Saturday, September 23, 2017

Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung *sigh*

The midnight spike in air pollution, using the app airvisual. This is from the Taichung area. The app usually shows a spike, a small one, between midnight and 2 AM. Why? Because factories in Taichung are quietly dumping pollution into the air in the wee hours to avoid EPA fines. I've come to dread Sunday nights because the factories on the hill below our house frequently dump foul-smelling shit into the air.

The reason I'm writing on this is because I've become quite worried about Lin Chia-lung's performance and prospects in 2018. Rumor has it that the Taichung EPA has relaxed enforcement of pollution rules in a bid to win the support of factory owners. I don't know whether it is true -- the issue is that it is being said.

Lin is billing Taichung as "The Event City" but according to people I talk to the city government is crushing the life out of many of its events. A longtime foreign resident who runs several events told me this will likely be his last year. Under Hu the city handed out venues for free, but the Lin Administration is making event holders pay. My friend explained that not only does he pay, but he expects they will find excuses to keep the deposit as well, meaning that he can't afford to run the event any more. Across the city, he told me, the neighborhood and precinct captains are screaming about the new payments.

City leaders, in concert with TAITRA, are also attempting to merge the Taipei Bike Show and the Taichung Bike Show. All bike shows are in decline right now, but the Taipei Bike Show is apparently on life support, several bike company types I talked to aver. The Taichung Bike Show is one of the world's foremost, an important place where deals are made, but the city wants to move it out of the city center (to which it brings important business) to the pointless exhibition center by the HSR station, which is located far from anything interesting, if it doesn't get merged outright. Either the merger or the move will deeply hurt the Taichung Bike Show, and the move will cost local businesses millions in lost hotel and restaurant business.

I've resisted discussion of the Forward Looking Infrastructure plan for Taichung on this blog, because I kept hoping it would become sane. But nope -- the plan currently is to run a light rail line down the same line as the current rail system to Changhua. With the long climbs up and down stairs, the line will actually slow down commutes. Meanwhile the idea of integrating Nantou city into the Taichung area metro/bus/rail system appears to have died -- they couldn't have spent the money to run trains to Nantou and integrate them into that area's extensive tourism stuff?

Opinion on Lin's performance as a politician differs. I hear complaints that he doesn't kiss babies or show up to give speeches when he should, but other people tell me he is ok on that. He doesn't seem to get the same press that other mayors get, though. I expect that in 2018 he will argue he needs another term to complete his plan (when I suggest this to people the response is always a derisive snort "What plan?") and that voters will punish him but give him another chance, letting him win by a much smaller margin. But he could lose to an energetic and skilled KMT politician -- fortunately those are in short supply in the KMT.

Meanwhile in Taipei the DPP has decided that it can't leave well enough alone. Ko Wen-je, the independent but pro-Green mayor of the city, is coming under fire from DPP politicians for being "weak on China" and similar nonsense. TT says:
Amid increasing tension between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), DPP Legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) yesterday criticized the mayor, saying he lacked a firm political stance. Cheng urged the party to nominate its own candidate in the Taipei mayoral election next year.
There are some in the DPP who want to nominate their own candidate for the election -- longtime buffoon and DPPer Pasuya Yao, who is not aborigine in any way but simply adopted an aboriginal first name to be cool, has expressed interest. It would be really stupid to run a DPP politician against Ko, who right now is popular and secure. All that would do is risk handing the city back to the KMT while humiliating the DPP loser and betraying a key ally. Tsai Ing-wen needs to clamp down on this...

As I have written before, the north is in the midst of a demographic transition. High housing prices in Taipei have driven younger people out to Taoyuan and Keelung and New Taipei City where they will largely support the DPP. In the city the bureaucracy is greening from the bottom up, again creating more DPP-leaning voters, while the Deep Blues are dying out. The smart move would be to leave Ko Wen-je in place for four more years with DPP support to let these demographic trends continue, and let light Blues discover that a non-KMT mayor is not the end of the world...
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Single Payer: Myths cured by the experience of Taiwan


An acquaintance of mine with a decade of life here posted this on Facebook about single payer. Here in Taiwan we have excellent health insurance. If only the US had this system, instead of its current one or the murderous plans the Republicans keep attempting to pass....

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I wrote this while on a recent train ride. It's long, but please don't think I'm crazy. I was bored and motivated at the same time.

This is on my mind a lot, and I only share because I think it can add clear perspective to a very confusing and clouded health care debate.

As someone who has lived under one version of Single Payer Health Care for the past 10 years, I would like to respectfully opine on some of the (many) falsehoods that are circulated by various (mostly conservative media) sources. I think it's totally cool no matter what opinion you hold.

I just hope to add to an informed and important debate.

So, about Single Payer -
- SP is not government-owned health care. Doctors do not necessarily work for the government. SP is priced and paid out by a single government-pooled source, and care is administered in the private sector (usually).

