Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ko Interviewed in Foreign Policy

Pages from Steve McQueen's biography about filming The Sand Pebbles in Taiwan passed around Facebook.

I'm offline for four or five days this week...

There are many strains of Chinese thinking about Being Chinese. For every ten or twenty blusters about the awesomeness of Chinese culture, there's one person adhering to the Bo Yang strain. Like Ko Wen-je, the new mayor of Taipei, who observed in an interview with Foreign Policy:
For the [world’s] four Chinese-speaking regions — Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mainland China — the longer the colonization, the more advanced a place is. It’s rather embarrassing. Singapore is better than Hong Kong; Hong Kong is better than Taiwan; Taiwan is better than the mainland. I’m speaking in terms of culture. I’ve been to Vietnam and mainland China. Even though the Vietnamese are seemingly poor, they always stop in front of red traffic lights and walk in front of green ones. Even though mainland China’s GDP is higher than that of Vietnam, if you ask me about culture, the Vietnamese culture is superior.
This analysis may sound strange but its actually quite conventional, I have heard it all before. Many Taiwanese look with disdain on the Chinese. His views of the US are also quite conventional among Taiwanese, where the US is often held up as a model. That version of the US, however, is an orientalizing fantasy, in which the Other is held up as a Positive Opposite that We should follow.

His comments on annexing Taiwan to China are also good:
We have to convince Mainland China that a free and democratic Taiwan is more in China’s interest than reunification.
Bingo.

Speaking of orientalizing, a comically awful article on Taiwan's trash production made the rounds this week to say here is better than there. It claims:
Thanks to policies implemented in 1988, the government has been able to decouple GDP growth and production of household waste over a period of about one generation. As the nation’s wealth has risen—approaching $40,000 per capita—the Taiwanese somehow managed to waste less and defy the notion put forth by economists Michael McDonough and Carl Riccadonna that economic growth leads to more consumption and, therefore, more waste. Today, the average Taiwanese citizen produces less than a kilogram of trash per day, according to the Taiwanese Institute for Sustainable Energy. By comparison, the average American produces roughly two kilos (or about four and a half pounds).
The writer apparently simply sucked up the government line and did not attempt any research. Anyone who lives in Taiwan could point out some of the many issues: the widespread and uncounted illegal dumping and burial of waste and trash, especially from factories and construction sites, widespread trash burning, and the cultural and legal differences. For example, name me a Taiwanese city that has a policy on waste collection and recycling of lawn trimmings. They don't exist here, but many American cities count them as waste. Critical thinking, please.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Objectively and Pragmatically Sliding into the Abyss

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This little wooden building was the most fascinating thing I saw in Lukang today. What was it for?

"Objective" is one of the most important words in political discourse in Taiwan society. When it is deployed, it is a signal that the speaker demands that you kowtow to power. It came out this week in the furor over the salami slicing strategy that China is working up to deploy against Taiwan, little by little slicing away at its sovereignty. In that case, China says it is happy to talk about the new airline routes in the Strait, but doesn't appear to want to alter them. Talking about the communications between Beijing and Taipei, Chinese spokesman Ma said...
Such communications will help Taiwan "objectively and pragmatically understand in full the situation surrounding China's opening of the new routes," Ma said, without hinting at any possibility that the routes could be shifted further West, as Taiwan hopes.
You know when someone deploys "pragmatically" he means "sell out to Chinese power." You're screwed, suck it up. Another tiny slice off the salami.
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Daily Links:
  • Speaking of slow death, Commonwealth has a good piece on how Samsung stole employees from TSMC and apparently stole its business secrets. Both Chinese and Korean firms pay top dollar for Taiwan engineers.
  • President Ma says 4th nuke plant maybe possibly can be mothballed -- now that its budget is spent and everyone has their kickbacks and payments -- but electricity must flow. Hey, out in Datan in Taoyuan is a natural gas plant that can replace two reactors, if run at full capacity, but it only runs at 1/3 capacity.
  • Taiwan fisherman nets jawbone of hitherto unknown hominid between 10K and 190K years old.
  • LA Times on the growing boardgaming trend in Taiwan, which I've just joined.
  • As a longtime observer noted, Ma just did what he'd promised not to do: reshuffle top DoD posts.
  • Solidarity.tw with translation of Apple Daily Piece on the effect of Ko on other mayors.
  • The MKT is the latest in the increasing number of political parties in Taiwan. Founded by KMTer who left, basically saying KMT would never reform. These parties will be little more than personal factions unless some kind of proportional representation system is implemented, in which case they may have a future. I wonder if at least some of this partymaking is in anticipation of far-reaching reforms to the legislature.
  • Look, I"m not linking to that ridiculous watch affair. I'm just not. Nor am linking anymore to the sex park stories. Nor to the new law forcing parents to limit screen time for kids play e-games. That law is vague and will never be enforced. 
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Monday, January 26, 2015

Catching Up

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je with very high approval ratings. 68% satisfied, 13% not satisfied.

