Monday, October 16, 2017

Biking and Cole and Links....

Fenton_2
Hidden in the hills around Taichung are many interesting places...

If you read one thing today, it should be Andrew Kerslake's piece on Stifled Paradise of Biking... Andrew writes:
I too often feel embarrassed for the people who have read my writing and taken the plunge to visit for a ride only to find their routes choked with pollution levels too dangerous to cycle without tempting asthma. I am embarrassed by glistening natural vistas marred by the industrial blight of smoke stacks, cement factories or the rotting concrete shell of a failed mega-resort. In Taiwan we almost get it right so often and we have a lot of potential, only to overdevelop our way into having all the charm of a shopping mall food court. I wrote about this issue back in 2015. I am writing about this issue today.
J Michael Cole came out with one of his weakest pieces in a long time: Double Ten and the Narcissism of Small Differences. It's the kind of thing that attempts to gain by force of rhetoric what it cannot take by force of argument:
While differences exist on a number of issues, both blues and greens agree on the fundamentals, on the ideology — which goes well beyond a chosen form of governance — that defines Taiwan (or the ROC) and that differentiates it from the increasingly authoritarian PRC. Thus, while crass attacks on one’s political opponents are an unavoidable, if lamentable, by-product of electoral politics, we need to separate those tactical punches from attacks (often made by politicians seeking attention with an eye to securing a position or their party’s nomination in an upcoming election) that, for short-term political gain, risk harming Taiwan at the strategic level: its institutions and the way of life that mainstream blues and greens alike have come to cherish. The actions of politicians who break that basic rule (and those happen far too often) should no longer be countenanced.

Rather than bicker over a flag or nomenclature, matters which like institutional reform can in due course be addressed by a process of evolution, Taiwanese from both sides of the aisle must find it within themselves to recognize and emphasize their shared interests. One can be a radical supporter of Taiwanese independence or conversely a proud waishengren citizen of the ROC and still both would agree on the values, mores, ideas and means of governance that define this place. If only they would sit down together and listen to each other rather than talk past each other or treat the Other as a perennial enemy. Much of those differences are artificial, kept alive and exploited by politicians and media outlets that thrive on division. Democratic systems by design create political camps that act in opposition to each other, rallying voters behind them. Such are the politics of contention. However, given the immense challenges it faces, Taiwan cannot afford to create divisions where they no longer exist, or to widen those that do exist to the extent that they begin to erode the very foundations of the state. At this juncture, reconciliation might very well be a matter of survival.
Yeah... except no. It would nice if reconciliation were so easy. But the ROCers and the Taiwan independence crowd disagree on fundamentals: on whether Taiwan is part of China, on the relationship between the government in Taipei and Kinmen, Matsu, the South China Sea Islands, and the Senkakus, all of which are part of the ROC but not part of Taiwan. On the legacy of the authoritarian era and how to handle it. On markers of KMT colonialism in Taiwan, and on whether the ROC is a colonial state. And on many other things...

...what Cole has done is confused Taipei class solidarity for general political solidarity. Middle and upper class people in Taipei agree widely on many things. This shared broad class solidarity is the foundation of a broad political consensus -- much of it somewhat liberal to very progressive, a spectrum Cole meets daily, fits into, and finds congenial, but things are very different when you get to working class greens who have risen from working to running small factories far from Taipei, or farmers, or central and southern Taiwanese in general. The shared ideology Cole refers to is really more or less the common view in the capital that the economic and political arrangements that make life in the capital so sweet really ought to continue.

But this is an agreement among elites... Recall, for example, that while the Taipei DPP is mostly in support of gay marriage, southern Taiwan DPPers are not. They have a completely different world view. Recall the bitter struggles over irrigation and fishing cooperative positions, the vast corruption of local governments, the interpenetration of organized crime and everyday life, the patronage-construction networks, the lack of super convenient public transportation, the easygoing nature of the police, the ominpresence of agriculture, the constant lawbreaking, the running of local areas by factions of powerful families... the world outside of Taipei is very different, and does not share its values.

For the rest of Taiwan, that middle/upper class in the Celestial Dragon City is a colonial ruling class that sucks resources from everywhere else on the island and brings them north to ensure its comfortable lifestyle. And the farther south you go, the less they like the ROC. This regional difference is a key driver of politics in Taiwan, and it is not a difference in nomenclature.

The difference between the ROC and Taiwan is not a difference in nomenclature obscuring shared ideologies, any more than the difference between British India and modern India is merely a difference in nomenclature obscuring shared ideologies.
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blast from the Past: Economist: The Future of Formosa 1949, p. 124

The Future of Formosa" in The Economist, July 16 1949, p. 124
"Nobody so far has paid any attention to the wishes of Formosa's inhabitants, but it is arguable that they should be considered. The agreements made with the Nationalist Government about the provisional postwar occupation of Formosa would lapse if recognition were at any time to be withdrawn from it, unless these agreements were specifically to be renewed in favour of a Communist China; meanwhile, ultimate authority would revert to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers as part of his responsibility for all Japanese territory. The Americans, if they wished to do so, could provide sufficient protection for a Uno Commission to hold a plebiscite of Formosans on their future. But there is so far no indication that Washington now contemplates any Far Eastern policy involving new activity. If there are any misgivings about Formosa, however, they may emerge in the expected State Department White Paper on the Far East."

