Saturday, June 30, 2007

Congress Considers Terminating Restrictions on Visits

Agence France Press reports that both the House and Senate are considering ending restrictions on visits to the US by high-level Taiwan leaders:

U.S. lawmakers, accusing the administration of kowtowing to China, called Tuesday for an end to restrictions on visits to the United States by high-level officials from Taiwan.

The demand was adopted by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives and now goes to a full vote in the lower chamber of Congress. A parallel resolution is in the works in the Senate.

The U.S. government is wary of hosting top-level Taiwanese officials for fear of offending China, which considers the island a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Even U.S. transit stops by Taiwanese politicians, such as one by President Chen Shui-bian en route to Central America in January, are guaranteed to irk Beijing.

The resolution's sponsor in the House, Republican Steve Chabot, said it was time to send a clear message to Beijing over Taiwan, which the United States is legally bound to defend in any military conflict.

"It is terribly unfortunate that democratically elected officials from Taiwan are not permitted to visit our nation's capital -- while the unelected leaders of communist China are given the red-carpet treatment," he said.

"Taiwan is our loyal friend and ally, a strong trading partner, and a vibrant democracy. Our current policy is insulting to Taiwan and sends a wrong signal to the rest of the world."

What triggered all this was President Chen's appearance in digital form at the National Press Club. What's the problem? Therese Shaheen, formerly head of the officially unofficial US representative office here, AIT, writing at the American Enterprise Institute, described the situation thusly:

Today, the bureaucracy makes decisions by self-policing an unstated policy of "nothing goes." One recent example: In May, the U.S. National Press Club hosted a discussion with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian by video link. U.S. officials at the desk-officer level concluded that it would undermine policy to attend this public event, reasoning that Mr. Chen's appearance was intended as an attempt to circumvent restrictions on senior Taiwan officials visiting Washington, D.C.

But the lack of interaction goes beyond one-off, questionable decisions such as that. Military officers at the one-star level or above, or the civilian equivalent, are not permitted to meet in Taiwan with their counterparts. While there is serious contingency planning at high levels on both sides, senior U.S. planners and decision makers do not interact with their Taiwan counterparts. The dialogue instead is conducted by proxy at lower levels of government.

Even simple meetings are less frequent in recent years. As late as 2003, State and Defense Department officials--albeit at the mid-grade deputy assistant secretary level--were permitted to meet regularly with senior Taiwanese officials including the foreign minister outside of Washington, D.C. That contact no longer takes place. At the highest levels, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship would have to get much closer to even describe it as "arms-length." No cabinet-level officials have met their Taiwanese counterparts since the Clinton administration.
The State Department and Taiwan supporters within and outside of the Administration are in the middle of a huge spat over the State Department's position on Taiwan. What usually happens with such laws is that the House passes them and then the Senate strikes them down. So don't expect too much...

Chen the Ratcheter

Last week in a piece in the CS Monitor, the writer observed:

It also matches a pattern whereby Chen has sought to ratchet up tensions with the mainland, rallying his political supporters, whenever he has found himself in domestic difficulties. Currently his wife is under indictment for corruption, as are two top aides and two cabinet ministers. Prosecutors say they have enough evidence to indict the president, too, but that he is protected from charges by presidential immunity.
Now, the claim that Chen ratchets up tensions with China when he has domestic trouble is a common canard of the KMT. One hears it all the time on talk shows here. It just so happens that it is an empirically testable canard.

If it were really true that Chen ratchets up tensions with the mainland when he is in trouble, then surely the period between Nov 3, 2006, when his wife was indicted and Dec 15th, 2006, when she went to trial, and after, should be a prime period for tension-ratcheting by the dastardly Chen. He could hardly be in more trouble than when facing a recall motion, having his wife indicted, facing possible indictments of his own, and in the middle of big local elections (held on the 9th of Dec).