- SP does not stifle choice. I can literally go to any doctor/hospital/clinic in any city. Nobody is limited to doctors within their 'plan' or even geographical area. I usually pick the place with the best candy bowl at the desk.

- SP does not stifle competition. I have found SP to be far more of a 'free market' of care than I have ever experienced in the US (see above re choice). The best doctors and the best clinics get and retain the most patients and therefore make the most money.

- SP is kindof a socialist idea, sure, but really it's very much capitalist in the sense that the actual care is the service/product delivered by the physicians rather than the insurance 'plan' (see above). Associating SP with Venezuelan-style socialism is an oft-used farce that makes no sense. I think it's important to remember that every variation of US health care over the past several decades can neither be described as socialist nor capitalist, but rather, "rigged".

- SP does fix pricing at the national level, in a very good way. If this worries you, I can understand that. This worries me much less than how pricing of care and medicine has been handled in the US in recent history. Remember the insurance bills with all the fake prices? What was that all about?

- SP does not force doctors to provide services under the threat of force or law...any moreso than police are 'forced' to keep the peace. This is mostly in response to a guy named Ben Shapiro and many outlets that have repeated his ideas. I have no idea what he is talking about.

- SP does not ration care to the extent that has been described over and over in the US media. Wait times for vital care are not a problem. I'm sure there are outlier situations where patients were unhappy with care or not cared for properly, but I can say for certain that long wait times and rationing of care are definitely not systemic of SP in Taiwan.

- SP is not unaffordable. It is definitely cheaper than any recent version of US health care. Way cheaper. That's just math.

- SP does not require you to "pay for other people's health care" any more than any health care proposal that the GOP has presented over the past several months...unless we start allowing insurance companies to price customers out again (which the GOP is trying to do now)....in which case, people who run out of money will simply get the care and not pay for it (again, we all end up paying for that), or just die.

- SP is popular and it works, but the most important endorsement I can think of is this - For those who have experienced BOTH the US system of care and SP in some variation in a foreign country and are able to compare and contrast, the vast majority would favor SP. (see "Candian citizens who have lived in the US")

- SP has many different variations and hybrids, and amenities and aesthetics of care centers will usually fall in line with cultural expectations. In Taiwan for example, some hospitals and clinics lack a modern feel and may seem uncomfortable to someone who is used to more bells and whistles. That's because Taiwanese households, in general, do not have a lot of bells and whistles.

- SP is very good for small business and the working individual. Imagine a world where your health care has nothing to do with your employer. Imagine starting your own business and not having to worry about employee health benefits for that first person you hire.

- SP acknowledges that health care is a right. I know, it's not written in the constitution or whatever. Does anyone have a pen?

- SP also acknowledges that there is no solution to health care in the true free market. The nature and inelasticity of health care as a good makes it a lot different than sneakers and cell phones. I think that's just something we all have to accept.

- SP works very well in many countries. That doesn't mean it will have the same efficiency if implemented in the US. It could be even BETTER in the US. Because 'Merica.

- SP is not perfect. No health care solution is perfect.

- SP is not a curse. It can be a blessing.
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

H.R.2810 and Port visits

Fengyuan

The specific language of the "port visit" requirement is here. Note that it only requires DoD to report on the feasibility, and as the person who sent it around observed, doesn't impose a time limit. A baby step, but still a step.

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Here is the relevant text of Section 1270E of H.R.2810 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.

SEC. 1270E. REPORT ON NAVAL PORT OF CALL EXCHANGES BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND TAIWAN.
(a) Report required.—Not later than September 1, 2018, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the following:
(1) An assessment of the feasibility and advisability regarding ports of call by the United States Navy at ports on the island of Taiwan.
(2) An assessment of the feasibility and advisability of the United States to receiving ports of call by the Republic of China navy in Hawaii, Guam, and other appropriate locations.
(b) Form.—The report required by subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.
(c) Appropriate committees of Congress defined.—In this section, the term “appropriate committees of Congress” means—
(1) the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate; and
(2) the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Diplomat Publishes Panegyric to Chang An-lo

On a hilly road outside Taichung, saxophone players serenade a group having a picnic.

Editors at the Diplomat fell down on the job this week, publishing a panegyric to the gangster, assassin, and dope smuggler Chang An-lo. Much of it is unintentionally hilarious, and all of it is fatuous and inept. We who have long followed his career had many good laughs, but this gem was widely circulated:
At public events, Zhang is routinely followed and waited upon by a well-trained entourage; when encountering people on the street who may or may not recognize him immediately, Zhang is a perfect elderly gentleman, making way for others and treating women and children with particular courtesy.
The Diplomat could easily have searched its own archives to find J Michael Cole's piece from 2014 on Chang's violent threats to the Sunflower student activists:
Besides playing the politician, Chang has also turned to the old practices of the Bamboo Union triad, which he reportedly once headed, to threaten and intimidate various sectors of society, including NGOs, a city mayor, and the Dalai Lama.

