Sunday, March 18, 2018

Does int'l media get sore arms from carrying so much water for Beijing?

The sign on the left sign cries out for captioning.

Warning... long post ahead.

Yesterday President Trump of the US signed the Taiwan Travel Act. The act is simply a "sense of Congress" resolution and does not require anything; the President already has the power to order officials to Taiwan. But it is an important symbolic move (see Shannon Tiezzi's sturdy backgrounder at The Diplomat).

Of course, the reporting was appallingly pro-China. Rupert Hammond-Chambers of the US-Taiwan Business Council neatly encapsulated the media's service to Beijing:
R J Hammond-Chambers@RJHCUSTBC
I have yet to read any US coverage that explains why strong, high-level US-TW engagement is inherently in the interests of the US. Only a steady stream of why the PRC is upset. Note to America’s media - US interests should not be dictated by China!
Hammond-Chambers instanced this piece from Reuters. Note that while it expends many pixels explaining that China is upset and permitting Chinese officials to speak without any challenge or contrary information, it says nothing about why US officials think this might be a good idea for the US. The US, indeed, is not given any voice whatsoever. Reuters has appeared many times on this blog for its reporting on China, but it is hardly alone.

But VOA -- pass the whiskey and comfort food this is the VOICE of America -- reports in exactly the same way. First paragraph:
U.S. President Donald Trump has signed legislation that encourages U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa, a move that has angered China.
The piece contains no information on why the US did this. But the key fact that it angers China (ZOMG TENSHUNZ PLZ CLICK MANY TIMEZ) is reported and Chinese officials speak with no challenge or contrary information, and no words from US officials about why they might be doing this. Yes, in Voice of America, America has no voice. In fine reader-slit-your-belly fashion the "report" even uses the word "reunification".

The AP piece is better. It gives context but the bulk of the report is still devoted to China and the Chinese reaction. Chinese officials are quoted twice (no US officials are quoted but at least AP notes Trump wants to get tough on China). As usual, nothing is presented that might show why China's claims are nonsense -- no argument is made for the US side, and the reader is not alerted to the key fact that China's policy is to displace tensions in the US-China relationship onto the US-Taiwan relationship, to weaken the latter and present Taiwan as the cause of tensions. Tsai is presented as refusing to endorse China's claim to Taiwan, but the US position that Taiwan is not part of China is omitted.

Who gave American officials a voice? NHK of Japan, which not only gives a US context but also offers words from a White House official. Sputnik even quotes the actual WH press release.

This media response is driven by two issues. One is the vast contempt the media has for Trump, so anything Trump does is deprecated.

The second issue is the interpretive framework that establishment observers use to understand China's place in East Asia geopolitics and which journalists reflect. In this framework the goal is great power "stability" under which China participates in international economic and political systems as a full compliant partner. This framework denies that China is interested in subverting, overthrowing, converting, or destroying the international order and views Taiwan as a provocative irritant that upsets the smooth ordering of international relations -- tensions are due to the actions of Taiwan, not China.

Its proponents thus argue that if we only understood China better and addressed its concerns, it would respond positively. These worthies claim that opponents don't understand poor put upon China and, when necessary, that those of us who constantly point out that this framework is both useless and pro-China are paranoid or are just plain racist. 

This difference in underlying interpretive frameworks is why the China Explainer crowd gets so worked up about Taiwan-US contacts -- the classic example being the Trump-Tsai phone call (my post on that is now the #2 most-viewed post on this blog) -- and why those of us with Taiwan experience, who do not use this pro-China framework when interpreting Chinese actions, shrug and ask for another margarita because nothing is going to happen, and alcohol makes the conniption fits of the China Explainer crowd even more enjoyable.

But more seriously, which media outlet reported that nothing happened as a result of the Phone Call? That would be none. Failures of the Establishment Framework are passed over in silence, and its links to the power, status, and wealth its proponents derive from their China connections are never mentioned.

However, establishment journalism well understands how to exploit this framework to sell clicks. For example, earlier this month AP shouted: Get yur clickbait here! The international media sells tensions, and when Beijing-Taipei tensions are normal and unremarkable, they need sexing up.

Thus, this recent AP piece on the scammer deportations ruthlessly exploits the interpretive framework under which the pro-democracy party in Taiwan is the cause of tensions: "Phone fraud schemes worsen Beijing-Taiwan tensions". It's important to get in those words "worsening... tensions" to maintain the proper level of clickbait appeal. Imagine if the headline read the truth: "Phone fraud deportations reflect fallout from the currently normal level of Beijing-induced tensions."

Well, people might read that because it is so unusual....

As so often in the international media, AP omits the key fact that enables the reader to understand the issue at hand (thus length of explanation is longer than original omission, sorry):
In 2014, Philippine police nabbed 44 Taiwanese who were suspected of gaining access to bank accounts by telling victims they had been used by money launderers or terrorists. Other cases have involved fraudsters posing as tax collectors or other officials.

As of September, the Taiwan Criminal Investigation Bureau said it was tracking 778 people and 58 groups with potential fraud links.

Shortly before Tsai took office, Beijing began demanding that governments of countries like Kenya, Malaysia and Spain that arrest phone and computer fraud suspects send them to China, where they face almost certain conviction and up to life in prison.
Note that gratuitous comment about Tsai. It's really a lovely work of plausible deniability -- AP could say "well, we were just fixing the timing, you know. We weren't linking the deportations to Tsai, really." As I noted in the Diplomat on these cases:
In December of 2014, the Kenyan police arrested 77 persons (45 Taiwanese, 31 Chinese, 1 Thai; 13 of the the 77 were females between 19 and 25) following a fire that revealed their equipment. They were tried in several different groups. One of group of 10, including the batch of eight Taiwanese, was convicted of being in Kenya illegally and did a year in prison, which ended in March 2016. They were all eventually tried on three charges of telecoms equipment violations and business violations. All were acquitted of the latter. As the Kenya government later explained, the men were deported to China because they had entered the country illegally, and Guangzhou was their last port of embarkation.

