Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Controversy over Lai as MAC head Continues

I blogged the other day on the MAC appointment of Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), a Taiwan Solidarity Union politician who was also Taiwan's WHO negotiator and whom, I was told by someone who had worked with her, is an anti-globalization lefty. The incoming premier appointed Lai to head up the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan's chief policymaking body on China. This appointment has stirred up strong feelings among KMT members who feel they do not live in a democratic society where representation of all voices must be made -- no matter how insignificant:

Concerned about president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and premier-designate Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) choice of former Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairwoman, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus yesterday urged their leaders to give priority to the party “faithful” when making future Cabinet appointments.

Approached for comment, KMT caucus acting secretary-general Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) said the caucus did not oppose the Cabinet lineup Liu had made public so far.

“But we would like to remind them again that the KMT is full of talented people,” he said.

“Over the past eight years, these loyal KMT members worked hard to supervise the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [government]. They also did their best to campaign for the KMT during legislative and presidential elections,” he said.

Hsieh said the caucus respected Ma’s authority to nominate Cabinet officials, but the reaction to Lai’s nomination was “unavoidable.”

Hsieh urged Lai to endorse Ma’s platform of commencing direct weekend charter flights between Taiwan and China on July 4 before she assumes office.

He also called on Lai to specify what supplementary measures she would propose if the cap on Taiwanese listed firms’ investment in China were to be lifted.

“If the two issues could be resolved, we would feel relieved [about Lai’s nomination],” he said.

Some KMT legislators expressed reservations about Ma’s choice of Lai as MAC head after Liu unveiled a second round of Cabinet appointees on Monday.

Some questioned whether having a pan-green MAC chairwoman would have a negative impact on cross-strait negotiations.

Ma defended his decision on Monday, saying that Lai’s appointment would help the incoming administration find common ground with the more than 5 million people who did not vote for him in last month’s election.

However, KMT Legislator Lee Chia-chin (李嘉進) said that Lai’s nomination had cast a cloud on cross-strait relations, adding that KMT members would have felt more “warmth” if Ma and Liu had had consulted them prior to “such an important appointment.”

Commendably Ma positioned himself in the middle on the appointment, which I personally regard as a signal that MAC will not have much of a voice in policy formulation under the Ma Administration. This "controversy" filled the TV news all day yesterday, overshadowing news that China had blocked another WHO bid under the name "Taiwan." The DPP also criticized Ma's take on the appointment, saying that Lai was not from the DPP and thus cannot represent the 5 million who didn't vote for Ma.

Someone should remind these KMT partisans that the Chen Administration featured a KMT premier, a KMT EPA head, and KMT defense ministers throughout both his terms. Objections to a TSU (note: no DPP) politician for the MAC post are ridiculous.

As if to reassure locals that the MAC will continue to be relevant, Ma also announced yesterday that only the MAC and the SEF will represent the government in talks with China:

The Mainland Affairs Council and the Straits Exchange Foundation under its oversight are the only official agencies in charge of holding cross-Taiwan Strait talks, President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the opposition Kuomintang said on Monday.

Ma made the remarks while answering reporters' questions at the KMT headquarters after Honorary Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) departed for Beijing on a private visit earlier the same day. Lien is slated to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) during the tour.

Asked whether any agreement reached in talks between Lien and Hu would influence policies of the incoming KMT administration, to be inaugurated on May 20, Ma made it clear that only the MAC and SEF are authorized to represent the government in entering into negotiations with the Chinese side.

Yes, MAC and SEF represent the government, but who speaks for the KMT party? I think we got the answer to that question with KMT Chairman for Life Lien Chan's visit to China this week, with a bevy of KMT officials in tow. And does Ma control Lien, or Lien control Ma? I think we got the answer to that one too. Sooner or later President Ma will have to visit Beijing and make his kowtow to the Dragon Throne, or risk being marginalized by processes that do not include him....

US Weapons Give Taiwan Confidence to Seek Peace with China

A moment of silence for Bo Yang, the famed mainlander writer, critic, and gadfly jailed under the KMT, who died yesterday at the age of 88, of lung disease. If you haven't laughed your way through his satirical collection of writing on Chinese culture called The Ugly Chinaman, you should....(Wiki on Bo Yang)

In case you were nursing any doubts, Steve Young, director of AIT, told the American Chamber of Commerce that the US would continue to sell weapons to Taiwan:

Washington will continue to back Taiwan militarily while it pushes for peace talks with China, the de facto US envoy here assured incoming president Ma Ying-jeou Tuesday.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said the United States would continue to supply weapons to Taipei.

"We also expect our traditional close security cooperation to continue, as we are convinced American support for Taiwan's defence gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbour without fear of pressure or coercion," he said in an address to the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) here.

Taiwan has been governed separately since the end of a 1949 civil war, but Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade should the island declare formal independence, and has targeted it with more than 1,000 ballistic missiles.

Washington has been the island's leading arms supplier, despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

But Taipei-Washington ties were frustrated by cross-strait tensions under the outgoing pro-independence government and Ma, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, has vowed to improve relations.

The formulaic descriptions here fail to assign any role in declining Taipei-Washington relations to the Washington side of the equation -- as if the Bush Administration's obsession with our disastrous invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with US impatience with Taiwan. Ma also spoke at the AIT affair, reiterating his intent to flood the island with Chinese tourists (speaking of which, Jon Adams has a great article in IHT on Taiwanese reactions to the tourists), and have daily charter flights by the year's end. Young praised Ma for sending Veep-elect Vincent Siew to China to meet with officials there at the Boao Forum.

