So much out there this week, and me bogged down with work...
CHINA EXPERTS DON'T GET TAIWAN, CASE #39056: Lyle Goldstein, the China expert whose work on China's military is unexcelled, had a piece this week in the always-good National Interest titled How China Sees the Risky Path Ahead with Taiwan. Michal Thim has already taken a good look at it on his blog. But the paragraph below shows that, like so many China experts, Goldstein's understanding of Taiwan is through China lenses...
Taiwan has been an extraordinary issue in US-China relations since 1949 when Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalists fled to the island after defeat in China’s civil war. The only reason that Taiwan has been, by and large, out of the headlines since 2008 is that the island’s leader Ma Yingjeou quite radically shifted course from his two predecessors and bravely pursued a rapprochement with the mainland. That far-sighted policy has made for eight quiet years. Only readers unfamiliar with the very dicey situation across the Taiwan Strait from 1997-2007 could fail to appreciate the welcome and prosperous calm that has characterized the Taiwan issue over the last several years.If you live in an intellectual world where a pro-China ideologue who wants to put the island in China's orbit like Ma is "brave" and the policy of selling out Taiwan to China is "far-sighted" and the situation in 1999 was "dicey" and where the media is quiet because of Ma's policies, you are living in a fantasy world. Prosperous! Our trade surplus has fallen every year since the inception of ECFA, and the stagnating local economy is a major election issue. This habitual internalization and re-presentation of Beijing's propaganda and thinking patterns by China scholars and China-based international media is one of Beijing's most important forms of soft power.
Apparently it never occurred to Goldstein that one reason Taiwan wasn't "in the news" is because the news is not in Taiwan: several major media orgs, including AP and WSJ, have axed their Taipei branches in recent years. Moreover, the news only reports sexy stuff from Taiwan like cross-strait tensions, which it hypes in a permanent OMG WAR IMMINENT mode, probably accounting for his strange idea that the situation in 1997 was "dicey". Many of the key trends in Taiwan politics don't appear in the international media -- for example, the relentless refusal of the Ma Administration to expand the defense budget and purchase weapons from the US, which stretches back to the KMT's refusal to let the special weapons budget leave committee and be debated on the floor of the legislature during the Chen Administration. Most of my readers will recall the "soft blackout" of the Sunflower occupation of the legislature, which was frustratingly underreported in the US media. And we all know how difficult it has been to get the international media to report that most Taiwanese want independence, while the rising Taiwanese consciousness remains unrisen for a large swath of the international media. Goldstein even reproduces several media tropes, such as the mysterious tensions which arise without an agent causing them. *sigh*
Japan is missing from Goldstein's thinking in this piece as is any idea of Taiwan's possible place in a defense of Japan. Whereas the Ma Ying-jeou government attempted to move Taiwan into China's orbit, Tsai is already busy aligning Taiwan with Japan and the US, facts actually noted in one of the pieces Goldstein cites. Does it serve US interests to align Taiwan with China instead of Japan? As an American strategist, would you rather have a leader who sees himself as Chinese, wants to annex Taiwan to China, despises the US, and irritates Japan, or one that Japan heartily approves of and can work with? The question answers itself.
Meanwhile, Tsai continues to lead massively in every poll.
OMG SOMEONE MADE ME THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD: The media finally grew up this year. From CS Monitor:
Taiwan will hold elections on Jan. 16 that – if polls are correct – are likely to usher in a government that is far more pro-Taiwan than Beijing is used to, and could for the first time in 70 years oust the Nationalist Party from power.*wipes tears of joy from eyes*. Someone in the media actually used the term "pro-Taiwan". Let's hope it's the start of a trend...