To test this thesis, I gathered all the front page headlines from the local English paper, The China Post, between Nov 3, 2006 and Jan 14, 2007. I picked the China Post because it is the local pro-KMT rag, and can reasonably be expected to pick up any tensions created by Chen, and prominently display them on its front pages. I picked up only Taiwan and Taiwan/China related headlines, stuff about Iraq and Palestine etc I left out. Usually the Taiwan stuff is the first three or four headlines, where it is not, I have indicated that.

The headlines follow below. The reader is invited to inspect them. Note closely the headline on Jan 13, 2007. I saved the China Post's teaser for that one.


NOV 3 2006
First lady Wu indicted for corruption Chen calls for arms purchase legislation Lawmakers cut NT$100 mil. in funds for presidential trips Government reconsiders launching rail project

NOV 4 2006First lady Wu indicted for corruption DPP called to decide whether to back president Su says he will not pressure Chen TSU urges head of state to quit or face third recall DPP apologizes to public for first lady's indictment

NOV 5 2006KMT to initiate president's recall again Thousands demand end to corruption in Kaohsiung march Cabinet refutes report Su is ready to resign

NOV 6 2006President refuses to resign Former minister Chen Ding-nan dies Protesters demand Chen step down

NOV 7President's ex-aide released on bail TSU makes about-face in decision on support for recall PFP to topple Cabinet if recall stalled

NOV 8 2006DPP to expel dissidents: Ker Ma Ying-jeou vows to see recall motion through Su applying double standard: KMT

NOV 9 2006DPP rallies behind Chen, won't back recall motion High speed rail to stop offering free test rides, committee says

NOV 10 2006TSU expels Taipei mayoral candidate Interior official freed on NT$1 mil. bail Lee Yuan-tseh urges Chen to consider quitting

NOV 11 2006Chao may face jail term of nine years Vote on Chen recall motion set People to have longer holidays in 2007: CPA

NOV 12 2006DPP mulls appeal to Grand Justices No plans for a fourth recall motion against Chen, Ma says

NOV 13 2006Hsieh unveils new strategy in campaign Ex-top aide urges Chen to leave office Ma to be probed over special-fund use

NOV 14 2006DPP lawmakers quit before vote Ma to be questioned today on expenses

NOV 15 2006Ma aide admits faulty accounts Taiwan holds talks with APEC members

NOV 16 2006Yu slams Ma on expense account double standards Candidates draw lots for
numbers used in mayoral elections Japan issues tsunami warning after earthquake Taiwan men arrested in China on spy charges

NOV 17 200621 hurt in plane's near-miss Taiwan upsets Cuba 4-3 for baseball victory

NOV 18 2006Ma to donate NT$15 million APEC envoy Chang vows push on talks

NOV 19 2006Chang rubs shoulders with APEC leaders Expense account problems can be fixed easily: KMT

NOV 20 2006Ma angry his charity donation was revealed Jason Hu's wife remains in critical condition Mission accomplished at APEC summit, envoy Morris Chang says

NOV 21 2006Kuomintang assets bill not acted on Hu suspends meetings for two days

NOV 22 2006Three direct links essential: AIT chief Mayor Hu thanks all well-wishers

NOV 23 2006Prosecutors reject Koo's application CLA urged to rethink foreign labor
LSL plans

NOV 24 2006Ma questioned again over fund Prosecutors issue arrest warrant for Jeffrey Koo Jr. Lawmakers file 'account' suits against top officials

NOV 25 2006Koo Jr. quits Chinatrust post Pres. Chen survives third recall attempt THSRC to inaugurate rail on Dec. 7

NOV 26 2006Taipei mayor candidates present their platforms (3rd item, first two non-taiwan)

NOV 27 2006First TV deliberative democracy debate Kaohsiung candidates present platforms

NOV 28 2006ASE offer shows confidence: Chen Chen's latest dilemma: will he be a U.S. grandpa?