...

Twice already, Chang’s people have harassed the activists gathered at the legislature, threatening them with knives, firecrackers, and improvised bombs. While his disastrous outing may have sealed his fate in politics, Chang is not to be underestimated. As Taiwan’s “most educated” gangster (he completed two college degrees while serving time in a U.S. prison), the White Wolf is a proud man with solid connections within the CCP, and perhaps some alliances with the KMT. And his willingness to use violence should not be ignored.
Cole observed in an earlier piece on Chang at the Diplomat:
Chang’s first known troubling move occurred in early November 2013, when he threatened to deploy 2,000 of his followers to protect President Ma Ying-jeou and other KMT officials amid a shoe-throwing campaign of protests spearheaded by an self-help group for laid-off workers. (Interestingly, neither the KMT nor law enforcement authorities said anything about Chang’s “offer”). As the threat failed to deter the protesters, who were planning a mass rally in Greater Taichung, the site of a KMT party congress on November 10, Chang changed course and offered money to the protesters in exchange for their abandoning the planned activities. On two occasions, one of the protest organizers, a young woman, was called into an office for “discussions” with Chang’s people. Although that tactic also failed and the protest went ahead, there is reason to believe that the implicit intimidation led the organizers to cancel certain planned activities.

Later that month, members of Chang’s group routinely turned up at the many protests coordinated by civic organizations — including the Black Island Youth Alliance, created to oppose a controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement — during a visit by Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Deming. Once again, the presence of such individuals intimidated the protesters and made them fear for their personal safety, thus undermining their democratic right to hold protests.

Things took on a much more sinister hue in late February 2014 after a group of pro-independence activists angered with recent government policy decisions felled a bronze statue of Sun Yat-sen, seen as the founder of the Republic of China, at a park in the southern city of Tainan. During a press conference the following day, Chang retaliated by threatening “war” against Taiwanese independence groups, including the World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI), a pro-independence organization that, as far as we know, had nothing to do with the statue incident (the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan was responsible). The next day, Chang showed up at the park bearing flowers and vowed to “take action” against Tainan Mayor William Lai of the DPP, who also had nothing to do with the toppling of the Sun statue, if he didn’t apologize within two weeks and ensure it is restored. (Pictures of a scuffle involving members of the Alliance and Chang’s followers at the site suggest that the latter, clad in black and bearing tattoos, were organized crime elements.) Once again, Chang was making veiled threats against members of society, this time the elected mayor of a pan-green city.
We should not, in 2017, be publishing odes to the greatness of a man who did a decade in US prison for dope smuggling, something which I note is missing from this presentation, who helped assassinate a prominent writer, and who has been a gangster the entirety of his adult life. The editors should have laughed and sent this back.

There is no point in fisking the piece, filled with comical errors, nonsense assertions, and pro-Beijing code language. For example:
Zhang has done exactly that. At age 70 and having long ago withdrawn from affairs of the underworld, Zhang utilizes a lifetime of knowledge and connections in leading the UP, the only force that openly promotes Taiwan’s integration into the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
"the only force..." Well, there's the much bigger and more powerful KMT, a real political organization with plenty of political power, the New Party, and many other organizations, including several tycoons. This is totally loony. And the inevitable attacks on Lee Teng-hui...
Behind this trend is a meticulously devised de-Sinification process started under Lee Teng-hui’s presidency (1988-2000), which has saturated education, history writing, the registration system, and popular culture. For the young generation, advocating for Taiwan independence, trash talking about the mainland, and glorifying Japanese colonialism have become politically correct and trendy.
"de-sinification" is pro-Beijing talk for 'Taiwan-centered'. Sorry, dear writer, but advocating for Taiwan independence, trash talking China, and being level-headed about Japanese colonial rule have long been habits of Taiwanese of all ages.

The writer is a prof at Valparaiso University, and on the board of its Confucius Institute. In April of this year the National Association of Scholars put out a devastating report on the Confucius Institutes. As everyone who reads this blog knows, CIs are arms of the Chinese government located in foreign universities reporting directly to China's security apparatus, collecting information on students and professors, and attempting to use their influence to suppress Taiwan-related activities. The writer went to Bei Da, which suggests she has excellent personal connections.

This is the kind of piece that looks like the writer is merely an uninformed Chinese nationalist nutcase on the surface, but also suggests that there may a deeper influence campaign going on. Certainly writings of this nature can be shown to superiors back home as a way to impress them, whether or not she was commanded to write it. Thus does the propaganda get catapulted, because everyone understands what should be said without having to be told.