China became involved immediately. In December 2014, a police team arrived from China to help investigate the case, and in January 2015, the Chinese government formally requested that Kenya send the suspects to China. China wanted to try the suspects on fraud charges, while the Kenya government tried them only on telecoms equipment and business violations. This withholding of the fraud charges suggests that the two governments agreed on how to handle the case over a year before Tsai Ing-wen was elected. It is thus highly unlikely that the Chinese government was planning to signal the incoming DPP administration on cross-strait sovereignty issues.
The construction that AP presents, "shortly before Tsai took office" appears to link the "new" policy to Tsai without actually saying so -- that pro-democracy party, so unstable you know, wink wink. Cute.

Truth: the Kenya suspects were arrested in Dec of 2014, over a year before Tsai was elected and a year and a half before she "took office". The Chinese police showed up immediately and informed the Kenya police they wanted the suspects (Kenya paper Jan 2015 report)(my post on this). The formal request was made in Jan of 2015. The new policy was probably determined in the late summer or fall of 2014, nearly two years before Tsai "took office" and when we had a KMT president. Why? Beijing was peeved that scammers kept being sent back to Taiwan and being released. Again from the Diplomat:
Indeed, a legislator for the current ruling party [KMT] was asked by a reporter whether the deportations were a message to Tsai Ing-wen, but denied that interpretation: “We have to face reality as well,” he admitted. “We had given light sentences to the fraudsters after they were extradited back to Taiwan, which had resulted in certain consequences.”
The deportations aren't linked to Tsai at allLinking them to her in any way is completely misleading (but neatly exploits the interpretive framework that the DPP causes tensions and sovereignty issues drive cross-strait relations). The "new" scammer policy is linked to the policies of the previous administration of KMT President Ma Ying-jeou (once again, the double standard: the KMT can never cause tensions -- even though the cause of the policy shift was, indisputably, a KMT administration policy). The AP presentation even makes Ma Ying-jeou vanish entirely. Mysteriously, Taiwan was without a President shortly before Tsai took office...

The Taiwan government -- Ministry of Justice and Mainland Affairs Council both! -- also conceded that Beijing has the legal right to ask for the criminals because their victims were Chinese (Taipei Times). Hence this piece of "reporting" from AP is another misleading tension-construction....
Taiwan officials protested when a court in Spain agreed in December to send 121 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China. Beijing contends that since victims of the crimes are Chinese, the suspects should be tried in China.
Note that it places the two contentions on equal terms as if there were no resolution between the two sides. ZOMG the TENSHUNZ (PLZ CLICK MOAR)! Let's rewrite it so it reflects truth:
To impress domestic audiences, Taiwan officials protested when a court in Spain agreed in December to send 121 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China. However, the Ministry of Justice publicly conceded in 2016 that Beijing has the right under international rules to try the suspects since the victims of the crimes are Chinese.
But then such a construction is tension-free because it concedes that in this dispute China is right. But to understand that, you'd have to understand why China is requesting them, which AP completely omits.

The AP piece does, laudably, assign blame for the breaking off of communication to Beijing -- the international media is getting better at that.

Reality: the cause of tension between Taiwan and China is Beijing's desire to annex Taiwan.

But what media ever straightforwardly says that?
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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Leveraging Popular Action to Irritate Relations with Japan

So many Vietnamese wives imported into Taiwan means good Vietnamese food is available even in the smallest towns.

The KMT hates Japan (among older KMTers that hate is even genuine) and always attempts to split Taiwan and Japan. Because Taiwanese love Japan and vice versa, that is no simple task. One method has long been the use of private organizations and popular action to irritate Taiwan-Japan relations over the Senkakus and other issues. I've been following this on the blog for a while (here and here, for example). Five years ago I wrote:
The [KMT] government in Taipei is clearly attempting to stoke the Diaoyutai issue at home, to drum up some faux nationalism and to divert attention from the many problems the economy is facing. During recent exercises the military wore patches saying "The Diaoyutai are ours!" (DefenseNews). In the most recent exchange of water cannon fire between ROC coast guard vessels and Japanese ships, Chinese ships were hanging around. The two sides probably aren't actively coordinating, but of course they don't need to. Everyone knows the score and knows how they should behave.
KMT policy hasn't changed. This month gives us two examples. The Taipei Times this week reported:
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday turned over 18,750 signatures for a referendum drive to the Central Election Commission to back a call for a referendum on boycotting food imports from Fukushima Prefecture and four surrounding Japanese prefectures that were affected by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

“The number of signatures is tenfold the legal requirement. It symbolizes the public outrage directed at the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] administration,” Hau told a news conference at the commission’s office after presenting boxes containing the signed pages to commission official Chuang Kuo-hsiang (莊國祥).
The KMT has long attempted to use food issues to present itself as the party of the people against the DPP. In the 2016 election, for example, KMT candidate Eric Chu used the ractopork issue to attack the DPP. After Tsai won, this tactic continued. This current referendum drive thus serves the double purpose of irritating relations with Japan while hacking on the DPP.

Note that further down the Ag Minister points out that if Taiwan were to join the CPTPP it must comply with the norms of CPTPP states, and importing ractopork and radiated food is one of those norms. This move to irritate Japan is thus also, but more quietly, directed at this successor to the US-led TPP, which was revived by Japan. When Taiwan joins an international agreement system, it is good for Taiwan but bad for China's drive to annex Taiwan. Taiwan joining an international agreement led by Japan would be especially infuriating to the pro-China KMT.

Another move occurred early this month: the now familiar irritation of Japan-Taiwan relations using fisherman in the Senkakus, the island group which China suddenly invented a claim to in the late 1960s. Fisherman complained that they had been chased from waters they should not have been...
Tseng Tai-shan (曾泰山), chairman of the association, told CNA that the Taiwanese recreational fishing vessel did not intrude into Japan's territorial waters and accused the Japanese side of going too far in its reaction.

"We hope that the government will be tough this time in dealing with Japan in order to ensure the interests of Taiwanese fishing boats."
The fisherman called upon the government to get tough with Japan, which would certainly cause more trouble. This is not the first time that Tseng has been involved in this sort of thing -- in 2013 he was part of a call for a lawsuit against Japan over the Senkakus. And that same boat has been chased before, according to the report above.

Fishermen have a special place in Taiwan hearts and there is much sympathy for them, a hidden reason why the fleets are never reformed or well regulated. Recall the outpouring of public support for the tuna poachers shot by Philippines coast guard in 2013. Few voices in the media asked about Taiwan's long history of poaching in those waters, instead blaming Phils.