NOV 29 2006Minister: Investment cap harmful to firms Su wants expense account use clarified

NOV 30 2006Koo Jr. may be placed on wanted list today Underpass through Sungshan opens Justice Minister Shih: Special expenses are 'de facto stipends'

DEC 1 2006Foreign execs slam investment climate DPP suspends Chen's wife, 3 aides Taiwan opens baseball with win at Games over S. Korea Gates says U.S. must resist if China attacks Taiwan

DEC 2 2006Ex-minister Luo returns from U.S. First son, wife come back to Taipei late last night Universities seek tuition hike in 2007

DEC 3 2006Hau still far ahead of rivals

DEC 4 200621 killed in worst bus crash in 20 years Political leaders slug it out in Kaohsiung campaigns - Part 1 Political leaders slug it out in Kaohsiung campaigns - Part 2

DEC 5 2006DPP and TSU block easing of investments MOTC to review rules on tourist buses

DEC 6 2006CF: Gas stations a 'timebomb' MOTC speeds up rules on tour buses

DEC 7 2006463 poll rigging attempts probed Jason Hu's wife recovers significantly

DEC 8 2006Taiwan wins 1st Asiad baseball gold Taiwan should move for liberalization: ECCT chief

DEC 9 2006Taiwan's main rival parties split wins in mayoral elections Voters go to polls in Taipei, Kaohsiung

DEC 10 2006Blue sky over north; green field in south Soong bows out of politics after his defeat KMT snips DPP in Taipei, Kaohsiung council polls

DEC 11 2006Prosecutors seize all Kaohsiung ballot boxes Hau aims to open air link with China Chen Chu to promote global vision for Kaohsiung

DEC 12 2006Women's groups oppose abortion rules New rules governing tour buses still under debate

DEC 13 2006Prosecutors look for vote broker New rules to ban corporal punishment in schools CWB: Cold weather to start tomorrow

DEC 14 2006Chen Che-nan gets 12-year sentence Beijing announces charter flight plans DPP to ask for clarification on presidential immunity

DEC 15 2006First lady Wu to stand trial today (NOTE THIS!!!!)Groups protest radio crackdown CWB urges preparation for upcoming cold spell

DEC 16 2006First lady Wu faints at corruption trial Wu defense attorneys protest pre-trial photo opportunity 'Next' reporter arrested for extortion

DEC 17 2006First son's U.S. trip raises speculation Wu needs to be in hospital: NTUH Cold front causes temperatures to drop

DEC 18 2006DPP to kick off '2nd republic' Kenyan runners sweep Taipei marathon DPP to seek review of 18% interest for retirees

DEC 19 2006Seven entertainers test positive for drugs Court subpoenas first lady for trial Friday

DEC 20 2006Kuo faces discipline, Gao to be investigated Drug users urged to turn themselves in

DEC 21 2006No timetable for rail opening: MOTC Lee Teng-hui may support Frank Hsieh in 2008 election

DEC 22 2006Public urged to back 'hidden' police steps First lady may not appear in court today today Taiwan woman lucky N.Y. passenger

DEC 23 2006(2nd and 3rd story)Buckle up in the back seat Lawmakers OK new death penalty rules

DEC 24 2006THSRC denies new allegation on safety Drive to oust Keelung mayor hits snag

DEC 25 2006MOTC to issue bullet train license this week Battle against oil spill, slick off Suao coast continuing

DEC 26 2006Powerful quake strikes off southwestern Taiwan EPA prevents ship from leaving area Ex-NSC deputy chief indicted for Tainan scam Premier gives bullet train a thumbs-up after ride

DEC 27 2006(1st and 3rd story)One killed, 24 wounded in Hengchun's largest quake Ex-minister probed for alleged graft

DEC 28 2006First son-in-law sentenced Presidential Office refuses to hand over documents Chunghwa submarine cables severely damaged

DEC 29 2006 3 share record lotto prize Voice traffic to U.S., Japan restored: CHT Temperatures may fall under 10°C

DEC 30 2006Arms deal to be screened First lady's trial again entangled in arguments China's white paper lists Taiwan as top security challenge

DEC 31 2006(1st and 3rd stories)Lee against easing rules on China investments Chunghwa Telecom fixes major customer lines

JAN 1 2007(1st, 3rd, and 4th stories)Millions in Taiwan welcome New Year RMB won't be allowed to circulate in Taiwan: CBC Taiwan drums up world record for New Year celebrations

JAN 2 2007Chen criticizes premier in New Year's address Ma, Hsieh absent from flag-raising

JAN 3 2006China to blame if tensions rise: Wu The government's top China policy maker yesterday said China was to blame if relations between Taipei and Beijing became worse, following the president's New Year's day speech.