Sorry, been busy. But with the semester over... oh heck, I'll still be busy. But let me sneak in a blog post...

The Taipei Times reports on NCCU's survey, which probably underestimates the numbers:
The university’s Election Study Center poll showed that 60.6 percent of respondents regard themselves as Taiwanese, while 23.9 percent support Taiwanese independence.
If you go to the main page, you'll soon find that the NCCU format uses the choices of unification, maintain status quo, independence, or no answer. The "maintain status quo" types are largely pro-independence and see the status quo as the best form of independence they can get at the moment. Hence, the actual support for independence is closer to 70%.

About this fact:
Meanwhile, the number of respondents identifying themselves as Chinese was more than 20 percent in 1992; was first exceeded by the number who self-identified as Taiwanese in 1995; fell to less than 10 percent during the DPP administration from 2000 and 2008; and dropped to less than 5 percent after the KMT returned to power in 2008, the center said.
...my friend Donovan Smith observed that since a large number of those identifying as Chinese must be the imported Chinese wives of locals, the actual number of Taiwan-bred individuals identifying as Chinese is tiny.
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Daily Links:
EVENTS: Dr Fell over at SOAS sends around:
  • We are recruiting for our MA in Taiwan Studies: http://www.soas.ac.uk/taiwanstudies/mataiwanstudies/ If you know of suitable candidates, please do encourage them to apply. I've also attached our latest flyer which introduces our courses and programme.
  • We have another very rich programme of events this term, including a special edition launch, book launch and a series of documentary film screenings with director Q&As.
  • http://www.soas.ac.uk/taiwanstudies/events/
  • We are also busy preparing for the Second World Congress of Taiwan Studies to be held at SOAS June 18-20. I look forward to seeing many of you there in June!
  • Please also don't forget to lobby your librarians to purchase the full list of books in the Routledge Taiwan Series!
  • http://www.routledge.com/books/series/RRTAIWAN/

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Friday, January 23, 2015

In which I become a famous bike company store operator


You didn't know I was a bike company store operator? Neither did I. Lately a couple of people contacted me about race-bicycles. It says they are based at 185 Warehouse in Taichung and their manager is James Murray. James is a friend of mine, and I know he doesn't work at this company, and neither do I, although there is my picture above his name on their About page.  I've been to 185 Warehouse many times, and never seen nor heard of this firm. I'm sure they'll correct this error about who their store manager is. I'm pretty sure I'm not managing a bike store, although that would explain my fatigue recently...

UPDATE: In case it is not clear, race-bicycles used my picture without permission, I am not connected to them.
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ko Wen-je VS the Construction-Industrial State: Ko wins one

Beachcombing in Hsinchu.

Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je is rocking the construction-industrial state. The Taipei Times reports...
The Taipei Dome and Farglory’s contract had become a source of controversy in recent days as Ko and his administrative team began looking at several major projects either underway or in the proposal stage.

Prior to last night’s meeting, Ko had said the Dome contract would have to be revised to increase the penalties for failing to meet deadlines. He also said discrepancies between the initial contract terms during the bidding process and the firm’s final contract needed to be discussed.

“Farglory has already gone past the deadline for completing the project, in violation of the contract,” Ko said earlier yesterday, adding that the original contract’s penalty clauses “do not have any real impact,” because they only allow the city government to fine the firm a total of NT$3 million (US$95,300) for violations.
Hacking on the previous administration, Ko pointed out that Control Yuan asked that 39 articles in the contract be revised, but the previous KMT administration had not done so. Former KMT Mayor Hau had used the infamous you-do-not-understand attack to defend himself from Ko's exposure of his administration's apparent embrace of big companies...
Countering criticism leveled at several projects undertaken during his administration, former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday accused Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and his team of using “defamatory” tactics to hide their “ignorance” of municipal issues.
Hau also defended himself by saying that everything had been done according to the law and passed the ethics commission. Such reviews in Taiwan are typically prima facie. KMT Chair Eric Chu has asked Hau to take over the National Policy Foundation, the KMT's internal think tank. Hau is a princeling, like Chu, another clue that "reform" under Chu is going to be limited to revamping and further locking down the Party's relationships with the local factions so they don't bolt. ADDED: Yam ripped him in an editorial solidarity.tw captured.

