Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Art Theft and Taiwan

A reader pointed to this one sentence in a recent and utterly fascinating piece on art theft that illuminates an entire world, like a searchlight spotting a plane ducking and weaving among dark clouds....
Much of the art ends up in northern Cyprus or Taiwan, because the islands are not officially countries, and have no extradition treaties.

That led me to this absorbing tale of Taiwan, Argentina, and art for arms....let me whet your appetite:

Gordon was also a key player in Operation Condor, the clandestine campaign of assassination, counter-terrorism and intelligence-gathering operations implemented by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone, which meant he had extensive contacts all over South America. Most explosive of all was the rumour that the paintings had been used to procure arms from Taiwan for the Falklands War. "There was an arms embargo against Argentina at the time," explains Avignolo, "and the Junta worked a lot with Taiwan, because it was the only country willing to break the embargo. Taiwan was also a triangulation point for other countries - the Junta even had an ambassador in Taiwan, and military attachés, which was very unusual."
Not being a real live state has more fallout than just passport annoyances and long travel times between Taipei and Shanghai....

Notes from the US

Joseph Wu, Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the US, had an opinion piece on our democracy here in a US paper.

Taiwan's democracy is young and vibrant, though by no means perfect or fully matured.

In Taiwan, for example, the public has become increasingly dissatisfied with its media's turn toward sensationalism.

Media companies in Taiwan seem more interested in expanding their individual market shares than in the pursuit of excellence in journalism. It is an affliction common to journalism elsewhere, as well.

Yet, media reform in Taiwan must come from within the profession itself, upon the demands of the consuming public. Government attempts would be viewed as a violation of media freedom.

As the United States has the Federal Communications Commission, Taiwan has the regulatory National Communication Commission, modeled after the FCC.

But, as in some sectors of the U.S., the public is wary of the role of the NCC, as its leadership is based on "party-proportional representation." This principle guarantees the politicization of a commission intended to be a neutral rule-maker and enforcer for Taiwan's media market.

Taiwan's Council of Grand Justices — the constitutional court — has ruled that NCC's system of proportional political representation is unconstitutional. Yet, reorganization of the NCC does not appear to be forthcoming at the present time.

The piece focuses too much on the NCC, which will not be something American readers will know or care about, and not enough on perfidious Beijing, but it does sound the alarm on Beijing's behavior:

The extremely hostile PRC government continues to view Taiwan as part of China, and this dangerous irredentist claim, paired with constant military threats against Taiwan, has prolonged and intensified a polarizing domestic debate on the island over whether Taiwan is — or ought to be — an independent country.

It is, indeed, a wonder that, with the currently hostile political environment created by the PRC government, any political party on Taiwan would continue to claim that Taiwan is a part of China.

Despite the fact that Taiwan's democracy is neither perfect nor mature, the reality of competitive elections at regular intervals under the watch of an open media and the active scrutiny of the political opposition, means that Taiwan nevertheless is a vibrant and enviable democracy.

Furthermore, Taiwan's democratic success stands as an excellent counterargument against the fallacious proposal, vis-à-vis China, that traditional Chinese culture cannot sustain a Western-style democracy.

Also from the US is this blurb I found in my email on Obama's right-hand man. The info is originally from the NY Sun:

Reporter Eli Lake describes an "inner circle" of three top advisors...former Clinton National Security Advisor Tony Lake, former Iraq Study Group staffer Ben Rhodes, and retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration.

"They are part of a nine-person team, in contact every day, often by e-mail. The team develops policy positions, clears language for use in comments to the press, and prepares [Obama]......for a dangerous world and a global war."

Global war? Gulp...

Continuing..." funnels input to Denis McDonough, an Obama campaign staff member who briefs the candidate..." And McDonough helps coordinate "a broader group of 250 advisors...divided into [20-member] groups dealing with the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Russia-Europe, defense, veterans, counter-terrorism, democracy and development, and multilateral institutions."

(We'd note that Denis, with one "n", McDonough is a veteran of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's staff, and has spent the past few years at The Center for American Progress. He is well-versed in Asia issues, especially those involving Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan.)

Daschle was a longtime friend of Taiwan. The Center for American Progress, which bills itself as a progressive think tank, is here. McDonough is profiled on the CAP website.

Catapulting the Propaganda

The powerful effect of pro-China propagandizing is seen in this translation of a piece from the Asia Times on the US Nimitz deployment to Japan, arguing that it is linked to the Taiwan election in March:
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz of the US Navy arrived in Japan on 11 February. An analysis maintains that the deployment of the aircraft carrier is a step the United States has taken to make sure that, during Taiwan's presidential election and UN membership referendum on 22 March, there will be at least two aircraft carrier battle groups in West Pacific so that they can effectively deter the eruption of a clash in the Taiwan Strait.
One newspaper maintains that USS Nimitz is to replace the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier that will soon be decommissioned. However, according to The Navy Times, the deployment of USS Nimitz in West Pacific is not permanent, but was done merely to reinforce the United States' military strength in this part of the world; and that USS Washington will be the aircraft carrier that will replace USS Kitty Hawk in the future. Explaining the deployment of USS Nimitz aircraft carrier in Japan, US Navy says USS Nimitz' temporary commission is necessitated by the maintenance that USS Kitty Hawk needs. However, The Navy Times notes that the commission of USS Nimitz in West Pacific is a routine deployment based on the Navy's "Fleet Response Plan" as well as a real and important drill of the plan.

The "Fleet Response Plan" was adopted by the US Navy in 2003. According to this plan, US Navy can simultaneously deploy six aircraft carrier battle groups to any danger zone around the world within 30 days and then reinforce the deployment with two additional aircraft carrier battle groups within three months. This has
significantly enhanced the US Navy's capabilities of dealing with any crisis and at the same time made it difficult for an adversary to find an opportunity to attack US aircraft carriers. As for the US Navy's explanation that USS Kitty Hawk is in need of maintenance, one analysis maintains that it is not quite plausible that USS Kitty Hawk has to be maintained before it will be decommissioned this year. One noteworthy fact is that, after USS Kitty Hawk is decommissioned, the aircraft that will take its place will be USS Washington aircraft carrier, which is also a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier like the USS Nimitz. Thus, USS Nimitz' deployment in Japan also has the function of making preparations for USS Washington's permanent stationing in Japan.

The Navy Times report notes that USS Kitty Hawk will not leave Japan for home after the arrival of USS Nimitz; and that it will not leave Japan for home until the second half of 2008. This means that, during the time of Taiwan's presidential election, the United States will have two aircraft battle groups in waters adjacent to the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwan Strait will be at its most dangerous situation in March this year. The situation will be both delicate and complex. Whether the mainland will take a military stance prior to the election on 22 March to influence the election outcome and whether Chen Shuibian will overreact by provoking the mainland to attack in case the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] will be completely defeated during the election may trigger a clash in the Taiwan Strait.

The United States certainly fully understands this situation. It has time and again stressed that it does not want to see the eruption of a clash in the Taiwan Strait. The mission of the upcoming deployment of the USS Nimitz battle group in this part of the world is believed to be one of preventing a clash and not one of supporting Taiwan's DPP government. In other words, it is a mission different from the one in 1996 when the United States dispatched two aircraft carriers to help defend Taiwan when the mainland intimidated Taiwan with two missile exercises during Taiwan first presidential election at that time.

[deleted paragraph on how much more powerful Nimitz is]

Moreover, the aircraft carrier's escorts, Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, also have powerful fighting power. Modern Aegis-equipped ships are also equipped with "Standard 3" intercepting missiles. The deployment of USS Nimitz, the most powerful nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in West Pacific shows that the United States is following closely the situation in the Taiwan Strait, and that it wants to assume a powerful stance to prevent an eruption of any clash between the two sides of the strait. Of course, the most important purpose of the deployment is to maintain the United States' leading status and geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific Region.
Both KMT politicians and Chinese leadership have repeatedly expressed to foreigners that they are worried that Chen Shui-bian might do something crazy, and incredibly, it is possible to write in a piece of serious analysis that A-bian will start a war if the DPP loses the Presidential election. Mad Chen lives! The importance of repetition here cannot be overestimated -- the more the KMT and China keep repeating it, the more people will stop noticing how stupid it is. That's right -- Beijing and the KMT claim a lame duck Taiwanese president will use a military dominated by a pro-KMT officer corps, overseen by a legislature controlled by the pro-China side, to start a war with China that will have zero public support, and which has no international backing. Right. I hope the US military hasn't bought into this nonsense. Observe, though, how the it nicely sets up a Chinese military action against Taiwan -- one could easily imagine a suborned officer in the Taiwanese military creating a provocation for China's sake.....and then China saying "See? We warned you...." Good to see the US carriers out there....