This was nicely put by TaiwanTalk on Twitter:
Taiwan Talk @1taiwantalk: For nearly a century, KMT's cause is revive China under KMT. Last 20 years, KMT's cause is to be leverage broker. KMT treats Taiwan as chips
DON'T MISS: Solidarity's excellent take on the debates
Most of Chu’s criticisms of Tsai—that the DPP is obstructionist, that so many members of her team served in the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration, that she opposes the 18-percent civil servant interest rate though she benefited from it, that her cross-strait policy doctrine is unclear, that she equivocates on policies, that she wants to close off the country and send cross-strait relations back 20 years—were taken verbatim from Ma’s 2012 debate statements. The attack on her past property transactions replaced Ma’s references to Su Jia-chyuan’s (蘇嘉全) farmhouse and the Yu Chang case. The sneering smile Chu gave whenever Tsai rebutted him, meanwhile, called to mind the less exaggerated faces Ma Ying-jeou made at Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) in 2008.DON'T MISS: Kharis Templeman, whose stuff is consistently strong, explains Why the KMT is going to lose -- it's the economy:
Most importantly, Chu based his own candidacy on Ma’s cross-strait policies of bilateral economic liberalization and the 1992 Consensus, as has his campaign. His biggest innovation has actually been to dumb the Ma platform down, as demonstrated by his main-theme ad One Taiwan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjvMHNX2GJs). Chu’s arguments are bereft of the numeracy and attention to detail that made Ma compelling, perhaps by conscious choice, perhaps due to a difference in ability. Though Ma’s statistics and details sometimes belied correlation-causation errors, on the surface they gave the impression he really knew what he was talking about. He managed to make all the same criticisms of Tsai much more concisely than Chu, giving him time to present a positive and comprehensive policy platform of his own.
Bad Economy = Bad Polls. At about the same point that the economy started to sour over the last six months, Taiwan's presidential election turned from a competitive race into a rout. As the Taiwan Indicators Survey Research survey reproduced above shows, at the beginning of June, one could at least imagine a combined pan-blue effort that would give Tsai Ing-wen a real race: support for Hung Hsiu-chu and James Soong together was at 44.8%, above Tsai's 37.1%. But then what happened? Support for both cratered.The piece was thick with numbers and links, and it's a very good explanation as far as it goes. Solidarity linked to a recent Thinking Taiwan poll which showed that voters cared far more about the economy than cross-strait relations. However, the economy in the last six months is only part of the explanation, since Tsai was the anointed winner beginning with the November 2014 elections. Indeed, in Feb the pro-KMT TVBS already had the bad news -- 36% of those polled wanted the DPP to win the presidency in 2016, while just 19% supported the KMT. In this Feb poll Tsai was already 47-33 over Chu. Those ratios have basically held over time. The economy perhaps tells you why Chu's support refuses to rise -- though I expect part of that is the betrayal of Hung Hsiu-chu -- but explains why the KMT brand has suffered for the last several years.
Part of that was Hung's own shortcomings as a candidate, but once she was replaced by Eric Chu, the KMT should have seen a real bounce. It hasn't. Chu is now down around 20% in the polls. That's likely to go up somewhat as pan-blue voters come back to the fold, and there are other polls showing him getting up to 30%. But even if pan-blue voters coordinated on a single candidate, the combined Chu-Soong support is nowhere near enough to make this a race anymore. It's all but over now.
On Twitter Templeman correctly pointed out that if the economy was at 6% then the KMT would be fine. Except that in 2008 the economy was at 6% and Hsieh was destroyed in the election.
Like the image above, @FormosaNation sent this around. DPP leads in all major regions: north, Hsinchu/Taoyuan/Miaoli, center, south, and Kaohsiung and Pingtung.
DON'T MISS: Gwenyth Wang, another of many consistently excellent commentators to appear since the Nov 2014 elections, writes on the rise of the Taiwanese identity:
Those polls and movements not only reflect the rising Taiwan identity, but also the muddled central cleavage line. After the Sunflower Movement and independent Ko Wen-je’s victory of winning Taipei City, the capital which was only under the DPP’s rule for four years in the 90s, we have seen the spontaneous rise of collaborative actions by young Taiwanese. The sea of information and the power of the Internet are corroding the government’s ability to “correct” the view of Taiwanese on the island’s history and their identity.Indeed, sometimes you can't find this even if you look hard for it. For most foreigners in Taiwan the major arena of political talk among the young, college PTT systems, are terra incognita. On Facebook many young Taiwanese don't express their politics since they don't know who they will offend. But the bulletin boards are anonymous and simple to use.