Young was also allowed to ride in a local armored car and as the US witnessed Taiwan's military exercises, including a plan to evacuate US and Japanese officials in case of an attack:

This year marks the first time that U.S. officials have attended the exercises amid years of requests from Washington to Taipei to observe them, the press release said.

''For the sake of mutual benefit and strengthening bilateral exchanges...the council...agreed to limited participation by the U.S. in this year's exercises,'' the release said.

However, U.S. officials were not allowed to attend a practice ''crisis response meeting'' by top Taiwanese leaders, including President Chen Shui-bian, it added.

The United States and Japan, although not diplomatic allies of Taiwan, do include protecting the self-ruled island as part of their shared strategic goals. Tuesday's participation by U.S. officials, reports said, reveal Taiwan's plan to protect both AIT and Japanese officials if China were to invade.

Asked for comment Thursday, Ryoji Takagaki, a spokesman for Japan's de facto embassy in Taiwan, the Interchange Association, said he had ''not heard of such a plan.''

Washington and Tokyo do not station military personnel in Taipei to protect their missions given the lack of official ties with the island.

Young's speech explicitly linked US support for Taiwan via flows of arms to President Ma's ability to forge closer links with China:

“We are convinced American support for Taiwan's defense gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbor without fear of pressure or coercion,” Young said.

Perhaps that's true, but somehow I think irrespective of Taiwan's military position vis-a-vis China, incoming President Ma would still have the confidence to be exploring ways to put the island into Beijing's orbit.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Pro-Independence" Politician to head MAC: Yawn

That sucking sound you heard today was for once not jobs going to China but instead, the collective in-breath of the world media. Big news today was that Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), a politician from the "pro-independence" ("surprise choice"; "counter to the pervasive mood of thawing"; "pro-independence figure") Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) was appointed to head the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) in the new cabinet of President Ma. This CNA piece has good background on her:

The decision to name Lai as head of the cross-strait policy making governmental agency drew disparaging comments from some Kuomintang (KMT) legislators, while a group of Kuomintang (KMT) supporters gathered outside the venue of Monday's press conference shouting for Liu to step down.

The protestors argued that Lai is not a member of the KMT nor does she have the required experience in dealing directly with Beijing to hold such a post.

Liu, however, noted that the selection of the MAC chairperson was initiated by President-elect Ma Ying-jeou and that Lai is "qualified for the position on the basis of her past experience in dealing with mainland affairs as well as her educational background."

Lai holds a master's degree in International Relations and a doctorate in Development Studies -- both earned in the United Kingdo m. She has served as Taiwan's negotiator for World Trade Organization accession, as a member of the National Security Council, a legislator, and a university research fellow.

Folks, that is not a signal that the new President is going to take a middle ground in China policy. Instead it is a signal that MAC will not be an important player in cross-strait contacts. As Feiren pointed out to me in a chat we had about Lai, it looks like instead the backchannel and alternative structures like those that Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian were fond of creating will handle such contacts -- let's not forget, that the two parties have been having substantial contacts and cooperation for many years. The infrastructure is already there -- MAC is now superfluous. As if to punctuate that perception, another Lien-Hu LoveFest was announced at the same time it was announced that Lai got the MAC post.....note that the parallel system of formal Beijing-KMT party-to-party contacts, discussed in this article here, and the Straits Exchange Foundation, which got for its head the Vice-Chair of the KMT, who is in China at the moment....
Meanwhile, the KMT-CPC forum, established in 2005 by CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao and then-KMT Chairman Lien Chan, is a place for business leaders, academics, government officials, and even leaders of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party to exchange views with their Chinese counterparts, Chang said.

The forum will also help build consensus among its participants and these decisions may be translated into policies for Beijing and Taipei, Chang added.

Although Ma has said that contacts with China under his administration will be made mainly by the Straits Exchange Foundation and that his administration's policy will not be dictated by the KMT, the contacts between the KMT and CPC will continue, Chang said. (By Maubo Chang)
So we have --

-- the Mainland Affairs Commission headed by a "pro-independence" politician;
-- the Straits Exchange Foundation headed by the Vice-Chairman of the KMT;
-- the KMT-CPC forum as a formal mechanism for party-to-party talks
-- the informal and secret party-to-party communications going on for at least a decade now.

Which one will have the most weight? Hmmmm.......

UPDATE: Is Lai even Green? asks maddog in the comments below. Other Greens aren't so sure, he points out. It was Lai who invited the Red Ants from Shih Ming-te's fake protest in Taipei into the TSU, causing members to ask to have her expelled.

Huang [Maddog: That's David Huang (黃適卓)] told reporters that he would leave the party today if it failed to expel TSU Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) and nullify her candidacy for legislator-at-large. He also asked the party to remove members of the "anti-Chen campaign" working at TSU headquarters.

The "anti-Chen campaign" was launched by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) last year in a bid to force President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to resign amid corruption allegations against him, his wife and his closest aides.

Members were dubbed the "red-shirt army."

Producing a photocopy of what he called a "destroy the pan-green plan," Huang said
Lai's boyfriend had suggested that Liu Kun-li (劉坤鱧) -- a member of the "anti-Chen campaign" -- work at TSU headquarters. Huang said Liu sent an e-mail about the "destroy the pan-green plan" to TSU spokeswoman Chou Mei-li (周美里) in August.
As maddog notes, whenever the KMT says "black" you should think "white"....

On Tap on Taiwan Around the World....

