Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saunders on Hiking in Taiwan

I thought I'd highlight this great piece on the Top Ten Hiking Spots in Taiwan from Richard Saunders excellent Off the Beaten Track. The pictures are excellent and the places are amazing. Why doesn't the Tourism board promote some of this much better stuff. Go thou and read!
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Jamestown Brief on Taiwan Initiating Domestic Sub Production

Lots of rumors in the media lately about Taiwan beginning a program in domestic submarine construction. This would get around the high cost of the submarines the US is offering to Taiwan -- a cost some have claimed was inflated to prevent Taiwan from accepting the offer, since that would cause the US to develop an indigenous electric sub manufacturing capability, which the US navy does not want since it likes nuclear subs. Making subs at home would also enable Taiwan to develop an export sales capability. The global market for submarines is around $16 billion annually, but most of that is US. It is expected to grow. Note that with the pushback against Chinese expansion in Asia, Taiwan's natural market is right next door.

I've never been a fan of submarines for Taiwan. However, many defense experts advocate subs on the grounds that they are the best anti-sub platforms. To my mind effective use of submarines by Taiwan's navy in such a role presupposes the kind of long institutional experience with submarines that navies like Russia, the UK, or the US have. Taiwan does not. For the kind of money we'd be spending building subs, we can absolutely bristle with missiles, which is what we should be buying, and missile-equipped fast attack boats.

The Jamestown Brief has a great article on the current move to procure submarines domestically:
For example, a founding member of the quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation and long time advisor to Ma, Chen Chang-wen (C.V. Chen), who was a strong vocal opponent of U.S. arms sale since 2002, shifted his position to support the indigenous submarine program in a widely-noted editorial in spring 2009. In the article, Chen explained that, in the past, nearly 60 percent of Taiwan’s defense budget was being spent on purchasing equipments from abroad, which did not improve Taiwan’s technological standards and military capabilities, nor did they help Taiwan’s economy or expand business opportunities. On the other hand, if the eight submarines are produced domestically, then about 30 percent of the human labor cost would create business opportunities in Taiwan, and Taiwanese businesses could supply approximately 40 percent of the items for 60 percent of the equipment material cost. Additionally, other associated maintenance costs and investments would be able to help the economy (China Times, March 23, 2009).
Good stuff. The debate in Taiwan's defense establishment, concludes the article, is now a debate over when, not whether, a domestic sub program will begin.

ADDED: Also on this subject: Does the US Navy have the resources for the Pacific Century? The answer is obvious: yes, if the nation doesn't senselessly waste them in endless and stupid wars in the Middle East.
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Friday, March 30, 2012

Nailed House Nailed to Public Outcry

Government in bed with developers
The big news this week was the government-mandated demolition of a house in Taipei that was blocking an "urban renewal" project.... the newspapers were filled this week with indignant complaints. The Taipei Times editorialized:
A crowd gathered to watch in disbelief as police, taking their orders from the Taipei City Government, barged their way into a 135-year-old two-story building in Shilin District (士林) belonging to a family named Wang, to evict residents and make way for an urban renewal project.

People were left wondering what kind of government it is that not only fails to protect people’s property, but also evicts owners from their ancestral home.

Saying that more than 75 percent of the landowners on the block had agreed to the terms of the renewal project, the city government yesterday said that forceful eviction was a last resort and implemented it in line with the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例), adding that in doing so it was merely enforcing the rights of the majority.


About 1,000 police were involved in the eviction, which resulted in broken windows and damage to furniture. It is unlikely that the Wangs still believe in Article 15 of the Constitution, which guarantees regular people’s right to own property.

If the Urban Renewal Act is truly fair and in the public interest as the city government claims, why have more than 200 complaints against it been filed in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市)?

The Wangs’ case shows how government agencies are sometimes reduced to the role of hired thugs for construction firms when the latter refuse to negotiate any further with residents and instead ask the city government to evict those who have refused to sign on the dotted line and have their home demolished.
The "urban renewal project" was actually a development project run by a private developer. The developer wanted to knock down old houses and put up the usual cookie cutter 15-story apartment building. The city government, as always, simply intervened on behalf of the developer's profits. The case bore many similarities to a case familiar to Americans, the Supreme Court's venal and amoral decision in the infamous Kelo vs. New London case.

There are innumerable cases like this. The law says that a local homeowners association must be formed to negotiate with the developer; in many cases prior to announcing the project the developer sends in people to purchase plots in the neighborhood and then be in the Homeowners Association to negotiate with their paymasters. Local authorities know that these associations are totally bogus but treat them as serious. Threats and actual violence are not uncommon, since there is only one true sin in Taiwan: to stand between a developer and his profits.

The legislature, keen to follow public opinion, grilled the Minister of the Interior about the issue. The Taipei Times duly reported:
“There were some elements of injustice involved in the urban renewal project, and some rethinking of the urban renewal mechanism may be needed,” Lee said. “I’m worried that what happened to the Wangs may become an obstacle to urban renewal, and that would not be a good thing for the country.”