Luckily, one of the Tsai Administration's skills is keeping silliness like this under control and not letting it affect Taiwan-Japan relations, which (also fortuitously) have deep roots.
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Rounding up.....

Fruit trees line the dry shelf next to a river.
l'll talk to this Humungus! He's a reasonable man, open to negotiation.
He promised us safe passage! He gave his word!
And let us suppose he keeps it and we walk away from here with our lives. What then?
Sorry, but haven't felt much like blogging lately... first few weeks of the semester are busy ones.

So I come home last week and my son meets me at the door. "Hey, I am graduating," he says. "I never doubted it," I answer. "No, I mean today." Turns out the school recalculated his credits and decided he had, in fact, graduated. He picked up his diploma and is now degree'd, and we save a semester of tuition. Off to the army for him! That should offer some excellent blogfodder, so stay tuned.

JUST BROKE: Trump signs Taiwan Travel Act (White House)

Bet you haven't even noticed: where is Wang Jin-pyng, former head of the Taiwanese KMTers and powerful KMT politician? Don't worry, I don't know either.

The Chinese government introduced 31 incentives for Taiwanese to come over and work in China this month. At Taiwan News David Spencer opines:
Given the official title of “Favorable measures for Taiwanese” (惠台措施), the CCP propaganda reads that this is merely an offer to put Taiwanese citizens on a par with China and enable them to “share in the benefits of China’s economic development.” They have been compiled by no fewer than 29 different CCP government agencies and, in keeping the with cult of personality currently being built around the CCP leader, they are being billed as "the vision of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) regarding Taiwan."

That is not something that will be particularly enticing to Taiwanese people who are not subjected to nearly as much Xi propaganda as the Chinese. But you also do not have to be much of a cynic to see through the spin and interpret the 31 initiatives for what they really are; namely a transparent attempt to try and win support for the CCP from Taiwanese people and to draw talented people and investment money away from Taiwan and, in doing so, exacerbating Taiwan’s brain drain issue and create new economic challenges.
Spencer's call for economic changes in Taiwan in the following paragraphs is dead on. However, the second paragraph is only halfway right. It is a transparent attempt, and it will not be "successful" because Taiwanese are already going there to make money. While many go, few support the CCP or eventual annexation to China.

These 31 incentives are not really aimed at Taiwan, though some positive fallout is probably expected. The CCP knows perfectly well that it has zero popularity on the island and that these incentives are transparent. They are primarily aimed at two audiences.

First, the audience of international China observers who are still operating under the dead interpretive framework of China's inexorable rise and inevitable annexation of Taiwan and always-just-around-the-corner entry into the international system. They will no doubt point to these and say "LOOK TAIWAN IZ DOOOOOOOOMED" by China's irresistible pull or some such drivel. Fortunately this viewpoint, lucrative and status-enhancing though it may be for its purveyors, is slowly vanishing.

Yet many observers will take these seriously as "incentives" and discuss instead of debunk, presenting them to audiences abroad as if China were reasonable and was seeking peace. This helps enhance China's image abroad. China has become adept at teaching the international media to manage itself...

The second audience is of course Xi's own people. Sooner or later China is going to have to go to war to annex Taiwan, and this is part of the run-up strategy. "Look," Beijing is positioning itself to say,  "we tried everything. We even gave them all this! Now, regrettably we have exhausted all peaceful options and we have to move against them. So sad." This also creates resentment among Chinese towards Taiwan for the special treatment -- if you have ever interacted with Chinese talking about Tibet, they often express resentment at all the "special treatment" given to Tibetans. Beijing is probably working to stoke resentment towards Taiwan in the same way....
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Daybreak: New Bloom with great project on the Sunflowers

An eagle soars above us. It was sitting on a pole, but when we stopped to get a close up a dog came out of a nearby house to bark at us, and scared it off.

With the Daybreak Project Brian at New Bloom has outdone himself gathering a pile of materials on the Sunflowers and then conducting interviews with numerous key individuals and observers. Go thou and read!!

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Those hidden gem bike rides right by your house...

Sometimes you find yourself on an amazing, lovely ride when you least expect it. The other day Mike Surly and I were off to climb the 88 (Dongyang Road out of Fengyuan) which is a pretty climb with good views and an excellent workout. But we'd done it 100 times so we started exploring some of the side roads off the 88 instead. Eventually we turned onto Quanzhou Road, which offered lovely terrain combined with fearsomely steep climbs. We ended up walking some of the climbs, but it was well worth it. A good reminder of how many beautiful places there are within a stone's throw of Taichung.

The greatness of Twitter: a conversation with digital minister Audrey Tang


The awesome and insightful Kerim Friedman with a Twitter conversation with Taiwan's digital minister, Audrey Tang. Twitter is great for conversations like this, you can talk directly to the people you want to reach... on a topic that we foreigners have been complaining about since the introduction of computers: none of the systems used by government and major SOEs takes foreign visa numbers. Local ID numbers begin with 1 English letter, ARCs with two. A typical Taiwan ID looks like F0000000000, a foreigner one TX00000000. Many systems won't accept the latter number since you can only input 1 letter. This has been the source of much friction for us in the foreign community in Taiwan since we can't purchase stuff online or at 7-11.
@audreyt Hi, I'm a permanent resident of Taiwan, but still can't use any of the available APPs to purchase Taiwan Rail tickets online because I don't have a Taiwanese ID number. No such problem with HSR. What can be done to improve this?

Please use the web app here: …

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim
I've lived here for 12 years and take the train almost every week. I know how to use the website. What I'm asking is why I can't use a mobile app which has numerous advantages: see what trains are booked, save my information for reuse, etc. only because my ID is different?

Nor is this the only site for which this is true. There are numerous online sites in Taiwan that require a 台灣身分證 simply because the programmers have been too lazy to code to check for alternative IDs such as ARC numbers (which are formatted differently).

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim
Taiwan is much better to immigrants than many other countries, but it is one of the few countries which discriminates in this way. For privacy reasons the US won't even let you use your SSID online, but if they did, the number would be the same for foreigners and locals.

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩
Getting back to 台鐵. Taiwanese can book tickets at 7-11 store using iBon, but if you don't have a 台灣身分證號碼 you can't do this as a foreigner. (Although you can print out tickets that you bought via the website.) This seems silly. 高鐵 does not have these problems.