Simon Tisdall has a piece in the Guardian (found on this blog) that emphasizes China's deployment of soft power in annexing Taiwan. The first paragraph terminates in a reference to that very common media/propaganda trope, Taiwan as the wild child in need of discipline, which will be supplied by the authority of Beijing:
Hardliners in Washington, Beijing and Taipei continue to warn of an explosive military confrontation between China and the US as Taiwan’s short-fuse presidential election draws close. But growing evidence suggests hawks on both sides are purposefully exaggerating the risks. Rather than threatening war, China is increasingly relying on non-military means to bring its “renegade province” to heel.
"bringing something to heel" is an act of discipline. It is a shame that clearer language, like annex, or expand, is not used in the media. Note the term "renegade province" which is purely an invention of the western media and has never been used by Beijing -- good that Tisdall put it in quotes. Tisdall's language assumes that Taiwan is part of China -- Taiwan is being "brought back into the fold." Newsman are so used to deploying such metaphors, I doubt it ever crossed his mind that Taiwan has never been part of the PRC....Tisdall also claims that support for independence has fallen to only 19% (due, of course, to China's soft power) but cites no poll for this, entirely missing how thoroughly mainstream a Taiwan identity is nowadays....

UPDATE: Of course, Tisdall did refer to the "pro-China KMT." Thanks, Simon!

UPDATE II: Tisdall apparently got his information from the Mainland Affairs Council Poll. Apparently he added together the two items for independence, got 19%, and concluded that support for independence is falling. Note that the same process for annexation as an option also produces falling numbers. What is actually happening is support for the status quo is rising. Yet an uncertain but surely large number of people in the column "status quo now, decision later" must support independence.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Taiwan Saxophones from Houli

My friend Clyde pointed out this wonderful article from NPR on the saxophone industry in Houli, right where the toll booth is on Highway 1 just north of Taichung. Taiwan is one of the world's most important producers of the instrument....
There are a dozen assembly lines — small, family operations like this one — throughout Houli. The town has a population of 50,000, but it produces about 40,000 saxophones a year.

Just how Houli became the world's unsung center of saxophone making is largely an accident of history. The story dates back to just after World War II. It stars a larger-than-life character named Chang Lien-cheng. He was a farmer's son who abandoned the family land to become a painter and jazz musician, says a spokeswoman for his company: "No one during that time was actually playing any kinds of Western instruments. But he was fascinated by this instrument called saxophone."

According to company legend, when Chang's saxophone was damaged in a fire, the inveterate tinkerer managed to build another. That was the first sax made in Taiwan.

Until his death several years ago, Chang trained a number of apprentices, and in the process, launched a lucrative export industry. By the 1980s, Taiwan was churning out so many saxes under contract to labels in the U.S. and Europe, the government estimates that 1 out of every 3 saxes in the world was made in Taiwan.

But then mainland China began ramping up its cheap saxophone assembly lines....

Polls and Budgets and Gravel

The Central News Agency has a nice bit of reporting out on the Hsieh-Ma debate. Among the local news organizations its reporting is generally the most balanced. The first half of the article offers a report on the polls:

Ratings released by two major local dailies after Sunday's debate, however, offered different public views on Ma's performance, with one showing he gained a few percentage points while another showed his support had slipped by several points.

The United Daily News poll showed that support for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket of Hsieh and vice presidential candidate Su Tseng-chang rose by 3 percentage points to 21 percent, while support for the Kuomintang (KMT) ticket of Ma and Vincent Siew -- slipped by 7 percentage points to 49 percent, compared to a poll conducted 10 days ago.

Meanwhile, a poll carried out by the China Times showed that support for both DPP and KMT tickets rose slightly, to 23 percent and 49 percent, respectively, with a margin of error of 2.7 percent. Support for Hsieh went up by one percentage point while that for Ma rose by two percentage points, according to the poll.

More interesting than the particular numbers is the vast, hilarious gap between Ma and Hsieh. Who can take these polls seriously? In the Chinese Times poll Ma leads Hsieh by 26%, while in the United Daily News Ma leads Hsieh by 28%. Back here in reality, Hsieh lost the Taipei mayor election by 15%. In other words, according to these two pro-KMT papers, Ma is going to beat Hsieh by a gap 50% greater than that generated in the Taipei area, the Bluest area in the nation.

Sure. I believe that.

In 2000 3% separated Chen from Soong; in 2004; it was less than 1%. Whatever the outcome, it is hard to imagine either man winning over 25%.

The CNA also reported on Hsieh's attack on Ma's budget plan.
Hsieh said Ma was "being too rash" and warned Ma would be "bringing down the economy," by aggravating the nation's deficit, worsening inflation and increasing the tax burden for the public.

Hsieh on Monday also attacked Ma's calls for investing around NT$4 trillion into the economy, among which the government will spend NT$2.65 trillion and will attract NT$1.3 trillion from the private sector. The money would be spent on 12 major infrastructure projects, according to Ma.

Hsieh repeated what he said on Sunday that this will mean that each household will have to write Ma a NT$400,000 bounced check.

He pointed out that Taiwan's annual budget is only between NT$1.5 trillion and NT$1.6 trillion. Even if Ma can serve two terms with a budget of NT$12 trillion, if the government spends about NT$2.6 trillion on the project, it will squeeze budgets for national defense, social welfare and education, Hsieh said.

For his part, Ma said that he had explained his policy in Sunday's debates, and will leave the details for related government agencies. He has on several occasions criticized Hsieh's DPP party for causing Taiwan's economy to suffer during its eight-year rule.

Ma's economic plan is quite simple. As I've often noted, locals outside the tech-driven export economy experience a very different Taiwanese economy, one with stagnant incomes and rising living costs, making KMT attacks on the DPP credible. I've also observed that the KMT spent tons of cash on the Jan 12 legislative election, which it will now have to recoup by tapping flows of government spending. Ma is simply signaling his supporters that zillions of dollars will indeed flow out of the government into local coffers all over Taiwan, irrespective of debt (for a look at what will happen in a Ma economy, see Japan's massive debts under the LDP). Hsieh has a strong issue here if he can keep hammering Ma on debt....

The KMT has forged tight cooperation with Beijing.... and one way China will play a big role in this local political economy through the provision of gravel for it. Taiwan is already dependent on China for gravel -- in 2006 the cut-off of imports from China, which supplied 20% of demand -- drove gravel prices up all over the island, and sent Taiwanese scurrying to Vietnam and the Philippines to develop alternate sources. Taiwan Journal summarized the clout China has in the local political economy last November:

The ban on gravel exports has produced economic ripples on both sides of the strait. Immediately after imports stopped, the price of gravel in Taiwan initially skyrocketed from US$13.8 to US$30.8 per cubic meter, and no longer having access to Taiwan's lucrative market means that gravel exporters in China's Fujian Province have been hit hard as well. High prices and the suspension in trade left Taiwan with a shortfall of 25 million cubic meters of sandstone this year. As a consequence, overall economic development has naturally slowed and many large-scale public construction projects have been forced to halt due to the lack of materials.

Without China, the article notes, it will be difficult to grow the construction-industrial economy... and China has already said it will consider re-opening the trade in gravel. Given KMT-PRC cooperation, and the necessity of gravel to enable the KMT to revive the local economy that it has starved, we'll see this trade resume when Ma comes in. Thus, the new Taipei Port is specifically aimed at the Construction-Industrial State -- its first two wharves were gravel wharves (completed in 1998), original meant to catch ships that serviced the Keelung-Hualien gravel route, since Keelung had become too small and inconvenient. Analysts expect a big construction boom in the north if Taiwan permits direct links. Note how well-placed the Port of Taipei is to service ships from China feeding gravel and other products into the concrete maw of Taipei's insatiable construction market...

