Saturday, February 27, 2010

A note on redistributed tensions

Glorious day today with great DPP victory, don't miss the post below this one...

Reading the media reports on the election, I was struck by yet another occurrence of the otherworldly claim that President Ma had "reduced tensions" between China and Taiwan. For tension headaches, take one Ma, call again in four years.

As I linked below, Beijing is giving its domestic audience reassurance that it is tough by warning the US on F-16 sales to Taiwan, sales that I suspect are becoming more likely as Beijing's intransigence across so many areas grows (note to Andrew Jacobs of the NYTimes: the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) DOES NOT require the US to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan, or to do anything at all. It's specifically written that way.).

Why is it almost plausible to unknowing audiences abroad to claim that Ma has reduced tensions? Because, as I have argued many times, one of China's goals is to transfer those tensions to the US-Taiwan relationship, in order to separate Washington from Taipei. I have often pointed out that "reduced tensions" in the Taiwan-China relationship simply mean that China is free to ramp up tensions elsewhere in Asia. But it should also be noted that China has also "reduced tensions" by transfering some of them to the Taiwan-US relationship -- carefully refraining from punishing Taiwan for any of its interactions with the US, but always punishing the US. Hence, the "reduced tensions" are not reduced at all, they are merely redistributed.

Never mind, of course, that China is still ramping up the military threat against Taiwan.
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DPP Smokes KMT in By-elections

Stopped at Mile High Coffee on 130 with awesome views to the mountains in the west, where this lovely young lady served us Hakka specialties. Drew's post on the ride is here.

What a wonderful day! Biked 80 kms through the beautiful hills of Miaoli (cue Drew's post), including an 800 meter climb up stunning 130. My friend Michael Cannon was testing the Salsa Pistola, a sweet steel frame, which I may someday leave my wife for. Then came home, still groggy from the endorphins, to find the DPP not only took Hsinchu and Chiayi, which I pretty much expected, but also Taoyuan, and Bi-khim turned in an outstanding performance in a loss in Hualien. AP says:
Taiwan's ruling party has suffered its third major electoral setback in two months, losing three of four by-elections, despite the president's zealous efforts to boost his sagging public support.

The Central Election Commission said Saturday that the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party won three legislative seats in Hsinchu, Taoyuan and Chiayi counties respectively. It said the ruling Nationalist Party won one seat in Hualien.

Despite the setback, the Nationalists still dominate the 113-seat legislature, controlling 74 seats against the DPP's 33.
AP did a fine job, but others were less than stellar. I'm not going to get into the whole media mischaracterization thing, I think someone else is going to do that. On to the victory!

The pro-DPP Liberty Times has all the details. A summary, including figures from the CEC:
  • In Chiayi, a DPP stronghold, the DPP won 57,000 to 27,000, a blowout as expected.
  • In Hsinchu, the DPP won 71,000 to 56,000.
  • In Taoyuan, the DPP candidate beat the KMT candidate 45,363 to 42,600, according to CEC figures, now online.
  • In Hualien, Hsiao Bi-khim turned in a strong showing in an predominantly KMT area, losing by 6,000 votes, 39K to 33K. An independent took another 8,800 votes.
Hsinchu and Taoyuan were considered to be KMT strongholds, though in fact in the district won in Taoyuan, as I posted earlier this month, three of the four townships went DPP in last election. Chiayi was always going to be a lopsided DPP victory. Taoyuan, however, is huge.

Since the KMT won the legislative and Presidential elections, there has been an uninterrupted stream of DPP victories and better-than-expected showings. This loss is a huge slap in the face for President Ma, who is chairman of the KMT and who had personally campaigned in the contested areas in the north, as well as his handpicked hatchet man, King Pu-tsun. I can't wait to read the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the KMT papers tomorrow, and the ruthless ripping on the President. At this point it would be hard to determine which bloc of voters detests Ma more, the Greens or the Blues.

It's difficult to say whether the trend will continue in December, which is a long 10 months away. For one thing the economy appears to be picking up. On the other hand, if the jobless "recovery" in the US is any guide, there may be considerable discontent with the KMT still in December, especially if the agreements with China continue to be as one-sidedly pro-China as the current ones (think that will ever appear in the international media? Naw). With the KMT keeping former President Chen Shui-bian in detention where his bombast and self-centeredness cannot hurt the DPP, Chairman Tsai of the DPP has been effective in moving the party into the post-Chen era. Meanwhile the KMT has displayed an astonishing electoral ineptitude.

Congratulations to the DPP brain trust, and the candidates on winning, and a special thanks to Hsiao Bi-khim in Hualien, who turned in a great effort in a solid KMT area with a tiny budget. Fantastic work, folks!
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cycling loses popularity

Anyone who has lived in Taiwan for any length of time can name the fads that blow across the island, stoking everyone to a frenzy, and then fade away. Egg tarts, koala bears, crane machines, penguins -- the list is endless. Now add bikes to it, as sales are finally starting to fall off. The article says that while sales of high end bikes are stable, and low end (under $6000 NT) are steady, the market for folding bikes -- the chief ride of fad bikers -- has collapsed. The bike market as a whole is set to return to normal after its 2008 peak, it says.

My friend Drew observes on his new cycling blog (that's his pic of me to the left cycling to Guguan).

In a prestige culture, such as Taiwan's , cycling embodies the image of affluence, foreign knowledge and leisure. It embodies the value of technically advanced equipment and a smart looking kit. Cycling, if done right, looks clean, sleek and graceful and has its "Top Guns". Unlike current Taiwanese values, cycling involves hard, physical work and outdoor training to become a strong rider. Many Taiwanese do not value physical exercise and it is not promoted as a worthwhile past time for children when they could be in cram school or learning an instrument. Exposure to direct sunlight is discouraged and brown skin is still regarded as "ugly".