The International Affairs Forum offers two pieces that touch on Taiwan this week. The first is a long address by an Indian scholar on Taiwan. It offers a good example, I think, of how Taiwan is understood excerpt:

In like manner,although much smaller in area, Taiwan has a much higher level of technological sophistication than the PRC, and does significantly more cutting-edge research than its neighbor. It is not accidental that Taiwan has become a democracy since the system was introduced by President Chiang Ching-kuo in 1987. Since then,especially with the election to office of the native-born Lee Teng-hui the next year, democracy has become a much more powerful weapon in the creation of international resonance for Taiwan than (for example) "pocketbook diplomacy". Moving to the present,the reality of the PRC remaining within an authoritarian straitjacket is substantially behind the international unease over conditions in Tibet,a landlocked territory with a unique culture. It is the view of this analyst that whether in 1919 or 1949 or indeed next year in 2009, democracy would be a much more beneficial system to the people of the PRC than an authoritarian state structure that denies those rights enjoyed by citizens in countries across the world. It is an insult to the civilizational depths and excellence of the people of the PRC to say that they would not be able to "manage" a democratic state structure. These are copies of the reasoning adopted by then British Prime Minister Winston S Churchill in 1944 to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, that the people of India lacked the maturity needed to exercise democratic freedoms,and that consequently,an indefinite extension of British colonial rule was inevitable. The example of India since 1947 shows that democracy is as natural to the human spirit in India as it is in Europe or,indeed,in Taiwan,and that the population of the PRC would benefit rather than suffer from a system where they had the right to choose their leaders.

If the people of Taiwan have shown a much lower propensity to accept authoritarian rule as a part of the PRC than the people of Hong Kong, it is because that former British colony never enjoyed the freedoms of a democracy. It was only after it became clear that Paramount Leader Deng Xiao-ping would not agree to anything short of complete accession of the whole of Hong Kong to the PRC in 1997 did Whitehall begin to see the "light of democracy" shining in its sights, sending Christopher Patten to the colony as its 28th (and last) Governor in 1992. Over the next five years,Patten oversaw a series of pseudo-reforms that essentially transferred some peripheral powers to local elites and away from London, where they had been concentrated till then. Had Whitehall the vision to implement democracy in Hong Kong after the takeover of power by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 on the mainland, or even after Taiwan switched to a democratic system four decades later, by 1997, the population of Hong Kong may have been active enough to ensure a preservation of much greater freedoms than were agreed to between London and Beijing till the handover. The fact that Taiwan has evolved into a full democracy has been the major reason behind the unwillingness of the local population to agree to a union with the PRC, even though the majority are in favor of a pragmatic accommodation that both preserves the autonomy from external control of Taiwan and the business links between the PRC and Taiwan. As is usual in democracies, the Taiwanese electorate opted for the "Middle Way" ( as distinct from the Middle Kingdom) during the parliamentary and presidential elections held this year.

This is followed by an interview with the same scholar about the elections here and other international issues.

....Another foreign professor down for sexual harassment -- this time of a stewardess on China Air. Yesterday's Liberty Times reported him as "Noel Kaylor" who is a real professor but of medieval philosophy and appears never to have been to Taiwan, but today's papers have him as "Noel Harold Kaylo" and a prof at National Sun-Yat Sen University. It's kind of funny-sad to handcuff a man for patting a flight attendant's butt, in a country where it is legal to pay for sex but illegal to be a prostitute. David on Formosa has the Taiwan links for Monday. What's not out there? At CommonDreams, the big progressive website, no mention of the Taiwan election that I can see.

Tainan May Jam 3-4th

The annual Tainan May Jam is upon us once more. The date is the weekend of May 3-4, or next weekend. Last year's information is the same as this year's, so dig in...


TAINAN MAY JAM 2007 2008
The Tainan May Jam is a cross cultural original music event, featuring all kinds of Music, from: "Temple" to "Trash Metal", "Wedding" to "Jazz", "Folk "to "Rock". The Tainan May Jam wants to present the diverse music culture of southern Taiwan. Intentionally, different music genres follow one other, in order to show variety of music culture. While this event focuses on original music, but due to the nature of traditional music, some non-original music will be presented at the concert. However this event stands for tolerance, integration and encouragement. Further, despite Tainan's traditional outlook, this concert ("Tainan May Jam") wants to feature Tainan as a place of modern lifestyle. Since this is a family event children are very welcomed and wanted, they are our future, hope and dreams. In that regard any inappropriate material shown on stage or of stage, like pornography is absolutely unacceptable. The same counts for illegal drugs, etc. The "Tainan May Jam" is located the seaside at Anping, in a little forest, next to "Chou Mao Yuan". You don't have to travel all the way to Kending in order to have a good time at the ocean side, beach, sun, horseback riding, jet skiing, windsurfing or a simple good old BBQ. If you live here in Tainan, it takes you about 15 minutes to get there or if you come by train, you will have to take bus No. 2 or by taxi for about 200 NT$ from the train station. Like all outdoor events bad whether is always a factor we have to be prepared for and so had all previous "Tainan May Jams". There for the original "Tainan July Jam" had to be moved & renamed to the "Tainan June Jam", moved again & renamed to the current "Tainan May Jam". Hopefully this years event will stay dry without typhoon rains. But I must remind everyone, should there be rain in the whether forecast, the "Tainan May Jam" will be moved to the next following Sunday only. Should there be bad whether again and prohibit the Tainan May Jam to take place, the "Tainan May Jam" will be canceled then all together. For more information view the website on that day please.
Intentionally the "Tainan May Jam" is kept as simple as possible and as grass root as it could be, that not, even remotely a wrong impression of the intentions of the "Tainan May Jam" could arise. Further on the "Tainan May Jam" is a free, non-profit oriented and privately founded event, in its origin an event from musicians for musicians, to have one more opportunity to show their friends what they love to do. It is not a camping ground and the sanitarian facilities are spars but existing, the next convenient store rather far away but if you don't mind that bring your tent for a night, food and drinks and have a good time.
The "Tainan May Jam 2007" 2008 begins Saturday May 5th 3rd at 12:00 noon and will end at 22:00 PM and on Sunday, May 6th 4th at 12:00 noon and will end 21:00 PM too.


