Saturday, December 31, 2005

Lin Cho-shui in the Taipei Times

The Taipei Times hosted a commentary by DPP insider Lin Cho-shui. The article is uneven but offers a glimpse of the thinking on the DPP and Chen that DPP insiders are going through.

For the past six years, Chen has favored a leadership style that emphasized closed-door decision-making and repeated policy changes. He has been short-sighted and willful and lacks an overall strategy. No wonder the administration has been frequently embarrassed.

Today, his authority has declined significantly, but his methods remain the same. As a result, more embarrassments are to be expected. But neither Chai nor Wong have focused on this weakness, as their campaigns have emphasized either ideological coloring or personal integrity. Although former Presidential Office secretary-general Yu Shyi-kun has addressed the issue, he cannot do so from a position of strength because of his close relationship with Chen.

Sometime I'd like to see how Chen's leadership style led to the Kaohsiung MRT problems, or drove his aide to visit a casino in Korea. The failure of the DPP is collective. No one seems willing to face that yet.

The analysis of the three candidates for DPP chairman is interesting, but Lin falls short on his analysis of the DPP's woes. The party is blaming Chen, but no one is focusing on its real problems: the lack of party unity; the inability to develop a message and stay on it; the failure to educate the public on important policy areas such as water, the environment, and the arms purchase; the failure to fix the blame the Blues for the legislative deadlock and exploit that; and so on. What the DPP needs is professional management by someone dedicated to winning elections. What it is going to get is more division and acrimony. Lin's analysis suggests, as I have pointed out before, that the next Chairman is going to spend a lot of time in conflict with Chen Shui-bian. And this bodes ill for the 2006 legislative elections.

UPDATE: (01/01) David at jujuflop has a similar analysis that goes one more step:

This complete unwillingness by many senior DPP members to take a hard look at their party and go beyond a simplistic laying of blame on one of their members is important because it comes during the campaigning for the next DPP Chairman. Of course, some of it is down to which candidate they support: since Yu Shyi-kun is widely seen as Chen's choice, supporters of the other two candidates are likely to lay into Chen as a way to promote their own candidate. However, it's also in danger of turning the election into a Catch-22 situation: If Yu wins, then there's no real powershift in the DPP, and so nothing will change, while if Yu loses, then all the DPPs problems will be blamed on Chen, meaning that nothing will change (apart from the leader).

Read the whole thing.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Submarines for Taiwan: Brian Dunn

Intrepid blogger MeiZhongTei, who has recently withdrawn his support from the purchase of submarines for Taiwan, points out that Brian Dunn, who blogs on Taiwan-China-US defense affairs, still imagines that the subs are a useful purchase. Dunn, responding to MZT, writes:

This analysis ignores the fact that China's subs are on average, quite poor and poorly trained as well. They rarely put to sea and usually do so with the company of surface ships just in case. I sincerely doubt that the PLAN could put 16 effective attack submarines to sea to sink the 8 proposed Taiwanese boats under debate.

Nor do I think the PLAN's anti-submarine capabilities spell a death sentence for the Taiwanese boats. I'm not even sure the PLAN would be immediately aware of their own losses let alone the amazing ability to destroy modern subs with PLAN assets. Chinese naval warfare capabilities are not exactly advanced except for narrow bands created by buying Russian weapons. Even there the training won't be very good.

Dunn is right to note that China's subs suck. But his argument is insufficiently robust. Let's revisit some old prose on this topic:

Since I've mentioned subs, let's point out a couple of salient facts. First, the subs do not actually exist. US shipyards do not have the capability to build them, and those nations that can, the Netherlands and Germany, will not sell them to Taiwan. Hence there has been some talk of building them in Taiwan, though Taiwan does not have the capability to build them completely.

Counting hardware and its applications is insufficient; the socio-technical context of weapon deployment must also be considered. The fact is that Taiwan currently has four submarines, two dating from WWII, and has no real experience in anti-submarine work with subsmarines. The weapons are deliverable over the next 15 years, not immediately from extant inventories, and it will be many years before they become operational and appropriate training is in place and absorbed. Surely $12 billion can be spent more effectively elsewhere -- on advanced aircraft, spare parts, command and control systems, hardening airfields and command and control sites, patrol craft and small attack craft, and so on.

Basically, Taiwan's subs suck, and so do China's. It's fundamentally a wash, and China has more subs. If the two sides merely cancel each other out, that is a victory for China. Taiwan has to totally deny the sea to China; China need merely make sure that Taiwan's forces do not inflict unacceptable losses on the way over.

Further, the $12 billion budgeted for the subs is astronomical, with each sub priced at more than three times the usual world rate for a new submarine. The high prices are understandable, since there is no place the subs can be built, but it is not cost-effective to purchase the subs when proven weapons, such as attack aircraft, can be purchased and delivered in a much shorter time. The subs are not slated for immediate delivery, but instead delivery will not be fully completed until 2021 even assuming that Taiwan passes the arms purchase in 2006. And if the Chinese control the air over the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese subs will not be able to operate in those waters. Ironically, spending all that money on subs may ensure that they cannot actually be used, since no funds will be leftover for aircraft to give them cover.

One might also ponder the fact that each sub will cost in excess of $1 billion. Such subs might well be too expensive to risk. At least, the high cost of the assets will almost certainly inhibit their full use.

It is true that Taiwan's subs can cause China a ton of economic pain by sinking merchant ships and raising shipping rates. But merchantmen sunk off Hainan or Shanghai will have no effect on a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

More importantly, there are no cases on record of a large invasion being defeated or even deterred by submarines. The determining factor in any invasion is control of the air. Always. Taiwan could have a fleet of 50 subs and the Chinese would simply adapt their force structure accordingly (that's why paratroopers were invented) and take their losses. Consider that the $12 billion wasted on submaries will buy five or six hundred modern fighters, which would prevent China from ever taking Taiwan. Indeed, the US arms purchase proposal has the strong flavor of Operation Mustang or the Afghan resistance policy, in which enough weapons were provided to cause pain, but not enough to ensure victory. Sometimes I wonder if the US deliberately withheld attack aircraft precisely because they would effectively guarantee Taiwan's independence.....

Similarly, I observed before:

The submarines, as offensive weapons, have to be looked at in the larger context of the US-Japan-Taiwan alliance to contain China. As Wendel Minnick note, a strong submarine force would make Taiwan an attractive strategic partner to Japan and the United States. Taiwan's acquisition of submarines would give it political and military bargaining power in the future. One is reminded of the argument over artillery in Lawrence of Arabia: "If you give them artillery, you'll be giving them a country." Something similar is at work with the submarines.

I think this analysis, which I wrote back in July, wasn't quite there yet. Now the way I understand it, in essence, attack aircraft give Taiwan independence on its own terms, while submarines force it to depend on the US and Japan. It is easy to see why Taiwan is getting subs and not aircraft.

Regrettably, Dunn's argument descends into absurd arrogance:

As for cost effectiveness, let me just add that as long as a single Taiwanese sub equipped with American-made Harpoons is at sea (or believed to be at sea), the United States will be able to maintain plausible deniability that American subs are not actually shooting at the invasion flotilla (we in the blogosphere can then marvel at the capabilities of the lone intrepid Taiwanese captain wreaking havoc on the PLAN surface fleet).

Yes, it is very cost effective, from the US standpoint, for Taiwan to spend $12 billion so that the US can have cover. If the US wants cover, it can spend the money itself. After all, that's only about a week's expenses for our ongoing defeat in Iraq. Sadly, Dunn's analysis treats Taiwan as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself.

We'll let Dunn's last words stand by themselves:

I don't know much about macro-economics, but I think buying those submarines and getting the possible use of the US submarine fleet is highly cost effective.

Sure, Brian.

