Thursday, April 29, 2010

Michael Tsai Case

Another event lost in the ECFA debate glare was the Michael Tsai case. The Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada has a letter on it, with a similar one sent to the new Minister of Justice:


加 拿 大 台 灣 人 權 協 會

Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada
April 24, 2010

Dear Chairman Ma,

We are writing to you as Chair of the Kuomintang to express our concern about a news item published on the KMT Official Website on Monday April 19, 2010. “Ex-Defense Minister Michael Tsai Named Defendant” was a news item in the China Times on April 18 (邱義仁洩機密 蔡明憲轉列被告), subsequently carried on the KMT website. It is the fact that this was published on the KMT Official Website that especially raises our concern.

In our experience the publication in the KMT News Network of leaked news from the Special Investigation Unit of the Prosecutors Office is more than simply reporting news. This pattern has been repeated many times since the KMT News Network started publishing illegal leaks in the cases against former President Chen and his family. These leaks always presaged a new wave of trial by media and political prosecutions. It is hard not to conclude that some news items in the KMT Official Website are in essence an indirect indication from the Party to the Prosecutors Office and the Courts, that this is what the Party approves of.

We are aware that in your capacity as President of the Republic of China you have, appropriately, disavowed any interference in the justice system. But we also know how, in the past at least, the Party has communicated its wishes to the State in the Republic of China. As Chairman of the Party you can communicate, directly and indirectly, out of public view, through the Party, rather than through government channels.

As to whether or not a party-state is being revived in the Republic of China, we can only voice our suspicions. But considering the record of prosecutions and impeachments of former administration officials since you came to state power as President, it is difficult for us to set aside such suspicions.

45 Fontainbleau Drive Toronto Canada M2M 1P1

We are even more concerned when we read that a rarely used law, seemingly left over from authoritarian days - “Hampering Foreign Relations of the State” (妨害國交) - is reportedly to be used against former Defense Minister Michael Tsai. In reading the articles on hampering relations with foreign states in the criminal code of the Republic of China, we cannot see how they are remotely related to the reported facts in this case.

As to alleged violations of the Law on Protection of State Secrets (國家機密保護法), we understand that Minister Tsai gave these documents to his superior in response to an order. Minister Tsai can hardly be held responsible for possible misuse of them by Chiu Yi-ren. Prosecuting Minister Tsai under this law, in which evidence will likely be withheld from the public (being state secrets), will raise suspicions of a new form of political persecution.

We urge you, using the real influence that you have as Chairman of the Party, to bring an end to these types of prosecutions. The reputation of the justice system of the ROC is at stake here. Through your leadership you can assure the world that the KMT Party is not seeking to restore the former party-state.

We thank you for your attention to this matter, which is of great concern to members of the Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada, and other Canadians.

Rev. Michael Stainton, President, THRAC
Toronto, April 24, 2010

cc. Alex Neve, Executive Director, Amnesty Canada
Taiwanese Association for Human Rights

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Another Twofer of Taiwan News

Taiwan News had a couple of good ones. First a detailed look at the new law I posted on this morning, which appears to be quite regressive:
First, as reflected in Article 6, the revised law only takes "proper and specific purposes" and the "consent of the affected person" as one of the preconditions for lawful collection of personal data alongside of "legal regulations" and "the obligations of public and non-official agencies" and not as necessary conditions.

This provision will not only fail to ameliorate the excessive collection of personal data by both public and private agencies but will essentially legalize such excessive behavior.

Second, the revised law has no provisions whatsoever for the establishment of a specialized official agency to be responsible for overseeing the protection of computerized personal data.

Instead, the revisions only requires individual ministries or agencies to regulate and manage the fields under their supervision and therefore will create a situation of duplication of authority and the kicking back and forth of responsibility.

Without the assignation of a specific responsible agency, it will also be impossible to realize the comprehensive integration of policy formation, implementation and even education and publicity efforts for the concepts of personal data protection or resolve disputes that involve more than one government ministry or agency.

Fourth, the newly revised law lacks clear mechanisms for the protection of personal data, a shortcoming which will do little to alleviate widespread concern over the invasion of privacy.

In contrast, the member countries of the European Union have each established special national data protection commissions and other mechanisms, such as the appointment of "information commissioners" who are empowered to promote education in "good practices" as resolve complaints from people who believe their rights have been breached and enforce related laws through legal sanctions against official agencies, private corporations or individuals who ignore or refuse to accept their legal obligations.

Protecting the powerful

In terms of remedial measures, Section Four of the revamped law does permit "class action" suits to allow persons whose interests have been harmed by a particular leakage of personal information to jointly file legal action with lower legal costs.

However, the revised law requires that only legal corporate entities with total capital of NT$10 million or social organizations with at least 100 members can initiate class action suits, a provision that imposes severe limitations on the use of class action suits.

Finally, it is vital to keep in mind that only political power-holders, including government law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and large for-profit corporations, truly have the capability to engage in systematic infringement of the right of privacy of our citizens.

The first step toward protecting the human rights of our ordinary citizens, including their right to the privacy of sensitive personal information, is the prevention of the abuse of power by the state and powerful corporate interests.

However, Article 10 of a law touted to "protect" personal information gives national security and government agencies blanket exemptions against the requirement of prior approval of citizens for the collection and use of personal data.
The second piece from earlier this week is another installment in the ongoing series on the KMT attempts to gain control of the media, this time of public television:

The autonomy of the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation (PTSF) has been under intense pressure since Ma took office in May 2008 as KMT lawmakers have pushed to remove incumbent PTSF Board Chairman Cheng Tung-liao and PTSF General Manager Vivian Feng, who were appointed under the former Democratic Progressive Party government, before their three-year contracts expire on Dec. 31 this year.

Besides offending KMT lawmakers through her defense of the editorial and managerial independence of the public television network, Feng is undoubtedly "guilty" of expanding the quality, viewership and influence of an autonomous public media voice just as the KMT is trying to muzzle state-owned but legally independent media such as the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International.

Since October 2008, the KMT - controlled legislature has engineered three revisions to the Public Television Organization Law to expand the size of the board for stacking by KMT lawmakers and other sycophants, but has been frustrated in efforts to wrest complete control over its board due to the lack of credibility in removing a successful management team and Ma's own eroding public confidence.

The most recent takeover attempt was frustrated in January when the Taipei District Court filed an injunction against eight directors appointed by then Government Information Office Minister and now KMT spokesman Su Chun-pin last summer in response to a suit by the PTSF chairman maintaining that the eight had been appointed in a "flawed" process.

Indeed, on Dec. 10, 2009, the Control Yuan had issued a demand to the GIO for a "correction" as Su had appointed the new directors and realized their ratification by a legislatively recommended review committee without informing the opposition Democratic Progressive Party legislative caucus of its right to recommend three new members.

The GIO later retaliated by filing its own injunction against Cheng and other PTSF directors for "illegally" holding a meeting without a quorum that was accepted by the Taipei District Court April 19.

Ironically, the issuance of the two injunctions has now reduced the number of functioning directors to five persons, who cannot hold a legal meeting without notification from the now suspended board chairman.

The GIO has apparently now instructed the five remaining directors to convene a meeting, which would also be of questionable legality, which would ask the GIO to take PTSF into receivership.

For their part, Cheng and other suspended PTSF directors filed a civil lawsuits Tuesday to the Taiwan District Court for a cessation of the April 19 injunction and filed an appeal to Taiwan High Court asking it to overturn the lower court's decision.