Drew is still tinkering and will probably move to another platform, so I'll make a formal announcement of the blog when he's settled. But in the meantime you can enjoy the pretty pictures.
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Chu on that, DPP

This December brings the most important elections here on The Beautiful Isle since the Presidential election of 2008: the year end elections for the municipalities, new and old.

In the ROC government system, a municipality is more or less equal to a province in clout. Under the current Act Governing the Allocation of revenues, 43% of revenues go to special municipalities (currently two, Taipei and Kaohsiung, plus the three new ones) and 57% to everywhere else. This unequal allocation means that the reason Taipei is such a nice place to live is because the rest of the island is impoverished to make it so.

The new upgraded New North City (what a lame name!) is the focus of a political chess match between the DPP and the KMT. This week the current head of the Taipei County government, the much-maligned Chou Hsi-wei. Chou, widely thought of as incompetent, tearfully announced that he would not seek re-election, something KMT insiders had been trying to dissuade him from doing for the last two years.

Instead, current Vice-Premier Eric Chu, one of the KMT's few rising stars, looks to be selected to run for the seat. In the China Times poll, Chu crushes Tsai Ing-wen, Frank Hsieh, and Yu Shyi-kun... but look at the numbers for Su Tseng-chang, formerly a chief of Taipei County, popular in the north after his excellent work (link):
February 4th

Chu: 36.0%
Su: 40.6%

February 22nd
Chu: 28.8%
Su: 39.8%
UDN, another pro-KMT paper, has similar spreads. Su's popularity has put the DPP in an apparent bind, as KNN describes:
However, with the KMT’s candidate now all but certain, Su Tseng-chang may be forced to make up his mind ahead of schedule. This places Su in a pickle. If he were to win in Xinbei Municipality, he would have to serve out his term. If he were to lose, he might also be kicked out of the 2012 Presidential race in advance. According to the DPP party charter, anyone who participates in the municipality elections will not be permitted to run in other elections for public office within one year. This is the biggest reason Su has been delaying his announcement.
Basically, the KMT is trying to force the issue so that Su can run for President, or for the chief of New North City, but not both. Su is quite popular, competent, and clean, and would make a formidable foe in 2012 for Ma, whose satisfaction ratings remain low (see link below). UDN offers the same "prisoner's dilemma" here. Thus the lowball poll numbers for Chu may be part of a campaign to get Su to run against him for New North City mayor.

Apple Daily editorialized on President Ma's remark that he had only learned about Chou Hsi-wei's refusal to run from the paper:
It is strange for President Ma Ying-jeou to say Monday that he only learned about the bowing out of Taipei Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei from the mayoral election in Xinbei City, the name by which the county will be known after being upgraded to a special municipality, after reading about it the newspaper.

When Chou, with tears in his eyes, announced his withdrawal, he said he talked "twice" to both Ma, who is also Kuomintang (KMT) chairman, and KMT Secretary-General King Pu-tsung. Is it not bizarre, therefore, for Ma to claim he only knew about it after reading the paper? If Ma knew in advance but professed to have no knowledge, it would be a pretense, but if Ma really did have no knowledge, it would be even worse.

We are worried about whether the president is indeed stupid, or whether he thinks it is everyone else who is stupid. We would prefer it to be the latter, because if not, then it means he is being kept in the dark.

If a president rules the country by reading the newspaper, then it would be better to seek a newspaper chief to serve as president. Some have mocked Ma on the Internet that he only knew he was elected president after reading about it in the paper and that the first step when China invades Taiwan will be to destroy all newspapers so that Ma will know nothing about it.
Ma is both President and Party Chairman. He didn't know that Chou wouldn't run?
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Economic Recovery at last?

Lots of news reports out there saying Taiwan's economy is a'booming. That's good news for all those suffering from unemployment and poorly-performing family businesses. A Christian Science Monitor "blogger" has the news:
Taiwan's GDP rose as much as 8.5% compared with a year earlier in seasonally adjusted terms and 9.2% in unadjusted terms. Compared with the previous quarter it rose 4.2%, or 18.0% at an annualized rate.

Bloomberg in its version claims that only now did Taiwan exit the recession, because only now did the yearly change turned positive, but usually the criteria for this is when the quarterly change turns positive, and the quarterly change turned positive already in the second quarter.

Not only has Taiwan exited the recession, it has in fact now recovered the entire loss in output during it, so that real GDP is slightly higher now than the previous peak in output reached during the first quarter of 2008. By contrast, while America, Japan and the EU has all recovered in the sense that quarterly change has turned positive, the absolute level of output remains below the peaks.

The main cause of Taiwan's recovery is the boom in neighboring mainland China. While political relations are still frosty (and turned even frostier after Taiwan recently bought advanced military equipment from America), trade and investment relations have increased dramatically, causing higher growth in both countries, and making war less likely.

Another reason for Taiwan's boom is its low tax and low government spending (only about 18% of GDP) policies.
Businessweek said it was even higher:

Taiwan's economy saw its strongest growth in five years in the fourth quarter, surging 9.2 percent with help from stimulus-fueled demand from China for the island's high-tech exports.

For all of 2009, Taiwan's economy contracted 1.9 percent, the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics said Monday. That was the biggest contraction since 1951, the agency said. It predicted economic growth of 4.7 percent for 2010.

Those of us walking around and looking at the packed restaurants and wondering "what recession?" were actually onto something. The NY Times looked at the Asian economies, which by and large are doing well. Their comments on Taiwan are pretty good:
Political disputes between Taiwan and the mainland also are a question mark going forward. Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, has been working to complete agreements that would lift some barriers on cross-Straits trade and investment. The agreements, Mr. Ma has argued, would aid Taiwan’s economy and help keep the island competitive with neighboring countries that have recently signed free-trade deals with China.

