Friday, May 02, 2014

The KMT Brings order to the Galaxy

Noodle shop, Huaxin St.

The commentary on the nuke plant from the pro-nuke side is both comically stupid and revealing. South China Morning Post says it's time for a "rational" debate on energy in Taiwan.
But Taiwan, like Japan, has little choice but to consider nuclear power because it lacks the natural resources to generate electricity. Taiwan's three operating nuclear power stations, two of them in New Taipei City in the north where the fourth is being built, have operated safely for many years, while providing nearly 20 per cent of the island's electricity. Taiwanese need to put politics aside and talk about the island's future development.
Two issues to highlight. First, the constant deployment of "rationality" by the government side as opposed to the "irrationality" of the protesters. J Michael Cole accused the government of flirting with authoritarianism lite in a piece yesterday, and the fourth nuke train wreck is triggering its deepest bureaucratic authoritarian impulses of bringing order to the galaxy. Be orderly! the government keeps saying to the protesters. Orderliness involves education with correct information of course, because people simply need guidance and rationality. The KMT is apt to explain the behavior of its opponents as being uneducated, irrational, and lacking in proper guidance. Hence, the notice to the universities last year to supply guidance to students participating in protests. This discourse of education, rationality, and guidance is code language for authoritarian control. Cole only errs in saying that this is a response to the protests, it has always been this way for a society where the answer to all questions of public order is "more control". The KMT is merely updating its habits to the internet age.

 J Michael observes:
To counter this, the KMT and the Executive Yuan (EY) have both announced they will soon establish “new media” units to counter “disinformation” circulating on the Internet and provide “correct” government information using the social networks that served as the principal means of communication for the Sunflower Movement. The unit under the EY will reportedly fall directly under Premier Jiang Yi-huah. Ma and Jiang said that they would hire tech-savvy youth to facilitate the operations of their “new media” units, whose raison d’ĂȘtre bears striking similarities with similar units in China, which have been strengthened under President Xi Jinping in his campaign against the dissemination of “rumors” on the Internet. Officials have reportedly also been instructed to roam the Internet and rectify “wrong” information whenever they encounter it. The parallels with China’s use of “fifty cent party” — paid Internet commentators who are relied upon by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to counter dissent and spread the “correct” line — are hard to miss.
The fourth nuke crisis is indeed a crisis of order, but the major disorder is occurring inside the KMT, the real prize for True Believers like Ma. Thus, as Cole notes, President Ma, who is also KMT Chairman Ma, struggled to bring his rivals and his Party under control:
Meanwhile, Ma, who is perhaps most threatened by a possible split within his party, has sought to consolidate his power by using the tactics of autocrats by keeping his potential opponents close and diminishing the size of his winning coalition, or what political scientists Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith refer to as the “essentials.” This Ma did on April 30, with the announcement that he had appointed Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu and Taichung Mayor Jason Hu — all of whom had at some point or another in recent weeks occasionally expressed different views from the administration on how to resolve the political crisis — as KMT vice chairmen. By doing so, Ma co-opted potential critics within the party, which he himself admitted had been made “stronger” as a result, and probably ensured that he can withstand pressure from within the ranks to step down as party chairman, an outcome that this author had seen as highly likely.
Ma also cut the number of central committee members, Cole notes. These are moves meant to consolidate Ma's grip on the Party, an admission that things are not all going his way. Ma may be a hopeless politician when facing the common people, but his political tutors were Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, two dictators, and he knows full well the importance of securing his KMT rear.

The other way to interpret this, however, is to note that at the fateful meeting in which the KMT said the decision was made to mothball the fourth nuke plant, among those present were the big guys who became KMT vice chairman: Chu, Hu, and Hau. I suspect they delivered him an ultimatum to mothball the plant because it was becoming a problem for the KMT in the upcoming elections.

Ma has also done another common dictator move: by appointing a number of potential successors -- KMT Vice Chairman -- Ma has planted the seeds of chaos when he finally steps down. Jason Hu is probably ambivalent about ambition, but Chu and Hau are both younger and potential presidential candidates. It is not difficult to see that once Ma goes down, there will be a struggle over control of the KMT, which will cause KMTers to wax nostalgic about the good old days when things were orderly in the KMT and Ma ran things with an iron fist, like Russian pensioners wistfully recalling Stalin. Note that the perception that the KMT may have a difficult internal struggle if Ma is forced out may work as a factor to keep Ma in power...