Fruit Exports: the Pro-China parties foul up again

The Taipei Times hosted a commentary by a Tainan city councillor on the chimera of fruit exports to China.

Many readers will recall the sensation caused by fruit exports to China. In July, Beijing invited both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Farmers' Association of Taiwan Province (台灣省農會) to discuss this. Anyone of good sense could tell that this was a politically motivated move. Thanks to certain political parties, however, exporting fruit to China was publicized as the best way of boosting the income of local farmers.

As President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) repeatedly warned, food quarantine and safety standards are much lower in China. And, even though Taiwanese fruits were granted tariff-free status, they would have to compete with cheap products from Southeastern Asia. Once the novelty of fruits from Taiwan wore off, profit margins would be squeezed and our farmers would have no choice but to cut prices, the the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government warned.

The article goes on to observe that the fruit export policies were a failure:

Within six months, the pro-unification media were forced to eat their words and to admit that Taiwanese fruit fever in China had cooled substantially. Stands selling Taiwanese fruits in stores in Beijing were half the size they had been, and business was down by more than 50 percent.

Apart from the novelty having worn off, this was also the result of much fruit from Guangdong and Hainan Provinces having been labelled as being from Taiwan. Thus, the market was flooded with low-quality counterfeits. Even some wax apples exported from Thailand to China were labelled as coming from Taiwan. The Chinese government's failure to crack down on counterfeits and a lack of a classification system contributed to Taiwanese farmers being unable to secure a steady market.

The pro-China parties have simply shamelessly used the local farmers to score political points against the DPP and ingratiate themselves with Beijing. I am reminded of an Asia Times article on this topic I blogged on several months ago:

Reviewing the list of 18 kinds of fruit that China has opened its market to, Liu Jau-jia said, "It is nonsense from the perspective of marketing." Liu explained that two of Taiwan's top three fruits, bananas and lychees, were not granted tariff-free status, while some fruits that could be easily overproduced, such as oranges, could not even be exported to China. "The six kinds of fruit they announced later [on May 3] are even weirder. They are not even major kinds in Taiwan," Liu said, referring to coconuts, plums, peaches, persimmons, loquats, and prunes.

The Taipei Times article continues, noting that this comes against the backdrop of a recent request to lift investment caps:

In light of these developments, the executive should not be fooled into acceding to the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce's (工商協進會) request that it cancel the 40 percent cap on China-bound investment by Taiwanese companies (Taiwanese businesses are banned from investing over 40 percent of their net value in China). Rather, it should carefully consider the risks. For example, if the investment ceiling is canceled, how will the flood of business relocation affect Taiwan's unemployment rate? And how will the capital outflow to China further marginalize Taiwan?

The Asia Times also pointed out that the fruit policy had another thrust:

Beijing concluded last year that it should "do more work" for the citizens in Taiwan's south, the heartland of the pro-independence DPP and Chen, its leader, in response to suggestions from numerous Chinese academics. Liu Xiaoheng, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who has visited Taiwan more than 10 times, acknowledged that Beijing has realized "the problems" in Taiwan's south for a long time, but "China is a big country that usually takes a long time to shift its policy". Since Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the island's farmers have been suffering in a global marketplace where prices are on average 30% lower, while the inability of Taiwanese farmers to efficiently switch crops has led to oversupply of certain fruits. As a result, Beijing thought it saw an opportunity to pressure Taiwan's government.

If that was really part of the goal, it has failed mightily. The Asia Times article suggested that China was also interested in technology transfer from Taiwan to China, and has established agricultural zones aimed at Taiwan companies whose real purpose is to poach their technology. I suspect, though, that the whole fruit export fracas was simply an election ploy aimed at swinging Taiwanese voters to the dark side, and having performed its purpose, it will now be quietly forgotten.

Why My Students Can't Write

The China Post provided yet more evidence of why my students can't write. This article on Taiwan's university system is a perfect example of bad writing at its worst:

This and other negative reports about university teachers have borne witness to the fact that our universities are losing their reputation as places for development of high moral standards. If this trend continues, which will probably be the case, the crime rate will certainly rise even further.

The government must face all these problems squarely and promptly revise its policy concerning higher education.

It is necessary to allocate more funds for the development of higher education, but money alone cannot remedy the problems that have arisen. The authorities must have a clear concept of what education means and set more lofty goals than those that are being pursued at present.

Bad Writing locally is distinguished by (1) the appeal to the Golden Age of the Past; (2) generalizing from one bad example with no thought for statistics; and (3) abstract criticism without concrete recommendations. On the pro-China side, Bad Writing typically makes history disappear, or if it can't be made to disappear, the actors vanish if they are KMT and the outcomes are bad. The editorial above offers shining examples of each of them:

1) -- our universities are losing their reputation as places for development of high moral standards. Did they ever have such a reputation?

2) -- This and other negative reports about university teacher no attempt is made to establish that these reports are a trend. No reference is made to any body of data, or other examples in any concrete way.

3) -- The government must face all these problems squarely and promptly revise its policy concerning higher education. It is necessary to allocate more funds for the development of higher education, but money alone cannot remedy the problems that have arisen. The authorities must have a clear concept of what education means and set more lofty goals than those that are being pursued at present.

The Post appears to believe that it is enough to call upon the government to face the problems "squarely" -- a beautifully abstract word that contains no concrete meaning whatsoever. The authorities are told they must have a clear concept (which would be.....?) and must pursue loftier goals (which would be.....?). Nor is any argument presented that concepts are unclear and goals are not lofty. The writer withholds all evidence and argument from the reader.

The average Taiwanese lives in a world of crap where there is no expectation that claims must be supported and ideas must be concrete. With garbage like this passing for analysis in the media, it is no wonder that none of my students can write.

Man-Made Values and the Taiwan-China Confrontation

The China Post blames the DPP for everything with this one:

Over the past ten years or so the government has been making efforts to indigenize (bentuhua) the island. The tendency to do so has been strong particularly since the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party took power in 2000. The drive has created many side effects, mostly negative, for the island.

In education, the government has tried to teach the people that Taiwan is the best place in the world and that the students should spend most of their time learning about its geography, history and natural environment.

Economically, the government has tried to limit local businessmen to the local market and adopted policies that prevent them from investing in the Chinese mainland. Politically, the administration has been seeking a Constitution tailored to Taiwan. Culturally, the administration has been attempting to promote native beliefs and customs and to rid the island of what it considers to be Chinese values.

Most of the measures adopted to realize these goals have had a negative impact on Taiwan society. The tendency has had a divisive effect and contributed to turmoil and chaos.

The effort to de-emphasize Chinese values, such as Confucianist teachings, has created a moral void, which is the main reason for the sharp increase in crime.

Taiwan has suffered greatly from the man-made confrontation between Taiwanese and Chinese values. It is time to drop this misguided, narrow-minded policy.

It's not for nothing that a friend of mine consistently refers to the China Post as "the ComPost" though I think this is wrong: the China Post doesn't make very good fertilizer. There's a lot here to comment on.

It's always important to note that "analytical" writing in the local culture is entirely free of the concrete, and insists on sweeping absolutes that no one can take seriously. Consider the first paragraph:

In education, the government has tried to teach the people that Taiwan is the best place in the world and that the students should spend most of their time learning about its geography, history and natural environment.

The Post is pro-China, so naturally it denigrates any commitment to Taiwan. Those of you who wonder what the pro-China crowd thinks of Taiwan need look no further than this first paragraph, which speaks of Taiwan in a tone of patronizing contempt.

