IN PRAISE OF DIVIDED NATIONS
March. 1988/ TOKYO Business Today
Consider Taiwan. A small island with a disturbed history, it has managed in little more than a generation to match the Mainland colossus. We can all have our own theory as to why Taiwan's economy has been so successful. But few can doubt the political consequences: the Taiwan model is now writ large in whatever future is drawn up for the Chinese people.
Frankly, I'd like to see a lot more Taiwans. Not the ranting, proselytising, belligerent Taiwan of Chiang Kai-shek, of course. But the Taiwan of his son, the recently deceased Chiang Ching-Kou, comes close to the ideal of what a divided nation should be about. It sets out quietly to rebuild its economy. It educates its young (you will hear better Mandarin Chinese spoken in the streets of remote Taiwanese villages today than you will find even in Peking). And it tries to democratise its politics. The world, including even Peking, has little choice but to take note.
To date we have tended to see divided countries as a form of disease or tragedy. The Japanese for example never cease to tell themselves and others how lucky they were in 1945 to be occupied only by the Americans, before the Russians could set foot in Hokkaido. And when one looks at divided Korea one understands their point. The thought of a Democratic Peoples Republic of Hokkaido sending its Mata Han to wreak havoc on the Japanese airline system is unsettling.
But Korea and to some extent Germany are the exceptions that prove the rule. Divided arbitrarily for the convenience of the Great Powers, both sides have had little choice but to resent that division. And when North Korea tried to do something about it all it was bombed almost out of existence. No wonder it remains psychopathic, even today.
In the past Taiwan was much the same. Pumped up with illusions about how it was the one true government of all China, it too used to infiltrate saboteurs, blow up passenger planes in full flight, and generally make itself obnoxious. It only began to reform itself when the West moved to deflate those illusions. Now Peking and Taipei are edging towards some form of mutual contact, and China will be better off.
Would that more civil wars could be solved in the same way. Vietnam, for example. Instead of backing Saigon to the hilt (and then dumping it) the West should have concentrated its effort on creating a defensive enclave in South Vietnam for the anti-communist Vietnamese - a mini-Taiwan. There the anti-communists could have regrouped themselves and set out to create their version of the ideal society. Hanoi would have been under much more pressure than it had been both to improve its own performance and to enter talks for national reconciliation. The tragedies of the past 20 years would have been avoided, and the Vietnamese people would have ended up much better off than they have been.
Unfortunately our national leaders usually don't like to think in such rational terms. For them the nation is one - the nation / tribe. So civil wars and conflicts have to be fought through to the bitter end. National division cannot be tolerated. We believe it is good for firms and footballers to be forced to compete with each other. But no one seems to think it would be a good idea to have bits of the same nation competing with each other to create a better society.
As the ultimate nation/ tribe Japan is even less willing than others to think in these terms. Yet it too could have gained from a dose of national division at times. True, a communist regime in Hokkaido might have been going too far. A better choice might be the attempt a little more than 100 years ago by the Bakufu leader, Enomoto Takeaki, to set up a European- style liberal republic in Hokkaido. His efforts were crushed by the armies of the so-called Meiji Restoration, and Japan then set out on its inevitable march to militarism, Emperor worship, war and the less than entirely satisfactory political situation we see today. Few, even in Japan, remember just what Enomoto was about, though his Hakodate fortress has become a tourist sight. The Japanese Tribe prefers to see him as some sort of renegade and reprobate. In the history textbooks he gets little mention. His ideals get even less mention. Yet he might have made Hokkaido, and Japan, much more interesting places than they are today.
But to come back to Taiwan. It shows well that while competitive division of a nation can be good, the ultimate goal should be reunification. Otherwise one party ends up like North Korea. One of the lesser known stories of the Cold War centers on a visit Chiang Ching-Kuo made to Washington in 1965. At the time the U.S. suspected he wanted to come to terms with Peking. So he was warned bluntly, and secretly, that any attempt to do so would be nipped off promptly by troops flown in from Okinawa. Meanwhile our Western propaganda machines were saying it was Peking which opposed rapprochment...
The Cold War in Asia had to trundle on for yet a few more years.
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