My amazing, wonderful son and I enjoy the excellent winter weather we're having. Which is bad news, because the island is desperately in need of rain.
Well, the election is barreling toward us. Tomorrow is Judgment Day, when Skynet will blast the hopes of one party. Or something like that....
The vote count can be followed at the Central News Agency site in English. h/t to my man Michal for the link.
The KMT's TV commercial showing a Korean woman beating Taiwan at cards and implying that Korea's newly signed FTA with China will devastate Taiwan's economy was widely panned as smacking of racism and criticized by Korea, Taipei Times reported. WantWant China Times reports on the Korea reaction here. One observer noted that the falling ROC flag paints opposition to the trade agreements with China as bringing down the ROC. Another noted that the KMT, by dragging in national-level issues, actually intensified the risk that the election would become a referendum on the Ma Administration's economic failures.
The video played on Taiwanese fears of being overtaken by Korea -- Taiwanese constantly see themselves, and are taught to see themselves, as perpetually threatened by Korean growth. Since Chinese culture treats growth as a zero-sum game (if someone is growing it can only be because someone else is shrinking), it is easy to see how people can be manipulated. Yet -- the particulars of the China Korea FTA remain under wraps, I was told...
Gerrit van der Wees in the Taipei Times with the observation that relying on China is a hindrance to free trade.
The quietly brilliant Michal Thim looks at this problem of national/local level in a response to Shelly Rigger's recent piece arguing that we shouldn't overinterpret the elections. Alex Calvo also offers some good thoughts on this theme at CPI.
Steve Tsang, a U of Nottingham China Policy Institute based academic, has a piece in Forbes explaining why we should be interested in watching the elections. Written from a China/KMT standpoint, it's a non-subtle advertisement for the KMT -- Tsang mentions how Hu supposedly transformed Taichung and how nice the police in Taichung are, but surely he knows perfectly well that Taichung is the island's organized crime capital and all about police-gangster relations. Note how Tsang explains Hu's unpopularity by blaming the Party connection to Ma. But the truth is that there's a reason why Hu has had hard fights in the last two elections -- Taichung is widely perceived by locals as being misruled relative to other Taiwan's municipalities -- it's the outsiders and foreigners who praise the place.
Jenny Hsu for WSJ on video (you look great, Jen, good job!) presenting on the elections. Channel News Asia says ruling party set to take a beating.
Ethan Gutmann, whom I correspond with from time to time and I know was greatly upset with the abuse of his book on the organ trade in China by certain parties to attack Ko Wen-je, the independent mayoral candidate for Taipei, sets the record straight in the Taipei Times.
The food safety thing is having an effect on the election, and Dragonbones has a great list of incidents at Taiwanease. Terrifying enough, this massive list is incomplete. Since I have been in Taiwan there have been at least three separate incidents of expired milk powder (dating back to 1991 or so) being used in dairy products, a common practice, apparently. Then there is the instant noodles with more sodium than is said... the problem is endless. The government does nothing, indeed, it often surrenders -- as in the flap of rice noodles not made from rice..
The Taichung election is widely seen as some bellweather for the island as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth -- actually, media narratives tend to be pretty far from the truth -- the Taichung election is going to be won or lost by its respective candidates and their respective campaigns and is not a referendum on the KMT because Taichung Mayor Jason Hu has done a good job distancing himself from the mess in Taipei. He toes the government line and touts its policies, but somehow they don't stick to him. The focus on Taichung obscures the competitive race in Changhua just to the south, and the completely non-competitive race in neighboring Miaoli to the north. And Nantou....
The Miaoli race is rather more interesting in its way -- the county remains rather undeveloped -- great for cycling -- and is leaking population to more developed areas. Yet the KMT remains solidly in control of it. Go figure...
I have no real prognostication. I think Hu will win in Taichung. I have no idea about Taipei -- I am still viscerally unable to believe that Ko can win. Note that is not a prediction, just a gut reaction that prevents me from thinking clearly about the election, so don't credit me if he loses. Perhaps history will repeat itself -- the KMT mailed in the 2004 presidential election campaign and blew a 20 point lead from 2000 (the combined Lien-Soong advantage over Chen) and that was by Sean Lien's Daddy, Lien Chan. One can only hope.
But one thing is certain -- if Ko wins, the KMT is going to massively subvert and sabotage him in Taipei.
Martin Scorcese is shooting a film in Taichung beginning in February.
BBC reports on a shop in Beijing that bans Chinese. The Chinese language version says that this is not the first time this happened in area shops. In fact, as my wife pointed out to me, this is not a common behavior, but it is not exceptional, either. I can think of several instances in my own life where the signage said different things to foreigners and locals, to the detriment of the latter. A few years ago I was at a large restaurant in Taoyuan translating signs and I asked about a sign that said diners must make their children behave. They told me I didn't need to translate it, foreigners' kids are always well behaved. My wife recalled an incident which many years later still rankles -- shopping in Kaohsiung with her sister, she entered a bookstore to purchase some English books. The sign in Chinese said "don't open the books" but the foreigners in the store were happily flipping through them without any staff intervention. She and her sister challenged the staff, but they affirmed the existence of the double rule... my experience is that in many situations locals think foreigners behave better than they would. I'm not sure they are correct, but that is an assertion one often encounters...
[Taiwan] 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!