Monday, July 31, 2006

I'm interviewed at What's Up in Taiwan

Last year Julian and Henry at What's Up in Taiwan podcast interviewed me, but for various reasons, they didn't get it up until this year. So enjoy the interview of yours truly....Julian and Henry have built something really wonderful there, interviewing a wide variety of expatriates who have come to Taiwan for all the usual reasons, plus many more. I'd like to thank them for taking the time out of their busy schedules to let me talk to them.

Taiwan's First Family: Clueless

Someday I'm going to write an article for the Journal of Educational Methodology entitled "Human inability to learn from experience." My case in point is going to be the First Family of the Beautiful Isle.

Another scandal involving the Chen family broke today as it was revealed that A-bian's daughter and her husband, the illustrious Chao Chien-ming, he of the influence peddling scandal, were getting their maid paid for by public tax dollars.


The First Family gives yet another example of its privileges. Although the First Couple moved out of the Official Residence a long time ago, the maid at the Min Sheng Road house, A-ching Sao (originally Lin Hsiu-chen), for the past six years has received an official salary from the President's Office, using the hard-earned money of the taxpayers to help the President's daughter and her husband hire a servant.

Never mind the slanted presentation full of loaded language -- it's a KMT paper, so you can't expect good journalistic standards. No, the real problem is the issue itself. Not only was this precisely the sort of shit that should have been cleaned up the very second the Chao scandal broke -- where was the aide who said "Do we have any other skeletons in our closet?" and ran them all down -- but it is exactly the kind of thing that the public hates -- rich people skimming money from the public coffers, money they could easily afford to pay themselves. It doesn't matter that everyone in Taiwan would behave in exactly the same way, that cheating the government here is the national pastime. When you are bound to be a target, you have to make sure that you are as bulletproof as can be. And Chen didn't.

If someone competent were running the show, the maid would have been put on a (much higher) private salary for the next two years. If someone competent were running the show, the spin would have already been in place (hint: public funds were used because the maid for the Prez's daughter is a national security matter). If someone competent were running the show, the Chen family would have exposed all this shit themselves. And if someone competent and morally on the ball were running the show, it never would have happened in the first place.

Expect more howls, and howls of laughter, from the Blues. Chen is handing them victory after victory. Great work, team DPP.

UPDATE: this has happend before with someone involving Chen's wife, and Chen moved as soon as he found out. According to the Taiwan News:

Another controversy involving President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family surfaced yesterday following a media disclosure that a close friend of First Lady Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍) was listed on the payroll of the Taipei City Government for four and a half months when Chen was mayor.

The Presidential Office later confirmed that while the woman was indeed listed on the city's payroll, Chen gave instructions to have her taken off almost immediately when he learned of the arrangement at the time.

The woman, Shih Li-yun, was hired as an employee of the city's rapid transit system from December 1994 to April 1995 after Chen won the mayoral election in 1994, the United Daily News claimed yesterday. Secretary-general of the city government at the time, Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井), gave instructions to hire Shih when a vacancy opened up in the rapid transit department, the report said.

Shih, an old friend and neighbor of Chen and his family when they lived on Min Sheng East Road, became the top aide to the first lady after Wu was paralyzed from the waist down in a vehicular accident in Tainan County in 1985.

Following Chen's election as president in 2000, Shih, who became known as "Mrs. Lo," could be seen pushing Wu's wheelchair every time the first lady appeared in public.

Hu Jin-tao says China discovered Australia?

I've been tracking the 1421 affair, mostly because it scares me that some money-hungry fraud is handing the Chinese claims to distant lands.....a recent TV show from Oz shows how Gavin Menzies' 1421, on how China supposedly discovered the world, is a fabrication. The interesting thing is the claim that the show makes:

Not surprisingly Menzies’ book appeals to Chinese pride. In 2003 Chinese President Hu Jintao, addressing a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament, repeated the claim that the Chinese had discovered and settled Australia three centuries before Captain Cook.

Resources debunking 1421 are here and and here.

The DPP and Chinese Dissidents

The Levitator has a very interesting post on relations between the DPP and Chinese dissidents in China, full of information. He writes:

If you haven't read my earlier post, here's some background on this case. Zhang is a member of the China Pan-Blue Alliance, a mainland Chinese dissident group which looks to Taiwan’s opposition KMT for inspiration. The group allegedly tried to field its own candidates in China’s local People’s Congress elections. He was arrested after waving ROC (Taiwan) flags and KMT party flags at a gathering commemorating the Tiananmen massacre.

On June 26, Taiwan's pro-independence Liberty Times ran an article by Huang calling on KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou to push for Zhang’s release. On the same day, the DPP's Lai held a press conference in Taipei to condemn the arrest.

Neither Ma nor any other KMT official responded to his call publicly.

Pretty Good Result

Zhang was released after a little more than two weeks in detention. It was a pretty good outcome, given that it is very common for Chinese dissidents to be held without charge for months at a time--almost five months in the case of Wu Hao, even with intense publicity on the Internet and the print media.

In the interview, Huang thanked the DPP for helping to publicize Zhang’s arrest. Huang also had some strong words for Ma: “He didn’t take any action. Maybe he viewed his relations with Beijing as first and foremost.”

Actually, Ma did condemn the Chinese authorities for the arrest when he was speaking to reporters in Japan on July 13, the same day Zhang was released. Just in time, phew.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Trying out the Olympus

My Dad gave me an Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom when he came in July -- thanks so much, Dad! -- and I've been putting the camera through its paces recently. The pic above was shot from the ridge above my house, looking south through Taichung city on Tatu Mountain. I used the Super Telephoto (535mm lens equivalent), which kicks ass. The original resolution was 1600 x 1200. One thing that can't be conveyed is the clarity of the original images, which have to be compressed to be posted here. The Olympus produces excellent image clarity, better than my current Fuji S5000. It also has a heck of a lot more functions, some of which are of suspect usefulness.

The telephoto turns in sharp, clear pics. Unfortunately the lightness of the camera, about 20% smaller than my Fuji S5000 leads to more shake, I feel, especially in the telephoto shots. Here there is so much light it is not an issue.

The Super Telephoto also caught this fire in Tanzi.

An ant crawls across a spiderweb at dawn.

Taichung. The Olympus isn't nearly as prone to washing out from bright skies as the Fuji is.

I shot this dragonfly with the Super Telephoto/macro combination. On my Fuji it produces glorious pictures...

...and on the Olympus I am happy to report that it does as well.

I used the Super Macro to shot this What are those dang things anyway? And to think I used to teach high school biology.....

This one was shot on ordinary macro.

Meat at the night market. Ordinary macro.

My favorite thing about this camera is the night exposure possibilities. The shutter can be kept open for as long as 15 seconds, unlike my Fuji, which is a useless 2 seconds. Here is a small temple to the earth god Fu De outside of Taichung. Look forward to lots of night hots.

A golden orb spider at dawn.

Three years ago, when I was considering buying a new camera, I narrowed it down to the Olympus C770 and the Fuji S5000. The Olympus was NT$19,000, the Fuji just NT$12,000. I went with the latter partly out of price. But as it turns out, I made the right decision. For though the Olympus is manifestly the better camera, the Fuji is a much better design. Everything in the Fuji is basically one-button access, whereas getting to things on the Olympus is a nightmare of menu choices, along with trying to remember whether the camera has to be set on P, AUTO, or A/S/M to get to the thing you want. If you are considering upgrading from your basic point-and-click consumer digital camera to a prosumer model, as I was at the time, the Fuji is an excellent choice. If you have some idea of what you are doing, the Olympus is the superior option.

All that said, I am absolutely delighted with the new Olympus and can't wait to take more pics with it. Thanks, Dad!