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim
Just last week I couldn't reserve a movie ticket with a theater in Taipei because it only accepted 台灣身分證號碼! Why?

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim
I think in the past this kind of thing didn't matter so much because most migrants had a Taiwanese spouse who would do these things for them, but in my case we are both foreigners and so we are shut out from many online conveniences that only Taiwanese can take advantage of.

Indeed. For government services, at the moment this requires explicit regulatory changes ( for example recently we're expanding participants, which needed to amend … — expanding "citizens of the state" to include folks with ARCs ).

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim
Thanks for looking into this. I understand that there are some services that are restricted to citizens, but in most cases it just seems like lazy web development, since the service is (or should be) available to all.

Kerim Friedman 傅可恩@kerim
In such cases perhaps there could be incentives to fix this (akin to those for web accessibility)?

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!

Monday, March 05, 2018

Unknot thy knickers: there will be no independence referendum.

It was warm, so this was necessary.

Temps to plummet on Thursday, folks. As my mother in law is wont to say, don't put the blankets away til Tombsweeping Day...

Total Taiwan moment on Thursday. Student I failed last semester comes up to me in the hallway, asking to take the same class from me again. I really hate that, but we teachers have no right to say no, but I admonish him and warn him if he displays the same lack of effort and inattention, he will fail again. Meanwhile mom comes up behind him and takes over the conversation. Turns out mom has compelled the lad to move out of the dorm for not taking his classes seriously, and moved him back home so mom can oversee him and make sure he is out the door for class every day, homework in hand. She apologized profusely for her son's behavior, a way to give him an additional tongue lashing in the guise of apologizing to me. It was horribly embarrassing, and she continually overrode my desperate efforts to end the conversation. Helicopter mom, making a landing....

Meanwhile the amazing news this week was that Taiwan Launches Campaign For Independence Referendum. No, haha, not "Taiwan". There was so much silliness because the I-word was mentioned. On Twitter a China observer commented that this should be watched because it is what a run-up to war looks like... tenshunz, you know. Several of us laughed and explained that Taiwan's referendum law specifically rules out referendums on the status of the nation, the national territory, the Constitution, and similar.

It was just another case of the strangest Taiwan-China divide of all: the difference between those who watch China, and those who watch Taiwan. The China crowd drives us nuts for numerous reasons, but outstanding among them is the habit of China people who want to comment on Taiwan stuff not bothering to ask what the answer is before writing/posting/tweeting on it. The classic moment in this difference was of course the Trump-Tsai call (take 1and 2and 3)...

Fortunately, the Hong Kong Free Press has the call:
Former Taiwanese presidents Chen Shui-bian and Lee Teng-hui have said they support a bid for an independence referendum to be held next April.

Lee said a vote would be the “most powerful weapon” to ensure the island nation is respected as a “normal country,” with a new constitution, under the official name of Taiwan.

“I attended the press conference today as a concrete action to show my support for the referendum,” Lee told pro-independence supporters on Wednesday, according to the Central News Agency.
The Taipei Times had a list:
The Island of Joy and Happiness Coalition (喜樂島聯盟), launched by Formosa TV chairman Kuo Bei-hung (郭倍宏), was joined by Lee, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former presidential adviser Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), as well as the New Power Party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, the Social Democratic Party and the Taiwan Radical Wings.

At a news conference in Taipei packed with hundreds of independence supporters, coalition representatives announced plans to formally launch on April 7, the anniversary of late democracy activist Deng Nan-jung’s (鄭南榕) self-immolation in 1989.
and printed their call:
“President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has influenced many DPP lawmakers to ensure that she and the 113 legislators have a tight grip on the right to decide Taiwan’s future and the nation’s destiny,” the coalition said in a statement. “The Island of Joy and Happiness Coalition believes that [Tsai’s] methods are no different than the belief held by some Chinese that they have the right to decide Taiwan’s future and it also constitutes the severest infringement on 23.5 million Taiwanese’s right to self-determination.”
Anyone see what wasn't in the news? That explosive reaction from China? Oh yeah, it never happened. But you can be sure that the China watcher crowd will pass over that silence in... silence.

UPDATE: A friend who was there said this protest was only about protesting the referendum law that does not permit referendums on independence.
Note that (1) all the groups present are part of the third force political movement and (2) it is highly critical of President Tsai and the DPP.

Brian H over at New Bloom nailed it. This is not about China. It's about domestic politics. He scribed:
THE DECLARATION by Third Force parties, along with former presidents Chen Shui-Bian and Lee Teng-Hui and other influential figures such as former vice president Annette Lu, former DPP presidential candidate Peng Ming-min, and Formosa TV chair Kuo Bei-hung, that they intend to seek a referendum on Taiwanese independence poses a significant challenge to the DPP. Namely, with this move, the Third Force has more or less declared its intent to seize the mantle of traditional positions held by the DPP away from it.
Brian provides a detailed discussion of the internal politics of the third force (which you should read), but the key point is that despite its internal quarrels, the alternative social groups/parties presented a unified front on this issue.

My man Donovan and I predicted that this sort of thing would happen in our analysis (points 6 and 7) shortly before the 2016 election (we were hardly the only ones). Fundamentally, the DPP is a big tent party with a large pro-independence base that is very conservative, and it has close links to big businesses. As the KMT is crushed, that leaves space on the pro-Big Business right which the DPP will fill -- business groups donated more to the DPP than KMT in the run-up to the 2016 election (thus a double whammy for the KMT, on the one hand losing its assets, on the other, businesses stop donating. Hard for the party to recover).

With the gravitational pull rightward, the DPP will shift to the right, opening space to its left which someone will try to fill. That is what the third force is attempting to do. At some point, Donovan and I have long felt, the DPP will probably fracture into pro-big business and pro-society, small business groups, especially if the KMT shows no signs of recovery.

So this 'independence referendum' is pure vapor, it will never occur and is simply aimed at appealing to the DPP's pro-independence base, as Brian H observed (and also at twitting Tsai for not being militant enough). The problem for the third force is that the DPP is a conservative nationalist party not only because of its big business links but also because its base in the south is socially conservative. Moreover, everyone is already pro-independence except for a few old Deep Blues desperately clinging to the KMT...