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Taiwan Nephrite and regional trade

Archaeologists have observed the spread of jade out of Taiwan for decades now. This paper from a decade ago shows the extent of the trading links. Text and map from Ancient jades map 3,000 years of prehistoric exchange in Southeast Asia. The abstract observes:
We have used electron probe microanalysis to examine Southeast Asian nephrite (jade) artifacts, many archeologically excavated, dating from 3000 B.C. through the first millennium A.D. The research has revealed the existence of one of the most extensive sea-based trade networks of a single geological material in the prehistoric world. Green nephrite from a source in eastern Taiwan was used to make two very specific forms of ear pendant that were distributed, between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., through the Philippines, East Malaysia, southern Vietnam, and peninsular Thailand, forming a 3,000-km-diameter halo around the southern and eastern coastlines of the South China Sea. Other Taiwan nephrite artifacts, especially beads and bracelets, were distributed earlier during Neolithic times throughout Taiwan and from Taiwan into the Philippines.
the map above....
Fig. 3.
The distribution of Taiwan nephrite artifacts in Southeast Asia. The green zone represents the currently known distribution of Taiwan nephrite artifacts. The green triangle locates the Fengtian nephrite deposit. Yellow stars represent sites outside Taiwan with positively identified Fengtian nephrite artifacts (Taiwan itself has108 jade-bearing sites, and these cannot be shown individually). Blue stars represent sites with jade artifacts of possible Fengtian origin, based on visual examination but not yet demonstrated in terms of mineral chemistry. Black circles represent sites that have identified nephrite of non-Fengtian origin. Identified Fengtian and possibly Fengtian nephrites: WG. Liyushan, Wangan Islands; QM, Nangang, Qimei Islands, Penghu Archipelago; JXL, Jialulan, eastern Taiwan; LD, Yugang and Guanyindong, Ludao Islands; LY, Lanyu High School Site, Lanyu Islands; AN, Anaro, Itbayat Islands; SG, Sunget, Batan Islands; SD, Savidug, Sabtang Islands; NGS, Nagsabaran, Cagayan Valley; KD, Kay Daing, Batangas; EN, Leta-Leta and Ille Caves, El Nido, Palawan; TC, Tabon Caves, Palawan; NC, Niah Cave West Mouth, Sarawak; AB, An Bang; GM, Go Mun; DL, Dai Lanh; GMV, Go Ma Voi; BY, Binh Yen (these five sites in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam); GCV, Giong Ca Vo, Ho Chi Minh City; SS, Samrong Sen, Cambodia; UT, U-Thong, Suphanburi; BTDP, Ban Don Ta Phet, Kanchanaburi; KSK, Khao Sam Kaeo, Chumphon. Identified non-Fengtian nephrites: BTG, Uilang Bundok and Pila, Batangas; TK, Trang Kenh; YB, Yen Bac; MB, Man Bac; QC, Quy Chu; GB, Go Bong; XR, Xom Ren; GD, Go Dua; GL, Giong Lon. The red dashed lines enclose the major Austronesian language subgroups according to Blust (17) (SH/WNG, South Halmahera/West New Guinea).
In the modern age, nephrite mining in Taiwan died in the 1980s when it became too expensive.
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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ROC National Day Goes on "Amid Tensions"

DSC_0388
ROC people visit local historical site amid tensions. I'm sorry that the tensions are obscuring the clarity of the photograph, but my hands were shaking from tensions.

President Tsai of the Republic of China spoke on ROC National Day. The official text of her speech is here. AP reported "Taiwan leader: Protect regional stability amid China tension". The opening paragraph said:
Taiwan’s independence-leaning government will defend the self-governing island’s freedoms and democratic system amid heightened tensions with rival China, President Tsai Ing-wen said Tuesday.
That's right. Ralph Jennings has simply added "tensions" much as a chef adds fat to make a dish tastier, not that this will surprise anyone who has read his stuff before. Tsai never referred to "heightened tensions" or "tensions" in her speech. The opening sentence is thus, at best, misleading. The speech is the usual boilerplate, with references to peace and stability, and a long section devoted to the new southbound policy. There is no reason that AP simply couldn't have reported positively on it: Tsai affirms commitment to peace, or Tsai emphasizes relations with neighbors. May as well wish for unicorns...

[UPDATE: Since I posted this, AP has re-organized the opening sentence to move "heightened tensions" and add Tsai's call for dialogue. It now reads:
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday said her government will defend the self-governing island’s freedoms and democratic system amid heightened tensions with rival China, and renewed calls for dialogue that Beijing suspended more than a year ago.
...now the "heightened tensions" might not be something she said.]

 One light moment in geography...
Tsai said Taiwan plans to open a greenhouse gas monitoring station in the Pratas Islands, another South China Sea chain. She also said Taiwan has started helping Southeast Asian countries fight dengue fever.
Pratas is an atoll consisting of three islets, not a chain. But I guess if you're inflating tensions, inflating islands is no problem.

Speaking of inflating tensions, Lawrence Chung, who seems determined to create some kind of incident, was out this week with his third piece on how the horrible independence beliefs of Premier Lai will create problems with China. No analysts in Taiwan are reporting this story, because there is no story. This is what I mean when I say the media helps create tensions.

Meanwhile, as we close in on the elections in 2018, the mayor races are starting to bubble. This week Yen Kuan-heng, the son of Yen Ching-piao, who is definitely not the biggest gangster in Taiwan, but is just a law abiding businessman, put out feelers for a Taichung mayoral run. In Taipei KMT veteran Chou Hsi-wei has already announced his candidacy, and former KMT Chair Hung Hsiu-chu has set up a school to field reactionary candidates for the KMT mayor candidacies in the major cities. Hung has made a few noises about running for Taipei, and so has Alex Tsai, who managed Sean Lien's busted campaign that put Ko Wen-je in power.

Since the beginning of summer I have been hearing mutterings from many corners that the Vatican is negotiating with Beijing on switching recognition to China. With the mutterings crescendoing, the Vatican put out a denial this week.