But the political opposition has mounted street rallies against Mr. Ma’s efforts, warning that the pacts could cost Taiwan jobs by, among other things, reducing tariffs on low-cost mainland imports. His political foes have also complained that his representatives have conducted negotiations with Beijing out of public view and warn that the deals may erode Taiwan’s de facto political independence from the mainland.
Certainly the big Chinese stimulus drove much of the recovery in Taiwan, but from my perspective another factor was that Asia's banks, under conservative regimes of control and in many cases state-owned, had been spared the "financial innovation" of Wall Street that had resulted in unregulated, criminal casino markets whose implosion had wreaked havoc across the West and destroyed many banks.

Economic growth, if it is for real, is good news for KMT in the upcoming elections, especially in December.

Speaking of trade with China, I blogged before on the problem of how smuggled crap from China is killing industries in all the countries it trades with. The CNA ran a piece today on smuggled day lilies, apparently brought in through Vietnam.

But banned Chinese agricultural products have found their way into Taiwan either through smuggling or being represented as the product of a third country.

Citing customs statistics, DPP Legislator Pan Men-an said Tuesday that 73,830 kilograms of dried day lily, purportedly from Vietnam, were imported into Taiwan in 2009, a 27 percent rise from the 58,108 kilograms that entered Taiwan's market in 2008.

Last month alone, another 39,984 kilograms of dried day lily were imported into Taiwan to satisfy higher demand during the Lunar New Year holiday, Pan said.

The shipments have invariably been accompanied by Vietnamese certificates of origin, but Pan said Vietnam does not produce a lot of day lily, and he contended that fake certificates of origin were used to get around the ban on importing the agricultural product from China.

Naturally, the day lilies in question are a third the price of local day lilies, have too much sulfur dioxide, and are whiter, implying they've been bleached.
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RUSI Conference on Smart Power

The premises of the conference are a bit off, but FYI to my readers....

Smart Power and Taiwan on the International Stage
19 March 2010
Royal United Services Institute

At a time when an increasingly assertive China is wielding its new-found power on the international stage, a considerable improvement in cross-strait relations has enabled Taiwan to move beyond the narrow focus of national recognition towards a broader spectrum of engagement on the world stage.

Taiwan’s leaders now hope to widen international space for manoeuvre whilst avoiding disruption of the current rapprochement with China. This conference will seek to ascertain what ‘smart power’ options are available to Taiwan and European perspectives towards this end.

With a keynote address from Dr. Lyushun Shen, Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs the conference will consider the following themes:
* Foreign Aid: European and Taiwanese Experiences
* Taiwan's International Participation: Practical Needs and Political Dimensions.
* Smart Power: Options for Taiwan and Europe
In addition to a team of experts from Taiwan, panellists will include:

* Professor Malcolm Chalmers, RUSI Professorial Fellow
* Dr Steve Tsang, Oxford University

For more information and to register please visit
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Taiwan vs China: A Swiftly Tilting Balance

Some great stuff reached my desk today, with a focus on the air balance in the Strait. First, an excellent review by Rick Fisher at the International Assessment and Strategy Center which offers both a historical rundown of Taiwan vs China in the air, and an evaluation of Taiwan's current situation. This is an extremely detailed review, with notes on technology and international relations. A taste for you grognards out there:
After many years of intense investment, the PLAAF has more, and very likely, better AWACS aircraft than Taiwan. While in 2000 the Clinton Administration succeeded in convincing Israel to halt its sale of Phalcon active phase array radar to China, for fitting on a Russian-made Beriev A-50 AWACS, four of these aircraft are now in the PLAAF. Asian military sources have stated that the radar signals from the KongJing-2000 (KJ-2000) AWACS are similar to that of the Phalcon. This turbofan- powered aircraft can also fly much higher than the turboprop-powered E-2T, meaning it can take advantage of its greater search range. The PLAAF also has about five less-expensive KJ-200 AWACS based on the turboprop-powered Xian Y-8 transport.[27] This aircraft uses a linear active phased array radar similar in shape to the Swedish Ericsson Erieye. China's ability to develop two types of active phased array radar AWACS demonstrates a world-class level sophistication in this technology. Such AESA radar are much harder to jam than conventional radar, as they are theoretically able to focus very powerful electron beams that could damage vulnerable electronic circuitry.
Also arriving was an unclassified DIA report on the current state of Taiwan's air force: not good, and declining. I've put the pages up as JPGs (top of the post) which you can download and blow up a little for clarity.

A Defense News article by local correspondent Wendell Minnick summarizes the DIA report, which he observes appears to favor the release of F-16s to Taiwan, and offers additional info. An excerpt:
Delivered to the U.S. Congress on Feb. 16, the report, DIA-02-1001-028, says that while Taiwan has nearly 400 combat aircraft in service, "far fewer of these are operationally capable."

The report is mandated by Congress under the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

Since 2006, Taiwan has had a standing request for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters, but the United States has repeatedly rejected a letter of request for price and availability for the aircraft. The most critical problem is aging F-5E/F Tiger squadrons now used for training. The F-5s have "reached the end of their operational service life," the report says.

Taiwan claims it operates about 60 F-5s, but the report says "the number of operationally capable aircraft is likely much less, possibly in the low 30s."

The 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) have "limited combat range and payload capacity restricts [the aircraft's] effectiveness in air-to-air combat," according to the report, which acknowledges the Air Force is making some efforts to modernize a "portion" of its IDF fleet.

The Air Force's 56 Mirage 2000-5 fighters suffer from high maintenance costs and lack required spare parts. They are "technologically advanced, but they require frequent, expensive maintenance that adversely affects their operational readiness rate." There are also "chronic difficulties with the aircraft's turbine fan blades" that have "severely hampered the fighters' readiness rates."

The Air Force is considering mothballing the fighters and "focusing resources on a more sustainable aircraft," according to the report.