The DPP's base understands the DPP is pro-independence even if it does grumble about the slow pace of independence. But recall that the DPP has done nothing on gay marriage, has made lots of noise about drugs, and similar. Its base, especially in the South, likes that. The third force is more progressive than the DPP base, and the DPP base knows that. Hence, this will go nowhere.

Also note that except for the NPP politicians, the big names listed in the Taipei Times piece are mostly from the previous generation of Taiwan Independence activists. For that generation Taiwan Independence was about getting rid of KMT colonial power. The current generation of under-40s in Taiwan is a post-independence generation -- Taiwaneseness, independence, and democracy are the bedrock of their social identities. Their decision on independence has been made and they are concerned with pressing environmental, social, and economic issues. Against that, holding referendums on independence amidst calls for Taiwan to assume its place in the world is actually engaging in the politics of the previous generation.

If the third force wants to poach the DPP base and appeal to the rising bloc of under-40 voters, it would be better off pushing loudly for issues involving the environment, jobs, salaries, child care, and the social safety net.... imagine if those same worthies had sat down and called for a referendum on a 30K a month minimum wage for all workers or a referendum on a moratorium on slopeland development.

Lee Teng-hui also praised Mayor Ko of Taipei last week, another way of helping politicians who are neither KMT nor DPP, but are pro-Taiwan. Ko has been the subject of much griping from DPP politicians attacking him for being pro-China, an attack that is completely absurd.
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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Kaohsiung city gov't vs Military village

A "bikeway" in Fengyuan. All the government did was mark the motorcycle lane as a "bike route". I bet somewhere this has been collected as a kilometer of "bike route".

A friend posted this to Facebook about the military village along Shengli Rd and Chengfeng Rd near the Lotus Pond in Kaohsiung. This sort of thing is how the military villages are commonly handled. When old soldiers were settled in the cities they were given what was then worthless land to build on, owned by the government. Without their own land they owned nothing and remained on the outside of the Taiwan Miracle economy. Now they are old and the K-town city government is replicating the behavior of city governments everywhere. Would be great if the student groups could show up here...
Another chapter in the unfolding saga of the Kaohsiung city government vs the residents of the old military village housing where our restaurant is located, which is slated for demolition later this year, to make way for a reconstructed Qing Dynasty city wall and moat. Those without legal title to the land are being offered the government assessed value of the bricks and mortar of the structure they live in, and even those with legal title to the land are being offered a pittance for their land in addition to the value of the bricks and mortar. In neither case is the money sufficient to buy even the smallest studio apartment in the crappiest building in the far suburbs of the city.

Many of the residents of this area are retired working class folk living on very limited incomes, and may not be able to afford to rent once their houses are taken from them. So residents are understandably extremely upset and have organized in various ways to oppose the city's plans. Recently city officials have visited everyone with businesses in the affected area to discuss moving them to a nicer location where they claim there will be more foot traffic. Of course these locations conveniently also belong to the city and rent would be charged, payable to the city, although it is quite reasonable rent - probably somewhat below market.

This next bit is just hearsay, but we've been told that they have also approached some of the key organizers and most vocal community members and said don't tell anyone, but we will work with you, just you, to line up a place to live which you will own outright, if you stop your involvement in the community resistance. To add insult to injury, the Cultural Affairs Bureau is supporting a spectacular multi-million NT$ local opera performance this weekend on the already reconstructed part of the wall next to us, and are opening a new museum in the park behind us, also this weekend. So they have lots of money to splash around for big events, but apparently not to properly compensate people who will be left homeless once their houses are taken later this year.
Apparently the central government has provided an enormous subsidy, but the city government is loathe to spend it on giving these people a way to live.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meanwhile back in Taiwan....

The community of Mihu in the hills above Dongshih.

So much commentary on Xi's assumption of imperial power... This live blog on the CCP Spring Gala, the annual craptacular, pointed out something interesting....
In general, this year's show's focus on Taiwan is really remarkable; not just in terms of singers coming from Taiwan but also the sketches using storylines that include Taiwan. It is especially noteworthy that this sketch's title is "homecoming" or "returning home", suggesting the 'homecoming' of Taiwan to the mainland.
...scary, not remarkable. As my man Donovan noted in a piece at News Lens this week:
Xi clearly intends to not just be a powerful leader, but one who goes down in history. The Chinese people have grown accustomed to strong economic growth, but that alone won’t qualify Xi as a historic leader.

This is where the terrifying part lies. Xi may consider actions purely for glory that his more institutional predecessors wouldn’t or couldn’t have.

This should make China’s neighbors very nervous. An absolute ruler of a massively powerful nation with ambitions to enter history is potentially very dangerous and unpredictable. China wants the Senkaku Islands from Japan, several border areas from India and to consolidate power over the South China Sea. But the obvious big prize to achieve glorious “reunification” of China and finally end the “century of humiliation” would be to take Taiwan.
Yup. Not many cases of one-man rule of powerful states that don't involve foreign wars. Xi is probably looking at Putin in Ukraine and Crimea and thinking he ought to do that.... who would do anything if China occupied Bhutan, for example? Taiwan is hardly the only small state in China's sights...

Jenna observes that Taiwan is the Canary in the coal mine, and it is getting hard to breathe. Taking her cue from Donovan, she expands.....:
It's just that Westerners are afraid of using them to describe China (or really any non-Western/non-white nation) for fear of seeming - or being labeled - racist. They're afraid someone will say they don't understand how the historic injustice of white privilege means that anything non-white people do can't be considered the same, or as bad, as anything white people do. (A worldview which has its uses, and which I am often sympathetic to, but which doesn't apply here.)

That's really all it is - it's a race thing. All they need to do is take their old frameworks, dust 'em off and apply 'em to a regime that happens to be Asian. There's nothing new or uncharted about it. Just stop being afraid of criticizing China because someone might think you're racist if you criticize shitty things non-Western powers do, and call China's actions what they are using words you already have.
One aspect of China's power: Taiwanese face discrimination from Chinese when they don't kow-tow. This NYT piece describes a problem I have heard complaints about for years. Chinese in other countries who employ Taiwanese abroad fire them if they don't say Taiwan is part of China. Let us recall something else: small businesses are favored espionage, intelligence, and covert action operations for North Korea and historically, for other Asian countries, as a friend pointed out, and it is likely that many of these small businesses are fronts... or are terrified that if they do not enforce annexation ideology, they or their relatives back home will be punished.