Please note again -- this is May 3-4, or six days from now. Lots of good music on tap this year.... Taiwan bloggers Johnny Z of the Real Taiwan and Michael Klein, AKA The Bushman, will be bringing down the house....

One Problem, Two coverages: Tibet and Taiwan

WaPo has an article on the recent offer by China to negotiate with Tibet, and the usual noises of criticism by China's colonial officialdom of the Dalai Lama.....look at the opening paragraphs:

Less than 24 hours after China offered to meet with an envoy of the Dalai Lama, state-controlled news media on Saturday kept up their campaign of denunciations of the Tibetan spiritual leader.

"The behavior of the Dalai clique has seriously violated fundamental teaching and commandments of Buddhism, undermined the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism and ruined its reputation," the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper reported.

China Daily, the official English-language newspaper, published an interview with Lahlu Tsewang Dorje, a Tibetan who fought on the Dalai Lama's side in a failed 1959 uprising, according to the paper, and later became a top political adviser to the Chinese Tibetan authorities. "I think the Dalai clique is our enemy and we should fight until the end," he was quoted as saying.

The tone of the articles raised questions about China's seriousness in preparing for negotiations with the Dalai Lama over restoring stability to Tibet, which has essentially been under government lockdown since deadly rioting in Lhasa, its capital, on March 14.

Rather than stepping back from its hammering of the "Dalai clique" for instigating the violence in an attempt to split the country and sabotage this summer's Olympic Games, China continued to hit hard. "The Lhasa March 14 incident is another ugly performance meticulously plotted by the Dalai clique to seek Tibet independence," said the Tibet Daily, another Communist Party newspaper.

And of course, the reporting on other nations' reactions and on the "analysis" offered by WaPo:

The official New China News Agency reported Saturday that the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore and the head of the European Commission had all praised China's offer to meet.

"It's too early to tell if the meeting will produce results or is just for PR purposes in advance of the Olympics," said Mary Beth Markey of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.

Note the sympatico tone towards Tibet, the detailed citing of officialdom's position on the Dalai Lama, in which every bombastic word is captured, followed by the analyst who implicitly argues that the whole 'talks offer' is just pro forma nonsense for public consumption ahead of the Olympics.

Contrast that with the media presentations on Hu Jintao's "peace offer" to Taiwan last year (my post on some). Large numbers of newspapers used positive terms -- "peace offer", "olive branch"......Hu "reached out to" Taiwan's people. Consider the NYTimes presentation on the "peace offer" of a few days later, after it was rejected by Taiwan....

Mr. Hu's remarks were the latest sign of a more sophisticated Chinese policy of trying to reach past Mr. Chen's hostility to appear nonthreatening to Taiwan's voters. But Chinese officials remain vitriolic about Mr. Chen himself, irritated by his persistent advocacy of greater independence for Taiwan.

Through more than seven years in office Mr. Chen has inched closer and closer to a formal declaration of independence without actually changing the island's Constitution, flag or legal name, the Republic of China.

''Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country; Taiwan is not part of China, nor is Taiwan a local government of the People's Republic of China,'' Mr. Chen said during the interview, reiterating a formulation that he has been using lately to the irritation of Beijing officials.

In an interview last month, Wu Jianmin, a top Chinese diplomat for two decades and the president of the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, which is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry, said of Mr. Chen, ''His problem is he loves to make trouble.'' He added, ''People don't like tension, and he likes tension, and whenever he can he does what he can to increase tensions.''

Instead of positives about the Dalai Lama, we get negatives about Chen Shui-bian, including a needless quote from a Chinese diplomat. There is no suggestion in any of the media presentations on this issue that Hu's offer might be pro forma. At most, they observe the precondition which Taiwan will not accept: that Taiwan is part of China. That such a precondition might be made in an insincere way is a question never raised by any of the media pieces, though bloggers all over the world were able to see it clearly. This is totally unlike the Tibet article, where insincerity on China's part is practically assumed -- indeed, in the NYTimes article about Hu's "peace offer" the only suggestion of insincerity is about the DPP:

Mr. Chen's continuing criticisms of Beijing have made Mr. Hsieh appear more moderate. That has prompted questions here of whether Mr. Chen and Mr. Hsieh, who have worked together for two decades, are secretly coordinating a policy of seeming to take divergent policies toward the mainland to ensure Mr. Hsieh's election.

Clearly the independence side in Taiwan's politics has a serious problem with its international image.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Prof Says Housing Bubble on its way

A leading researcher on real estate in Taiwan has warned that the housing market is looking a lot like a bubble...

After two and half a years of brisk business, the Taiwan housing market, especially that of Taipei, appears to have inflated a major bubble, warned Chin-o Chang, professor of land management science at the National Chengchi University and director of the university`s Taiwan Real Estate Research Center, on April 24.

While publicizing a research paper during a press conference, Chang noted that Taipei`s housing prices have been bloated by 38% over the usual levels, meaning the existing average price of NT$537,000 per ping (one ping being 36 square feet) for pre-sold houses in the city should be cut to NT$333,000 when excluding the bubble factor.