JAN 4 2007Premier Su 'laughs off ' bribery claims

JAN 5 2007Bullet train service officially launches Chen calls for KMT-DPP cooperation U.S., Japan to draft Taiwan crisis plan French guide: Don't talk about Taiwan in China

JAN 6 2007High-speed train service completes commercial run SC takes over two insolvent local banks

JAN 7 2007Depositors urged to halt run on bank FSC orders takeover of bank's bills finance firm Temperature to drop further for 3 days CLA to plan tougher action against irresponsible employers

JAN 8 2007Premier Su orders insolvency probed Panicked depositors withdraw cash Royal blasts China on human rights

JAN 9 2007Chinese Bank customers continue run President Chen leaves for Nicaragua

JAN 10 2007 Rebar Group founder and wife investigated Chen leaves U.S. for Nicaragua Foreigners allowed to serve as medical workers

JAN 11 2007 Rebar HQ, affiliates raided, execs quizzed Changhwa Bank seeking assets seizure

JAN 12 2007 Rebar founder's son, brother detained High-speed train billows smoke

JAN 13 2007 FSC chief steps down over recent bank runs Arrest warrant issued for Rebar founder Taiwan, Nicaragua sign cooperation agreement S.E. Asian leaders call for trade zone China-Taiwan tensions down: U.S. spy chief Tensions between China and Taiwan have diminished even as Beijing moves rapidly to modernize its military with ballistic missiles capable of striking U.S. naval forces, U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday.

JAN 14 2007 Su given free hand to deal with Rebar Chen liable for Rebar storms: Ma


Where's the tension? What moves did Chen make during this period? What exactly did China do to respond?

As the US spy chief averred in his testimony before Congress, tensions had in fact diminished. Chen's habit of "ratcheting up tensions" is a complete canard with no basis in fact.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Callick Scores one for Beijing Correspondents

Taiwan blogger Tetsuo once observed that getting Taiwan reporting from your Beijing correspondent is like getting inside the Beltway reporting from your Melbourne correspondent. Usually Beijing correspondents of major media entities are hopeless at reporting on Taiwan, but a notable exception is Rowan Callick of The Australian, who has a pretty good piece with some minor errors yesterday in his paper:

The two presidential candidates named by the main parties, Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the KMT, are respectively Frank Hsieh, a former mayor of second city Kaohsiung, and Ma Ying-jeou, until recently mayor of Taipei. Both are lawyers who studied together for their first degrees. Both are moderates, pointing to a period of less volatility and rowdiness in the recently bitter political rivalry. It looks like being a close contest, holding out the prospect of a fresh basis for talks with Beijing, whoever wins.

Ma, who has worked in New York and speaks fluent English, is a tall, well groomed, handsome 57-year-old whose earlier Kennedy-esque aura has diminished as the political encounters have become more bruising. He admits Taiwan's democracy looks "vibrant and energetic, though sometimes a little bit rowdy", with its frequent television shots of fisticuffs in parliament. But he says that assuredly "democracy is here to stay."

That annoying love affair correspondents have with Ma is alive and well here (Kennedy-esque? Hey, I knew Jack Kennedy, and Ma is no Jack Kennedy!), but note also that Ma is called a lawyer although he has never passed the bar or practiced law. Note too that both Ma and Hsieh are presented as moderates.....Callick lets both sides speak for themselves throughout the piece, instead of making Beijing-centric judgments, as Peter Ford at the CS Monitor did in his recent piece I blogged on earlier this week. It's long, detailed, and much better than stuff we've been seeing recently in the international media.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The 45 Minute Ulcer

What's driving like? Well, nothing static can convey the reality of a Taiwan road. But today I took a shot at it, recording a trip from home to the university. It started out in fine style. As I sat in the middle lane, the car in front of the yellow truck turned right from the center lane, and was followed by the truck, which also turned right, halting traffic in both lanes. It was turning onto a very wide two lane road, so there was no excuse. But -- it's a refrain -- stuff like this is normal here in Taiwan.

