Saturday, August 24, 2013

Government's repressive tactics against protesters

Over at Far Eastern Sweet Potato J Michael scribes on the government's ugly campaign of intimidation:
It gets worse. On Aug. 20, the Bureau of Energy, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Presidential Human Rights Advisory Committee held a meeting in Taipei to discuss the matter of adequate distance for wind turbines and, we are told, to “maximize public participation.” However, there were so many procedural problems with the meeting, which was termed an “experimental hearing,” that it is difficult not to regard it as a joke — if only public money were not wasted on it.

For one thing, the “experimental hearing” had no authority to enforce anything; it was just people talking. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that (we’re all for all sides in a dispute to sit down and try to reach a consensus), here’s the catch: Before the hearing had begun, a large number of individuals associated with InfraVest had “signed up” for the event, which left precious few seats for Yuanli residents and environmental NGOs. In other words, opponents of the project were selected out even before the hearing was held. Oddly, many of the people who had registered never materialized during the meeting.

It gets better. Several police officers and members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were inside the venue during the hearing, which in itself is an odd departure from protocol. Moreover, several law enforcement officers held video cameras; individuals who were present (I failed to attend it myself) told me the cops only filmed whenever the villagers were speaking or asking questions. The inevitable intimidation associated with this act, and the selectiveness of its targets, are evidently cause for worry. It made suspects of individuals who have done no wrong, while clearly telling them that the powers that be are clearly siding with the local government and the German firm.
J Michael describes the violence in the Dapu case in this post here. The tactics may vary, but this is always the way it has been: the government has never sided with the little guy. But recently the government's tactics have been especially brutal, especially at Huaguang:
To facilitate evictions, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which owns the land, filed lawsuits against residents for “illegally” occupying state properties, resulting in fines to residents that range from a few hundred thousand New Taiwan dollars to several million. Most inhabitants have been forced to leave. Others have died while fighting for their right to stay."
Residents of the Huaguang community said that the police conveyed threats to themThis Taipei Times article reports on the propaganda put out by the Miaoli county government over the Dapu case. Certainly 98% of those contacted permitted the gov't to demolish their homes, because they were not told they could say no. Let me note again the missing factor: the courts. People facing demolition have no recourse to an impartial judiciary with powers that have teeth. The judicial system is not a part of this process. Hence everyone faces the same sign-or-get-nothing choice, while the government can more or less dictate terms. What this really means is that your land is yours only until someone more powerful than you wants it, and the government will support them, not you.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Mike Fagan said...

"What this really means is that your land is yours only until someone more powerful than you wants it, and the government will support them, not you."

The implication is much broader than that: these cases make salient the absence of property rights in Taiwan; there are only contingent permissions. It's not only land, but what is on the land (houses and such) that is being stolen by the government.

It is also interesting - is it not? - that the third demand of the Taiwan Rural Front is to pass amendments to the Land Theft Act, rather than pass a repeal bill? Given that they have no chance of getting either through the legislature, you'd think that they'd might as well go the full-monty and shoot for a repeal bill.

Yet they aren't, and the inference I am taking from this is that what they actually want to change are the terms on which permits to land use can be granted or rescinded. They are not actually up for a defence of property rights at all. The distinction seems to be lost on quite a few people.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, there are no property rights traditionally. Everything was the property of the emperor.

The legislature is the key issue. What can be done?

Mike Fagan said...

I don't think the legislature is the key; if rights can be recognized by a vote, then they can also be violated by a vote. As far as the legislature goes, I wouldn't look beyond the repeal of legislation - and that's at my least cynical threshold.

At this point, with most people still living tolerably if not exceptionally well by historical standards, there's probably not much that can be done. How many luxury cars can any one of us see on an average day, simply by going to work or going to the shops and what-not? Twenty or thirty?

The "legitimacy" of a governance system can survive all kinds of ethical outrages so long as it does not severely impair the material well-being of (for want of a better term) the "patrician class", because they are the ones who - if they act in concert with the rest of us - have the leverage to really mobilize against the despots, elected or not.

