A Catholic high school in Colorado--Regis Jesuit in the Denver area--made the front page of The Wall Street Journal last week. Congratulations, y'all. That's the big time.
The school has more than 140 years of history, and it's not kidding. Its website says it offers 29 sports. It has more than 85 clubs. And it sends students on 30-plus retreats every year.
Which is where the story gets interesting.
Recently, the school applied for credentials to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Back in the spring, the UN committee that certifies such groups put a hold on the matter. According to The Journal, the committee "said there was a hiccup: Regis Jesuit's website once used incorrect terminology for Taiwan, the democratically governed island."
Mainland China didn't like the high school using "Taiwan" without tagging "Province of China" behind it.
"China sits on the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which authorizes groups big and small to participate at UN functions. At its publicly held meetings, any representative can hold up an application. Chinese bureaucrats scour each group that comes before the committee, scrutinizing every nook and cranny of their websites for references to Taiwan, say researchers who've studied the committee."
And if the island isn't referred to just so, any request is flagged.
The school had to change a year-old article on its website about a student joining the Girl Up Teen Advisory Board, which includes young people from Taiwan.
We say "Taiwan" with the assurance that we'll not need mainland China's permission to go someplace anytime soon.
If you think Taiwan is living rent-free in mainland China's head, we're glad you don't misunderstand.
This is a fantastic turn of events, especially if you're a history, poli-sci or journalism professor at Regis Jesuit, or any other high school in the country. What a wonderful way to start the day's lesson! Heckfire, let's make it a month's lesson. If our high school had made the front page of The Journal, the principal would've made it the primary kicker for French and arts classes, too.
Gather 'round, students, and we'll tell you what's all the fuss.
Once upon a time, right after the Second World Catastrophe, the Chinese had a civil war, with a little help from their friends. The Communists under Chairman Mao won, and pushed the democrats (notice the small-d) and Chiang Kai-shek off the mainland and onto Taiwan. In this column, we try to note the difference between the Free Chinese who still manage Taiwan and the ChiComs on the mainland.
Beijing, for its part, considers Taiwan a rogue province, and sometimes noises it about that the mainland might take it back by force one day. Every few years, a Taiwanese politician will come along making other noises about declaring an official independence. To which the Red Chinese clutch their pearls, and their QBZ-95s.
The mainland recently allowed plans to leak through its state media about how it could attack and defeat the forces of the Free Chinese, and put the island back under its control. The island buys top-of-the-line military equipment from its ally, the United States, which has pledged to come to the island's defense in case of invasion.
So who's right? Which is it?
Is Taiwan a rogue state that can be, should be, placed back under control of Beijing? Or is it an independent ally of the United States and one of the economic engines of the world that should be protected no matter what?
The answer is, students:
My, what nice weather we're having here lately. Did you catch the latest about Scarlett Johansson? And we really wish Colorado would have knocked off Texas A&M last weekend.
Why get specific about details in the matter of Taiwan? That would just make somebody mad. Either an ally, or a really big country with a really big military.
For decades now, the United States has leaned on a policy called Strategic Ambiguity when it comes to our free friends on a particular island in the western Pacific. Our presidents draw no lines in the sand, or in the water. Our diplomats nod solemnly, as if they knew how to nod any other way. Nobody seems much inclined to say exactly what the plans are in case of ... anything. And we talk around certain things. Winston Churchill, an expert on foreign policy, once said jaw-jaw is better than war-war.
Strategic Ambiguity has kept the peace over that particular strait for going on a century. A war between the Americans and the Red Chinese over Taiwan (or anything else) would be a global disaster. Word around the campfire is that the American military planners often play this war game against each other, and it doesn't always go well for the United States. Just having this conversation is distressing. So why have it at all? Clarity can be dangerous.
And the current strategy, such that it is, has worked. Strategic ambiguity might have its dangers, but it also has a track record.
Peace, it's a wonderful thing.
cc: The students at Regis Jesuit High in Colorado