No doubt it occurred amid tensions.
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The dark, ugly side of Taiwanese life

In Taiwan there are many illegal factories, gravel mining operations, and stone quarries. They make money for the county governments and for their owners, but they make life hell for the ordinary people living next door to them. A net-friend of mine has been fighting a running battle with an illegal operation next door to him for a while now. In the latest round of reprisals for his complaints to the authorities about their pollution and general illegality, they dumped creosote over his house, as the images above show.

Fortunately, this last round of attacks on his property have brought out the media, which may result in changes, at least for as long as the media spotlight is on him. Along with a warning from the local precinct captain to be careful.

The reason that so many illegal operations exist is because of the exact situation my friend faces. For ages local administrators and police have ignored his complaints. In the face of clear illegality, the authorities do nothing -- indeed, they scold complainers. So Taiwanese do not complain.

But worse awaits. Aware that they can act with impunity, illegal operations engage in reprisals against those who might resist. This double whammy of government collusion and open reprisal is a major cause of environmental destruction and resource depletion in Taiwan. For those on its edges, it sucks.
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Saturday, October 07, 2017

Hong Kong tourism is helping to offset China fall? Nope.

Mysterious chicken. Because you'd rather action immediately than heart attracting.

So I downloaded the numbers from the tourism bureau.....

Hkk/Mac China Tot %Hkk/Mac
Jan 112043 255689 367732
Feb 106183 202287 308470
Mar 124044 201599 325643
Apr 190785 214196 404981
May 128522 201867 330389
Jun 147918 189078 336996
Jul 156823 237251 394074
Aug 177048 249999 427047
1143366 1751966 2895332 39.48
2016      1,614,803 3,511,734 5,126,537 31.49

...as you can see, last year arrivals from Hong Kong and Macao accounted for 31.49% of all arrivals from China. This year, such arrivals account for 39.48% of all arrivals from China. When I looked at this a while back, it seemed that China was loudly announcing cuts while using Hong Kong to silently buffer the cuts by increasing the Hong Kong share.

That's what I thought at first. But actually, Hong Kong's share is pretty steady. Consider: if Hong Kong continues at its average of 130-140K or so a month for the next four months (Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec), it will reach a number higher, but still close, to the 2016 figure. The rising share of Hong Kong is an illusion caused by the fall in Chinese tour group tourists.

In other news, origin unstated arrivals are up year on year. So there's that, anyway.

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Friday, October 06, 2017

Review in the News Lens: Ian Easton's The Chinese Invasion Threat...

Easton's book is excellent. My review begins...
Despite the flurry of recent media accounts, Ian Easton's new book “The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia” makes no prediction of a 2020 invasion of Taiwan. Ignore the erroneous media hype: Easton offers a brilliant, thick description of China's invasion plans, Taiwan's plans to repel an invasion, potential invasion scenarios, and how the U.S. might respond. Throughout the incredible level of detail, and the vast number of plans, locations, weapons systems, operations and doctrines it presents, Easton's clarity of order and logical presentation keep everything firmly under control. As the father of a son soon to serve in the Taiwan army, I came away from this book with a renewed sense of optimism and pride in the abilities of the Taiwan to handle an invasion from China, and a much better appreciation of how difficult it would be to invade "The Beautiful Island." In short, do not buy the pessimism, but do buy this book.
....go thou and read the rest. Get it on Amazon!
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Anatomy of a Silliness

Anchoring ships in southern Taiwan

This week Ian Easton's new book The Chinese Invasion Threat was launched. Many news organizations followed Bill Geertz' report in the Washington Free Beacon without actually checking with Easton. In Taiwan the Taipei Times dutifully went with the Geertz report, saying that Easton's book says China plans 2020 invasion:
China has finalized a clandestine plan to invade Taiwan in 2020 by launching missile attacks, blocking the nation’s air and sea space, and carrying out amphibious landings, Washington-based think tank Project 2049 Institute research fellow Ian Easton said.
Taiwan News originally had this story. I alerted them, they then contacted Easton and changed their report. Liberty Times retracted their version of the Geertz piece. Why?

Because Easton never says this. Nowhere in the book. And none of the news organizations I googled below had the good sense to contact Easton and confirm, or get a copy of the book.
Report: China Has Secret Plans to Invade Taiwan by 2020www.popularmechanics.com/military/news/a28510/china-secret-plan-invade-taiwan/1 day ago - The Washington Free Beacon reports that China has a secret plan to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2020. While the existence of the plan does ...

China 'has drawn up secret plans to invade Taiwan by 2020' - Daily Mailwww.dailymail.co.uk/news/article.../China-drawn-secret-plans-invade-Taiwan-2020.html2 days ago - China is planning to invade Taiwan in 2020, US analyst claims in a new book; 'Secret documents' in the book reveals a plan by the Chinese ...

China's Secret Military Plan: Invade Taiwan by 2020 - Free Beaconfreebeacon.com/national-security/chinas-secret-military-plan-invade-taiwan-2020/3 days ago - China has drawn up secret military plans to take over the island of Taiwan by 2020, an action that would likely lead to a larger U.S.-China ...

China set to invade, retake Taiwan by 2020: Taipei | TODAYonlinewww.todayonline.com/chinaindia/china/china-set-invade-retake-taiwan-2020-taipeiOct 27, 2015 - TAIPEI — China has completed its planned build-up of joint forces for military engagement against Taiwan and is on its way to ensure victory in ...

China plans 2020 invasion: researcher - Taipei Timeswww.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2017/10/05/20036797441 day ago - China has finalized a clandestine plan to invade Taiwan in 2020 by launching missile attacks, blocking the nation's air and sea space, and ...

