Saturday, June 30, 2007

Congress Considers Terminating Restrictions on Visits

Agence France Press reports that both the House and Senate are considering ending restrictions on visits to the US by high-level Taiwan leaders:

U.S. lawmakers, accusing the administration of kowtowing to China, called Tuesday for an end to restrictions on visits to the United States by high-level officials from Taiwan.

The demand was adopted by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives and now goes to a full vote in the lower chamber of Congress. A parallel resolution is in the works in the Senate.

The U.S. government is wary of hosting top-level Taiwanese officials for fear of offending China, which considers the island a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Even U.S. transit stops by Taiwanese politicians, such as one by President Chen Shui-bian en route to Central America in January, are guaranteed to irk Beijing.

The resolution's sponsor in the House, Republican Steve Chabot, said it was time to send a clear message to Beijing over Taiwan, which the United States is legally bound to defend in any military conflict.

"It is terribly unfortunate that democratically elected officials from Taiwan are not permitted to visit our nation's capital -- while the unelected leaders of communist China are given the red-carpet treatment," he said.

"Taiwan is our loyal friend and ally, a strong trading partner, and a vibrant democracy. Our current policy is insulting to Taiwan and sends a wrong signal to the rest of the world."

What triggered all this was President Chen's appearance in digital form at the National Press Club. What's the problem? Therese Shaheen, formerly head of the officially unofficial US representative office here, AIT, writing at the American Enterprise Institute, described the situation thusly:

Today, the bureaucracy makes decisions by self-policing an unstated policy of "nothing goes." One recent example: In May, the U.S. National Press Club hosted a discussion with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian by video link. U.S. officials at the desk-officer level concluded that it would undermine policy to attend this public event, reasoning that Mr. Chen's appearance was intended as an attempt to circumvent restrictions on senior Taiwan officials visiting Washington, D.C.

But the lack of interaction goes beyond one-off, questionable decisions such as that. Military officers at the one-star level or above, or the civilian equivalent, are not permitted to meet in Taiwan with their counterparts. While there is serious contingency planning at high levels on both sides, senior U.S. planners and decision makers do not interact with their Taiwan counterparts. The dialogue instead is conducted by proxy at lower levels of government.

Even simple meetings are less frequent in recent years. As late as 2003, State and Defense Department officials--albeit at the mid-grade deputy assistant secretary level--were permitted to meet regularly with senior Taiwanese officials including the foreign minister outside of Washington, D.C. That contact no longer takes place. At the highest levels, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship would have to get much closer to even describe it as "arms-length." No cabinet-level officials have met their Taiwanese counterparts since the Clinton administration.
The State Department and Taiwan supporters within and outside of the Administration are in the middle of a huge spat over the State Department's position on Taiwan. What usually happens with such laws is that the House passes them and then the Senate strikes them down. So don't expect too much...

Chen the Ratcheter

Last week in a piece in the CS Monitor, the writer observed:
It also matches a pattern whereby Chen has sought to ratchet up tensions with the mainland, rallying his political supporters, whenever he has found himself in domestic difficulties. Currently his wife is under indictment for corruption, as are two top aides and two cabinet ministers. Prosecutors say they have enough evidence to indict the president, too, but that he is protected from charges by presidential immunity.
Now, the claim that Chen ratchets up tensions with China when he has domestic trouble is a common canard of the KMT. One hears it all the time on talk shows here. It just so happens that it is an empirically testable canard.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Callick Scores one for Beijing Correspondents

Taiwan blogger Tetsuo once observed that getting Taiwan reporting from your Beijing correspondent is like getting inside the Beltway reporting from your Melbourne correspondent. Usually Beijing correspondents of major media entities are hopeless at reporting on Taiwan, but a notable exception is Rowan Callick of The Australian, who has a pretty good piece with some minor errors yesterday in his paper:

The two presidential candidates named by the main parties, Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the KMT, are respectively Frank Hsieh, a former mayor of second city Kaohsiung, and Ma Ying-jeou, until recently mayor of Taipei. Both are lawyers who studied together for their first degrees. Both are moderates, pointing to a period of less volatility and rowdiness in the recently bitter political rivalry. It looks like being a close contest, holding out the prospect of a fresh basis for talks with Beijing, whoever wins.

Ma, who has worked in New York and speaks fluent English, is a tall, well groomed, handsome 57-year-old whose earlier Kennedy-esque aura has diminished as the political encounters have become more bruising. He admits Taiwan's democracy looks "vibrant and energetic, though sometimes a little bit rowdy", with its frequent television shots of fisticuffs in parliament. But he says that assuredly "democracy is here to stay."

That annoying love affair correspondents have with Ma is alive and well here (Kennedy-esque? Hey, I knew Jack Kennedy, and Ma is no Jack Kennedy!), but note also that Ma is called a lawyer although he has never passed the bar or practiced law. Note too that both Ma and Hsieh are presented as moderates.....Callick lets both sides speak for themselves throughout the piece, instead of making Beijing-centric judgments, as Peter Ford at the CS Monitor did in his recent piece I blogged on earlier this week. It's long, detailed, and much better than stuff we've been seeing recently in the international media.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The 45 Minute Ulcer

What's driving like? Well, nothing static can convey the reality of a Taiwan road. But today I took a shot at it, recording a trip from home to the university. It started out in fine style. As I sat in the middle lane, the car in front of the yellow truck turned right from the center lane, and was followed by the truck, which also turned right, halting traffic in both lanes. It was turning onto a very wide two lane road, so there was no excuse. But -- it's a refrain -- stuff like this is normal here in Taiwan.

Moments later, as I approach a red light, I mark a scooter going the wrong way, in the opposite lane, weaving in between those scooter which, by some accident of history, are actually going the right way. Moments later -- next frame -- he shoots through the red light as though he were immortal. Here in Taichung, a succession of mayors from both major parties has done zilch for our fair city's traffic

Another traffic hazard: since there are no sidewalks in this section, the foot traffic walks in the street. It has to walk out among the vehicles to avoid the market that occupies what should be parking spaces.

Foot traffic walks in the street even where there are sidewalks.

Red lights? The Taiwanese will tell you that red lights are "for reference." Consequently, a constant hazard outside of a few heavily camera'd areas are scooters running red lights.

Here's another hazard -- as vehicles park or move off to the right to turn, scooters shoot out into the road to go around them.

The scooter circled here is actually stopped waiting for the light. Another problem with scooters is that they will often stop far into the intersection, forcing other traffic to move around them. Car drivers are bad, but it is the scooters that make Taiwan roads the miserable crapshoot that they are.

Inside the circle is "the dragon," as a local blogger named it. At heavily trafficked intersections like this one, when the light changes, the left turning cars form a line and block the oncoming traffic as they turn left, each car leaving the left turn lane successively earlier. The result is a long chain of vehicles like a Chinese dragon.

In addition to the chain of left turning vehicles, a hazard at every intersection of even middling size is that vehicles use the scooter and parking lanes as an unofficial second lane, meaning that when the light changes, two lanes worth of vehicles race to cram themselves into one lane. We'll see that several times in our morning trip.