Taiwan and BOT

On the Beautiful Isle the name of the infrastructure game is Build-Operate-Transfer, or BOT. BOT is in theory a system for getting private financing to pay for infrastructure projects. An Asia Times piece on the High Speed Rail describes the issue:

The problem touches at the heart of the BOT development model, which theoretically is a mechanism for private capital to fund public infrastructure projects. Each BOT case is of course subject to many variables, but generally the idea is to get private interests to fork out the money to build public facilities; for example, a bridge. In return for this largesse, the builder then gets to play toll-booth keeper for a set amount of time, long enough (the developer hopes) to generate a fat return on investment. Regardless, the developer must transfer the facility to the government at the end of the pre-set period. The system is commonly used to build highways and toll bridges in the United States and Britain.

Depending on your viewpoint, BOT in Western countries is an efficient and cheap way for a government to develop national infrastructure, or else it’s an efficient and fast way for corporate interests to bilk the public while maintaining a veneer of public-mindedness. Both outlooks are probably justified, but in any case, the theory is likewise gaining adherents in halls of power throughout much of Asia ex-Japan, where increasingly democracy-minded masses are beginning to demand social-welfare spending just as export-led economies have been hit by a slow US economy.

A US Dept. of Commerce report discusses the high speed rail project, the world's largest BOT project when announced, which has showered a rain of pork barrel money around the island:

The Taiwan High Speed Railway (THSR) project, initiated in early 1990, eventually resulted in a signed BOT contract between the THSR Corporation and the Taiwan authorities in 1998. Engineering companies and construction companies from all over the world have participated in this US$ 15 billion project. With a total length of 345 kilometers, connected by long-span viaduct bridges and 48 tunnels (the longest of which is 7.5 kilometers long), the THSR project has contributed to a substantial upgrade of the technical skills of Taiwan’s engineering and construction industry firms. Among those involved, Continental Engineering Corporation (CEC) and Fu Tsu Construction Company became Taiwan's two largest privately owned contractors after successfully completing their portions of the THSR project.

BOT become popular in Taiwan in the 1990s as the KMT's grip on the economy receded, the economy began to slow down, public debt began to mount, and new ways had to be found to continue the flow of funds out to the construction-industrial complex that underpins the Taiwan economy. Recently public debt constraints have also forced the State to reconsider the whole BOT concept:

During the period 2004-2008, the BOT approach will be re-examined for its feasibility for large-scale infrastructure projects in Taiwan. The authorities, already financially constrained by a public debt ratio set by law (48% of the average GNP for the preceding three years), has allocated a NT$ 500 billion (US$ 15.6 billion) budget to support Taiwan’s infrastructure projects through 2008. Viable projects proposed by state-owned companies like TPC and CPC will be supported by Taiwan’s banking system. The central authorities are also considering tax increases in order to provide continuous support for Taiwan’s infrastructure development.

The support of Taiwan's banking system in BOT projects was demonstrated today as the government announced another US$1.8 billion in financing for the High Speed Rail:

Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) confirmed yesterday that it has secured a loan of NT$60 billion (US$1.875 billion) from three banks to further fund the construction and the operation of Taiwan's first bullet train system, a build-operate-transfer (BOT) project that has cost the nation NT$480 billion.

The loan will help cover the costs accrued due to the company's decision last year to postpone the launch of the bullet train as well as the expenditure on the construction.

It will be jointly provided by the Bank of Taiwan, the Chiao Tung Bank and the International Commercial Bank of China. The company has yet to sign the loan contract with any of the institutions.

This is actually simply another instance of a government bailout, for the problem with the High Speed Rail project is that it has quietly become just another government project that a few privileged private investors are going to make a killing on. The Asia Times piece above notes:

Perhaps not, but these government concessions were demanded by the THSRC when it drew up its contract proposal—and, says Ing, were necessary for the deal to make business sense to her and her partners. When speaking with planning agencies, potential investors likewise say that they will only be interested in BOT in Taiwan if the central government backs them firmly, including tax breaks and other deal sweeteners. That’s public money—although few in either government or industry characterize it as such. But given its second-class (and decaying) infrastructure, Taiwan might not have any choice.

The rail project bears this assertion out. After promising to raise all of its equity from among the THSRC consortium members, banks or capital markets, the contractor ran into financial trouble, which forced the government to fund the project directly. Today, the original investors together hold about 40 percent of outstanding shares of the THSRC—but the single largest investor is the Taiwan government. State-owned Taiwan Sugar Corp owns a 10 percent stake, and the Executive Yuan’s Development Fund, which has been used in the past to fund companies such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp, last year purchased a further 6 percent of THSRC shares.

That 16 percent stake has the potential to get much higher. The THSRC was unable to secure sufficient backing on its own, so the government agreed to guarantee another (roughly) US$9 billion in loans from a syndicate of 25 domestic banks. In other words, the government now must take over the entire project, assuming full financial responsibility, if the THSRC fails either during construction or at any time during the following two decades of operations before the scheduled transfer. The opposition-dominated legislature made a show of putting the brakes on public responsibility in June 2001, but it was already a done deal.

In addition to the government firms noted above, government-owned China Airlines took at stake in the project as well. Another well-known BOT project was Taipei 101. The BOT was coordinated by China Development Financial Holding Corporation, and was originally tendered for a 66 story building.

Massive infrastructure projects aside, Taiwan also uses BOT for the everyday stuff. At the moment the city of Kaohsiung is trying to make progress on Taiwan's awful rate of sewer linkage:

The Kaohsiung city government is planning to construct a sewage system on build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis in Nantzu District of Kaohsiung City. The project stems from the central government's six-year national development plan -- Challenge 2008 - focusing on economic growth and environmental protection. One of the objectives of Challenge 2008 is to boost the coverage rate of the island-wide sewage systems from current 8% to 24% by 2008. The Ministry of the Interior has identified two sewage system projects in Taipei County and Kaohsiung City as the priority for the promotion of private participation in infrastructure projects.

The city, other local governments, the military, and investors are all participating:

Kaohsiung City Government and the military will collaborate with the investor of the BOT project for the construction of the sewer network. Total expenditure for the investor is estimated at US$161.24 million. Commercial operation is expected to commence within three years after the contract is sealed.

It's not as glamorous as a high speed rail, but good sewer systems will do a lot more for the island than bullet trains. Another less glamorous use of BOTs is for resorts. Wild at Heart blogged a while back on a BOT project that threatened beaches in the Penghu:

At the public hearing held on 9 March 2006, the NPB admitted to having made an administrative error by failing to challenge Mr. Chen’s use of the land, but claimed to have responded to the 1998 ruling by pursuing rent in arrears for the illegally occupied area, and denied responsibility for managing the demolition of unlicensed buildings. This met with a series of challenges from the convener of the Forum, Li Gen-jheng, who questioned the NPB's decision to continue the lease, while pursuing an amount of money (a mere NT$1000 per hectare per year) vastly disproportionate to the profits made by the resort, allowing the proprietors to go completely unpunished. Indeed, as argued by the Forum’s chairman, Legislator Tian Ciou-jin, rather than the proprietors being penalized for breaking the law, they were instead being rewarded with a 50-year BOT project on the disputed land and NT$38 million in subsidies, all courtesy of the PNSAA.

According to the PNSAA's bidding manual, the BOT project aims to turn Jibei Island into a major harbour and holiday center, promoting tourism and stimulating local employment and prosperity. Yet there is no mention of local participation in the design and implementation of the development. Bidding companies are merely required to be a corporate person legally established in Taiwan with experience in running facilities of a similar budget size or floor space, and there is no limit on the proportion of foreign shareholders.