China's Secret Military Plan: Invade Taiwan by 2020 | RealClearDefensehttps://www.realcleardefense.com/.../chinarsquos_secret_military_plan_invade_taiwan...2 days ago - China has drawn up secret military plans to take over the island of Taiwan by 2020, an action that would likely lead to a larger U.S.-China ...
The whole thing is based on Easton's reference to a Reuters report of Taiwan's MND from 2013 and then a further discussion of noises from China about 2020, which Geertz for whatever reason runs the wrong way with...
Taiwan says China could launch successful invasion by 2020 - Reuters
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-china-idUSBRE99809020131009
Oct 9, 2013 - China will be able to fend off U.S. forces and successfully invade Taiwan by 2020, the island's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday, the first ...
Easton's book forcefully makes quite the opposite point: Taiwan would be very hard to take, and there is no way China will be able to do it in 2020. In fact, after reading it, I was greatly cheered. Hopefully I will have a review up at News Lens today or tomorrow, but right now, I will only say that it is an excellent and exhaustively detailed book, well worth the money.
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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Are there any lessons from Catalan Independence for Taiwan?

Politicians in Changhua with no formal sign of what party they belong to.... the woman has included Bopomofu by her name so voters know how to say its rare characters.

Lot of people commenting on this one.... from Brian H at New Bloom, who focuses intelligently on the global politics of referendums:
THOUGH THE the Kurdish referendum seems to be wholly undiscussed in Taiwan whereas the Catalan referendum is hotly discussed, the results of both the Catalan and Kurdish referendums showed that Catalans and Kurds desire independence from Spain and Iraq, with over 90% of Catalan voters voting in favor of independence and preliminary results showing that over 92% of Kurds support independence. As such, the two referendums succeeded in raising the international profile of both the Catalan and Kurdish independence movements. Nevertheless, what is also shared between both is the means by which state actors moved to try and shut down referendums, sought to arrest the political leaders who organized the referendum, and have vowed to use the means necessary in order to prevent would-be independence movements from succeeding. In particular, international attention has focused to a large extent on Catalonia, give the dramatic sight of riot police attacking peaceful civilians, injuring close to 900, even as Catalan firefighters and other individuals have sought to defend voters from assault from assault by police. This has resulted in the present call for a general strike in Catalan.
Brian's observation about the Kurds is spot on. The networks are full of coverage of the Catalan drama. Brian's observations about raising the profile of the Taiwan independence movement via a referendum are good, as is his comment that the US would probably oppose a Taiwan referendum, since its support for Taiwan is rational and limited. From my perspective, any independence referendum would have to take place in an international context when it could get support from both Japan and the US.

It would also have to include a majority of voters. The Catalan vote may have been 90% in favor of independence, but turnout was 42%. That level of turnout would leave the legitimacy of any independence referendum in question.

It would, however, be great to get a vote out there, since if there is anything I am tired of, it is the constant flow of idiot comments about how Taiwanese "don't care about independence" or "there is no evidence of support for independence" etc. Apparently zillions of polls, actual elections, anecdotes, whatever, none of that counts.

J Michael pores over the pragmatics of the Catalan vs Taiwan independence issue -- the whole piece is solid:
Taiwan, meanwhile, is already both a nation and a sovereign state. Unpalatable though the historical burden of its official appellation may be to many, it is nevertheless undeniable that Taiwan — or the Republic of China (ROC) — is and acts as a sovereign state. It has its own elected government, armed forces, currency, passport, has a designated territory, and is able to engage in relations with other states, to sign treaties and to join international institutions. The ongoing quest for self-determination in Taiwan is therefore evolutionary rather than revolutionary; already independent and meeting all the criteria for statehood, Taiwan (the ROC) need not break away or separate from anything in order to achieve the status of country. It should not be surprising, then, that the majority of Taiwanese, regardless of their party preference, do not feel the compulsion to take drastic action, such as holding a referendum, because the current situation already confers the benefits of statehood. Pragmatism, rather than emotion or preferences over nomenclature, is what guides the Taiwanese public on matters of sovereignty. (I would even argue that cleansing Taiwan of the impositions and legacies of the ROC, as members of the deep-green camp have long called for, is an evolutionary and not a revolutionary process.)
Cole also observes that the level of violence deployed against Catalonia is nothing compared to what Taiwan would face.

An additional issue to watch out for in comparisons is that Taiwan is not part of China under international law and in the eyes of many of the Powers. Catalonia is an internationally recognized part of Spain. The comparison can only be pushed so far.

Taiwan might take a cue from the Estonians: instead of treating a referendum as an "independence" vote, some other terminology might be adopted. The Estonians refer to gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 as "Restoration" (explanation). Referendum on "ratification of Taiwan's current independence"?
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Monday, October 02, 2017

No, Ko Wen-je is not a viable presidential candidate.

How hard can it be to get the English done properly?

Financial Times, which I generally don't link to since they decided to intervene in the 2012 presidential election on behalf of China, published an interview with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je which caused a stir in Taiwan. Taiwan News reports on the FT piece:
Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is a potential future presidential candidate thanks to his blunt style, the Financial Times of London wrote in a profile this week.
It's very unlikely, unless a major party adopts him, that Ko will ever be a presidential candidate. I hope the DPP does not challenge him in 2018, but lets him run the city for another few years so that the demographic trends that are undermining KMT strength in Taipei can continue. The FT story is largely a fantasy -- no one takes him seriously as a presidential candidate, nor is Taipei always a springboard to the presidency (see case of Hau Lung-bing. Quick, who was mayor before Chen Shui-bian?).

Those of us who follow these things know how transient and illusory such popularity is and also, that the poll the FT ran with appears to have nothing to do with Ko's actual performance. March of 2016 report of Taipei Times:
A survey conducted on Tuesday by Dailyview.tw — a Web site analyzing the latest trends among Internet users — showed that the approval rating of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has plunged to 35 percent, with the site saying that the Taipei City Government’s slow progress on its probe into the “five cases” and its transportation policies are the main factors behind Ko’s decrease in popularity.
In Dec 2016 Ko's popularity stunk as Taiwan News observed:
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu’s approval rating is the highest among six major cities’ leaders in the latest opinion poll conducted by Taiwan Brain Trust, while Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je comes in last.
In July of 2016 Taipei City's internal policy department, its RDEC, released a survey showing that his disapproval ratings had reached new highs.