You only find this new dimension of Taiwanese society if you look hard for it. For instance, four young Taiwanese born in the 90s used crowd funding to produce a documentary of Su Beng (史明), a Taiwanese historian and independence revolutionary. They raised 40 per cent more than their original target and received NT$7 million in the end. At this year’s Expo Milan 2015, a group of Taiwanese with an average age of 27, with ten month’s preparation, opened the Taiwan Pavilion in downtown Milan. When Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose to walk away from the international event, it was those youthful Taiwanese people who chose to persevere and bring Taiwan back on the stage.
Note also that this Taiwanese identity is a post-independence identity -- support for independence is assumed, not shouted. The young have more urgent things on their minds, like jobs and housing.
OF NOTE: Gwen Wang @GwenythWR 30 Dec 2015
Apply Daily interview with White Wolf: democracy is for cheaters and liars. #taiwan http://youtu.be/qsA_uU6CSnsWHAT EVERYONE HERE KNOWS, BUT OUTSIDE TAIWAN FEW GET: J Michael Cole observes that Taiwan-Beijing relations can only break down if Beijing wants them to:
Given Ms. Tsai’s repeated vows to maintain the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, as well as her commitment to engaging China constructively and “with sincerity,” Beijing would be shooting itself in the foot if, come May 20, it suddenly “collapsed” dialogue with Taipei, a decision that could only succeed in propelling Taiwan away from China and undo eight years of normalization that, by almost every yardstick, were politically beneficial to Beijing. Notwithstanding the TAO’s rhetoric and the more extremist elements in the CCP who would choose to act on its threats, we can therefore expect that Beijing will act pragmatically in the initial phase of a Tsai administration, during which it would assess her commitment to dialogue and continuity (keen on improving Taiwan’s moribund economy, Ms. Tsai knows all too well that unduly alienating the world’s second-largest economy and Taiwan’s No. trading partner is not a viable policy).One of the cruelest attacks on Taiwan is when commenters assign agency for tensions to Taiwan, but not to Beijing. Yet, it is Beijing that determines the level of tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Kudos to J Michael for laying this out.
Another problem that could undermine Beijing’s ability to coerce Taiwan using the “1992 consensus” is the fact that the definition of “one China” appears to have been shifting. Over the years, the KMT was able to get away with its adherence to “one China” by insisting that both sides had a different interpretation of what “China” means, fuzziness that allowed both sides to claim victory. For Beijing, “one China” meant the People’s Republic of China (PRC), whereas in Taipei it stood for the Republic of China (ROC). Increasingly, however, it has become clear that “one China” is one thing and one thing alone: the PRC. It didn’t help, either, when President Ma, meeting President Xi in Singapore last month, “forgot” to mention the crucial “different interpretations” in his address. If, as seems to be the case, “one China” loses its ambiguity and comes to mean the PRC, it’s not just the DPP that Beijing will have to worry about, but a large number of supporters of the KMT as well, who certainly do not agree with becoming part of the PRC.
A visualization of the likely legislative election outcome. Sent around by the always awesome @FormosaNation
RESOURCES: An excellent compilation of useful links for the election at the China Policy Institute Blog.
OOOHHHH THE PAIN: Douglas Paal, the longtime ardent KMT supporter who has had various US government posts and was also in the usual revolving door fashion a JP Morgan V-P for Asia, whjo comes over to support the KMT in elections (here) struggles to cope with the reality that the KMT is gonna get creamed in the Diplomat. Note how Paal argues against the strategic opportunity of having a pro-Japan, pro-US government in Taipei...