Of course the Vatican is considering switching recognition to China. I wonder if there is a hidden factor: the decline of the KMT. The Church has been aligned with the authoritarian party in Taiwan, not with the democracy party. Now that it is out of power, there is less of a pull toward Taiwan.

The M503 air route controversy continues to echo through the commentariat. This is the sturdiest and most useful piece, on the security issues surrounding the M503 route. The pro-China/KMT pieces have a common theme: the 1992C. For example, consider this distortionate piece here at Taiwan Insight, ironic considering it provides no "insight" at all:
Given the unrealistic nature of these arguments against the M503 route, hostile rationalization is the closest answer to them. No matter what the Mainland does, it will be interpreted by Tsai government and its core supporters as malicious. It is a Cold War mentality. Nevertheless, Cold War is over. This anachronistic mentality is a hazard to Cross-Strait relations. If Tsai really wants to negotiate with the Mainland, 92 Consensus is the magic word. In fact, according to various polls, over 50% of Taiwanese people support 92 Consensus. Many of them also voted Tsai. After all, most Taiwanese are ethnic Chinese. China is a historical and cultural concept and is not equal to PRC. Keeping this in mind and the current Cross-Strait deadlock can be overcome overnight.
The entire piece is geared not at explaining the M503 route issue but getting in that last idea about the fictional 1992 Consensus. The reader is to be left contemplating that. Similarly, over at the National Interest KMTer Charles Chen urked up:
Xi does not trust Tsai, nor does he feel obligated to negotiate or just communicate with her about his decisions on Taiwan affairs. Xi was willing to cooperate with Ma for a singular but simple reason: Ma’s mainland policy was based on the 1992 Consensus—which recognizes one China but allows different interpretations—and was at least against the eventual separatism of Taiwan. In Xi’s unprecedented summit meeting with Ma in November 2015 in Singapore, Xi defined this “agreement of disagreement” as the “anchor” of cross-Strait relations and made it the highest doctrine in his Taiwan policy. Yet Tsai has so far rejected this Consensus. Xi has therefore chosen to dominate Tsai, instead of cooperating with her.
The "1992 Consensus" was mentioned in several other paragraphs. The point of this M503 offensive by KMTers is to keep in the media the idea that the real problem is Tsai and everything would be solved if she followed the 1992 Consensus. This is so deeply ingrained that Ma's former Premier Jiang Yi-hua wrote a piece on the Taiwanese identity for Lowell Dittmer's recent edited volume on Taiwan and China (free from Luminos) in which the final paragraphs are dominated by kvetching about the lost 1992 Consensus. This constant mentioning of the 1992C is the kind of staying on-message that KMTers understand without having to be told.

The 1992C was never about relations with China. Relations under Ma would have been exactly the same with or without it. It was just Ma and the KMT creating a euphemism to say that Taiwan is part of China, without saying it directly so as not to offend voters.

The hilarious aspect of using the air route to tout the 1992 Consensus is how absurdly wrong it is. The pieces above steadfastly ignore the reality that Ma had the 1992 Consensus yet had not one but FOUR new air routes shoved into the Taiwan Strait by China in 2015 (M503 began testing then). O yeah....

Look for more of these pieces, ending always with the wholly fictional 1992C. Any excuse to mention it.

The Tsai Administration shuffled that Cabinet again. As many observers noted, it was a case of musical chairs. There was some speculation that it was about satisfying the hardliner independence types. That speculation is normal -- all changes appear to be about that -- remember when Tsai appointed William Lai as premier to satisfy those hardliners? *sigh*

Although I have often pointed out how "upgrading" the useful vocational colleges, which produced many small business founders in the old days, was economically destructive, the TT pointed out an aspect of them I did not know. Amid an article pointing out that the nation's agricultural sector is desperate for workers, it said:
In central Taiwan, the sort of workers needed in the agriculture sector are similar to those needed by the manufacturing sector, but most workers go for the latter because it offers better pay, he said.

The nation’s vocational colleges changed into technological universities about two decades ago, which deeply affected the agricultural sector because most high-school graduates enter service industries instead of agriculture, Lee said.

Municipalities that rely on agriculture have been urging the government to improve the shortage of labor.

The Yunlin County Government since 2013 has been asking the Ministry of Labor to allow foreign laborers to be employed by farms or to allow the manufacturing industry’s foreign workers to help out on farms in their spare time.
The low pay in Taiwan is slowly eroding the nation's economy. Think anything will be done? Not as long as big business controls economic policy in Taiwan...
Daily Links:
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Monday, February 26, 2018

Toilet Paper Shelves... just wiped clean

My local supermarket is bare of toilet paper. The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2018 is real (BBC):
Toilet paper getting more expensive is a direct result of rising raw material costs globally, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Forest fires in Canada and disruption to production in Brazil are among the factors being blamed.

And as a result, the price of short fibre pulp, used to make toilet paper, now costs about $800 (£600) per tonne, compared with $650 a year ago, it said.

But one of Taiwan's largest toilet paper suppliers, YFY, says the situation is more drastic than that. It claims pulp costs have increased even faster than government estimates, soaring by about 50% since the middle of last year. Packing and transportation costs are also rising, it added.
People are panicking, and both the possibility of price rises and the panic have been covered in the media, each feeding the  other. *sigh*

Stories like this are common, and I suspect makers push them. Anyone remember, years ago, during the SARS panic some enterprising individual spread the idea that pineapple stopped SARS? And prices rose accordingly...
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

China Redidivus

The mountains of Miaoli...
"'Nay, Éomer, you do not fully understand the mind of Master Wormtongue,' said Gandalf, turning his piercing glance upon him. 'He is bold and cunning. Even now he plays a game with peril and wins a throw. Hours of my precious time he has wasted already. Down, snake!' he said suddenly in a terrible voice. 'Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price? When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman you desire? Too long have you watched her [Eowyn] under your eyelids and haunted her steps.'"
It/s 2018 in the world, but it's 1928 here in Asia. News this week was all bad and trending downhill no matter how hard you squint. Two more western corporations, Lufthansa and British Airways, caved to Beijing and listed "Taiwan, China" on their websites. Many articles in the last two weeks warning that the Vatican will switch to recognition of China.