Most importantly, a more reliable survey, the Commonwealth survey of the performance of city/county leaders, came out two weeks ago. The description in it noted:
The just concluded highly successful World University Games (Universiade) in Taipei, the largest international sports event ever held in Taiwan, greatly boosted the popularity of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, catapulting him up seven places from rank 21 to 14.
That's right. Ko was nearly dead last the previous year, but this year he has clambered all the way up to.... the top of the bottom third. The FT story was likely inspired by this poll but nothing in that poll or pollster's background suggests that it is reliable, and the Commonwealth poll suggests that the poll the story relied on is specious. At least it suggests that Ko is popular only where people don't know him yet, which does not bode well for a presidential run.

The FT story, in addition to sexing up something out of nothing with Ko, missed the real story, which is the rise of Taoyuan's Cheng Wen-tsan. Commonwealth again (whole piece is excellent as always):
That constant exposure has already paid dividends. In CommonWealth Magazine’s 2017 Local Leader Approval Survey, Cheng ranked fourth among the chiefs of Taiwan’s 22 cities and counties. He also became the first Taoyuan mayor to receive the highest rating of any of the mayors of Taiwan’s six major metropolitan areas (Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung).
Cheng is an increasingly viable alternative to William Lai, and in many eyes, looks very presidential. But he governs Taoyuan, which is a vast distance from Taipei, maybe as much as 40 minutes on the airport metro....
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wm Lai speaks ZOMG TENSHUNZ ... in the media

A cat lounges behind old walls in Tainan.

SCMP and SupChina were sexing up the usual exchange of pleasantries between Taiwan and China today. SupChina said:
The South China Morning Post reports that Taiwan’s new premier, William Lai 赖清德, “has openly identified himself as a supporter of independence for the island — a statement certain to incense Beijing.”
  • In his first address to parliament after becoming premier in September 8, Lai answered a question by opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislators about his views on relations with the People’s Republic of China. Lai said: “I am a political worker who advocates Taiwan independence, but I am also a pragmatic pro-Taiwan independence theorist.”
  • The P.R.C. responded swiftly: Xinhua News Agency says that Ma Xiaoguang 马晓光, the spokesperson for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that “the Chinese mainland resolutely opposes ‘Taiwan independence’ in any form and will never allow the past tragedy of national secession to be repeated.”
  • Taiwan responded to Ma’s comments: Reuters reports that the island’s Mainland Affairs Council “said it did not matter what Beijing said, it was an ‘objective reality’ that the Republic of China was a sovereign state,” and that “Taiwan’s future and the development of relations across the Strait will be jointly decided by Taiwan’s 23 million people.”
What next? As Reuters points out, Beijing has already “suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taipei established under the previous, China-friendly government in Taiwan,” and reduced the numbers of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. We can expect further punishment of some kind, probably economic.
It's really difficult for me to not to mock this. SCMP went to great lengths to sex up this non-story, which is a regular exchange between Taiwan and China. Lawrence Chung, whose name and political biases will be familiar to my readers, wrote:
He is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status.
This story is only interesting because of that statement. First premier? LOL. There was Yu Shyi-kun, premier for three years in the Chen Administration, who was a regular maker of such statements. Frank Hsieh, premier in the Chen Administration as well after Yu, published an op-ed on it in the Washington Post larded with pro-independence sentiment, among others. Su Tseng-chang, the premier after Hsieh, made statements similar to Lai's in an interpellation in 2006 (TT report) and in a Feb 2006 report to the LY and other times. In any case, everyone knew what their positions were since they had made many open and public statements. There is nothing new here.

It is puzzling how Chung could not know this, since he has been in Taiwan "reporting" since the fall of the Qing Dynasty, at least. Of course, readers may recall that Chung has already invested in Lai's independence views being a cause of tensions....

It's not like China didn't know Lai's position... he made a pro-independence speech at Fudan U in China in 2014. This is just the usual pavane that we've been dancing for 25 years now....
During the legislators’ queries, Lai, known as a pro-independence fundamentalist, also maintained that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “independent of each other, with Taiwan being an independent sovereign state carrying the designation the Republic of China”.
These are bog-standard DPP statements, made by many top DPP politicans since the 1990s. In response to China's usual bluster, the mainland affairs council said, as usual, that Taiwan was a sovereign state, as Reuters reported. The Executive Yuan spokesman said that Lai's comments....
Lai’s beliefs are in line with those of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Executive Yuan spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said.

“We are an independent and sovereign state whose name is the ROC. This is the president’s position, whom, I should add, was elected president of the ROC,” Hsu said.
SCMP actually reported:
Taiwan’s presidential office later issued a statement, saying that the government of President Tsai Ing-wen has never changed its position that “the Republic of China is a sovereign independent country”, nor has it changed its dedication to peace in the region and maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The DPP US mission, replying to Isaac Stone Fish, reiterated:
DPP U.S. Mission‏ @TaiwanDPP_DC
Replying to @isaacstonefish
Premier Lai's statement is consistent with longstanding DPP position
On Twitter there was quite a bit of silliness. Despite the fact that several news outlets, both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy, had already reported that Lai's position was normal and that the Presidential Office agreed, lots of folks said This Was a Big Deal, tweeting around stuff like:
Hard to imagine Tsai was anything but wrathful upon learning this -- won't make things any easier for her or the DPP
According to all reports, including the already-issued Presidential office statement, she wasn't wroth one bit. Sharp observer Chris Horton dryly observed in response to SCMP's tension-inducing headline:
Chris Horton‏ @heguisen
Taiwan's new premier risks China's wrath w/ provocative statements like: "We are willing to make friends with them."
Indeed -- SCMP could just as well headlined: "Lai sends Beijing olive branch." But that's a common media trope many of us have pointed to for years -- Taiwan politicians are usually depicted as provoking Beijing, because it makes for sexier headlines, rather than what they are actually doing, extending olive branches and asking for talks (MAC list of Olive Branches 2008-2016).