Taiwan's 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters are in need of upgrades that improve avionics, survivability and combat effectiveness, the DIA report says, but "the extent of the upgrades, and timing and quantity of affected aircraft is currently unknown. The F-16A/B can be armed with the AIM-120C [AMRAAM] active-radar air-to-air missile." Taiwan has 120 AIM-120C-5 and 218 AIM-120C-7 missiles in its F-16 inventory.

"Despite the operational capability of Taiwan's fighter force, these aircraft cannot be used effectively in conflict without adequate airfield protection, especially runways," the report says. "Taiwan's ability to protect its aircraft and airfields from missile attacks and rapidly repair damaged runways and taxiways are central issues to consider when examining Taiwan's air defense capability."

Though Taiwan's request for new F-16C/Ds is not mentioned in the DIA report, the conclusion of the assessment points to the need for new fighter aircraft.

One U.S. defense industry source cautioned that the option of selling F-16s to Taiwan has a de facto deadline.

"If Taiwan is to have some credible air deterrent, then they need new, replacement aircraft. There is really no alternative to the F-16C/D. At some point this year, the F-16 supply chain will begin to shut down as there are no new orders and the U.S. and its allies switch to the F-35," he said.

"Once this happens it is cost-prohibitive to restart the line. This industrial time constraint will force the political decision either to sell the aircraft to Taiwan or not. If no, for all intents and purposes, the island will have no real means of defending its airspace."
The sad fact is that even the F-16 replacements will not be a match for China's advanced fighters, and China will have more advanced fighters than Taiwan will have fighters, period.
Additional link: Many of my friends have asked me for the link on Yahoo auction where we get bulk indian food spices in Taiwan. Enjoy!

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Daily Links, Feb 22, 2010

Formosa Betrayed opens in several US cities this weekend. Take a look if you can. Meanwhile, what's brewing on the blogs?
MEDIA: Taiwan News pans the selection of the son of an arch-conservative Chinese Nationalist general as NSC chief. Big news this week was the tracing of the cyberassaults on Google and other US targets to universities in China. PCWorld has the tale. Michael Young in Epoch Times on the delusion that China is a good cooperation partner. Finally, Taiwan starts a serious solar roofs program. KMT-run legislature to impose income tax on military; could hit them at the polls come December. Taiwan film wins big in Berlin. China Times poll says DPP is leading in Hsinchu, Taoyuan, and Chiayi. Chiayi is a DPP stronghold, but either of the other two would a significant pick-up. Note that the KMT papers may well be releasing such data in order to get their people out to vote. Take with grain of salt. 2010 growth forecasts all up. Yay!

SPECIAL ANALYSIS: Shirley Kan with a Congressional Research Service report entitled: Taiwan: Major US Arms Sales since 1990. Kan's article is a rebuttal to the yammerheads who argued during the Chen Administration that Taiwan wasn't interested in its own defense. For example:
In 2007 alone, Taiwan ranked 6th among worldwide recipients, receiving $790 million in U.S. defense articles and services. Values for U.S. agreements with and deliveries to Taiwan are summarized below.1
2000-2003 period 2004-2007 period
U.S. Agreements $970 million $1.2 billion
U.S. Deliveries $4.0 billion $4.3 billion

From worldwide sources, including the United States, Taiwan received arms deliveries valued at $7.7 billion in the eight-year period from 2001 to 2008. Taiwan ranked 7th among leading arms recipients that are developing countries.
There's some excellent information on President Ma's behavior that can only add fuel to the debates over whether Ma is merely incompetent, or slyly preventing Taiwan from acquiring needed weapons.

AWESOME BLAST FROM THE PAST: Anthropologist Ryūzō Torii's photos of Formosa aborigines from the late 19th century.

RIP: Johnny Neihu's last column was this month. Many thanks for all you did, my man -- you were a source of useful information, a friend, and an inspiration.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Riding Again!

The Dajia river rolls past Dongshih.

Finally! The rain ends and I managed to glide through 200 kms of some of the loveliest areas in central Taiwan this weekend. Saturday I rode up into the hills and fruit farms north of Dongshih. Lovely rolling country...

North of Dongshih the fruit trees are beginning to blossom.

Fruit blossoms herald the arrival of a new year.

Around every curve, another uplifting view.

It was that kind of day.

Dongshih in the morning.

Sunday Drew and I took off at eight from my house and sped out to Dongshih, where we picked up Highway 8. That road used to go all the way up to Lishan in the mountains, but was repeatedly cut by landslides and floods. Finally the Chen Administration said they wouldn't fix it any more, construction along the road having become a perpetual motion machine. Candidate Ma promised to get the road repaired, and currently a new road is under construction. Drew and I hoped to scout the service road that connects the broken sections of the highway to see whether we could push all the way to Lishan.

As we took pictures of the stunning mountain scenery, this woman drove up to release pigeons as part of their training for Taiwan's pigeon races, the world's toughest. She said that the pigeons had to rest for ten minutes before they could be released, so Drew and I went on.

The cuts through the rock in many places along the gorge.

Distant mountains, covered in snow, let us know that the cloud cover wasn't so low that it would fog up the road in the mountains.

Betel huts everywhere.

People stopped to chat, or just wave at us.

Hwy 8, the only way to the popular spa town of Guguan, is packed on the weekends.

The river is studded with dams.

Gravel operations even on Sunday.

Crossing one of the many suspension bridges.

It was kind of the government to put this bridge here so the local family could have a place to hang its clothing to dry.

One of the pleasures of the ride was the amazing outcrops of strata at all sorts of odd angles.

Fishing, Taiwan's national sport. The tarmac is a road for gravel trucks that follows the river for kilometer after kilometer.

Guguan, as Drew sardonically named it, "Kenting of the Mountains." The popular spa town was packed today, with swimsuits and souvenirs sold everywhere.

Coffee stop.

Vendors offering tourists the correct picture of authenticity.