Moments later, as I approach a red light, I mark a scooter going the wrong way, in the opposite lane, weaving in between those scooter which, by some accident of history, are actually going the right way. Moments later -- next frame -- he shoots through the red light as though he were immortal. Here in Taichung, a succession of mayors from both major parties has done zilch for our fair city's traffic

Another traffic hazard: since there are no sidewalks in this section, the foot traffic walks in the street. It has to walk out among the vehicles to avoid the market that occupies what should be parking spaces.

Foot traffic walks in the street even where there are sidewalks.

Red lights? The Taiwanese will tell you that red lights are "for reference." Consequently, a constant hazard outside of a few heavily camera'd areas are scooters running red lights.

Here's another hazard -- as vehicles park or move off to the right to turn, scooters shoot out into the road to go around them.

The scooter circled here is actually stopped waiting for the light. Another problem with scooters is that they will often stop far into the intersection, forcing other traffic to move around them. Car drivers are bad, but it is the scooters that make Taiwan roads the miserable crapshoot that they are.

Inside the circle is "the dragon," as a local blogger named it. At heavily trafficked intersections like this one, when the light changes, the left turning cars form a line and block the oncoming traffic as they turn left, each car leaving the left turn lane successively earlier. The result is a long chain of vehicles like a Chinese dragon.

In addition to the chain of left turning vehicles, a hazard at every intersection of even middling size is that vehicles use the scooter and parking lanes as an unofficial second lane, meaning that when the light changes, two lanes worth of vehicles race to cram themselves into one lane. We'll see that several times in our morning trip.

Still not out of the intersection, but more traffic threats follow. The last of the left turning cars just clears the oncoming traffic, when a heavily-laden truck makes an illegal right on red and attempts to shove its way into traffic.

It is hard to see, but this intersection has only one lane. Typically, because of the wide shoulder, three lanes form -- one right turn lane and two lanes going straight, which attempt to cram themselves into one lane in a free for all.

As I contemplate the mess in front, the truck that just made the illegal right turn passes me and the car in front of me at high speed and darts into the line of traffic. Just ahead two lanes of cars are shoehorning themselves into one lane. People who pass the traffic illegally on the right and then cut in are usually let in. Not only is it polite to permit others to impose on onself in local culture, the kind of driver that speeds past everyone on the road and then cuts in dangerously is generally the kind of person who has little compunction about kicking the shit out of anyone who kicks up a fuss.

Note the two cars driving illegally in the motorcycle lane, pushing the poor biker to speed up. Passing on the right is a serious problem here, resulting in many deaths. Taiwan's traffic death rate is three times that of Los Angeles.

This intersection is always a hotbed of fun driving. As I come to stop in front of the red light, a scooter shoots out ahead of me hoping to cross the intersection before the cars come out as the light changes. Usually they make it.

These little electric vehicles are actually illegal now. Not that anyone ever gets stopped or anything.

But we're not finished here as this truck driver runs the red. There is nothing unusual about today, just another typical traffic day.

Still not done -- as the light turn greens, a scooter driver shoots the intersection, hoping to get across before the cars get out into the intersection. Usually they make it.

Left turns. As the light turns green, the scooter drivers make the quick left, forcing traffic in the opposite direction to halt as they thread their way through the scooters emerging into the road. Usually they make it.

Here's another fun issue, if you're in the opposite lane: scooter drivers who can't be bothered to wait for the light or to slip beside the vehicles prefer to drive down the opposite lane to pass the line of cars waiting for the red light. If you make a right turn in here you've got a good change of nailing this idiot. He was followed by two others.