SupChina said:
What next? As Reuters points out, Beijing has already “suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taipei established under the previous, China-friendly government in Taiwan,” and reduced the numbers of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. We can expect further punishment of some kind, probably economic.
Reducing the number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan was an economic blessing (FYI: China tourists rose slightly in Aug of 2107 (249,999) over Aug of 2016 (248,538) while arrivals from HKK increased by nearly 14,000, from 163K to 177k). But the key issue here is that SupChina expects China will take action on this particular non-event.

Why? We've had myriads of such events and nothing happened to Taiwan (like when Tsai commented on Liu or offered to help China with democracy or when Beijing glowered at Taiwan for its support of pro-democracy types in Hong Kong or a few weeks ago defending Beijing's kidnapping and imprisonment of Li Ming-che). Moreover, recall that China wants to annex Taiwan in part by looting its economy and technology, and disrupting its political and civic organizations. It can't do that if there are no exchanges. This fact seems little appreciated among watchers on the China side of the Strait. Hence, Beijing has small incentive to do more than nibble at the edges (for example, it was recently forced to reverse its decision to punish Taiwan universities by reducing student flows). Tourists are an easy choice, since reducing outbound tourism reduces imports.

I would expect that nothing very important will happen out of this. The problem isn't just that SupChina and others are sexing up this perfectly normal and not very interesting exchange. The problem is that when commentators predict bad things will happen, they signal to China that Beijing should be doing bad things -- that the media thinks bad things by Beijing would be a-ok and will likely carry Beijing's water by scolding Taiwan for "provoking" Beijing. The media plays a powerful role in creating, defining, and encouraging tensions, and is usually out in front of Beijing, often reporting X WILL CREATE TENSHUNZ, then never noting afterwards that nothing happened (like this).

Yeah, remember that phone call from Tsai to Trump that caused rivers to flow backwards and continents to sink into the ocean? Yeah, I had forgotten about it too.

In the meantime, today thousands of people will fly back and forth for business and tourism, never realizing that tensions have suddenly spiked. The students from China in my classes will all be there on time, not knowing they should be in their combat gear. Millions of products will flow across the Strait, unhindered by those out of control tensions. Gangsters will continue to benefit from the Ma-era agreements, unreported in the media. Nowhere will tension manifest itself in the real world as relations flow on, unvexed, across the sea.

Until the next round of ZOMG TENSHUNZ. Well, at least it gives me blogfodder.

MOAR MEDIA FOLLIES: I can't resist raising this Reuters piece from the dead, because its awful badness is a good example of the media creating tensions out of nothing, in this case, within the DPP over China policy. Back in May Reuters yarbled:
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is signalling she needs more give and take from China to rein in hardliners on an island China considers its own, officials say, but Beijing is unlikely to budge months before its five-yearly Communist Party Congress.
Yup, that Tsai Ing-wen was having such horrible trouble reining in the hardliners that she... picked a hardliner to be her new premier.

Think Reuters will issue a correction? Not in my lifetime. The media wouldn't be so bad, if it at least issued mea culpas from time to time.

UPDATE: And Isabella Steger wins the internet today with a perfect summary of Taiwan's situation:
Chris Horton‏ @heguisen
"Cross-strait tensions" suggests bidirectional threats of violence, which is simply untrue. Tbh, it's not-so-subtle victim blaming.

isabella steger‏@stegersaurus
what was taiwan wearing though?

Chris Horton‏ @heguisen
an almost totally transparent multi-party democracy
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Sing China protesters attacked by people from White Wolf's "Party"

Yum.

Last week I blogged on the despicable piece at The Diplomat lauding the greatness of drug smuggler, gangster, and assassin Chang An-lo, the famous White Wolf. Hardly were the pixels on that piece cooling when alleged thugs from his alleged party showed up at a protest against a Chinese TV show visiting Taiwan as part of United Front efforts to annex Taiwan, to allegedly beat up protesters. Recall what the Diplomat panegyric said:
At public events, Zhang is routinely followed and waited upon by a well-trained entourage; when encountering people on the street who may or may not recognize him immediately, Zhang is a perfect elderly gentleman, making way for others and treating women and children with particular courtesy.
The story of Chang's CUPP party associates attacking students broke on FB and Twitter right away. Taiwan News reports here, with vids. Despite the fact that the beatings were public and many people called the police, the police took over thirty minutes to show up, a fact which did not escape local politicians....
Wu said police have demonstrated divergent standards of law enforcement, as their response to the NTU incident was delayed, but very fast when students at Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei City’s Sinjhuang District (新莊) attempted to topple a statue of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) on Feb. 28.
The delayed arrival of the police will be familiar to anyone who has attempted to get the police to respond to gang-involved incidents in Taiwan. The perps were quickly identified by social media searchers. The TT initially reported:
Three students were reportedly injured by a member of the pro-unification Patriot Association (愛國同心會), police said.

At the center of the furor was the school’s decision to rent the athletic field for the event, which was cosponsored by the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chinese reality television show Sing! China.


Representatives of the school’s student council on Saturday said that the event had not only caused structural damage to the facilities, but also denied NTU students and sports teams use of the field and its track.

The festival is included in memorandums of understanding on cultural and arts events signed by Taipei and Shanghai, but posters for the event called the school “Taipei City Taiwan University (臺北市臺灣大學).”