Still not out of the intersection, but more traffic threats follow. The last of the left turning cars just clears the oncoming traffic, when a heavily-laden truck makes an illegal right on red and attempts to shove its way into traffic.

It is hard to see, but this intersection has only one lane. Typically, because of the wide shoulder, three lanes form -- one right turn lane and two lanes going straight, which attempt to cram themselves into one lane in a free for all.

As I contemplate the mess in front, the truck that just made the illegal right turn passes me and the car in front of me at high speed and darts into the line of traffic. Just ahead two lanes of cars are shoehorning themselves into one lane. People who pass the traffic illegally on the right and then cut in are usually let in. Not only is it polite to permit others to impose on onself in local culture, the kind of driver that speeds past everyone on the road and then cuts in dangerously is generally the kind of person who has little compunction about kicking the shit out of anyone who kicks up a fuss.

Note the two cars driving illegally in the motorcycle lane, pushing the poor biker to speed up. Passing on the right is a serious problem here, resulting in many deaths. Taiwan's traffic death rate is three times that of Los Angeles.

This intersection is always a hotbed of fun driving. As I come to stop in front of the red light, a scooter shoots out ahead of me hoping to cross the intersection before the cars come out as the light changes. Usually they make it.

These little electric vehicles are actually illegal now. Not that anyone ever gets stopped or anything.

But we're not finished here as this truck driver runs the red. There is nothing unusual about today, just another typical traffic day.

Still not done -- as the light turn greens, a scooter driver shoots the intersection, hoping to get across before the cars get out into the intersection. Usually they make it.

Left turns. As the light turns green, the scooter drivers make the quick left, forcing traffic in the opposite direction to halt as they thread their way through the scooters emerging into the road. Usually they make it.

Here's another fun issue, if you're in the opposite lane: scooter drivers who can't be bothered to wait for the light or to slip beside the vehicles prefer to drive down the opposite lane to pass the line of cars waiting for the red light. If you make a right turn in here you've got a good change of nailing this idiot. He was followed by two others.

As the light changes, crossing traffic at this major road junction still hasn't cleared the intersection. Everyone who drives this road regularly knows what the traffic is like here, so cars are not surging into the street, because....

Yes! A large truck completely disregards the red lights and the traffic in the intersection and crosses the street against a red before the crossing traffic can claim the intersection. In the morning there are sometimes four policemen directing morning traffic here.

Here construction has eliminated one lane, so two lanes combine into one. The result? Chaos.

Another common hazard: people selling things by accosting drivers. Flower sellers, real estate advertisers, Mormons....just about everybody selling something can be found selling it in the road.

Another hazard: why build a parking lot when you can just use the street? Here a parked truck blocks part of the road, and everyone must go around.

In the finest local style, this scooter driver shoots out from a side street against the light, and proceeds to thread his way between the two left turning vehicles.

But we're not done, as yet another scooter runs the red light. This woman waited until we had begun to move out into traffic before she decided to cross the street. When you consider that Taichung doesn't even have the island's worst traffic -- opinion appears to be divided between Tainan and Kaohsiung on that score -- it is a wonder that everyone in Taiwan doesn't suffer from intestinal disorders.

College students are notoriously poor scooter drivers. Here two students turn onto the university road by making illegal left turns on red. Usually they make it. T-intersections are particularly bad for scooter infractions

My favorite: as I make the left, one -- no two -- no, make that three scooters pass me on the left as I am turning left. Safety? It is not my fate to die in an accident on the road.....

Tuesday was a Weird and Lonely Day

My son and daughter.

Tuesday was a very strange day.

On Tuesday I saw my children off at the airport, sending them to the US for five weeks to visit family and go sightseeing with my parents. They say parting is such sweet sorrow, but it is not, it is an agonizing rent in the heart, and nothing can fill it up. There's my son, taller than me -- when did that happen? And my sweet, soft spoken daughter. And they're leaving me.....

The new terminal at Taoyuan Airport.

It was a stunning day, clean and clear as a well-constructed syllogism, and the airport was crowded with early morning travelers.

My wife and my daughter relax before the Big Parting.

The airline came to collect my kids at 7 AM for the 7:45 flight. They were extremely kind, but a little ditsy -- the person in charge of my kids put their luggage on the local transfer trolley when they got to Detroit, and it was nearly lost. I guess it isn't really a Northwest flight unless the luggage goes astray.

Surprisingly, nobody cried until we were out of the airport.

They also had trouble at security, of course. I guess it isn't really an entry into the US unless you have hassles with security.

The beautiful interior of the new terminal.

But Tuesday had more in store. I had to run down to Tainan to pick up some test papers and attend class the next day. I boarded the train in Taichung, and sat down next to a Buddhist nun. She began talking to me in English, rusty but serviceable, and gently chided me for playing a computer game instead of doing something productive. "Isn't that a waste of time?" I bit my tongue to stop a tart remark about the uselessness of religious orders, but she soldiered on. It turned out that her job was telemarketing, selling Buddhism to the masses, by cold calls to random strangers inviting them to attend Buddhist meetings and activities. When she found out I could speak Chinese she switched to that, and then began to proselytize for her religion.

I'd never been the subject of a Buddhist conversion attempt before, but instead of finding it an amusing novelty, it make me uncomfortable and increasingly, angry. I have no trouble fending off Christians, since it is unlikely that any of the missionaries I encounter here knows more about the Bible than I do, and more often than not, I can turn the tables on them. Further, I always enjoy a good bout of wrangling about religion. But there I was, getting a lecture on past lives and the soul, and it peeved me that I couldn't get her to stop no matter how I hinted. I felt like she had violated some unspoken agreement between us (I didn't hit you up with a lecture about metaphysical naturalism, did I?).

A bright day, Taiwan's mountains clear in the distance.

But Tuesday had not yet exhausted its store of weirdnesses. When I arrived in Tainan a fellow student at the university drew me aside:

"Michael, do you know Dr. X?"
"Dr X. [description]"
"Nope, never met her. Why?"
"Well, she asked in the meeting last week why that American who stays in the fifth floor PHD office didn't smile at her when he saw her. Listen, you gotta be sure to smile at the teachers. It's really important."

Yup. Wrong-footed with someone important in the department, and without me even knowing it! Who knows what I was doing when she saw me.....Taiwanese university instructors, especially older ones, tend to think it really important that students should smile at them and greet them. Any Taiwanese in their 40s can tell you about how this was drilled into them in their childhood. At my own university the failure of students to do this has led to long discussions at meetings. Readers will have to divine for themselves what this desire to be greeted means....

My son and daughter.

I went to a friend's bar, had a few beers, and graded papers in my TA role, then stumbled home. And it was Tuesday night. My wife was in Taichung, and I was in Tainan, and my kids were on an airplane somewhere over Canada.

And I was lonely.

Jamestown Briefing: Disappointment for China Relations?