Just another lesson, as if any were needed, that the CIs need to be closed and their workers sent back to the Chinese security state from whence they came.
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Friday, September 15, 2017

TweetThinkin: Aaron W on the New Taipei City race

A Thai restaurant grows its own herbs next to the road

My friend Aaron Wytze tweets:

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1. Great piece at Journalist (新新聞) about the DPPs lack of good candidates for 2018 New Taipei City, my thoughts:

2. After 12 years of KMT admin, and lackluster performance by Eric Chu, the DPP have a real chance at winning New Taipei in 2018

3. The KMT (and potential candidate Hou Youyi) should be very worried about Chu's near loss in 2014.

4. But the DPP really doesn't have a shot at New Taipei with the current rank of declared candidates.

5. Half DPP candidates are mired in current or future problems. Both Wu Pingjui and Lo Chicheng have extramarital affair scandals simmering

6. There's a case for William Lai to swoop in at last minute (as @michaelturton suggested) but remember, he doesn't poll great in the North

7. Recent likability polls for New Taipei mayoral candidates even has the KMTs Hou Youyi beating Lai on Election Day 2018

8. But still, there is a desire within New Taipei City for change. So if DPP can't field anyone who can win against Hou, what do they do?

9. My prediction: don't count out a run by NPPs Huang Kuo-Chang. If the DPP allows it. My bet is, they would. Here's why.

10. NPP need to keep the momentum going for their party in the media. A run by Huang would help boost NPP city councilors in their 2018 run

11. The current DPP HQ New Taipei City leader, is former crooner Yu Tien, an ally of Yu Shyi-kun's faction.

12. The Yu faction put a lot of resources behind NPP legislator runs in 2016; Yu allies helped run NPP campaigns

13. Plus, if the campaign to remove Huang from office is successful, it may not hurt him if he decides to run in 2018.

14. Young people will be fired up to vote for Huang if he's removed from office or not. youth vote was instrumental for DPP in '14 & '16

15. So what's my advice for DPP? If there's a better candidate for New Taipei in 2018, get the hell out of the way.

16. The DPP were fresh in '14 & '16, and young people were looking for change. But performance of Lin Chuan has soured a lot of youth

17. Worse still, Lai has kept a lot of the original appointments of Lin Chuan. Including the much hated Chang Ching-sen (張景森)

18. If Lai does run, he'll have to answer questions for cabinet left over from Lin Chuan. Thats a blemish on Lai and he hasn't even started

19. If anything is for sure about 2018, young people will once again play a decisive role in who gets elected. Hope the DPP remembers that
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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Lee Ming-che in Sham Trial

On March 19 Lee Ming-che, a Taiwanese democracy activist, went missing in China. On Monday, in a farcical show trial, Lee pleaded guilty to "subversion of state power" and promised that when he returned to Taiwan, he would work for annexation of Taiwan to China...
Cole observes:
The aims of this “open” trial — footage and a transcript of Lee’s “confession” were released to the public — were twofold, but both contained a warning. It was for domestic consumption in China, replete with the usual CCP nationalistic jingoism and the threat of dire repercussions for whomever opposes, or even criticizes, the authoritarian regime. And it was a fire across the bow aimed at Taiwan, a signal that China’s new national security and foreign NGO laws have, as had long been feared, concrete extraterritorial applicability: the inclusion of Taiwan in Chinese laws is no longer simple rhetoric; under President Xi Jinping, the state-party apparatus now has the wherewithal to arrest, capture, disappear and to prosecute Taiwanese nationals for purported — and intentionally loosely defined — national security crimes.
Two years ago the International Federation of Journalists predicted something like this might happen:
The ATJ said Article 81 would subject Taiwanese citizens who enter China to investigation and potential prosecution by PRC authorities. “These laws will place Taiwan news workers into a high risk group if this law is enacted,” it said.

The IFJ shares the ATJ’s concerns and has called on the National People’s Congress to respect Taiwan’s sovereignty as a democratic and independent state and said: “In its current form, this law will seriously impinge on the civil and political rights of the Taiwan people, Taiwan Journalists and their freedom of expression.”
Lee's very public trial was also aimed at anyone who might oppose the CCP, anywhere -- surely its chilling effect will not be limited to Taiwan, but will also be felt heavily in Hong Kong, and among ethnic Chinese communities abroad, which Beijing monitors and influences. Lee's trial also made it into the UN civil rights discussions (qz.com):
Whether by sheer coincidence or cynical orchestration on Beijing’s behalf, Lee’s trial coincides with the start of a meeting in Geneva of a United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Lee’s disappearance is one of the cases that will be discussed at the meeting.
During the long period of detention and trial Beijing basically ignored its agreement with Taipei on Taiwanese who are prisoners in , the Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement. That ought to give everyone pause, because so many advocate that Tsai Ing-wen should "negotiate" or "make a breathrough" or similar. But Beijing has shown that the agreements its enters into with Taiwan, formal or informal, are subject to arbitrary violation without warning or negotiation.