Kingming Liu in PostGlobal

Kinming Liu, former Washington-based columnist for Asian newspapers, asks that Washington stand up to China the way it has stood up to Russia on the Kosovo issue, in the Washington Post forums:

I could only wish the U.S. and Europe would have the same courage to poke a stick to another big power in order to support another independence-seeking smaller nation. But I share with the sentiment in this editorial from Taiwan's Liberty Times that the island state won't be able to follow Kosovo's footsteps anytime soon. In fact, Taiwan has already extended it recognition towards Kosovo but Pristina has yet to reciprocate Taipei.

Nice sentiments. Only one flaw, where he refers to Taipei as Beijing's "enemy." Beijing is Taipei's enemy, but Taipei is not the enemy of Beijing. Everyone in Taiwan wants peace and trade between the two nations, but regrettably, Beijing's claim to rule Taiwan prevents this. Stop by and thank Liu for public support for the island.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Debate, Hsu, Cure Insomnia

NOTES FROM A SUCKY ECONOMY: ...the NT is hitting a 30-month high, and the Taipei Times noted the other day after the Central Bank dumped a half a billion NT into the market to hold the NT down....
"This is the way our central bank tells market participants to behave," one dealer said. "But the central bank should know that the tide is changing -- money will keep coming in as investors snap up stocks, because the Taiwanese market is the safest bet when other Asian markets are falling along with the US."
The Taiwan stock market might reach 9,000, inward remittances for stock purchases are expected to keep pressure on the NT to appreciate...yes, there's nothing like living in a sucky economy where the currency is going up and the stock market is a safe bet.

The first debate of the current election cycle was yesterday. It seems to have gone well and both sides emerged about even, scoring points on each other. Coverage was good and even the usually pro-KMT media in Hong Kong and Singapore reported it rather neutrally, someone said. From The Taipei Times:

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidates Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) went head to head in their first pre-election televised debate yesterday. They discussed issues ranging from national identity and cross-strait affairs to the economy, environment and social welfare.

Both saw eye to eye in seeking direct transportation links with China, with Hsieh and Ma pledging to negotiate and implement weekend direct charter flight services within three months of being elected president. Ma added that he would push for daily flights within six months.

It's funny to think of Ma, a lifelong pro-China ideologue, emphasizing his "Taiwaneseness." But it is also heartening to see that "being Taiwanese" is seen by all camps as not merely an issue but THE issue and one everyone laid great stress on. The headline for the China Post said it all: Ma, Hsieh Stress Identity in Debate. Hope in second debate Hsieh lays into Ma for his authoritarian past "Heck Ma, remember when you wanted to put me in prison? Now here I am debating wonder you want to get back to the good old days..." and also nail Ma on the KMT's ties to China. Why is this blog entry on the debate not longer? The Central News Agency explains:
In an otherwise unexciting debate with no surprises...
A debate in which Ma hold his own would appear to be a victory for Ma, but no one is writing that way yet.....and if the the issue is the economy stupid, where's the extensive debate on the economy?

In an equally snooze-inducing bit of news, former DPP Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang announced he would be supporting Frank Hsieh. The China Post has the tale. Hsu left the DPP and formed a pro-KMT think tank with two other turncoats, Sisy Chen and Shih Ming-te. Shih would later go on to lead the fake Red Ant protests aimed at ousting Chen Shui-bian. Hsu ran unsuccessfully for this and that, and did a number of stunts that got little notice. A has-been with no apparent political future, Hsu (a Hakka) does retain some connections to the Hakka community and may be a minor aid to Hsieh there. The China Post also sketches some of the connections between Hsu and the KMT, and the hidden but powerful role family in all its aspects plays in politics:

Hsieh seems to forget Hsu advocated unification with China, though the ruling party has never let up an attack on Ma Ying-jeou for being a "filial son" to his deceased Kuomintang apparatchik father whose death wish was "to oppose independence" and "to make the Chinese nation strong."

The DPP candidate may also forget Hsu's son is working in China, though continuing to lash out at Ma for keeping a "green card" for permanent residence in the United States.

A green card is Hsieh's excuse for doubting Ma may sell out Taiwan.

Moreover, Hsu's nephew is currently Ma's campaign spokesman.
Maddog over at Taiwan Matters! has video links to the debate. A-gu has a nice summary, and tends to think Ma won.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Lighter Side of Meeting Frank Hsieh

My friend the writer, artist, and sometime visitor to Taiwan Joel Haas dropped me a line to describe an encounter with Frank Hsieh several years ago....

True story. Frank Hsieh taught me the Mandarin word for "ocean." When I was one of the artists at the Kaoshiung Steel Sculpture Festival, I made all the people who came to watch me for long teach me a word of their language (I was ignorant as hell and did not realize how many languages are spoken there and how political a statement it is/was which language you speak/prefer) I soon got all that straight and started asking people to just teach me a word of Mandarin.

After a week or so of my improvised study, I was ready to essay my first sentence. Just a trial run you understand. So at ten AM one day I stood before a crowd watching me, spread my arms oratorically, and announced "Wo yao he pejiu!" The effect was electric. The crowd before me dispersed as though I had suddenly screamed "Run for your lives! Penguins with machine guns are coming!" Over the next half hour more than a half dozen people came back bearing beer and four people brought me ice tea explaining beer was not allowed to be sold in the dock area.

Anyway, the last working day of the festival, a caravan of cops on motorcycles, large men in suits wearing sunglasses and concealed weapons, and long black cars came into the dock areas. It was explained the mayor had come for a visit. Now I know the mayor of Raleigh, Charles Meeker, and Charles does not travel that way. Anyhow, Mayor Hsieh was distinguishable by being the shortest guy in the most expensive suit with the fewest weapons. While he was at my area looking over my piece (a dementedly whimsical ensemble made of marine steel scrap called "A Walk Across the Bottom of the Harbor," consisting of funny fish, octopi, etc.). I explained my request that all visitors teach me a word of Mandarin. He taught me "hai" and was delighted when I could construct a simple sentence about my sea creatures in the "ocean."

Joel, who has my deepest thanks for passing along a number of stories to this blog over the last couple of years, also likes bad jokes nearly as much as I do....

....Chelsea gets back from a date.
"So," Hillary asks, "did you have a good time?"
"Sure," Chelsea answers. "It was great."
"Did you have sex?" Hillary asks anxiously.
"Not according to Dad."

Report: US Should Enhance Ties With Taiwan

A new report out from the Taiwan Policy Working Group, a joint project of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Armitage International, argues that the US needs upgrade and expand its ties with Taiwan and stop enabling Beijing's suppression of Taipei. Taiwan News describes:

The report argues that the issue is urgent now that U.S.-Taiwan relations are "dangerously drifting, " with Beijing using diplomatic isolation and the threat of military force to pressure Taiwan into an unfavorable settlement and Taiwan reacting by forcing intractable disputes to the front of the debate.

Describing Taiwan's democracy as a beacon to other societies seeking peaceful political liberalization, the report warns that if Taiwan is coerced by China into a settlement against the wishes of the Taiwanese people, the United States will lose a valuable international partner and suffer a severe blow to its interests and regional position.

In case readers were afflicted with doubt about whether the Bush Administration really does intend to sell Taiwan out to Beijing, the Taiwan News report summarizes:

While admitting that it will be difficult for China to accept a Taiwan with a higher international profile, the report says Washington should nevertheless end Beijing's expectations that it can "deliver" Taiwan.

"Beijing should talk directly to Taipei about its disagreements and not pressure Washington to pressure the Taiwanese government," the report says. "America should make clear to Beijing that it has interests in the continued freedom of the Taiwanese people to decide their own fate and the peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences."

Reuters' Paul Eckert observes in a short article on the issue:

The study said Communist China's growing military power and efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally, combined with efforts by frustrated Taipei leaders to counter this isolation, have created a dangerous cycle.