Denny Roy, who usually produces good stuff on Taiwan, has a fairly good briefing at the Jamestown Foundation on Taiwan's 2008 Presidential candidates. Wisely, he has cottoned on to the possibility that Hsieh might turn out to have a foreign policy a lot like Chen's.

The differences between Hsieh, 61, and Chen are easily overdrawn. Hsieh’s positions on Taiwan’s proper political status vis-à-vis China and the international community have many similarities with Chen’s. Hsieh, like Chen, began his political career as one of the defense lawyers for the anti-KMT political activists indicted over the Kaohsiung Incident of 1980. He was the DPP’s vice-presidential candidate and the running mate of famous dissident Peng Ming-min in the 1996 election won by then-KMT member Lee Teng-hui. Hsieh served as premier of Taiwan and as mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city and a pan-Green stronghold.

To be sure, in his approach toward the People's Republic of China (PRC), Hsieh has been more pragmatic and cautious than Chen. One of his slogans when he served as premier was “coexistence and reconciliation.” He favors lifting the restrictions on direct air and sea travel between Taiwan and China. Hsieh has even drawn criticism from other senior DPP leaders for allegedly being too receptive to the one-China principle.

China, nevertheless, would find much of Hsieh’s agenda repugnant, and consequently it is not clear that Beijing would accept him as a negotiating partner. Hsieh supported the change in a basic DPP position on cross-Strait relations. Originally, the party’s platform stated that its eventual goal was independence for Taiwan. In 2000, DPP leaders shifted to the line that it was not necessary for Taiwan to formally declare independence. Hsieh said at the time, “As we perceive Taiwan as already an independent country, independence is a de facto reality that nobody can deny or change” (China News Agency, September 6, 2000).

Feiren and I have been trying to get this point across, and it is good to see that somebody gets it. Some time it will dawn on outside observers that the KMT has the radical position in cross-strait relations: annex Taiwan to China, snuff out its democracy. Those are radical moves.. Meanwhile Roy thinks Ma is a moderate, a common position among outsiders:

It should be noted, however, that Ma’s willingness and ability to accommodate China are bounded. Ma could be considered a moderate within the pan-Blue camp. He was, for example, more vocal than other KMT leaders in his opposition to China’s March 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which authorized the Chinese government to employ “non-peaceful means” to bring about cross-Strait unification if other means proved unsuccessful or if “incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur.” When Chen won re-election in 2004 by a tiny margin hours after an assassination attempt, Ma did not join the KMT members who publicly accused Chen of staging the shooting and who challenged the result of the election.

In June 2007, Ma said, “If the two sides of the Strait are to resume negotiations, reach any peace agreement or negotiate any kind of military or mutual trust mechanism, I will first request that China withdraw the missiles deployed along its southeast coast because we are not willing to conduct peace negotiations while we are threatened by missiles” (Taipei Times, June 5). The demand that China “withdraw” its missiles (which are already on PRC territory) as a precondition to stabilizing cross-Strait relations is strongly reminiscent of Chen Shui-bian’s long-standing demand. It also implicitly challenges China’s “right” to use force against Taiwan, which Beijing has closely linked with its position that the Chinese central government has sovereignty over Taiwan. Delivering what Ma asks for would be a substantial concession on the part of China, difficult to obtain in any case but especially if Beijing is put on the defensive by what it views as “provincial” authorities overstepping their proper bounds.

Although Ma maintains that he and his party stand against Taiwan's independence and for eventual unification with China, in February 2006 the KMT purchased an advertisement in Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper in which Ma acknowledged that “independence is an option for the Taiwanese people” (Taipei Times, January 28). This reportedly caused great consternation among many KMT leaders, such as former chairman and presidential candidate Lien Chan, but it demonstrated that Ma feels compelled to compromise the pan-Blue agenda to accommodate Taiwanese nationalism. As president, he would continually face this kind of domestic pressure.

Ma's "moderation" is only by comparison to his wilder colleagues, and in part, a perception resulting from his own indecisiveness and lack of spine. Unlike the nutcases to his right, Ma actually has to get elected in Taiwan and thus struggles to find a message that plays to the masses, but keeps his Deep Blue base happy, and doesn't anger the Party Machine that already dislikes him. But note that his support derives from the Deep Blue core: they recognize one of their own, and when he is in trouble, he moves closer to that core. Ma has played the moderate, but again and again, when given the choice to act as one, he has declined. He did not shut down the Shih Ming-te demonstrations against Chen in Taipei even when they hurt his party and disrupted city life. He did not move to get the arms package through the local legislature despited repeated promises to do so. His own political views are pro-China, not pro-Taiwan. Ma the Moderate, like Hsieh the Moderate, is going to surprise a lot of people...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Walking among the hills

Off for a walk at the base of the hills outside Taichung...greeted, as always, by the endless array of bugs that the island provides.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Daily Links, June 26, 2007

Who's facing off on the blogs today?

  • Feiren has another post in Rank's series on Great Taiwan bike rides.

  • Feiren also has a great review Taiwan Matters of just how bad a pick Vincent Siew is as Ma's running mate. I think Hsieh's chances of winning have gone up.

  • Scott has another post on native speaker teachers: are we really better?

  • David goes to the Taipei Artist Village.

  • The Cogitator says Daoism is dumb. And that from a guy who believes in the Holy Trinity.

  • Islaformosa blogs on the joys of scooter driving. Or not. UPDATE: Sorry! That's an old article. Here's the new one.

  • Media Diary reviews Kan Hai de Rizi.

  • Jon Benda has an interesting use for one of my posts. Technology has made obsolete the ban on Presidential travel.

  • Patrick Cowsill blogs on colonialism and settlement in the Yilan area.

  • Sponge Bear has great pics up from his trip to Japan.

  • MEDIA: A melancholy article in the IHT about Andrew Hsia, our shadow ambassador to the UN, taking leave of that post and going to India. Brian David Phillips points to a NY High School where you can't discuss the Iraq war.

    WSJ Thumps Ma Ying-jeou

    Slowly, slowly, the US is coming to understand which side is the root cause of the legislature's problems. Today the Wall Street Journal came out with an article that pinpointed the problems on the Taiwan side with the infamous arms purchase. Taiwan Security has it on their website:

    It took six years, but Taiwan politicans stopped their bickering last week and passed a much-needed military spending bill. The legislature is finally taking responsibility for the island's defense. Now, can it keep it up?

    This bill is a baby step in the right direction. Passed on June 15, it authorizes about $296 million in arms purchases from the U.S. but falls far short of the $18 billion package proposed by the Bush Administration in 2001 as necessary for Taiwan's defense. The legislature approved purchases of 12 P-3 Orion antisubmarine aircraft and significant upgrades to the island's Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-2) missile defense system (though it rejected purchases of the more advanced PAC-3). It's an improvement over Taiwan's current, negligible antimissile capabilities.

    These kinds of acquisitions make sense, given the parlous state of Taiwan's military and the threats it faces. China has almost 1,000 missiles aimed at the island and is increasing this number at the rate of about 100 per annum. Last year, Taipei spent about $9.5 billion on defense, while China plumped for between $85 and $120 billion.