And Xi Jinping today declared himself emperor, doing away with term limits (Xinhua). Sauron has declared himself openly and is now based in Mordor... and his agents sweep across our nations... Xi has not consolidated his power in order to consolidate his borders. This means war, especially if the economy begins to slide.

China is everywhere... apparently Chinese agents or NZealanders operating on their behalf -- lots of Chinese money flowing into N Zealand -- broke into the house of a well known researcher and critic of Chinese influence ops... here is her commentary on China's influence ops: N Zealand could be the next Albania. Then her house was broken into:
A New Zealand academic who made international waves researching China's international influence campaigns has linked a number of recent break-ins to her work.

University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady, speaking today from Christchurch to the Australian Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee in Canberra, outlined three recent events which caused her concern.

"I had a break-in in my office last December. I received a warning letter, this week, that I was about to be attacked. And yesterday I had a break-in at my house," she said.

She said this weeks' burglary at her Upper Riccarton home was particularly suspicious.

"I had three laptops - including one used for work - stolen. And phones. [Other] valuables weren't taken. Police are now investigating that."
NZ paper editorialized that the SIS needs to find out who did it... But the key part of that editorial:
Either way, it would be a particularly foolish thing to do as part of an attempt to discredit her. For that reason, the possibility that the break-ins were the work of ordinary criminals cannot be ruled out. But whoever did it has drawn attention to the warnings she has been giving for the past six months. Brady, who speaks Mandarin, believes New Zealand is too receptive to China's influence peddling which involves political donations, cultivating respected public figures and using them to promote China's global interests.

She published her paper just before last year's election and both party leaders played down her concerns. Bill English said, "I don't see any obvious sign of things that are inappropriate." Jacinda Ardern noted Australia had launched an inquiry into foreign political interference and said she would be following it with interest. Brady's testimony of burglaries has got her attention.
Always, when the subject of China comes out, there's a chorus of voices, soothing, patronizing, knowing, that contend that there is really nothing wrong. There's no problem. Your fear of China is overwrought and hysterical. For example, despite information and articles from both the US intelligence community and the academic community on the negative effects of these institutes, including calls that they be closed from major educational associations, universities still host them. Indeed, UCLA defended its Confucius Institute in its uni paper and says it has no plans to close  it. Readers will remember that Ed McCord at GWU defended Confucius Institutes in The Diplomat, with neither the magazine nor McCord informing readers that GWU hosted a Confucius Institute.

That's right. These institutes are well known to be intelligence operations that collection information on academics and students, suppress Taiwan related events and organizations, watch the Chinese student population, and seek to spread China's malign influence. But the UCLA Daily Bruin piece was tweeted around by Michael D. Swaine, of the Carnegie Institute, as a "positive view". Yes, there are people who think it is possible to take a "positive view" of Chinese intelligence operations in the United States.

The Confucius Institutes are just an example. The flow of Chinese money is supporting whole networks of people willing to defend these flows, which means defending China and downplaying the threat, criticizing and marginalizing voices which might oppose China.

But what about the US? You know, imperialism, colonialism, racism. Yeah, whataboutism, that's one of the approaches Chinese defenders, explainers, and downplayers use to deflect criticism of China. Brian H finds this a conceptual problem: fundamentally, the west which for 200 years has done the bullying and extracting and "developing" of other lands now faces an empire which is doing the same thing, and it doesn't have any way to talk about that.

Watching China's money flow hither and yon, Chinese influence spreading in ways too vast to track, and chronicling the endless flow of failures in the west to stem the tide or deal rationally and steadfastly with what is obviously the greatest threat the west has ever faced, I feel more and more like Villani...

“And the plague lasted until . . .”

Donovan: Why Taiwan Should be Terrified of Emperor Xi
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A hard choice

Twitter's suggestions for me the other day.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Election Posters: Early Harvest

Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕), now the KMT candidate for mayor in Taichung (story). Lu is a mainlander politician whose family is from Shantung. This means that in Taoyuan the KMT is running a princeling who lost the last election to the current DPP mayor, in Hualien it is running the wife of the current county chief, and in Taichung another mainlander politician who appears to be a machine politician. The Taipei mayor nomination will probably go to a mainlander as well.

Anyone who thought the KMT was going to reform itself should consult the last two decades of KMT history to understand it: it is the political organization of an ethnic colonial ruling class, and can't change without destroying that fundamental organizing principle of mainlander control. This is why in the long run the KMT is doomed. NPP politician Freddie Lim said in a recent trip to Washington DC that the NPP is going after the disaffected Blues who cannot vote for their grandfather's party or the DPP, and hope to replace the KMT as the number 2 party.

Note that Lu's sign prominently displays her party affiliation. This is not a bad thing here in battleground Taichung where voters are divided between the parties and often vote on personal, family, and local connections. In my district, for example, we supported the DPP at the legislative level but elect KMT politicians at the local level.

Much of the vote will be determined by whether the fast growing population of Taichung moves its household registrations here. Since many of them come from further south, where they are more likely to be green, the DPP needs to conduct GOTV drives by emphasizing the need to switch household registrations. However, many of these new voters rent homes, and landlords are often reluctant to give permission to move the household registration because then they have to pay tax on the rental income.

More after READ MORE....

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Top Three Settlements on Dadu Shan

Today my man Drew took me up to the "Yang Yuan" area above Taichung city atop Dadu Shan (google map link). This area, enclosed in the green box, takes its name from some prominent local family named Yang. It is filled with old houses, and also hints about what used to be there. Note the name above the purple line: "savage city"....

Monday, February 12, 2018

The problem with rail relocations isn't democracy, but its lack...

Miaoli, Taiwan's hidden treasure.

Dafydd Fell on Democracy and Rail location in Taiwan in the Taiwan Sentinel. Fell describes the politics of rail in the 1950-70s and then moves on to discuss the changes in the post-1980 era when local politicians began moving rail lines out of urban areas, and to the present day, when they are moving them underground or elevating them... he concludes...
A related practice that seems especially common in Taiwan is for existing railways to be shifted either underground or on to elevated tracks. Political pressure has again been a critical driving force in such developments. Such projects, however, are extremely expensive. Often it would have been cheaper to build brand new routes to serve areas excluded from the railway network. Such practices have further eroded the possibilities for freight transport as we can see in sections where tracks were taken underground or elevated the original freight terminals have been disconnected. In other words, political pressures have pushed Taiwan’s railway ever closer to becoming essentially a passenger only network.

