Today my gratitude specifically goes out to the NYTimes writing on the election, whose organization, apparently, has de-installed Google from its office machines.
Lots of things caught my eye, starting with this:
Even in some of Ms. Tsai’s party’s traditional bases of support, like the largely ethnic Taiwanese population of southern Pingtung County where she was born, are tilting toward the Nationalists. Since 2008, mainland officials, encouraged by Mr. Ma’s new trade policies, have been offering princely sums for every last mango, banana and orchid the Pingtung farmers grow.Well, we have had a few well publicized trade missions, but the underlying numbers are quite different from what the NYTimes implies. The US, Japan, and Netherlands take ~ 40%, 30% and 5% of Taiwan's orchid exports, respectively (source). Orchids are interesting because the most cursory search of the internet will immediately turn up John Adams' article from the Global Post on orchids (Taiwan is the world's leading producer). The actual relationship between China and Taiwan in the orchid market is a good example of how the new closeness to China harms the island in the long run while enriching its firms in the short run.
Taiwan firms have also played a key role in the birth of mainland China's mass-produced flower business. Beginning in the early 1990s, Taiwan firms moved across the Strait, especially to the area around Kunming, in southwest Yunnan Province, which has an ideal climate for horticulture.Wait...what? Taiwan tech gradually transferred to China and the local market serviced by local production, while exports from China-based Taiwan firms compete with Taiwan-based exports in traditional markets? That's probably too complex for the NYTimes, and doesn't fit the prevailing establishment narrative about the greatness of ECFA (there's another good backgrounder here). The NYTimes could have used this as a teachable moment so its audience could get a better handle on why Tsai and Ma are running neck and neck in the election.....
Taiwan firms typically produce for the Chinese domestic market, and serve as middlemen between Chinese growers and foreign breeders.
Tai-Ling serves the China market from a branch in Shanghai that employs 70 to 80 Chinese workers. Production costs are half what they are in Taiwan, but managing director Liu says Taiwanese workers are far better — one of them can do the job of two typical Chinese workers, he says, erasing the mainland's cost advantage. And Japan remains his most important market by far, he says, because Chinese still don't have regular buying patterns.
As I said, pieces like this show how Taiwanese firms are transferring know-how to China -- this flow is so important that China has established agricultural industrial districts whose express purpose is to poach ag tech from Taiwan:
The mainland Chinese authorities have reportedly established 25 "Taiwan Farmers Pioneer Parks", whose sole purpose it is to steal Taiwanese agricultural know-how. Despite Taiwan's farming industry constituting only 1.5% of gross domestic product, or US$11.8 billion, the cross-strait transfer of farming secrets is considered a threat to the 540,000 Taiwanese employed in the sector.But never mind that, the NYTimes says everything is simple and peachy-keen and so it is. Orchid exports to China are of course rising, but this is because the orchids and more importantly, the technology for producing them, travels along supplier-distributor networks from Taiwan to China whose establishment and growth long predates ECFA.
Speaking of ag, what about those bananas? For that I just searched my blog:
Sources said six agricultural items from the early harvest list failed to reach NT$1 million in export value and the total shipment was less than 4 tonnes, with squid not being sold at all.What, exports of bananas falling off? Say it ain't so!
Less than 1 tonne of lemons and less than 2 tonnes of both honeydew melons and dragon fruit were sold, they said.
The export value and volume of oranges and bananas were only 50 and 20 percent respectively, compared with last year, sources said.
Finally, for mangoes, Google will soon reveal that Japan is Taiwan's biggest mango export market and that mangos sell in Japan for several times more than the "princely sum" China puts out... but there's no need for me to tell you. You have Google on your computer.