Further observe that the paper claims, absurdly that students "should spend most of their time" learning about it. I have a child in the system, and the reality is that the students study Taiwan in subjects that touch upon it, such as social studies and geography, and spend the rest of the time learning Chinese, math, music, and other non-Taiwan oriented subjects. The paper is effectively frothing at the mouth. The Post cannot come right out and say that it is pro-China, so it cannot make a case that studying Taiwan, which is where the students live after all, is wrong. It is symptomatic of the progress that democracy has made here, and the widespread embrace of a Taiwan-based consciousness, Thus fettered, the Post can only fulminate at Taiwan, knowing the reader will understand exactly what it means.

Economically, the government has tried to limit local businessmen to the local market and adopted policies that prevent them from investing in the Chinese mainland. Politically, the administration has been seeking a Constitution tailored to Taiwan. Culturally, the administration has been attempting to promote native beliefs and customs and to rid the island of what it considers to be Chinese values.

That last sentence is absolutely fascinating. For years that KMT insisted that there was no such thing as Taiwanese values and no such thing as Taiwan. Essentially this position that Taiwanese values are being promoted over Chinese values accepts that in fact there are such things as Taiwanese values. This argument, that the DPP is de-Sinicizing Taiwan, is a common complaint made by Chinese who demand that Taiwan be annexed. Recall the complaint of the student at Tsinghua to Taiwanese author Li Ao when he spoke there earlier this year:

My question is this. You have defined yourself as a mainland style scholar, and you are famous for having a patriotic heart. But we are very concerned that the Taiwan authorities are pushing for de-Sinofication. That will have a huge impact on young people, who are the future citizens and political decision-makers in Taiwan. How do you think that cultural Taiwan independence can be opposed? A chasm in culture means a permanent separation.

"A chasm in culture means permanent separation." The Post follows this line too. Who is holding the Post's leash? Again, note also that there is not a single concrete example of what a Chinese or Taiwanese value is, and how the DPP is sweeping the former away. The paper simply repeats Chinese anti-Taiwan coded speech.

The comment about the Constitution is even funnier. Is the Post seriously arguing that the Constitution should be tailored to the needs of some other place that is not Taiwan?

It is quite true that the DPP is worried about investment in China. So are many others, including Taiwan businessmen, who have recently begun to diversify away from China. Another common quality of local pro-China commentary is that it is history-free -- sure enough, here the Post's amnesia extends to forgetting that it was the KMT that adopted a "Go Slow" policy in 1996. In this instance the China Post is simply following the usual pan-Blue policy of attacking polices it originally approved of, simply because the DPP has now adopted them.

Most of the measures adopted to realize these goals have had a negative impact on Taiwan society. The tendency has had a divisive effect and contributed to turmoil and chaos.

Again we have sweeping statements: most of the measures adopted to teach the Taiwanization goals have had a negative impact, but the Post does not name what any of these measures might be. Nor does it make any attempt to demonstrate what most might mean. Again it is simply frothing at the mouth.

The effort to de-emphasize Chinese values, such as Confucianist teachings, has created a moral void, which is the main reason for the sharp increase in crime.

One wonders -- if Taiwanese values are not Confucian values, what are they then? The Post's entirely negative approach is simply a litany of empty complaints. Note how the Post does not establish that Confucian values have been de-emphasized, nor does it establish a link between that and rising crime. It simply asserts. My 11 year old can turn out better-reasoned stuff than this.

Taiwan has suffered greatly from the man-made confrontation between Taiwanese and Chinese values. It is time to drop this misguided, narrow-minded policy.

Finally, the Post gets something right. Taiwan has indeed suffered greatly from the clash between Taiwanese and Chinese values -- during the 1950s-80s, when local culture was supressed, local teachers, writers, artists, and politicians were harassed, imprisoned, and executed, and when an idealized and totally stagnant and empty version of Chinese culture was used to control and reshape the island's social environment. Ironically, the KMT's attack on local social systems and culture is the main reason why so many locals are so adamant about re-asserting them. Had there never been any political suppression, Taiwan would probably place much less emphasis on being Taiwanese. Congratulations, China Post for the great success of your own cheerleading: there is hardly any better illustration of the old dictum that the culture of the colonized is formed in response to oppression of the colonizer than the experience of Taiwan. You're absolutely right: the clash is man-made, and you made it.

More Great Letters

Got another wonderful letter about the Taiwan website today.

Hello there!

Just wanted to let you know that I have enjoyed your site so much these past few years..yes, I have bookmarked this page and visit it around this time of the year when nobody is doing work and I have free time.

I have been back to Taiwan a number of times, but your site always brings me back some more. I can just taste the 'ba wan' in my mouth..mmmmm.

Please keep updating it!


I'm updating the site over Chinese New Year vacation next year. Letters like this make it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Water and Water Policy in Taiwan

Water and Taiwan

"If free-market mechanisms - which much of western agriculture publicly applauds and privately abhors - were actually allowed to work, the West's water "shortage" would be exposed for what it is: the sort of shortage you expect when inexhaustible demand chases an almost free good. (If someone were selling Porsches for three thousand dollars apiece, there would be a shortage of those, too.)" - Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert

Many years ago, before the bus lanes and Civic Boulevard and the metro system and other accouterments of civilization had made Taipei almost livable, I was working in a cram school off of Fuhsing N. Rd. One day, shaking my head in frustration at some political silliness, I remarked to a long-term expat, that if Taiwan could only get rid of the KMT, they could build a paradise here. "Nope," he replied sourly, peering out the window as another soggy Taipei day resolved into rain, "there'd still be the weather."

Kvetching in the Rain
Among the locals weather is what generally catches the blame for the recent spate of water shortages in Taipei. In a way, they are right. Taiwan in general is heavily dependent on rainfall, 75-80% of which falls from May to October. The big typhoons that roll out of the Pacific summer and slam against the Central Mountain Range during that time, for all the destruction they cause, are a crucial source of water for the island. Although Taipei often seems to have trademarked the words "muggy" and "dreary", the reality is that, thanks to our warming planet, two key numbers are shifting: there are fewer rain-days in Taiwan, and the annual figure for maximum consecutive no-rain days is rising over time. This is especially true of northern and southern Taiwan. In the south rainfall is actually declining over time.

The heavens giveth 2,500 mm rain to Taiwan annually, but the steep slopes of Taiwan's mountains taketh away, allowing up to 80% of that to run off to the ocean. Only five of Taiwan's rivers have slopes gentler than 1/1000; in the upstream reaches slopes are typically 1/100 or higher. River basins are small, with all but nine rivers having watersheds smaller than 100 km2. The small watersheds and steep slopes give Taiwan's rivers the highest peak drainage per unit of basin area in the world: the peak discharge per unit area of the modest Choshui River, at 186 kms long Taiwan's longest, is 450 times that of the Yangtze. Some rivers with catchment areas of 3000 km2 discharge 10,000 m3 of water per second at peak. Taiwan's reservoirs, many of which must be filled two or three times a year, are crucial in maintaining an even flow of water across the island: 60% of northern Taiwan's rainwater falls during the rainy season, versus 90% for the south. Hence, seven months out of the year, southern Taiwan gives up more water to the air than it gets. Despite the seeming inevitability of rain, annual availability of water resources fluctuates from only 30 per cent of long-term average in the lowest year, to 210 per cent in the highest. This combination of powerful discharges, long periods of low water, poor soils, steep slopes, and large volumes of rain pose formidable problems for water management and conservation.