So far, this is my favorite Ko moment:
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) yesterday said he has ordered all Taipei City Government departments to draft a complete list of all municipal property, after discovering that the controversial bus lane on Zhongxiao W Road includes a bus stop that is not listed as belonging to the city.
Ko also said he'd can the Taipei police chief if pro-PRC "protesters" in front of Taipei 101 continued their violent assaults on people; the chief subsequently retired, along with a fire department official. Ko is making everyone else administrating a county/city look bad. Commonwealth interviewed him in December shortly after his election victory.

BTW, some of you may recall that the Tax Bureau was pursuing Ko's family in a totally non-political case. Yesterday it dinged his parents for $31,200 NT. This is a symbolic figure -- once it was committed to the apparent harassment, it had to fine them, but if it had been a large amount, that would have called further attention to the fact that Ko's family was being pursued in a totally non-political case.

Mayor Lin Jia-long of Taichung killed the Taiwan Tower project in Taichung when its budget nearly doubled. Should that be read as a genuine commitment to curbing the construction-industrial state? Or just a one-off designed to make Lin look like he is doing a Ko Wen-je in Taichung, using a bad project with no great construction-industrial state support? For me the jury is still out on Lin. Another major project Lin has criticized, the BRT, saw an inevitable accident today.

Up and Coming for the KMT: As the TT reports, during the run up to the KMT Chairmanship election Chu hinted that he'd end the Party's assault on one of its most loyal servants, Legislative Speaker and longtime heavyweight Wang Jin-pyng (MaWangMess, MaWangMess). A group of legislators has proposed that the KMT withdraw its appeal of the court ruling that permitted Wang Jin-pyng to retain his position in the Party and in the legislature. Chu has delayed a response, but if he drops the appeal, it will be another declaration of Chu breaking with President and former KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (like his elimination of Ma's Zhongshan Council and return of power to the Central Standing Committee), who has been doing his Saruman-in-Orthanc imitation since the crushing defeat of the KMT in November. In fact the China Post report has Chu specifically saying he "respects Ma's authority", showing that Chu also views this issue as one that puts himself and Ma in conflict. The Ma-Wang mess really harmed the KMT's relations with its legislators. Surely Chu must sense the urgent need to fix that, and will drop the appeal. If not, then we know something about him and his relations with the KMT.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Still Not there yet Links

Atop Nanyang Road in Fengyuan.

Time, time, time.....
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday Links Too

Water drops on the flower of a sensitive plant.

No time for blogging, with finals to prepare. Enjoy some links.
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Then and Now: Kappanzan

I was trawling through the East Asia Image Collection at Lafayette again when I found this shot of Kappanzan. That's the well known tourist site of Jiaobanshan. The Taoyuan County government website on the area, now a tourist area, is here. On Facebook the East Asia Image Collection describes its Kappanzan collection:
Kappanzan/Jiaobanshan entered Japanese colonial history as a hotly contested battleground in the war for precious timber in Taiwan's interior. By the 1930s, it was accessible to tourists and visiting government officials by push-cart rail, and was appointed with comfortable guest lodgings. Over the course of Japanese rule (1895-1945), this plateau became a "model village" for Japan's policies towards Indigenous Peoples. This series of images spans the time period 1910-1940.
One of the Taoyuan county government images of the area today.

I photographed the area in 2009. From the 7, the Northern Cross Island Highway, you can barely catch the plateau; there's a little road that goes down to an overlook with better views. The bend in the river is in the center of the photo (Google map link).
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Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday links...

You never know where a bike trip will take you.

Enjoy some links... too tired to blog today.
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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Me in The Diplomat: Washington's Obsolete Taiwan Policy

Not blogging today. Instead, enjoy my piece in The Diplomat today. The title is not mine; mine was ZOMG! Taiwan Could Independence! "Tension" and the Coming Obsolescence of US Taiwan Policy.
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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chu Voted New KMT Chair, but the real reformer is Ko Wen-je

Dragon God Temple.

