Finlandization is no model for Taiwan to follow

Fredag, 5. Februari 2010     0 kommentti(a)
Jyrki Kallio
Äldre forskare - forskningsprogrammet Global säkerhet

Foreign Affairs recently published an article by Professor Bruce Gilley, entitled “Not So Dire Straits – How the Finlandization of Taiwan Benefits U. S. Security” (Foreign Affairs, January/February 2010). According to the author, “the United States must decide whether to continue arming Taiwan as a bulwark against a rising China or step back to allow the Taiwanese people to determine their own future.” The author then argues that the Taiwanese should to determine their future by following the policy of appeasement toward China, or ‘Finlandization’.

In my humble opinion, Prof. Gilley's article is flawed both on its premises and its conclusions.

First, Prof. Gilley's presentation of Finlandization is historically inaccurate. Gilley refers to "Finnish autonomy" while Finland, of course, was a sovereign, independent nation. After all, the UK and Finland were the only countries in Europe which participated in the war but did not become occupied. Therefore, appeasing the Soviet Union was a way for Finland to protect its sovereignty. For Taiwan, appeasing China might mean the irrevocable loss of any dreams of independence. For Gilley to say that through Finlandization "Taiwan could reposition itself as a neutral power", it sounds nice but means nothing for one crucial reason: Taiwan is not an independent, sovereign state actor.

Prof. Gilley states that the Soviet Union posed a much lesser threat to Finland than what China poses to Taiwan. I would disagree in the strongest terms. Massive numbers of Soviet troops were stationed close to our eastern border. Gilley claims that "... few doubt that NATO would have defended Finland against a Soviet invasion." However, during the Cold War, there was no way of knowing what NATO would do, and recent history had taught it best to rely on our own strength. We now know that NATO had been quite prepared to abandon Finland. Finnish cities were assigned targets to both Soviet and NATO nuclear missiles. Finland was alone during the Cold War and thus desperately needed to get along with the Soviet Union. Taiwan, on the other hand, is more or less securely under the US military umbrella. How could Taiwan afford to lose such protection?

As to the arms sales, Finland bought Soviet weapons not only for political reasons. To use weapon systems similar to those used by the Red Army had proven to be very practical during the Winter War and the Continuation War when Finland was able to capture significant amounts of guns and ammunition from the enemy and then use the loot against them. The Soviet Union was not opposed to Finland having strong self-defence capabilities since Finland had agreed to defend its territory against any German ally that would try to use our territory to attack the Soviet Union. Naturally, the military in Finland never believed our country to be threatened by anyone other than the Soviet Union. Here again the situation between Finland and Taiwan is quite different. It would be folly for Taiwan to stop buying weapons from the USA, and China certainly does not want Taiwan to have strong defence capabilities.

Prof. Gilley praises Finland's efforts in building the détente between the superpowers through the Helsinki process, and concludes that through similar 'Finlandization' Taiwanese officials would gain more free access to the Mainland where they could influence their communist counterparts on the benefits of liberalization. Not only is this overly optimistic, but it also forgets an element in the Soviet downfall that was much more important than the Helsinki process. I refer to the influence that Finnish television broadcasts had in Estonia. Estonians, then living under Soviet rule, could follow our broadcasts due to geographic and linguistic proximity. Through the Estonians, the true picture of what the "West" was like spread to all parts of the Soviet empire. Taiwan has been a similar source of influence to China for a long time already. Whether Taiwanese officials are or are not welcome to visit the Mainland is irrelevant by comparison.

Second, whereas Prof. Gilley sees "indications that this second cross-strait détente will last", I do not. The Kuomintang rule on Taiwan is not cast in concrete. As time progresses, a growing number of Taiwanese start questioning their 'Chinese identity' or the necessity of keeping the umbilical cord, connecting them to the 'Motherland', intact. The trend is towards Taiwanese independence. Gilley believes that Beijing is already beginning to see the Taiwan Issue less ideologically charged and just as a management issue. In contrast, I would agree with the opposing view and regard Taiwan as an end unto itself for the Communist regime. The legitimacy of the party is inseparably tied with the unity of the nation, and thus the idea of reunification has to be kept alive. This belief has penetrated the whole population. Gilley quotes the results of an opinion poll which showed that only 15 percent of the Mainland Chinese were in favour of reunification through military means. However, it is beyond doubt that a majority of Chinese would be in favour of military action if Taiwan were to declare independence.

The actions of Mainland China today are, of course, much more rationalistic than in the days of the Cultural Revolution. However, I am afraid that the Taiwan Issue is the one case where rationalism could cease to prevail. For the Communist Party, the main issue is their survival, and unity is the single most important condition for the survival.

I can agree with Prof. Gilley in one regard: the second détente is not necessarily just a tactical shift. This is because of the importance of the idea of unity: as long as the situation stays otherwise stable, it does not matter that unity is not real as long as the idea is alive. Gilley writes: "Beijing has no interest in occupying or ruling Taiwan; it simply wants a sphere of influence..." This is only rational and logical. Why try to kill off a goose that lays golden eggs when you can't be sure you will succeed and when the result would be no more eggs? However, the situation will change if even the idea of unity is about to be lost. That is, if Taiwan declares independence (either as a 'second China' or as a 'non-Chinese' Taiwan), the PRC government will react, quite possibly even with military force, unless the two parties have agreed on some way of preserving the image of One China prior to the de facto cutting of the umbilical cord. So the straits need not be all dire.

There is a way for the relations between Mainland China and Taiwan to become permanently amicable. As a Finn, I regret to say that the answer cannot be found by following the Finnish example (or even the malformed perception of Finlandization that Prof. Gilley presents). Rather, the answer has to be found through Chinese wisdom and cunningness. China and Taiwan must become separate, independent entities while the idea of One China must be simultaneously kept alive. It is not easy, but there are surely ways.

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