Moreover, Cheng called on the GIO to "retract its black hand" and cease its drive to turn Taiwan's hard-won public media into just another "state" owned media.

Return to legality

This unseemly conflict has already imposed grave harm on the public media in Taiwan and the working rights of journalists and other employees in the public television group.

Up to now, the tussle has been conducted through legal channels, but a decision by the GIO to take the PTSF into receivership would manifest the intervention of the KMT-controlled state apparatus into the control and management of a previously legally independent public media.

The consequences of this action to Taiwan's media freedom and the international reputation of the Ma administration would be profoundly negative.

A GIO takeover, however "packaged," would mark the reversal of decades of media reform efforts aimed at freeing the Taiwan news media from control from the KMT party - state.

The chilling effects would also not be limited to the Taiwan Public Television and its Hakka and Indigenous affiliates but would also affect the far larger terrestrial China Television Service and extend a cloud of uncertainty over the future of CTS and its considerable property assets.

A direct takeover of Taiwan's public television network by the GIO would undoubtedly also spark a precipitous plunge in Taiwan's international ratings in press freedom and human rights, which have already sagged since President Ma took office in May 2008.

There is a simple and legal way out of this morass, namely return to the requirements of the Public Television Law for the board to reflect the public will as represented by the composition of the Legislative Yuan.

First, the GIO should ask the Taipei District Court to cancel the April 19 injunction and restore the rights of PTFS Board Chairman Cheng Tung-liao and the seven fully legally appointed directors and thus restore the normal functioning of the public television network.

Secondly, the GIO should accept the correction issued by the Control Yuan last December, ask the KMT and DPP legislative caucuses to appoint new members to a new 15-member PTSB board selection review committee and then nominate and confirm eight new directors.
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O Brave New World: Personal Data Protection Act

The new law is already having repercussions, according to working journalists I know, but for those of us in the blog world....CNA via Taiwan News:
Taipei, April 27 (CNA) A package of amendments to the Personal Data Protection Act were passed into law Tuesday after concerns over its potential restrictions on press freedom were smoothed out.

Before the amendments cleared the legislative floor, ruling and opposition lawmakers reached a consensus on exempting mass media from the legislation's requirement that the consent of an individual has to be obtained before personal information about that person is released publicly.

Based on the principle of protecting public interests, mass media outlets will now be allowed by the amendments to obtain personal information on parties involved in news reports without obtaining their consent in advance, according to the newly enacted law.

Legislators, however, were not exempted from the stipulation.

Controversy has brewed over the bill since last week after the Legislature's Organic Laws and Statutes Committee decided to remove a clause in the amendments that would have exempted the media from the consent requirement.

The passage of the law comes after the Presidential Office issued a statement on April 22 that said freedom of the press is not only a constitutionally protected basic human right but also the bedrock of democracy.

It stressed that President Ma Ying-jeou is adamant that press freedom should be protected.

The newly enacted law also excludes personal blogs from the consent requirement.

Nevertheless, Chin Cheng-hsiang, director of the Ministry of Justice's Department of Legal Affairs, said bloggers will be dealt with under the Civil Code if their posts damage others' reputations or use their personal pictures without obtaining prior consent.

As there has been controversy over the definition of "public interests, " a sub-resolution was also passed Tuesday, demanding that the Executive Yuan engage in further discussion with experts and civic groups on the definition of "public interests." (By Kelven Huang, Justin Su and Deborah Kuo)

The new law basically says that personal data must be related to the "public interest". Needless to say, the law does not define what the public interest is, leaving government agencies (for example) free to refuse information requests as not in the "public interest."

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

East Asia Image Collection Up and Running

Paul Barclay announces:

Three years of programming (having others program), tagging, conceptualizing, and coordination: our digital archive, the East Asia Image Collections, is finally launched. Thanks to my FB friends who contributed, and please have a look to those who might be interested:

Daily Links

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Blast from the Past: 1963 Cow Registration

Anthropologist Jeff Martin sent this around Facebook.
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Anti-Democracy move by legislature?

Lost in the ECFA debate is an apparent attack on media freedom, though the back story appears to be that it is a simple screw up with the bill as actually written... Taipei Times editorializes:
In its second reading of the amendment to the Personal Data Protection Act (個人資料保護法), the legislature passed the new, expanded version covering medical care, genetics, sex, health checks, criminal records, contact information and financial situation, as well as social activities and other personal data.

In addition, media and elected officials publishing personal information must obtain the approval of the party concerned before doing so. Even if it is necessary and in the public interest, one cannot identify the individual concerned.

Violators face criminal charges or an administrative fine, and compensation in a civil court case may reach NT$200 million (US$6.4 million).

Maybe legislators added this text because they are tired of sensational gossip, or was it because they want to prevent other elected representatives, media outlets or pundits from exposing irregularities?

They seem to care little that there are no examples of such legislation in other countries, or that such a law will place severe restrictions on the media.

According to Article 2 of the amended law, no information about individual activities, including “social activities,” may be “collected” or “obtained” by anyone, including media outlets, without the prior consent of the party concerned, even if the activity takes place in public.
Just wanted to bring this to your attention.

UPDATE: The legislature has hurriedly rewritten the draconian restrictions on personal data use for exemption of the media.

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The Ma-Tsai Debate on ECFA =UPDATED=

Yesterday was the big debate between President and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou and DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen. As a friend of mine put it, Ma appears to have "won on points" inasmuch as anyone could be said to have won. The Taipei Times has a complete transcript (Part I) in the works. Its report is here. Taiwan News report and vids are here.

Two key points to take away here. First, a televised debate on a major issue of national policy is an important step forward for the nation's democracy. Due credit should be given to Ma for accepting an open and public debate on key political issues. Second, the fact that Ma agreed to a debate shows, better than any argument or poll, that the KMT Administration believes that public support for ECFA is low and needs shoring up, whatever poll numbers may say. Ma, who has struggled to keep ECFA away from democratic oversight, made a major concession in even having the debate.

It is ironic to contrast the President's claim that Taiwan needs ECFA and that Taiwan will be isolated "like North Korea" if ECFA is not signed, with the economic reality that the economy is doing well without it, as the Taipei Times reported today.
Shih said the IMF expected Taiwan to achieve GDP growth of 6.5 percent this year, and the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) has forecast the economy to grow by at least 5 percent.

If those forecasts prove correct, Taiwan’s economic growth will outpace that of the other Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore — Shih added.
The arguments about isolation are simply emotional appeals to the visceral fear of being weeded out instilled in every Taiwanese by the educational system. The reality is that Taiwan's economy is performing well with the links it already has, and there is no reason to assume that shipping more industry off to China will help it perform better.

Monsieur Rick, what kind of man is Captain Renault?
Oh, he's just like any other man, only more so.
No, I mean, is he trustworthy? Is his word --

Reuters reported:
Markets would welcome the deal to slash tariffs as the strongest link between export-reliant Taiwan and world economic powerhouse China, boosting $109 billion in annual two-way trade, after recent trade talks following six decades of hostilities.
There are two assumptions, widespread in all the reports, that are never subject to scrutiny in the international media. The first is that ECFA will "reduce tariffs." The actual tariff on Taiwan's exports to China, according to a Taiwan Thinktank member piece, is 0.58%. The tariff benefits, at best, look to be a delusion (my post). Perhaps the 0.58% figure is wrong, but needless to say, there will be no investigation of the actual tariff effects in the international media, partly because the Ma government has refused to discuss them. Businessweek hosts the AP report on the debate.

