Monday, May 23, 2005
The invitation to President Hu Jintao of China was accompanied by a statement from President Chen in which he said: "I hope Hu can come to see for himself whether Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country, and what our 23 million people have in mind." For its part the Chinese Government responded that there would be no official contact between them and the Taiwan authorities until the Taiwanese ruling party drops a clause in its constitution calling for formal independence. President Hu is unlikely to visit Taiwan any time soon.
Tensions over Taiwan have mounted since this past March when China’s National People’s Congress passed a law in giving its military the legal basis to invade Taiwan if it moves towards declaring formal independence. Soon after, the US and Japan completed a treaty pledging to mutually cooperate to defend the sovereignty of Taiwan if China seeks to re-take Taiwan by force.
While 50 years ago the conflict between the Mainland and Taiwan was based on a disagreement over whether China was better off ruled by a Communist Party regime based on Marxist ideology led by Mao Zedong, or better off ruled by the U.S.-backed KMT’s “Free China” under Chiang Kai-Shek. But today the China-Taiwan dynamic is not about competing political ideologies in the context of Cold War rivalry. It has changed to something even more serious --- a conflict of ethnic identities underlying competing national claims for the same island territory. The Mainland sees Taiwan as a renegade Chinese province. The Taiwan independentists claim to the contrary that Taiwan was never a part of China but only a protectorate of China for a brief period in the 19th century before Taiwan became a Japanese colony in 1895. It is this latter version of history that is taught in Taiwan’s schools today.
Taiwan's president has invited China to begin peace talks “under the principles of democracy, peace and parity.” But from the Mainland point of view parity is out of the question and that any talks should be focussed on the terms of Taiwan’s peaceful reversion to Chinese sovereignty. Unfortunately there is no common ground to be found between the two mutually incompatible Chinese and Taiwanese identities for people living in Taiwan. To smooth things along, China has offered to allow more favourable terms for Taiwan export of fruits and vegetables to the Mainland and to allow more Mainland tourists to visit Taiwan, but these measures are likely to be no more effective than Canada’s federal government’s attempts to appease Quebec sovereigntists by devolving authority over manpower training to the provinces. Disputes based on of ethnic identity typically end very badly as they unleash irrational and destructive passions: think Ireland, Yugoslavia, Rwanda.
From a realist perspective because Taiwan has only 1/60 of the population of the Mainland and because China is so important to the U.S. today and increasingly so, chances are if the Mainland decides to re-take Taiwan by force, the U.S. in the final analysis will not see it in U.S. interests to become involved. Let us hope so anyway as the wheels of change are already turning in East Asia and the mood in China is to reassert its authority in the region and certainly the first step is to bring Taiwan “back into the embrace of the Motherland.” China will also surely take measures to encourage the other neighbours, Japan and South Korea, to withdraw from the U.S. orbit of influence in East Asia. Probably the U.S. military garrisons in Japan and South Korea’s days are already numbered. But the question really is will the U.S. withdraw quietly or will China’s challenge to the U.S.’s role in East Asia lead to yet another terrible war in the region.
As a university student in the late-1940s, Victor became active in the nationalist movement to resist the Soviet Union’s imposition of a puppet régime in Czechoslovakia. He eventually met with President Edvard Benes to press his case but only after leading thousands of demonstrating students to follow him “To the castle!” This subsequently led to a show trial on charges of treason resulting in Victor being sentenced to 10 years of hard labour. In prison he developed a strong aversion to carrots and black coffee, the culinary staples. After 9 months of solitary confinement he made a dramatic escape while labouring in a coal mine. He fled to Canada via Germany. He completed his B.A. at the University of British Columbia in 1950, partially supported by working as a lumberjack. This was followed by an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. In New York he supported his studies by working as a longshoreman unloading bags of sugar from Cuba. His adventurous spirit led him to India where he studied Indology at the University of Bangalore, eventually obtaining a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1964. While there, he married Rama Kapur, a scholar in her own right. Alexandra (as she later became known) for her part mastered Czech cuisine and later Chinese as well as her native Indian fare which allowed Victor to indulge his passion for fine dining and good wine over more than 40 years of happy family life.
In 1961 they settled in Burma where Victor taught political science at the University of Rangoon. In 1963, Victor took a job at Nanyang University in Singapore as well as lecturing in the Faculty of Law at the University of Singapore. He also served as Russian language tutor to Lee Hsien Loong, now Singapore’s Prime Minister. In 1994 Victor was honoured by a private dinner hosted by Lee Kwan Yew in recognition of Victor’s work in the early years of the Republic.