Just before Guguan the road starts rising sharply after about 30 kms of gentle upward incline. After Guguan there were no more cars. Here we looked down on Guguan before continuing further in.

Mountains outside of Guguan. See that white patch on the mountain in the far background.....?'s a road. Can't wait to bike that one!

Drew snaps a photo.

Some ancient cataclysm tossed these strata around like cardboard in a storm.

Stunning mountain views. In the far distance is the mountain that is the legendary home of the Atayal people. Just past here is the checkpoint at 880 meters up, beyond which they refused to let us past. Road construction and falling rocks, they told us, had closed the road. So we turned around and went home.

After 115 kms of mountain riding, a meal at the local Vietnamese place was just the ticket.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Fertility and Mortality

The Central Weather Bureau was spot on in its forecast of cold for Taiwan this week, as temps plummeted into the single digits. Sadly, 44 people were killed by the cold, Apple Daily reported. Fortunately the CWB expects the rain to leave and temps to rise into the high 20s by mid-week, just in time for school to start. My bike is getting lonely....

Meanwhile the government is encouraging people to have more babies despite the falling birthrates (Taiwan's now the lowest in the world) and widespread rejection of the idea of having kids. The Year of the Tiger (cue Al Stewart) is supposed to be a bad year for kids to be born in the traditional Chinese view, and Taiwan experiences a drop of 50K births in such a year. Tiger kids are supposed to be vicious or bring harm to the family, but also be especially creative. AFP has the numbers:
Government figures showed that 271,450 babies were born in the last Year of the Tiger in 1998, a fall of 54,550 people from the previous year.

By contrast, the figure rose to 305,312 in 2000, the last Year of the Dragon, considered to be a sign destined for good fortune.

Taiwan already has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, affecting everything from the education system to healthcare.

The island’s birth rate, based on the number of childbirths per 1,000 people each year, stood at 8.29 last year, according to interior ministry figures.

That compared to a global average of more than 20 births per 1,000 people, according to the United Nations.

There were 191,310 babies born in Taiwan last year, down 3.74 percent from the previous year.

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Absolutely nothing to do with Taiwan: Why People Pirate Movies (h/t to Dave W.)

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China Post By-Election Fun

China Post, the pro-KMT English paper, published a revealing piece on the by-election in Hualien this week. Commenting on the first policy presentations by Hsiao Bi-khim (DPP), Shih Sheng-lang (Independent), and Wang Ting-sheng (KMT), the paper observed:
The independent Shih Sheng-lang, who has close connections with Hualien Magistrate Fu Kun-chi, spoke in the Taiwanese dialect throughout his speech in a brute yet forceful manner. He criticized both the KMT and DPP for “lying” to the residents of Hualien for their own political gains and vowed to fight for an expressway linking Hualien and Suao if elected to the Legislature.

Wang of KMT, meanwhile, spoke in a more scholarly and academic style, saying he would not only fight for expressways linking Hualien to other parts of eastern Taiwan, but also create 3,000 jobs as well eliminate a medical co-payment for elderly citizens.
Note how the China Post describes Shih's "Taiwanese dialect" as "brute". The article is credited to "China Post staff" which means it is probably a translation from a Chinese original. You can thus see what kind of propaganda the locals are getting. Shih is an associate of Fu Kun-chi, the former KMTer who left the party when it wouldn't let him run for county chief, then handily crushed the KMT candidate. The Suhua expressway, a new highway through the mountains north of Hualien that environmentalists have long opposed, looks like it is DOA at the moment, with the central government saying it will merely upgrade the existing highway, and the Hualien county chief set against it.

Meanwhile check out the seriousness of the struggle for Hsinchu:
Ma, meanwhile, was not in holiday mode, either, and made a stop in Hualien yesterday.

He also put a heavy focus on Hsinchu County, spending time there on Feb. 12 and 15. He will visit again on Feb. 19 and 20, campaigning for KMT's Cheng Yung-tang, who is against DPP's Peng Shao-chin.

King Pu-tsung, KMT secretary general, meanwhile spent the last few days stumping for the party's candidates in Hualien as well as Chiayi County, traditionally a DPP stronghold.
Ma, currently the KMT chairman, sent himself out to Hsinchu to campaign in a race that most polls have the DPP candidate leading in -- and then sent his hatchet man to Chiayi, where the KMT can't win, and to Hualien, where it probably can't lose. It looks like a clear signal of what the KMT thinks about Hsinchu (it could lose!). Ma's job approval rating stands at 26 in the pro-KMT TVBS poll. Don't know if I'd want him out there campaigning for me, were I a KMT candidate.

Looking at all four Feb 27 elections (Hsinchu, Taoyuan, Hualien, and Chiayi), the latest TVBS polling indicates that the "certain to vote" section of the populace is rising by small amounts except in Hualien (where it has grown by 10% between polls), perhaps indicating higher turnout, which is likely to favor the KMT in Hualien and probably Hsinchu and Taoyuan as well. The TVBS poll of likely voters says:

Taoyuan (Feb 9 poll): KMT (36%), DPP (29%), Undecided (16%). Interestingly, when asked who they thought would win, as opposed to who they would vote for, voters picked the DPP over the KMT 33-26. Note large component of "no opinion" in the latter question.

Hsinchu (Jan 27): DPP (44%), KMT (34%), Undecided (22). Again, on the 26th voters were asked who would win and the DPP was ahead 39-24. Note large component of "no opinion" in the latter question.

Hualien (Feb 11): DPP and KMT neck and neck at 37% each, with only 13% undecided. When asked who would win, voters said the KMT, 36-20.

Three of the four seats, as the China Post article avers, are KMT strongholds. For the DPP to do well in these elections would be a big step forward.

