Friday, July 31, 2009

Replying to Jerome Cohen

A few days ago I blogged on the Op-Ed of Cohen and Chen in the Asian Wall Street Journal (CFR version) on the KMT, DPP, and China policy here. I did not reveal my full range of thoughts because AWSJ had already taken a letter from me in response. Here is the final version (title is not mine):

Taiwan's KMT Shouldn't Run Foreign Policy
29 July 2009
The Wall Street Journal Asia

Jerome Cohen and Yu-Jie Chen's op-ed ("Chairman Ma's Challenge," July 28) on the accession of President Ma Ying-jeou to the chairmanship of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan serves as a timely reminder of how commentators suffer from grievous misunderstandings of President Ma, the KMT, the opposition Democratic People's Party and the cross-Strait forums.

There are a number of conflicts and omissions in the op-ed, starting with the fact that Mr. Cohen was Mr. Ma's teacher when the president was in law school in the United States. Mr. Cohen should have told readers of this personal connection.

The major problem with the op-ed lies in the authors' approval of unofficial, party-to-party talks between the Chinese Communist Party and Mr. Ma's KMT. Mr. Cohen and Ms. Chen signal strong support for this undemocratic process, which has been hidden from the public eye and carried out by private political organizations and politicians. Mr. Ma claims economic agreements between the KMT and the CCP need not be submitted to democratic oversight in the form of public referenda. The op-ed omits any discussion of this controversy.

The importance of this omission cannot be overstated. By withholding this information from the reader, the authors can then claim that the opposition DPP is adopting a "head in the sand" posture. This erroneous claim is nothing more than a KMT talking point. The DPP will not participate in the Cross-Strait Forum because it is protesting the fact that the talks between "Taiwan" and "China" are actually talks between two political parties completely out of the public view. The DPP position is that talks between Taiwan and China should be handled by official diplomatic personnel trained in international negotiations under the aegis of the government, not a private political party, and overseen by the democratically elected representatives of the people, the legislature and the president.

Without that framework, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the talks are merely dickering between two political parties over how best to divvy up the spoils of annexing Taiwan to China, in which any DPP participants would merely be used for their propaganda value.

If Mr. Cohen and Ms. Chen truly believe that Mr. Ma wants to be president of all the people, then they should pressure Mr. Ma and his party to submit the talks to democratic oversight within the government framework, rather than apologize for one-party politics and criticizing the DPP for defending democratic principles.

The AWSJ team did a bang-up job of editing it and turned it into a better piece than my wordy original. I removed a paragraph taking issue with Cohen/Chen's problematic characterization of Ma as "squeaky clean" -- he did essentially the same thing President Chen is accused of, only there is no dispute that he downloaded government money into his private accounts. They also characterized him as "able" though as anyone following the news here, Ma's two signature projects, the Neihu subway line and the Makong Trolley system, are both a mess. Nor can anyone reasonably claim he did much as Taipei mayor.

I removed that paragraph because I thought it was more important to preserve the idea that the KMT-CCP talks are, without the democratic framework to contain and shape them, merely two allied political parties dickering over the spoils of Taiwan.

Because of space, I could not focus on the incredibly bad logic of their argument, encapsulated in the last paragraph:
The most recent poll of Taiwanese political opinions by Taipei-based Global Views magazine shows some slippage in the standing of the Ma administration, but by far its most impressive finding revealed that 63.8% of those asked said that, if the DPP wanted to uphold Taiwan's interests, it had to engage in direct communication with the Chinese Communist Party. .... By taking an active part in Taiwan's unofficial discussions with the Mainland, the DPP will do more to protect the island's interests than by carping from the sidelines.
Here's the poll he refers to. His figures are correct -- but note the illogic. Even if 68% want the DPP to engage China, it does not follow that they want the DPP to do so in KMT-controlled talks. Everyone I know wants the DPP to talk to China (the issue was always Beijing's unwillingness to talk to the democracy side in Taiwan's politics, not the DPP). There is no basis from that poll for Cohen/Chen to argue for DPP participation in the Party to Party talks in China.

I note, in passing, that Cohen/Chen write "the Mainland" (capitalized, no less!) and not "China." It is interesting how that bit of pro-China propaganda has become a staple of everyday speech. I hope in the future that US-based writers will refer to China and not the Mainland. Unless you are standing on Hainan Island, China is not the mainland.
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The China War in Washington

A new piece in Foreign Policy describes the split in Washington between "functionalists" and "strategists" over what US policy toward China should be...
The functionalists tend to be economists and those concerned with the U.S.-China economic relationship. The United States and China are so economically intertwined, the functionalists argue, that they ought to be strategic partners as well. Win-win cooperation -- not zero-sum competition -- is a very achievable goal. Barriers between the two countries are transactional, and any tensions are usually due to mere misunderstanding. Yes, there are profound disagreements, but fix the practical problems, and many obstacles toward a fruitful partnership will eventually melt away. In fact, they will have to melt away -- out of necessity on both sides. As Clinton and Geithner put it, quoting a Chinese proverb, "When you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully."

"Strategists," however, don't see quite such a rosy picture. For them, the U.S.-China relationship is one of strategic competition -- an irreversible rivalry already well under way. Sure, Washington and Beijing ought to improve their interactions and mutual understanding to minimize friction. But any such cooperation is tactical, nothing more. Underlying all bilateral interactions, the strategists believe, is a fundamental clash of interests and values that can be managed but never solved unless the values and interests of either Washington or Beijing change -- and that's highly unlikely.
The author argues that the G-2 mentality is dangerous, pointing out:
The implications go well beyond China's borders, strategists warn. As Beijing's power grows, it will be less inclined, not more, to uphold the current regional order in Asia. In a recent study of 100 recent articles by more than two dozen of China's top strategic thinkers, I found that four of every five articles spoke of circumventing, reducing, or superseding U.S. power and ideas in Asia. China views the liberal order as one designed to preserve American hegemony in the region. Even if Beijing has so far benefited enormously from rising up within the existing order, it might not be so friendly to it once it's risen far enough.