Accusing China of using the concert as a “united front” tactic that infringed upon Taiwan’s interests, pro-Taiwan independence groups Free Taiwan Party and 908 Taiwan Republic Campaign first staged a protest outside the venue before purchasing tickets.
Attacking students is a really bad idea, young people protesting have a special status in any culture. The police responded also by announcing raids on gang-operated sex dens. Although these will only result in a few low level busts and perhaps round ups of scantily clad females, eagerly filmed by our fearless truth-to-power local media, the announcements will reduce the number of people visiting such places, hitting the gangs in their pocketbooks.

As for the United Front (the KMT-CCP alliance against Taiwan independence) accusation, that was borne out. Dr. Ketty Chen, Vice President of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, alerted her followers on Facebook to a piece at NewTalk which observed that the "Taiwanese" company operating the event was a shell actually owned by the Shanghai Taiwan Affairs Office. So the students were apparently absolutely right.

The pro-KMT China Times provided the best media moment. It reported on the concert as if it had occurred... and never reported that it had abruptly been canceled.
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Monday, September 25, 2017

Gou positioning himself for 2020?

The magnificent northern cross. Miss that ride.

My man Donovan published at the News Lens on Taiwan's political future... observing of the KMT:
On the national level, the party currently has no candidates that are popular enough to run a serious challenge to the presidency. There is talk of running an outsider, such as the maverick owner of Hon Hai Precision Industry (known overseas as Foxconn) Terry Gou (郭台銘), a la Donald Trump. His strong ties to China are a big drawback. The other is his overt authoritarian thinking, which while potentially appealing overseas won’t work in Taiwan. Taiwanese, only recently having defeated authoritarianism after a long struggle, are fiercely proud of their democratic accomplishments.
Gou was in the news today in a strange juxtaposition... the alleged oldest Mazu temple's statue of the Mazu cult made its way to Taiwan this week, and who should be involved but Terry Gou hisownself:
Meizhou Mazu’s visit to Taiwan was mainly arranged by Foxconn Founder and Chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘), who greeted the Mazu statue from the Chinese temple and participated in carrying the palanquin all the way to a nearby port for the trip to Taiwan.
Why Mazu? The Mazu cult is a major nexus of cross-strait annexationist activity. I've discussed this before in more detail here. Officials of the island's major Mazu temple, the Jenn Lan temple in Dajia, are knee-deep in cross-strait annexation politics, underworld activities, and local Taiwan politics. In 2014, when China's Taiwan Affairs Office head visited Taiwan, he visited another major Mazu temple in Taiwan, the Tien Hou Gong in Lukang. In 2011 a Mazu statue carved of emerald was donated by a Chinese sculptor to the big temple in Dajia, and was met at the dock by KMT mayor Jason Hu of Taichung, and the Jenn Lan Temple President Yen Ching-piao, widely reputed to be one of the biggest gangsters in Taiwan. Even BBC, generally clueless and pro-China, has managed to report that China is using the cult in its drive to annex Taiwan. Recall that Jason Hu of Taichung also wanted to build a massive Mazu statue overlooking Taichung harbor to draw Chinese tourist group money to Taichung.

Aware of this connection to China's drive to annex Taiwan, I have heard that many Taiwan temples have carried out ceremonies in China to quietly divorce themselves from their parent temples.

Gou's move to bring over the statue appears to be an attempt to align himself with this movement and to please Beijing. It is hard to see why he would spend the time and money to do this, unless he was positioning himself for an election run with the KMT. If the young have the same influence on the election that they did in 2016, he won't have much of a chance. Moreover, Donald Trump has caused many to sour on the idea of businessman presidents...
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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung *sigh*

The midnight spike in air pollution, using the app airvisual. This is from the Taichung area. The app usually shows a spike, a small one, between midnight and 2 AM. Why? Because factories in Taichung are quietly dumping pollution into the air in the wee hours to avoid EPA fines. I've come to dread Sunday nights because the factories on the hill below our house frequently dump foul-smelling shit into the air.

The reason I'm writing on this is because I've become quite worried about Lin Chia-lung's performance and prospects in 2018. Rumor has it that the Taichung EPA has relaxed enforcement of pollution rules in a bid to win the support of factory owners. I don't know whether it is true -- the issue is that it is being said.

Lin is billing Taichung as "The Event City" but according to people I talk to the city government is crushing the life out of many of its events. A longtime foreign resident who runs several events told me this will likely be his last year. Under Hu the city handed out venues for free, but the Lin Administration is making event holders pay. My friend explained that not only does he pay, but he expects they will find excuses to keep the deposit as well, meaning that he can't afford to run the event any more. Across the city, he told me, the neighborhood and precinct captains are screaming about the new payments.

City leaders, in concert with TAITRA, are also attempting to merge the Taipei Bike Show and the Taichung Bike Show. All bike shows are in decline right now, but the Taipei Bike Show is apparently on life support, several bike company types I talked to aver. The Taichung Bike Show is one of the world's foremost, an important place where deals are made, but the city wants to move it out of the city center (to which it brings important business) to the pointless exhibition center by the HSR station, which is located far from anything interesting, if it doesn't get merged outright. Either the merger or the move will deeply hurt the Taichung Bike Show, and the move will cost local businesses millions in lost hotel and restaurant business.

I've resisted discussion of the Forward Looking Infrastructure plan for Taichung on this blog, because I kept hoping it would become sane. But nope -- the plan currently is to run a light rail line down the same line as the current rail system to Changhua. With the long climbs up and down stairs, the line will actually slow down commutes. Meanwhile the idea of integrating Nantou city into the Taichung area metro/bus/rail system appears to have died -- they couldn't have spent the money to run trains to Nantou and integrate them into that area's extensive tourism stuff?