As the light changes, crossing traffic at this major road junction still hasn't cleared the intersection. Everyone who drives this road regularly knows what the traffic is like here, so cars are not surging into the street, because....

Yes! A large truck completely disregards the red lights and the traffic in the intersection and crosses the street against a red before the crossing traffic can claim the intersection. In the morning there are sometimes four policemen directing morning traffic here.

Here construction has eliminated one lane, so two lanes combine into one. The result? Chaos.

Another common hazard: people selling things by accosting drivers. Flower sellers, real estate advertisers, Mormons....just about everybody selling something can be found selling it in the road.

Another hazard: why build a parking lot when you can just use the street? Here a parked truck blocks part of the road, and everyone must go around.

In the finest local style, this scooter driver shoots out from a side street against the light, and proceeds to thread his way between the two left turning vehicles.

But we're not done, as yet another scooter runs the red light. This woman waited until we had begun to move out into traffic before she decided to cross the street. When you consider that Taichung doesn't even have the island's worst traffic -- opinion appears to be divided between Tainan and Kaohsiung on that score -- it is a wonder that everyone in Taiwan doesn't suffer from intestinal disorders.

College students are notoriously poor scooter drivers. Here two students turn onto the university road by making illegal left turns on red. Usually they make it. T-intersections are particularly bad for scooter infractions

My favorite: as I make the left, one -- no two -- no, make that three scooters pass me on the left as I am turning left. Safety? It is not my fate to die in an accident on the road.....

Tuesday was a Weird and Lonely Day

My son and daughter.

Tuesday was a very strange day.

On Tuesday I saw my children off at the airport, sending them to the US for five weeks to visit family and go sightseeing with my parents. They say parting is such sweet sorrow, but it is not, it is an agonizing rent in the heart, and nothing can fill it up. There's my son, taller than me -- when did that happen? And my sweet, soft spoken daughter. And they're leaving me.....

The new terminal at Taoyuan Airport.

It was a stunning day, clean and clear as a well-constructed syllogism, and the airport was crowded with early morning travelers.

My wife and my daughter relax before the Big Parting.

The airline came to collect my kids at 7 AM for the 7:45 flight. They were extremely kind, but a little ditsy -- the person in charge of my kids put their luggage on the local transfer trolley when they got to Detroit, and it was nearly lost. I guess it isn't really a Northwest flight unless the luggage goes astray.

Surprisingly, nobody cried until we were out of the airport.

They also had trouble at security, of course. I guess it isn't really an entry into the US unless you have hassles with security.

The beautiful interior of the new terminal.

But Tuesday had more in store. I had to run down to Tainan to pick up some test papers and attend class the next day. I boarded the train in Taichung, and sat down next to a Buddhist nun. She began talking to me in English, rusty but serviceable, and gently chided me for playing a computer game instead of doing something productive. "Isn't that a waste of time?" I bit my tongue to stop a tart remark about the uselessness of religious orders, but she soldiered on. It turned out that her job was telemarketing, selling Buddhism to the masses, by cold calls to random strangers inviting them to attend Buddhist meetings and activities. When she found out I could speak Chinese she switched to that, and then began to proselytize for her religion.

I'd never been the subject of a Buddhist conversion attempt before, but instead of finding it an amusing novelty, it make me uncomfortable and increasingly, angry. I have no trouble fending off Christians, since it is unlikely that any of the missionaries I encounter here knows more about the Bible than I do, and more often than not, I can turn the tables on them. Further, I always enjoy a good bout of wrangling about religion. But there I was, getting a lecture on past lives and the soul, and it peeved me that I couldn't get her to stop no matter how I hinted. I felt like she had violated some unspoken agreement between us (I didn't hit you up with a lecture about metaphysical naturalism, did I?).

A bright day, Taiwan's mountains clear in the distance.