As if we didn't already know that...
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Taiwan's Aid Program in Kiribati: PR Video

Offered without comment....
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New Venue for pubs: Taiwan Insight

A painting in a temple

The Taiwan Studies Programme at the U of Nottingham sent this around. It has no connection to Jon Sullivan whatsoever and is separate from his well known blog CPI.
The Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham is currently developing a new online platform called “Taiwan Insight” due to launch at the end of this month.

Authors, journalists, bloggers, postgraduate students and researchers with a focus on Taiwan are invited to submit articles of around 1000 words.

We are not only looking for policy-oriented suggestions. We welcome contributions on topics depending on your area of expertise that could provide in-depth understanding about Taiwan.

If you have any additional questions or would like to discuss this further, feel free to contact Mr. Yannis-Adam Allouache, Taiwan Insight/Blog Assistant at e0193237@u.nus.edu
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Monday, September 11, 2017

William Lai sworn in

A tiny shrine in Tainan.

Straits Times reports on the dawn of a "pragmatic" era in Taiwan with the William Lai cabinet:
At the ceremony, the 57-year-old Mr Lai said his main task is to grow the economy, rather than to build political momentum before the island's next election, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported.

He also said his main responsibility is to build Taiwan, "expand the economy and look after the people", adding that his Cabinet would press on with reforms in areas ranging from the energy industry to labour, pensions and tax, while "eliminating obstacles for investment", Reuters reported.
As a keen observer pointed out in a Facebook discussion, growing the economy is necessary to build momentum before the election. Lai's appointment is squarely aimed at the election.

Note what Lai did not discuss: wages, living standards, housing. Lai is an oily center-right construction-industrial state machine politician emitting reassuring signals to that System, not a "strongman" as Lawrence Chung said in SCMP the other day. IMHO we will not see any of the necessary changes to the system, just "reforms" that will result in further concentrations of wealth. He might actually hurt DPP chances in the 2018 election with such "reforms".

(aside: "strongman" isn't in Chung's piece by accident. It's a KMT propaganda attack on him from 2015.)

Lai's elevation to the premiership is a signal that he has arrived and is being groomed as a possible presidential candidate. As I wrote the other day...
.....This gives Lai a chance to get national name recognition and give him central government experience. It also gives him a chance to show his face in the north.

Note that this gets him out of Tainan in a way that prevents it from looking like he is ignoring Tainan to run for the New Taipei City mayorship -- it would be a bit awkward if he were campaigning in Yungho or Chungho while still technically the mayor of Tainan. It seems obvious to me that eventually Lai will be begged to run, in fine Taiwan style, for New Taipei City mayor in the 2018 election. And in fine Taiwan style, he will reluctantly accept.
I will be very surprised if Lai is still premier once the 2018 elections are over with. I still expect him to run for New Taipei City mayor. Although some publications are arguing that Lai will challenge Tsai for the 2020 presidential nomination, I think that if he was really going to do that, she would not have made him premier -- why raise a rival up? Rather, this is a signal that she is confident he won't challenge her in 2020. This means, though, he will be presidential in 2024 assuming all goes well. He will be ~65 then, the right age for a Taiwan president.

According to news reports the new cabinet is pretty much the same as the old. I expect several posts to change over the next few months as ministers leave for whatever reason: personal, to run for office, etc.

This is not only seasoning for Lai, giving him central government experience. It is also a test of Lai as a DPP party politician. Lai is a New Tide faction member. Recall that so far, the DPP Presidential candidate has also been the party chair. If Lai can successfully balance the factions and regional tensions in his handling of central government appointments, he will go far in demonstrating that he is viable as a party Chair (and Presidential candidate). If the new administration turns out to be New Tide dominated, that will hurt his support within the party for the presidency in 2024.

Lai is a signal of a good thing: he is another of the emerging new generation of leaders in the DPP, emerging leaders that the KMT simply doesn't have. Cheng Wen-Tsan in Taoyuan is also looking like a solid prospect for the future. Moreover, with the lock on Tainan and Kaohsiung, the DPP has places to smoothly cultivate new leaders. The KMT has only Nantou and Miaoli, two small, mountainous, and broke counties. Note that I have not mentioned Lin Chia-lung in Taichung. All I have to say about him is *sigh*

Lai is also a signal of another good thing: the internalization of democracy and democratic politics as part of the new Taiwan identity. The island was spared a terrible political crisis in figuring out what the Taiwan identity means with the emergence of the second generation pro-Taiwan identity (as opposed to first generation in which being pro-independence meant being anti-KMT) as a global event across the under-40 generation in Taiwan. This saved the DPP from the crisis of defining what Taiwan means: the young did it for them. In an alternate universe, the appointment of Lai might have triggered a round of debilitating debates over what Lai meant for the new identity. The lack of any debate is a positive sign.

Lai also signals that the generational shift in the DPP is now finished: the activist generation has handed the party off to the politicians. The revolution is complete, and it has not eaten too many of its children. You can tell that transition is now over because nobody discussed the Lai appointment in that context. Meanwhile the KMT has not undergone a parallel transition from mainlander elite control to Taiwanization and with the appointment of Wu Den-yih as Chairman, is in fact actively resisting it...