Opinion on Lin's performance as a politician differs. I hear complaints that he doesn't kiss babies or show up to give speeches when he should, but other people tell me he is ok on that. He doesn't seem to get the same press that other mayors get, though. I expect that in 2018 he will argue he needs another term to complete his plan (when I suggest this to people the response is always a derisive snort "What plan?") and that voters will punish him but give him another chance, letting him win by a much smaller margin. But he could lose to an energetic and skilled KMT politician -- fortunately those are in short supply in the KMT.

Meanwhile in Taipei the DPP has decided that it can't leave well enough alone. Ko Wen-je, the independent but pro-Green mayor of the city, is coming under fire from DPP politicians for being "weak on China" and similar nonsense. TT says:
Amid increasing tension between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), DPP Legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) yesterday criticized the mayor, saying he lacked a firm political stance. Cheng urged the party to nominate its own candidate in the Taipei mayoral election next year.
There are some in the DPP who want to nominate their own candidate for the election -- longtime buffoon and DPPer Pasuya Yao, who is not aborigine in any way but simply adopted an aboriginal first name to be cool, has expressed interest. It would be really stupid to run a DPP politician against Ko, who right now is popular and secure. All that would do is risk handing the city back to the KMT while humiliating the DPP loser and betraying a key ally. Tsai Ing-wen needs to clamp down on this...

As I have written before, the north is in the midst of a demographic transition. High housing prices in Taipei have driven younger people out to Taoyuan and Keelung and New Taipei City where they will largely support the DPP. In the city the bureaucracy is greening from the bottom up, again creating more DPP-leaning voters, while the Deep Blues are dying out. The smart move would be to leave Ko Wen-je in place for four more years with DPP support to let these demographic trends continue, and let light Blues discover that a non-KMT mayor is not the end of the world...
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Single Payer: Myths cured by the experience of Taiwan


An acquaintance of mine with a decade of life here posted this on Facebook about single payer. Here in Taiwan we have excellent health insurance. If only the US had this system, instead of its current one or the murderous plans the Republicans keep attempting to pass....

+++++++++++

I wrote this while on a recent train ride. It's long, but please don't think I'm crazy. I was bored and motivated at the same time.

This is on my mind a lot, and I only share because I think it can add clear perspective to a very confusing and clouded health care debate.

As someone who has lived under one version of Single Payer Health Care for the past 10 years, I would like to respectfully opine on some of the (many) falsehoods that are circulated by various (mostly conservative media) sources. I think it's totally cool no matter what opinion you hold.

I just hope to add to an informed and important debate.

So, about Single Payer -
- SP is not government-owned health care. Doctors do not necessarily work for the government. SP is priced and paid out by a single government-pooled source, and care is administered in the private sector (usually).

- SP does not stifle choice. I can literally go to any doctor/hospital/clinic in any city. Nobody is limited to doctors within their 'plan' or even geographical area. I usually pick the place with the best candy bowl at the desk.

- SP does not stifle competition. I have found SP to be far more of a 'free market' of care than I have ever experienced in the US (see above re choice). The best doctors and the best clinics get and retain the most patients and therefore make the most money.

- SP is kindof a socialist idea, sure, but really it's very much capitalist in the sense that the actual care is the service/product delivered by the physicians rather than the insurance 'plan' (see above). Associating SP with Venezuelan-style socialism is an oft-used farce that makes no sense. I think it's important to remember that every variation of US health care over the past several decades can neither be described as socialist nor capitalist, but rather, "rigged".

- SP does fix pricing at the national level, in a very good way. If this worries you, I can understand that. This worries me much less than how pricing of care and medicine has been handled in the US in recent history. Remember the insurance bills with all the fake prices? What was that all about?

- SP does not force doctors to provide services under the threat of force or law...any moreso than police are 'forced' to keep the peace. This is mostly in response to a guy named Ben Shapiro and many outlets that have repeated his ideas. I have no idea what he is talking about.

- SP does not ration care to the extent that has been described over and over in the US media. Wait times for vital care are not a problem. I'm sure there are outlier situations where patients were unhappy with care or not cared for properly, but I can say for certain that long wait times and rationing of care are definitely not systemic of SP in Taiwan.

- SP is not unaffordable. It is definitely cheaper than any recent version of US health care. Way cheaper. That's just math.

- SP does not require you to "pay for other people's health care" any more than any health care proposal that the GOP has presented over the past several months...unless we start allowing insurance companies to price customers out again (which the GOP is trying to do now)....in which case, people who run out of money will simply get the care and not pay for it (again, we all end up paying for that), or just die.

- SP is popular and it works, but the most important endorsement I can think of is this - For those who have experienced BOTH the US system of care and SP in some variation in a foreign country and are able to compare and contrast, the vast majority would favor SP. (see "Candian citizens who have lived in the US")

- SP has many different variations and hybrids, and amenities and aesthetics of care centers will usually fall in line with cultural expectations. In Taiwan for example, some hospitals and clinics lack a modern feel and may seem uncomfortable to someone who is used to more bells and whistles. That's because Taiwanese households, in general, do not have a lot of bells and whistles.

- SP is very good for small business and the working individual. Imagine a world where your health care has nothing to do with your employer. Imagine starting your own business and not having to worry about employee health benefits for that first person you hire.

- SP acknowledges that health care is a right. I know, it's not written in the constitution or whatever. Does anyone have a pen?

- SP also acknowledges that there is no solution to health care in the true free market. The nature and inelasticity of health care as a good makes it a lot different than sneakers and cell phones. I think that's just something we all have to accept.

- SP works very well in many countries. That doesn't mean it will have the same efficiency if implemented in the US. It could be even BETTER in the US. Because 'Merica.

- SP is not perfect. No health care solution is perfect.

- SP is not a curse. It can be a blessing.
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