But Tuesday had not yet exhausted its store of weirdnesses. When I arrived in Tainan a fellow student at the university drew me aside:

"Michael, do you know Dr. X?"
"Dr X. [description]"
"Nope, never met her. Why?"
"Well, she asked in the meeting last week why that American who stays in the fifth floor PHD office didn't smile at her when he saw her. Listen, you gotta be sure to smile at the teachers. It's really important."

Yup. Wrong-footed with someone important in the department, and without me even knowing it! Who knows what I was doing when she saw me.....Taiwanese university instructors, especially older ones, tend to think it really important that students should smile at them and greet them. Any Taiwanese in their 40s can tell you about how this was drilled into them in their childhood. At my own university the failure of students to do this has led to long discussions at meetings. Readers will have to divine for themselves what this desire to be greeted means....

My son and daughter.

I went to a friend's bar, had a few beers, and graded papers in my TA role, then stumbled home. And it was Tuesday night. My wife was in Taichung, and I was in Tainan, and my kids were on an airplane somewhere over Canada.

And I was lonely.

Jamestown Briefing: Disappointment for China Relations?

Denny Roy, who usually produces good stuff on Taiwan, has a fairly good briefing at the Jamestown Foundation on Taiwan's 2008 Presidential candidates. Wisely, he has cottoned on to the possibility that Hsieh might turn out to have a foreign policy a lot like Chen's.

The differences between Hsieh, 61, and Chen are easily overdrawn. Hsieh’s positions on Taiwan’s proper political status vis-à-vis China and the international community have many similarities with Chen’s. Hsieh, like Chen, began his political career as one of the defense lawyers for the anti-KMT political activists indicted over the Kaohsiung Incident of 1980. He was the DPP’s vice-presidential candidate and the running mate of famous dissident Peng Ming-min in the 1996 election won by then-KMT member Lee Teng-hui. Hsieh served as premier of Taiwan and as mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city and a pan-Green stronghold.

To be sure, in his approach toward the People's Republic of China (PRC), Hsieh has been more pragmatic and cautious than Chen. One of his slogans when he served as premier was “coexistence and reconciliation.” He favors lifting the restrictions on direct air and sea travel between Taiwan and China. Hsieh has even drawn criticism from other senior DPP leaders for allegedly being too receptive to the one-China principle.

China, nevertheless, would find much of Hsieh’s agenda repugnant, and consequently it is not clear that Beijing would accept him as a negotiating partner. Hsieh supported the change in a basic DPP position on cross-Strait relations. Originally, the party’s platform stated that its eventual goal was independence for Taiwan. In 2000, DPP leaders shifted to the line that it was not necessary for Taiwan to formally declare independence. Hsieh said at the time, “As we perceive Taiwan as already an independent country, independence is a de facto reality that nobody can deny or change” (China News Agency, September 6, 2000).

Feiren and I have been trying to get this point across, and it is good to see that somebody gets it. Some time it will dawn on outside observers that the KMT has the radical position in cross-strait relations: annex Taiwan to China, snuff out its democracy. Those are radical moves.. Meanwhile Roy thinks Ma is a moderate, a common position among outsiders:

It should be noted, however, that Ma’s willingness and ability to accommodate China are bounded. Ma could be considered a moderate within the pan-Blue camp. He was, for example, more vocal than other KMT leaders in his opposition to China’s March 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which authorized the Chinese government to employ “non-peaceful means” to bring about cross-Strait unification if other means proved unsuccessful or if “incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur.” When Chen won re-election in 2004 by a tiny margin hours after an assassination attempt, Ma did not join the KMT members who publicly accused Chen of staging the shooting and who challenged the result of the election.

In June 2007, Ma said, “If the two sides of the Strait are to resume negotiations, reach any peace agreement or negotiate any kind of military or mutual trust mechanism, I will first request that China withdraw the missiles deployed along its southeast coast because we are not willing to conduct peace negotiations while we are threatened by missiles” (Taipei Times, June 5). The demand that China “withdraw” its missiles (which are already on PRC territory) as a precondition to stabilizing cross-Strait relations is strongly reminiscent of Chen Shui-bian’s long-standing demand. It also implicitly challenges China’s “right” to use force against Taiwan, which Beijing has closely linked with its position that the Chinese central government has sovereignty over Taiwan. Delivering what Ma asks for would be a substantial concession on the part of China, difficult to obtain in any case but especially if Beijing is put on the defensive by what it views as “provincial” authorities overstepping their proper bounds.