    The real wonder is why it took Taiwan so long to approve even these limited purchases. First, it took the executive branch three years to present the bill to the legislature, due to disagreements between the Defense Ministry and the cabinet over budgetary constraints. Then the real trouble began, courtesy of the opposition Kuomintang, which, with its partner, the People First Party, holds a legislative majority and has generally opposed the arms package as overpriced and provocative to the mainland. Since 2004, the KMT coalition had rejected the bill for review 60 times.

    Not bad, but like all US presentations, it left out the key point that US is also an important driver of the arms purchase issue, as I have noted on numerous occasions (most recently). Here the WSJ falls into factual error: the delay on the Taiwan side was less than two years, as the US Navy took months to come out with its estimate on the submarine prices.

    So what changed the opposition's mind? Presidential politics, most likely. Elections are due early next year and KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou is eager to portray himself as a reasonable centrist and show voters that if elected he would not cozy up to China as much as his opponents claim he might. Just days before the legislature was due to end its session, Mr. Ma called on his party to support the bill. Five days later, it passed.

    Had Mr. Ma thrown his weight behind the bill earlier in the process, however, Taiwan would have been better off. The Democratic Progressive Party and President Chen Shui-bian have long championed defense spending. But they had to spend years lobbying and negotiating with the opposition to get even this watered-down version approved. If anything, last week's bill is a shadow of what true bipartisan politicking could have achieved.

    The next procurement battle over Taiwan arms will take place in Washington. One clause passed in last week's bill provides funding for the purchase of 66 additional F-16s. These planes are meant to replace 90 F-5s -- a vintage fleet from the 1950s that can't even hit a target unless it's within sight. It's unclear whether the Bush Administration will allow the F-16 sale, given that it had conditioned the original offer on Taiwan purchasing the total arms package. China will lobby hard against it.

    Taiwan desperately needs these F-16s. Let's hope for once everyone in Washington who knows and loves Taiwan sends the same message to the Administration.

    While it may seem paradoxical, Taiwan's defenseless posture is, in itself, a threat to cross-Strait stability. Both presidential candidates -- the KMT's Mr. Ma and the DPP's Frank Hsieh -- say they want to defend Taiwan. If that's true, we'll look forward to seeing more of these spending bills, very soon.

    The article overstates our defensive weaknesses -- the military is not in a "parlous" state and we are not "defenseless." But it does make a key point: that not purchasing weapons is destabilizing. Conservatives have correctly identified the pro-China KMT and PFP as a serious problem for the US, for Taiwan, and for Japan. Last year in the US Ma was excoriated by conservatives for his pro-China views (here, here, and here). As I wrote at the time:

    Ma is selling a hill of beans. A Taiwan in China's orbit does not merely create a hole in the US security arrangements. It totally isolates Japan. To read this move correctly, one must see Ma's deliverance of Taiwan into China's arms as something aimed at Japan as well -- for both the Chinese Nationalists in Taiwan and their allies in Beijing hate the Japanese. Again, it is worth asking why a Japan-hating, China-loving politician like Ma whose long-term goal is to annex Taiwan to China, will participate in a regional security alliance aimed at China, with Taiwan at its center. The Report does observe that conservatives and DPP supporters were not convinced by Ma's performance.

    Expect our friends in Tokyo to engage in some nervous coughing over a Ma presidency as well. I look forward to more warnings directed at the KMT presidential candidate...

    Monday, June 25, 2007

    Ma picks Siew

    The Rumors Are True: KMT Presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou has selected economic technocrat Vincent Siew as his Vice Presidential candidate. The Taipei Times has the call:

    Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday tapped former premier Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) as his running mate in next year's presidential election, pledging to revive the nation's economy with Siew's expertise in finance and economics.

    "Vincent Siew will serve as the architect of a new plan to revive Taiwan's economy -- rather than simply the first person in line for succession to the presidency," Ma told a a news conference in Taipei.

    Lauding Siew, currently the chairman of Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, as a great "pilot" that the nation desperately needed, Ma said he chose Siew for his rich experience and extensive contribution in the field of economics and diplomacy, along with his popularity among both the pan-blue and pan-green camps.

    Accepting Ma's offer, Siew -- nicknamed "Smiley Old Siew" because of the smile he often wears -- vowed to work with Ma to promote economic growth.

    Unfortunately their two presentations on Siew contain factual errors. In the article above, they claim that Siew was the minister of finance, although he has never held that position. In their editorial that asks how much help Siew will be to Ma, they observe:

    The only real big election Siew has run in was the 2000 presidential election. While he was elected to the Legislative Yuan in 1996, it was as a legislator at large for the KMT. Consequently it is doubtful how connected Siew is and how much weight he carries in political circles in southern Taiwan.

    That too is incorrect. Siew was not selected by Party insiders as a legislator-at-large, but won a bitterly-contested election against Chai Trong-rong in his native land of Chiayi. The Taiwan Communique has the call (old Taiwan Journal piece):

    One of the most hotly contested races took place in Chia-yi, in Central Taiwan, where the DPP's Chai Trong-rong and KMT's Vincent Siew, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, and a three-term cabinet member, ran a neck and neck race. Both drew large crowds in the thousands to their rallies. In the end Mr. Chai lost by a very small margin, to no small degree due to the Kuomintang's largesse with new projects in the area.

    In 2000, Siew lost as Lien Chan's running mate when the hugely unpopular Lien got less than 25% of the vote. But that loss does not mean that Siew is not a good campaigner. No one could have won at the side of Lien Chan, who is probably Taiwan's most despised major politician (Chai would eventually win the Chiayi by-election in 1997 when Siew was moved up to Premier)..

    Siew (Hsiao Wen-chang) is a technocrat, a native Taiwanese who came up through the martial law regime to emerge as Premier at the end of the Lee Teng-hui era. Sixty-eight years old, he is known for his economic expertise, and is widely respected by both Greens and Blues. The China Post notes:

    Apart from his economic expertise, the constantly smiling former premier -- hence his nickname "Smiling Siew" -- has been able to maintain good relations with different political camps, including the ruling party.

    He served as an adviser to the National Economic Development Conference under the DPP administration, and as President Chen's envoy to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

    But Ma was quick to defend Siew's loyalty to the main opposition party.

    Ma, a former chairman of the KMT, said Siew was willing to work with the DPP administration only because of his concern for Taiwan's economy.

    Some in the KMT objected to Siew's age, his links to the failures of the past, and his prior experience working for the DPP government. Ma, who always takes fire from his right whenever he attempts to position himself as a moderate, is already forced to defend his choice of Veep from his own side.

    What kind of choice is Siew? The Ma camp argues that he is a native Taiwanese from the south who can help balance the ticket, Ma being a mainlander born in Hong Kong whose power base is in northern Taiwan. Ma also argues that his economic expertise will help sell the ticket as well. The KMT really has only one avenue of attack, the economy, now that Ma has been conclusively shown to lack integrity with the revelation that he was transferring government monies into his private accounts during his eight years as Taipei mayor. Siew is a serviceable weapon for any campaign based on the stagnant economy, and a strong, reassuring signal to global business and financial interests.