Some in U.S. and other circles, including in Japan and Taiwan, argue that Washington should seize the change in Taipei to raise the level of official dealings in U.S.-Taiwan relations, embed Taiwan in the “rebalance” to Asia, and promote closer security cooperation among Japan, the U.S., and Taiwan. That is an option, but in light of the increasingly interdependent agendas of the U.S. and Chinese leaderships, and the extreme sensitivity of issues involving sovereignty for the Chinese, pursuing such an option would be fraught with costs difficult to predict or control. For the Obama administration, on its way out and in search of a positive legacy, this seems an unlikely choice.The Obama Administration needs to be laying the groundwork for closer cooperation between Taipei, Washington, and Tokyo during that last six months of 2016, so that the momentum carries over into the next Administration.
COMING UP.... OKINAWA: Gordon Chang points out in The Daily Beast that China is now signaling more strongly that it wants Okinawa.
Chinese authorities in the spring of 2013 brazenly challenged Japan’s sovereignty of the islands with a concerted campaign that included an article in a magazine associated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a widely publicized commentary in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper and therefore China’s most authoritative publication; two pieces in the Global Times, the tabloid controlled by People’s Daily; an interview of Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan in the state-run China News Service; and a seminar held at prestigious Renmin University in Beijing.In the evolving catechism of Chinese expansion, the Senkakus, Okinawa, and Taiwan are all stitched together.
At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to affirm that China recognized Okinawa and the Ryukyus as Japanese.
The close timing of events indicated these efforts had been directed from the top of the Chinese political system.
Netizens have had a field day parodying KMT Presidential Candidate Eric Chu's bizarre claim that an old grandmother in Danshui convinced him to run for President. Here displaced presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu brandishes a knife and says 'Danshui grandmother! Come out!'
TWITTER WIT: Solidarity observed:
I thought Eric Chu was Ma 2.0, but he's turned out to be the shareware version of Ma: less features, slower, even a 90-day trial period (before returning to the mayor's office).
IT'S A GOOD THING THE KMT IS THE RATIONAL PARTY:
The ad above might be absurd, but this ad is much better, showing different ethnic groups and languages. Reflect back to the debates where the candidates greeted everyone in several languages, and you can see how politicians are responding to our constantly changing multicultural society. Note again the extensive use of white, and the way that Chu is hit with strong light to make him look really really white. One of the latent problems the Deep Deep Blues have with him is that he's half-Taiwanese and thus, ethnically impure...
CHEN SHUI-BIAN IS A ZOMBIE: Brian H at New Bloom on Tsai Ing-wen and the long shadow of Chen Shui-bian:
But the perception that Tsai is dangerously pro-independence is widespread, not only among international media but among Washington policymakers. Close to two decades ago, during Lee Teng-Hui’s presidency, Tsai was leader of secret study group organized by Lee to search out means for Taiwan to establish a legal basis for Taiwanese independence. This was a study group that not even Lien Chan, Lee’s vice president, was aware of. It remains on the basis of such past precedents that Tsai is perceived as dangerously pro-independence. _______________
Despite retrenchment on the issue of independence under her leadership of the DPP, it is interesting to note that as a presidential candidate Tsai had won over the loyalty of the old Taiwanese independence faction within the DPP as its best hope against the KMT. Some take this as indicating Tsai’s real political position, in the manner of the critics who claim that Tsai’s claim that she will maintain the status quo hides a pro-independence position. But, really, who can say as to what Tsai’s true views are, outside of the needs of political posturing? Does it actually matter? Tsai will conduct her policy on the basis of what seem to be the needs of the moment.
- Also from The National Interest: The Ugly Truth about Avoiding War with China. This is more of the hilarious sellout stuff from the moronic corporate sell outs at CATO. I expect they will continue to churn this crap out until the Kochs increase their investments in the defense industry.
- New Bloom interviews Freddy Lim
- Frozen Garlic looks at the debates: nothing new
- On the campaign trail, Frozen Garlic looks at the Taoyuan elections to try to understand how and why voters are shifting to the DPP.
- Struggle for seats reserved for aboriginal legislators on the CPI blog
- Podcast on Taiwan Temple gods and a famous photographer of them.
- Round the island cycle route officially opened.
- Unable to sleep? The full text of Ma's New Years Day speech.
[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!