Taipei's CyberCity project is also a BOT:

The second stage of implementation, the "Taipei City Wireless Broadband Network Implementation Plan", was put out to tender as a BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) project in 2004. Public resources all over the city were made available for hot spot installation, including 130,000 street lights, over 8,000 bus shelters, MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) stations, elevated expressways, the roofs of public buildings, existing underground conduits and more. The tender was awarded to Q-Ware in August 2004; the company received an exclusive license to provide WLAN service for nine years. Q-Ware is planning to invest over NT$3 billion to build up a wireless broadband environment in Taipei City and will be providing WLAN Internet access and value-added services. Subscribers will be able to choose between either a flat-rate fee or usage-based pricing. Q-Ware will pay between 1% and 3% of its operating revenue to Taipei City. The potential business opportunities are estimated around NT$5 billion.

BOTs have also been used to build schools, dorms at NCKU in Tainan, sewage systems in Taipei, an incinerator in Miaoli, and for administration of the Sun Moon Lake Scenic Area. Given the parlous state of the island's public finances, the relatively low ratio of tax revenues collected by the government, the incestuous links between the government big business, and the necessity of a constant flow of public construction to oil the political and economic machinery of the island, look forward to the continued dominance of the BOT model in public infrastructure in Taiwan.

August Swenson's Meetup

Jerome Keating sends around the news of the August meeting:


To all,

We will have our August meeting at breakfast time again; meet at the Swensen's on Keelung Road [right near the McDonald's south of Taipei 101] where we have met previously at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday August 5th.

As a special topic this time we will have Donald Rodgers, a professor at Austin College in Sherman Texas talk about the international studies program at his school.

Austin College is a very progressive liberal arts college;

Don will broadly discuss teaching international politics in the US with a specific focus on teaching about Asia and even more specifically Taiwan.

In their International Relations program they attempt to give the students a blend of classroom learning with experiential learning. They discuss theory and cases in the classroom and then try to get students out there working in internships or conducting field research in the region of their choice. They have students doing research and internships across the United States and the globe. (My daughter who is a grad of Austin College and a French major did a project in Quebec City and her junior year in Lyon France) Don promotes study about and in Taiwan; one of his students was at our last presentation on Martial Arts,

It will be a good opportunity to hear Don talk on his work and to share your work and ideas with him.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sun Moon Lake page and other updates

I added some new pics to my Lukang page, and I've also started building a Sun Moon Lake page using pics from the two trips I've made there in the last year.

Public Land Policy Debate

One of the most important debates taking place at the current conference on sustainable development for Taiwan, headed up by Premier Su, is the debate over the status of public lands.

Delegates attending a financial panel yesterday engaged in heated discussion over how to dispose of state-owned land, with environmentalists pulling out all stops urging the reversal of decisions made at preparatory meetings.

Chen Man-li (陳曼麗), director of the National Union of Tai-wanese Women's Association, demanded that the government improve its state-land management mechanism, as historic buildings have been destroyed in the process of land development.

She said that state land, which belongs to the public, must not be used by government to facilitate private business development.

Her suggestion resulted in related decisions being put on hold until government agencies have the time to conduct further studies.

Sam Lin (林聖崇), head of the Ecology Conservation Alliance, urged the government to immediately cease the auctioning off or renting out of state land and suggested that the land be allocated to local governments for the establishment of national parks.

For example, parcels of land totaling 58,000 hectares owned by state-run Taiwan Sugar Corp should be retrieved for ecological purposes, he said.

Wild at Heart, the great Taiwan environmental blog, recently chronicled just such as case of how transfer of land from the state-owned firm Taiwan Sugar affected local ecologies:

The proposed development is an expansion of the Central Taiwan Science Park (中部科學工業區) into Ci-sing Farm (七星農場), a rolling meadow in the south of the town, owned by Taiwan Sugar Corporation (台灣糖業公司) and rented out along the periphery to a few small-scale vegetable and honey farmers. In recent years, the town has made a successful transition from simple agricultural production to becoming an agricultural distribution center with buyers located throughout the country. However, after the approval in February of a development for semiconductor facilities at Houli Farm in the north of the town, which was followed quickly by the initial review for the second part of the Science Park development at Ci-sing, residents began to hold meetings to discuss the potential health, environmental and social effects of the industry that threatened to transform their town.

The issue of public land use not only has implications for economic development and environmental issues, it also goes deep into Taiwan history and the long-running struggle between the indigenous people and colonial outsiders:

[Forty Aboriginal tribal chiefs yesterday made a plea at a public hearing for the return of lands transferred to Taiwan Sugar Corp under KMT rule.]

"The land historically has belonged to us," said Aaung Nouw Ay Jiyeuss, an Amiss spokesperson. "The Taiwan Sugar Corp received the land from the outside forces who came and took away our land without seeking our consent."

Jiyeuss was referring to the Japanese colonial period from 1895 to 1945 during which tribal peoples were forced to live in mountainous areas.

The colonial government appropriated thousands of hectares of tribal land in order to exploit forest, mineral and agricultural resources.

"When the KMT came to Taiwan in 1949, it received the lands from the Japanese and continued the occupation and exploitation of them by claiming them as government property," said Aaung Nouw Ay Jiyeuss.

Amiss elders present said that as a result, tribal peoples were forced to abandon their land and to live in mountainous areas.

Huang Jorn-hun (黃哲宏), vice president of Taiwan Sugar Corp, said that "the company is willing to negotiate over the matter, though the fact remains that it did gain ownership of the land in accordance with the law."

However, the Amiss disagreed.

"We don't recognize Taiwan Sugar Corp's ownership of the land because the law has been created according to the values of the Han people which have neither incorporated nor acknowledged Aborigines," Aaung Nouw Ay Jiyeuss said.

Taiwan Sugar is the descendent of four Japanese sugar firms taken over by the KMT when it came into possession of Taiwan in 1945. Under Japanese rule the companies controlled 40% of the land and operated private railroads with thousands of miles of track.

The flip side of the complicated land issues is the large amount of illegal occupation of public land. Everyone has noticed people using public land such as parks and roads for their own private purposes -- parking vehicles, operating stands, or drying food and clothing. This habit of thought is also reflected in widespread illegal occupation of public property:

Many public properties have been occupied without due compensation, a situation that has seen little improvement over the years, according to a legislative report released recently.

The report, prepared by the legislature's budget center, noted that the total surface area of public real estate that is currently being illegally occupied amounts to the surface area of nine Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall parks.

The land and residences at issue belong to various state-run enterprises whose annual budget must be approved by the legislature.

The lawmaking body will not review their spending budgets until next spring, as the central government's budget will dominate the current session.

According to the legislative budget center, Taiwan Sugar Corp has tracts of land totaling 1.2 million square meters being illegally occupied.

That accounts for 60 percent of the 2.14 million square meters of public real estate being illegally occupied altogether, the report shows.

Taiwan Power Company and Land Bank of Taiwan rank at second and third, respectively.

The former has yet to take back land properties of 170,000 square meters, while the latter has some 110,000 square meters of land being illegally occupied, the report says.

In addition, Chinese Petroleum Corp tops others in having the biggest number of buildings being illegally occupied.

A total of 275 residences in its possession have yet to be turned over to the gas company, even though their leases have expired, the budget center notes.

Taiwan Sugar Company comes second with 277 of its buildings being illegally occupied, trailed by Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Company, which has 260 buildings being illegally occupied in this way, the legislative report indicates.

Exacerbated by the problem of the lack of law enforcement on the island:

It notes that in some cases, the court has reaffirmed their ownership of certain properties, but the government-owned companies have been hesitant to evict the occupants.

Land policy is one of the most important determinants of the shape of Taiwanese life.