So what about that awesome agricultural gain from ECFA that's causing all those Pingtung farmers to think Blue? I took a look at the numbers a few months ago:
Ok, in the 18 ag product categories, there was a total gain of US$95.7 million. Now hold still, because a couple of paragraphs later come some numbers.Oh yeah, there is no awesome gain even using the COA's own numbers. Are the Pingtung farmers turning blue? Well, perhaps, but its more likely to be from holding their breath waiting for the profits from China to arrive (latest ag figures show no mighty gains or losses).
In the 18 categories, the sale of live groupers surged by a whopping 192 percent year-on-year to an export value of US$79.66 million, she said. Chang attributed the increase mainly to the ECFA “early harvest” tariff concession program and the opening of 15 Chinese seaports for direct shipping links.So... maybe I am reading this wrong, but of the $95.7 million increase, $79.66 million is groupers. 83% of the increase is from one product! Add the number given by the spokesperson for tea exports, $7.37 million, and 90% of the gain is from just two products. We're not succeeding in agricultural products, just in raising fish. Subtract that $79.66 million and the agricultural deficit sucks -- which shows how important definitions of what counts as agriculture are -- most people when they hear the word "agriculture" don't think of fish.
Always a problem, but never mentioned in neoliberal discourse: agricultural smuggling from China has skyrocketed, meaning that Taiwan's exports are duly counted by the government, but imports from China are duly undercounted. Hence trade gains are overstated.
C'mon folks, all this stuff is on the blog and net and readily accessible. Argh. If I were to speculate, I would bet money that the head of the association Jacob quotes on the bottom of the first page is merely spreading some pro-Ma propaganda. Making sure that associations are headed by pro-Blue types is one of the most important ways the KMT retains control of local institutions and local messaging.
Let's look at some of the other stuff, which I think reproduces so many of the problems we've been seeing in the international media over the years.... first there are the "striking similarities"....
On paper and in person, the two bear striking similarities. Educated abroad — Mr. Ma at Harvard and New York University, and Ms. Tsai at Cornell and the London School of Economics — they spent their early careers in academia. Both are reluctant campaigners, wonkish rather than telegenic. Each promises generous social spending and a city’s worth of low-cost housing."...they spent their early careers in academia." Once again, that amazing invention, Google, takes you to another incredible invention, Wiki, whose entry on Ma will rapidly inform you that Ma's early career was spent in politics and government, first in the President's office under the second of the Chiangs, then to the RDEC, then the MAC, and then the post of Justice Minister. Academia was where Ma fled to from politics after Lee removed him from that last post. I'll leave finding Tsai's Wiki page an exercise for the reader, who, unlike the NYTimes, probably has access to Google.
There's another way this equivalency is false, and that is its significant omission: Ma was a scion of the KMT security state, and studied at Harvard in one of those programs aimed at cultivating up and coming talent from security states allied to the US. As I predicted months ago, no foreign publication from a democratic state is ever going to put Ma in the proper context of his long opposition to democracy and support for authoritarianism. Sad. There is no equivalency between Ma and Tsai, except the most superficial one of a foreign education. Trust the NYTimes to reach for that one.
Even Ma's alleged wonkishness is no more than a veneer of brains and the ability to stay on message. The actual policy wonk is Tsai, who spent many years toiling behind the scenes in policymaking positions.
I hope the next media report drops this stereotypical approach to Ma and Tsai and instead shows how completely different they are.
The NYTimes observes in another reach for (false) "balance":
The race has been dominated by parochial concerns and mudslinging. Last week, Ms. Tsai and her surrogates accused the president of using the intelligence authorities to monitor her campaign illegally. The Ma camp has been raising questions about Ms. Tsai’s role in a state-financed biotech company that yielded her handsome profits. Both have denied any wrongdoing.ROFL. There's so much awesome badness I could spend the whole blog post unpacking it. Quickly...
- Of course the issues are parochial from the NYTimes' perspective, it's an election held in another country!
- The negative campaigning is only a feature of the last couple of weeks.