The United States has responded increasingly by criticizing or pressuring Taiwan at China's behest, but will endanger its interests in Asia if it fails to change course, warned the group

"This dynamic is not sustainable," said the group of analysts and former U.S. government officials, led by Asia security experts Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute and Randall Schriver of Armitage International.

"Taiwan will either cave in to pressure in ways that harm long-term U.S. interests or embark on a more dangerous course. Beijing will continue to pressure both Washington and Taipei and miscalculate that the United States has abandoned Taiwan," said the report.

As the Taipei Times describes the report's view, these guys could be writing my blog, calling for greater defense cooperation, more US arms sales, and enhanced ties:

They also call for more US arms sales to Taiwan and greater interoperability between the US and Taiwanese militaries to help combat a Chinese military action against Taiwan.

Citing the US refusal to sell advanced F-16 fighters to Taiwan, the report says: "Washington has thus become culpable in an eroding military balance across the Strait, sacrificing long-term interests to short-term emotion."

Other recommendations include a free trade agreement between the two, more US arms sales to Taiwan focusing on better homeland defense cooperation, anti-submarine warfare, air and missile defense and disaster and humanitarian aid coordination.

The report urges Taiwan to boost defense spending, implement economic reforms including the opening of investment opportunities for Chinese and other foreign firms, promote Taiwanese industries' technological and market advances in international economic relationships, export its democratic model to the rest of the world and use its public health expertise more effectively on the global scene.

Taiwan should also improve the quality of its official congressional relations staff in Washington, in view of ebbing US congressional support for Taiwan in recent years because of changes to new congressional leaders and staffers with "diminished knowledge" about Taiwan and China.

I was just blogging yesterday on the coming disaster that is Bush Administration Taiwan policy + a Ma Ying-jeou victory in the elections, and here AEI makes my exact point. It's not too late for the Bush Administration to back the actual US ally here in the Taiwan elections, and make choices that will result in a stable East Asia whose overall strategic situation favors the US. The entire report is available in English and wisely, in Chinese as well. Good work, guys.

MEDIA NOTE: Reuters' Paul Eckert summarizes in his article on the issue:
The United States switched diplomatic relations to the communist government in China in 1978 after decades of recognizing Taiwan. Taiwan has been ruled separately since the Nationalists fled there after losing a civil war in 1949.

China claims Taiwan as a renegade province that needs to be reunified eventually, by force if necessary. U.S. law requires Washington to provide Taiwan with armaments needed for its defense, but direct official contacts are circumscribed -- often in ways seen by democratic Taiwan as demeaning.
The second paragraph is quite interesting. First, it contains an error: US law does not require Washington to provide Taiwan with armaments. That is a common but erroneous interpretation of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Note the first sentence of that paragraph: China claims Taiwan as a renegade province....a huge improvement over the usual China sees Taiwan.... claims is an accurate description of China's drive to annex the island. sees, by contrast, imputes more reality to the Chinese position and a kind of reasonableness to the Chinese side. The paragraph also mentions that Taiwan is democratic, and hints that the US position sucks. Nice if we could only get rid of the Taiwan has been ruled separately formula, which falsely implies that priorly Taiwan was part of China. Unfortunately Taiwan's sovereignty issue is too complex for neat little media formulas. Readers want to suggest one?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Road to Taipei Goes Through Washington

Ting-i Tsai, a longtime and always excellent commentator on Taiwan affairs, had another choice piece in the Asia Times on Beijing's use of Washington to suppress Taiwan:

Unlike its previous approach of directly threatening Taiwan over its holding of referendums in 2004, Beijing pressured Washington this time around to deliver its message.

"Beijing's approach is brand new and totally different from the past," said a former senior Taiwanese cross-strait affairs official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official contended that the DPP government had failed to recognize the change and come up with a way to counter it.

Beijing has repeatedly warned Washington since 2005 that Taiwan would likely declare independence before President Chen steps down in May 2008. Chinese officials suggested numerous scenarios under which this would happen to their Washington counterparts, including Taiwan's declaring independence by adopting a new constitution, President Chen's creating an incident in the Taiwan Strait to escalate tension, and simply declaring independence based on a positive outcome in the UN-bid referendum.
Tsai observes that China's strategy was to keep acting as though it would cause a war in the Strait, to force Washington to push Taipei into its arms:
According to an article by Shi Yinhong, professor of International Relations at Renmin University, Beijing started to shift away from its policy of harshly condemning Taiwan between 2000 and 2001. At the same time, Beijing concluded that it should gradually convince the administrations in the White House through the upcoming administrations to accept the unification of China, and have Washington make a political choice between Taipei and Beijing.

"China should prepare for war with a serious and determined attitude, and continually maintain and escalate American's fears and concerns over a war across the Strait," Shi wrote. "This would be a crucial reason for the US to slowly accept China's unification."
The US cooperation with authoritarian China to suppress a democratic Taiwan is not explicitly mentioned by any of the US commentators. Instead, they they put the blame on Taiwan -- Washington's weakness has nothing to do with its stupidity in invading Iraq and its destruction of our moral high ground:
"It [Washington] tried every way it could to convince President Chen not to go forward with this process, but he did so against our advice. Why would Washington accept a process that leads to an outcome it opposes?" Bush noted.

Alan Romberg, senior associate and director of the East Asia Program at the Henry L Stimson Center, echoed Bush's view by arguing, "Now that they [DPP] see the potential consequences, it is simply too late to rewind the clock."

Whether the DPP can come up with a third referendum backed by both parties remains to be seen, but some pro-KMT academics have warned that the KMT would suffer from even worse diplomatic isolation if its presidential candidate were to win the March election but the referendums failed to pass.

According to an analyst close to the DPP, holding a referendum that could explicitly detail the desire of Taiwan's people for international space would be its preferred scenario at present.
We're not sure what outcome is occurring here that Washington opposes, since China can stop any actual entry of Taiwan into the UN with its trusty security council veto. Apparently Washington opposes the possibility that at some point someone may try to enter the UN under the name "Taiwan." Now correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Chen Shui-bian send a letter to the UN asking to enter under the name "Taiwan" back in July, and didn't the earth continue to rotate on its axis after this event occurred?

I'm just checking....although, to be fair, it is true that Washington had to "secretly" correct the UN Sec.-gen's erroneous claim that Taiwan was part of China.

Tsai cites Bonnie Glaser at the end for an opinion that is apparently quite common in official Washington:

In a presentation given in Washington recently, Bonnie Glaser, senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggested that Beijing recognizes that it will face unprecedented challenges in responding to Taiwan's demands for greater international space and reductions in its military threat toward Taiwan in a meaningful way if the candidate Beijing apparently favors, the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou, wins the presidential election.
The answer to Dr. Glaser is that no, there will be no unprecedented challenges, because the KMT and the CCP have been talking to each other since the mid-1990s about just this moment. Instead, scripted events will occur, stage-managed by both sides. Is it that Official Washington does not get how tightly Beijing and the KMT are interlaced? Or do they just not care if Ma puts Taiwan into Beijing's orbit and totally destabilizes the security position of the US in the region (think of the conundrum Japan faces if Taiwan turns toward Beijing)? My money's on door number 2, there, though several knowledgeable people have said the first choice is the correct one: the Bush Administration doesn't get it.

One of the international correspondents pointed out to me that the day after the Presidential swearing-in here there's a vote on Taiwan's next application to the WHO, which will be a test for President Ma (if indeed Ma wins). What will he do when the PRC refuses him? I would argue that this isn't going to be a test. Either the PRC will throw Ma a bone and let Taiwan in to make Ma look like a winner -- which wouldn't surprise me in the least, it would be one smart short-term move (Beijing can always get Taipei expelled later if necessary) or else the KMT and the CCP will agree on a script for handling it so that Ma accepts it. But there won't be any surprises....and watch as Ma cooperates with Beijing in further reducing Taiwan's international space.

UPDATE: Don't miss this fantastic article on Kosovo that a reader turned me on to, from Christopher Hitchens in Slate. One of the many money quotes:
It's a shame, in retrospect, that it took us so long to diagnose the pathology of Serbia's combination of arrogance and self-pity, in which what is theirs is theirs and what is anybody else's is negotiable.
Anyone recognize a state like that in Asia? Anyone?