New Regulations for Local Taichung Foreigner Health Exams

Local blogger Spencer Pangborn warns that things have changed for medical exams for an ARC:

In the past, you could go to practically any hospital in Taichung, public or private, to receive a routine physical examination. This would then be used as the official medical release stating that you’re physically fit to reside in Taiwan. Once you pass the physical examination, your employer then applies for your work permit.

However, as of July 15, there are now only 2 hospitals in Taichung that have been approved by the government to administer these examinations. Unfortunately, neither of these hospitals are in Taichung City.

1. Sha Lu - Tungs’ Taichung MetroHarbor Hospital (童綜合醫院) Directions (English)
2. Feng Yuan - Feng Yuan Hospital (豐原醫院) Map (English)

I went to the hospital in Sha Lu and luckily my director drove me out there. The examination center is not easy to find and there are no signs in English to help you. Hopefully things will improve once they get settled. It really felt like this place is temporary.

Spencer has posted some vids and pics of the process. Is this for the whole of Taichung city and county? Or just Taichung city?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The No-Evidence Brigade

The No Evidence Brigade of the KMT is on the prowl again...

A legislator yesterday accused President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of appropriating public money to build "luxury" fitness facilities for his personal use in the grounds of the presidential residence.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) made the accusations at a press conference, saying that the charges were based on information from a member of staff at the Presidential Office who didn't want to be identified.

"It's an 8m-high white building, 2m of which is underground and 6m above ground. The facility covers an area of 310 ping (1,023m2), with the building itself covering 180 ping. It cost NT$60 million (US$1.83 million) in total," Wu said.

Wu said that the facility included a swimming pool and a "luxurious" gym, but he didn't produce any pictures or other evidence at the press conference.

It's amazing how people here make accusations without evidence. Usually the newspapers report them without comment, so it is good that the Taipei Times reporter pointed out that no evidence had been provided. Of course, in a presidential scandal, the Lady MacBeth must be the ultimate mover of events:

Wu alleged that it was the first lady's idea to build the pool and the gym and that the Presidential Office had used the National Security Bureau's budget to build it.

The President's Office had to waste time rebutting this stupidity:

The Presidential Office issued a statement last night saying that Wu's accusations were groundless.

"The `gym' Wu referred to is a training facility for security officials and does not include a swimming pool. The facility cost NT$10 million to construct, not NT$60 million," the statement said.

The statement added that the Yushan officers had moved to a temporary facility because their dormitory was being renovated.

The habit of people making claims without evidence is central to the attacks on President Chen. It is worth noting again that no evidence of wrongdoing by Chen has been put forward. Chui Yi, the original No Evidence Man and point man for the assault on Chen, who has never won a lawsuit brought by one of his defamation victims, is currently facing four of them:

According to Chiu's indictment, in March last year, Chiu told cable station TBVS's political talk show, 2100 Quan Min Kai Jiang (Speaking Your Mind at 2100) that a construction company was able to win a NT$5 billion (US$152,905,100) bid from the Taiwan Power Company because DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun was behind the company.

Chiu said his accusation was based on solid evidence, but when prosecutors asked him to provide the evidence, he told them the accusation against Yu was based on his suspicions.

As usual in cases without evidence, all Chiu Yi can do is cry persecution:

"Prosecutors again yielded in obedience to Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) government and they became tools of the government," Chiu said.

"The only reason prosecutors are indicting me is to stop me from revealing more scandals such as the Presidential Office submitting falsified receipts for reimbursement under its special allowances expenditure budget," he said.

Actually, the prosecutorial arm, like most law enforcement in Taiwan, is overwhelmingly pro-Blue. It is highly unlikely that the have yielded to the blandishments of the horrible Chen Shui-bian. Also prominent in these cases is the involvement of foreign governments as authenticators of the claimant's nonsense. Recall, for example, Li Ao's claim that the CIA sent him a report saying that Chen Shui-bian faked the assassination on himself, the Ultimate Case of the No-Evidence Brigade. Here Chiu Yi is now claiming that the Australian government will back him:

An opposition legislator yesterday outlined a complex conspiracy involving the first lady, a fashion designer and the Grand Hotel, saying the Australian government would investigate the matter and prove fraudulent expenses had been recorded by the Presidential Office.

"This might become a diplomatic incident between the two countries," Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) told reporters.

Chiu Yi claims that first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) used receipts she obtained issued by the Grand Hotel to Ligi Lee (李慧芬) -- an Australia-based fashion designer -- to mask her embezzlement of funds from the Presidential Office's special expenditure budget.

Chiu Yi said Ligi Lee had said the receipts totalled NT$3.36 million (US$102,220), and were given to Wu because Ligi Lee's cousin, Lee Bi-chun (李碧君), told her that the first lady needed them.

In a brief statement, the Presidential Office denied the accusation, saying only that the receipts were submitted by "a person" who acted as a "go-between" for the nation's de facto diplomatic mission in Australia, who received the receipts from Lee Bi-chun to seek reimbursement from the office.

Chiu Yi has sued Chen over this case. Let's not forget -- Chiu Yi himself has a history of lawbreaking and should at the moment be doing time, as this editorial points out:

Chiu should consider himself fortunate that he lives in the Taiwan of the 21st century, as just 22 years ago such accusations could have seen him suffer the same fate as Henry Liu (劉宜良), the Chinese-American reporter murdered at his home in California for writing an unflattering biography of then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Taiwan has come a long way in a very short time and Chiu should not forget this.

So how Chiu has the effrontery to accuse prosecutors of bending to the government's will is beyond belief. If that were the case then he would probably be residing in prison right now as a result of the criminal damage he caused when he incited a riot and led a sound truck to repeatedly ram the gates of the Kaohsiung Prosecutors' Office following the 2004 presidential election.

Prosecutors indicted Chiu more than two years ago for his part in the damage, which was captured on film. This, combined with the fact he was serving a suspended sentence for violating the Public Officials' Election and Recall Law (公職人員選舉罷免法) at the time, means he should have been in prison a long time ago.

But Chiu and his patrons at TVBS -- he admitted the relationship in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post -- take advantage of Taiwan's highly partisan political atmosphere to make slanderous allegations safe in the knowledge that little, if any, action will be taken against them. Any cry of political persecution brings back painful memories for too many people in Taiwan and ensures that legislators from both sides get away scot-free when making the most outrageous allegations.

Yup. Further, under the old system, where there were more seats for legislators, publicity seeking in this manner was a common tactic for legislators, since picking up only a few votes through keeping themselves in the public eye could mean a successful run for office. But the reforms have reduced the number of seats to 113, and many legislators must already be eyeing next year with great nervousness. Hence, expect a continuing flood of such nonsense as legislators struggle to keep themselves in the public eye.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past

I don't often discuss non-Taiwan stuff, here, but the Department of the Way Cool sent me this great article on Wikipedia courtesy of H-ASIA:

Taiwan: the Tail that Wags Dogs

A friend of mine pointed me to this piece, Taiwan: the Tail that Wags the Dog, written last year by retired Admiral Michael McDevitt and promulgated by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). NBR is an Establishment public policy think tank whose list of supporters includes people like Clinton Administration figure Brent Scowcroft and former CIA Taiwan desk and CRS Taiwan desk head Robert Sutter. The governing and advisory boards present many familiar names, including Nicholas N. Eberstadt, Robert Gilpin, Nicholas Lardy, Kenneth Lieberthal, Robert Scalapino, and John M. Shalikashvili.

The fascinating thing about this essay is its main idea, here cited from the executive summary:

This essay explores how Taiwan has been able to seize the political initiative from China, Japan, and the United States.

