Saturday, March 31, 2007

Daily Links March 31, 2007

Going shopping in the Taiwan blogs today, I found.....
  • The Foreigner explains 300. Best review I've seen yet.

  • Feder's Blog list of 250 you've been in taiwan too long when...

  • has a post on archaeology and memory -- community nets in Taiwan.

  • The Conductor Blogs on the 3-26 peace march.

  • Cold Goat Eyes on a neighborhood power cut.

  • The Bushman takes some gorgeous pics at the Taipei Cycle show.

  • Walter wonders why foreigners in Taiwan are such pessimists.Thanks for the mention, BTW

  • The Tainan Don explains how the taxpayer is defrauded to enable foreigners to teach at local elementary schools.

  • David goes to Dharma Drum Mountain.

  • Media:
  • A Taiwanese-American student comments in the Brown U. newspaper on the visit of the Chinese Ambassador to Brown U.

  • Economist on The Peaceful Rise

    The Economist has a damn fine article pointing out that nobody really believes in The Peaceful Rise:

    Why are China's neighbours not always susceptible to its charms? Of course, any rapidly emerging big power is unsettling. Like America, China can still display a penchant for unilateralism that undermines all its careful diplomacy. As it overtakes America as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, its cavalier disregard of the global environment will become an ever-bigger issue in its foreign relations. More traditional fears also unsettle China's neighbours. This month China's annual budget called for another big increase (of nearly 18%) in military spending. Most analysts believe the published budget is understated—in which case, why trumpet such a big number? And why, without warning, blow up a satellite in space, as a Chinese missile did in January?

    A perception therefore persists that China's goodwill extends only so far as its interests are not affected. In its dispute with India, for example, it is the status quo power: it is happy with the present arrangements, so what has it to lose by talking for ever? In one crucial respect, however, it is far from a status quo power: its historically dubious and morally untenable claim on Taiwan. This is one big reason, other than merely acting the big-power part, for the military build-up, and could one day bring war with the real superpower.

    A much better Taiwan policy is available to China. The “one country, two systems” formula promised to Hong Kong in 1997, which mirrored that offered to the Dalai Lama's Tibet in 1951, was aimed in large measure at the more important goal to China of coaxing Taiwan back into the “motherland”. But China has sabotaged its own strategy. Like the long history of repression in Tibet, the farcical “re-election” on March 25th of Hong Kong's British-trained, Chinese-adopted chief executive, Donald Tsang, by a committee dominated by China's placemen shows how little China cares to lend substance to its promises of autonomy and democracy—even though Mr Tsang would probably have won a real election anyway.

    Giving Hong Kongers the freedoms they have demanded, and talking to the Dalai Lama about the future of his homeland, would do more to impress China's neighbours than a decade's worth of state visits and free-trade agreements. Yet China will not yield on either front, sternly warning critics against infringing on its internal affairs.

    Yup. The status of democracy in Hong Kong shows that everything China says is hollow, and provides much grist for the DPP mills. Anyone can see that "one country-two systems" means that "our system is our system, and your system is our system."

    Friday, March 30, 2007

    The Silver Lining of an Ugly Black Cloud

    Most of you probably haven't noticed, but Taiwan has no budget for this fiscal year. The pan-Blue alliance, led by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), have refused to pass the budget unless the Greens permit the Blues to reconstruct the Central Election Commission (CEC) in favor of the Blues:

    To secure a majority for passage of the CEC amendment, the pan-blue camp has held the budget hostage since last year, leaving the government without funding at the start of the fiscal year.

    The dispute over the CEC bill has led to angry confrontations between lawmakers, many times turning violent, as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers blocked voting on the amendment.

    The DPP has accused the KMT of trying to thwart its plan to hold a referendum during next year's presidential election on recovering assets stolen by the KMT during the Martial Law era, while the KMT has said the CEC bill is necessary to remove what it describes as "partisan bias" in the election committee.