Hsieh to lose?

Will Hsieh win? Everyone I talk to says exactly the same thing: no (in fact the question is usually met with laughter). Why? I spent this evening conversing with a longtime democracy activist with deep connections into the DPP, and the person says what everyone else is saying: the Hsieh camp is running an awful campaign. According to this person, many in the DPP were angry that Hsieh distanced himself from the legislative campaign, and blame him because they did not prevent the KMT from getting 2/3 of the seats. Apparently nobody in the DPP owns a calculator, and they actually believed they were going to win more than 1/3 of the seats. Wish I'd done my calculations before the election....As a result, only a portion of the DPP is working for Hsieh. UPDATE: Keep in mind that discussions of what is happening inside the DPP are discussions that take place in Taipei about things that happen in Taipei. Does the great mass of the citizenry outside the capital know or care?

I did see some great posters of Hsieh today, but didn't have a chance to get a pic. But finally, the campaign is becoming visible....

There is less than a month to go now, and we are where we were in Feb of 2000 and Feb of 2004: nobody thinking the DPP would win at this point. Tomorrow is the debate between Hsieh and Ma. Can Hsieh turn it around? Everyone seems to think he is a better speaker than Ma -- which actually gives Ma the advantage, since he need merely hold his own.....

Get Taipei in Global Monopoly Edition!

Maoman over at Forumosa alerted me to this:

Hasbro is creating a global edition Monopoly, and Taipei has a crack at making it on as a wild card entry. The 20 pre-selected cities with the highest worldwide votes will make it onto the board. Plus, you will have from February 29 to March 9 2008 to vote on the most nominated Wildcard cities. Only the top two will make it on the board, and Taipei is currently ranked Number 3, behind Gdynia, Poland, and Quebec City, Canada!

Click here to get to the site. You'll need to register, but voting is pretty straightforward!
If my Taiwanese readers would post this to their Chinese-language forums, it would be much appreciated...Gdynia, Poland?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Economic Contrasts

Mislabeled product #4501: reads "baking powder" in English, and "American Rising Powder" in Chinese, but it is actually yeast. If you can't find yeast, shake the baking powder and listen for the kitsch-kitsch of yeast.

How's our economy? Listening to the Blues, you'd think we were in economic free fall. Asia Media hosts an article from Singapore smugly noting how Taiwanese compare themselves to Singapore:

Economists quoted by the United Daily News said that Taiwan's presidential candidates could take a leaf out of Singapore's book.

The main opposition Kuomintang nominee Ma Ying-jeou is leading Mr Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, according to polls.

National Cheng Kung University professor Hsieh Wen-jen lauded Singapore's 'brilliant' moves, scrapping estate duty and giving out $380 million worth of personal income tax rebates.

By making these changes at the same time, it could deflect criticism that the abolition of estate duty benefited only the rich, Prof Hsieh told the United Daily News.

The bonanza Budget triggered soul-searching among Taiwanese.

'Looking at Singapore, I can't help but think about ourselves... Why is it that they can do it, but we can't?' a Taiwanese reader wrote in the United Daily News.

Taiwan's economic officials said that Singapore's 'company style' of governance and handing out of dividends could work only in small countries.

But some observers blame the Taiwanese government's pre-occupation with politics at the expense of economics. Last year, Taiwan posted a budget deficit of more than NT$100 billion (S$4.5 billion).

Observe first that the Singapore piece cites a the strongly pro-KMT United Daily News (UDN) as the source of the story, without mentioning that paper's well-known biases. Comparisons of KMT one-party rule with Singapore have been made by high-ranking KMT officials -- and "stories" like this further the comparison. Their purpose is entirely justificatory. I'll ask, as I always do -- if the KMT really believes that the economy sucks, where's the economic stimulus package? Owning the legislature, they can pass one any time.

Economic indicators in Taiwan are actually pretty good. GDP growth hit 5.7% in 2007, up from 5.46% forecasted:

Exports to ASEAN countries were up 41 percent last year, while demand from the Middle East and India also saw significant increases, Hsu said. Total exports to ASEAN countries plus Vietnam, India and the Middle East accounted for 17.7 percent of total exports last year, surpassing exports to the US at 13 percent and Europe at 10.8 percent.

In addition, the US$15.3 billion (US$483 million) net inflow last year from the triangle trade -- a common practice among China-based Taiwanese businesses that are operating via Hong Kong -- is expected to continue bolstering exports, Hsu said.

Domestic demand, however, was weak as private investments shrank 2.4 percent and private consumption rose by just 2.15 percent.
The last paragraph points to a serious bifurcation in Taiwan's economy that is driving discontent here in Taiwan. In Taiwan's economy technology and exports are doing well -- we're now the number 2 exporter to China, for example. Yet the local domestic economy is facing income stagnation and rising living costs. That has many sources -- the rise of China sucking up work for cheap labor, Taiwanese factories moving to China, the increasing formalization of the economy -- and of course, the KMT's decision to starve local infrastructure spending to reduce local incomes so they can attack the DPP. Hence, the two economies: while the export economy booms and the current account surplus hit record levels, local business closings also hit record levels. In the old days the two economies interpenetrated -- households had individuals with small export businesses and also engaged in public construction. But then the small export economy moved to China..... Yet a commenter on one of my posts wrote an excellent description of the reality of our economy:

Ironically, Hsinchu Taiwan is probably the only large cluster of technology companies that has been able to challenge Silicon Valley and successfully. The reason you don't really feel it is because Silicon Valley moved on to other things (like web startups) while Hsinchu became home to basically the entire world's semiconductor manufacturing stack outside of CPUs. How long has Singapore and China been talking about taking over the semiconductor industry from Taiwan? 10-20 years? No one outside of Taiwan has been able to be profitable for that.

In terms of how the overall environment compares with Silicon Valley's (not actual competitors), besides semi fabs, there's also a bunch of IC design firm startups, people doing RFID, WiMax related startups, PC accessory startups...
anything that's a box with a circuit board and chips inside, there's someone in Taiwan that wants to design and manufacture it.

Remember, Taiwan is the kingdom of small and medium size businesses, and it is very conducive to startups.

As proof, a statistic that has been totally ignored in Taiwan's mainstream media is the TAIEX's overall market cap from 2000 to today has gone from 8 trillion NT (260 billion USD) to 20 trillion NT (630 billion USD).

For comparison, from 1997 to 2000, when Siew, Ma's running mate was running this country, the market cap went from 9 trillion NT to 8 trillion NT.

I'll let that sink in for a minute. Yes, that's right, it grew 150% or it is 250% of where it was 8 years ago. But the TAIEX index hasn't gone up much you say? Exactly. A whole lotta value has been generated by new startups that have IPO'd in the past 8 years.

It's unbelievable how the media portrays Taiwan's economy and financial environment as deteriorating when there has been good, steady GDP growth and huge amounts of value have been created as reflected in the stock market.

If you're a laborer, just like all over the world, your wages have been stagnant these 8 years because of China and the rest of the developing world.

If you're thinking of doing some kind of electronics startup in Taiwan, you have one of the best environments in the world to do it in.

For reference, you can get the same statistics I cited on the TAIEX website: annual TAIEX date and current weekly data.
Yup. Yup. Yup.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ma Posters Rul

I was out yesterday in Tainan with John from the Real Taiwan, who had become the latest convert to my quest to ensure that everyone in the world uses a Canon Powershot IS5, taking photos in and around town (my pics up tomorrow). The betel nut girl shots were a bust, but we did get some great shots in one of the soldier's villages in Tainan. The above poster of an incredibly idealized Ma strolling like 007 across a featureless plain was plastered to a pillar in a pavilion in a little park near the village, and lacks only Ursula Andress rising from the waves to complete its mythic power....UPDATE: Compare this classic Mao propaganda poster, pointed to by Frog in a Well.