Main Argument
Taiwan has attained this leverage due to the interrelationship of four factors:

*Strategic considerations stemming from Taiwan's geographic position lead Tokyo and Washington to prefer the status quo, while leading China to strive for reunification. China's increasing military power, however, may suggest a Chinese intention to change the status quo.

*Shared democratic values and the fact that the "democracy issue" has greatly prolonged the timetable for reunification give Taipei political influence in both Washington and Tokyo.

*China’s constant threats of force actually empower Taipei in its relationship with Washington, and cause the United States to plan for the worst.

*Taiwan is a litmus test of U.S. credibility as an ally, a condition that in turn creates a perception on the island that U.S. military backing is unconditional.

I decided not to fall down laughing at the idea that Taiwan has "seized the initiative" from the three largest economies in the world, including a global superpower and the two most powerful and influential nations in Asia. Go, Grand Fenwick! It appears that like many who write on this topic, the author has mistaken Taiwan's responses to intiative-seizing by China for seizing of the initiative itself.

One thing that stands out in the executive summary is the way the author has adopted the language and thinking of the Chinese side to describe policy goals -- using reunification, which accepts that Taiwan is part of China, instead of the nuetral annexation. Even the US Establishment papers have by and large curbed their use of that framing. For example, consider how carefully Edward Cody of the Washington Post positioned his description recently:

But others predicted a bold move to revive support among the many Taiwanese who believe that their homeland should be independent in law as well as fact despite China's resolve to absorb it into the mainland.

Absorb is an excellent word that not only avoids a political judgment, but accurately describes China's long-term strategy.

Taiwan is a headache for the foreign policy Establishment since its ornery democracy that insists on an independence of its own interferes with smooth relations with China (translation: Big Profits), and thus, much of the writing that comes out of Establishment institutions on Taiwan consists of attempts to find a language and a stance that rationalizes the writer's cognitive dissonance as he, usually a decent human being, discusses how democratic Taiwan can best be betrayed to Communist China. Often this involves blaming Taiwan for being "provocative," thus inviting the reader to subconsciously adopt the point of view that Taiwan is an obstreporous child in need of discipline, and deserves its fate. Reading such stuff, one is reminded of Jan Masaryk's visit to Downing Street after the infamous surrender at Munich, where he told Chamberlain and Halifax: "If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of the world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not, gentlemen, God help your souls."

The paper summarizes how Taiwan pulled off the amazing feat of seizing the initiative from Washington and Beijing as:

Unfortunately, the way by which a small nation of only 23 million people has been able to accomplish this feat of diplomatic jujitsu is by stoking the coals of Taiwanese nationalism on the island to a point just short of crisis with the PRC. Washington and Tokyo have not been amused by the willingness of Taipei to play diplomatic “chicken” with Beijing because the stakes of a miscalculation by either side are so high for all concerned. The purpose of this paper is to explore this situation and consider alternatives that could reduce the possibility of Taiwanese “provocations” eliciting great power responses.

This is bog-standard KMT propaganda -- the "Mad Chen" and Taiwanese Nationalism will doom us all! -- and it is sad to see it presented as "analysis." Those of us who were actually here in 2004 and 2005 (the period under discussion) do not remember a point "just short of a crisis." We remember the outflows of investment and inflows of goods, the increasing integration of the two economies, the beginnings of Chinese tourism in Taiwan and the talks over direct links, the visits to China by Lien Chan and other pro-China politicians from Taiwan, the flow of culture across the Strait, and many other things that bespoke of ordinary, if wary, relations between the two states. It is important to reiterate that the real madmen who will start a war occupy desks in Beijing, not Taipei. It is China that has pledged to plunge the region into war if it cannot annex Taiwan, not Taipei, a point McDevitt does forcefully acknowledge later in the paper (and all credit to him, too).

The paper opens with a section covering the strategic importance of Taiwan to the three powers. These arguments -- the Taiwan that is the cork in the bottle of Chinese regional sea control, the Taiwan that sits astride Japan's southern sea lanes. One interesting item is this footnote to this discussion of the annexation of Okinawa by Japan....
As early as 1879, when Tokyo asserted sovereignty over the Ryukyu kingdom by unilaterally annexing this island chain, Japanese strategists recognized the importance of having control over the islands spread along the major sea lanes between Japan and Southeast Asia.

McDevitt writes:

The Ryukyu kingdom had been a Chinese tributary since 1372 and concurrently a district of the Southern Japanese Satsuma domain since 1609. When negotiations between Tokyo and Peking to resolve the status proved fruitless, Japan unilaterally annexed them. See S.C.M. Paine, The Sino-Japanese War of 89 – 895: Perceptions, Power and Primacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 90–91.

Fascinatingly, McDevitt completely leaves out the fact that Okinawa was an independent kingdom and was never ruled by China, instead, implying that Okinawa was indeed ruled by China! I suppose, if we are writing about how best to suppress pesky independence demands, it is a good idea not to mention the other islands that were once independent in the area.

Another puzzling contradiction of Establishment writing on Taiwan is the simultaneous claim that China supports "the status quo" (like pornography, we know the Status Quo when we see it....) while at the same time, noting that China is dramatically upsetting the "Status Quo". McDevitt does not fall into this trap, however, for he notes in his opening remarks that China will change the Status Quo.

The PLA's single-minded focus on Taiwan in recent years has, however, given the PLA the military capabilities necessary to reach Taiwan in a way that was not possible in earlier decades. The Chinese military is beginning to match Taiwan's qualitatively superior capabilities with equally, or nearly as advanced, Russian systems. As the December 2004 PRC defense white paper makes clear, the PLA is investing more in naval and air forces for the express purpose of establishing air and sea control over the seaward approaches to the PRC. If not balanced by increased U.S and Taiwanese capabilities, the PLA's modernization will inevitably change the defense equation for both Taiwan and the United States.

Instead, McDevitt falls into the other contradiction, that of asserting that the Mad Taiwan Government is the problem even while conceding that China is indeed giving every appearance of wanting to annex Taiwan by force. The real message sent in such discourse is that Taiwan should shut up and accept its fate.

Foreign policy establishment discourse on Taiwan has absorbed the KMT view of history, with its especial esteem of that murderer Chiang Ching-kuo. Thus McDevitt writes:

In 1986 President Chiang Ching-kuo decided to gradually rollback Kuomintang (KMT) authoritarian rule in Taiwan. Once in place, these political reforms resulted in a fairly rapid dismantlement of the institutions of repression.

One day in 1986, bored and hungover, Chiang decided it would be a good idea to completely reverse the course the KMT had taken for the previous forty years. "Durn, I'm tired of all the paperwork involved in political repression. Not to mention the ulcer and the complaints from my wives and mistresses. And my uncle still bitches about the time I had to imprison him. I think I'll just give the order now. What the heck, eh? Sentences like this that banish to the nether regions years of democracy agitation on the part of both mainlanders and locals betray information sources that are highly warped. It would have been far more truthful to acknowledge the democracy movement as the cause of democratization, and not to mention Chiang at all. Why not write an equally simple statement like "After many years of activism, opposition parties were finally legalized and martial law lifted in the mid 1980s"...

Of the four factors that McDevitt says have enabled Taipei seize the initiative, one was democracy:

The advent of democracy in Taiwan has also made it much more politically difficult for Washington to push Taipei into a unification dialogue in order to bring an end to Washington's 50-year security obligation. One of the most significant consequences of democracy took place in 1991, when Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui approved a set of Guidelines for National Reunification. In retrospect, this change put the island on a very different political trajectory in that Taipei dropped the pretense that the ROC represented the only legitimate government of China. As long as the PRC and the ROC each claimed to represent the true Chinese state and each aimed to reunify the country under its own political model, there was no dispute regarding concepts of "one China." Each side asserted it would end the Chinese civil war by "recovering" the territory occupied by the other.