Much of this is covered in the ICRT show on Friday with Keith Menconi, Gavin Phipps as host, and myself. The podcast is great, we had a lot of lighthearted fun. Keith Menconi is wonderful and I will miss him very much. Hope everything goes well for you in the US, Keith!

On a personal note, a month after surgery I finally got on the bike for a ride in the hills. Feels good. More pictures inbound!
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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Did something happen in Taiwan? It must be about China....

At Anping Fort, the cannons are silent, but the shooting goes on.

This week's appointment of William Lai to the post of premier was widely reported in the international media. This is indicative not of the importance of the appointment on the global stage (it has zero foreign policy ramifications), but of the laudable lack of news out of the classy, low key Tsai Administration. Once again the international media displayed a variegated collection of hit pieces and flatpetered news reports

To get an idea of the ideal line on Lai from Beijing's point of view, one need only review the editorial commentary news report of Lawrence Chung in SCMP, whose political loyalties will need no introduction to my readers. Chung warbles in the opening paragraph:
The appointment of William Lai Chin-te as Taiwan’s new premier has raised concerns over the future of cross-strait relations, given his tough, pro-independence stance and strong man image.

Analysts said that although President Tsai Ing-wen has the final say on all policies regarding the mainland, Lai, who could challenge her for the top job in 2020, might not let her have all her own way on cross-strait relation
Chung is forced to admit that actually, the premier has almost no influence on cross-strait relations since that is controlled by the President, who has real experience in both cross-strait policymaking and international trade negotiations (Lai has zero experience, by contrast) and who appoints and controls all the policymaking bodies. Chung's piece then consists of a long discussion of Lai's pro-independence views and his possible challenge to Tsai as a presidential contender in 2020. Only toward the end do we get a distorted view of what Lai's job will actually be: running domestic policy.

Chung then finally hits the second major point of his piece: Tsai's slumping popularity....
Over the past year, the president has seen her approval rating slump to 28 per cent from a high of 70 per cent a year ago.
It is now conventional in the media to announce that TSAI GIVES TAIWAN THE SADZ and that ZOMG CHINA! is the proper context for her every decision. In the international media Tsai is forever looking in the mirror in the morning as she chooses her lipstick, wondering whether Beijing likes Creamy Matte.

Does Tsai give Taiwan the sadz? Not really: a poll just released shows wide public support for the policies of the DPP, whatever her approval ratings. Given the unreliability of local polls, your mileage may vary... and lets not forget, the last reliable poll, from TISR, had her at 34.6% in October of 2016, perfectly normal for a Taiwan president. That means that she's been stable for almost the last year in the high twenties to mid thirties, again normal.

But of course, you can't write that fact in the international media. Next thing you know, you'll be saying that the economy is doing ok, her relations with Japan and the US are good, her southbound policy is moving forward, and her policies have good public support. No clickbait there.

Hence, in the media, Tsai's popularity is always like this:


So we got these two markers -- ZOMG CHINA and TSAI GIVES TAIWAN THE SADZ. Here's AP with the headline Taiwan appoints new premier amid tense China relations:
Taiwan’s president on Tuesday appointed a new premier seen as willing to reach out to rival China amid ongoing tense relations between the two sides.
... relations are always tense here in Taiwan. Usually when I bike through the mountains I have to brush the tensions aside, like cobwebs. Does Tsai give Taiwan the sadz? You betcha....
Over the past year, China has persuaded two of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to switch sides as it ratchets up its diplomatic and economic pressure on Tsai’s administration, causing her job approval rating to plummet to just 33 percent.
....yes, her ratings plummeted from 34.6% in October of 2016 to 33% in September of 2017. At that rate, she might break 32% sometime late next summer.

But in the end AP is forced to concede:
Neither Tsai nor the new premier mentioned China at Tuesday’s news conference, focusing instead on domestic issues such as tax reform and energy supplies. Taiwan’s premier functions as head of all government ministries and commissions. Traditionally, the president rather than the premier sets policies on China and foreign affairs, Huang said.
What? How could the president and the premier both not know that this is about China? They must be stupid. No wonder they had to replace the whole government....

Reuters meanwhile lead with the sadz instead of China, headlining Taiwan premier resigns to help shore up president's falling popularity. It didn't get down to China until at last it mentions "frozen relations with China" as a reason for her "low" popularity, which according to Reuters is at 29.8% (or 33% or 28%, you choose). The Reuters pieces quotes only pro-KMT types, cherrypicks its poll, and like the AP piece, fails to properly contextualize Lai in a domestic politics frame. The hopeful tone of "falling popularity" is almost tangible.

Poor Xinhua, with such strong competition from Reuters they will probably have to shut down. Xi Jin-ping no doubt calls Putin every couple of weeks to laugh at him: "You idiot! I can't believe you have to pay to get your propaganda in the international newspapers!"