In other election news, the lack of strong candidates for the KMT in the December elections for the Kaohsiung Municipality prompted some KMTers to put forward current legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who is originally from Kaohsiung, as a possibility. Wang says no way.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of Docks and Dollars

I shot this lad collecting parking fees in the Lao capital of Vientiane. Note his vest, which says JIAOTONG, apparently Chinese. Most consumer goods in Laos come from China, as do many of the merchants.

Tom Holland in the SCMP blistered those feeling the forex fears from China after military leaders blustered earlier this month. News this week says that China has slipped to number 2 holder of US debt after dumping a bit in December. Holland, in a piece entitled Fat-headed generals wrong to see forex reserves as a weapon, argues:
Given that China's US$2.4 trillion pot of foreign reserves is by far the world's largest (see first chart), and that it is held mostly in US-dollar-denominated assets, Luo's threat sounds devastating.

Coupled with the news late on Tuesday that Beijing's direct holdings of US Treasury debt fell by US$43.5 billion over the last two months of 2009 (see second chart), his bellicose words added fuel to the fires of a dozen internet conspiracy theories.

Believe the theorists and you would have little doubt that a fatally weakened US economy now lies at the mercy of a small band of unhinged Beijing warmongers just itching for an opportunity to destroy the value of the US dollar and bankrupt the US government by abruptly selling down their holdings of Treasury bonds.

Certainly the US military establishment takes the prospect seriously. In late 2008, Colonel Jeffrey Haymond, vice-commander of the space development test wing at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, published an article in the journal of the US Air Force's research institute entitled "The economics of a Chinese currency attack".

In Haymond's scenario, Washington dispatches two aircraft carrier battle fleets to the region following a Taiwanese independence vote. Suddenly, global financial markets go haywire, with massive selling of US Treasury notes. Long-term interest rates jump by a full percentage point in a single day and the US dollar falls 5 per cent.

It becomes obvious that China is dumping its foreign exchange reserves. US stocks fall 30 per cent while the US dollar drops 20 per cent against the euro. Slammed by the volatility, banks and investment funds begin to fail and the US economy is brought to its knees. A Chinese currency attack on the US, Haymond concludes, would be "a viable tool of economic statecraft". Luo and his comrades in the PLA clearly think so, too. The trouble is that they, the internet conspiracy theorists and Haymond are all wrong. The whole idea that Beijing could use its foreign exchange reserves as an weapon against the US is nonsense. It simply wouldn't work.

To see why, just imagine what would happen if China really did try and dump its holdings of US Treasury bonds. Once word got around the market that Beijing was on the offer, every financial institution in the world would run for cover. Bids would vanish and all liquidity would evaporate. With no buyers in sight, Beijing would not be able to sell its debt.

Trying to sell the US currency in the foreign exchange market wouldn't work either. The only buyers likely to emerge would be the central banks of Europe and Japan, who could sell their own currencies in unlimited quantities in order to stabilise their exchange rates against the US dollar. As a result, the most visible consequence of the Chinese action would be that the yuan's exchange rate against other major currencies would soar, crippling China's export sector.

And contrary to common expectations, a Chinese attempt to dump Treasury bonds wouldn't ruin the US government's finances. Yields would rise initially (although Federal Reserve purchases would soon push them down again). However, it would rapidly become apparent that Washington is not reliant on Beijing to fund its budget gap. Over recent months, Chinese purchases of Treasury debt as a proportion of the federal deficit have shrunk almost to zero without precipitating a crisis.
Note how unrealistic the whole scenario above is (for starters, why on earth would Washington defend Taiwan if it voted to declare independence, when it has clearly indicated Taipei would be on its own if that occurred?). Holland could have added much more -- a rising Yuan against the dollar would dramatically spike China's imports, while a falling dollar would give fresh impetus to the ailing US export machine (and other exporting nations, like hated Taipei and distant Europe). Too, once those US securities were dumped, they would cease to be leverage over the US. That would give Washington a lot more room to manuever. Is that really what Beijing wants? To give up secure leverage for an uncertain future? Not to mention all that lovely interest from the US treasury.....

Observations on Holland:
  1. China has already stopped purchasing US treasuries in significant amounts.
  2. The amount sold in December was a tiny fraction of all Chinese holdings, around 2%. No earthquake there.
  3. While Beijing's chorus in the US blamed Taiwan, or the US military, or anything but Beijing for deciding to dump a few US treasuries -- in a permanent state of victimhood, poor Beijing is always the passive recipient of someone else's actions -- the sell-off dropped China below Japan, so that it is no longer the leading holder of US treasuries. Looks to me like the whole thing was a PR exercise -- Beijing decided to sell just enough bonds to become #2, and take some of the focus off its holdings of US debt. This may be because a stealth sell-off is in the works, or perhaps just because it didn't like everyone watching its financial arrangements.Whatever the case, congrats to the PR boys in Beijing who once again got the Usual Suspects out there flacking for it.
The media is really confusing me. Are tensions rising or falling between Beijing and Washington? Should I go with the BBC's Nimitz docks in Hong Kong despite China tensions or with the AP's U.S. Warship In Hong Kong In Sign Of Easing Tension? China hasn't really taken any of the actions it threatened to, as several reports have noted -- which also suggests that the whole We're Tough! exercise was aimed at its domestic front.

Interesting times, indeed.
More Daily Links:
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Yuan Hongbing's Toronto Talk

Yuan Hongbing, the author of Taiwan Disaster, a new book arguing that China wants to annex Taiwan by 2012, now making a big splash on this side of the Strait, spoke in Toronto the author day and Canadian Taiwan expert Michael Stainton took a few notes, which he graciously allowed me to post here. These are just notes in English of a Chinese talk, so the portrayal is rough and caution should be used in interpreting.

First, some background. Epoch Times had an article on Yuan today. It describes the book's contents, and opens:
The Chinese communist regime is determined to “unify” with Taiwan by 2012, according to exiled Chinese law professor Yuan Hongbing. He discloses confidential findings in his new book, Taiwan Disaster, which was released on Nov. 17 in Taipei.