The second assumption is that -- assuming tariffs are magically slashed -- that China will uphold its end of the agreement. This assumption is not borne out by any reality. The Straits Times noted a while back:
Thailand, in particular, had a bitter experience. In 2005, tariffs for 200 items of vegetables and fruits were abolished. Thailand expected to export tropical fruit to China and import winter fruit from it at zero tariff. But what happened was that Thai farmers of garlic, longan and other fruit and vegetables were decimated by cheap Chinese imports. Worse, Chinese officials reportedly either refused to lower tariffs on Thai imports or left the Thai produce to rot in warehouses.
It has been noted that the swath of destruction caused by the Thai "early harvest" agreement was a factor in the unrest now gripping Thailand. Continuing with the Straits Times piece....
.....It is no wonder that Indonesia has asked for a two-year delay in tariff reductions for 228 items.

The trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) figures are not encouraging either. Since 2004, tariffs between the two sides have been coming down, and Asean's trade deficit with China has widened. From 2000 to 2008, China-Asean trade grew sixfold to US$198 billion (S$280 billion). But Asean's trade deficit also widened five times to US$21.6 billion. Asean's cumulative FDI in China was US$52 billion in 2008. By comparison, China's FDI in Asean was just US$2.8 billion.
In other words, nations that enter into reduce tariff agreements with China find themselves in increased trade deficits with China and low FDI from China. Nor is thus just an experience of underdeveloped countries; it is even more urgent for developed nations. Anyone who has been following the news out of China has seen many pieces like this one about US business or this one about European, hosting complaints from foreign businesses about the lack of good faith in China's dealings with foreign businesses. For example (from the latter):

The European Chamber says foreign companies are "excluded outright" from China's service sector, and uses Amadeus, a Spanish travel-booking company, as an example. More than seven years since China signed up to the WTO, it has still not granted Amadeus, a computer travel reservation system, the right to issue tickets and reservations to the growing Chinese market.

Meanwhile, China's host of technical regulations and certification procedures "blatantly discriminate" against foreign companies, said Dr Wuttke. The report cites an unnamed company that was the market leader in providing encryption services to Chinese banking, telecoms and public transport firms until the government "suddenly" required a new certification from the Office of Security Commercial Code Administration (OSCCA). "Not one foreign company or foreign-invested Chinese company has to date received OSCCA certification," the report points out.

To add to that, consider once again Google vs Beijing (or Rio Tinto), a case that clearly shows that no matter how hard you work to cooperate with China, you'll be screwed, partly to steal your tech, and partly to favor local businesses you're competing with. China's mercantilist approach means that the assumption that it will uphold its end of bargains is iffy, at best. Yet there will be no benefits from ECFA unless China is committed to upholding its side of the deal. Needless to say, the assumption that China will uphold its side is never explored in the international media.

A second aspect of the willingness of China to uphold bargains is smuggling, an item never mentioned in international media reporting on China's economic behavior (except for smuggling of endangered species, for eating, just a spiffy and morally correct way to orientalize the Chinese). But smuggling has devastated economies around China. Back to the Straits Times:
Already, smuggling of cheap Chinese shoes into Viet Nam has done damage to the shoe industry there. In Indonesia, cheap imports of clothes, toys and electronic goods, often through smuggling, have hurt local manufacturers of such products.
Anyone who buys in Taiwan's markets already has to consider the problem of smuggling in their daily lives -- do we risk eating China's inferior, poisonous products now easily found in morning markets around the island? When you invite Chinese goods in you invite their smuggled goods in as well -- unregulated and destructive. The CNA, for example, hosted a piece on smuggled day lilies, part of a larger and growing problem of smugglers using third parties to bring in illegal goods into Taiwan -- agricultural goods are already being regularly smuggled into Taiwan even without ECFA. Ma has even proposed special assembly zones where Chinese goods are brought in for processing in Taiwan and then shipped out for sale overseas. The gods alone know how big a boost they will give to smuggling in Taiwan.

The DPP really needs to hit the international comparisons harder; they are a direct antidote to Ma's China Cargo Cult claims that taking down barriers will be good for local economies, and bring in the daily experience of Taiwanese in local markets dealing with, for example, the problem of smuggled seafood. I'll leave the reader with a quote from Philippine legislator Warden Bello's excellent commentary on this topic:
It is owing to massive smuggling that few analysts take seriously official trade figures with China released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila that show the Philippines enjoying a positive trade balance.
REF: Commonwealth Magazine hosted an excellent piece that explores some of these economic problems more deeply.

UPDATE: Polls out from UDN, China Times, TVBS.
Daily Links
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Random Stories and Photos on a Warm Sunday

Went out to Taiping yesterday to climb to Hsinshe with my man Karl, and this group of cyclists put me in their group picture as I waited.

Been on the road for the last three weeks, with only a couple of days of a few hours at home. Feels great to finally settle back into a rhythm and have my wife back at home. Get my life, and this blog, back to normal.

The traffic circle there is also a big meet up site for hikers headed to Ta-ken trails 1-4, lovely hiking.

Went out riding today to Dongshih, and coming home, stopped to get one of my favorite local snacks, roasted corn with garlic sauce. The vendor lady popped a trio of her finest ears of corn on the grill and then we compared notes about raising teenagers. A couple of men rode up on bikes and asked her the price of an ear of corn, their accent identifying them as foreigners. She weighed the ones they selected and told them: $50 NT. Declining, they thanked her and rode off. "Hey!" she yelled at them. "This isn't your country! Things aren't cheap here!"

And...they're off!

As a teacher, students are always flattering me; it is their way of managing teachers and they do it to everyone. But one student actually was able to locate my ON button. The other day I was chatting with T. and asked what she had done over the weekend. "Went bike riding!" she announced proudly. We discussed that for a few minutes, and then I asked her what kind of bike she rode. "A cheap steel one," she replied, "But I want one just like yours!"

Some people just know how to get an A.

Not a good day for viewing.

This weekend didn't offer much in the way of views, but the Ma-Tsai debate on ECFA was held today. More on that tomorrow.

Still, lots of attractive young people out on motorcycles enjoying the Saturday after exams.

An unanticipated side effect of the city-county mergers is a leap in official....expenditure. The local county chief here in Taichung has come under fire for trips abroad financed, so it is said, by local taxpayer monies. Since he, a KMTer, is not running again for county chief -- it seems that current Taichung mayor Jason Hu will have that honor -- some of the locals accuse him of simply ignoring county needs and spending the cash on trips abroad.

We went over 129 and through Hsinshe. Looking at the fog, we decided not to climb 21 to Guosing. Instead, we detoured north to the only working bridge in the area, and went back to Dongshih.

The hills around Dongshih are filled with vineyards.

One of the suspension bridges over the river. Karl displays his camera.

This collection of signs is one of my favorite spots in the area.

Today I headed out Donglin Road in Dongshih to see if I could reach Jhoulan by going along the river. Google, it turned out, lied to me.

Another hazy day, but warm.

Plenty of people out fishing.

A beautiful area of farms and orchards.

As well as temples and graveyards.

A good climb through the forest.....

....Brought me to this relic guardhouse for a rest.

Bugs everywhere.

An odd grouping of tall straight objects.

A relatively empty road through rolling farmland, this one runs out to Dongshih Forest Park, a place I put on my ALP list (Avoid Like Plague). Unless you have thing for kitsch dinosaurs at high prices.

After I reached the peak, there would have been excellent views over the river, except for the haze.

Although Google maps said the road went through, at Dongshih Forest Park they told me it didn't. I rode down here...