Reuters reports:
"China is comfortable with Chu taking charge of the KMT ... It has been trying to build mutual trust," said Tung Chen-yuan, a professor at the National Chengchi University and former vice chairman of Taiwan's China policy-making body.

Chu was the only top politician who two high-level visiting Chinese officials met in 2014, a sign China is betting he will be the island's leader.

"Xi Jinping is very happy to meet Chu and he is waiting," said a KMT source with knowledge of the situation, referring to China's president. Chu was not available for comment.
Chu, the princeling son of a powerful KMT insider, now head of the KMT. Same old KMT. Do not confuse Chu's youth with reform mindedness. The KMT is wedded to its China policy and the 1% in the world of finance and land development. They will never permit the KMT to change. The KMT's structural problems are too great.

Want to see a reformer? It's the new Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, who is giving the construction-industrial state a beating. Solidarity.tw translates a viral blogpost of what Ko is taking on:
1. Taipei Dome (VS Farglory)
2. The New Horizon building (VS Fubon Bank)
3. Reducing city gov’t subscriptions (VS print media)
4. The city New Year’s Party (VS TVBS)
5. MeHAS City development project (VS Radium Life Tech)
6. A NT$2.6 billion cafeteria (VS Hwang Chang General Contractor)
7. Lobbying transparency (VS city councilors)
8. Independence of state-affiliated business chairs (VS Chao Shao-kang)
9. National education (VS the Ministry of Education)
10. Illegal structures (VS owners of illegal structures)
11. Bonuses for city police officers (VS the Ministry of the Interior)
12. Uber (VS the Ministry of Economic Affairs)
Ko is really making things move, making things go. The Hau Administration and Ma Administrations could have done this, but the KMT is closely aligned with the construction-industrial state. Think Chu could carry out a program like this? Don't make me laugh....

I did some riding today with an oldtimer and talked about this. Both of us are concerned. We've been in Taiwan long enough to remember what things were like over the years when the construction-industrial state has been crossed. In 1996 Taoyuan County Chief and 8 associates were whacked in an obvious gangland slaying (Wiki); he was involved in so many deals guessing which one got him killed was impossible. In 2000 the Kuangsan Sogo was shot up over debts, killing the unborn child of a pregnant woman (story). In 2007 PFP city councilor Wu Shan-jeou was executed in his office by a professional, presumably over illegal gravel operations he had threatened. One could list many others, most recently the strange death of Chang Sen-wen. Ko himself is obviously not involved with organized crime and bad debts like the others. But I worry about him still...
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Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday linkfest.

Barreling past grape vines east of Jhuolan in Maioli

Some links... since I'm busy.
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ma takes it on the Chin

IMG_9374
Ants savaging a caterpillar.

Haha. For weeks many of us watching the KMT in increasing disarray have been waiting for someone to point out that Ma is still Chairman of the KMT because he can't resign. Well, it finally happened.
KMT member Chen Shu-fen (陳淑芬) said that Ma’s resignation as chairman on Dec. 3 last year and the KMT Central Standing Committee’s decision to hold a new election for the role contravene the charter, as Ma may step down only when he is no longer president or has his party membership revoked.
Could the sudden objections be arranged by Eric Chu to make room for him to run in 2016? Is Ma organizing this from behind the scenes, to enable him to remain as KMT Chair? Our operators are standing by to take your conspiracy theory now!

Fortunately KMT thinkers obviously took their training at Jesuit universities...
In response, KMT spokesman Charles Chen (陳以信) yesterday said that the party charter regulated only the automatic assumption of office as party chairman to aid party unity and political focus, adding that the charter did not include the exception of the party chairman stepping down of their own initiative.
...see? When a KMTer becomes President, he automatically becomes Chair? But he can step down... O wait, if he steps down, he's not Chair. But then he must automatically become Chair, since he's not Chair... I'm getting a headache.

When this amendment was first mooted, it was widely understood as a way to enable Ma to keep his position and his face if his party lost an election. "I can't step down, the party's charter says I can't," he could then say...