Although Ma maintains that he and his party stand against Taiwan's independence and for eventual unification with China, in February 2006 the KMT purchased an advertisement in Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper in which Ma acknowledged that “independence is an option for the Taiwanese people” (Taipei Times, January 28). This reportedly caused great consternation among many KMT leaders, such as former chairman and presidential candidate Lien Chan, but it demonstrated that Ma feels compelled to compromise the pan-Blue agenda to accommodate Taiwanese nationalism. As president, he would continually face this kind of domestic pressure.

Ma's "moderation" is only by comparison to his wilder colleagues, and in part, a perception resulting from his own indecisiveness and lack of spine. Unlike the nutcases to his right, Ma actually has to get elected in Taiwan and thus struggles to find a message that plays to the masses, but keeps his Deep Blue base happy, and doesn't anger the Party Machine that already dislikes him. But note that his support derives from the Deep Blue core: they recognize one of their own, and when he is in trouble, he moves closer to that core. Ma has played the moderate, but again and again, when given the choice to act as one, he has declined. He did not shut down the Shih Ming-te demonstrations against Chen in Taipei even when they hurt his party and disrupted city life. He did not move to get the arms package through the local legislature despited repeated promises to do so. His own political views are pro-China, not pro-Taiwan. Ma the Moderate, like Hsieh the Moderate, is going to surprise a lot of people...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Walking among the hills

Off for a walk at the base of the hills outside Taichung...greeted, as always, by the endless array of bugs that the island provides.

Everywhere you look, early morning hikers can be found. The hills around me are honeycombed with hiking trails and minor roads that make excellent morning walks.

Winding lanes, perfect for an early morning stroll.

Plenty of flowers too. One of the joys of Taiwanese landscapes is the sheer number of flowers cultivated by local land and home owners.

'Course, the wild stuff is nice too.

Bamboo plants line many a country lane. Yet several locals have mentioned that the price of bamboo leaves used for the the tzung tz served during the Dragon Boat Festival this year has risen so much that they are increasingly imported from China, with who knows what chemical residues on them.

Many of the streams in rural and urban areas have had the sides and bottoms lined with concrete. Much cash has been spread around local areas with projects like this.

What road is complete without the old woman picking up recyclables for sale for a few pennies....

The new Tz Chi hospital in Tanzi just north of Taichung rises in the early morning sunlight. Word has it that the long term plans for the area include a kindy, a university, and other buildings for a Tz Chi complex to rival their well-known facilities in Hualien.

Scooters to and from the market on a Sunday morn.

Fishtanks and fishponds are common sights in Taiwanese communities.

Empty roads beckon walkers. What's around that curve?

In the background, a new biotech factory rises.

Dogs hard at work.

One sign of the way religion is unobtrusively but robustly integrated into local life: a temple just there around every corner.

A close up.

Just across from the larger temple is a small shrine, a common sight in fields and cities across Taiwan.

Incense burner and shrine face each other.

Mandatory in every local temple: the place where everyone sits down to have a chat over cups of tea.

On the main road traffic roars past another of the hideous cookie cutter housing developments so common in Taiwan. According to a presentation I attended last year, such developments require that the builder sell only half the houses to break even. Not difficult in a culture that places a heavy emphasis on the ownership of houses as a sign of wealth and stability.

With their surprisingly wide selection of the most popular items, convenience stores are driving many different types of mom and pop stores out of business. For example, as convenience stores incorporate more baked goods in their product line-ups, smaller bakeries, squeezed by the new competition and rising flour prices, have gone under, or eliminated staff and reduced product diversity to stay afloat.

Bicyclists, a common sight on weekend mornings in the hills around Taichung.

A local butcher shop.

Discussing things at the local breakfast cafe.