In his presentation at National Taiwan University on November 17, Yuan said that a lot of documents quoted in the book were provided by regime insiders—insiders who risked their own lives to reveal the truth.
The article is long and detailed. A sample:
The book also maintains that the regime is fomenting social conflict and inspiring hatred toward the DPP. Yuan explains how economic means are to be used to control the sponsors of the DPP and disintegrate its standing in society.

For example, the CCP perceives that the "New Tide" faction of the DPP has more advanced organizing power, therefore, it is listed as one of the most important reunification targets.

The CCP’s plan would be to invite the sponsors of the "New Tide" faction to invest in the mainland, rewarding them with all kinds of incentives with the goal of attracting more and even larger investments, gradually persuading them to end their sponsorship of the DPP, and eventually bringing about a change in their political stance.

The tactics used to disintegrate the DPP's social status also include buying fruit in large increments from Southern Taiwan to make Taiwan heavily dependent on mainland purchases, while at the same time serving to imply that Taiwan’s political stance toward the regime had changed. According to the book, this strategy was contrived by Hu Jintao, the General Secretary of the CCP.
On to Dr. Stainton's presentation.....


Notes on Talk by Chinese writer Yuan Hongbing (袁紅冰)
Toronto February 6, 2010
Michael Stainton

Yuan referred to a 2008 internal CPC (Communist Party of China) document stating plans to control Taiwan by 2012. Independence vs. Unification is not the issue for them. They are concerned with power and control, not the unity of China. For this reason it is necessary to get rid of the treat posed by Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.

The CPC is a foreign ruler (外來政權 ) forbidding authentic Chinese culture. In 1949 it was not the Chinese people who stood up but the CPC – denying the Chinese people the right to ne masters of their own destiny.

We reject the myth that economic change will lead to CPC liberalization or democratization. This is a false theory. In fact economic growth has strengthened the privileges (特權) of the CPC elite China lacks the basic conditions of a true free market – which is a system of law that treats all equally. In China there is a system of law protecting privilege. There continues to be a growing disparity of power between the elite and the majority of the country, especially increased exploitation of China’s 300 million peasants. There is destructive, non sustainable development.

The CPC intends to use this wealth-power to extend the hegemony of their system to the rest of the world, and Taiwan is the first stop. To achieve this, the CCP is not afraid to kill millions of people in a major war if it ends up expanding its power. But they are afraid of the threat of a political and spiritual awakening of the Chinese people. Chinese people look at Taiwan and ask “why can’t we be like Taiwan?”. In Taiwan they see that the officials are afraid of the people (and media), but in china the CCP needs to keep the people afraid of the officials. Therefore it is imperative to them to et rid of Taiwan’s freedom and democracy in order to show the Chinese people that you have no choice, that you will always be our slaves.

In Taiwan now the old KMT elite, represented by Lien Zhan and Song Chu-yu, are hoping for support from the CCP to restore their political fortunes. They are not pro- unification (統 派) but a CCP dependent (投共派) .

The CCP plan is for a gradual incorporation (一體化) moving from economic incorporation to cultural incorporation to political incorporation. This is not “one Country Two Systems”. The CCP will not allow a different system to exist alongside them. The example of Tibet shows this. After the agreement on peaceful incorporation of Tibet in 1950 the CP extended its control on the ground. Once they were ready they threw away the agreement and began a “social transformation” (改造社會) movement to destroy the spiritual, cultural and political heart of the Tibetan people – the temples. tThis provoked the 1959 uprising and the situation that exists today. So for the CPC there is no such thing as “one Country two Systems.”

Taiwan is already seriously incorporated in the media and education system. Faculty are already treated to Chinese hospitality and taking “research money” from the CCP. In reality there is no “mutual influence” (互相影響) happening. The CCP denies the legality of the ROC but ROC President Ma does not dare to deny the legality of the PRC. This is the real essence of “one China two interpretations” (一國二表)

ECFA (the China Taiwan free trade agreement) will make China the min source of raw materials for Taiwan, and cut off Taiwan’s development of market diversity for its products. It is really unthinkable that a small democracy could imagine having a free trade agreement with a giant dictatorship. And the CPC won’t allow Taiwan to sign free trade agreements with other countries, because the purpose of ECFA is to put Taiwan inside an economic Berlin Wall. Once Taiwan’s economy is controlled by China how will Taiwan preserve its political freedom?

In conclusion, I hope everyone will care about safeguarding Taiwan’s freedom – and this includes all the Chinese people here. On a personal note, all my books are banned in China but published in Taiwan. If Taiwan loses its freedom how will I get published?

To the Taiwanese here I want to say – “Cast off your illusions and prepare to make the necessary sacrifices to preserve your freedom and democracy”.

Daily Links
Way cool: DARPA says it is only months from production of jet fuel from algae.
Way bad: Ocean acidification, an inevitable outcome of pumping carbon into the atmosphere, proceeding at mass extinction rates. And NASA study says Greenland glacier melt much faster than thought because ocean is eating away at it.
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Where the Doggy-doo is from

A friend sent me a link to this poster, now popping up around Taipei.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Formosa Betrayed Out in Feb in the US

New TVBS poll out saying the DPP's Hsiao Bi-khim and the KMT candidate are neck and neck in Hualien at 37% each with the two independent candidates at 13 each. It's important to keep in mind that some of the polls exist to get KMTers out to vote -- the KMT blames low Blue voter turnout for its recent hits at the polls. Hence this poll might reflect reality, or it might reflect a desire to get voters out. You make the call.

Formosa Betrayed, director Will Tiao's new movie about the Chen Wen-chen killing, is out at the end of this month in the US. The trailer is online on Youtube. The film promises to be good, and there have been a number of articles on it in the US papers.... New movie ties Taiwan's messy politics to a Bay Area murder:
"Formosa Betrayed" tells the tale of a fictional character who is a composite of two real-life personalities.