The current bubble has been blowing up following the previous one from 1987-1991, when domestic housing prices were bloated by 47% over the "un-hyped" levels, which ensued an earlier bearish market that lasted 15 years.


Chang pointed out that Taiwan`s home prices have surged 50% over the past two and a half years, when local incomes have inched up only 2%, meaning that many home buyers rely on sizable loans to acquire houses. In light of the potential bursting of the bubble and impact on housing prices, local buyers and banks would be well advised to be very cautious to purchase homes and extend loans at the moment, warned Chang.

The CNA via Yahoo News also described his presentation, adding more detail from his talk:

Taiwan's real estate prices, sustained by sound fundamentals, began to rise in the second half of 2003 following a series of SARS outbreaks, Chang said.

Taiwan's property prices continued to go up in 2004 despite relatively pessimistic sentiment in the market after the presidential election earlier that same year, he pointed out.

According to Chang, the influx of investment capital after the March 22 presidential election will only have a short-term stimulus effect on the real-estate market, and mainly on commercial and resort properties.

Short-term incentives may also prop up the saturated housing market, but the higher the price goes up, the bigger is the risk when the housing bubble bursts, Chang warned.

According to Chang, Taiwan's housing market risks becoming a bubble as the supply of private houses has exceeded the demand.

It will be useless even if Chinese capital were allowed to invest in the domestic real-estate market at a time when the market has begun spiraling downward afer an expansion period of more than three years, he argued.

He noted that an expansion period of two or three years is usually followed by a containment period of seven or eight years.

The story would not be complete without the obligatory death threat:

An academic who warned of a property bubble in Taipei in a letter to a newspaper editor April 12 has received a threatening letter telling him to "shut up" or a contract killer will be sent to murder him.

The Wenshan police station in Taipei confirmed Thursday that its officers were investigating the intimidation case.

Chang Chin-oh, a professor of land economics at National Chengchi University, warned property hunters in his letter to the editor that the property market in Taipei is showing signs of a bubble and that although the market is no longer flourishing, housing prices are still being maintained at abnormally high levels.

After the letter was published, Chang received a computer-printed letter from the "Greater China Real Estate Alliance," warning him to keep his mouth shut or his life will be in danger.

*sigh* In Taichung where I reside something like a third of all the dwellings in the city are empty, waiting for a land price rise that will never come. Want to see one possibility for Taiwan's future? A similar bubble recently blew in Shanghai....and in Shenzhen.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Commonwealth on the Educational System here

Commonwealth Magazine has a hard-hitting article on the educational system here. It's long and well worth a look:

Not only does this unending practice destroy a student’s appetite for learning, but exam scores in various subjects also isolate students from one another. Among classmates, a fierce competition exists, but a spirit of mutual aid is lacking. Students fear that if they help someone else, they will then be overtaken.

Class performance and test scores have erected a massive wall of alienation among junior high students.

The good students sit in the front of the class, while those in the back slouch or doze. It is as if they are not even present. "It doesn’t matter – the teacher almost never looks our way," says one kid who seems to be bearing a few scars.

In 2004 the Ministry of Education ended the system of separating students into different classes based on levels of performance, instead placing all students into a single level of class. Yet this did nothing to reduce the practice, in an altered form, of dividing students according to perceived abilities. Indeed, it made the situation even worse.

"In order to get more kids to pass admissions tests, dividing the students by ability is practiced in disguise, and that is a systemic betrayal," former education minister Huang Jong-tsun sighs. The best teachers don’t go to the underachievers but to the academic stars, he observes.

Over the past five years, the number of parents of elementary and junior high school students opting for home schooling has risen from 436 to 940, more than doubling despite virtually no publicity. (Table 1)

The brutality of the junior high and high school system is one reason we're pulling our daughter out after sixth grade....the article notes that suicide is now the number 2 killer of young people in Taiwan.

UPDATE: Also on tap today at Japan Focus is an excellent article on the hidden arms race in the North Pacific.

Yet for all this peace talk, something else, as momentous as it has been little noticed, is underway. The real money in Northeast Asia is going elsewhere. While in the news sunshine prevails, in the shadows an already massive regional arms race is threatening to shift into overdrive. Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, five of the six countries involved in the Six Party Talks have increased their military spending by 50% or more. The sixth, Japan, a regional military power, has maintained steady growth in its military budget while placing heavy bets on the US military umbrella. Every country in the region is now investing staggering sums in new weapons systems and new offensive capabilities.

And so it begins....? I think not.

After the legislative and presidential elections, several KMT heavyweights, including the President and Veep-elects, pointed to Singapore as a model for one-party rule.

As many of you are aware, Singapore has a reputation for using lawsuits by the ruling party's politicians to suppress dissent. Is Taiwan moving in that direction? The Deputy Mayor of Taipei, a KMT politician, is suing Next magazine over allegations of corruption that forced him to step down this week.....

Taipei City Deputy Mayor Wu Hsiu-kuang yesterday sued a magazine for libel over a report alleging that he had taken bribes from a local arms dealing firm.

Wu described as "totally unfounded" the Next report that accused him of taking bribes from the "Lai Fu" company, which the magazine said is the biggest arms dealing firm in Taiwan.

But he admitted that during August 2004 and July 2006, when he was not working in the government, he received funding for research work commissioned by Lai Fu.

Wu filed a libel lawsuit with the Taipei District Prosecutors Office against Next, as well as five political figures from the Democratic Progressive Party who had joined the magazine in accusing him of corruption.

