue fighting against Ukrainians. His announcement spurred attempts by swaths of men and families to flee Russia.
Lines to cross into the neighboring countries of Finland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Georgia stretched for miles this week, while flights to nearby countries quickly sold out. Videos circulated on social media that appeared to show hours-long traffic jams of cars waiting to cross land borders out of Russia.
Video: Ekho Kavkaza pic.twitter.com/3eFznx3dvf
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) September 21, 2022
Long lines of vehicles have formed at a border crossing between Russia’s North Ossetia region and Georgia after Moscow announced a partial military mobilization. Report by @RTavisupleba pic.twitter.com/LyhxLUYRv3
— Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (@RFERL) September 22, 2022
Several Russian news sources, including Lenta and RBK, reported that flights to countries that allow visa-free travel from Russia, including Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, had sold out within minutes of Putin’s mobilization announcement on Wednesday. The few remaining tickets that reporters at RBK could find online, for example, were for dates in late September, and cost upwards of $1,300.
“I am strongly against this war,” a male software engineer told CNN after successfully making it to Turkey from Russia. “Everyone I know is against it. My friends, my family, nobody wants this war. Only politics want this war.”
He added: “The only plan is to survive. I’m just scared”
At the last moment, the very last moment, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report on the human rights situation in China. The Office was under enormous pressure by human rights groups to release the report before the High Commissioner left office on August 31. The Chinese More