This gorgeous poster of Ma sitting with representatives from every community in which the KMT committed murder hangs off of the intersection of Wu Chuan and Wu Chuan W Rd in Taichung. It is a wonderful work, the eye follows the faces up and they end up in the last row with iconic images of Taiwan -- aborigines -- and Ma standing with them, a little off to one side. The only jarring note is their ridiculous fist pumping motions, which look forced and awkward. The party affiliation is completely absent, and the poster is entirely Taiwan centered. You need only to compare this poster to the utterly conventional stuff out there on Hsieh and Su.... this one. Hope the DPP can get out there with some really powerful visual messages in the coming weeks.

Man of Many Letters

Before we get into the meat of this post, I'd like to direct everyone to this great Asian Studies Toolbar by John Noyce. It has links to Asian Studies stuff on the internet, media, journals, blogs, and a host of other stuff. Installs automatically, easy to use, and customizable.... and he has fantastic taste in Taiwan blogs.

When I was younger I aspired to be a man of letters, and now that I've reached that age where my waistline expands as my hairline recedes, I've reached that goal -- letters are my life. Today a response I made to a piece of Chinese propaganda in the Yale paper a few weeks ago made its way into a letter in the Taipei Times. Stuff that gets into any media, however semi-serious, needs to be responded to, because those responses reach people.

More fun with letters occurred a couple of weeks ago when Taipei-based David Pendery responded to my response to him. It's mostly evidence-free rambling:
Again, we can see his point, but in sum, what Turton implies is that Taiwanese voters concern themselves more about a plate of free beef noodles and a little questionable assistance with a legal problem than the education of their children, the state of their economy, the environment they live in, crime and public order, the cost of housing, infrastructure development, etc. Such a claim I will not abide by.

Ultimately, I would be more inclined to agree with Jerome Keating -- whatever his political view -- when he wrote that the KMT "is not monolithic. Contrasting viewpoints abound and power struggles continue beneath the surface."

Such a view undermines Turton's apocalyptic prediction of a "permanent majority."

In any event, I am not endorsing or criticizing any one party.

Rather, I am trying to point out that respect for the various viewpoints in this country, to say nothing of more empathetic, impartial and tolerant attitudes toward Taiwanese voters and their issues (yes, their issues) is necessary to make progress in this country.
As a matter of fact, the LDP wasn't a monolith either, but it did enjoy a 38 year grip on Japan. One quirk of this exchange: the letter he responded to was a truncated version of this longer piece which the Taipei Times had already published. The TT published two versions of the same letter!....what had happened was that I sent in the first piece but about 8 days went by and it wasn't published. I figured it was too long, so I lopped off the limbs and sent it back as a response to Pendery, and they ended up publishing both. My favorite part of Pendery's letter, unmarred by numbers or critical thought, is the part where he claims he isn't "criticizing any party." His original letter said:
Instead of apportioning blame and howling about the injustice of it all, the DPP and its supporters need to wake up to reality and rein in their worst instincts. The supercilious tone of the DPP's cheerleaders, their self-righteous declamations of exactly what anyone and everyone in Taiwan should and must think and do, and their routine denigration of one half or more of Taiwan's population have gotten utterly tiresome. These are all reasons, I think, that many people are in the process of drumming the DPP out of power.
LOL. Boy, it's a good thing Pendery isn't criticizing any one party, eh?

Finally, I also sent in a letter on the problem with the districting arrangements, which as I noted in my post on gerrymandering below, favored the KMT. It didn't make the Taipei Times' grade, so here it is, gratis:

How the Districting Affected the Election

Although the conventional wisdom assigns the DPP defeat in the Jan 12 legislative election to the disatisfaction with Chen Shui-bian, and the "failing economy", the reality is that structural factors played a key role. Among these were the districting arrangements, which favored the KMT.

According to the law, districts must be drawn by population, and must follow city and county boundaries. These sensible, strict rules generally prevent the drawing of cross-district boundaries that result in the absurd districts so common in the US. Based on these, the Central Election Commission's original proposal alloted 8 districts to Taipei City, 12 to Taipei County, and 6 to Taoyuan. For Tainan city and county, just five districts were created.

To understand the effect of this on the vote, it is necessary to look at the voting population, not at the general population. In Tainan those five districts average 283,000 registered voters each (the national average is 230,000 voters); for Taoyuan, the same average is 225,000; for Taipei County, 235,000; for Taipei City; 251,000. Of the districts that CEC created by cutting up counties, 4 of the 5 largest by voting population are in Tainan. Using the Taoyuan average as a standard, the Tainan area should have had at least one more district. Using the Tainan average for the north, roughly speaking, Taoyuan has 1 extra seat, Taipei city 1 extra seat, and Taipei County 2 extra seats.[MT: the effect is even more pronounced because if you drop the five districts on the east coast and the islands, whose populations are unusually small, the average for the populated west coast and Ilan is about 240,000 voters per district. The average district size in both Taoyuan and Taipei County is smaller than that. Any way you measure it, it sure looks like somebody shoehorned in extra districts in the north.]

Of the ten largest districts (by voting population) created out of counties, seven are in the south: the five Tainan districts and the two in Yunlin County. There is no apparent reason for this (though of course the "right" size is debateable) -- Pingtung County, with a general population of 834,000 (631,000 voters), was chopped into three small districts, while Tainan county, with a general population of 1.1 million people (847,000 voters), was awarded three giant seats. Conversely, the CEC had no trouble creating districts in Taichung County, Pingtung, Kaohsiung City, Nantou, and Miaoli of under 200,000 voters -- a figure that would have awarded Tainan at least two more seats. In Kaohsiung, where the KMT has a powerful local presence, districts averaged only 229,000 voters each.

In sum, the CEC's original proposal created smaller districts in Blue areas and very large ones in Tainan, essentially denying more than 200,000 voters in Tainan representation that was granted to voters in other districts. Size matters greatly; the KMT won 18 of the 20 smallest districts. Had the election been more closely contested, the "extra" Blue seats would have had a strong impact.

Another effect of the districting plan is the large number of safe Blue seats. Counting the islands (3), the east coast (2), Keelung (1), Hsinchu County (1), Taichung County 2 (Yen Ching-piao), the North (26), and Blue-leaning Miaoli (2) and Nantou (2), and assuming a loss here and there, almost half the seats are safely Blue. The Blues need only win half the remainder to win an overwhelming legislative majority.

I deleted the remainder, mostly criticisms of the DPP's election planning.

Nanotechnology Development in Taiwan

One aspect of economy policy under the DPP is its forward looking technological aspects, whereas Ma's economic proposals, under Siew, are based on a back-to-the-future 1970s model that involves spraying concrete around Taiwan like so much fake snow at a Christmas party. A key emerging industry in world technology markets is nanotechnology, the science of "understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter; a sheet of paper is 100,000 nm)," and Taiwan has pursued it with vigor:

The government is planning to appropriate NT$23 billion (US$726 million) to fund the second stage of the "Taiwan National Science and Technology Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology" slated for 2009-2014, officials at the cabinet-level National Science Council (NSC) said Tuesday.

The first stage, which began in 2003 with NT$17.8 billion in funding, will conclude by the end of this year, officials told reporters.

In the first phase, more than 4,000 science research papers have been generated to date, dozens of top-notch research teams were initiated, and ties between industry, university, and research institutions have been strengthened, they said.

Program Director Wu Maw-kuen, who is also the director of the Institute of Physics under Taiwan's top research institute Academia Sinica, said the program office is now working on the outlines of the next phase by determining which items of research are worth further financial support.

Wu said the focus of the next stage will be nano-electronic and optoelectronic technology, nano-scale instruments, nanotechnology for energy and environmental applications, nano-scale biomedical research, and the various technologies' utilization in potential and traditional industries.

How does this sum compare? It is about half the US$1.444 billion the US Nanotechnology Initiative is spreading across 13 US government departments for nanotech research, though Taiwan's GDP is just a fraction of US GDP. Additionally, the Taichung Science Park was originally intended to be nanotech oriented.

The article also alludes to a key function and metric of Taiwan's universities: producing papers for foreign consumption. Pressure to publish in Taiwan universities is excruciating -- and not merely to publish, but to publish in top journals (the importance of chasing status in Chinese cultural is instrumental in this push). At NCKU where I am doing a PHD in international business, my fellow students generally try and place papers in just the top 2 or 3 journals. One can only imagine what will happen when the coming wave from China breaks over the world of academic journals.