Washington's strategists cannot prevent China's rise, nor do they want to. But they do argue that the country's strategic ambitions must be constrained, especially in Asia. That will mean enmeshing China in the regional hierarchy that is underwritten by U.S. alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and increasingly, India. Acutely aware of this existing dynamic, China prefers to deal either with Washington or Asia -- never both.
One thing Lee does not mention is that many of the "functionalists" are involved with businesses engaged in the China trade. Interestingly, though he calls for a regional framework to enmesh China, he does not mention Taiwan. The US tilt toward India is welcome, but only about three decades overdue...

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One Town One Product....

"One Town One Product" says the latest marketing ploy of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). The blurb notes:
Adapting the local marketing concept of “One Town One Product” from Japan, Small and Medium Enterprise Administration, MOEA (Ministry of Economic Affairs), had started from 1989 to simulate distinctive local industry by integrating local resources and their specialties, now, a total of 96 featured towns have been successfully coached as some famous examples, such as, Tachia Taro, Luku Hsiao-Pan-Tien and Chungliao Plant Dye, etc...
Note that this presentation is specifically aimed at foreigners. It merely shows that the people in the ministries not only do not understand western foreigners, they do not know that they are clueless. Here is an island with 60 stunning 3000 meter peaks, fantastic cycling, climbing, and hiking, as well as surfing and scuba diving, and they want me to go see plant dyeing in Chungliao?


I had the occasion the other day to talk to two bright, attractive people from a local research institution about this problem in the presence of D., a longtime expat with deep insights into local issues. D. pointed out that the government does not seem to want the backpacker crowd, feeling they don't spend any money, and would rather have the kind of tourist who stays at the Lai Lai and goes around in buses looking at and buying handicrafts. But D. argued that in fact, while the backpacker crowd may eat and sleep at cut-rate places, they lay out the cash to rent and buy equipment like bikes, boards, and oxygen tanks. Moreover, these two forms of tourism are complementary -- the big spending Chinese and Japanese tourists who shell out $300 a day stay, eat, and visit in different places than adventure tourists and backpackers.

Another perspicacious expat pal observed to me that the problem is really that the Ministries are simply not aware that the backpacker/adventure travel market exists, because so few Taiwanese are adventure travelers. I remember talking to the bright young people who clearly had extensive contacts with foreigners, and yet it was a totally new idea to them that adventure travel is a form of status chasing and display among foreigners, that the elements of risk, wildness, dirt, and loneliness, are signs of authentic experience to that set. My friend noted that his Taiwanese friends who are adventure travelers find it difficult to convey why they do it to their fellow Taiwanese.

The basic problem here is that the Ministries need to adopt the old Chinese paradigm of using barbarians to handle barbarians: hire foreigners to write and shoot a dedicated series of commercials aimed at this market. And for pete's sake, send those bureaucrats to Nepal!

UPDATE: Robert Kelly rebuts me in the comments section below.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

A few of my favorite things....

Since I am taking a few days off from biking, I decided to go hiking. I know you've been missing spider pics while I've been gallivanting around on my Giant bike, so I shot a few miniature monsters for your enjoyment today, along with this lovely panorama above, of northern Taichung on a clear day.

These webs are common in open grassy areas, but I have never seen the spider that builds them.

Saw quite a few of these today, in all sizes and both sexes.

I love my digital telephoto -- in the inset shot you can see the tiny black dot on the leaf. That is the beetle discarded cicada exoskeleton in the picture, so you can get an idea of how far away I am.

Caught this dragonfly resting.

This is a common spider, but I don't know its name.

Mimicry -- it looks just like dead leaf matter.

Plenty of butterflies flitting about, but only this shot came out.

The crowning shot of the day: deep in the woods, I spotted this Golden Orb Spider the size of my hand dining on a giant cicada.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Developing Story

Last week a friend flipped me a story about what seemed like a harrowing, poignant tale of small farmers fighting big developers to save their land. It sounded interesting, so I hopped on the scooter to go check it out.

I met my informant, Mr. Wang*, not far from my house in the small town of Bellyup, and was taken to a set of rice and vegetable fields pitched between apartment houses on three sides and factories on the fourth.

It seems that, a couple of years ago, a development company named Eternal Ogre had gotten together the idea that it could build a whole new community on this 72 jia of land just north of Taiwan Central City. Eternal Ogre's plan had the enthusiastic backing of the local Central City Council Critter, and even the Mayor of Central City. It was part of the city's development plan, after all. The community, FutureSuperWorld, boasted the usual collection of cookie cutter houses and apartments, a school, and a park.

To bargain with Eternal Ogre, as was proper under the law, a Landowner's Association was formed. The law carefully delineated its functions and rights, but as so often is the case in Taiwan, was a bit vague on defining just who counted as a landowner. Hence, Eternal Ogre sent its people out to buy dozens of tiny plots in the development, meaning that they were now proud owners of land in the area, and were qualified to sit on the Landowner's Association and bargain with their paymasters. The result was that the association was an obvious front for the company. Government officials knew this but treated the association as if it were actually independent and represented the landowners.

The original development plan was quite simple. Eternal Ogre would buy the land from the farmers for $50,000 a ping. The farmers would then receive a smaller property in the development, but at a much higher value. A farmer who talked to me own 2000 ping of land and after selling it, would receive the rights to about 900 ping inside FutureSuperWorld -- but the new development would sell at $200-300,000 a ping, according to the rosy predictions of Eternal Ogre. Not a bad deal, getting paid millions twice for the same piece of land.

At first the farmers were psyched, but then roughly half of them became hesitant to sign the deal as originally agreed. What if the deal was never completed? Anyone could drive through central Taiwan and see an area littered with never completed development projects. What if Eternal Ogre didn't get financing for the project and couldn't finish it? The financing, after all, came from private banks which might fail at any moment. A large group of farmers balked and asked for a new deal. It was just too risky. They demanded that the financing for the project be sourced from government banks, and the whole deal redone.