...and along the dike for a couple of kms but that road had been wiped out by a typhoon, the fellow at the gate to Four Corners Forest Park told me when I reached its terminus. The frustrating part was that as I rode along the dike I could look up and see the road on the bluffs above which the Dongshih Forest Park people told me did not exist.

So it was back over the hill I'd just climbed.....
Daily Links:

Horrific landslide buried at least two and as many as four cars on Highway 3 outside Taipei today. Pic above from TVBS. What a terrible way to go.
FUN: Via Ballon Juice: more cowbell + Obama
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

GWU Cross Strait Relations Seminar

Notes on the Conference at GWU the other day, from someone present.

Highlights -- Doug Paal said that Taiwan had not asked for F-16 C/Ds in the latest round of talks.

Shelly Rigger with excellent comment on the LY in Q&A session.

But overall, it is clear that Washington doesn't get ECFA (or perhaps gets it too well) and its probable effects as well as resistance to it, nor do they, who love Ma so much, understand how completely out of touch with the mainstream he is. It reminds me of a couple of years ago when I remarked that the "process of engagement" is now the new status quo -- and how difficult it will be for the DPP to meaningfully extricate itself from this policy/POV.


“Navigating Cross-Strait relations”
George Washington University
Date: April 21st 2010, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm

The Conference was a whole-day event, funded by TECRO. Shawn McHale opened the session, and then gave the floor to Jason Yuan, who basically read from his prepared remarks. A number of points:

• Taiwan needs partnerships based on shared interests and values. The TRA is the cornerstone of bilateral ties. Thanks to US support we have a full-fledged democracy and economy.
• Major challenges ahead because of Beijing’s pursuit of unification through threats and coercion.
• DPP unsuccessful in gaining international support. Ma has new approach, replacing “confrontation” with “flexible diplomacy”. This has gained US support and approval: stopovers and arms sales.
• In Asia there is a growing trend towards regional economic integration. Taiwan will be marginalized if we do not move towards ECFA. There is no compromise on sovereignty: just a return to an accelerated track enhancing our competitive edge. We aim for similar arrangements (FTAs) with other countries.
• The new approach is also leading to a win-win-win situation in international organizations: Taiwan was observer in last year’s WHA and received an invitation for this year’s meeting “at the same time as other countries.” He is therefore optimistic on Taiwan’s future.

FIRST PANEL: Taiwan’s external environment; implications for Cross-Strait

Shirley Kan (CRS) was the first speaker. She made a number of comments:

• If you want to be a student of Taiwan developments, you have to get accustomed to paradoxes: a) if you want consensus, don’t call it a consensus, b) if you want independence, don’t say so, and c) if the US wants to reduce a military threat, it has to sell arms.
• She said that much of what happens depends very much on Taiwan’s own actions (or inactions): some negative examples:
o Beef issue
o Government inefficiency, obstruction and bureaucracy
• Also some comparative advantages and opportunities:
o Freedom and democracy
o Economy dominated by service sector
o It is good at emergency aid: expand on that: build a hospital ship
which could assist in international crises and disaster relief.
o It could be more forthcoming on security assistance: piracy threat,
reconstruction in Afghanistan or Iraq.
o It has a professional and free press
o It needs to build itself into a reliable and credible international partner
• Its leaders need to make strategic decisions on its international
orientation: does it want to have one “primary” relationship (i.e. China) or
does it want to have a range of good relationships.

Conclusion: Taiwan has lived with, and thrived, its ambivalent status quo. It gradually needs to build up its role internationally. She closed by mentioning that Taiwan’s status quo had changed several times over: 1885 becoming a Chinese Province, 1895 becoming a Japanese colony, 1945 end of WW-II, and late 1980s transition to democracy. Thus, change does occur but much stays the same.

Phil Saunders (Defense University). Phil tried to establish an analytical framework for the PRC’s approaches towards Taiwan:
• A “zero sum” logic, utilizing its increasing military, political and economic leverage to deny Taiwan international recognition, and to force it into unification;
• A “United front” logic, using alliances – both with the US, the KMT and others – to mobilize against Taiwan independence. He said this may work, but makes it also harder to gain support for unification;
• A “persuasion” logic, offering positive incentives and make it attractive (or less unattractive) for Taiwan to join up with China.

He said that different measures and tactics could be “measured” on how well they do under each of the logics: e.g. liberalizing agricultural imports from Southern Taiwan would rank well under the “persuasion” and United Front logic, but would not fall under “Zero sum.”

On the Chinese side, there is tremendous inertia: the PLA has a hammer, and “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The logics may also change, e.g. if they would shift from a “deterring independence” logic to a “promoting unification” logic. The question is: which logic will produce faster results.

Teng Chung-chian, Dean, College of International Affairs, National Chengchi

Teng painted a very rosy picture of the Ma administration’s policies. He compared it to several developments in Europe:
• He claimed Helsinki accords led to relaxation in East West relations in Europe, which led to fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, which led to German unification.
• The economic agreements after WW-II led to European economic integration and now to sifting of some powers from the states to the EU = political integration.

In Taiwan, the Ma administration was successfully moving in this direction:
• Under the DPP/CSB administration there would have been an uproar about a contract between Palau and the Chinese Petroleum Corp. Now it is “no big deal,”
• “Everyone is basically for ECFA”, in Taiwan there is only opposition against the contents (agriculture, labor??)

• Mike Fonte led the charge, asking if the Chinese realized that economic liberalization would lead to political liberalization. Teng emphasized that ECFA was a stepping stone for Taiwan for integration “in the larger environment” of Asia;
• Shelley Rigger actually also questioned the appropriateness of the comparison with the EU, saying that European integration had “stalled out”.
• Gerrit van der Wees asked Shirley Kan to elaborate on the “strategic orientation” issue, emphasizing that many in Taiwan felt the Ma administration was moving too closely to China, and was putting all eggs in the China basket. Also he commented to Teng that as a European he could see very few parallels, particularly due to the difference in size (China big, Taiwan small, while in Europe there is a reasonable balance). Shirley responded that the
policies of Ma (and of the US!!) were too sinocentric, and that we should have more respect for a fellow democracy.
• John Zeng (CTI-TV) asked Shirley about the beef issue: he said that the US should be more aware of the fact that the original problem was caused by the “initial mishandling by the Ma administration” and prompted by genuine concerns about food safety. Shirley responded that there was “bipartisan mishandling” (thus also blaming the DPP), and emphasized once again that US beef is “perfectly safe.”
• Joe Bosco (formerly SecDef Office) asked about ways in which Taiwan could use disaster relief to promote its international presence.
• CNN reporter: Chances for Taiwan to be involved in TPP?
• Shawn McHale: Lessons from China’s reactions to Taiwan for interactions with other countries in the region?
• Bruce Dickson: How does US arms package affect X-Strait? Shirley: reference to TRA and the fact that it gives Taiwan confidence in negotiating with China.
• Gerrit van der Wees asked Phil Saunders to add a fourth logic to his analytical framework: that China becomes democratic and accepts Taiwan like a friendly independent neighbor. He said that Great Britain originally opposed US independence, but are now the best of friends, and that the USSR opposed Baltic independence and now lives with it.

Lunch presentation by Doug Paal

In the introduction it was mentioned that Paal worked at the NSC under Reagan and Bush Sr and was head of AIT-Taiwan form 2002-2006. He started out by saying that China has 11.9% growth, that there was lots of Taiwanese presence, and that this is propelling growth in the region.

He then jumped straight into ECFA, saying that it brought a “new level of engagement” with China, and would mean “more protection for Taiwan’s economy. He praised the leadership in China for NOT demanding equal access to Taiwan’s market e.g. agricultural products.