    When the Blues blow the 2008 Presidential election as they have blown the last two in '00 and '04, they hope to get a pro-Blue CEC to overturn the election results. Nor do they much care about passing the budget, since one of the pan-Blue goals is to make Taiwan appear as if it cannot govern itself, thus making annexation by China appear as an act of discipline for a recalcitrant and wayward child.

    An interesting feature of this campaign to paralyze governance on the island is that the legislature has failed to pass a large number of major spending bills. The results, according to an economic analysis by UBS, may well be positive for some aspects of the economy:

    What about the government? Government investment and infrastructure spending has all but ceased as a result of political differences between the ruling and opposition parties. Political disagreements have blocked many government spending programs in the last few years. This year is no different. The budget is currently on hold due to disagreements over how the Central Election Committee will be staffed. Whereas a few years a go the budget deficit exceeded 6% of GDP it has now shrunk to around 1% of GDP. This drop in the government’s need to finance the fiscal balance has contributed significantly to Taiwan’s low interest rate environment. The upcoming parliamentary election in December and the presidential election in March next year could reverse this pressures and lead to higher interest rates in 2009 if the government becomes unified again. However, that is a ways off.

    Public debt has actually fallen, relatively, due to the lack of government spending. That's good, from some perspectives. On the flip side, however, without the steady flow of government projects to drive the construction-industrial state that lies at the heart of Taiwan's central/local government relationship, the economy has floundered. Incomes are stagnant --- the report also notes that working hours have fallen and manufacturing labor costs in Taiwan have actually slid, without the upward pressure on wages -- and all that has happened against the background of falling unemployment.

    The KMT strategy is quite clear. (1) Paralyze the government (2) win the legislative election and the Presidency (3) release all those big bills (4) sit back and enjoy sudden bump to the economy (5) sell island to China. It's a cruel strategy that has paid good dividends for them, since many people blame the President and the DPP for stagnant incomes.

    Given, however, that much KMT support depends on getting flows of government contracts out to connected individuals at the local level, how long can the KMT continue to serve K-rations to its people in order to inflict political pain on the DPP? Many local governments in Taiwan are suffering from severe cash-flow problems. Local factions are notoriously unreliable and have been known flip from one party to the other based simply on whoever is handing them the most government lucre. The key point of the KMT strategy is having to win the elections. If the Blues blow it again in 2008, and somehow manage to lose a legislature whose make-up was rigged to give them great advantages, severe damage could be done to their local networks.

    US-Taiwan FTA Roundtable Discussion in WaPo

    The Washington Post hosts a roundtable discussion of a Taiwan-US FTA:

    A Path Worth Taking? The Prospects and Challenges of a U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Deal

    In recent years, the creation of numerous free trade agreements (FTAs) around the world has triggered a chain reaction, as countries fearing exclusion move forward to establish their own regional FTAs.

    Taiwan, the world's sixteenth-largest trading power and the United States' ninth-largest trading partner, has indicated its desire for an FTA with the United States. Its technology-based economy and role as a doorway to China's market offers a larger potential trading relationship than any other country currently negotiating an FTA with the United States. Some feel that a U.S.-Taiwan FTA would send an unmistakable signal of U.S. support for democratic Taiwan. Others believe such a trade deal would complicate the U.S.'s relations in the region. Is a U.S.-Taiwan trade pact a path worth taking?

    Mr. Fadah Hsieh, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Mr. John Chen-Chung Deng, current Deputy Representative, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the United States, will be online to answer your questions. In April Mr. John Chen-Chung Deng will become the Chief Negotiator, Office of Trade Negotiations, MOEA, the Republic of China (Taiwan).

    Go here for the forum transcript.

    Thursday, March 29, 2007

    Dawn to Dusk in Tainan

    Tainan is probably the most photogenic of the cities on the west coast plain. Here are 90 or so photos I took the other day while strolling around the area near the train station.