Ralph Jennings has a fuller piece at AP which again hits ZOMG CHINA and TSAI GIVES TAIWAN THE SADZ. A complete waste of time, though at the bottom at least he cites Raymond Wu who correctly identifies the Lin government as transitional all along.

In addition to not contextualizing Lai's appointment in domestic politics, Reuters and the two AP pieces never mention that Lai is an up and coming politician, likely a presidential candidate. Apparently Lai has no importance on his own, just as a prop for ZOMG CHINA!

Thanks guys! With reporting like that, this blog will always have an audience of people hungry to understand what is actually going on.

The one bright light was Bloomberg, whose Taiwan reporting is constantly improving. Note this excellent headline....

Taiwan’s Tsai Names Rising Star as Premier to Boost Support.

.... Tsai is still giving Taiwan the sadz, but at least Bloomberg correctly identifies Lai's rising status and immediately places him in the context of domestic politics and the upcoming election. ZOMG CHINA! doesn't happen until halfway through the piece and then it is muted.

If you want to understand the local context, the local news is a good place to start. There is a sympathetic backgrounder in the formerly pro-KMT China Post (now entirely online and operated by a single employee, I've heard) as well as the news report in the China Post. Somehow both reports forgot to mention the word "China". The Taipei Times has had extensive analyses of the appointment as befits a pro-ruling party paper: the appointment is aimed at the mid-term election. This Taipei Times backgrounder also fails to frame the appointment in a China context. The local newspapers are clearly dumb as rocks. How could they miss that all-important China context?

The fascinating thing is why this is reported at all. It has zero international ramifications. In Taiwan premiers come and go in an endless parade like models on a catwalk. Lai too will likely step down in 14-18 months to be replaced by someone else the party wants to develop. Chen Shui-bian had six premiers in two terms, and Ma Ying-jeou had six premiers in the same span, yet none of those appointments provoked negatively contextualized international news reporting (Can you imagine the headline: Ma Ying-jeou appoints Mao Chi-guo Premier amid China tensions?). And when Jiang Yi-huah resigned after the 2014 election, somehow international news organizations connected it to the election loss and not China. But let Tsai appoint a new premier...

I was able to find this Ed Wong piece in the NYTimes on the appointment of Wu Den-yih to the Premiership after the Ma government's catastrophically inept response to Morakot in 2009, which correctly regards it as a purely domestic affair with domestic ramifications. Or this FT piece on the appointment of Frank Hsieh by Chen Shui-bian, again, a purely domestic affair with domestic ramifications (I can't find any international news on the appointment of pro-independence firebrand Yu Shyi-Kun to the premiership in 2002). But the FT piece is by Kathrin Hille, who knew her shit and was not afraid to battle her editors to get it out there.

How I miss her.
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China Post Stamps commemorating what in 1987? Reform of the Bureaucracy: long way to go

A friend of mine passed me the information on this set of postage stamps just released by Chunghwa Post. The emailing said, the English was in the email, it's not mine.
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Sp.657 30th Anniversary of Cross-Strait Exchanges Postage Stamps
First day of issue : September 20, 2017

Specifications:
◎ Stamp Cat Standard : Special Stamps
◎ Stamp Cat : Politicians,Politics,Economy,Countries
◎ First day of issue : September 20, 2017
◎ Printer : China Color Printing Co., Ltd.
◎ Paper used : Phosphorescent stamp paper
◎ Dimension of stamps(mm.) : 50 × 30 (mm)
◎ Process : Offset
◎ Perforation : 13 × 12 1/2
◎ Color : Colorful
◎ Sheet composition 20 (4 × 5)

Description:

In 1987 our country permitted cross-Strait family reunions. This year marks 30 years of relations across the Taiwan Strait. Over these years there has been an expansion of postal, commercial, tourist and family contacts by air and sea. Likewise, educational, cultural and sporting exchanges have deepened. To commemorate this important historic milestone, Chunghwa Post is issuing a set of 2 stamps. The designs follow:

1. NT$9 stamp: With a white ring linking activities across the Strait, the stamp highlights air and sea links, as well as tourist, postal, academic and financial exchanges. The number “30” is placed in the center between the two sides of the Strait.

2. NT$28 stamp: A symbolic bridge depicts the building of cross-Strait relations. Greater ease for transport by air and sea has enabled people on both sides to come ever closer through tourist, academic, financial and cultural exchanges. The number “30” in the background contains a map of the Strait.

To coincide with the release of the stamps, Chunghwa Post is specially issuing one delicately designed stamp folio. The folio includes 2 blocks of four, 1 pre-cancelled FDC affixed with a complete set of stamps and 2 maximum cards.
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In 1987 martial law was lifted...
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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Oh Hell Yeah! New Book: From Province to Republic to Colony

I received this gloriously wonderful book in the mail last week (Books Tw). This post is not a review of the book because none is necessary: this book is fantastic. It covers the life and activities of James W. Davidson, the reporter who traveled with the Japanese invasion force in 1895 and wrote The Island of Formosa Past and Present, one of the foundational books of the literature on Taiwan. He also served as a US consul in Taiwan and elsewhere.