    The China Post article above stated:

    Siew pledged that he will work hard for a KMT victory in the 2008 presidential election for the well-being of the people.

    Ma's close aides were cited by the Central News Agency as saying that Siew's economic expertise and his upbringing as a native Taiwanese from the southern county of Chiayi complement Ma's image as a "mainlander" -- which refers to immigrants who came to Taiwan in 1949 and their descendants.

    The aides said Siew can help expand Ma's support base in southern Taiwan.

    The choice of Siew, who, as my father in law put it: pi hsiao rou bu hsiao -- his smile is only skin deep -- says volumes about where both Ma and the KMT are in the new century: still struggling with the legacy of the One Party State and its political values. Siew is respected, but being respected is not the same as being popular, and word has it that he hates campaigning, a serious problem, since as the Veep candidate that will be his number 1 job (see this CNN story from 1995 in which he admits this out loud). The Taipei Times again pointed out what many observers have been saying over the last few years -- that after Ma the KMT has few, if any, up and coming stars. Instead of attempting to develop someone for the future, Ma reached back into the glory days to pick someone who still has the dimming luster of the miracle growth years. Authoritarian political thinking tends to project an idealized past onto the future, instead of cultivating a new future. Siew admirably serves those political values.

    After the popular Wang Jin-pyng, currently speaker of the legislator and the unofficial leader of the Taiwanese KMT, had declined the position of second fiddle, Ma must have been faced with a difficult choice. He had to find someone who would have the backing of the Party insiders who hate him -- in the chairmanship election in 2005 Lien Chan and most other key politicians openly backed Wang Jin-pyng. Picking Lien's 2000 running mate was clever choice from that point of view. He also had to find a native Taiwanese who was acceptable to his Deep Blue base, to balance the ticket. Although the selection of Siew appears to be a pragmatic and moderate choice, he is actually selecting someone who came up through the System -- a graduate of National Chengchi University in 1961, when few Taiwanese made it into the universities (a quota system discriminated against Taiwanese) and is thus politically reliable. By picking Siew, Ma simultaneously mollifies his Deep Blue mainlander core support, which is deeply suspicious of Taiwanese, by aligning a politically reliable Taiwanese firmly in the proper role of second to his Mainlander first, while appearing to be moderate and pragmatic to outside observers who tend to think that Ma is a centrist whereas he is actually a Deep Blue ideologue. The problem with that symbolism of Taiwanese firmly under Mainlander is that it is an old one, and anyone inside or outside the party can read it -- yes, he is Taiwanese, but doesn't that just make it even clearer that the KMT will never pick a Taiwanese to be President? Siew also solves another set of problems faced by Ma: he had to pick a Veep candidate who would not threaten his own power -- Siew has no ambition to run things, and in any case, is too old -- and he had to pick a Veep whose personality would not outshine his own. Satisfying that last requirement must have been especially difficult.

    How useful in the campaign will Siew be? He won as a legislator, but after being promoted to Premier, in the 1997 elections in which the KMT was whipped by the DPP, Siew was unable to hold onto Chiayi for the KMT. Longtime Taiwan political observer Lawrence Eyton wrote at the time:

    But the major contributing factor to the KMT's humiliation was dissent within the ruling party itself. Under constitutional reforms, considerably more power will be devolved to county chiefs next year. As a result, the KMT leadership was not content to allow local factions to choose their own candidates as usual. Instead, central party bosses decided who would run. This alienated party footsoldiers who would normally mobilize the vote. It also encouraged disgruntled KMT members to run as independents, thus splitting the KMT vote to the DPP's advantage in as many as five races.

    Such bitterness and frustration resulted from this inept strategy that some KMT heavyweights have called for Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui to step down as party chief. That is unlikely, if only because there is nobody with sufficient clout to take his place. Lee had hoped Vice President Lien Chan would succeed him, but after this debacle all bets are off. Taiwan provincial governor James Soong Chu-yu campaigned hard but his popularity seems to have been overhyped, while Premier Vincent Siew Wan-chang could not even keep his hometown of Chiayi for the party. Yet, lacking time to cultivate and introduce new talent, the KMT will have no choice but to rely on its wounded, discredited team to fight the legislative elections next year.

    The KMT's leadership crisis has been going on for more than a decade, as the previous generation ages but no one emerges to take their place.

    What happened in Chiayi in 1997 is that Chang Po-ya, who founded the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union, an alliance cum political party of politicians with powerful local factional connections, defeated the other candidates based on her local clan links. She came from a powerful local political family -- her mother and sister also served as Chiayi mayor. She leaned DPP, and would serve in high position under both the Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian administrations. In other words, while Siew might benefit from a "native son" effect in Chiayi, coming from a poor family, he appears to lack the well-developed links to powerful local factions that would enable him to really turn out the vote for the KMT down there. UPDATE: Feiren pointed out in a comment that Siew is distantly related to one of the small local factions in Chiayi, the Hsiao family. The Aussie academic Bruce Jacobs, an expert on local faction politics here, wrote in the Taipei Times on the 2000 election:

    In addition, the factional support for the KMT nominees remains unclear. Many suggest that the powerful Huang and Lin factions are lukewarm to the Lien-Siew ticket and some faction leaders may even provide quiet support to Soong. Only the Siew Family Squad (蕭家班) , which has become Chiayi's third and smallest faction, fully supports the KMT nominees. But even this support has mixed value.

    While no one suggests that Vincient Siew is corrupt, his three distant Siew relatives -- who made possible his initial run for the Legislative Yuan in 1995 -- have a strong reputation as black elements who have become extremely rich and now typify the "black and gold" behavior of the KMT.

    In fact, one of the three main Siew leaders, former County Assembly Speaker Siew Teng-piao (蕭登標), is currently in detention, accused of six crimes, including blackmail and bribery. The Chiayi District Court will soon decide whether or not he can be released on bail three days before the election.

    Another Taipei Times article notes:

    He also pointed out that Siew had recently appeared together in Siew's home county of Chiayi along with the speaker of the Chiayi City Council, Hsiao Teng-wang (蕭登旺). Hsiao's younger brother, Hsiao Teng-piao (蕭登標), the speaker of Chiayi County Council, is currently under indictment on corruption charges and on the run from police. Ever since Siew appeared with the "Hsiao Family," speculation has abounded over his relations with the family.

    Premier Siew dismissed such allegations as unfair.

    "I am a native of Chiayi. How could I turn the `Hsiao family' down when they have stood behind me before? Besides, I have no contact with them now. I have no doubts about my moral integrity," he said.