    As we near election season, candidate pictures are starting to fill up public spaces everywhere. Here a bus hosts election advertisements for the DPP candidate, with their mortally stupid slogan "Taiwan, Go! Go! Go!"

    A morning market sets up.

    A fruit vendor waits for the day's first customer.

    Looking down a main road toward the train station in the early morning.

    I'm still trying to get that perfect empty sidewalk shot.

    Tainan hosts innumerable temples great and small.

    Sex sells.

    In addition to the temples, small shrines like this one may be found all over the downtown. I spotted three on my walk that day.

    A side street.

    Going out for breakfast.

    Tainan's train station.

    It's the year of cultural tourism, thus permitting the central government to hand out plenty of cash to local governments for spending on cultural activities.

    The tallest building in Tainan, empty. That fate was also suffered by the tallest building in Taichung, until a couple of years ago.

    A girl on an advert watches a taxi driver watching his cellphone.

    The underpass connecting the front and back of the train station.

    An apartment complex where military veterans' families live.

    The real measure of civilization is the extent to which breakfast is available 24-7.

    A vendor hard at work.

    A vendor eyes a street, waiting for business.

    Still trying for that perfect alley shot.

    Still trying for that perfect alley shot.

    A back street near NCKU filled with students seeking food and recreation.

    Tainan is filled with alleys.

    A strawberry vendor helps a customer.

    A flower shop sets up a lovely corner for itself.

    The ability of vendors in Taiwan to use public space helps keep costs down by giving them free display space that, even better, is right in the area of the traffic flow.

    "Just do it", practically a local mantra now.

    Dusk envelops a Tainan street.

    A conclave of mannikins.

    Taking a break from the brutal pressure of school life in Taiwan.

    One of the things I love about Tainan is the red faux brick paving used in many of the alleys and side streets. Such a small thing, but it gives the town a great feel.

    Girls at a high school line up to leave after school.

    An elementary school wisely located right across from two large high schools, for maximum traffic smoothness.

    The old east gate of Tainan city.

    Global Village, a prominent local English teaching chain.

    A family owned appliance store, an ubiquitous sight in Taiwan's cities.

    Cookery God? They've obviously never tasted my homemade spaghetti sauce.

    Two video stores compete on a local street. In many cases businesses selling identical products located next door to each other are actually owned by two members of the same family.

    Taking the wedding photos, a tradition on the island....

    .... in front of a local Christian Church.

    A betel nut stand. Not every stand is run by slinky babes in minimal gear.

    Still trying for that perfect alley shot.

    Older storefronts.

    He showed me who was cock of the walk.

    A clean, well-kept work environment.

    A blacksmith, forge in the background, uses a machine to shape a piece of iron.

    Just down the street from the church is a lovely temple.

    Dog and man study each other.

    Still trying for that perfect alley shot.

    Hong Kong democrats?

    One of Taiwan's little-known traditions is the veneration of big trees in Taiwan folk culture. If you look around, you'll see many small shrines right next to large old trees.

    The inside of an old temple.

    A Christian hospital in Tainan.

    The Tigerish Rag Doll restaurant.

    Soon I shall have my name on absolutely everything......

    It's hard to get people to pose, so I was gratified by cooperation from these two lovely young girls.

    Buying electronic stuff.

    As you approach the train station from the south, the density of vendors climbs alarmingly.

    Chops on the market.

    It is a well known fact of economics that there is no place so small it can't use another shoe store.

    Still trying for that perfect alley shot.

    North of the train station is a collection of Thai and Indonesian restaurants and services, aimed at the foreign worker population.

    Dogs frolic behind the National Tax Administration buildings.

    There's an old temple at the end of every alley.

    Taking my order at 85C.

    Just looking at these makes you fat.

    Stores that sell to foreign laborers make a good living from phone cards.

    An empty doctor's office.

    Night in front of the train station.

    Lining up for tea.