Meanwhile Ma took another beating as China announced new flight paths in the Taiwan Strait without consulting Taipei. The nation donned sackcloth and ashes as legislators urged action. J Michael Cole interpreted this as a digiticus impudicus aimed directly at Ma, because Beijing now regards him as worse than useless.
And Beijing, which had already been losing patience with Ma for the “slow” pace of progress in the Strait, knows this. Unable to deliver what Beijing wants, President Ma is no longer of utility to Chinese leaders, who consequently will not hesitate to take actions that undermine his image with the Taiwanese public. In other words, the finesse is gone: Ma, like his predecessors, is being punished — humiliated, even — for failing to fall in step to Beijing’s tune. In this context, the August 25, 2014 intrusions by Chinese surveillance aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ, make a lot more “sense.” Then as now, Beijing’s disregard for Taiwanese sovereignty took precedent over all considerations intended to give President Ma “face.”
Taiwan complained to the ICAO about the new routes. Taiwan was invited as a guest in 2013 to the ICAO meeting (not as an observer or participant) and again in 2014 (see this discussion of the PRC and Taiwan's airspace with Bonnie Glaser). Beijing announced the new routes but hasn't filed them with ICAO, meaning that they could still be dropped. Perhaps when that shoe drops we'll see whether Beijing is testing Ma, the ICAO, or US resolve, since the US pushed China to drop similar routes years ago.

What if Beijing plays this like the ADIZ and simply doesn't file the routes, but begins using them?

Meanwhile, former Taichung mayor and KMT heavyweight Jason Hu had said he'd be taking a position at Fengjia University in Taichung. But Wednesday night he announced that he was instead becoming Vice Chairman of the Want Want media group. Want Want was the media group that tried to attain a near-monopoly position in the local media world a couple of years back Hu is a vice Chairman of the KMT but has indicated he will leave that position. solidarity.tw has the translation...
Hu said he’d already discussed arrangements for different teaching positions, and this looked like his best option. However, at the end of last year, “Mr. Tsai Eng-meng of the Want Want China Times Media Group sincerely invited me to come to his group to work.” Tsai told him that the position of the Want Want China Times is “true truth and true love of Taiwan” 真道理、真愛台灣. Tsai said he hopes to use the media’s influence to give Taiwan better days.
Hu is widely held to dislike Ma Ying-jeou and I expect that WantWant is going to savage the President. But more importantly, having a heavyweight like Hu in high office might help smooth things when WantWant makes another play for dominance in Taiwan's media market.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I am Jimmy Lai

Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai's home and office firebombed (Variety).
The attacks occurred in the small hours of Monday morning local time, only hours after over a million people and 40 world leaders took to the streets of Paris in support of press freedom, democracy and unity. The French rallies were sparked by the execution of journalists and cartoonists last week at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Masked men threw a small incendiary device into Lai’s home in the exclusive Kadoorie Avenue area and simultaneously threw similar flares or petrol bombs into the offices of his Next Media company in Tsuen Kwan O.
Lai affects the democratic future of 1/7th of humanity. Think we'll see any marches for him?

This week, I am Jimmy Lai.
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What a coincidence. Ko's parents under investigation for tax evasion

The view from the Miaoli 51-1.

New Mayor Ko Wen-je of Taipei is making a splash. Not only did he stir up discussion in China with his simple ways, some of the local citizens are asking why their mayors can't be more like Ko. Very refreshing.

I'm sure it is just a coincidence that since he beat the KMT in the election the tax office is investigating his parents. Yes, surely the KMT would never use the governmental apparatus to punish the opposition.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je expressed dismay Monday that Taiwan's tax bureau is going after his parents for possible tax evasion because of a NT$10 million loan they gave Ko to help him pay for a house in Taipei.

Ko, a surgeon-turned-politician, said he was disgusted when the National Taxation Bureau audited his personal income taxes to see if he had reported income from speeches made in a few years prior to last year's Nov. 29 elections.

Ko said that now that the elections were over, the National Taxation Bureau was "going overboard" in having his father go to the agency and explain the matter.

"This goes beyond what any normal person can tolerate," Ko said, publicly asking the agency to explain its actions.
This post-election investigation is standard playbook and has happened to many DPP politicians, though tax evasion is certainly a new wrinkle -- probably because the standard attack is misuse of public funds, and Ko's parents are retired private citizens with no access to public funds. It says a lot about the KMT that it believes that all politicians are misusing public funds...

Sad. But since Ko is an independent, it can only increase his popularity.
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