    Further, because he has never cultivated a support base down south, he lacks wide regional appeal. Hence, my reading of Siew is that his background as a Taiwanese will be of only limited help to the KMT. This point was brought out in some of the lukewarm reactions to Siew from within the KMT and its allied parties:

    NPSU Chairman Lin Ping-kun noted that Siew comes from an impoverished family in Chiayi, giving him a background close to the grassroots, and said that even if it is not a plus, it is at least not a minus.

    But some KMT members expressed worry, saying that while Siew definitely will complement Ma in terms of his financial expertise and his being a Hoklo -- the largest ethnic group in Taiwan -- "the biggest problem of this ticket is that it is not fresh enough, given the current volatile Taiwan society and the preferences of the electorate."

    Some even said that "they are bracing for a drop in approval ratings for the KMT ticket in the next couple of days."

    In addition to being Taiwanese, Siew speaks some Hakka and can be expected to appeal to the KMT's traditional allies, the island's large Hakka community. One aspect of the KMT's ability to retain control over the island's local politics is that it has successfully incorporated Hakkas and aborigines into an ethnic coalition, playing to their fears that if the Hoklos (ethnic Taiwanese) ever gain control, they will be shoved aside. The current KMT chairman, Wu Po-hsiung, is a Hakka, and can also be expected to help the Ma-Siew ticket in this regard.

    Overall, Siew is an excellent choice, given the constraints that Ma operates under, and given that the best choice, Wang Jin-pyng, refused to be second to Ma. One can argue that there are some aspects from which he does little to help the ticket, but nowhere does Siew really hurt it. Even his age has its positives: the fact that Siew is a decade older than Ma will help reinforce Ma's own "youthful" image by comparison. Ma did well with this pick.

    Postscript: Political blogger A-gu had this to say the other day:

    2) Wang mentioned that he has not been tapped yet to be a legislator at large (and Chiu Yi is!?!? Will the KMT ever get with the program?) nor as a legislator in a district. Wang says at this point, he has no plans to run for the legislature again and that for now he simply wishes to take care of current legislative business. What would he do next?
    In regards to his future plans, Wang softly smiled and said, "we'll see."
    Potential Wild Card Wang Jin-pyng, who hates Ma, will have no official position after the '08 elections, unless there is some deal to make him Premier in the new government, as is suggested from time to time in the media. Wang is close to James Soong, the head of the KMT splinter party PFP, and twice a failed Presidential candidate. Soong has an immense but fading following around the island. A Wang-Soong ticket might be a formidable pairing politically. Over the next few months, the question of What Will Wang Do? is going to be an important postscript to the selection of Siew.

    UPDATE: Feiren has some excellent comments on Siew's alleged expertise.

    Just exactly what is Siew's supposed expertise?

    Essentially, Siew is an expert on state-sponsored development--naptha crackers, freeways, high speed rails and that sort of thing. The kind of politician who believes that what Taiwan economy needs is even more mindless development regardless of the costs. This may well gain Ma points in some quarters, but I don't think it bodes well for Taiwan's economy under Ma, because what we're getting is an old-school technocrat who simply doesn't understand that the main problem with Taiwan's economy is that it has long since outgrown the model Siew is familiar with.

    It just shows how Ma's "economic" strategy is essentially an appeal to nostalgia for the old developmentalist days, and not really a blueprint for forward movement into the 21st century.

    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    July 21 Meet Up in Taipei

    Those of you into meaty topics will enjoy the speaker and topic at our next meeting, July 21....


    To all,

    In order to help you in your planning. our July speaker will be Professor Leng Tse-kang of Genda. His presentation on Cross-Strait Relations and Issues will be given on July 21.

    At that time he will be fresh back from doing most current research in Shanghai. It promises to be interesting, bring your questions.



    The meet up, as always will be at 10:00 am on Sat July 21, at The Shannon next to Dan Ryan's Steakhouse on Tunhua N. Road between Changan E. Rd and Nanjing E. Rd, across the street from the Auditorium/performance venue.


    Foreigners in Taiwan are always amazed at the inability of Taiwanese to swim despite living on an island surrounded by water and cross-cut by numerous rivers. Swimming pools abound, too. Even more alarming is that despite an avowed inability to swim, Taiwanese often go down to the water to play, resulting in many otherwise avoidable deaths. Yesterday the Taipei Times reported that Taiwanese kids are at unusual risk of drowning:

    According to numbers released by the WHO and cited by the foundation, only 0.5 out of 100,000 children up to 14 years old in Australia died while playing in water in 2001.

    The figure in Taiwan, however, was 1.8 per 100,000 person, "which is three times higher than the figure in Australia," Lin Yue-chin (林月琴), executive director of the foundation, told the press conference.

    Statistics released by the foundation showed that accidental death has been the No. 1 cause of death among children since 1994.

    Drowning is the number 2 cause of accidental deaths here among kids, and in the world among all people. An NOAA report noted that drowning is actually underreported as a cause of death, since typical "accident" definitions exclude drowning due to catastrophes such as flooding or storms.

    The Taiwan problem is global -- death rates by drowning in India, Africa, and China are much higher than in the developed world, where many people learn to swim. In the developed world marginalized and minority populations, typically poorer than the majority, also have higher death rates due to a lack of education in swimming and water safety. Taiwan is no exception in the Chinese world. According to the NOAA report above, drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children 1-14 in China.

    In Taiwan, another drowning risk often overlooked is the constant presence of water in farms, including innumerable irrigation ditches, dams, culverts, and aquaculture pools. In one Australian study, farm irrigation facilities cause more than 3/4 of all drowning deaths in the 5 and under cohort.

    The Foundation recommended that Taiwan put greater emphasis on education:

    Education is another measure the government should take, Lin suggested.

    "Our field investigation found that only 3.56 percent of schools nationwide require that their students learn to swim," Lin said.

    "In addition, swimming lessons should consist of more than just letting students learn to swim. Students should be taught practical survival skills in water, especially in emergencies," Lin said.

    Meanwhile, Lin emphasized that parents must also share the responsibility.

    "During our field investigation, we also saw many parents allow their children to play in rivers alone, or while being monitored from a distance," Lin said.

    "An emergency can occur at any moment and can take your child's life in just seconds," Lin warned.

    Only 4% of students obtain swimming instruction at their schools. The Foundation also made clear that the famous Taiwanese indifference to safety is also an issue.

    My first year at the university I lost two students to drowning, one by death, the other to injury. They were "playing" in shallow water outside of Taichung Harbor, apparently, and drowned in water that was deep enough to stand up and walk out of. The same thing happened to the kids who died last month in Ta-ken. Panic and inexperience will claim your life in seconds in the water. In addition to pushing them to have a plan for what to do after graduation, one of the stock speeches I give to my students is that they have to learn to swim, which should be regarded as a necessary skill, not a leisure activity. Generally I find that about half my kids are unable to swim at all, including my adult students. That's a recipe for a continuing high death rate by drowning.

    Saturday, June 23, 2007

    Wow! CS Monitor Really Fouls One Up

    The Christian Science Monitor, which sometimes does good work on Taiwan, published absolute dreck the other day on the Olympic Torch refusal by Taiwan. The writer, Peter Ford, has clearly spent too much time hanging out with people who support Beijing, resulting in a one-sided and viciously slanted piece on Taiwan and the Torch. The lowlights.