And speaking of lawsuits, a couple of KMT lawmakers threatened to sue a consumer advocacy group for publishing statistics on their alleged inefficiency -- coming late to meetings. Ma Ying-jeou has a couple of lawsuits going right now, one against the prosecutor in his case.

Is it a trend? Probably not. These types of threatened and actual lawsuits are pretty normal for politicians on the Beautiful Island. It would have to a be a far more sustained campaign.

Also on tap is a subject near and dear to everyone's heart: the special funds abuses. There have been calls for amnesty for all the abusers, and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng of the KMT said the other day he'd like to clean up the mess. But Ma remains "cautious" (since when is Ma not cautious?):
President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will be cautious in exercising his right to grant a general amnesty to any government officials convicted of misusing their special allowance funds after the Supreme Court on Thursday found him not guilty of embezzling from his mayoral special allowance, spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said yesterday.

Of course, they have to be careful not to pardon Chen Shui-bian!

Four Volume Set: The Politics of Modern Taiwan

Routledge announces:

Politics of Modern Taiwan
Edited by Dafydd Fell
ISBN: 9780415440417
Published April 24 2008 by Routledge.

This new Routledge Major Work is a four-volume collection which gathers the best and most influential research on the contemporary politics of Taiwan. Although the collected materials are in English, they include contributions from leading Taiwan experts in Europe, the United States, Japan, and Taiwan.

Volumes I (‘Nationalism and National Identity’) and II (‘Democratization, Democratic Consolidation’) address the two key issues that have received the most attention from political scientists working on Taiwan. Gathered here is the best research on competing nation-building projects and national identities, including the ‘Taiwanese versus Chinese’ identity debate. Various explanations for Taiwan’s democratic transition are explored in depth. Other topics include religion and democracy, along with appraisals of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation and its current state.

The scholarship collected in Volume III (‘Consequences of Democratization’) examines the policy implications of democratization while the last volume (‘Party and Local Politics’) focuses on salient issues in Taiwan’s domestic politics. There is a growing literature addressing a broad range of aspects of the island’s political development since the advent of multi-party politics in the late 1980s. Volumes III and IV pay particular attention to the following topics: political corruption; constitutional reform; the creation of a social welfare system; party systems and party politics; political communication and electoral politics; changing patterns in local politics; the development of social movements; and the political impact of the change in ruling parties in 2000.

Politics of Modern Taiwan is fully indexed and has a comprehensive introduction, newly written by the editor, which places the collected material in its historical and intellectual context. It is an essential work of reference and is destined to be valued by scholars and students as a vital one-stop research and pedagogic resource.

Looks great -- I'll be getting myself a copy ASAP.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nelson Report: Andrew Card to Lead US Delegation

Many news sources are reporting that Andrew Card, with longstanding ties to the Bush family, will be sent to represent the US at Ma's swearing-in. The Nelson Report, the Washington Insider Report, with the latest on that and the Administration:


TAIWAN...a final quick note...Administration sources had hinted for some time that the White House would try to make-up for not granting president-elect Ma a visa to come here prior to his inauguration, by sending a "very high level" delegation to that event.

So Taiwanese sources today are reacting with some disappointment that the leader of President Bush's personal delegation is to be former White House chief of staff, and former Secretary of Transportation, Andy Card.

We'd argue that any angst is misplaced, in this sense: obviously, if the rumors that the White House was approaching former Secretary of State Jim Baker had proven true (or had worked out) that would be a very big deal by anyone's measure, most particularly in Beijing.

But the selection of Card sends a more subtle message, of nearly equal importance when you recognize that for President Bush, there is little distinction between the personal and the official, and that for him, the personal is equally if not more important.

Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so good!

In any event, Card is a close, trusted, and valued associate of Bush, and we are reminded that he was deeply involved in Taiwan affairs, behind the scenes, during his tenure as chief of staff.[MT: Anyone got more info on Card's Taiwan connections?]

So Card is not a mere figure-head, but someone with genuine personal knowledge and experience, in addition to someone who will genuinely represent President Bush in the truest sense.

Another decision many on Taiwan are awaiting...whether the White House will approve the proposed sale of F-16's...we will repeat our earlier report, from directly involved sources, that this decision will wait on a personal request from President Ma.[MT: Taiwan has already delivered a formal request via letter last year, which the Administration blocked.]

If Ma decides that he can balance an F-16 sale against his clear desire for improved cross-Strait relations, in other words, the White House is apparently prepared to consider the sale favorably.

At least part of that calculation, for both Washington and Taipei, is whether China can bring itself to make a confidence building move involving some of its 1,000-plus missiles lined up on the coast.

Senior Chinese sources have told us, and other Loyal Readers confirm, that there IS serious discussion in Beijing of perhaps moving up to a brigade of the how one factors the timing of that with possible US arms sales is but one of many interesting things to watch.[MT: Hoo-boy! A whole brigade! Whoopee! According to the Washington Times' Bill Geertz, has up to 96 missiles. China will remove a whole hundred missiles, leaving only....1300, or about twice as many as they had back in 2000! That's progress! And you know that at about the time, or shortly after, they remove the missiles, they'll announce an upgrade/redeployment/new deployment of something important aimed at Taiwan....]

Torch in Oz: Priceless Commentary

A classic piece on the Torch in Oz. The whole thing must be read, from the Chinese guards in a shoving match with Aussie police, to Beijing's busing in protesters to drown out the pro-democracy voices:

If I hadn't seen the circus with my own eyes, I'd think the $2 million we spent running a torch around Canberra yesterday was wasted.