The other thing the SCMP commentary points to is the vast, probably deliberate ignorance of the claim that nukes are the only way Taiwan can supply power for itself (in fact the Taiwan EPA under Ma also says renewables are unreliable and we gotta have nukes. LOL). Taiwan has vast renewable potential. I pointed in June to a piece on molten salt power potential in Taiwan at JapanFocus, which is pretty good when it isn't forwarding Chinese propaganda on the Senkakus. But there are several papers out there that give a good overview of the possibilities. For example, this 2006 paper observes:
These figures are obsolete but they give you an idea. The technology is progressing so rapidly that offshore wind potential has risen more than an order of magnitude from that figure, not even a decade old, according to this paper. That paper also ignores other forms of renewable energy, such as wave or OTEC, that might be useful in Taiwan.

Moreover Taiwan has a strong renewables manufacturing sector which the government should be seeking to stimulate through purchases of power equipment for Taiwan. It should also be pushing the fuel cell and battery industries, not dumping $40 billion into operating and then retiring that time bomb on the NE coast. There's no sense in investing in nukes, a dead industry kept alive in zombie state only via massive subsidies.
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Anonymous said...

I also get the sense that The Economist's Taiwan articles are directed toward President Ma personally rather than the hoi polloi.

Anonymous said...

Fukishima should have been a enough of a wake up call for anyone that thinks building old-school style nuke reactors on major earthquake fault lines is a good idea. I suggest... Taiwan should just give up the $$ spent on the military. It's a lost cause anyway. Instead invest in developing liquid thorium (LFTR) reactors. China already has an advanced program based on US technology. Taiwan should make energy its #1 goal.

Taiwan Democracy Movement said...

In addition to the Galactic Empire of Star Wars, another analogy:

les said...

Why doesn't KMT just subcontract this job of steering public opinion to the CCP? They're already in this business, have cheaper labor and more experience.

Nathan Rubio said...

I used to feel the same way that most of the people protesting nuclear power feel like about 6 or 7 years ago. However,when I did some research on nuclear power I found out that it's not what most of the mainstream media point it out to be.

Here is to clear up misinformation on radiation doses:

Here is more information on what energy sources are the greenest as well as information about the safety of nuclear power vs others (in the comments section):

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Nathan.

Ray van de Putte said...

Michael's last paragraph "There's no sense in investing in nukes, a dead industry kept alive in zombie state only via massive subsidies." is right when you replace nukes by wind energy.
The technological concept of wind turbines is not developing and looking at all the countries that have large on- and offshore wind parks we learn that those only produce electricity thanks to enormous subsidy programms, which in all cases have lead to a dramatic increase of consumer energy prices.
It is too easy to think that free wind gives free energy and the same goes for solar energy. Apart from that, there are so many other issues that make that wind energy and solar energy are hardly to address as sustainable.
Nuclear energy is by no mains a dead industry but the developments go slow. Quick enough though to be able to replace fossil fuel to a huge extend when that will be necessary. And mind you that solar energy on the sun is exactly the same as the fusion technology that science is working on.
But indeed, we're not there yet, Taiwan's earthquake sensitivity is worrying, and the most worrying of all is that no blue or green government will be honest enough and show real transparancy in their communication with the people where we can feel safe by. In other words, for the coming decades Taiwan should abandon nuclear energy.
Renewables will however not be able to make up for that (nuclear does provide 25% of the base load now) without thriving up the consumer energy costs to North European price levels. Not for nothing the German 'Energie Wende' appears to be a total failure, and other European highlights like Spain, Denmark and England have exactly the same problems. Worldwide the investment climate for renewables is on serious decline because the concepts are just not bringing as promised.
Oil and coal will be the main source for many decades, and the only advantage that they have is their low costs. Well, a strong and competitive economy simply needs cheap and reliable energy. This can be expected to come from nuclear, but not from renewables.