He said in view of ECFA there should be a parallel track for US-Taiwan economic ties: Expand TIFA, move towards FTA or chose Dan Rosen’s Trans Pacific Partnership forum TPP. He referred to an ADB forecast that there will be growth across the region, and said that without closer ties the US will be unilaterally disadvantaged….

Then some remarks about military / defense: US arms package is what Taiwan needed. He supports Ma’s efforts to restructure military into an all-volunteer force: smaller but more effective. Taiwan is a very defensible island, in spite of any perceived imbalance across the Strait: in 1945 MacArthur skipped Taiwan “because it was too difficult” and went to Okinawa instead.

On the political side: the KMT has suffered some setbacks recently, but the DPP has not found the catch-phrase yet that will propel it beyond 51%. He said that King Pu-tsong has developed a new approach to local politics (“do not rely on factions or money, but field strong, clean candidates”) and the US should expect that Ma will be re-elected.

He said that the challenge to the DPP is to have broad appeal. For a democracy it is essential to have accountability, and the two turnovers have shown this system works quite well. He did refer to “questions about the judicial system.”

On the diplomatic side, he said that Ma’s transits had been “handled successfully (by Ma)” and that this had resulted in “increasing approval” by the US. The “diplomatic truce” was holding although China was way to miserly with granting Taiwan international space.

Returning to X-Strait talks he said there was a limit to what could be dealt with during this Ma administration: ECFA is probably the “last major” item that could go through. He said that China’s appetite for concessions from the Taiwan side far exceeds Taiwan’s capabilities to make long-term concessions, because it is a democracy.

He referred to a Shelley Rigger statement/analysis that the PRC insufficiently realizes that most people in Taiwan don’t feel that TI is the way to go, and that they (in particular the PLA) are overreacting and that the hardliners still hold sway. He said Taiwanese businessmen in China had urged PRC leaders to relax and set aside the “One China” principle, but there is a power struggle going on, and they are unable to compartmentalize and put it on the back-burner.

He said that right now is an extremely sensitive period (Isn’t it always?) since everyone is jockeying for position in anticipation of the power changes at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. But the fact is: they are changing.

Against this background it is important for Taiwan to diversify its connections, and not be locked into a one-way dependency. He concluded by praising the Ma government position on referendums.

Questions and Answers:

• What is the long-term prospect for Taiwan? Answer: Taiwan needs to patient, smart, move adeptly, ride the next technological wave. If it can protect it autonomy until China changes and accepts Taiwan, then we could have a situation like Austria and Germany, where you have same language, but at same time separateness. The point is that it is a long-term process and Taiwan shouldn’t give anything away now.

Right now China is very self-assured and bombastic but at some point they will stumble and then Taiwan has to make its move. Taiwan needs to be taken on its own merits. Maybe Taiwan should have made a deal in 1991, when China was weakened internationally after Tienanmen, but now China is powerful and Taiwan needs to move cautiously to protect its separateness.

• Mike Fonte: Mike stated that the DPP position is that Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent state, and that if you want to change that, you need a referendum. Paal responded that Ma had not surrendered his stance on sovereignty. He referred to Bruce Gilley’s “Finlandization” and said this is not widely shared, but that the DPP should realize these voices are out there. He emphasized that the US will respect the consent of the people through a democratic process, but then went on to say that without changing the 1999 party plank on independence it will not be possible for the DPP to get 51% of the vote.

• Question about arms sales? Paal stated blithely that CSB didn’t want to buy the weapons package and kept postponing it (not mentioning the KMT LY obstruction). Paal also said that Taiwan “didn’t ask for F-16 C/Ds in the latest round of talks.”

• Norman Fu: Ma’s transit visits went exceedingly well. Would the US be willing to elevate Ma’s visit by inviting him to DC, eg for a cultural event. Second question: some like Bob Sutter have expressed reservations on the Cross-Strait ties, saying that Taiwan might move too close to China and that this might force the US to reassess its policies.

The US has a national interest in seeing Taiwan do the right thing. E.g. the arms sale was in Taiwan’s interest but also in that of the US. The same applies to possible visits. He said that he could foresee Ma attendance at the 2011 APEC meeting on Honolulu (as Party Chairman) a possibility.

On Sutter’s concerns: he didn’t share those. He felt that “balance” across the Strait has never been part of US policy No one seriously holds the view that detente would damage our interests, not even if the PLA/PLN had bases on Taiwan. The important thing is not to lose your marbles.[MT -- this is an answer to a way-out hypothetical. Paal does not mean this very seriously, I heard]

Afternoon session

Sarah Friedman, anthropologist Indiana University, had done fieldwork on mainland brides in Taiwan and explained how due to the work of several NGO’s their position had improved.

Megan Greene, historian at the University of Kansas, had done research on how past science and technologies policies had stimulated Taiwan’s economic development, and analyzed how this could be a model for China.

Shelley Rigger said that her presentation would be more conventional, analyzing the surface waves, while Sarah and Megan had presented the deeper underlying currents. She revisited her presentation two years ago, when she had talked about CSB’s failed “Plan A” and contrasted that with Ma’s promising “Plan B”.

She then analyzed where Plan B was going:

• Economy is recovering from recession, and the recovery was helped by China’s growth.
• Cross Strait relations going well / tension is low
• But Ma’s approval ratings remain low, so it is not a home run
• Taiwan’s citizens don’t want to move too fast and ask whether Ma is protecting Taiwan’s economy and strategic interests.
• Ma actually doesn’t have much room for maneuver: his Plan B has only a narrow passage between the rocks, which produces a lot of anxiety.

There is so much focus on Cross Strait issues because it will determine Taiwan’s future, but to narrow the political divide it is necessary to end the endless cycle of fruitless debate and develop other issues where the parties can distinguish themselves.

Questions and answers

• Deepak question for Sarah: info on the demographic background of the Taiwanese men who marry mainland brides. Answer: not really.

• Tiffany Kuo: I would have a different take on CSB’s policy on foreign brides: there were legitimate concerns on national security, trafficking that you seem to sweep under the

• Gerrit v.d. Wees query for Megan Greene whether she implied that technology and industrial policy could only succeed under an authoritarian regime . She responded that in the initial phase in Taiwan everyone was accustomed to a top-down approach, and when that disappeared in the 1990s and 2000 the policy seemed to be rudderless.

• Question on contrast between Plan A and B. Shelley Rigger responded that in parts of his policies (enhancing Taiwanese identity) CSB was very successful, but that his policy attempting to minimize interactions with the PRC didn’t work and was overtaken by the wave of business interactions with China. Ma’s Plan B is “managing the relations more effectively.”

• Jacob (Dty at TECRO) first complimented the speakers for this “feast” (for which TECRO was paying) and then asked Shelley Rigger – referring to an article she wrote two years ago “Seven Reasons why Ma should win” why there is not enough support for Ma in the LY. Not enough “payback”?

Shelley responded that the high KMT majority is actually a curse: the LY doesn’t feel the urgency to “produce” but everyone is playing their own agenda. The KMT LY is defeating itself. She disagreed with the proposition that in the latest rounds of elections the DPP was really “coming back.” She said the real reason is that “Ma doesn’t care as much about winning
seats as about getting the right people.”

• Steve Philips asked Sarah Friedman whether Taiwan’s rules on foreign brides was more odious than in other nations and Megan Greene whether the rationale that economic development leads to political liberalization was understood by the PRC.
Daily Links
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Miss Taiwanese-American Contest now looking for contestants!

