Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ko Interviewed in Foreign Policy

Pages from Steve McQueen's biography about filming The Sand Pebbles in Taiwan passed around Facebook.

I'm offline for four or five days this week...

There are many strains of Chinese thinking about Being Chinese. For every ten or twenty blusters about the awesomeness of Chinese culture, there's one person adhering to the Bo Yang strain. Like Ko Wen-je, the new mayor of Taipei, who observed in an interview with Foreign Policy:
For the [world’s] four Chinese-speaking regions — Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mainland China — the longer the colonization, the more advanced a place is. It’s rather embarrassing. Singapore is better than Hong Kong; Hong Kong is better than Taiwan; Taiwan is better than the mainland. I’m speaking in terms of culture. I’ve been to Vietnam and mainland China. Even though the Vietnamese are seemingly poor, they always stop in front of red traffic lights and walk in front of green ones. Even though mainland China’s GDP is higher than that of Vietnam, if you ask me about culture, the Vietnamese culture is superior.
This analysis may sound strange but its actually quite conventional, I have heard it all before. Many Taiwanese look with disdain on the Chinese. His views of the US are also quite conventional among Taiwanese, where the US is often held up as a model. That version of the US, however, is an orientalizing fantasy, in which the Other is held up as a Positive Opposite that We should follow.

His comments on annexing Taiwan to China are also good:
We have to convince Mainland China that a free and democratic Taiwan is more in China’s interest than reunification.

Speaking of orientalizing, a comically awful article on Taiwan's trash production made the rounds this week to say here is better than there. It claims:
Thanks to policies implemented in 1988, the government has been able to decouple GDP growth and production of household waste over a period of about one generation. As the nation’s wealth has risen—approaching $40,000 per capita—the Taiwanese somehow managed to waste less and defy the notion put forth by economists Michael McDonough and Carl Riccadonna that economic growth leads to more consumption and, therefore, more waste. Today, the average Taiwanese citizen produces less than a kilogram of trash per day, according to the Taiwanese Institute for Sustainable Energy. By comparison, the average American produces roughly two kilos (or about four and a half pounds).
The writer apparently simply sucked up the government line and did not attempt any research. Anyone who lives in Taiwan could point out some of the many issues: the widespread and uncounted illegal dumping and burial of waste and trash, especially from factories and construction sites, widespread trash burning, and the cultural and legal differences. For example, name me a Taiwanese city that has a policy on waste collection and recycling of lawn trimmings. They don't exist here, but many American cities count them as waste. Critical thinking, please.
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TaiwanJunkie said...

Dr. Ko hits the nail on the head once again.

Here's the bottomline, countries within a cultural sphere are far more influential to each other compared to countries outside of that cultural sphere. This is the reason why when the Berlin Wall fell, the entire iron curtain collapsed. This is also why when Tunisians revolted, you ended up with the Arab Spring that moved across the Middle East.

Let's just go back to the 1980's when China started opening up. Had there not been Taiwanese and HK businesses with the know-how and capital to rush in and invest, where would China be today?

The development of a country is more than just GDP and highways and bridges. You start off with the basic sustenance, followed by economic growth, followed by cultural development, followed by political advancement.

How did China achieve its breakneck economic growth? With the help of developed areas of sinosphere that was outside of its control.

How will China start up its stagnated cultural engine and jump start political change? Again, with the help of areas of sinosphere that have gone through that growth and development.

This means keeping Taiwan independent and separate and free, so it can experiment and grow and develop and provide a model for China to emulate as it climbs up the ladder of the development totem pole.

A lot of China's intellectuals are starting to understand this, Taiwan is only valuable to China by being outside of China. Taiwan will just be a second Hainan within China. How much contribution has Hainan and Hainanese made the China at large in the last 30 years?

The more the average Chinese understand this, the more they will back off from the default annexation rhetoric

Anonymous said...

is taiwan free and democratic?

the answer is NO

only form exist but no substance

another rotten democracy.

it simply dont works.

if you bought a computer ,
but it always hangs, lag , caused damage to other part.

but you insist to say that my computer is fine and i am happy with that
because it is good values, superior
because my brand is "democracy"

then i had nothing to say.

Erich said...

I am actually more concerned of his statement on "Two Countries, One System."
First of all, the one system is a very awkward way of putting it. To begin with, what system? Who's system? Why one system? He stated that instead of "'one country, two systems,'[...] maybe we should talk about 'two countries, one system' instead. We should try to narrow the gap." (1) Since Mayor Ko suggested to replace "one country, two systems" by "two countries, one system," it seems reasonable to guess that his system infers "political systems."

The thing is, I don't see why one system is necessary for "closing the gap" (1) - assuming that that is a good thing. The U.S. didn't suggest to have "one system" between China and the US to "close the gap." Nor does any other country.

Furthermore, clearly Taiwanese are not interested in implementing PRC's political system (ok, most of us at least). So in order to have one system, the only option remains to be PRC becoming a democratic country - which is a nice thing - but just about as unrealistic as Taiwan implementing totalitarianism. So, what is the point of "one system?" One might as we say two countries two systems.

And all is under the assumption that "closing the gap" is a good thing. It is a good thing ... only up to a point. Let's take things to the extreme - we can close the gap to the point that we are two countries in name only. Clearly that is not what Taiwanese wants. According the chain of events happened last year (and further), it seems to suggest that Taiwanese felt reducing the gap any further from our side would betray who we are, what we value and cherish. Therefore closing the gap is not necessary a good thing.

The more concerning part is Mayor Ko believing that it is ok to drop off "two countries" because that pisses PRC off (2). I mean, seriously? Well, the existence of Taiwan as a de facto nation always pisses PRC off, so should we reunite with PRC? Of course not!

It is possible that Mayor Ko is just being practical and realistic (which after writing this rant, I think that that is certainly a possibility); but I am also worried that being practical is de facto reuniting.



Anonymous said...

@ 6:56 Anonymous: no system is perfect, no democracy is perfect and Taiwan's form of democracy is less perfect than many. Every system has it good and bad points but I'd be willing to bet that most people, given the choice and without fear of retaliation, would choose to live in a democracy.

Would you mind telling us which system you would prefer to live under and if not a democracy, why?

TaiwanJunkie said...

I don't think anyone within Taiwan is under any illusion regarding the imperfection of their democracy.

Democracy is not a computer you can buy or import. Rather, if we must continue with your computer analogy, it is the building of a computer that would serve this country by its people. As the people is building such computer for the first time, there will be trials and errors, there will be mistakes, there might even be a few punches thrown over where to put the hard drive. But the point is we the people are building that computer and gradually learning from mistakes to perfect it.

Will we ever arrive at the absolutely perfect computer that makes no mistakes? No, even the oldest computer maker is still making adjustments along the way.

What is the alternative? Not build that computer and continue to live in the dark ages?

Anonymous said...

A few McQueen Taiwan motorcyle photos can be found here. A few SP screen caps can be found at the bottom of this page this page and here. Note, the last photo he is standing in front of the Keelung Ghost house.

TaiwanJunkie said...

Erich, potentially you can say the US and Canada are operating as two countries, one system. One system meaning democracy, true representative government, respect for liberty and civil right as well as very similar economic system as well.