One perennial problem in Taiwan's development is the university- government-industry triumvirate: the first leg is only weakly linked to the second and third. The government has been working on integrating the universities more into national industrial development. Part of the problem is that the technocracy responsible for the major input into government economic and technology policy formation is not university-based, but rather holds court in the think tanks in Taipei, according to a knowledgeable person I spoke to a couple of months ago, and it sees the universities as places for producing papers Taiwan can use to validate itself on the world stage (hence the government's proud announcement that its nanotech initiative had generated 4,000 papers). Another problem is the rigid execution so common in Taiwan's public policy -- all departments are ordered to have "industry-university cooperation" and so, by god, they shall. At one university I taught at "industry-university cooperation" in my department consisted of a proposal to teach English at a local airline. The private for-profit universities often frankly see such programs as merely another profit center.

Still other problems are the lack of high-quality universities -- the so-called "universities of technology" are largely voc-ed finishing schools that generally do not have access to high quality students, especially innovative grad students, so necessary for technology development programs. The testing system tends to shunt such students into the national universities, and when profs hit the big-time, they tend to move to one of the national schools as well. The Ministry of Education is often roundly criticized by the locals, but making modernity more than just a mask in the local universities is a daunting task.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kosovo Declares Independence as Taiwan Watches

Recognize this scenario? A small US-allied state declares independence. Its large neighbor, a regional power, objects and conspires to keep it out of the UN, while a bordering nation declares that the newly-independent state's freedom is illegitimate and it is forever part of its sacred national territory.

The parallels aren't perfect, but they exist, and Taiwan's leadership is tracking events as Kosovo declares independence today:

"From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in an address to parliament.

The move was immediately condemned by Serbia and its ally Russia. But the United States is expected to quickly recognize the new state, as is most of the European Union, in return for an agreement by Kosovo's leaders to submit to European Union supervision.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his country, which regards Kosovo as the cradle of its civilization and home to some of its most treasured Orthodox churches and monasteries, would never recognize the unilateral declaration.

"For as long as the Serbian nation exists, Kosovo will remain Serbia," Kostunica said in a nationally televised address from Belgrade, Serbia's capital. "We do not recognize the forced creation of a state within our territory."

Russia appears determined to prevent Kosovo from obtaining U.N. membership and took part in a closed-door emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday. "We expect the U.N. Mission in Kosovo and NATO-led Kosovo Force to take immediate action to fulfill their mandates . . . including voiding the decisions of the Pristina local government and adopting severe administrative measures against them," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Russia, like China towards Taiwan, opposes this move. The article notes that other European nations which host separatist movements -- Spain, for example -- are also questioning its wisdom. China too -- "deeply concerned" according to Reuters:

"China expresses its deep concern about Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on the government Web site (

"All along China has deemed negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo to reach a mutually acceptable plan as the best way to resolve the Kosovo problem," the central government said on its Web site (

China was "deeply worried about the grave negative impact" Kosovo's unilateral declaration would have on the region, it said, adding that the international community should create "positive conditions" for peace and stability.

As the article notes, China faces "separatist" moves in Tibet and Xinjiang. Yes, like those 'separatist' moves in India during the Raj, in Holland under the Nazis, and Poland under Soviet occupation. It's bad enough to adopt China's point of view in reporting stuff -- do we have to use its jargon as well (and here too)? Tibet is a state occupied by a foreign power, not some 'separatist' enclave. Reuters also reports that Taiwan is trying to build relations with Kosovo -- which is declaring independence for the second time (the 1991 attempt didn't stick) -- just like Taiwan plans to...

In addition to monitoring how Kosovo manages to get a UN seat despite the fact that Russia has a Security Council veto, Taiwan needs to pay attention to how Kosovo handles its ethnic Serb population, less than 10% of the nation, but passionately opposed to independence and committed to the idea that the new state is part of an existing one. As the Economist notes:

One of the biggest problems now is going to be dealing with Kosovo's Serbian minority which rejects independence—the leadership of Serbia tell them to ignore independence. They will probably do so. In May, Serbia will vote in local elections. This will be a big test. What would, or could, Kosovo's authorities do when Serbs hold these polls in other parts of Kosovo? Much will become clear in the next few days. Some of Kosovo's power comes from Serbia. Will that be cut? Will Serbia close the border to Kosovo-Albanians and anyone doing business with them?

No doubt China will be carefully monitoring how Russia and Serbia handle this issue as well. With NATO troops on the ground in Kosovo (some protecting ethnic Serbs), clearly there are some big differences in how the Powers are handling the latest addition to the international community.

Views Across the Pacific

After suffering all weekend from cold and food poisoning, Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day, so I went out and didn't blog. Meanwhile future Secretary of Something or Other Lief-Eric Eisley has a long and balanced piece commenting on the lack of trust in the US-Taiwan relationship, adapted from a piece that went out to some IHT partner papers:
First, there were perceptions of betrayal on both sides. President Chen articulated in his 2000 inaugural address "four noes" regarding Taiwan's international status. US officials considered Chen's subsequent statements on Taiwan independence and the constitution, initiatives to use "Taiwan" instead of "Republic of China," discontinuation of the National Unification Council and pursuit of referendum politics as going back on his word. International friends of Taiwan faced Chen's public use of their support and cooperation to score partisan points. Chen's identity politics to garner votes domestically came at the expense of trust internationally.

Meanwhile, some in Taiwan felt that Washington abandoned Taiwan's democracy for profitable relations with China and post-Sept. 11 security priorities. They allege that Washington takes cues from Beijing on how to deal with Taiwan. Some groups in Taiwan express the sentiment that the island is so strategically important, America must protect it, and that Taiwan "standing up to China" is what Washington really wants. They feel betrayed when US officials make clear the position of "no unilateral change to the status quo" and criticize Taiwan policies.

Second, there was lack of consultation and mutual respect. US-Taiwan trust needs open and stable communication between executive and legislative branches. Unfortunately, Washington places prohibitive restrictions on official contacts. What is more, the Chen administration fell short in staffing Taiwan's foreign policy. Many policy experts remained loyal to the KMT camp while Chen's DPP lacked human resources and did not sufficiently reach across the aisle. Chen often shuffled appointed positions for political reasons; with such turnover, it proved difficult to develop coherent policy and build trust with officials of other governments.

Chen's administration also presented surprises -- such as "one country each side" and discontinuing the Unification Council -- without meaningful consultation with Washington. Unpredictability damages trust, as does diplomatic scolding. The Bush administration felt compelled to admonish Taiwan publicly, especially regarding the United Nations referendum. While the referendum is unlikely to pass, it caused unfortunate perceptions of Washington not adequately respecting Taiwan's democracy and Taiwan not adequately respecting US interests.

Eisley is OK where he talks about the international side -- certainly the US is just as responsible for the situation as the Taiwan side is, and it is good to at least see an allusion to that in the media. Eisley does not mention that the Bush Administration has systematically strangled relations, as Therese Shaheen noted in an article last year. Some of it is just plain wrong:

Many policy experts remained loyal to the KMT camp while Chen's DPP lacked human resources and did not sufficiently reach across the aisle.

".....did not sufficiently reach across the aisle?" On what planet was that written? Here on my planet, the DPP had a KMT premier and KMT defense ministers, including the excellent Lee Jye, who would eventually get kicked out of the KMT for cooperating with the DPP (note the fate of those who put the nation above the KMT). The ambassadorship to Washington, the nation's most important foreign post, was also in Blue hands. How much "reaching out" is enough?

After that discussion the article veers into Establishmentia, that land where reality vanishes in a haze of Serious Writing:

Third, Taiwan politics were fiercely contested, causing defense policy to become overly politicized. Taiwan's young democracy is not institutionally consolidated and remains handicapped by lack of international recognition and susceptibility to united front tactics by Beijing. Chen's domestic credibility has been dangerously low since the terms of his reelection in 2004 and charges of corruption and mismanagement. The long-ruling KMT had no experience of how to act as a faithful opposition. Defense policy, particularly arms purchases approved by Washington, became a political football. By not funding the arms package, Taiwan appeared to be spurning cooperation with the US and not taking responsibility for self-defense.