Taiwan makes up the shortfall in water from the skies by drawing from the ground. Each year Taiwan pumps 2 to 3 billion tons more groundwater than is replenished. In the south things are especially bad, subsidence in northern Taiwan being stabilized in the late 1970s after the government intervened. In southern Taiwan groundwater pumping has lowered 1,700 square kilometers of coastal land, an area six times the size of Taipei county, or about 16% of Taiwan's coastal plain. A tenth of Pingtung's western plain is below sea level, with subsidence of over two meters in some areas. Places in Kaohsiung county have sunk more than three meters. In coastal areas affected by groundwater pumping, average subsidence rates are between 5 and 15 cm annually. The major culprits? Agriculture, but especially Taiwan's enormous aquaculture industry. At one point in the mid-1990s there were over 170,000 illegal wells pumping groundwater for fish farming. Since much of the farmed fish was exported (glass eel shipments to Japan were worth a cool $400 million annually a decade ago), the government of Taiwan was essentially subsidizing the mining of water for shipment overseas in the form of fish. Since the early 1990s the government has attacked the problem with reclassifications of land, stricter controls on water use, improved technology, and education. But while the shortfall has been reduced, it has not disappeared. Illegal pumping continues, and officials admit that they have no idea how many illegal wells there might be in Taiwan.

If You Have to Ask the Price, You Can't Afford It
Because of the importance of water, I always assign my classes to write on water policy in Taiwan. When I ask my students what the reason for the water problem is, I typically get a range of responses. Students cite drought, a lack of reservoirs, global warming, tree-cutting in watersheds that causes the reservoirs to silt up, and the way the locals waste water. Invariably they neglect the most important reason for Taiwan's water woes: low water prices.

Water prices in Taiwan are, not to put too fine a point on it, insanely low. According to a recent commentary a local English newspaper, the unit price of water in the US and Europe is NT$40. In Taiwan, it is NT$9. In Taipei, it is a mere $7. Similar figures were given three years ago by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, which said that the average price for each tonne of tap water in Taiwan was about NT$10.1, compared to NT$65 in Tokyo, NT$33 in London. NT$26 in Paris, and between NT$24 and NT$38 in Singapore. These prices are rock bottom, lower than many developing countries, and twice as low as those in mainland China.

The low water price has numerous ill effects. Looking at such trophies as the smart new metro system, the widespread availability of DSL, and Taiwan's advanced biotechnology and information industries, the visitor to Taipei may be forgiven for imagining that the island's infrastructure is world class. But in fact, many of Taiwan's pipes date from the Japanese period. Low water costs means that while the local water company can recover its operations and maintenance costs, it has no cash for investment in infrastructure upgrades. As a result, experts estimate that up to 30% of the system's water is lost on its way to local faucets. By some accounts this figure is equivalent to 2 million m3 a day- 325 million flushes of the toilet. The inability to invest in infrastructure also means that water is wasted by going untreated. Though the perception is typically that industry is the leading violator of water cleanliness, as local industry cleans up or shifts to China, household waste running untreated into Taiwan's rivers has become the leading water pollutant. In Taiwan DSL penetration (~23%) beats sewer connections (~10%) hands down. Yes, that's right: the sewage of 90% of Taiwan's households rolls unvexed to the sea.

The second problem raised by low water rates is massive wastage by locals. Figures vary, but Taiwan's water-crazed consumers are generally said to use between 270 and 350 liters of water per day, compared to 150 liters per day in Europe and 150-250 in the US. Since water is cheap, few consumers care about conserving it. Nor does it make sense to spend large sums of money to rip out expensive concrete walls in order to replace the leaky pipes that are a fixture of so many of Taiwan's older homes, since the cost of the lost water, even over many years, will not be noticeable. Businesses wasteful of water abound - nearly every gas station has a car wash attached, for example, and a favorite recreation of Taiwanese is to fish in one of the artificial fish ponds found in every community. At the private swimming pool we frequently visit, the groundwater pump runs all the time. With price artificially low, naturally demand is artificially high, leading to "shortages."

It is not just Taiwan's consumers who are used to low water rates. The government has from time to time proposed desalination plants to solve Taiwan's water shortage problems (though few foreigners are aware, the island operates roughly a dozen cranky old desalination plants on its offshore islands, and one at the nuclear power plant in Pingtung). However, unit costs are expected to be three to four times higher than current water rates: between NT$30 and NT$40 per ton on the islands, while on Taiwan proper consumers can look forward to between NT$10 and NT$20. Taiwan's manufacturers, accustomed to subsidized water, balk at paying such high prices. Nevertheless, Taiwan's Water Resources Agency (WRA) is developing the technology in several counties, including Tainan, Kaohsiung, Yunlin, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Changhua. The agency hopes to produce at least 200,000 tonnes of desalinated water per day by 2021.

On the plus side, many of Taiwan's advanced manufacturing firms have begun to recycle water, maintain their own water reservoirs, or upgraded their own piping. In Hsinchu Science Park recycling of water has been mandatory for almost a decade. In 1991, the WRA and Environmental Protection Administration introduced new recycling policies aimed at encouraging industry to recylce. According to the government, Taiwan's industrial wastewater reuse ratio stood at 34% in 1991, but climbed to 46% by 2001. The Water Resources Agency is targeting 65% by 2011. However, this gaudy figures applies only to large legal factories regulated by the government, a minority of the industrial establishments on the island. The government has also taken steps to reduce water from low value applications like agriculture, which accounts for three-fourths of the island's water use but just 3-4% of its GDP, and shift it to higher value applications in manufacturing, which uses just 9% of the island's water. However, politically powerful farming areas balk at sharing water with industry. The government tends to side with industry in these clashes, part of its long-term plan to reduce agricultural water use.

In many industries the use of subsidized water and lack of government enforcement of treatment standards and legal usage is in fact the main source of industry profits. For example, some analysts claim that pig farming would be impossible were it not for subsidized water. By law every pig farm must have a water treatment plant, but the law is routinely ignored in practice, and pig waste is dumped untreated into the watersheds of southern Taiwan (wastewise, 1 pig equals 8 humans). Back in 2001, the government solved a host of water problems in Kaohsiung by forcing 567,000 pigs to relocate, for which it paid out compensation. Similarly, it handles northern Taiwan's water "shortage" problems by paying rice farmers not to plant. The absurdity of that is clear - first the government subsidizes the cost of water so that households overuse it, and then it pays farmers another subsidy so that they won't use water the government is in effect paying consumers to use. Such a policy can have only one outcome.

The agricultural water price issue is even more complex because in 1995 the government suspended payments for many irrigation cooperatives as Taiwan's farmers could no longer afford to pay even the subsidized prices for water. The government then extended subsidies for the operations and maintenance of irrigation systems. Modernization of Taiwan's creaky irrigation systems is also being paid for by the government, which is assuming 40-100% of the costs, depending on how the local irrigation cooperatives handle the projects. In other words, the government first gives the farmers free water, then subsidizes the delivery system operations, and finally pays for all the upgrades. Fiscal madness.

Wring Out Your Dishrags, Not Your Hands
As with so many of Taiwan's problems, the government is aware that the price of water is too low, but no political party is willing to accept the political cost of increasing the water rates. A further obstacle, also a common one in Taiwan's public policy circles, is that the government has shown a distinct lack of imagination in its public policy approaches. When I lived in Kenya in the mid 1980s, it was routine for houses to be equipped with rainwater catchments that captured and stored rain that fell on rooftops. Such alternative water systems are practically non-existent in Taiwan. Instead, the government is going forward with plans to add more reservoirs to the existing 40 or so, a traditional solution driven by a public policy preference for solving problems by throwing concrete at them, which enables whatever party is in power to funnel large sums of cash to local politicians. New reservoirs, however, do not address the problem of low prices and entrenched consumption habits. Instead, they send a signal that consumers do not have to be responsible for their behavior, as the government will always bail them out with more reservoirs. Constructing reservoirs to solve water shortages thus resembles solving traffic problems by building more roads.

Hence, the next time you hear about a typhoon flooding coastal areas, think: subsidence. The next time you hear about a local water shortage, think: subsidies. And the next time you contemplate a glass of water, think: subsistence. Because unless the government of Taiwan raises water prices, enforces conservation, and begins to attack the island's water problems in a robust and unconventional way, that's where the island will be within our lifetimes.