    Beijing Olympic officials were shocked, two hours after they announced the torch's 85,000 mile route last April, when Taiwan said it refused to be a part of it.

    Chinese and International Olympic Committee officials had thought Taiwan was agreeable to a diplomatic fudge, under which the torch would travel from Vietnam to Taiwan to Hong Kong, which has been part of China for ten years.

    Shocked I tell you shocked to find gambling here! Hard to see how Beijing could have been "shocked" by Taiwan's decision to refuse the Torch, since the media had been reporting for weeks before that Taiwan would refuse the route if Beijing politicized it. Beijing had defined Taiwan as a "domestic route" which of course the Taiwanese refused to accept. Note how the anti-Taiwan frame is established in the opening paragraph:

    An awkward hiccup has interrupted Beijing's otherwise smooth preparations for next year's Olympic Games: Taiwan has upset its plans for the Olympic torch's worldwide "journey of harmony" by refusing to host the flame.

    A neutral position would have mentioned Beijing's politicization of the Torch route, and Taiwan's refusal together. But the opening frame makes it clear that poor China is just a victim of Taiwan's irrational opposition to rationality and order.

    Note also that the Torch began as a Nazi idea ('36 Olympics) to display Gemany’s intention to grab the nations to the south and east of it, where it sent the Torch on its last leg. The Torch is inherently political. Nor was much attention paid to the fact that the last two non-China legs were Vietnam and Korea, two traditional vassal states of China. The foreign media has really missed the boat on the import of the Torch route….

    On the next page Ford blathers:

    "The government has also sought to foster a Taiwanese identity separate from its citizens' Chinese identity, defying the "one China" policy on which US policy towards the region is based and prompting repeated diplomatic warnings from Washington not to provoke Beijing."

    Since when does the CS Monitor correspondent determine what the political identity of the people of Taiwan is? All Ford had to do was note that identity is a hotly disputed topic here. Instead, he adopts Beijing's position that the separate Taiwan identity is merely the artificial development of the current government, not a social evolution dating back to the 19th century. Observe also that Ford argues that this identity is defiance of Washington, not Beijing. Yet US policy has always been that the status of Taiwan is undetermined -- meaning that Ford's interpretation of "One China" is the same as Beijing's.

    In point of fact, the majority of people here identity themselves as Taiwanese, a point made again and again in major polls. By contrast, the “Chinese” identity of the locals here is purely an idealized political construction of the KMT government (does Ford honestly think our local aborigines are Chinese?)

    Ford should simply note that there are two or more opinions on the identity issue, instead of declaring one right and all others wrong.

    And, as always, two other points should also be made. Taiwan does not "provoke" Beijing -- that is a pro-Beijing construction. Beijing chooses to be provoked, since 'being provoked’ brings Beijing leverage over US policy. Finally, let us recall that the Shanghai Communique, that brilliant act of Realpolitik that originated the "One China" policy, was constructed without consulting the people of Taiwan. If you decide someone’s fate without consulting them, you can hardly blame them when they laugh at you and reject your position.

    Ford goes on:

    That decision was consistent with President Chen's efforts over the past seven years to distance Taiwan from mainland China in symbolic ways, most recently by changing the name of the island's postal service from "China Post" to "Taiwan Post." Now Chen is promoting a referendum on whether the government should seek United Nations membership as Taiwan, having lost its seat to the People's Republic in 1971.

    Again the lack of understanding. The “China Post” postal service was the “Taiwan Post” well into the KMT era, and throughout the Japanese era. In fact, by the time the Qing Dynasty established its first modern post office in 1896, Taiwan had already hosted two governments issuing stamps, Liu Ming-chuan's, and the 1895 Taiwan Republic. Ford has the facts correct, but the lack of context and the dim understanding of the history suggest that he has spent too much time listening to Beijing-centered discussions of Taiwan. Chen’s move was not to “change the names” but to “restore” them. No correspondents complained when the KMT eliminated all the “Taiwan” from the Taiwan Telecommunications (in 1996!), Taiwan Shipbuilding, etc. The entire nature of this complaint is pro-China. As I have noted before, it is perfectly normal for nations, especially in democracies, to assert their identity by removing markers of the previous colonial regimes – actions the CS Monitor has not criticized when taken by E. European nations with respect to Russia, or African and Indian subcontinent nations with respect to the UK. Jim Mann has noted in his recent work The China Fantasy how dissidence and democracy in the Chinese context are downplayed and patronized in the western media. Here is an excellent example....

    UPDATE: I should add that "Taiwan" didn't lose its UN seat. That was the Republic of China, and it did not "lose" the seat, but voluntarily gave it up when the PRC entered the UN.

    Ford then repeats Beijing's critique of Chen's behavior:

    It also matches a pattern whereby Chen has sought to ratchet up tensions with the mainland, rallying his political supporters, whenever he has found himself in domestic difficulties. Currently his wife is under indictment for corruption, as are two top aides and two cabinet ministers. Prosecutors say they have enough evidence to indict the president, too, but that he is protected from charges by presidential immunity.

    Note again how China is presented as the helpless victim of Chen's actions. China has no agency of its own -- it must respond to Chen and it can't stop itself. The reality is that building the Taiwan identity is an ongoing political process of the DPP that extends back thirty years and has no relationship to the current corruption investigation. Never mind, of course, for diverting attention from an indictment, nothing beats Ma Ying-jeou's shameless announcement of his presidential candidacy on the day he was indicted.....

    ....The reader might argue with me and say that no mention of Ma is necessary here, but then...Ford gives us four paragraphs of Ma Ying-jeou:

    With the stakes so high, "Taiwan should become a responsible stakeholder in this part of the world, and should not provoke mainland China," argues Ma Ying-jeou, candidate in next year's presidential elections for the opposition Kuomingtang (KMT) party, which favors eventual reunification with the mainland.

    Mr. Ma is promising closer ties with Beijing and holding out the prospect of a peace treaty, ending the technical state of war that has persisted since Chinese Nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949 in the face of the victorious Communist army.

    He advocates sidestepping the contentious issue of sovereignty, which is "a problem we may not be able to solve in our lifetimes." But he argues that "we can manage it in such a way that it does not disrupt more urgent questions" such as economic ties.

    Ma thinks this can be done by simply agreeing with Beijing's insistence that there is only one China, but leaving unsaid exactly what that means, without specifying which of the two entities that call themselves "China" is part of the other.

    That's right. Chen's corruption investigation receives prominent mention, but there is no mention of the investigation into and actual indictment of Ma for doing the same thing Chen did. No mention is made of Ma's own corruption investigation. No mention is made of his Party's close ties to the government of China. Instead, Ma is presented solely in a positive light, and his position is given in detail, at least as much as can be given with a position as vapid as Ma's.