Now, according to Taiwan's developer-friendly legal system, if half the landowners have signed onto a project, it can legally be started. Sure enough, according to the count in the Landowner's Association, half of the landowners had signed. The project commenced.

In Taiwan there is only one real sin: to stand between the developer and his profits. All else may be forgiven but that, never. At the same time, local development firms follow Aleister Crowley's famous admonition: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." Those recalcitrant farmers, who wanted the project backed by a government bank so that it was less risky, suddenly posed a threat to the whole project. And were dealt with, according to the precepts enumerated at the beginning of this paragraph.

Anyone familiar with struggles over land knows what came next: Shane, but with power shovels and minus guns. The developers dumped truckloads of rocks into the fields of farmers who had not sold. Several times. Several trucks at a time. When confronted by the police (who sided with the law, not the developer), the company said Oops! that it had all been an accident. I saw where they had gone into fields and tearing up the concrete walls that lined the irrigation ditches, tossed great chunks of concrete randomly over the naked dirt. They drove their machines over planted fields, flattening every plant, and dumped soil and rock into rice paddies. Even without these affronts, they made the area miserable to live in.

One night they sent a man with a power shovel to tear up the water main to Mr. Wang's home, according to Mr. Wang. When the police arrived he ignored them, until at last the officers were forced to pull their guns and threaten to fire. At that point, telling me the story, Mr. Wang interjected: "If only this were America?" "What do you mean?" I asked, expecting a lecture on rule of law. But instead he said: "The farmers would all have guns and these men would all be shot."

Not everyone unwilling to sell was treated the same way. Nearby was a kindergarten owned by a foreign church and frequented by foreigners; it was left alone, since it had an organization behind it. Another plot of land owned by a large organization was similarly left untouched. Anyone with an organization behind them, Mr. Wang said, was handled with kid gloves.

In addition to the stick, carrots were also offered. To get around the solidarity of the farmers, Eternal Ogre began approaching them individually, at night. Some were offered better plots in FutureSuperWorld, right next to the school. Others were given financial inducements, or their relatives were. Threats were also made; out of fright several farmers refused to talk to me. Out of fright, I too have concealed all the identifying details in this story.

Mr. Wang wanted me to give the tale, with true details, publicity on my blog. He was thinking that with sufficient publicity, there might be changes in the System. I laughed when he told me that. He had lived with story night and day, studied the law -- "When I start talking about the law, everyone goes to sleep. But it's the most important thing!" He mentioned that before, when he had heard about such tales happening to others, he didn't care. It was none of his business. But now that it had happened to his family, he had been radicalized. But he was the only one. He wouldn't even let me use his real name.

The moral of the story? The farmers aren't fighting for any great principle, merely a lower level of risk and the chance to redo a deal most of them had freely agreed to before the thugs and bribes were showered on them. The development company has a right to feel cheated, and no right to abuse the farmers. Too, I only heard one side of the story.

You'll just have to find your own moral here.

*All details such as prices, names of locations, individuals and companies have been changed.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cohen/Chen on Ma Ying-jeou's Chairmanship win in WSJ

Valley train
Jerome Cohen, Ma's law school mentor, has one of his problematic pieces on Ma Ying-jeou in the Wall Street Journal today, essentially an extended apologetic for Ma breaking his promise not to become Chairman of the KMT while he served as President. Because Asian WSJ has already taken a letter from me on this op-ed for tomorrow, I won't go into this article much today.

I would like to revisit another Cohen piece from the Chen Yunlin visit, which was prefaced...
Ties that blind
Improved cross-strait relations appear to have come at a cost to some civil liberties in Taiwan
...back then Cohen seemed to understand that as Taiwan moves closer to China, it moves farther from democracy. This has also been clear in many of his subsequent pieces excoriating the Administration for its handling of the Chen Shui-bian case and other judicial matters. Yet, in the international sphere, Cohen totally fails to see the connection between the KMT at home and the KMT abroad.

In the current WSJ piece Cohen interprets DPP actions on the China talks in terms of KMT talking points --
Yet the forum discussions are unlikely to generate substantial achievements unless the KMT expands them to live up to their formal title, the Cross-Strait Economic, Trade and Cultural Forum, by allowing a meaningful role—not a token one—for opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) representatives. This will require statesmanship on the part of both the KMT and the DPP. The latter will have to abandon its rejection of participation in the forum and instead press for a genuine opportunity to take part in planning and decision-making relating to the forum as well as in the forum discussions themselves. If the DPP continues its ostrich-like stance toward these historic talks, it risks losing much of its existing popular support.
Nowhere in any of this is the acknowledgment that the "historic" talks are not democratic, but instead carefully shielded from the oversight of the legislature, and from democratic practices such as referenda, and that the DPP objects to participation for just that reason, not because it has ostrich-like habits (that is a KMT talking point). It is certainly legitimate to criticize the DPP, but not to do so without acknowledgment of its stance on the issue.
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EVENT: Taipei High Tech Club Meet is Friday July, 31.
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Daily links, July 27, 2009

Reservoir in Miaoli.

Congratulations to President Ma for winning the party chairmanship against all opposition. Now we can look forward to a summit between Hu and Ma where Ma sells Taiwan to China with a bogus peace agreement in exchange for a Nobel Peace prize and trinkets worth $24. Talk of a summit with a Nobel as the prize has been rife for at least a year.....

Meanwhile, in Blogistan all sorts of meetings are being documented....
MEDIA: You know how you always wondered if allowing all the illegality in Taiwan's traffic made things flow faster? It may well be true. The Peaceful Riser© arms Bangladesh and stokes tensions, even as India launched its first missile submarine today. China boycotts World Games closing ceremony in Kaohsiung as well. Will China's economy go bust? Yes. President Ma campaigned on competence, but doesn't appear to have any. Joblessness in Taiwan to worsen. Analysis of Ma's problems with his own party. Local prisons are overcrowded. Kaohsiung city council corruption? Imagine that. Popular mosquito coil brand may contain Agent Orange.