Perhaps the worst mistake to be made right now is to start denigrating and alienating "the rich", for instance with stupid "rich vs poor" rhetoric - which is unfortunately all too common and plays right into the hands of that arse-bandit in Miaoli, those in Taipei and elsewhere. A properly universal system of property rights is never going to be achieved unless "the patrician class" starts actively withdrawing their obedience to the State-nexus in concert with the rest of us.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Even in the western common law tradition the crown is still the ultimate owner of the land. People have a fee simple right which is limited. So there is no chance of repealing the Land Expropriation Act in Taiwan only making it more fair.

Mike Fagan said...

I should add that although there will be plenty of people within "the patrician class" who are solidified in their support for the KMT and DPP, most of these people will likely be in their '50s and '60s now, with perhaps a few in their '40s. Many of these people will have sons (and in some cases daughters) who are trying to establish their own businesses. What difficulties and frustrations are their children encountering that stem from the political system?

Tim Worstall made the following comment yesterday, in reference to western, developed economies:

"My impression is that we have deregulated some things: largely, industries that are or were already extant. But we've increased regulation in the area of trying to do new things."

I wonder how far something similar may be said of Taiwan?

The younger generations of the "patrician class" are either going to be taught how to gain political influence within the system, or they are going to become disaffected with the political system. If in some way or another they do become disaffected, then sooner or later that will filter up through to the parents.

At this point everything still hinges on ideas, the honesty and accuracy of their presentation and the quality of their discussion. We cannot afford to alienate "the rich" in any general sense, and that is why the likes of the TRF and the various other Lefty-run academic groups might actually be worse than useless: counter-productive.

Mike Fagan said...


Country A has one system similar to the system of Country B in certain aspects, therefore Country B cannot abolish their system. That's a non-sequitur.

The "limitations" in the fee simple system of property rights would be more accurately described as infractions.

Mike Fagan said...

Re: the public hearing on the Yuanli wind turbines which Cole reports on; the obvious thing to do would be to stop treating such procedures at face value and instead to use them as opportunities to gather certain information.

My reading of Liu is that he is being allowed to get away with all of this by the central government because he has some sort of dirt on the President himself, or somebody of sufficient importance to the President. Ma could well be worried that what is happening to Chen Shui-bian now can happen to him when he leaves office - if he doesn't keep his nose clean. If this were not the case, surely Ma would have slapped Liu down months ago, if not way back in 2010.

Michael Turton said...

Liu isn't getting away with anything. Rather, he is following established KMT construction-industrial state policy. No need for any dirt on Ma.

Mike Fagan said...

Lack of compensation for the farmers at Dapu? Needless damage to the KMT's image and an easy opportunity for populist appeasement by Ma.

He did nothing because he's a Jaffa, and Liu has something on him.

Anonymous said...

What about Demolition of Huaguang?

Just read the comments of those posts, they are salt to the wound; is it the real public sentiment or paid by the power to be?

It is clear that the government never have a resettling plan for the community, if so they could have done so years ago, back in 80's while demolishing those settlements of the spouse and family of military personnel who came to Taiwan in 1949; and when the money people want the land, government just muscled in, dislocate the low income people who were forced to locate there for years.

The out of tune part is, while the death of conscript Hung detonated the anger and fear buried deep in the hearts of Taiwanese, and Dapu caused an uproar in the unjust of the land right in Taiwan, or a total lack of land right protection; at least from the news, people just never link Dapu with other demolition cases, treating it like an isolated case, while the tactics and methods of demolition are all the same. Why the public perception of the same thing can varied so great?

Anonymous said...

@Mike Fagan,

What is a Jaffa? FAIK Jaffa is a seaport.

Mike Fagan said...

@Anon 8.08pm

I would think the comments at the UDN item are genuine, as I've heard similar comments myself from a deep-blue girl about what happened to the Wang family in Taipei. She didn't like what I said in response to her.

If there is a divergence in public opinion between the Huaguan and Dapu cases, then this may be due to confusion over the concept of "rights".

@Anon 8.11pm

"Jaffa" is a kind of seedless orange; in the UK it is a slang term to mean either a man who cannot impregnate his wife or a man who lacks conviction and courage. I used the term with the second meaning because I think Ma is scared of Liu.