(A longer version of a piece to come out next year in a local east coast bilingual newspaper, Highway 11. This beautiful and informative magazine is always looking for good writing)

New Blogs on the Roll

After several days of doing editing and enjoying Christmas, I've added some new blogs to the roll.

  • Moods

  • Project H2O

  • Financial Times on Chen -- *sigh*

    The by-line reads Kathrin Hille again, so we know that FT is about to publish another piece slanted pro-KMT, one of a series of anti-Chen articles that they have been publishing in recent months. Reading articles like this, I always wonder: is the writer too lazy to dig, too stupid to know, or simply malicious? Hard to tell...

    In 2000, Mr Chen swept away a ruling party that had held power for more than 50 years, carried by a wave of hope for political and judicial reform and clean government that was backed by 70 per cent of the population.

    Hille is a bit confused. Chen's approval ratings early on reached 70%. But he reached office with less than 40% of the vote. Note how she increases the contrast between then and now by using the obviously false verb swept away. The reader needs to be reminded that Chen won with 39% of the vote, and then only because the ruling party was split between the unpopular Lien Chan, and the spin-off PFP candidate James Soong. Had Soong never left the KMT to run against it for President, Chen would not have been President. By heightening the magnitude of the Chen victory (since when is 39% a sweeping victory?), Hille can increase the pathos of the current situation. What a bunch of eff-ups! the opening seems to say. Clever, eh?

    Now, according to a recent opinion poll, he is left with 10 per cent of the vote. After a crushing defeat in local elections this month, even his Democratic Progressive party is turning against him.

    It is interesting that in the previous statement, Hille has mistaken opinion polls for a vote, and now here, she uses the word "vote" in place of an opinion poll. Does she not know the difference? In any case the
    recent opinion poll she refers to is from the anti-Chen TVBS, which Hille either does not know or chose not to reveal. Either way, it doesn't reflect well on her. She appears not to have done much work understanding the local elections either. I like the way no one in the foreign press has bothered to notice that the "crushed" DPP "suffered" a 41% increase in seats in the city and county councils. Certainly it was a defeat, but the underlying trends have been noted by no one. Why?

    "We desperately need to reform and the key problem is the president," says Shen Fu-hsiung, an outspoken veteran DPP politician.

    First citation is Shen Fu-hsiung, though DPP, has lately been making a career running against Chen and has excellent relations with the Blues. A good choice for anti-Chen puff piece in a foreign rag.

    Mr Chen appears to be at a loss as to what happened. His staff have contacted scholars asking for advice about what he is doing wrong. Just about everything, is the answer. "The lethal blow has been the growing impression over the past year that this government is corrupt," says Emile Sheng, a professor at Soochow University in Taipei.

    Her next citation is of an apparently pro-KMT academic, Emile Sheng, whose name always appears in such pieces. Hille cites him frequently, as though there are no other political scientists on the island.

    "I don't believe that clean government is the most important issue on our reform agenda," says Lin Cho-shui, a veteran DPP lawmaker. "A much bigger problem is that Chen Shui-bian's mysterious leadership style and his short-term opportunistic decision-making don't work any more."

    Now another DPP person -- but the article does not make clear that Lin and Shen-Fu-hisung above are longtime associates.

    Mr Chen's government has frequently changed policy direction, most obviously in relations with China. After pledging more economic exchanges across the Strait early in his first term, he later turned to aggressive anti-China rhetoric and last year played to pro-independence sentiment in a re-election campaign that provoked the mainland.

    "Provoked the mainland" -- a classic KMT complaint -- as is "playing to pro-independence sentiment." Essentially the article's complaint is that Chen was just too democratic, appealing to the overwhelming support for independence among the locals, along with staging a democratic referendum. Shame on him for wanting to live in a free and democratic country like the one Hille is from! I hope next time Hille uses a less loaded presentation, something like........

    During the 2004 elections, Chen supported an island-wide referendum and trumpeted the party's pro-independence platform. The referendum drew fire from critics, who accused Chen of "provoking the mainland" which, aside from rhetoric, took no concrete moves against the island. is not difficult to write with an objective view and tone. So why isn't it done here?

    The president made his about-turns without consulting his cabinet or going through government channels. Mr Chen has changed premiers four times and the administration has become inefficient. The government's erratic course has also exacerbated its problems with the opposition, which controls parliament.

    Finally, a real complaint, although it could be said that overall communication between everyone is terrible, fallout from the DPP's inheritance of the KMT Leninist vision of how political parties should operate, from the problems of the way authority functions in Chinese culture, and from the insanely rickety government structure. It is interesting that Hille a couple of times repeats some variant of the criticism that Chen hasn't "gone through government channels" without mentioning that the DPP seeks to reform government channels precisely because they are so difficult to go through.

    Note also how the DPP also gets cleverly blamed for making the legislature "worse." Perhaps in her next article Ms. Hille might mention that the legislature has blocked all the bills the government sends down, and that the Constitution is a mess, and most importantly, that the KMT has tacitly approved of the way the DPP is running the government. Remember, the Blues could at any time pass a no-confidence vote, since they have a majority. That would bring down the government, and then the President would have to dissolve the legislature and hold elections, which the KMT would suffer a serious threat of loss, for the largest single party in the legislature is none other than the DPP. And unlike Ms. Hille, there are those in the KMT who do take note of the fact that the DPP has more local seats than it did before the election. Why is this true, if the public is irked at Chen Shui-bian? Things are a heck of a lot more complex than Ms. Hille's puff piece tries to make out.

    The focus on corruption is another problem. If the public was irked about corruption, why did it vote for the even more corrupt KMT? Such claims on the part of commentators leave much to be explained.

    "We are left without proper communication between the party and the president, and relations between the president and his cabinet, as well as between the executive and the legislative, are in disarray," complains Kuan Bi-ling, a DPP lawmaker close to Frank Hsieh, the premier.

    No shit.

    Mr Lin adds that the president's authoritarian style has prevented a debate on the party's stance on national identity and relations with China, which should have taken place long ago.

    Can anyone name a local politician who does not have an authoritarian style? Very few -- maybe the DPP's Su, who is extremely popular. What exactly is the problem and how is debate being stopped? President Chen does not have the power to stop a debate on the Party's China stance (he can't even stop debate within the party on whether to marginalize him!). The President makes a nice whipping boy, but....

    Presidential aides defend Mr Chen. "He needs to respond to different groups in a society which is deeply split in its view towards national identity and its relations with the mainland," says one of his staff.

    You know that the single statement here for "balance," the only one in the whole article, will immediately be followed by a pro-KMT challenge of it...

    But with little more than two years until the next presidential election and big city mayoral polls, and legislative elections coming up next year and in 2007, the DPP no longer accepts these arguments.

    "We have been in power for almost six years and it's been a complete failure," says Lee Chun-yee, a DPP lawmaker.

    One can only laugh. A complete failure? Has the DPP actually been "in power?" I wish these articles offered a richer perspective on such questions. Out here in the real Taiwan I note that paperwork and government efficiency are better than they have ever been. I note the steady stream of new national parks and preserves. I see the wind machines in Hsinchu and the better care of the environment. Perhaps if Lee had worked harder to get more people elected to the legislature in '02....but I digress.

    Lee Wen-chung, another heavyweight in the DPP's legislative caucus, blames Mr Chen for the DPP government's weak policy record. "Our party's platform says we want economic liberalisation but at the same time we demand fairness and social security. Since the president has failed to set priorities, nothing gets done at all."

    How can it? The Blues are now blocking -- 17, I think -- key bills in the legislature. It is almost too easy to note that amidst this barrage there is not one concrete positive recommendation for the President to follow. Just aimless criticism, of the sort one constantly hears here in Taiwan, where it is not considered only fair to make a positive recommendation when criticizing.