I was going to enter it myself, but I thought I'd give some of you kids a chance to win. Have at it!
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Journal of Current Chinese Affairs: A Whole Issue devoted to cross-strait stuff

Dig in! It's all about cross-strait issues. I'll be posting on them over the next couple of weeks. Some great stuff here:

H-ASIA April 22, 2010

Table of contents: 1/2010 Journal of Current Chinese Affairs

From: Dr. Karsten Giese

Journal of Current Chinese Affairs

Content alert: Issue 1/2010

Cross-Strait Integration - A New Research Focus in the Taiwan Studies Field

Gunter Schubert: Introduction - Cross-Strait Integration - A New Research
Focus in the Taiwan Studies Field

Gordon C. K. Cheung: New Approaches to Cross-Strait Integration and Its
Impacts on Taiwan's Domestic Economy: An Emerging "Chaiwan"?

Chun-yi Lee: Between Dependency and Autonomy - Taiwanese Entrepreneurs and
Local Chinese Governments

Gunter Schubert: The Political Thinking of the Mainland Taishang: Some
Preliminary Observations from the Field

Da-chi Liao, Hui-chih Chang: The Choice of Constitutional Amendments in a
Young Democracy - From Indirect to Direct Election of the President in

Ya-chung Chang: A Modest Proposal for a Basic Agreement on Peaceful
Cross-Strait Development [MT-this one, by an ardent Chinese nationalist, is completely loony, undemocratic, and amoral.]

Christopher R. Hughes: Commentary on "A Modest Proposal for a Basic
Agreement on Peaceful Cross-Strait Development" by Chang Ya-chung

Jean-Pierre Cabestan: Commentary on "A Modest Proposal for a Basic Agreement
on Peaceful Cross-Strait Development" by Chang Ya-chung

Stefan Braig: Signs of Change? An Analysis of Taiwan's December 2009 Local

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lafayette in Malaysia

I don't blog much on the Lafayette frigate scandal, which left a trail of bodies behind it, but this mirror image scandal with French arms firms in Malaysia in the excellent Asia Sentinel caught my eye:
There have been numerous deaths involving DCN defense sales in Taiwan and Pakistan. Prosecutors are suspicious that 11 French submarine engineers who were murdered in a 2002 bomb blast in Karachi – first thought to have been the work of Al Qaeda – were actually killed in retaliation for the fact that the French had reneged on millions of dollars in kickbacks to Pakistani military officers.
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This is not a parody

No shit: it's for extraordinary international leadership.


Sixth Annual CHLI Gala Dinner &
Leadership Awards
Ma Ying-jeou
President of Taiwan

Receives the
2010 CHLI Leadership in International Relations Award

Thursday, May 20, 2010
5:30 – 9:00 pm

The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) will honor His Excellency Ma Ying-jeou, President of Taiwan, at its Sixth Annual CHLI Gala Dinner & Leadership Awards, held on Thursday, May 20, 2010.

Each year, CHLI recognizes extraordinary leadership in the international arena through its Leadership in International Relations Award. This year, CHLI will be honoring Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who will speak to the audience via telecast. At the same event, CHLI will present its Leadership in Public Service Award to U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. The Featured Speaker at the dinner is U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkeley, Co-Chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus.

This event will take place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW in Washington, D.C. (Map) A Congressional Reception will take place from 5:30 - 7:15 pm in the Garden, followed by the dinner and awards program starting at 7:30 pm in the Grand Ballroom.

To purchase tickets for this Gala Dinner, please visit the CHLI website at Tickets are $250. Corporate sponsorship is also available. Contact: CHLI Executive Director Octavio Hinojosa at (202) 347-8280 x301, or via email to

To find more information about CHLI, about the Gala Dinner, or about the Leadership Awards, please contact CHLI directly at (202) 347-8280.


Seriously, it does show how completely disconnected people in the US are from the reality of events in Taiwan (Ma is going to sell you guys out, DC, and he has basically ceased independent diplomacy on the island's behalf). Also, note that for the second time this year, President Ma of the ROC will be speaking via telecast to an audience in the US, this one made up of Congress persons. Think China will soil its linens over this one like the time Chen Shui-bian had the audacity to show up at the National Press Club in teleconference? Why am I even asking that question?
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taiwan News with two on ECFA and Ma's approval ratings

Taiwan News with another awesome editorial on Embracing China's Formosan Annexation (ECFA). This one not only points out that Taiwan has a number of alternatives to the alleged "marginalization" that the KMT claims we desperately need ECFA to avoid, but also points out that ECFA is missing anything on dispute resolution, and further, by reorienting the island's suppliers on China, risks preventing them from developing their own brands even as Chinese firms expand globally. Wonderful piece, guys! Read carefully:
For example, in a newly book newly published by the Taiwan Thinktank on "ECFA: Unspeakable Secrets?", former Council for Economic Planning and Development Chen Po-shih offers six alternatives ranging from delaying negotiation of an ECFA until the formation of a domestic consensus on a negotiating and adjustment strategy, holding negotiations with the PRC on tariff reductions on individual sectors in the meantime, and encouraging Taiwan manufacturers to invest in Association for Southeast Asian Nations member countries to gain tariff free entry into the PRC market.

Besides critiquing the questionable economic assumptions underlying Ma's ECFA strategy, Chen, who was a leading economic advisor to former president Lee Teng-hui as well as to the previous DPP administration, advocated the adoption of an alternative "Taiwan-centric economic strategy."

The former CEPD chairman called on the KMT government to replace its "model of East Asian export manufacturing based on low costs" and reorient our national economic development strategy toward the active promotion of high-value added and high quality and knowledge intensive products and services for the entire global market.

In addition, the Taiwan Thinktank chairman urged the government to create a more favorable climate for domestic-market oriented industries and services aimed at improving the quality of living, including "green technology" such as alternative or renewable energies, cultural and creative industries, social welfare and health, education and "green life" services.

In terms of regional integration, Chen advocated more energetic efforts to build deeper trade and investment ties with advanced economies, such as the U.S. and Japan to provide greater impetus for Taiwan's knowledge and innovation intensive high-tech sectors, before entering into a comprehensive economic pact with the PRC.

Similar views are not only expressed by the pro-DPP camp.

Even Ma's former CEPD chairman Chen Tain-jy noted in an opinion article Monday in the United Daily News that the ECFA should not be aim mainly to "avoid marginalization" or gain short-term "early harvest" benefits.

Not just 'market liberalization'

Instead, Chen maintains that an ECFA should aim to set up an institutional channel between Taiwan and the PRC governments to resolve non-tariff trade barriers and other unfair competition mechanisms and obstacles to investment in the PRC domestic market and to spur Taiwan companies to transform their management strategies from pursuing "cost-down" subcontracting manufacturing into developing "brand name" goods and services.

Unfortunately, the ECFA currently being negotiated by the KMT government with the PRC has been justified primarily on the grounds of "market liberalization" and lowering tariff costs and "political factors," including both the "sovereignty cost" and the fact that the PRC is not a "normal" market economy are being blissfully ignored.

This blindness could deliver a blow more mortal to Taiwan's economy than any delay in the signing of the ECFA.

As shown by the experience of Southeast Asian economies in the first months of the PRC-ASEAN free trade agreement, Taiwan's domestic industries will be face a possible flood of imports of cheap PRC-made consumer goods made by state owned firms whose low costs derive largely from subsidies and protection from pressures for higher wages or adequate environmental or consumer safety safeguards by the authoritarian CCP regime.