One was Chen Wen-cheng, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and critic of Taiwan's government who died under suspicious circumstances during a visit to Taiwan in 1981. The other was Chinese-American journalist Henry Liu, killed in 1984 after writing an unflattering biography of Taiwan's ruler, Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek.

The killing occurred at Liu's Daly City home and was linked to a Taiwanese intelligence agent, although the government of Taiwan denied involvement.

The movie is sure to stir passions in Taiwan's robust democracy, which is known for mudslinging politics. The filmmakers are negotiating to bring the film to the island, also called the Republic of China, later this year.

Even before its official opening, "Formosa Betrayed" has caused controversy in Taiwan and among some Taiwanese-Americans who view it as a political movie aimed against the Kuomintang, or KMT, which recaptured Taiwan's presidency in the 2008 election after the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, had held it for eight years.

"I think it's propaganda," said James Chung, executive director of a coalition of Taiwanese political parties in the Bay Area, including the KMT. "They raised money from a lot of DPP people and those extremely against the KMT."
Poor fellow. Imagine having to defend a party that murdered so many. I'm glad I don't have his job!

It's wonderful that someone is finally telling this part of the Taiwan experience in movie form, helping to make it real. Hopefully it will impel locals to explore Taiwan's fascinating history more when it finally arrives here (before the elections, I hope). Here are the opening dates for US cities.

2/26 - 2/28
New York Metro
Los Angeles
Orange County
Bay Area / East Bay and Peninsula
San Jose

3/5 – 3/7
Washington DC and Metro
San Diego

3/12 - 3/14

3/19 - 3/21
St. Louis
Kansas City

3/26 - 3/28
Columbus, OH
Detroit/Ann Arbor

The U of Washington is having a panel discussion on 2-28:

Reexamining Taiwan’s 228 Massacre: A discussion on the U.S. role in Taiwan then and now
When: 28 February, 2010
Where: University of Washington
Kane Hall, Room 110
Event & Parking are Free
Time: 3pm - 5pm (English)

RSVP & More Information:

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Another New Year

Collecting those red envelopes. Yes, it's Lunar New Year again, that time of year when the weather is especially gray and the food is especially bland. Each year our family goes to the same restaurant and has the same food, and each year I swear that next year I'm going to arrange somehow to have good food in a convivial atmosphere, rather than bland food in a huge cold restaurant, even if we have to make pizza at home. So I'm showing you the same pics....

The neighborhood is empty as everyone has gone south.

Inside the restaurant is an attractive pond of carp. The atmosphere is actually pretty nice in a faux Chinese kind of way. But as a rule, the quality of the food is inversely proportional to the size of the restaurant.


Unlike the US, Taiwan is sensible about having small dogs in restaurants. Not that small dogs should be permitted to exist in the first place.

In Taiwanese cusine, there are two periods: AM and BM.

Another four-legged family member.


Pork cutlets and at the rear, scallops with peppers and pea pods.

Steamed fish.

The barbecued eels, Japanese style, were good. Served on a bed of steamed shitake mushroom rice.

This was a hot pot -- an all mushroom hot pot. Served without any sauce on the side.


Shrimp dumplings.

Toasting mom and dad.

Dessert, fruit and coffee/coconut puddings.

I'll withhold a rant about local cuisine, after all, it is New Year's again. Suffice to say that somehow, weirdly, on an island full of coconuts, the Taiwanese never learned to use coconut milk in their cooking. Oh for a Sri Lankan curry!
Daily Links:
  • My friend Jacob G flipped me this link to a Simpsons episode with the Taiwan flag at the Olympics.
  • Taiwans ITRI is the leading recipient of US patents among all research institutes in the world.
  • Jamestown Briefing with a report on China's expansion into the South China Sea.
  • Once again, the common pattern: China uses a Taiwan-related event to put stress on the US Taiwan relationship by blaming it for something that has already occurred. In this case, recall the threats to dump US treasuries in the wake of the arms sale to Taiwan? Already happened prior to the announcement. The "arms sales provoke China!" whine is just like the "Chen Shui-bian provokes China!" whine -- a way to snow US commentators into taking China's side.
  • We're observing the WHA again this year. Whooppee!
  • Fish from the Taiwan Reef in the middle of Lake Malawi. Taiwan is everywhere.
  • Martin Jacques in the NY Times on what everyone is starting to recognize as the new dangerous period in US-China relations. He's also in CSM. Japan Times on similar. David Shambaugh on same topic. D'oh -- finally commentators are starting to wake up to what they are dealing with. Hello to the new dangerous world of Chinese expansion and hegemonic warfare. Of course, some people do get it.
  • My friend Sean Su pointed out the contradiction in this Ma comment at RTI: "Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou made four New Year's wishes for Taiwan Saturday night. The wishes were for economic recovery, political transparency and national and global peace." Transparency? This from the man who has relentlessly worked to keep ECFA out of democratic oversight and away from the public eye? ROFL.
  • Buddhist "mercy release" religious practice drives huge market for animals in Taiwan. Money quote: "The society said that nearly 60 percent of bird shops it interviewed for a study in 2004 admitted to catching or breeding animals to cater to the vast "mercy release" market."
  • Robert Samuelson in WaPo on Our Good Cooperation Partner, China. Money quote: "China's worldview threatens America's geopolitical and economic interests. Just recently, 19 U.S. trade associations wrote the Obama administration warning that new Chinese rules for "indigenous innovation" could "exclude a wide array of U.S. firms" from the Chinese market -- or force them to turn over advanced technology. (British firms are so incensed by "overwhelming protectionism" that some may quit China, reports the Telegraph newspaper.)"
  • Cash, cars, and hookers. Why didn't I become a baseball player in Taiwan?
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