In 1971 Victor returned to Canada with Alexandra and their two young children, Jana and Victor, Jr. to teach at Brock University. He touched the lives of thousands of students in his legendary first-year Politics course with his enormous breadth of knowledge, combined with great generosity of spirit, dignity and humour and sartorial elegance. Victor was in his element behind a podium lecturing about the great movements of cultures and politics to a room of hundreds. He served as President of the Canadian Asian Studies Association from 1974-76 and reconnected with the community of Czech exiles in Canada. He wrote and published prodigiously right up to shortly before he died, completing 19 books and a long list of other publications in English and Czech on a wide range of scholarly topics.
Shortly after transformation of his homeland by Czechslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution” in 1989, Victor was asked to “come home.” He was offered a university rectorship to oversee a massive overhaul of the nation’s post-secondary education. But by this time Victor was already retired and preoccupied with his writing. Moreover he felt that as a returned exile who had been absent over the 40 years of Communist rule there, that he would always be perceived as an outsider. Seeing the formidable task of routing the old Marxist guard from their University sinecures as better suited to someone else, Victor declined the offer. In 1998 he was decorated with the T.G. Masaryk medal by President Havel in recognition of his scholarly writings on the Czech legions and his very active support of the Charter of 77 movement.
Victor lived an epic life stretching across the continents and the great civilizations. He unremittingly fought for justice and for understanding and reconciliation between peoples through his teaching and writing on Asian political culture. And he was ever cheerful in adversity. In the St. Catharines General Hospital during his illness, Victor’s dinner tray again featured the carrots he had come to revile in prison 55 years before. The irony of it brought him a final chuckle.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Domestic servant for the Government of
Jiang Chunrui grew up in one of
In his late teens, he had the good fortune to be recruited into the People’s Liberation Army. After his tour of military service he was assigned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Service Bureau, which provides staff for foreign diplomatic missions to
I got to know Jiang when I worked as a junior functionary in the Embassy over 2 diplomatic postings in the 1990s. One of Jiang’s tasks was to bring coffee to the Ambassador’s office to serve to visitors in the day. He would regularly call me out of my office for a cup of left over Ambassadorial coffee in the Embassy kitchen on the sly. As a political officer I would quiz him on conditions in the rural areas and he told me of break down in law and order, dropping agricultural commodity prices (China’s entry into the WTO contributing to this), rapacious local officials extracting arbitrary fees from already hard pressed peasants and the hardship brought about by the frequent droughts in recent years due to the plummeting water table in the North China Plain which has led to Shandong’s rivers drying up very early in the planting season. But he had questions for me too. He was a devoted listener of the Radio Canada International Chinese service and was therefore well versed in Canadian politics. He found
His cancer had already spread by the time it was diagnosed in the spring of last year. He suffered badly from the chemotherapy and blamed the pain of it on the American techniques of his doctor recently returned from advanced studies in Oncology at Harvard. He would have preferred a Chinese trained specialist. His voice weak over the long distance telephone, he asked me to come to see him in
Jiang Chunrui was in many ways nobler and more dignified than many of those he served. His parting gift to me was an exquisite set of tiny Chinese calligraphy brushes of rare quality that must have cost him several weeks’ wages.
Friday, April 08, 2005
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Another relevant aspect of our grain trade to
The continuing need by
Presently CIDA continues to engage in a broad range of programming in
As time goes by
Saturday, March 26, 2005
The music he created became very important in our young lives. It was a great experience for me to sing with the great soloists of that period --- Bill Bowen and Garth Hampson. There is some record of how the choir sounded over the period as the choir made two gramophone records (the second partly recorded in the foyer of the Supreme Court of Canada). Mr. Hewitt also always recorded our annual performance at the Government House Christmas party and many other performances. I hope the tapes are preserved somewhere.
We also did some modest touring around Ontario to churches in Hamilton, Arnprior and Kingston.
A highlight of my time in the choir was the series of performances of Benjamin Britten's "Noyes Fludde" on a stage built in the Cathedral chancery and produced by Nicholas Goldschmidt in 1967.
I also remember well the Sunday morning in that Centennial Year when the Queen and Prince Philip came to the service and the power failed wreaking havoc with Mr. Hewitt's special musical arrangements in honour of the Royal presence. Godfrey took this unexpected development in his stride, of course.
In those years we had a strong rivalry with the choir of St. Matthew's then led by Brian Law. We used to take it out in our annual football match against them led as usual by Mr. Hewitt from the sidelines.
Aside from the wonderful musical and moral education that Mr. Hewitt offered us, there was a great spirit of friendship and fun among the boys and the men. Godfrey Hewitt set the tone for the wonderful institution that the choir was in the '60s and '70s. He engendered in all of us enormous affection and respect.
I entered university the year after I left the choir and studied in Toronto, Cambridge, Shanghai and Princeton. I have been a professor of political science at Brock University since 1989 with two periods of leave of the University from '91-93 and '98-2000 when I served as a diplomat at our Embassy to China.