RESOURCE: Great collection of China-Taiwan links to papers and articles

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ECFA and the Construction-Industrial Complex in Taiwan

The Cross-Strait Interflow Foundation (main page) was on tap claiming yesterday that GDP would grow an extra 1.83% (not 1.8 or 2.0, but precisely 1.83) from "liberalizing" cross-strait trade with China....
An Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China could result in extra growth of 1.83 percent for Taiwan’s Gross Domestic Product, a think tank said Sunday.

The Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation said in a study that while economic liberalization could benefit many sectors of the Taiwanese economy, it was also likely to harm some, including the electronics sector, agriculture, timber and transportation equipment.


The foundation report, published as a book, said ECFA would benefit Taiwan’s plastics, petrochemicals, petroleum, machinery, textiles, coal and steel sectors. Those areas were highly competitive, exported a high amount of their production to China, and faced higher taxes and tariffs in China than in Taiwan, the foundation said. Once an ECFA would cut the tariffs, there would be a strong growth in demand for those products from China, according to the foundation report.

Electronics might suffer though because China has a lower tariff of 0.58 percent for the products compared to Taiwan’s 0.71 percent.
Such calculations are fraught with assumptions about future performance, but more importantly, the question of who benefits is starkly outlined in that thick paragraph, second from the bottom: plastics, petrochemicals, petroleum, machinery, textiles, coal and steel sectors. There are, of course, exceptions, but on the whole these sectors receive heavy subsidies, are less technologically advanced, and are closely connected to the developmentalist state. They are yesterday's industries, competing against similar industries in China that are massively state-subsidized, and China can take over any sector it wants with such subsidy regimes. Tomorrow's industries, on the other hand, including our all-important electronics sector, will actually contract.

Both in China and Taiwan, these industries require energy subsidies to remain afloat -- and they China can subsidize much more than Taiwan, which relies on imported energy and cannot hope to match either China's vast budgetary resources or its endless supply of cheap coal. Thus, any boost these industries receive can only be a short-run boost -- in the long run China will overwhelm them.

Another factor to consider is the structure of the economy. Subsidized, polluting, water-hungry industries like steel and plastics should be phased out as the government phases in renewable energy, biotech, software, organic agriculture, and similar industries. A couple of years ago Wild At Heart blog translated an editorial on this:
Taiwan's petrochemical, steel, concrete, and paper industries have consumed more than 30% of Taiwan's energy production in recent years. Yet these industries have accounted for less that five percent of Taiwan's real GDP during the same period. In 2005, they accounted for just 2.49 percent of GDP. Taiwan is the world's biggest producer of steel per square kilometer. Can Taiwan, a tiny island nation that is virtually 100 percent dependent on imported energy, afford to continue developing this extravagantly polluting industry with its profligate energy requirements given the heavy environmental burden it already bears? Should we let FPG, which produces one third of Taiwan's carbon emissions, go on lining its pockets, destroying the environment, and preying on the weakest among us?
A growing trend in recent years has been the way China is sending tentacles deep into the heart of the construction-industrial state in Taiwan. As the report makes clear, ECFA is not about driving economic growth through increased productivity in key long-term growth industries. Rather, it is about attempting to preserve a certain kind of political economy in Taiwan: the developmentalist state with its tight links between System politicians, large firms producing inputs to the SME manufacturing sector, and local patronage networks driven by construction and land development. ECFA will simply re-orient those inputs on China's manufacturing sector, further involving China in the island's political economy. As it stands now, ECFA is a giant step backward politically and economically for the island and people of Taiwan.

REF: July 2009 World Steel Production Report. Taiwan Today has fuller report, says electronics will shrink by 7%.
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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Biking to Lukang and Taichung Port

Drew speeds through Changhua City.

Went out to Lukang in Changhua on the bike today with my friend Drew, who wrote the excellent analysis of the ECFA comics a couple of posts below this one. Lukang is where my wife's family is from, and I have a deep, longstanding affection for the city.

The really great thing about this guy is that he is wearing a bleach advert on his shirt.

Chatting in front of the temple.

Drying skin.

In market garlic sellers hawk a product that has been smuggled from China since the early 1990s.

The restaurant hasn't opened, but the day's supply of noodles waits on the countertop.

Chatting on the corner in front of Lukang's most famous bakery.

If you look carefully at many of the older buildings, you can find old phone numbers still emblazoned on them.

At an old time barbershop, the barber cleans a customer's neck and back.

At the famed Matsu Temple, the major rival to the one in Dajia, Drew watches a ceremony in progress.

Heads of dancers.

Lighting the incense tapers.

Men from a troupe of lion dancers take a break.

Gazing at idols.

Drew pointed out something I had never noticed: these Japanese-era Shinto style pieces in the back.

On the rear the dates have been scratched out. The KMT had no trouble desecrating Shinto shrines and architecture. Just try changing the name of the CKS Memorial, however....

Outside the temple the food stall all sell the same stuff. This makes choosing easy.


Lukang's famous alleyway.

This Japanese-era building, constructed in 1928, has been beautifully restored on the exterior.

One of the many shops selling traditional stuff.

Tourists rest from a hard day of excursioning.

In the lovely Lungshan Temple, my favorite in Lukang, a woman practices a traditional instrument.

Sticks of incense dry outside a factory.

Machining furniture.

An older street, with that cramped feel of authenticity.

Drew and I left Lukang about 10 and then headed up the coast to the Taichung port area. Along the way we drove under 61, the West Coast Highway, through some fascinatingly desolute terrain, dirty, wet, muddy, unpopulated, and jammed with fish ponds, chicken farms and miniature fishing ports, and other things that stank, even a cattle farm. After lunching by the port, we headed back up over Tatu Mountain and into Taichung, grabbed a beer, and then went back home, after putting in 110 kilometers for the day. If only every day could be this good.
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FAPA Letter on MAC head Lai's claims

The Washington Times published FAPA's letter on Mainland Affairs Council head Lai's claims about support of Ma's China policies...
In an interview with The Washington Times, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council Minister Shin-Yuan Lai states that 92 percent of the people of Taiwan agree with their current Kuomintang Nationalist government's policy toward China -- one generally characterized as "China-friendly" ("Military buildup worries Taiwan," World, July 16).