- The accusation that the government is spying on Tsai was not made initially by the Tsai camp but by NEXT media which is hardly a surrogate of the Tsai campaign. For shame. Whereas the attacks on Tsai come from a government minister and appear to be a violation of neutrality.
- The "handsome profits" claim is total KMT propaganda over which the DPP is now suing and from which its original proponents have all quietly backed away. Disgusting that the NYTimes has chosen to give it the imprimatur of a paper of record. Tsai's "investment" was $220 million of which she was paid $10 million for the use of her money for pitiful annualized gains of ~3.5% (here's the pro-KMT China Post on it). But I guess the NYTimes didn't dare look that one up in Google -- might break a fingernail typing or something. Although I suppose to that when you come from the anemic economy whose screwed-up Establishment the NYTimes cheerleads for, 3.5% a year probably does seem like handsome returns.
- No mention of the government getting busted engaging in what looks like forgery in attempt to rewrite the history.
The election has been dominated by key local concerns. Until a few weeks ago, when the KMT accused Tsai Ing-wen of illegally profiting from an investment in a government-funded biotech firm, the campaign had been going to the DPP, which had run a tight ball-control campaign with few mistakes, while the Ma camp stumbled from one error to another. The Ma camp's poor showing in the campaign, combined with locally important issues such as income stagnation, rising housing prices, and the widespread perception that Ma is too close to China, explain why Tsai has managed to pull even with Ma in the election.If you read the article carefully, it does state that the two candidates are neck and neck but does not appear to clearly explain how they got that way.
Interestingly the article headed in that direction at the beginning with its excellent opening emphasizing that Ma faces many of the concerns faced elsewhere in the world, but the quickly turned to the bog-standard outside view that Taiwanese spend their days thinking about the cross-strait relationship.The NYTimes presents a quote from Nathan Batto of the excellent blog Frozen Garlic....
Nathan Batto, a political scientist at the Academia Sinica, a research institute in Taipei, said that the underlying issue for many voters was whether Taiwan could remain autonomous.Outsiders look at Taiwan and see only the cross-strait relationship; that is the framing the NYTimes is using (not Batto). But for locals the cross-strait relationship is a thing that they do every day and the "negative" side of which is already settled in their minds: we are not part of China and we don't want to be part of China. The "positive" identity: What is Taiwanese/Taiwan/ROC and how are they related, is still being worked out, and I feel it is likely that at some point the Taiwanese will become a sort of Not-China in the way Canada is a kind of Not-America. In any case it is precisely because Ma violated the negative consensus by moving Taiwan too close to China that he got in trouble.
“The single question that frames all elections here is who we are and what do we want to be,” he said. “Should Taiwan get closer to China or keep its distance?”
In Taiwanese minds how China should be handled is simple: no political closeness, plenty of economic interaction -- that is what the locals want, and that is why Ma repeatedly has shushed talk of political negotiations. In other words, for outsiders, Taiwanese identity is seen in the shadow of cross-strait relations, for locals, it is the other way around......
Thus, the question is probably more like "how should our closeness to China be managed so that we don't get swallowed". To the extent that voters are voting on China, that is what they are voting on. But mostly they are voting on a host of far more urgent local concerns, ranging from nuclear power to land prices to incomes to farm subsidies to local identities.
There's so much more I could say (are the businessmen in China as pro-Ma as the NYTimes thinks? What data is that based on?)(the DPP didn't irritate China; China chooses to be irritated). But I have to stop now. My fingernails are all chipped from too much accessing of Google....
PS: Yup. As of Sunday the 8th, The NYTimes does not appear to have taken a single letter on this piece.
REF: Longer article on orchids.
- Ballots and Bullets with another excellent hosting, this one by J Michael on the non-impact of all the scandals and accusations. The scandals are par for the course for a major election, which reduces their impact on voters.
- ETRC runs down the problems for poor Beijing, all jittery over the possibility of a DPP victory.
- Taiwan to move to number 3 exporter of machinery.
- Taiwan dollar on the rise.
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