Instead, Taipei's new guidelines accepted the PRC as the legitimate government of the part of China that Beijing controlled. This move effectively nullified the underlying premise of the 1972 Shanghai Communique that "Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that it is a part of China." As Harry Harding has stated, "Taiwan basically abandoned the vision of one country, one legitimate government that had been pursued by Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-kuo, and for that matter Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping." The 1991 Guidelines for National Reunification softened the political blow of backing away from the old formulation of "one China" by stating that the ROC still envisioned a "one country, one system" future but only when the PRC had become"democratic, free, and equitably prosperous"—just like Taiwan.

This seems to make a kind of sense, until you realize how deeply unethical it is, and how much history it ignores. The heart of it lies in this sentence:

This move effectively nullified the underlying premise of the 1972 Shanghai Communique that "Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that it is a part of China."

Whoa! McDevitt does not add that prior to the Shanghai Communique the US position was that the status of Taiwan was undetermined (the ethically, democratically, and politically appropriate position). McDevitt does not add that Shanghai Communique was a memorandum of understanding among two governments about the status of Taiwan, neither of whom was the legitimate owner of the island, and none of whom consulted its people about its disposition. If don't get the consent of those whose lives and property you dispose of, you are hardly in a position to complain if they later decide your plans are worthless. But then the Czechs were not invited to Munich either....

In other words, Taiwan democracy is not the problem here. The problem is that the original plan to sell out Taiwan to China failed to take into account the wishes of the people of Taiwan, and policymakers are now paying the price for their urgent need to enjoy that feeling of Playing God with Other People's Lives. It was easy in 1972 to anticipate that the Taiwanese would take steps to avoid being annexed by China if given democracy, as that was known to both the Chiang government and to US policymakers (lobbying for Taiwan independence began in the 1960s, and there were numerous public and secret reports that gave accurate accounts of the island's political attitiudes). McDevitt represents a foreign policy establishment that resembles a man who becomes infuriated that the marriage he arranged for his daughter to make himself rich has been rejected by her.

Essentially, this analysis simply blames the people of Taiwan for the errors of US foreign policy decisionmakers. Had the US maintained its original position that "the status of Taiwan is undefined", it would currently have a great deal more strategic flexibility and it would still retain the moral high ground. It would not be locked into the clearly unacceptable goal of "pushing Taipei into a unification dialogue in order to bring an end to Washington's 50-year security obligation." Kissinger, not Taipei, trapped Washington in this moral and political nightmare where it has to sell out a democratic state to an authoritarian dictatorship.

This lack of understanding of Taiwan's situation is reflected in paragraphs like this:

Ten months after the March 2004 election in Taiwan, Chen himself suffered a political setback. In the December 2004 parliamentary elections, the people of Taiwan did not grant President Chen and his pan-Green coalition the majority in the Legislative Yuan that Chen was seeking. The election results were a relief to many China and Taiwan experts in the United States, both in and out of government, because the results seemed to demonstrate that the people of Taiwan were willing to restrain President Chen and his pan-Green alliance from going too far and risking conflict with the PRC.

I doubt there were very many people who voted for their local legislator with the idea that they were restraining the Mad Chen Shui-bian and his Violent Greens. Taiwanese people think and vote locally, and give every appearance of being blissfully unaware of the effects that their local votes may have on foreign policy, with the gigantic exception of the Three Links with China. Too, if voters wanted to "restrain" Chen all they had to do was not elect him in the first place (duh). The truly bizarre aspect of this is that McDevitt writes as if nothing restrains Chen but fortuitous circumstances -- as if he were happy to have his people mained and killed and his island blown to bits, and the region plunged into war and madness. Does anyone really believe that if the Greens had possessed a majority in 2004 that we would be heading toward war now? The idea is self-evidently absurd. Chen knows perfectly well, as every serious politician on the island does, that independence is not an option at the moment, and that Taiwan has very little strategic space, and that anything might provoke the (real) madmen in Beijing to plunge the region into war because the idea of an independent Taiwan is unacceptable.

Similar wording appears throughout the article. A few paragraphs down McDevitt explores China's threats against Taiwan, and writes:

The Chen administration would prefer to change the status quo peacefully, ideally with the blessing of Beijing or even unilaterally without the risk of war. Taiwan's ruling government is inhibited from doing so because Beijing will not agree to a peaceful separation.

It seems like a fine affirmation of the ultimate reasonableness of the Chen Administration, until you think about that "would prefer to change the status quo peacefully" with its implied concomittant "but they will do so regardless." McDevitt writes a bit further down:

The combination of growing military capabilities on one side of the Taiwan Strait and an energetic, highly nationalist democracy on the other side creates a powerful incentive for Beijing to employ its new capabilities. To discourage the use of force, either Chen Shui-bian must stop inciting the PRC or Beijing must consider alternative approaches.

It's Chen's fault again. Stop struggling and lie still you fool! McDevitt stops short of blaming Taiwan for the PRC's military modernization, but he does manage to blame Taiwan for making things worse:

This strategy has, however, had some success. Because of Taipei’s incremental approach toward creating a separate Taiwanese political identity, Beijing’s policy has changed focus from promoting reunification to simply preventing Taiwanese independence. Taipei’s short-term success may in fact signal a pyrrhic victory, however, since these gains have provided focus and a sense of urgency for PRC military modernization and, as a result, is increasing the prospect of cross-Strait conflict.

The PRC's long march toward a modern military began with its poor performance in the invasion of Vietnam in 1979, after which Deng sacked leaders, streamlined the military's administration, brought in a more combined arms approach, and initiated various other reforms. As the economy grew, and Communism's hold over the population collapsed, the PRC began a policy of stoking Chinese nationalism. Given that (1) official policy is more nationalistic; (2) the military is stronger; and (3) China's massive economy growth is giving it dreams of global superstardom, it is hard to imagine a situation in which it would not be gunning for Taiwan at this juncture in history. China's long-term goal is to displace the Washington-Tokyo alliance as the governing alliance of the region, and taking Taiwan is one way to do that. During the 1980s there was no democracy here, and no public sense of a Taiwan identity, but even still China pursued a policy of annexation.

McDevitt's own review of strategy, where he notes the strategic importance of Taiwan to China, undercuts his argument that it is Taipei's behavior that is giving the PLA "urgency and focus." China's desire to annex the island is expansionism no different from Russia's desire to have a warm-water port at the expense of its neighbors. The strategic importance of Taiwan is such that China would always want to possess it. Indeed, the demand for it at Cairo, as well as the numerous books and articles written prior to that meeting by Chinese intellectuals and political and strategic theorists, all show that annexing Taiwan was a key goal of intelligent and expansion-oriented Chinese thinkers throughout the twentieth century. The desire to annex Taiwan should also be seen against the backdrop of PRC and ROC claims to islands in the South China Sea and in other nearby waters. If only those crabs in the tidal pools of the Spratlys would stop inciting longtime Taiwan and PRC observer June Tefel Dreyer noted a while back:

In 1995 the government of the Philippines discovered that the PRC had constructed bunkers and radar installations on Mischief Reef, which Manila lays claim to, and also installed boundary markers fifty miles off the Philippines’ Palawan province to demarcate the limit of its exclusive economic zone. Beijing replied to Manila’s protests by saying that the structures were for the use of its fishing people. Then-president Fidel Ramos, a West Point graduate, escorted a tour of the structures for the press, pointing out to the militarily uninitiated that these were not installations for fishing folk. He also ordered the destruction of the boundary markers, prompting Beijing to accuse the Philippines of bullying the People’s Republic of China, warn it against involving the United States or the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) in the issue, and state that the restraint shown by the PRC shown over the Spratlys could not be permanent. This rhetoric was slightly softened when Beijing suggested talked on fishing rights.