    The entire article is Beijing-centric, poorly contextualized, and shows little sympathy toward our democracy here. I hope that in the future the CS monitor will source its reports from journalists whose understanding of the Taiwan issue is not so heavily colored by the authoritarian yearnings of China.

    Everyone's reporting it's Vincent Siew for Ma

    Taiwan News and other sources are suggesting Ma is going to pick the respected politician Vincent Siew as his running mate:

    Former Premier and current chairman of the Chuang Hua Institute for Economic Research Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) is expected to be named as the running mate for Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), said KMT sources on Friday.

    Ma is expected to make the formal announcement this morning in a press conference.

    Sources said Ma believes Siew’s humble and pragmatic personality and his expertise in economics and international affairs make him the most ideal candidate for the position.

    This will be Siew’s second attempt to bid for the vice-president seat. He played second fiddle to honorary KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) in 2000.

    Siew is known for his “mutually beneficial and co-exist markets” stance when it comes to cross-strait economy. He is also one of the few political talents respected by both the green and blue camps.
    Siew (Hsiao Wen-chang) at Wiki. More commentary later if Siew is actually picked.

    Friday, June 22, 2007

    Nelson Report on Taiwan Again

    Poor Chris Nelson of the Washington insider report The Nelson Report. Every time he writes on Taiwan, he has to navigate between touchy people on all sides. After the nifty report on 6/20, which I blogged on yesterday, comes this missive from 6/21


    TAIWAN...what's in a name? Last night's Nelson Report (June 20) went at some length into the latest Washington-Taipei tussle, part of the dance going on since 2002 between President Bush and President Chen.

    It's hard to say who is leading, but it's certain that each has taken turns stomping on the other's toes. Since Taiwan's security to a large extent continues to depend on the good will and support of the President of the United States, President Chen's propensity to mis-step can be challenged by friends of Taiwan, as well as opponents.

    We quoted one Taiwan advocate last night as warning that whatever Chen's motivations, his renewed talk of a constitutional referendum vote has the net effect of diminishing Taiwan's support in Washington...already a big problem due to the 6 year stall before Taipei approved, partially, the US arms sale package of 2001.

    At it's heart is the debate about "national identity", and how that plays into both Cross-Strait relations, and the degree of international participation the people of Taiwan can exercize without putting Cross-Strait relations at risk.

    Last night, we interpreted President Chen's announcement that he wanted a constitutional referendum to gather popular support for Taiwan to join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan". We felt this was, in effect, going back on his specific promise to President Bush that he would not seek that, or any constitutional change likely to put at risk the "status quo" between Taiwan and the PRC.

    So we very much appreciate the clarification received from Loyal Reader Vincent Yao, the ADG for North American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:


    Regarding what you mentioned in the June 20 Nelson Report 'given President Chen's recent, effusive remarks to Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner, calling for a constitutional referendum on changing the ROC's formal name to "Taiwan",' I have to correct you on what President Chen had said.

    What he said was: "In order to let the voice of the 23 million Taiwan people be heard by the whole world, to meet Taiwan people's desire of participating in the United Nations and to fulfill the anticipation of being accepted as a member of the UN family, we are going to propose a referendum on participating in the UN under the name 'Taiwan.' The referendum will be proposed to be held at the same time when the 2008 presidential election is held."

    This was translated from the press release of the Presidential Office website. I tried my best to make it as precise as possible. So, the proposed referendum is not about changing the formal name, although it may sound no big differences to you."

    As we noted last night, debate over Taiwan identity and legal status can become so arcane it seems unintelligible to rational human beings not in on the game. And of course it's not a "fun" game...indeed, it has the constant risk of being deadly serious.

    That's the concern which underlies the consistent Bush Administration policy on Taiwan, which is to move to squelch any tendency toward, much less any explicit risk of, unilateral steps which Beijing may interpret as a move toward formal independence(whether mistakenly or not is irrelevent to the risk).

    Many friends of Taiwan think this policy is entirely too restrictive and not justified by either the Taiwan Relations Act., or the constraints on Beijing's possible resort to military means, but our comment would be that this Administration...any administration...has to operate on the basis of pragmatic risk analysis, and not articles of faith.

    Oh...wait...Iraq...damn. the dismay of many friends of Taiwan, the consistent interpretation of the Administration is that holding a constitutional referendum on Taiwan is, per se, a possibly risky move in the direction of "sovereignty", and therefore something the US is committed to opposing.

    Strictly legally, the legal experts concede that such a move is not a formal declaration of sovereignty, which can only be made by a Head of State. So a vote by the people of Taiwan would not, by itself, have legal effect.

    And even then, the interpretation here is that should the President of Taiwan declare formal, sovereign independence, as a legal matter he's speaking to the mirror unless the United States, or Japan...or China...agreed to official recognition.

    But really, the concern here is not the letter of the law, but how Taiwan's actions may be perceived by China. And for the past several years, the major Bush Administration concern is how far President Chen is prepared to take rhetorical steps which seem to be going down a dangerous path.


    As I have repeatedly noted, the US position that Taiwan must not anger China not only concedes the Chinese position on Taiwan, but further, places China in effective control of US policy. Only when the US begins to treat China's "being provoked" as a policy response to specific actions will it at last be able to formulate effective responses to China's actions. At the moment, however, Beijing is managing US Taiwan policy....

    ....and as long as we are in Iraq, we have little strategic flexibility to counter China's increasing global assertiveness. God help Taiwan if the Bush Administration attacks Iran.

    Daily Links, Friday, June 22, 2007

    Lots to revere on the blogs today:
  • Karl journeys to Tainan and Kaohsiung, joy and love following in his wake.

  • Craig has a great post on the Taipei Dragon Boat races with some wonderful pics.

  • Todd goes visiting in Chunghsing Village here and here. With plenty of good pics.

  • David on Formosa comments on the Taipei Film Festival opening tomorrow.

  • Mike in Taipei comments on how the Taiwanese and the Chinese are One Big Happy Family.

  • Mark writes about Wayne of A Better Tomorrow, which used to be a fantastic photo blog, and seems to be resurrecting.

  • fili says he has a great tool for promoting the China and Taiwan blogospheres.

  • Amanda has a good post on graduation, Taiwanese style.

  • Mark Forman's Getting a Leg Up has some great podcasts and music choices.

  • Islaformosa blogs on Swarthy Foreign Criminals in the metro, and does Wii.

  • Kerim finds GDP vs. US states.

  • Laowiseass talks about the changes in Beijing.

  • nostalgiaphile on cheap hotels and great movies.

  • Brian has links to all his upcoming hypnosis shows.

  • Wulingren has a great post on Starbucks, Paul McCartney, and the future of the CD store.

  • MEDIA: Opening to China: What does China call Taiwan? Meanwhile, US-Taiwan relations: in the minuet of the US and Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian proposes without telling anyone in advance. The US immediately gets out the umbrellas: the sky is falling! Press conference is held to convey State's displeasure. The following day, MOFA announces all is right with US-Taiwan relations. And China does....nothing. Repeat until exhaustion sets in, because common sense isn't going to.