"....the long-ruling KMT had no experience of how to act as a faithful opposition." You gotta treasure sentences that do epistemological backflips to appear balanced -- as Lee Jye's experience showed, the KMT has never acted in good faith and never intended to.

"By not funding the arms package, Taiwan appeared to be spurning cooperation with the US and not taking responsibility for self-defense." This should more accurately say that "despite being one of the world's largest importers and a faithful customer for US arms, Taiwan left itself vulnerable to charges it was not doing enough in its own defense -- by those whose interests were served by such charges." Note that Eisley's piece never says which party rejected the arms package more than 60 times and also broke its promises to the US to get them passed: the KMT. A key characteristic of "balanced" and "serious" writing is that it refrains from clearly identifying the anti-democracy side's nefarious actions, whilst explicating the pro-democracy side's failures in great and sometimes erroneous detail. Thus "Chen's identity politics" are clearly identified as a cause of trouble, though the KMT's own identity politics do not even come in for a mention, and forthright presentation of the Blues' cooperation with China is missing (barely hinted at in the term "United Front"). One of the most important missing elements in international media discourse on Taiwan is KMT--Beijing cooperation. Sure like to know why.........

The closing frame is 100% Establishment:
The greatest challenge for the next Taiwan president will be stabilizing Taiwanese identity. Key for restoring US-Taiwan trust and improving Taiwan's standing will be the new government's ability to build domestic consensus on an international strategy. Such a strategic vision would prioritize interests (economic competitiveness, secure autonomy) over desires (international reputation, formal independence).

...with all the right keywords: economic competitiveness, stability, consensus.....the problem with a "balanced" piece like this is that because it dwells on "Chen's identity politics" as a cause of instability, rather than the actions of both parties, when it calls for stability at the end, it sounds pro-KMT rather than "balanced."


One of the bummers about being a progressive Taiwan supporter is that so many of one's political allies in the US are right-wingers; witness the detestable John McCain's recent strong words on China, versus the nonexistence of China and Taiwan in Dem discourse. Staunch Taiwan supporter Therese Shaheen writes in the conservative Washington Times:

The drubbing earlier this month of Taiwan's ruling Democratic People's Party in parliamentary elections has some American conservatives breathing a sigh of relief. The stalwart William Rusher represented many when he wrote in The Washington Times that the DPP's loss to the opposition KMT was "a gratifying victory" for Taiwan and "well-wishers in the United States."

To Mr. Rusher, DPP President Chen Shui Bian's "policy of cautiously increasing Taiwan's separation from China simply aggravates Beijing to no purpose, since Taiwan is for all practical purposes entirely independent of the People's Republic of China and has our assurances." That is news to many, not least the KMT, which has transformed itself into the party that will do almost anything to prevent Beijing from believing that.

Mr. Rusher is giving voice to what many conservatives want to believe, to wit: Nothing in China, Taiwan or the United States had changed since about 1982. It has, though. Notwithstanding recent elections' results (and possibly a similar result in March's presidential elections) there is little about the situation that warrants this distressingly outdated read of the situation.....

As Shaheen notes, not all conservatives are on the ball about Taiwan....


In other US-related news, the media are reporting that Taiwan is buying 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, 8 of which must be manufactured in Taiwan.

Wu said that Taiwan's Industrial Development Bureau signed the deal to buy the aircraft from Lockheed Martin in December 2007, after Lockheed Martin had agreed to include technology transfer, or industrial cooperation, in the deal.

Under the agreement, Wu said, Taiwan has requested that eight of the 12 P-3Cs be manufactured in Taiwan as well as a flight simulator.

Lockheed Martin has submitted its industrial cooperation plan for Taiwan to the US Navy, CNA quoted Wu as saying.

The P-3C can perform in various roles including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, maritime surveillance, naval fleet support, and search and rescue.

Congratulations to Lockheed! Does it really mean that the aircraft are going to be 100% Taiwan-made? Or just the fittings? This is good news -- one of the big problems with getting the arms deal done was that the US had specified there would no Taiwan manufactured input into the submarines. What legislator would vote to spend money that wasn't coming back to his constituents? Now at least part of the work connected to the arms package is being done here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Daily Links, February 16, 2008

Hoping Island in Keelung Harbor.

Lots of stuff out there today...

  • Holly discusses the Google translation bot.

  • A-gu blogs on the accusation that Hsieh was an informant during the martial law era. Looks like the KMT is trying to distract attention from Ma's green card flap, and from his own alleged work for the security services.A-gu also has a great post on the replacement of "Guoyu" with "hwayu" in local textbooks, to remove references to the nation of China.

  • Johan at Talking Taiwanese puts up new survey data on Mandarin use and attitudes.

  • Scott Sommers has an acerbic comment on Ni Howdy on the foreign students.

  • Davids Mom and Dad come for a visit.

  • Hanjie goes to Chiwei Mountain. Jeff takes on bicycling in Taiwan.

  • Craig has some great pictures of the new Kaohsiung MRT. Michael K has some as well.

  • Global Voices Online talks about the new video questions website for the presidential candidates here.

  • MEDIA: The Daily Yomiuri reports that the DPP will go with the KMT version of the referendum. A New Zealand paper reports on revelations of the new firm to speed weapons imports into Taiwan. A long and useful review article at the Jamestown Foundation on Taiwan and the Spratlys.

    Espionage Mirage

    Plenty of stuff on military front today. First, Wendell Minnick reports that Blackwater, the mercenary firm, is training Taiwan's NSB:

    U.S.-based Blackwater is training members of the Taiwanese National Security Bureau’s (NSB’s) special protection service, which guards the president. The NSB is responsible for the overall security of the country and was once an instrument of terrorism during the martial law period.

    Today, according to its Web site, the NSB is responsible for “national intelligence work, special protective service and unified cryptography.”

    The NSB came under severe criticism in March 2004 when President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu were shot by an unknown assailant while riding in a motorcade in Tainan City. Both sustained minor wounds, but the assailant was never identified and the motive for the shooting remains a mystery.

    An NSB source stated that training began in 2007 and was conducted at Blackwater facilities in the United States. The source stated the NSB was satisfied with the training, and further training programs are being considered.

    Note that third paragraph, where Minnick astoundingly claims that the assailant who shot Chen was "never identified" although he was eventually identified and found by the police. I heard the "magic bullet" claim a couple of times up in Taipei this week -- "Watch out for those DPP tricks!" There's a whole swath of people who simultaneously claim that the DPP is completely incompetent but can nevertheless stage-manage an assassination involving thousands of people across a number disparate institutions, many of whom are Blue -- all without being caught. Needless to say no one ever offers any concrete evidence for this fantastic scenario...

    Max Hirsch of Kyodo News reports that the recent spying in the US may also have compromised weapons systems of Japan as well, although the evidence is not in yet:

    ''Interoperability'' between Taiwan, the United States and possibly Japan, whereby their armed forces communicate and coordinate with one another via their respective C4ISR systems, would be key to their beating China in any cross-Taiwan Strait conflict, says Wendell Minnick, Defense News' Asia bureau chief.

    Japan's C4ISR -- also U.S.-made -- ''is very similar to Taiwan's,'' while both are undergoing upgrades, says Andrei Chang, a military expert and founder of Kanwa Defense Review.

    ''Once Taiwan is hooked up with U.S. forces via Po Sheng, its linking with Japan's C4ISR would be the next logical step,'' Lin says. ''If Japan were to participate [in a Taiwan Strait war], a compromised Taiwanese C4ISR would affect Japan.''

    If Bergersen had leaked codes for Po Sheng, for example, China could use those to plant viruses in the system, monitor and manipulate it, and otherwise wreak havoc on efforts by Washington, Tokyo and Taipei to coordinate a war against Beijing, he adds.

    Despite what is said about the US being Taiwan's sole defender, Japan is bound to play a role in any conflict. Arthur Waldron pointed out a couple of weeks ago that in the 1995-6 missile tests, some of the missiles actually fell closer to Japanese territory than to Taiwan.