A few weeks later, the government of Indonesia announced it had come into possession of a Chinese map showing the Natuna Islands as part of China’s exclusive economic zone. Since the Natunas, which contain rich gas deposits, have been under Indonesian jurisdiction, there was great concern in Jakarta. The foreign minister was sent to Beijing, where he was told that the Chinese government did not claim the islands. He was not, however, told how the map came to exist.

Gosh, do you think the government of Indonesia incited China to claim the Natuna Islands?

The final bit of leverage McDevitt says Taipei has over US is the US desire to appear credible to its allies:

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the credibility issue concerns the perception in Taipei. Taiwan authorities seem to have convinced themselves that, regardless of the circumstances, they can count on U.S. intervention should China attack. On a number of occasions during visits to Taipei, I have been told that the United States would not dare to stand aside due to worries of a loss of credibility — even if Taiwan had provoked the crisis. The importance of U.S. regional credibility would weigh too heavily.

I wish he had taken the time to explain who had made such comments and in what contexts. Sadly, McDevitt does not tell us. McDevitt then goes on to write:

Whether or not such impressions are correct, the illusion of unconditional U.S. backing frees Taipei from the precautionary measures of thinking through the consequences of provoking the PRC.

It's hard to take a sentence this stupid seriously enough to comment on it. The idea that Taipei is "free from" the "precautionary measures of thinking through the consequences of provoking the PRC" is absurd -- such consequences are discussed openly every day in the media, the national security council and other concerned government organs publish reports on them, there are military exercises held to simulate Chinese invasions, and so on. Even further, there are several major political parties who regularly and energetically debate the consequences of Taipei's China policy, and further, every politician on the island knows that the public supports the current neither-fish-nor-fowl independence of Taiwan. Once again, McDevitt returns to the theme of Chen-as-madman. The lack of local context for the paper prevents McDevitt from seeing how strange this sentence looks to those of us who actually live here where the Chen Administration's policies are the subject of unremitting partisan debate (and cannot be implemented because the legislature is controlled by the opposition). The continued presence of the Chen-as-madman scenario also bespeaks too much time spent listening to pro-China and pro-KMT thinking on the Taiwan issue. Time for some new perspectives in the foreign policy establishment, I think.

This is not to say that everything in this essay is bad. The conclusion contains some very insightful thinking that should have been more clearly detailed in the paper. Consder this:

The PRC’s threat to use force is the third and most important factor addressed by this paper. Beijing must certainly realize by now that while the threat of force is enough to scare the Taiwanese away from a declaration of independence, it is not enough to make the island desire reunification. In fact, the threat of force actually contributes to a perpetuation of the status quo. Over the long term, the threat of force is a losing proposition. It militarizes the situation and makes the prospect of great power conflict over Taiwan a very real possibility. The PRC’s growing global influence provides Beijing with a credible substitute for a militant policy as a way to deter Taiwan independence. By backing away from overt pledges of using force, China would also reduce the threat of conflict with both the United States and Japan over Taiwan. While not being able to resolve the issue of reunification, a diplomatic approach would go a long way toward demilitarizing the issue.

I would have liked to see that idea fleshed out. Unfortunately this is all a pipe dream -- Taiwan does not want to be part of China, and as McDevitt notes, only the credible threat of force makes the Taiwanese sit up and pay attention to China's demands. Hence China cannot demilitarize the issue, because to do so is to accept the idea that Taiwan will maintain its current status independent of Those Who Would Play God in Beijing.

McDevitt also makes this interesting point:

On balance, the fact that Taipei has been able to manipulate the PRC, the United States, and (to a lesser extent) Japan, is not a desirable situation for any of the three major powers involved. By subtly changing the status quo so that all three major powers are now committed to preserving it, Taipei may have actually introduced some stability into the situation. Much remains to be done, however, in order to ensure that Taipei’s strategy does not further change the status quo in a way that would precipitate a war.

In a paper where he has argued that the US role is to push Taipei to negotiate over annexation with China, and that China gives every appearance of wanting to violently annex Taiwan, McDevitt's assertion that all three powers are "committed" to preserving the status quo is absurd. It is also interesting that McDevitt argues here that Taipei may have introduced some stability into the status quo -- interesting because it implies that the status quo is fundamentally unstable. Further, he says that this is undesirable -- undesirable -- for Taiwan to stabilize the situation by "manipulating" Beijing, Washington, and Tokyo (Go, Grand Fenwick!). Apparently instability free of Taipei's horrible machinations is the preferred alternative here. Or perhaps Taipei's ability to move events is a signal that the foreign policy establishments of those countries are too incompetent to achieve such a stability on their own. Or -- here's a thought -- maybe it is a signal that Taipei exists and ought to have a say in its own fate, so that when that fate is realized, there won't be any complaints that the island doesn't accept the role that others have created for it without its consent. McDevitt's suggests that when Chen asserts Taiwan's interests he is "inciting," and when Taiwan attempts to have a say in what happens to it, it is "manipulating." But Taipei is not "manipulating" the three most powerful countries in the world -- it is conducting foreign policy -- a foreign policy that many here see as almost futile (it is comical to shift between the local perspective that Taiwan's foreign policy is a failure and a joke, a common tune in the media here and abroad, and McDevitt's assertion that Taiwan is a success making fools of Washington, Beijing, and Tokyo).

The lack of an understanding of the local situation here also shows in McDevitt's presentation of "Taipei" as the lone foreign policy actor here on the Beautiful Isle. In reality, the KMT has been conducting its own foreign policy with China for most of the Chen Administration, something that should have been known to McDevitt and mentioned in this paper (it has also been conducting its own foreign policy with visiting American notables as well). In fact, except for two references to the authoritarian period, the KMT goes unmentioned in this paper, as does the existence of the pan-Blue alliance. There is nary a hint that there are complex local opinions on Taiwan and nary a hint that these may have negative consequences for "stability." Instead, all is due to the action of Chen and the Greens, a position that betrays a profoundly pro-KMT slant either in the author's thinking or his sources. McDevitt also does not mention that the legislature has also been attempt to conduct its own foreign policy and curtail Presidential authority in that area. There isn't any monolithic entity out there calling the shots -- Chen can stoke Taiwan nationalism all he wants, but at the end of the day, the legislature is still killing the arms purchase in committee, the KMT is cooperating with the PRC, the foreign policy rank-and-file are largely mainlander and pro-Blue, and events in Asia, favorable like the Japanese move toward Taiwan in response to the Chinese military build-up, and unfavorable like the criminal invasion of Iraq by the US, remain out of its hands, with long-term consequences for the island still largely unclear.

In sum, Taiwan is not a source of instability. The "instability" arises from the refusal of decisionmakers in Washington, Beijing, and elsewhere, to recognize that the wishes of the people of Taiwan must be taken into account when Taiwan's fate is decided. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it is high time that policymakers stopped thinking that Taiwan is a problem that must be made to go away, instead of an opportunity to be grasped.

Hoping Island Redux

My family, my parents, and my friend Jeff and I stopped by Hoping Island on our way through Keelung and on to Taipei a couple of weeks ago, and stepped out on the island for a while, but tropical storm Bilis drove us back to our cars in defeat. I did have a chance to snap a few pics. Here they are for your enjoyment. I've also added them to my page on The Strange Shore of Hoping Island in Keelung Harbor.