    I think this leads to another point. Part of the authority-flavored local political and social culture is the relationship between the Orderers and the Orderees. Many commentators miss the fact that it is part of the role of authority in local political and social culture to be the target of generalized and abstract criticisms ('communication is bad between the government and the legislature') without any specific fault being pointed out. These are typically some version of SNAFU! Anyone with experience will recognize what this is: it is griping, not criticism. In local culture, Authority gives orders and gets griping in return (like the military). When individuals perceive problems, the amount and intensity of the griping rises, but sadly, the level of abstraction does not fall. Authority then takes Measures to ameliorate the griping, which subsides. Since nobody made concrete recommendations the government can act on, the situation soon recurs because the basic problem -- which gripers typically never identify -- is never solved.

    A second issue that needs to be pointed out here is that everyone looks for a top down solution to all problems. The hoi polloi do not bootstrap themselves out of their problems. Whatever the DPP failure is, it is a collective failure, something that the Party won't face. Whipping Chen is a convenient way to avoid introspection. It needs to stop. The DPP needs to focus on 2006, where it can win big if it plays its cards properly.

    For more on the shifting factions within the DPP, Wandering to Tamshiu summarizes an excellent article. One might ponder the wise observation of the Fulda article there:

    The accusation that the DPP is an ideological and inflexible party full of fundamentalists stems from the fact that the party has been mainly perceived in its rampant factionalism and its explicit advocacy of Taiwan Independence (TI) in 1991. At the same time, neither factionalism nor the party's controversial party platform prevented the DPP from adopting pragmatic and flexible policies throughout the 1990s. This is the paradox at the heart of the DPP's existence.

    This is the paradox that too many inside and outside the DPP are unwilling to live with.

    Hong Kong = Taiwan's Future???

    China's foot-dragging on giving Hong Kong democracy provides a good indication of what Taiwan can expect if it is annexed by China.

    "But just as in any country and any region democratic development is a gradual historical process, Hong Kong's democratic development must also be pushed forward in a stable, sure-handed and systematic way," state media quoted Hu as saying.

    Despite mass protests and widespread calls for democracy in Hong Kong, China has been unwilling to let the territory decide for itself when it can elect top leaders.

    Except, of course, that we in Taiwan already have democracy. This raises a very interesting issue: if the island is annexed by Beijing, how can China exist half-free and half-slave? China will either be required to crush the island's democracy -- which might have grave international and internal repercussions -- or else it will have to live with "one country, two systems." And when ordinary Chinese visit Taiwan and see how much different things are here than there...

    Be careful what you wish for, eh? Perhaps our democracy here is a better insurance against annexation than we think. Perhaps that is why China fulminates against it, and exhorts the local pro-China parties to take steps to curtail it. Because not only does every democratic election establish Taiwan as an independent state, but the deeper democracy entrenches, the thornier the problem it presents for the occupation planning.

    Hitchens on Christmas

    Hysterical. Don't miss it.

    I used to harbor the quiet but fierce ambition to write just one definitive, annihilating anti-Christmas column and then find an editor sufficiently indulgent to run it every December. My model was the Thanksgiving pastiche knocked off by Art Buchwald several decades ago and recycled annually in a serious ongoing test of reader tolerance. But I have slowly come to appreciate that this hope was in vain. The thing must be done annually and afresh. Partly this is because the whole business becomes more vile and insufferable—and in new and worse ways—every 12 months. It also starts to kick in earlier each year: It was at Thanksgiving this year that, making my way through an airport, I was confronted by the leering and antlered visage of what to my disordered senses appeared to be a bloody great moose. Only as reason regained her throne did I realize that the reindeer—that plague species—were back.

    My Students Put on A Show!

    My graduating seniors, whose advisor I have been these four years past, put on The Foreigner yesterday to a packed house. I have constructed a temporary website with 160 pics of the best show Chaoyang has ever put on!

    Monday, December 26, 2005

    China's One-Child Policy and Economic Consequences

    Vince Pollard posted a introduction to this new report on the threat of aging population to China's continued economic growth. China watchers may be interested....
    Wang acknowledges the government's retreat from coercive policies. But from the author's perspective, China has just five years to initiate policies ameliorating the increasingly negative effects of the "one-child policy." Further procrastination, we are told, will contribute to even more acute social pain.

    "Can China Afford to Continue Its One-Child Policy?" is an easy read. Essential quantitative data are presented numerically, graphically and discursively.

    This report is available free. Download it at

    Soft Coup Judgment Against Chen Misguided

    Taiwan News has an excellent analysis of the recent court decision against President Chen Shui-bian's remark that the Blues planned a "soft coup" during the staged demonstrations against the elections in 2004:

    But the excessive focus on whether Lien and Soong were behind this initiative rips the military component of the post-election campaign by the pan-blue camp against President Chen and the DPP government out of context.

    Rather, the most salient question is whether the combination of actions or initiatives launched against the just re-elected DPP government could legitimately be perceived as a an attempted (and fortunately unsuccessful) "soft coup."

    In addition to the lobbying efforts by pan-blue ex-generals, such a judgment would need to consider the issues including the scale and goals of the extended occupation of Ketagalan Square, the significance of repeated appeals in posters and on pan-blue Web sites for "military and police officers to rise up," the calls by Soong himself and other PFP "lawmakers" for their supporters to "storm the presidential office," and violent attempt by KMT and PFP legislators with several hundred supporters to block the promulgation of the results by the Central Election Commission and the violent confrontations with police on March 27, April 4 and April 11.

    Attention should be devoted to the concerted effort by KMT and PFP politicians to pressure Chen to declare a "state of emergency" to investigate the March 19 shooting, a demand that could easily be seen as a disguised call for Chen to resign since he was an involved party, in the role of victim, of the shooting.

    Indeed, a salient political question is whether the attempted "soft coup" begun on Ketegalan Boulevard in the early morning of March 21, 2004 has ever ended.

    Wang-Soong Meetup & Cross-Straits

    The Taipei Times reported that
    People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) had a "casual meeting" yesterday, during which the two said that improving cross-strait relations is the key to resolving the planned Cabinet reshuffle and the long-stalled arms procurement bill.

    The "opposition" parties agreed:

    During the 80-minute meeting yesterday, Wang and Soong reconfirmed the consensus reached in the Ma-Soong meeting, which concluded that a clear policy was the priority concerning the Cabinet, that the pan-blue camp would only agree on a "reasonable" arms procurement bill, and that stable cross-strait relations are the key to all of those issues.

    "Problematic cross-strait relations is the biggest issue in Taiwan's politics. We both agreed that only by breaking the cross-strait deadlock can Taiwan stabilize its domestic politics and revitalize its economy," Wang said yesterday after the meeting.

    What is a "reasonable" arms procurement bill? Both Blues and Greens realize the necessity of "breaking the deadlock" but there is no way to do that, since the deadlock is not caused by anything Taiwan has control over -- it is the result of China's desire to annex Taiwan.

    Note how once again the Blues are on-message:

    "If the government can draft a clear policy and reach a consensus with opposition parties, then it would be easy for the two sides to solve domestic issues and cross-strait problems," he said. "If we can do so, who forms the Cabinet will not be an issue."

    The goal always is to present the Blues as reasonable and the Greens as intrasigent (whereas reality is the other way around). Until the Greens effectively respond to this by getting on-message, 24-7, that the broken government is the result of the Blue's unwillingness to pass the bills necessary to keep things going, then the Blues will continue to defeat the Greens in the polls. The "image of reasonableness" is a very effective strategy for the Blues.

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    Euromoney: China Airlines Taiwan's Best Business in Governance

    I certainly wouldn't have thought it. But there it is:

    The world-famous Euromoney magazine has ranked China Airlines the top company on "Corporate Governance¨ among all Taiwanese companies, according to its 2005 poll result and published in its October issue.