This is simply incorrect. While most people would agree that a reduction of tension in the Taiwan Strait is a positive development, many are deeply concerned that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's drift toward communist China comes at the expense of Taiwan's sovereignty and of freedom, democracy and human rights.

According to the latest polls, which happen to be commissioned in April by Ms. Lai's own Mainland Affairs Council, 35 percent of the people in Taiwan support "status quo now and let's decide on unification or independence later." Twenty-seven percent support status quo forever. Fifteen percent support the status quo now and want to declare independence later. And 7.6 percent support the status quo now and unification later.

When looking at these polls, it is important to keep in mind that the status quo equates to "de facto independence." The People's Republic of China, since its founding 60 years ago, has never exercised any control over Taiwan whatsoever -- not for one single day. Ms. Lai's polls demonstrate that the people of Taiwan intend to keep it that way -- independence from China.

In addition, poll numbers on cross-strait relations are heavily influenced by the fact that China continues to aim some 1,400 ballistic missiles at Taiwan and refuses to renounce the use of force against that island nation. China's military coercion imposes a psychological terror over the people of Taiwan.

Targeting these missiles at Taiwan is akin to pointing a gun at the head of Taiwan's people. This explains the large support in Taiwan today for the status quo. If this threat were removed, the people on the island would overwhelmingly choose for Taiwan to be a full and equal member of the international community of nations.

Formosan Association for Public Affairs
Actually, I heard through the grapevine that Lai was actually misquoted by the Washington Times -- a very suggestive misquote since it dovetails with Washington's absurd swoon for Ma Ying-jeou -- that what she had said was 92 percent support the status quo. When urged by a local Taiwan reporter to correct paper, she shrugged the whole thing off. The original Washington Times piece is here.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Basian Cave Artifacts go back 25,000 years

Basian Cave on the east coast of Taiwan. There is a small park with steps and paths leading to the cave site, which is in the rock outcrop on the right.

From the Department of Way Cool, Taiwan Today reports:
Tsang Cheng-hwa, deputy director of Academia Sinica’s Institute of History and Philology, said materials unearthed in eastern Taiwan’s Changbin Township, Taitung County, are from the Paleolithic period.

Tsang and a team of researchers discovered the remains of wooden rubbing sticks used to make fire in two pits at the Baxian Cave site May 12. According to Tsang, the items were found in Kunlun Cave, 138 meters above sea level, and Chaozhen Cave, 120 meters above sea level.

Charcoal samples sent for carbon dating to the United States proved over 20,000 years old, with some pieces from Kunlun Cave shown to be 25,000 years old. “This find is extremely important for Taiwan’s archaeological community,” Tsang said.

The team’s yearlong study was commissioned by the Taitung County Government and its members included Professor Chen Wen-shan of National Taiwan University’s Department of Geosciences and Associate Research Fellow Li Kuang-ti of Academia Sinica’s Institute of History and Philology.

In addition to discovering that humans occupied the site as much as 25,000 years ago, the researchers uncovered seven new caves, giving Baxian a total of 24 different sites where humans once lived.

Baxian is a key Paleolithic site in Taiwan. Between 1968 and 1969, Professor Wen-hsun Sung of NTU’s Department of Anthropology uncovered the remains of a prehistoric culture at Qianyuan Cave. At the time, carbon dating could only indicate that samples were more than 15,000 years old. (FS-JSM)
Baxian, which houses the remains of the Changpin culture, is the first and only Paleolithic site discovered in Taiwan.

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More on the ECFA Cartoons: Guest Post

My friend and budding scholar Drew Kerslake, who has spent many years studying the original peoples of Taiwan, won a Wiki award for his work on the Wiki page on Taiwan aborigines, and is full of insight into local colonialisms, had a few thoughts on the ECFA cartoons which he has graciously consented to let me use as a guest post. Without further ado:


This was on my mind last night, so I thought I would riff on it this morning.

The issue of "racism" from the article above has been discussed at length already, but I think there is still a little meat on those bones that may warrant a little deeper discussion.

First, we must assume that the agency that created this campaign was a professional outfit (probably owned in-part by the KMT) and therefore they do not deserve a mulligan for ignorance, as professional advertising agencies are usually staffed by experts in semiotics, human psychology, semantics and other disciplines from which they can best manipulate opinion.

Is this cartoon racist?

My short answer would be "no". It is not "racist". Contemporary Chinese nationalism i.e. R.O.C. and P.R.C. ideologies are both rooted in the concepts of racialism, which were popular around the end of the 19th Century as a political reaction to social-Darwinism. Racialism is a basic assumption that there are distinct "races" of human beings on earth. The early Sunists (followers and contemporaries of Sun Yat-sen) adopted racialism as one part of their nationalization program to help validate their project as they sought to discredit the Manchu Qing empire by simple virtue of "blood" and thus question future Qing legitimacy based on biology. The Sunists constructed a racial cosmology in which "white and yellow races" were superior and the "brown and black races" were "degraded" and "inferior". This is where racism enters the picture, but by Sunist definitions Taiwanese are "yellow" and "share the same blood" as all yellow people and therefore we are not dealing with an issue of "race", bigoted surely, but racist, no.

I feel this is more of an issue of Taiwan's problematic post-coloniality under the R.O.C. Much of the early Republican movement was characterized by the recurrent themes of modernism and scientism. The Sunists often used the latter to validate the former. The Republicans positioned themselves as modernists armed with "science" to destroy traditional Confucianism and traditional "backward" folk beliefs. The political actors from within the new Republican government positioned the state as a strong centrality and a transformational power from which they could modernize "China" to compete in the great Darwinian battles among nations. The state structure positioned citizens on a trajectory of modern vs. backward, with those more closely aligned with state ideology to be the most "advanced" and those who embraced Confucian traditionalism of folk beliefs to be "backward".

