Of Cypriot communists and Chinese nationalists


One of the nice things about democracy is that it frequently throws up surprises, and unwelcome surprises too for the planners of the international order. It’s something you frequently come up against where there is a foreign election and the Yanks are backing one party against another. Sometimes the local diplomatic staff will get directly involved. More often, you’ll come across outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy. For the uninitiated, the NED is a giant slush fund used by Washington to influence the internal affairs of foreign countries. Sometimes it funds parties directly; sometimes it will plough cash into a whole social layer of “pro-democracy” or “human rights” NGOs.

Now it happens from time to time that the Yanks will cover their bets by funding both sides. But it’s worth the spectacle when they really pull out all the stops to beat somebody. This isn’t, by the way, confined to officially defined “rogue states” like Venezuela or Serbia. I’ve seen it at first hand in Bulgaria. An even better example is Cambodia, where fulsome backing will be given to whoever looks most likely to oust the Hun Sen government. These days it’s Sam Rainsy, who’s learned to mouth the appropriate shibbolethim about “democracy” and “human rights” and “civil society”. Before him it was the clever but ultimately ineffectual Prince Ranariddh. And before him it was the Khmer Rouge-run “Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea”. Human rights, mar dhea!

But, getting away from the Empire’s caddies for the moment, let’s take a brief look at recent events in the two very different polities of Cyprus and Chinese Taipei. And I am firm in stating that the AKEL victory in Cyprus, with Christofias’ election as president, can only be seen as a Good Thing. AKEL’s programme these days is more Old Labour than Marxist-Leninist, but even Old Labour isn’t bad going by the standards of today’s Europe. More to the point is the increased possibility for reunification of Cyprus. Certainly, the cordial relations between AKEL and the CTP, the ruling leftwing party in the northern para-state, plus their common programme of federal reunification, are a hopeful sign.

What would be important about this is that it would be a solution reached among Cypriots. That alone would give it a better chance of survival than some baroque plan emanating from the UN or EU – look at the various Ruritanian protectorates in the Western Balkans for an idea of where that leads. There’s also the not unrelated factor that the Empire prefers to manage these problems than actually solve them. The running sore of a divided Cyprus has provided a handy excuse for intervention in the region – and Cyprus’ strategic position between Europe and the Middle East is highly relevant.

One positive thing that might come out of this – fingers crossed – is that foreign troops might have to get out of Cyprus. Not just the enormous Turkish garrison in the north, mind. The Brits, of course, retain those two great big bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia, both hugely unpopular with Cypriots due to the antics of drunken squaddies. The French also have a listening post, although they’re sensible enough to keep a low profile. This doesn’t mean a great deal to the US military, who have the whole region ringed with bases, but it might be a blow to the Brits’ pretensions of projecting military power. We can but hope.

AKEL might be relatively unproblematic. The Kuomintang are another matter, especially if you’re aware of their grisly history.

Before I get accused of being a booster for the KMT, let me make it perfectly clear that I’m not endorsing the party nor claiming any anti-imperialist credentials for what is after all the Chinese equivalent of Fianna Fáil. But their victory did bring a little smile to my face.

The thing is that, while for decades the KMT may have been imperialism’s favoured Chinese proxy, things change. Imperial commentators – in particular the neocons and the liberal hawks who take their lead from the neocons – have more recently been aggressively boosting the Pan-Green coalition in Taipei, and banging the drum for Taiwanese independence (more loudly, in fact, than the more circumspect Pan-Green politicians in Taipei). We have been given to understand that plucky little Taiwan is being oppressed by mainland China. This impression has been helped along by sympathetic media coverage of politicos from the Democratic Progressive Party, who do the usual democracy ‘n’ human rights ‘n’ civil society spiel in a style that will be instantly familiar from the identikit “democracy activists” you come across in Belgrade or Minsk or Bratislava. The Kuomintang are unfashionable, for reasons that ostensibly have to do with their history but actually relate more to their pro-Chinese orientation.

And what do those pesky Taiwanese electors do? They give a landslide to the pro-Chinese coalition! You’d think they would have got the message…

Neither of these electoral outcomes, of course marks a mortal blow against the Empire. Washington and its regional satraps are skilled at making the best of these situations. But, just for a little while, things aren’t going as smoothly as the planners of “democratic geopolitics” would like.


  1. jamie said,

    March 28, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Don’t know, Splinty: whatever a bunch of Blue Team types were saying, I think the White House was more pleased than not to see the KMT win; ah-bian was a constant pain in the arse with his UN joining stunts and suchlike. It’s got to the stage that when the Chinese have a gripe about Taiwanese behaviour, they just complain to the US, and the US reins the Taiwanese in on Beijing’s behalf.

  2. johng said,

    March 28, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I’m genuinely puzzled by the idea that Taiwan being pro-Chinese could in some way be interpreted as being opposed to US interests. The US would be far more concerned about a declaration of independence.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 28, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Jamie, I’m sure you’re quite right about the KMT not posing real-world problems from Washington. But it is disruptive of the narrative. Another point for realism?

  4. jamie said,

    March 28, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    If we’re talking the “colour revolution” scenario, that’s never really been applied in Sino-Taiwan relations at official level. Since Nixon recognised China in 1972, Taiwan’s been framed mainly as a legacy obligation: a problem in managing Sino-US economic relations rather than as an opportunity to exert ideological influence. And the issue gets complicated further because of the DPP’s identity politics agenda; as far as the pan greens were concerned, the fact that Taiwan was democratic meant that it was not culturally Chinese; so they rejected the role of plucky little Chinese democrat and more generally absented themselves from the general democracy discourse.

    There’s also the fact that the DPP stopped funding Chinese exile groups when they were elected, as the KMT had been doing with the various post Tiananmen formations, and that damaged the institutional capacity of these groups in the United States. Given its economic and geopolitical significance, China and the Chinese speaking world is remarkably “under-ideologised”: all you have is that threadbare Friedman stuff about how being able to choose between fifty eight varieties of mediocre coffee will inevitably lead to full Western style democracy.

    If you’re looking for China threat scenarios, the best place to start is US defense procurement politics: air force budgets are under particular pressure, and that’s where you need your dangerous peer competitor justification as a counter-argument to the currently fashionable countersinsurgency focus of the US army and marines. That’s where Fu Manchu lurks.

  5. March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    Agree with you on AKEL, for years they were the biggest (and oldest) party in Cyprus, yet somehow always the bridesmaid never the blushing bride. And it was heartening to read that people from the Turkish side travelled to Nicosia to join celebrations. This could have wider ripples in the Middle East too.
    But I don’t see what there is to celebrate in the KMT winning in Taiwan. This reminds me of those who wanted to rehabilitate Dmowski and the Endek tradition in Poland because it leaned towards Russia – forgetting it was Czarist Russia they wanted to compromise with.
    If the KMT opposed Taiwan’s independence it is surely because it has used the island as a base for its dreams
    of restoration on the mainland (and I can remember when it called itself “China”, occupied that seat in the UN and was recognised as nationalist China by the West). An independent Taiwan might be annoying for
    the Chinese authorities, but at least by abandoning any claim to be China it would present no threat.

  6. April 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    […] two interesting posts from Splintered Sunrise refer to the KMT election victory in Taiwan, and the influence of Mao Zedong thought among the American New Communist Movement in the 1970s, […]

  7. ejh said,

    April 29, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Is this working? I keep trying to post a link to Perry Anderson’s LRB piece, but it keeps showing me the single word “discarded”.

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    April 29, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Nothing’s showing up in the filter… I’ll have a look myself.

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