    Freshtreks sent me its year-end greetings, so I thought I'd pass them along here:


    Dear Friends & outdoor lovers,
    Thank you very much for your support and trust along this past year !
    Freshtreks Team is happy to wish you a very good and warm Merry X-mas to you and your family / friends.
    Wish you all the best and success for the year 2006 !!
    + some fresh Air from Mt.
    Jade ~

    City Escapes In Taiwan

    Best Regards, FreshTreks Team

    Tel : 886-(2)-2719-4488
    Fax: 886-(2) 2719-0788
    Direct: 886-(2)-8712-5573
    4F- N.369, Fu-Hsing North Road,Taipei.Taiwan


    Freshtreks does treks into the hills and mountains of Taiwan, exactly the kind of service Taiwan needs more of if it is going to bring in the tourists from abroad. I've never used their services, but I'm looking forward to giving them a try. Unfortunately I can't find the time....

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Lien Blasts Ma on Wang

    The Chinese-language Liberty Times reported that Lien Chan, failed Presidential candidate and former Chairman of the KMT reamed out KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou for the way he was treating Wang Jin-pyng, his rival for the KMT Chairmanship. Instead of immediately building bridges back to Wang, assigning him a place of importance, and treating him with the respect due his many years of service and immense backstage power, Ma has elbowed Wang aside after publicly accusing him of cheating in the Chairmanship elections. Lien rightly took Ma to task for this shortsightedness. Wang has many supporters within the KMT, and had the backing of Party insiders for the Chairmanship. People will put up with almost anything, if they can keep their dignity. Will Ma catch this error in time?

    I've said all along that (1) we'd hear from Wang again and (2) Ma lacks political sense. It seems Lien Chan agrees with me.

    UPDATE: (12/23) David refutes me thus:

    Hmm ... gotta disagree there. If Ma is doing something which pisses off Lien Chan, then he's probably doing something right.

    The onus is on Wang (who got *thrashed* in the election despite support from party insiders) to build bridges - after he also accused Ma of cheating in the election.

    The importance of keeping dignity? Tell that to Ma who was almost run over by Wang when trying to shake hands after the election, and who eventually had to lie in wait for Wang at KMT headquarters just to get to speak to him.

    Elbowing Wang aside? Ma very publicly offered him a vice-chairmanship of the KMT, and Wang flat turned him down.

    There are lots of things I like about Wang (most notably his moderation and willingness to talk to the DPP), but after the election he displayed an unpleasant and Lien Chan-like sense of entitlement - and he deserves no special treatment for that.

    Ma should treat senior KMT members with the respect they deserve - not with the respect they think they deserve. At this moment the KMT needs Ma far more than Ma needs the KMT, so he can afford to put a few senior noses out of joint ...

    Additionally, the English papers are reporting that Ma denied that Lien lambasted him.

    Another comment below sagely notes:

    Of course what Lien Chan is saying is "Ma should make more room at the trough for our moneyman". Wang was such a popular speaker because he made sure that interests on both sides of the LY got to feed. Lien Chan has no more respect for the wishes or votes of rank and file KMT members than he does for the wishes or votes of Taiwan's electorate. The election for the chairmanship may be over, but the power struggle is not.

    The Foreigner, the Spratlys, and the Senkakus

    The Foreigner in Formosa abuses the pro-China parties for their stance on the islands that Taiwan claims. Quant. suff.!

    Mayor Ma in Newsweek International Edition

    Ma Ying-jeou was interviewed this week in Newsweek:

    ADAMS: The DPP lost a lot of ground to your party in the recent elections. Are you pleased?
    MA: We did well, but not because the KMT has really improved itself. Rather, the DPP has become so corrupt, and so inept, that people have lost confidence in them.

    Under your leadership, the KMT seems well positioned to reclaim the presidency in 2008. How would your party change Taiwan's relations with China?
    The DPP is somewhat handicapped by their ideology. They have to keep a distance from mainland China. They have been very timid, very conservative and very reserved in pushing ahead a productive policy toward the Chinese mainland. If the KMT is able to get back in power, we will open up direct flights with the mainland in two years. That's critical to Taiwan's economy.

    Ma's performance is excellent. He speaks English, and knows what his listeners want to hear, and also knows his audience doesn't know much about Taiwan. I think here is a taste of what we will see for the next two years, a general push in the US media for Ma, just as Soong got some nice boosts from Newsweek, the Washington Post, and CNN during the 2000 elections. Ma's handlers are positioning him very well.

    Note also the questions are completely softball and appear to be agreed-upon beforehand. There's no asking for details that might force Ma to reveal that the Taiwanese don't support re-unification -- just a vague acknowledgement that conditions aren't right. There are no critical questions. Adams asks no questions that include any details which show he has done research on Taiwan or Ma:

    Notice how dumb the first question is:

    ADAMS: The DPP lost a lot of ground to your party in the recent elections. Are you pleased?

    Its sole purpose appears to be to permit Ma to give his canned answer reiterating his criticisms of the DPP. Unlike the DPP, the KMT is on-message, all the time.

    Under your leadership, the KMT seems well positioned to reclaim the presidency in 2008. How would your party change Taiwan's relations with China?

    Why is it so critical?

    The next two questions above then give Ma the opportunity to trundle out the party platform, which he does, expertly. There then follow three questions about annexing the island to China:

    Beyond economic links, what is needed for unification talks with China to begin?

    What is your time frame, then, for unification?

    Do you see unification happening in your lifetime?

    These are basically the same question, in three different iterations. They give Ma the chance to appear reasonable and tame, unlike that horrible radical Chen Shui-bian. It is clear that part of the future media strategy will be to paint Ma as reasonable and Chen/DPP as mad, and that the foreign, especially US media, can be expected to actively cooperate, or at least passively not object. I especially admire how Adams permits Ma to utter something as stupid as: "Actually, the mainland is not pushing unification anymore" without challenging him. Where did the Anti-succession law and those 700 missiles go?

    Can you imagine a future in which Taiwan and China exist side by side as fully independent states, recognized as such by the world?

    Another pointless softball question, whose sole purpose appears to be to allow Ma to seem reasonable. It is jarring to remember that this Harvard educated son of the KMT Party-State spent his education at Harvard spying on his fellow students from Taiwan, and formally hopes to annex Taiwan to a state that will snuff out its indepedence and democracy.

    Some in Taiwan and the United States see the KMT and its allies in the legislature blocking the purchase of U.S. arms, and fear that the KMT is endangering Taiwan's sovereignty.

    This question is so softball it veers into inanity. "Some in Taiwan and the United States see the KMT and its allies in the legislature blocking the purchase of U.S. arms" apparently Adams can't just come out and say that "Ya'll have blocked the arms purchase 41 times in the legislature. WTF?" Note how Adams does not accuse the KMT of endangering Taiwan -- merely of endangering its sovereignty, a lesser and easily handled charge. Observe too how that word sovereignty is apparently a dead giveaway to the source of the question: why would an American interviewer who appears to know little about Taiwan ever come up with a question that asked if the KMT was threatening Taiwan's sovereignty? Sovereignty is an issue of concern only among cognoscenti of the three-sided struggle of China, the KMT, and the DPP. An unprepped American interviewer would be far more likely to ask about independence.

    Did you catch how Ma completed the whole interview without ever mentioning the term "ROC?" Interesting.

    The reader may come to their own conclusions about the integrity of this interview. But if you can't expect the MSM to handle the US with critical integrity, you can hardly expect it to deal with the outside world in any serious way.

    New Blogs on the Block

  • Senorita Pequena

  • Hola ~ Soy una chica de Taiwan. I'm a part-time English teacher who is fond of going to restaurants and taking photos. My blog is written in Spanish, English, and Chinese. (I like learning and thinking about languages.) All suggestions and information-exchange will be welcome here...

