Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ma Administration Typhoon Shock Doctrine

In The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein writes extensively on how governments use economic, natural, and social shocks to carry out social engineering that benefits elites while leaving ordinary individuals amid wrecked societies with decaying infrastructure, a smaller share of wealth, and diminished future prospects.*

I've made this point before, but it is worth making again: the Ma government's response to the typhoon disaster in the south is identical to its response to the economic crisis last year. The only difference is in the speed of events. As I noted then, the crisis had been used by the Ma Administration in a classic shock doctrine way, as leverage to get the shellshocked public to accept an accelerated approach to the ECFA sell-out agreement with China. Now, argues Taiwan News in today's editorial, the current typhoon disaster is being used to force through new legislation that would enable widespread social engineering in disaster-hit areas. After comparing the new legislation to the 921 Earthquake recovery laws, the editorial observes:
Article 12 would give central government and local governments the power to compulsorily order the removal of villages, naturally almost exclusively of indigenous peoples, from designated areas with no provisions for consultation with village assemblies or communities.

Article 13 would permit the resettlement of disaster victims without regard to laws or regulations concerned with urban or rural planning, national park management, environmental impact assessment, water or soil conservancy or "other related laws," including the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law.

While Liu has stated that the principles of national land recovery will guide the effort, the fact that the KMT-controlled legislature boycotted the draft national land planning law and the draft national land recovery statute proposed by the former DPP government for over four years gives scant cause for optimism that the Liu Cabinet will promote this principle. In addition, the absence of city and county mayors and disaster victim or indigenous peoples representatives on the proposed national reconstruction commission has given rise to suspicions that the KMT government will bypass DPP city and county mayors and directly disburse funds and projects without hindrance from any civic monitoring, to township governments, most of which are run by KMT commissioners, in the run-up to year-end county elections.

Liu's declaration Sunday that donating conglomerates and businesses should participate directly in the process of deciding the utilization of reconstruction funds has sparked fears of a replication in southern Taiwan of the disastrous "reconstruction" of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina which witnessed the massive privatization of public services through top-down "shock capitalism" instead of bottom-up community based rebuilding....
The law allows for compulsory resettlement of indigenous people, and permits resettlement without regard for any other considerations -- environmental, water management, or the aboriginal basic law. Conglomerates and corporations are to determine how reconstruction funds are to be used, while the proposed Morakot Reconstruction Committee excludes (DPP) city mayors and county chiefs. Stripped of the fine verbiage, the legislation basically gives the funds directly to the construction-industrial state, with the added proviso that it can now move whole villages around without concern for what anyone says, and without concern for environment regulations or local culture. Disaster capitalism at its finest. The Committee...
.....which will be chaired by Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), will have 30 officials from different government agencies, plus the heads of Delta Electronics, Uni-President Enterprises Corp, Taiwan High Speed Rail, China Steel and one university president and four professors.
In other words, the national-level Typhoon Reconstruction Committee will be composed of the central government and powerful corporations.

The Taipei Times report notes that the legislation was not reviewed by the Executive Yuan and was being accelerated through the process for a vote tomorrow. The paper also has an extensive collection of comments from aboriginal groups in this piece, in which one aboriginal representative points out that the survey work has long been done and safe areas for resettlement in the mountains have already been identified.

The green light to forced resettlement without aboriginal participation has obvious implications for expansion of the construction-industrial state. In many areas local indigenous peoples are strongly against local public works projects even though they trickle down some funds to the community. As I wrote last week, there is much opposition to the massive Tsengwen Reservoir Diversion in the area, and the project is blamed for flooding that began even before this one -- after typhoon Kalmaegi last year many of the houses in Siaolin were mildly inundated with mud and water. Forced resettlement of indigenes will also removed one claimant to area resources such as land and timber. There will be fewer objections to illegal use of forest resources by Han farmers. Of course, removal of aboriginals will simply create an even larger pool of landless laborers living in marginal areas to help hold down local labor costs.

The Taipei Times drives home this point in an editorial today:
Mountain-dwelling Aboriginal people are likely to be the biggest losers. For more than 100 years, Japanese and Chinese governments have moved these villages closer to plains areas so that they could be better governed and controlled; in many cases these people were moved into the plains while still being administratively defined as “mountain Aborigines.” All throughout, Han officials took over management of most of the land for forestry, agricultural and tourism purposes, among others, frequently to the environment’s detriment.

Supporting this line of thinking are racists and speculators who want Aboriginal reservation laws repealed so that the land can be bought up, developed and sold; and Buddhist charity officials, whose otherwise faultless conduct has been stained by asking the largely Christian Aboriginal community to “return the mountains and forests to Mother Nature.”

Sadly, the present crop of Aboriginal legislators cannot be trusted to defend the interests of affected Aboriginal communities on matters of this gravity — and certainly not Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin (高金素梅), who is essentially an ambassador for Beijing — and even in the unlikely event that they mobilize to defend their constitutents, in all probability they will be ignored by party bosses.
May Chin took a $3 million check from Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office for disaster relief.

The new National Reconstruction Commission, with its power to dispense funds to bypass county and city mayors in the affected areas and perhaps give them directly to township chiefs, highlights a couple of issues. For one thing, the possibility of direct money handouts to local township chiefs are reminiscent of the direct money handouts through consumer vouchers -- an apparent vote buying program -- and for another, it also highlights how the "Green" south isn't really "Green" but is actually a melange of Blue and Green at different levels of government. Whether or not the DPP government levels are bypassed, note that the money will be arriving in hard-hit communities just before the December election, among ethnic groups (aborigines in the mountains, the Hakkas of Chiadong and Linbian) with long-time support for the KMT.

UPDATE: SY has some great comments below -- and latest news is that the destruction reconstruction bill passed today.

*Mike Davis' awesome Late Victorian Holocausts is another must read in this area.
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Anonymous said...

I feel terrible that I get to gloat over the fact that I called this out the day the news reported this disaster.

It was and has been so obvious.

Dixteel said...

Hmm...that is a very good point indeed. Is there a chance that it will back fire though?

Michael Turton said...

I don't see how it will backfire. Community representatives seem to be amenable to being bought off by developers.


SY said...

The "Shock Doctrine" view provides helpful clarity in understanding the situation.

Chen Shui-Bian had a vision to build (Formosan Aboringinal) "nations within nation," a similar view was later expressed by Candian prime minister Stephen Harper to recognize Quebec as a "nation within Canada."

Chen did not honor his promise, likely due to the fact that DPP never held a majority in the Legislative Yuan. An official "nations within nation" stand probably requires constitutional amendment or revision.

But, this may be time to revive the concept to allow each arboriginal nationality to have their own national autonomous region, in which they can maintain and evolve their culture and life style, ideally combined with a mandate to participate in a (central-government funded) ecology restoration program within their national boundaries. Such an ecology program should also include scientists and research institutes specialized in anthropology, ethno-biology, geography, hydrolic engineering, forestry, etc.

Their ancestors have lived in the areas for thousends of years, if not longer. Their culture and life style have been adjusted to the environment. Their being part of an ecology restoration program will benefit them and the nature.

"Ideally", I said.

NOTE: BTW, an ecology retoration program was proposed by Chen's government but it was blocked more than 50 times by KMT, which controlled the Legislative Yuan. The program didn't even manage to get into any meeting agenda to be reviewed and discussed. So, no debate/discussion has happened. It was a pity.

Michael Turton said...

SY, thanks for the excellent comment.