The R.O.C.'s rejection of traditionalism remained intact until the 1970's, when the P.R.C. and tang-wai activists began to seriously question the R.O.C.'s legitimacy, and then a major shift to a state centered traditionalism was promoted with the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement, designed to invent and promote state sponsored Cultural production. The products of this movement are what we now consider to represent traditional "Chinese" culture.

For the colonizer, the role as a “civilizer” is implicit on defining the objects of their civilizing project (Said 1979: 44-45). The resulting definitions must contain two exclusive, yet interrelated parts: A convincing demonstration of the people’s inferiority and the people’s ability to become “civilized” under colonial rule. By providing definitions for peripheral people, the civilizer provides the colonized with a set parameter of comparison with the colonizer and a reason they must become “civilized”(Harrell 1996: 8-17).Often, the distance between the periphery and the center is imagined, not simply as physical space, but in terms of time. By projecting the “other” in terms of temporal displacement or “denial of coevalness”, the colonizer distances himself from the colonized (Fabian 1983).

In the case of the cartoon images we see a clear example of Hoklo and Hakka as "ethnic other/periphery", with the KMT and its representatives firmly in place as the "civilized center" or as "advanced" on a constructed trajectory using the dichotomies of forwardness and backwardness/ advancement and degradation/modern and backward/ civilized and uncivilized .

The Taipei Times article states:
The comics portray Yi-ge as a 45-year old Hoklo-speaking man from Tainan City who works as a salesman in an unspecified traditional industry. According to his profile, Yi-ge is a vocational school graduate who speaks “Taiwanese Mandarin” and knows very little about the proposed ECFA. He is content being a follower in all things, but when it comes to protecting himself, he “goes all-out.”
We can see the Hoklo, Yi-ge character, is located in the "backward" south and the Hakka woman is located in "more-forward" Hsinchu, a stereotypical location for Hakka. Both places are "away" from the metropole or civilized center (symbol of modernity). Yi-ge is represented with little education. Formal Mandarin is used to symbolically represent modernity/advancement while "Taiwanese Mandarin" is represented as "degraded" or "less-authentic" form. The State provides all the answers which elude Yi-ge, as he has not been transformed, and only by allowing himself to be transformed by submitting to state power, can he then understand the elusive mysteries and "advance". We see this trope in nationalisms and missionary projects where the object suffers from an innate "lack" and the civilizer inserts itself to provide for the lack, which validates the civilizing project. Still, the relationship between civilizer and his object maintains an indelible colonial "taint".

Yi-ge is depicted as lacking education (a point of contact with the state) and education has deep social and class functions in Taiwanese society as far as social mobility is concerned. Education is also an indoctrination point for state ideology. The greater contact has with education, the greater chance they may be transformed by the civilizer. Here we see the KMT class construction is reliant on contact points with the indoctrination points of state structure.

I still think the symbolism runs deeper yet.

At first glance the characters are depicted to resemble opposites. Yi-ge the lowly, uneducated, blue collar worker, juxtaposed with Fa Sao, an educated, upwardly mobile Hakka. Although this may be a ploy to score political points with the Hakka, which have gradually shifted support behind DPP candidates, the cartoon depictions serve to degrade both Hakka and Hoklo speakers to the fetishized objects of colonial desire.

The act of transforming the "ethnicities" into cartoon characitures serves to diminutize them to become "childlike". It is common for the colonizer/civilizer to depict their object as childlike or female to reduce the object's imagined "power" as thus diminish contact between the civilizer and their object as one of an unequal power relationship. This is particularly salient in patriarchal societies like Han and Judeo-Christian groups. The scientism promoted by the R.O.C. determined females to be similar to children and vast amounts of literature were produced to lend scientific support to traditional female roles (Dikotter 1995). We can see other examples of diminutizing the object in the 2004 tourism campaign, "Naruwan, Welcome to Taiwan", in which a cartoon Amis girl became the symbol for Taiwan. The Amis character allowed the state to appropriate and deploy (subjugate) the indigene for their own political project while reducing the complex meme of indigene into a /tame/harmless/impotent/childlike face.

Both cartoon characters in the ECFA promotion are reduced to cartoon images and therefore both are having their power reduced and usurped by the KMT state (civilizer). But beyond that... Often, when there is contact between the civilizer/colonizer and their "object", an act of mimesis occurs as one attempts to mimic and replicate the object before them. It is an attempt to capture, hold, possess and control the power of the object (Taussig 1993). We see this in cave paintings, tribal art and in the souvenirs brought back from around the globe. On a more local level, one can go to the Nine Tribes Cultural Park and purchase their own Aborigine doll, dressed in a "Tarzan" leopard skin to bring home. These all act as a means of capturing some essence or power of the original object.

In the case of the cartoon figures we can clearly see that they have been located by the civilizing center, and they have determined by the center to be lacking modernity, but transformable into something "better" if they only follow the prescribed program (Of course, like an unruly child Yi-ge does not readily get with the program). They have been visually transformed into weaker/lesser human beings for the appropriation/consumption by the civilizer, which holds a desire to appropriate their object's power to grant a political mandate to rule.

What I can't believe is that this is still playing out in 2009.

Andrew Kerslake


Dikotter, Frank.1995. Sex, Culture and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period. Honolulu, HI. University of Hawaii Press.

Fabian, Johannes.1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Harrell, Stevan, ed. 1995. Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

Taussig, Michael. (1993). Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York, Routlege.

Taipei Times article

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Businessman connected to Chen in Scandal with Rudd of Oz

The Age reports on a Taiwan businessman close to Chen who paid for Rudd to fly to London and donated megabucks to the Australian Labor Party.
Kung Chin Yuan, a long-standing friend of former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, flew Mr Rudd to London for two weeks in June and July of 2005 when Mr Rudd was Labor's shadow foreign minister.

The sponsorship of Mr Rudd came at a time when Taiwan was making efforts to boost its influence with Australia and other countries in the region.

Mr Kung, who is based in Brisbane, has been linked to a secret fund that helped bankroll unofficial Taiwanese diplomatic operations in Australia and the South Pacific.