But I watched almost every comical minute of that three-hour relay of the Beijing Olympic torch and thought - hallelujah! - money well spent.

Far from blowing yet more cash on the most overhyped sports day in history, we'd been given a lesson on truth and politics that's worth even Kevan Gosper's head in gold.

I don't think we'll soon forget seeing Australian police wrestling the Chinese "flame attendants" - actually members of China's People's Armed Police - in a confrontation over who had the right to guard the torch.

Priceless! Here was a rehearsal for the first Australia-China war, live on television. How I laughed.

I loved in particular how our nervous police tried repeatedly to shove those blue-tracksuited Chinese ones out of camera shot so at least viewers wouldn't
see they'd been conned by their politicians. I mean, weren't we promised by our Prime Minister those Chinese guards wouldn't be there?

Don't miss the rest.... It's too bad the Torch didn't come here. It would have been an awesome experience.

UPDATES: More on the situation in Australia from The Age and The Daily Telegraph. UPDATE II: Maddog has video in the comments below.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Those Choosy Voters in Our Maturing Democracy

Taiwan Journal hosts a commentary by David Lorenzo of Virginia Wesleyan on how the election confirms Taiwan's maturing democracy. This article describes what has become the new, and very widespread CW:

Taiwan's recent presidential election did more than just determine the future of its executive branch and signal future directions in policy with China. It also underlined the growth and maturation of Taiwan's democracy and revealed important aspects of Taiwan's democratic conception.

Why are we so mature? Lorenzo follows the CW in saying that it shows that Taiwanese are willing to throw leaders out when things go wrong:

This formula appears to be the concept of democracy people on Taiwan embrace: democracy is the election of leaders who make policy decisions. Leaders are then held accountable for their policies and re-elected if successful and voted out of office if they fail.

Bracketing discussion of the Presidential level, let's look at the legislature. Are people willing to toss out the leaders? Clearly not -- the KMT and its allied parties have controlled the legislature after each and every election since the KMT set up its government-in-exile here in 1949. At the local level, the town councils are overwhelmingly KMT, and the township and village chiefs, and the neighborhood and precinct captains, are also overwhelmingly KMT. At those separate levels, it has basically been that way since the KMT set up its government in exile here. Are the people willing to "throw the bastards out?" Nope. Lorenzo's claim that Taiwanese hold politicians accountable for their policies is unsupportable -- the KMT and its allies have been a disaster for the last eight years in the legislature, but they were voted in by a comfortable margin in the most recent election.

The apparent exceptions to the unwillingness of the people to remove one party when it is a failure were the two presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and the county chief elections, where DPP and KMT politicians have traded places several times in several counties.

Looking at the level of presidential elections, was the public really willing to "throw the bastards out?" In 2000 over 60% of the populace voted Blue -- Chen got elected by a minority. The 2004 election represents the only major election in which Greens outpolled Blues -- and if the KMT had run Ma in '04, they probably would have won then too. So stupid was the choice of Lien Chan that I have a good friend who argues the KMT lost the election on purpose so that it could complete a thorough discrediting and crushing of the DPP.

In other words, if you step past the rhetoric and look at history, there is little or no support for the CW claim that the public judges on policies and is willing to toss politicians out when they don't perform on policy....

The opposite of this is also true: successful policy implementation should result in increased prospects for electoral success, but that is not the case here in Taiwan. Consider -- after Chen Shui-bian cleaned up Taipei and made it into the city it is today, he was immediately tossed out for an unproven KMT politician with no experience of local government. Similarly the DPP's Chen Chu won Kaohsiung by a razor thin margin in the last election even though the previous DPP mayor, Frank Hsieh, had done a fantastic job.

And do you agree with this statement below? With Ma soon to be in power?

A maturing democracy does not entail the perfection of the political system, but this election demonstrates that Taiwan's democratic system has a secure and bright future.

I sure hope so....

The Ma Dilemma in Foreign Relations: "If Taiwan can have better relations with China..."

There's a new democratic wind blowing in Paraguay, and according to a report in the Paraguayan paper La Nacion and a recent Taiwan News editorial, things in Paraguay are looking grim for Taiwan (Espanol to Ingles translation by Google):

Taiwan announced today that it will strengthen its communications with the Paraguayan president-elect, former Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo, with the objective of maintaining the more than 50 years of relations between Taipei and Asuncion, according to a dispatch from the agency Deutsche Presse.

"We have spoken with the president-elect, Fernando Lugo, on the long and close relationship between Paraguay and Taiwan before and after the presidential election in Paraguay," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Taiwanese, Phoebe Yeh.

"We will continue to communicate with him and other relevant authorities, with the hope that Paraguay does not sacrifice the interests of Taiwan to develop relations with other countries," he added.

His comments come one day after he Lugo said at a press conference that Paraguay can not turn a deaf ear to growing calls from both the parliament and Paraguayan society in favour of establishing diplomatic relations with China.

Taiwan News put the implications of this development into perspective with an excellent editorial that can be summed up by the rhetorical comment of the Paraguayan President-elect, from a coalition that:

Ironically, Lugo also cited as a justification for this position the signs that ties between Taiwan and the PRC will warm up after Ma himself is inaugurated on May 20, saying that "If Taiwan can have relations with China, why can't we?"

The editorial goes on to note:

Taiwan's first post-martial law president Lee Teng-hui of the KMT also curried favor with Paraguay's post-dictatorship Colorado rulers and granted loans of US$400 million and drew up unrealized plans to establish an export-processing zone for Taiwanese investors and other "checkbook" moves out of fear of losing ties with Asuncion.