From Province to Republic to Colony contains, well, everything. It's a combination of scrapbook and scholarly commentary on the life of Davidson: newspaper clippings, letters to and from Davidson, lists in his own hand, photos of the period, period illustrations, writings of Davidson's and so on. Commentary is presented in Chinese and English. Go below for some random photos of the interior this amazing volume. Alas, all my cameras are broken, so photos not as good as they might be. But if you are at all interested in the history of Taiwan, you want this book.

Forgotten WWII Plane Crash in Taitung

After WWII a B-24 carrying POWs home crashed in the mountains of Taitung. FocusTw says:

According to Liu, historical records show that just days after the end of WWII, on Sept. 10, 1945, one of two American B-24 Liberator bombers carrying 20 freed allied prisoners of war (POWs) on route to Manila from Okinawa ran into the tail of a typhoon and crashed into the mountains of southeastern Taiwan.

Aboard the plane were five crew members, and 11 American, four Dutch and five Australian POWs. The Liberator, with the serial number 44-42052, had belonged to the 494th Bomb Group.
The crash claimed another 26 lives when would-be rescuers were killed trying to reach it.

Richard Foster posted this to my Facebook. I thank him mightily (click on READ MORE).

Monday, September 04, 2017

HUGE: Lai from Tainan to the EY

A pink triceratops in front of a mall in Taichung, with massive books displaying other cute pink things. Yes, Taiwan's ability to generate kitsch exceeds all possibility of imagination. 

The news broke this morning that Lai Chin-de (William Lai), the Mayor of Tainan, is getting a promotion out of his city (Chinese, Chinese, English) and into the Executive Yuan. Premier Lin Chuan has resigned and Lai is taking over his position. The Sec-General and the Vice Premier are also stepping down tomorrow, Tuesday.

As many of us have expected, DPP President Tsai Ing-wen is moving out the technocrats and bringing in the politicians who can get things done ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. This gives Lai a chance to get national name recognition and give him central government experience. It also gives him a chance to show his face in the north.

Note that this gets him out of Tainan in a way that prevents it from looking like he is ignoring Tainan to run for the New Taipei City mayorship -- it would be a bit awkward if he were campaigning in Yungho or Chungho while still technically the mayor of Tainan. It seems obvious to me that eventually Lai will be begged to run,  in fine Taiwan style, for New Taipei City mayor in the 2018 election. And in fine Taiwan style, he will reluctantly accept.

If Lai is a success as premier, it will enhance his prospects for succeeding Tsai in 2024. Note that even if he is not a success, it may not affect his career at all. Quick, name the last five premiers.

Reuters celebrated Lai's replacement of Lin Chuan with another hit piece on Tsai -- Lin Chuan's resignation and Lai's ascension was about shoring up Tsai's "fading popularity". With quotes only from pan-Blue supporters, of course, and a cherry-picked poll to boot. I have nothing but contempt for that media organization.

UPDATE: @aaronwytze adds: DPP factions are probably furious about this. Lai could stack New Tide appointees in EY
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Friday, September 01, 2017

Nelson Report: Randall Schriver in the Administration at last?

The Chih Kan Lou in Tainan

From The Nelson Report this week:
As long as we're retailing informed gossip from down on Chincoteague (sunny today but showers all weekend, dammit!!) two items for the Asia side: first, a senior Administration source says that with Victor Cha firmly expected to be announced soon for Amb to S. Korea (as we reported last night in #2), we can also expect "any minute" the long-expected pick of former DOD DAS Randy Schriver to be Asia Asst. Sec. for Sec. Mattis.

Randy is described by Japanese media as a "hard liner", which we suppose he can be called, but our long experience with him is he's eminently reasonable, and does not suffer from delusions that he or the US can "make" things happen. We can certainly understand why our Chinese friends won't be happy, as Randy has long championed a more public, more official-as-possible set of relations with and support for Taiwan, including setting up and managing the 2049 Institut
e.

As most Asia hands know, Schriver is a long-time business partner with, and likely would cheerfully agree has been a "protégé" of Rich Armitage, everyone's idea of a Serious Adult Supervisor on whatever he wants to talk about.

Whether all this relates to the welcome departure of both Bannon and Gorka from the White House and also means Sec. St. Tillerson is any closer to bring in political appointments...stay tuned...but Japanese sources say they hear career FSO- Acting A/S Asia Susan Thornton will finally be cleared by the WH, as long desired by Tillerson and blocked by WH political commissars. Whether that helps improve State's cratering morale (scroll down for Dan Drezner's call for Tillerson to hang it up)...inshallah.
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