Moreover, by focusing on tariff reductions instead of dealing with unfair competition, the ECFA may lock in the current pattern of "cross-strait industrial division of labor" in which Taiwan high-technology manufacturers, such as TFT-LCD fabricators, are being increasingly coopted as suppliers of components for emerging PRC enterprise brand names instead of developing their own complete brand-name products.
Another recent editorial noted that confidence in Ma continues to slip though his approval rating improved marginally. It's fascinating to contrast the attitude of foreign commentators who write as if convinced that Ma is awesomely competent, with that of individuals who have the misfortune to actually live under Regional Administrator Ma. Here the Global Views director frankly states that the Administration "urgently" needs to show results:
The vast majority of Taiwan citizens remained dissatisfied with the performance of President Ma Ying-jeou and his right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) last month, according to an opinion poll conducted last week by the public survey arm of the prominent "Global Views" monthly.

According to the survey of 1,001 Taiwan citizens conducted last week, 26.6 percent expressed satisfaction with the performance of President Ma Ying-jeou, who is concurrently ruling KMT chairman, while 61.4 percent were dissatisfied.

This rating marks a slight improvement from March, in which only 23.8 percent said they were satisfied compared to 66.0 percent who were displeased with the KMT leader`s performance.

However, confidence in Ma`s leadership continued to decline as only 37.1 percent said they had confidence in his leadership, down 1.7 percentage points from 38.8 percent in March, while 44.7 percent stated that they did not trust the president`s leadership, compared to 47.1 percent last month.

GVSRC Director Tai Li-an observed that while Ma`s approval rating has escaped the nadir recorded in December, satisfaction and public confidence remain far lower than the 44.6 percent effective support level that Ma tallied in the March 2008 presidential election, a figure based on the 58.45 percent of the votes he received in the poll which had an overall voter turnout rate of 76.33 percent.

Tai related that, in the two years of President Ma`s administration, the government's attitude, capability and effectiveness in handling of crises such as the importation of poisoned Chinese milk products in September 2008, the "August 8 Flood Disaster" following the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot last August poison have "left a deep brand on the people`s feeling."

"If President Ma and his government are to regain public confidence, the most urgent task is to display results,"said Tai.
The Taipei Times had a long piece today on the KMT's block of a DPP bill which called for a referendum on ECFA. The bill never made it out of the Procedural Committee, the sixth time it blocked the bill. The KMT's excuse was that referendums should not be submitted by the legislature although, as the TT points out, the law permits that.

Daily Links

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Gangsters in the news

Apropo to the post below this one, ESWN, the popular Sinospheric tabloid, had a double whammy today, sex & nudity on a blog, and a massive gang funeral. Guaranteed to titillate the most jaded news palate (just me being jealous -- imagine what my university would do if that much T&A showed up here....). The funeral naturally took place in my homeland of Taichung, a place well known for gangsters sun cookies, gangsters sporting goods manufacturing, gangsters and the island's best weather gangsters gangsters gangsters. As reported by AFP, it was attended by all the best people:
The funeral of a leading Taiwan crime figure is expected to attract more than 20,000 people, including senior politicians and members of Japan's mafia, organizers say.

Lee Chao-hsiung, who died of liver cancer last month at the age of 73, will be laid to rest on April 26 in Taichung in the biggest funeral in years for a member of Taiwan's underworld.

The mayor of Taichung, Jason Hu, who is a former foreign minister, will also be at the funeral.

An assistant to legislator Yen Ching-piao [see post below this one! -- MT], a member of the funeral organizing committee, said at least 20,000 were expected to attend the ceremony.


Parliamentary speaker Wang Jin- pyng and Liao Liao-yi, chief secretary to President Ma Ying-jeou, are both listed as members of the same organizing committee, the China Times said.
Funerals of major crime lords attended by major politicians -- that's normal. Presidents have attended gang funerals here. And who can forget Wang, Soong, and Ma Ying-jeou His Ownself showing up at the wedding of Yen Ching-piao's son in 2006?

ESWN quotes a piece on the seating arrangements -- not enough room, so each gang sent 300 of their most imposing members, all neatly dressed.

After I wrote yesterday's piece a friend flipped me this CNA report on an enterprising gang in Tainan that also mixed religion, politics, and organized crime. A member of the Bamboo Union gang, it appears, set up a Buddhist Temple in Tainan, and made another gang member the temple director. The deputy speaker of the city council was honorary head of the organization he set up. The organization used the establishment as their base for debt collection, engaging in violence and other illegal actions. Eventually the police busted up the operation.

Someday I am going to be able to write a post on Chinese culture as a "two worlds" society, where nearly every formal system (schools, lottery, banks, firms, politicians) is mirrored by a corresponding gray one (cram schools, Mark 6,underground banks, organized crime gangs, crimelords).
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BBC Blows an Opportunity

BBC had one of its annual articles on the Mazu pilgrimage, that ginned up religious procession created in the 1980s out of local pilgrimages as a vehicle to advance the interests of powerful politicians in Dajia out in the hinterlands of Taichung county.

The article starts out ok and even identifies China's politicization of the festival:
But for China, sending its temple representatives here to join in the celebrations is not without its political motivations.

The Chinese government has placed great emphasis on reviving Mazu in China – seeing it as an important way to underscore its insistence that Taiwanese people and culture came from China – and that Taiwan is a part of China.

Beijing hopes to reunify with the island one day and has not renounced the use of force to do so.

"They’re doing this to show both sides believe in Mazu and have a similar heritage," said Tsai Ming-hsien, a volunteer Mazu celebrations organiser who has had many dealings with Chinese temple officials.

Celebrants from mainland China have been instructed to not give interviews, according to their Taiwanese tour guides.
Several things could be mentioned here, but most importantly, BBC completely failed to put the political context in Taiwan front and center. A huge opportunity to describe what is going on in Taiwan was blown.

First, the article completely failed to mention that the procession is overseen by the powerful local politician Yen Ching-piao, once elected out of jail for various nefarious (organized) crimes, who has old, deep connections to the KMT and was recently appointed spokesman to the locals for Ma's ECFA program. That's one religion-organized crime-politics-annexation nexus ignored. But BBC ignores an even more important one, citing his right-hand man Cheng Ming-kun without giving the full context of his remarks. Let's see what the lad has to say:

Nevertheless, officials from both sides said the fact that both sides were stepping up cultural exchanges was a sign of improving relations.

"It’s about religion, not politics. What’s most important is doing things that are good for the economy of both sides’ people," said the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple’s vice chairman, Cheng Ming-kun.

He said that the increased number of Chinese visitors to Dajia had helped the town and nearby scenic areas.

"Mazu brings together the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and brings peoples’ feelings closer," Mr Cheng said.

"It's about religion, not politics." What a hero! Who is Cheng Ming-kun? I've asked this question before when AFP failed spectacularly with the same person in the same way:
Cheng holds a couple of key positions in the Matzu Associations, such as the Deputy Chairman of the Jenlan Temple in Dajia. Ring any bells? That's the name of the island's most important Matzu temple, the subject of one of the world's largest pilgrimages. That's right -- the procession run by the former KMT politician, now "non-partisan", Yen Ching-piao, elected out of jail by his loyal constituents a few years back. That procession is a prime example of how politics exploits religion in Taiwan (anyone know where the zillions in donations go?). Cheng, who was kidnapped for 10 days in 2005 in what was widely rumored to be a shady business deal gone bad, was indicted for forgery and breach of trust in connection with the temple association. Naturally Cheng is close to Yen -- I believe the proper expression is "thick as thieves."