At the time of Mr Rudd's trip, there was concern in Taiwan about contacts between senior Labor figures and mainland Chinese business interests. There was also concern about "pro-Beijing" comments made by Mr Rudd in mid-2004.

The Prime Minister's office has declined to answer questions about how long Mr Rudd has known Mr Kung, why he accepted the sponsored trip, who he met in London and whether Mr Kung had contributed to his fund-raising efforts. "Mr Rudd's interactions with Mr Kung have been entirely appropriate," a spokesman said.

Australian Electoral Commission records also show Mr Kung donated $120,000 to the Queensland ALP branch between 1998 and 2006.

In 2007-08, when Mr Rudd led Labor to power, Mr Kung contributed a further $100,000 to the federal ALP using the name Lawrence Kung.

The secret fund to which Mr Kung has been linked was, according to former president Chen, used to support Taiwan's efforts to secure diplomatic recognition in the South Pacific and gain influence in Australia.
The secret fund is what the prosecutors are accusing Chen of stealing. If Chen stole it, where did this money come from? Another charge against Chen is that they falsified receipts. Do you think that the Australian Labor Party gave receipts for the secret fund for the two donations? And do you think Kevin Rudd gave a proper receipt for his business class trip to London? In any case, as I have noted numerous times, the whole receipt thing was an obvious set up, since the rules were changed in '02 and no previous president had to give receipts for expenditures from the secret fund. Only Chen Shui-bian had to give receipts.

Last year I observed that it is rumored that one of the reasons the KMT is so interested in peering into Chen's funding flows is that Beijing wants to know where Taiwan's money is going. Take that, Beijing.


In 2006, a senior politician from the then Taiwanese opposition KMT party told a parliamentary committee that the Queensland-based Mr Kung had received $US625,000 ($A764,000) from Chen's special fund.

The KMT politician alleged the money sent to Mr Kung was used on Mr Chen's behalf to invest in Chinese real estate, not to carry out secret diplomatic work. But Mr Chen rejected the claim, insisting the fund was used to pay for secret diplomatic missions.

His denials were not enough to deter government prosecutors who have since 2006 pursued Mr Chen, his wife and aides over the alleged embezzlement of funds from the secret diplomatic account.

In his initial interviews with prosecutors, Mr Kung refused to disclose the identities of the "secret agents" receiving money from the fund for fear their lives would be at risk.

Taiwanese newspapers say Mr Chen later told prosecutors Mr Kung had received money to undertake secret diplomatic work at his request.

Mr Kung, who owns an exclusive property on Brisbane's riverfront and is a member of the Queensland branch of the Taiwan Australia Business Council, could not be contacted for comment. He has previously denied receiving money from Mr Chen's fund.

Mr Kung has reportedly refused six summonses from prosecutors to return to Taiwan to testify in Mr Chen's case. Instead, he has faxed a statement in which he said he had never received money from the fund for secret diplomatic work.

Taiwan prosecutors have obtained invoices that allegedly bore Mr Kung's name and were used by Mr Chen's family to claim money from the presidential fund.

Let's see... a KMT legislator claims that Chen gave the money to Kung to invest in Chinese real estate. That legislator was Lee Ching-hua, brother of Diane Lee, the legislator with the US citizenship. The Taipei Times reported on this in 2006...

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) told the legislature's Organic Laws and Statutes Committee yesterday morning that a reliable source told him that the president had wired NT$20 million (US$625,000) to China-based businessman Kung Chin-yuan (龔金源).

The legislator claimed that the money came from President Chen's special allowance fund and was actually used to invest in real estate in China.

Lee Ching-hua said he'd resign if he was wrong. Yeah, right. Needless to say, Lee's anonymously sourced claim has been shown to be fiction. The money was spent where Kung said it was spent.

The donations to Labor came at a time when Australia was following the shortsighted policy of opposing the dollar diplomacy between Taiwan and China in the South Pacific. Now that Taiwan has essentially halted its diplomatic programs, China is consolidating its position in the South Pacific island states. And everyone knows that Chinese money is not corrupting, and China always supports clean, democratic politics in the states in moves close to.

The reality is that Taipei was suppressing Chinese influence in the Pacific at no cost to Australia itself. Stupid.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

MOEA Exploits Ethnic Stereotypes to sell ECFA

The Taipei Times reports on the DPP reaction to the blatant stereotyping in the recent comic that the MOEA launched to sell the ECFA China trade agreement to the general public (image)....
On Monday, the ministry unveiled a four-frame comic strip featuring a male character named Yi-ge (一哥) and his female counterpart Fa Sao (發嫂) as part of its efforts to advertise the ECFA.

A ministry press release said the purpose of the comic strip was to “allow people of all ages to easily and clearly understand the purpose and content of the ECFA.”

The comics portray Yi-ge as a 45-year old Hoklo-speaking man from Tainan City who works as a salesman in an unspecified traditional industry. According to his profile, Yi-ge is a vocational school graduate who speaks “Taiwanese Mandarin” and knows very little about the proposed ECFA. He is content being a follower in all things, but when it comes to protecting himself, he “goes all-out.”


His profile also says that he lacks the sensitivity for danger, lives life in a carefree manner and never cares to improve himself because he has a steady job. He has had some conversations with his colleagues about the ECFA and even though he knows nothing about the subject, he is worried about losing his job once the pact is signed.

One of Yi-ge’s acquaintances is Fa Sao, a 40-year-old Hakka from Hsinchu who works as a supervisor at an import-export company. She is described as an active, self-motivated and highly capable married woman who is fluent in English, Mandarin, Hoklo and Japanese. She is always hungry for knowledge and eager to learn more about money-management. Her profile suggests she keeps herself well-informed and is a keen observer of market trends. Fa Sao was recently promoted to company spokesman. Her knowledge of cross-strait trade has prompted her to learn all about the ECFA.
There's so much to unpack here, one hardly knows where to start. Clearly Fa Sao is presented as the very image of Taiwanese modernity -- fluent in English and Japanese, works in a trading company, watches market trends. The class issues practically scream off the page -- informed, modern upwardly mobile forward-looking people support ECFA. People in traditional industries are not modern or informed, are ignorant, and don't support ECFA.