This sign has some great deadpan humor. On Hoping Island there is a cave where a cross and the notation "1667" is carved into the wall. There a remnant of Dutch colonials is said to have lived after Koxinga kicked out the main body back in 1661. As my friend Jeff pointed out to me, the sign says -- in all seriousness -- that it was designated a historical site in 2003, but was finished in 1684.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Book: Taiwan: Struggles of a Democracy

Taiwan: The Struggles of a Democracy
Jerome F. Keating
Available through the Southern Materials Center (
or at Page One, Eslite, and Caves bookstores

Jerome Keating, wry, courtly, energetic, and passionate, has compiled his essays into a wonderfully informative work on the political history of Taiwan entitled Taiwan: Struggles of a Democracy (with a beautiful cover designed by his wife). Ranging across a century and a half of history in China, Japan, and Taiwan, Keating offers a panoramic view of the long struggle of Taiwan to achieve democracy in the face of Chinese and Japanese colonialism.

"I have lived and worked in Taiwan for over 18 years," Keating writes in an early essay, "from a post-Martial Law era, when even foreigners were cautious about what they said in public, to a full-fledged democracy, where the press allows all opinions regardless of validity." It is clear from Keating's writing that for each and every one of those eighteen years, he has been considering the problem of democratization in Taiwan from a wide variety of perspectives and a deep love of the Beautiful Island.

Keating takes us back to the days before the rule of the Kuomintang, noting that Taiwan's struggle for self-rule long predates both the KMT and US involvement with the island, and that Japan was in some ways a positive influence on the nascent home rule movement. Observing the brief period of liberalization during the Taisho reign prior to the assumption of Hirohito to the Throne, Keating writes:

"By 1921, a lot was happening in Taiwan also. The special powers granted to the colonial administrators were taken back and Taiwan fell under the rule of the Diet. The people of Taiwan immediately petitioned for the right to participate in democracy and elect their own representatives to that Diet.

The magazine Taiwanese Youth promoting Taiwanese consciousness and awareness would be published in Japan. While officially banned in Taiwan, it and the ideas discussed at the universities were filtering back to the colony. In 1925, the people witnessed that universal suffrage was granted to all males in Japan, to commoners as well as to the wealthy and the property owners. This raised the question: why not here in Taiwan?"

Keating also notes that both candidates in the 1996 Taiwan presidential election, Lee Teng-hui, and Peng Ming-min, had been in Japan in the pre- and post-war period. Keating never romanticizes the harshness of Japanese rule over Taiwan, but he does point out that the even greater brutality of the KMT, and its manifest corruption and incompetence, cast the Japanese "harsh but fair" experience in a very positive light for the people of Taiwan.

The rise of the democracy movement is covered in a multi-part series of essays. The story of the decline and failure of Republic of China rule on Taiwan is also told, and there are many references to US and Chinese history.

In addition to recovering history and providing interesting points of view on the development of the island's political consciousness, Keating also provides information-packed snapshots of the island's major and minor political figures. One of my favorite sections of the book is entitled Taiwan Politics: Fatalities of the Limelight, covering the ill-fated careers of turncoats Hsu Hsin-liang and Sisy Chen, as well as two-time presidential loser Lien Chan. Once the editor of New Tide, the magazine of the political opposition, Sisy Chen evolved into the shrill spokeswoman of the modern KMT hoohah:

"Sisy Chen's most defining moment was forever captured on television footage on March 19, 2004, the election eve of Taiwan's third presidential race. A bare eight hours after an assassination attempt had been made on President Chen Shui-bian and before any voting had taken place, in true hired gun fashion the 'independent' Sisy Chen was crying foul and shooting from the hip. Surrounded by the leaders of the pan-blue alliance of KMT and PFP she railed against this seeming injustice and how the assassination attempt was nothing but a staged political machination."

Investigation would show, sure enough, that a pan-Blue supporter had taken a shot at Chen, though the pan-Blues continue to live in a bizarre alternate universe where Chen Shui-bian arranged his own shooting in front of an audience of thousands with the help of hundreds of conspirators, without leaving a whit of evidence. Meanwhile Sisy Chen would later protest that she had only been saying "what the KMT/PFP leaders had fed her."

Though Taiwan has produced many like Sisy Chen, who change colors faster than a chameleon flung through a paint store, it has also produced people great in every sense of the word, like the historian and activist Su Beng, the Taiwanese Che Guevara, who fought in China in WWII and in the Civil War, grew up under colonial rule, and at 88, can still be found protesting for democracy. Keating offers a loving profile of him. Also profiled is Lee Teng-hui, the man of many parts, all of them tough and competent.

One unusual feature of this book is that each essay ends with questions designed stimulate the reader to think through some of the issues the history of Taiwan presents. For example, after the essay on Lee Teng-hui, he asks: "Who would you judge has contributed the most to Taiwan's democracy?" as if to say "Who, if not Lee?"

Taiwan: Struggles of a Democracy is a story with many facets, told by someone who knows the participants personally, in an informal and accessible style that is at once erudite, folksy, wry, and sentimental. Readers will find this book a useful and pleasing introduction to the story of Taiwan in the twentieth century.

Provocative Chocolate

I went down to the newly revamped Japanese-owned supermarket searching for dark chocolate the other day. I didn't find any dark chocolate, but I did find some chocolates that reminded me of something. Can't think what, though.

Tea Groups and Tea Links

Interested in tea? I just got this in the email....


.....if you know any english-speaking groups or people that would like to learn about tea or see some tea ceremonies, we do them often, but we do them for Taiwanese. I think it would be great to let the foreingnors in on this as well...I am an american in taiwan, (17 years) named Steven. I am part of several tea culture groups, non-profit and educational. We do tea ceremonies (no cost) for cultural exchange. I have translated tea ceremonies before for children and adults, and if you have any foreign groups come to taiwan we would be happy to share and perform a tea ceremony with chinese/english translations....

Tea Lore - 茶學識
Tea Arts - 茶藝
Tea Lore, Tea Arts, Tea Culture, Incense Lore, and other classic Asian
茶學識...茶道...茶藝術....學識...... 藝術...... 文化...
香道... 。。英文 。中文

The International Wu-Wo Tea Association English site
(國際無我茶會推廣協會年- 英文)

Lu-Yu Tea Culture Institute - 陸羽茶藝中心
Group, Co., LTD

Ten Ren Teaism Foundation

Lore, [ 學識 ]
Herin Tea Troupe

Tea Culture Group,
Shilin Community College, Taipei City

photos 相片

photos 相片

Lu-Yu Tea Culture Institute
Tea Culture Monthly(茶藝月刊)

The Official Wu-Wo Tea Association in Chinese:

Tea Master Guild Site - 泡茶師聯會





Thank you,


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Taroko Gorge and Hualien City

Ryan (the Lost Spaceman, Highway 11 Magazine) was our guide to the queen city of the east coast. Although our visit was severely impacted by tropical hiccup storm Bilis, we enjoyed Hualien immensely. Not only did we get to explore a little way into fantastic Taroko Gorge, but we also fell in love with the mountain backdrop and open spaces of Hualien city. Ryan did a great job running down a hotel for us, and had some good tips on what to do in Taroko Gorge. I was fortunate to be able to have a beer with Ryan and his girlfriend Iris, who turned out to be seriously cute. No doubt bachelors all over the island will hang themselves in despair as Ryan has just announced their engagement (and congratulations to both of them -- I assume the first five children will all be named Michael, right?).

Taroko Gorge turned out to be As Advertized. The further you go in, the more beautiful it gets. Lie, cheat, or steal, but get over there for a look. Even better, take the highway over the mountains and into the gorge....

In Hualien we stayed at the Royal Hotel, a ten minute walk from the downtown restaurant and shopping area. Service was fantastic, staff were friendly, free internet and a loaner computer, and clean rooms. My parents heartily approved of the low rates. I'd like to thank Ryan for this excellent recommendation.

Enjoy my picture page of Hualien and Taroko Gorge.