While the DPP government has reoriented Taiwan's aid programs away from blanket "loans" to case-by-case assistance for grassroots projects for low-cost housing, agricultural assistance, education orphanages and other grassroots projects, the long obsession of Taiwan diplomats in Asuncion with ties with the ruling elite has made it impossible for Taipei to shake the image of being an "accomplice" of the "corrupt" Colorado regime.

Indeed, Lugo himself stated repeatedly during his campaign that Paraguay must throw off the international image of having been "bought out" by Taiwan for nearly six decades and sharply attacked Duarte for using Taiwan's assistance in social construction to "bribe" voters.

Chen has succeeded in retaining ties with leftwing governments in Nicaragua and Guatemala based on grassroots assistance, shared commitments for human rights and democracy and the growing concerns of Latin American progressives that the PRC is becoming a new imperialist power, but most progressive forces and Paraguayan citizens remain unaware that of Taiwan's own "change of skies" from the KMT to the center-left DPP eight years ago.

But Lugo's declaration shows these arguments may lose such of their persuasive power with the imminent restoration of the conservative party of Chiang Kai-shek.

Moreover, Ma's rash decision to allow KMT vice-president elect Vincent Siew meet with PRC State Chairman Hu Jintao at the Boao Forum earlier this month and Ma's unthinking and unfair blanket characterization of DPP foreign affairs work as "checkbook diplomacy" are further endangering our ties with Asuncion and threaten to have a grave "domino effect" on Taiwan's international position.

Whether Paraguay's new government ultimately chooses to switch from Taipei to Beijing will become an early test of whether Ma's strategy of putting priority on cross-strait relations with Beijing will lead to a genuine "diplomatic truce" or the effective surrender of our foreign relations and our remaining international space as an democratic independent state.

This editorial neatly lays out the problem that Ma, who was acquitted by the Supremes today in the case involving embezzlement of state funds which he had appropriated for his own use, poses for Taiwan's foreign policy. If Ma really does stop "dollar diplomacy" then Taiwan has little hope for recognition by any nation -- which is probably his underlying intention. Alternatively, Ma's real intention is to continue the dollar diplomacy but simply claim he is not.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Week of Parties

It was a week of parties for me last week that began at the train station in Taoyuan. I had bounced up there to attend the Thai New Year celebration being held in the stadium there, at the invitation of my friend Michael K, AKA the Bushman, who was playing with a Thai band that day. Unfortunately it was a crappy, overcast day, not good for picture-taking.

Just another slow Sunday morn in Taoyuan.

Seen at a small temple as I walked the short ten minutes between the train station and the stadium.

As I arrived at the stadium, participants in the day's activities were busy readying themselves...

....and snapping the views.

Also setting up were vendors, who laid in stocks of delicious Thai sausage for the coming horde.

A smiling young woman oversees the offerings.

A pair of women wait for the procession to begin.

The crowd settles down on these plastic sheets -- but why?

Preparing snacks.

A small area for worship was erected.

Everyone shall have their 15 minutes....

Thais came from all over Taiwan to participate. Most appeared to be here as indentured servants guest workers.

The condition of the stadium, with peeling paint and shabby concrete, was just pathetic.

The monks came by the seated crowd and collected offerings of food and flowers.

A number of local service organizations set up booths, including the Taoyuan county government, the Buddhist charity organization Tz Chi, and the government-run legal aid society.

Meanwhile, up on stage, Michael was getting ready.

Thais crowd the food stalls.

Finally the warm-up band came out. The lead singer, a young woman, had apparently never sung in front of a large crowd before, and retained the glum look of well-controlled stark raving terror throughout the performance.

Backstage performers waited their turn.

The stadium slowly filled. By lunch there were probably 10-15,000 people in attendance.

Michael makes some last-minute adjustments.

A wonderfully happy procession of celebrating Thais paraded around the stadium.

Powdering is traditional for New Year's.

Michael rocks the crowd with a shout of "Happy New Year" in Thai. Michael graciously permitted me to come up on stage.

The first number.

Elvis lives!

The lead singer pours his heart into his music.

The crowd goes wild.

Backstage a performer says hello.

After the show everyone stood around taking pictures of themselves.

The hose is ready. After the next round of speeches, the crowd was sprayed with water from the firehose, a traditional blessing of some kind. Not wanting my expensive electronics to be so blessed, we gave that round of the festivities a pass.

The emcee throws out prizes to the crowd.

After the performance, the band had lunch.

At the other end of the week, on Saturday, Taichung had its annual chili cook-off, a big expat party. This year there were many entrants, who had a chance only because my man Karl forgot to set his alarm and thus didn't have his entry ready. Pictured is one of the many bands entertaining the crowd.

Gilbert shows off his entry. As you can see by studying the crowd, I was way overdressed for the occasion. For example, I was wearing socks.

Testing the chili.

The Red Cross offered vegetarian chili, which is rather like touting alcohol-free whiskey.

One of the best entrants, Chris from Colorado on the left. One problem everyone faced was cooking chili in a nation of thin-walled pots. For many entrants, the dominant flavor was that of carbonized beans...

Karl judges an offering.

At the contest I had the very great pleasure of meeting Sean Reilly of The Gentle Rant, the James Dean lookalike on the left. On the right is the famous Boston Paul (camera).

One of my former students, Becky, stopped by to inform me that she was heading to Australia for further study, no doubt to the joy of every red-blooded bachelor in Oz.

Mark Forman, the BBluesman, snapped Karl and myself in conversation...