Even if there was an environmental call for greater freight transport by rail, the trends over the last three decades mean that this will increasingly not be feasible. Thus, though democracy has offered many environmental benefits, it has at times promoted environmentally damaging policies.
The problem with this claim is that democracy is not responsible for or related to these decisions. I have no doubt that if the people had been consulted, they probably would have voted to move the rail lines, but they weren't so the point is moot. The issue was Taiwan's anti-democracy construction-industrial state with its patronage links to local gangsters and businesses hard at work. Take his Kaohsiung example....
As Taiwan moved into the democratic transition era, political pressure became open and for the next decade and a half there were repeated news items of politicians pressuring TSC. In a TV news report from 1986, local KMT politicians demanded the removal of the North South Line tracks through residential areas of Kaohsiung. Similarly, when the track was lifted from Fengshan to Kaohsiung port in 1989, it was clear that this was due to pressure from the county government and local elected politicians. Their dream to turn the tracks into extra parking lots had been achieved. The ultimate outcome of this process has been that all this freight shifted to road transport, increasing air pollution as well as the potential for road accidents.
There were four mayors of Kaohsiung in the 1980s and all were KMT appointed by the KMT central government. The succession of speakers of the city council, one of the dirtiest in Taiwan, were all KMT. The speaker position was so lucrative because it controlled the agenda that in the late 1990s Chu An-hsiung paid US$10 million to buy the speaker election for himself. In the 1980s the city council itself was full of alleged gangsters like Chang Sheng-wu, who was shot by gunmen in 1982, and the Hsu brothers, one of whom got in trouble over a shootout in one of the sex establishments he owned (lest you imagine that this was a KMT problem, a local DPP legislator was once convicted of heroin trafficking). Local organized crime groups were seen as some of the most powerful on the island.

In major infrastructure construction the driver of these projects is their ability to feed and water local patronage networks. If the local population happens to support the infrastructure construction (and when does it not?), so much the better. The Developmentalist State remains a key ideological construct in the minds of many Taiwanese...

No context is provided here by Fell, and it is highly likely that nothing remotely democratic was going on. Rather, this looks like a case of the usual performance art in which local politicians ask for something the central and local governments already planned to give, the decision already being made behind the scenes. Local politicians -- especially in K-town in the 1980s of all places -- aren't going to go on TV to demand something their party/government superiors don't want. The TV appearance was probably made to help put pressure on Taiwan Railways and Taisugar to move their lines out of the city, with this crop of alleged gangsters posing as defenders of the people. Moreover, in those days, to get elected meant getting your face on TV as often as possible, preferably in the defender of the people role.

But what of the democratic era? Tainan is a good example. Talk of placing the rail lines underground began in the late 1980s and early 1990s and predates the democratic era. The project was approved in 2004 but ground was not broken until last year. It frees up a ton of land for developers though the city government insists it will all be public land.. A friend of mine whose family lost land to the project said that when it was first proposed, the new land was defined as public parks, but as-delivered, their land is going to be for private commercial buildings -- a classic construction-industrial state move. Public hearings have been marred by protests from "self-help" groups (often extortionate in nature and run by local gangsters). Then-Mayor William Lai complained about the Ma Administration's attacks on the land expropriation for the project... and local academics demanded that proper procedure be followed in the expriopriations for the project, with the implication that it probably wouldn't be.

How did "democracy" figure in this decision? Largely by its absence, the decision was made by the inertia (or momentum, if you prefer) which governs all construction-industrial state projects (quick, can you think of any that have been killed by public objections?). Once proposed, they gradually become reality in some form. The public seems to have passively accepted these projects, since it regards new infrastructure as "progress", and knows that the island's domestic political economy is driven by infrastructure spending. Only a few hundred families are affected by the relocation of the rail line. Their problem.

In Taichung the rail elevation cost nearly $1.2 billion and the public has complained vociferously about the new station, which takes longer to get in and out of and requires climbing up and down several flights of stairs (the old station was at ground level and you could run right through the ticket machine and onto a train). It is hard to see any of this driven by or related to democracy -- I can't recall even a single poll. Everyone seemed to assume that putting in all this infrastructure was a good idea, because it has always been done that way.

Another example of railway improvement is the relocation of the Taitung Railway Station in the 1990s, which sucked the life out of the city center. As this 2017 news report notes, the area around the new station remains pathetically undeveloped and forlorn...
16 years ago, the Taiwan Railway Administration and Taitung County government discussed the relocation of Taitung Railway Station, to let the old Taitung City urban area expand, so it was moved to the outskirts of Taitung at Yanwanli. However, 16 years later, the land surrounding Taitung Station has become a city planning area, bought and sold by construction companies and financial consortiums to develop into a commercial area, but this still depends on the market mechanism.
The public was never consulted over the move, which was made over public heads by local politicians deciding amongst themselves. I think the motive for placing the station outside of town on undeveloped land is rather obvious...

Fell's major observation, that removing rail lines in urban areas has been very bad for the environment because it leads to more trucks, is entirely correct. But the reasons for such moves have little to do with democracy, but instead are driven by the needs of the construction-industrial state which seems to operate on automatic pilot...

...the other issue with freight, which Fell does not cover, is that trucks are preferred because throughout most of the Taiwan Miracle firms ran on just-in-time type supply systems in heavily networked small firms, whose goods and raw materials were carted around by truck, often by the familiar blue truck. Rail would actually crimp those delivery networks. Moreover, container volume rapidly expanded after the 1980s, more than doubling between 1980 and 2010 (source). It hardly seems possible that rail expansion, especially in cramped urban areas around ports, could have kept pace with this growth. Today roughly 95% of freight travels by truck (source). Coastal shipping, better for the environment, might play a greater role (as it actually does in Japan), but Taiwan's efficient highway network means it is usually faster to put it on a truck then to wait at a crowded port.   

All in all, what these rail relocation, elevation, and burial projects show is the remarkable way in which large infrastructure projects have become insulated from bottom-up democracy on Taiwan. The general public's passive acceptance of these projects demonstrates the underlying ideological continuity between the authoritarian and democratic eras in their regard of big infrastructure projects, the authority of the local and central government to make those decisions, and the supreme importance of the construction-industrial state.
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