    Taitung Follies and Political Behavior in Taiwan

    The local papers are full of the typical, and tragicomical story of the recently-elected County Commissioner of Taitung County in eastern Taiwan. Taiwan News describes the chaos:

    The controversy surrounding newly elected Taitung County Magistrate Wu Chun-li took some new twists yesterday with Wu naming his "ex-wife" Kuang Li-chen as vice magistrate, even as he was being suspended from his post immediately after he was sworn in.

    Wu, who won the seat in the December 3 election under the cloud of a conviction for involvement in corruption, said yesterday that he had divorced his wife on Monday, in what was seen as ploy to sidestep a law that would have prevented him from naming his spouse as his deputy.

    Here, in a nutshell, is the reason why there is so much trouble cleaning up Taiwan. The Taiwanese complain that the island's politics are dirty and the politicians are venal and faithless, and yet, look who they elect to public office! It's as if the local plea to clean up politics is really a case of Stop me before I kill again!

    The political practices here are quite common. In Taiwan, when (people who would not look out of place in Goodfellas) are busted while holding public office, they typically put their wives up for election, and everyone understands who is running the show. Wu here, preparing to be removed, stages a sham divorce, since he cannot appoint relatives to offices under himself, and appoints his wife as his deputy. Everyone understands what that means. If she beats the legal challenge, she serves as acting Commissioner and then runs for the post when the by-election is held. She oversees the by-election which, as Taiwan News points out, Wu can run in:

    According to the MOI, the law allows for Wu to compete in the by-election for Taitung County magistrate, if he resigns his current commission. Under such circumstances, if he wins the by-election, he would not be suspended, the MOI said. However, if the appeal court upholds the guilty verdict against him, Wu would be relieved of the post, the MOI stressed.

    Not a bad idea, to have your wife in charge of the district when you are running for office. That is what we call a "win-win situation." On the other hand, if Wu winds up in the clink, and if she loses the legal challenge to her position, then she simply runs for the seat anyway, the whole affair being essentially free publicity.

    And when she runs, she'll win. And we'll all be sitting here shaking our heads.

    More Homeland Security Assaults on Academia

    This hot off the presses from H-Asia

    December 21, 2005

    Timely concern: Challenges to research in the U.S.

    From: Ryan Dunch

    A couple of items following up on Vincent Pollard's disturbing post
    of December 19 re. the student in Massachusetts reportedly visited
    Homeland Security agents after he requested a copy of the "Little Red
    Book" via interlibrary loan.

    Further details of the story and debates about its veracity can be
    read at, which I found
    via the History News Network. A list member contacted me off-list to
    say that she had been in contact with a senior colleague on the
    faculty at the college in question, the University of Massachusetts,
    Amherst, and that person believes that the student's account is

    Also on the History News Network, Frank Conlon (still in India, and
    still vigilant) alerted me to a related story, this time with fully
    named sources, and involving an Asian studies colleague, the eminent
    modern Japan historian Grant Goodman, professor emeritus at the
    University of Kansas. A letter addressed to him from the Philippines
    arrived having been opened, then re-sealed with green tape and with a
    message from the Department of Homeland Security that it had been
    opened by "Border Protection." The letter was from a "devoutly
    Catholic Filipino history professor in her 80s," according to Goodman.

    The HNN report is at:

    The full original story can be read at
    [this page].
    It includes the further detail that the US Postal Service now sends
    "all foreign mail shipments" to U.S. Customs and Border Protection
    for examination. A spokesman for that agency is quoted as stating
    with reference to this case, "Obviously, it's a security thing."

    Ryan Dunch
    University of Alberta

    To post to H-ASIA simply send your message to:

    For holidays or short absences send post to:
    with message:
    Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Bible Literacy Project -- is it a religious right project?

    I didn't post here today because I blogged over at my New Testament studies blog, the Sword, on the Bible Literacy Project, a new project that has been making quite a splash lately. That link went dead almost immediately, so I set up a permanent web page on it. It appears that the Bible Literacy Project is yet another Religious Right project:

    Recently the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) forum published a review of "The Bible and Its Influence," the new textbook which the Biblical Literacy Project is promoting for use in secondary schools across the United States. A paragraph in the review caught my attention, for it repeated criticisms of the project that I had made several months ago on this blog.....

    English Carnival at Taipei 101

    UPDATE: I'm updating this up here, because you should really read Pinyin Info's article on this disaster:

    Taiwan is touting its “English living environment” with a “carnival” (i.e., a room with a bunch of booths from various government agencies and a few businesses, each with some display at least vaguely associated with English). Awards will be given; I wonder how many of them will be deserved.

    Stephen Krashen posted the following to Hwakang Journal:

    Carnival to honor English promoters

    The 2005 English Living Environment Carnival will open on Sunday at Taipei 101 -- the world's tallest
    building -- to show what Taiwan has achieved in the past year in making its environment more convenient
    and friendly to native speakers of English.

    The three-day annual event, now in its third year, will begin at 2 p.m. with a ceremony on Taipei 101's
    fifth floor to issue citations to those who have made contributions in improving Taiwan's living environment
    for English-speaking people.

    More than 20 government agencies and private organizations, including schools, will have exhibition
    stalls to display their achievements in responding to the government's call to improve the living
    environment in Taiwan for English-speaking people.

    There will also be stage plays, fashion shows, dances, concerts, lot-drawings, awards for correct answers to
    questions, and free gifts to visitors.

    The plan to improve the living environment for English-speaking people is part of the government's
    effort to enhance Taiwan's competitiveness in the international arena.

    The plan has set the goals that by 2008 all public signs and important Web sites in Taiwan must be in
    both Chinese and English and that all pictograms should be "internationalized".

    Find this article here

    Senior Play I

    A practice session.

    Monday night one of our two senior classes put on Arsenic and Old Lace, the classic tale of comic anarchy revolving around a pair of spinsters who murder would-be lodgers in their home. The tale was considerably shortened in our theatrical version, but the spirit of the original was retained. The students did a magnificent job, putting on a show that everyone in the audience enjoyed immensely. Below are a few photo reminders of the show. Students: drop me an email and I'll send you what pics I have of you.

    Dinner and a show: an evening that can't be beat.

    My own seniors, my advisees for four years, pose. They put on The Foreigner next week.

    Connie and Max worked like supermen behind the scenes.

    Our family awaits the opening.

    Vet, always ready with a grin and great attitude.

    Here is the director. I can't reveal his identity, but rumor has it that Steven Spielberg was seen in our vicinity last week.

    Jill opens the play.

    I had some trouble finding the right combination of settings for the first few shots. The dim light and constant movement posed formidable problems for photography.

    Please don't ask me why the phone had a foot attached to it. I don't know.

    The translation was projected on the wall of the auditorium. Unfortunately this required turning one's head for 90 minutes to read it, the only downer in the whole show.

    With so few men in the language department, the role of Mortimer went to the talented, energetic Ann, who did a fantastic job. Here Glory plays Mortimer's fiance.

    Winnie and Villa ponder who gets poisoned next.

    The evil Jonathon, brilliantly played by Zephyr, was made up to look like Boris Karloff.

    Aaron plays a madman who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt.

    Maggie played the cringing doctor who mistakenly turned Jon into Boris Karloff.

    Connie, the Vice Director, was kind enough to lend my kids her script so they could follow along.

    A fight scene, comically staged as a kung fu battle.

    Teddy pontificates. Hilarious.

    Steven Spielberg, hard at work overseeing the production. He did a fantastic job.

    Winnie proves she has real acting talent.

    TR bids us goodbye.

    Of course, I had to make a speech. Hint for my 4A class: I hate making speeches.

    Posing for pics afterwards.