Modern ethnic politics in Taiwan are a KMT invention, and it has long exploited them to maintain its grip on power. Here too the Ministry works in the Hoklo vs. Hakka ethnic rivalry, with the position of superiority assigned to the Hakkas, who have long been a stalwart group of KMT supporters. The Hakka is from Hsinchu (hint: science park, think technology and all those positives), while the Hoklo is from Tainan, the center of Taiwan nationalism. The construction of the Hoklo is a smear that reproduces the KMT claim that Taiwanese speakers, especially southern Taiwanese speakers, are low-class, uneducated scum who can't even speak Mandarin properly ("Taiwanese Mandarin").

The Ministry's explanation is a classic:
Deng said the two characters were the result of long, painstaking efforts by public relations experts to reflect the make-up of the general public.
The Hakka is a blonde (a high status hair color), while the Taiwanese has red hair. As a friend snarkily commented, this is because those two hair colors reflect the make-up of the general public.

In truth, the characters so faithfully reproduce KMT ideological claims and ethnic stereotyping that it wouldn't surprise me that PR staff at the Ministry had put in long, painstaking efforts to create them. That kind of stupidity doesn't happen by accident -- it takes years of indoctrination, combined with that specially bureaucratic kind of insular, arrogant, groupthink necessary to put such hogwash out in public without realizing what the obvious message was.

The DPP commented acidly:
“The comic strip is extremely offensive and derogatory. It describes those who oppose the ECFA as stupid and unaware of current events. This is glaring racial and class discrimination,” DPP Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thanks, AP

Here is the kind of thing we need the media here to do more often. These two paragraphs are from an AP report on the World Games:
"Ma has been telling Taiwanese that Beijing accepts his claim that Taiwan and China can agree to differ on whether the two sides belong to the same country, but the Chinese delegation's no-show has contradicted that," said Lo, who generally supports the pro-independence opposition. "This will lead people to question the legitimacy of Ma's statements."

But fellow political scientist George Tsai of Taipei's Chinese Culture University – usually a supporter of the government – said that China had shown goodwill by allowing Ma to preside over the opening ceremony.
Such clear identifications of commentators' political allegiances are not always to be found in media presentations on Taiwan. Just consider all the pieces from the 2008 Presidential election that sourced Philip Yang as "a political scientist at NTU" or similar without mentioning where his political allegiances lay: Bloomberg, NYTimes, WaPo, LATimes, Straits Times....

...until the NY Times finally noted near the end of the campaign that Yang advised the Ma campaign. Yang later took a position with Ma's National Security Council.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Military Round Up

Lately proposals and counterproposals have flickered across the Strait regarding the Median Line that separates the island from those who would annex it. The SCMP post reports:
Taiwan intends to ask the mainland to open air space over the East China Sea for civilian flights as a counter to Beijing's proposal to scrap the median line in the Taiwan Strait to ease air traffic congestion. A senior official with the Straits Exchange Foundation was quoted by the Taipei-based China Times as saying that the island's top negotiating organisation was considering such a request of mainland authorities as a response to what Wang Yi, the director of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council, proposed earlier this month.

Mr Wang suggested Taipei should consider abolishing the median line to clear the way for increasing commercial air transport. The senior official, who declined to be named, said the opening of air space over the East China Sea, rather than abolishing the median line in the Taiwan Strait, was the key to addressing the air traffic congestion problem between the mainland and Taiwan that has developed since direct air links were established last year.

According to the report, commercial flights between Taipei and Shanghai are now detouring via the Liu Qiu Islands, or Ryukyu Islands, northeast of Taiwan, to avoid militarily sensitive regions on the mainland. The report also quoted mainland officials as saying that the chances of opening air space over the East China Sea to civilian airlines were slim. One of them added that such a move might violate areas used for training exercises by the People's Liberation Army.
One longtime observed opined that China might have severe problems with airspace issues. After South Korea recognized China, it was years before Korean commercial flights could stop a circuitous detour that took them over Taiwan to get around Chinese airspace.

Of interest is that the "direct" flights are still not direct -- China insists that they detour NE of Taiwan. When Taiwan insisted on detours through Hong Kong for security, that was all bad and much lecturing spewed from the business community. When China insists on it....well, never mind. No need to complete that thought.

Of course, the obvious point is that if China erases the median line, it is one more way of making Taiwan into a domestic route. Note that for years the US had agitated on behalf of its airlines for a piece of the cross-straight action, even up until two years ago, but now that direct flights are occurring, the US is conspicuously silent on what, to Beijing, are operated as "domestic" flights.

Meanwhile, Kyodo News reports that World Games snubs are not the only snubs China is handing out...
Chinese military officers have pulled out of planned, U.S.-brokered exchanges with their Taiwanese counterparts in an apparent snub of the island despite warming relations, the island's Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday.

Military officers from Taiwan and China were to meet next month at the U.S.-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), a U.S. military-affiliated think tank in Honolulu, Hawaii, that offers academic courses for military officers from various countries, according to the ministry.

Officers from Taiwan and China were scheduled to participate together in a weeklong course on leadership at the think tank in what would have been the first formal exchange between the rival militaries since 1949, the ministry said in May.

However, ''China saw that Taiwanese officers had signed up for the course and declined to enroll,'' said ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Yu Sy-tue at a Taipei press briefing for foreign media.
Hilarious. I love the way that "despite warming relations" is part and parcel of all announcements of negative news, as if there is no indicator that could ever point to cooling relations, and the public needs to be reminded that relations are warming, lest they get all objective and start paying attention to the facts. One almost expects to read....
"China dropped a nuclear weapon on the southern Taiwan city of Tainan today, despite warming relations. The Ma Administration immediately moved to reassure local citizens, pointing out that Taiwan still had a number of cities with populations in excess of 200,000 remaining."
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