What are Cheng's political affiliations? Well, Cheng was in Beijing in July promoting cross-strait ties through better Matzu connections. Cheng also met with Chen Yun-lin, last seen here in November of 2008 negotiating on Beijing's behalf. Is leveraging Taiwan's most important goddess to annex Taiwan to China apolitical?
Instant replay: our non-political Cheng was in Beijing last year negotiating with CCP officials on how to use Mazu to bring Taiwan into China's orbit.

In May of 2009 a boat carrying Cheng Ming-kun and a load of Mazu pilgrims was the first passenger ferry to cross the strait. It was seen off by the Mazu Temple Chairman Yen Ching-piao. The Taipei Times noted:
Jenn Lann Temple chairman and Independent Legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), who was paroled on Thursday after having been in prison since August for illegal possession of firearms, saw off the pilgrims in Taichung.
In fact, the two sides, the Taiwan Mazu Temple Association people and the Beijing Mazu exploiters, are cooperating on the same goal: annexation. But the BBC completely fails to mention any of this agenda when it mentions the Taiwan side.

Here was an opportunity to at least sketch for readers the outline of the emerging cross-strait organized crime-religion-business-annexation nexus, which is sort of a local Taiwan temple community association blown up to galactic scale. This emerging nexus is appearing in all sorts of contexts. There's the very high-level, dodgy group bidding for the Nanshan unit of AIG, which included PRC "princelings" (children of CCP elites), Chinese state banks, rogue stock speculators, poorly-capitalized and staffed front firms set up for the bid, and cooperation of individuals in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. There's the low level prominent gangster in Taichung who runs KTVs and other entertainment facilities in China but trains his people in Taiwan. There's the garlic smuggling and the human trafficking -- both sex slaves and blue and white collar workers quietly entering Taiwan legally and illegally -- and the exploitation of religion. They are all part of the same whole, pixels that will resolve into a complex and fascinating image if brought into focus in the media.


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Monday, April 19, 2010

ECFA Referendum: Eastasia was never at war with Oceania

Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work!

Today the Administration broke necks all over Taiwan as thousands of readers did double-takes over the following headline (Taipei Times):

Ma never opposed referendums: Wu

The paper reported:
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) yesterday said he and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had never opposed referendum bids launched in accordance with the law and denied that the government had changed its stance on holding referendums.
It summarized with due restraint:
Given that Ma has said on numerous occasions that a referendum on an ECFA was unnecessary because the proposed agreement would not touch on political issues, King’s comments were perceived by some as a change of stance on the issue of an ECFA referendum by the Ma administration.
Meanwhile, from back when Oceania and Eastasia were still at war, Taiwan News reported on March 27, 2010:
President Ma Ying-jeou declined to agree that the controversial proposed "cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement" with the People's Republic of China should be ratified by national citizen referendum Friday, saying that "referendums should not be used to decide each and every matter."
Ma added that the pact would be submitted to the legislature as a treaty, clearly bypassing the whole referendum approach. In May of last year Ma said in Belize, as my man A-gu noted on his surpassingly excellent blog:
The quote in Chinese is reported by the Liberty Times as follows: 「我一向都主張台灣的前途必須由二千三百萬台灣人民來決定,涉及主權議題才需要公投」"I have always held that Taiwan's future is to be determined by Taiwan's 23,000,000 people; only topics related to with sovereignty need a referendum."
As far back as you go...

Feb 20, 2009:
TT: You said during the presidential campaign that all major government policies must be supported by public consensus and that referendums are one option in soliciting public opinion. Are you now ruling out referendums as an option?

Do you think direct transportation links are a major issue? Many polls show that 60 percent of the public supports the initiative, but do you think it is necessary to hold a referendum?

A referendum is an option, but it is not the only option. Referendums are time-consuming and expensive. A referendum costs about NT$300 million [US$8.8 million], or NT$500 million to hold. It also takes time to promote. If the government were to hold a referendum for every major policy, it would be very hard for the government to operate. We simply cannot hold a referendum because some people are against a government initiative.
Wait -- let's see that on the instant replay:
We simply cannot hold a referendum because some people are against a government initiative.
Now if my wife said me that "we simply cannot go to India" or "we simply cannot have beef for dinner any more" or "we simply cannot put up with your bicycling" I would assume she was against trips to India, beef, and biking. So would most people, I suspect.

What about Ma's team? Taiwan's rep offices hosts the same arguments as Ma constantly makes (1) it isn't necessary and (2) nobody hold referendums on FTAs. From its FAQ:
Q18. Why not hold a referendum?
In signing the ECFA, the two sides will not at all touch on the sovereignty issue; they will be entirely focused on matters of economic cooperation. Therefore, holding a referendum will not be necessary. Also, whenever countries around the world have signed free trade agreements (FTAs) or similar regional trade agreements, there have been virtually no instances of referendums being held.
Sounds like opposition to me! If the government is not opposed, why keep saying it is "unnecessary"? As late as April 3 the Presidential Office spokesman was reiterating these same points in response to the DPP's demand for a referendum. The Central News Agency (CNA), the government news agency, also reported that Ma opposed the referendum:
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday reiterated his opposition to a referendum on the government’s planned economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, saying it was not necessary because no political items would be included in the proposed agreement.
Ok, so maybe it's just a pan-Green thing to read the constant iteration of Ma's "referendum is unncessary" as active opposition. So how do Ma's own supporters understand him? As opposing! China Post, the pro-KMT English paper, noted in June of 2oo9, in its own (not CNA) report:
Despite President Ma Ying-jeou's objection, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is all set to initiate a referendum on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China.

Ma told the press in Belize last Friday he is opposed to the referendum the opposition party is planning to call. A referendum must be called if the issue involves sovereignty, the president said. There shouldn't be “too many referendums,” he warned.
One can only ask, as the DPP did last May:
“Why did the government agree to a referendum on legalizing casinos in Penghu, yet opposed a referendum for an issue relating to national interests such as on the ECFA?” Chao said.
But the lies and hypocrisy are not the whole story. As the DPP/TSU campaign in favor of a referendum grew -- and public support for it mushroomed, meaning that the Administration was taking a political beating -- the Ma Administration began quietly setting up this policy change. For example, MAC Chairman Lai Shin-yuan said in March of this year, more than 30 days ago. Lai is parroting the Administration line:
Given that the ECFA is solely an economic pact, it should be discussed on rational grounds through a sound democratic mechanism so as to establish consensus among all segments of society. In other words, for the government, any agreement signed with Beijing must satisfy three fundamental conditions: need, public support and legislative monitoring.

Yet, considering such a pact involves highly technical issues, it is inappropriate and unnecessary to resort to a referendum. But any move to initiate the ECFA referendum would be respected by the executive.
The whole "referendum is unnecessary" line was created to enable the Administration to engage in displays of opposition to democracy without any direct statement of opposition. Sweet. But nobody believes them, after months and months of repeating the "unnecessary" line, because everyone understood what the Administration has made utterly clear.

A serious policy reversal for the KMT as the DPP referendum drive scores a major political victory. As I noted in a post on Taiwan News' rip of Ma's opposition to the referendum a few weeks ago:
Stimulating a debate over a referendum on ECFA has been a sharp political move by the DPP. Not only is it an example of the positive pro-democracy policies of the DPP -- a rebuttal to the pan-Blue talking point that circulates as conventional wisdom in Taipei that the DPP has no policies -- but also shows how the KMT Administration is inherently anti-democracy, patronizing, and out of touch with the public.
Still true. Now go out and win the referendum, guys.
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