Lee made the remarks during a meeting at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee meeting, as he and Construction and Planning Agency Director-General Yeh Shi-wen (葉世文) were bombarded by questions by lawmakers across party lines who were upset over the eviction of the Wangs and the large number of police sent by the Taipei City Government.

The Wangs were the only family left who had refused to take part in the urban renewal project. However, the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例) stipulates that, as long as the construction firm has obtained the consent of 75 percent of the land owners on a project site, it can ask the government to demolish the rest of the buildings by force.
Other elements of the decision reported in the Taipei Times were par for the course. The building site had never been inspected by the local government for fire safety and other issues; apparently everything had been done by documents. Note how the Urban Renewal Act is written so that the developers can call in the government to enforce their will on the local community. Well, I guess it's an improvement over gangsters.

The Interior Minister's remarks were especially delightful -- the Minister expresses worry that the Wang case might become an "obstacle to urban renewal" -- meaning, an obstacle to developers making money.

The photo at the top of this post shows the irony of the government's position -- the Wang's house is annihilated, since the Urban Renewal Act was amended so that less than unanimous consent among affected homeowners is necessary to permit the developer to make the project go -- but that hideous hotel on the beach in Taitung, an eyesore visible for kilometers around the coast, which should never have received a permit and whose case is full of irregularities, remains unmolested by the government (description of the case).

REF: Blog of a local reporter who has been following the case.
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

TVBS: Public Kinda of One Mind on One Country Two Areas

Love locks on a pedestrian bridge across the tracks at the Fengyuan Train Station in Fengyuan. Wiki: "local legend holds that the magnetic field generated by trains passing underneath will cause energy to accumulate in the locks and fulfill the wishes".

A new poll from the rabidly pro-KMT TV station TVBS shows that Ma's China policies remain unpopular, perhaps more so than they have ever been. 55% of those polled oppose former KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung's idea of "One Country, Two Areas", with only 19% agreeing and 27% undecided. This outcome is interesting in light of the poll's other findings....

....Since Ma took the throne in 2008, support for independence and Taiwanese identity have both been growing. The latest poll says:  69% favor independence but only 16% support unification if only these two choices are given. Consider that independence is at ~70% but objection to "One Country, Two Areas" is 15% lower. Someone needs to do some very detailed polling on what "independence" means because there are obviously some minds which find One nation, two areas compatible with independence. Perhaps a large segment of the population simply believes that all the talk is just so much sound and fury, signifying not much. After all, an announcement by an Honorary Chairman for Life who has no formal government position really means diddly -- it gives the government the chance to float the trial balloon, gauge the reaction, and deny that anything happened, if necessary.

Among the young support for independence reaches 80% -- only 12% want to be annexed to Beijing.

The numbers are similar but a little higher for Taiwanese identity. More interestingly, with three possible choices -- clever of TVBS to offer these choices -- hardly anyone sees themselves as solely Chinese (3%). 54% are Taiwanese and 40% are both.

Some 55% support Ma's handling of the cross-strait relationship, with 29% satisfied. Just 41% believe that the cross-strait agreements are beneficial to Taiwan, 25% say not beneficial, 19% have no position. 59% say Ma leans too close to China.

What it really means is that Ma has done a good job of positioning himself as a safely centrist politician -- at least 70% of the public is pro-independence, which means that 30% are not, yet Ma got 51% of the vote.   Lots of pro-KMTers are pro-independence. There was a steady stream of complaints from the public about Ma being to close to China even before the election, but Ma still won.

As I've noted before, the "Taiwanese identity" includes the KMT and thus, when people identify themselves as "Taiwanese" they are not identifying themselves as potential pan-Green voters or potential pro-independence types (more people are "Taiwanese" than support independence) or Taiwan nationalists or anything else reflecting the fantasies of certain types on the pro-Taiwan side (note how the score for the solely Taiwanese identity falls when three choices are offered). As I said before, I suspect that being "Taiwanese" is a kind of not- identity -- in this case, a large part of the "Taiwanese" identity is not-China in the way that Canada is a not-America. The "positive" identity: what being Taiwanese/Taiwan/ROC means is still being worked out.

Thus when Wu Po-hsiung goes to Beijing and says "One Country, Two Areas" that is rhetoric locals have been listening to their whole lives from people like Wu, whose behavior, after all, is part of their 'Taiwanese' identity -- indeed, if TVBS' numbers are right, about 40% of the population has a Taiwanese-Chinese identity that is congenial to if not compatible with, just that position. How can it threaten them? The constant flow of such propaganda has normalized the presence of such statements in everyday discourse and thus they can't threaten the "negative consensus" on what Taiwan is not because Wu didn't bluntly and directly say that Taiwan = China ("overlapping territories" under the One China rubric) and in any case has no power to make a formal change in the relationship. Plus ca change...

Moreover, consider an even simpler interpretation -- at any given time 50-55% disapprove of the President and 25-30% approve. This seems like something close to the "natural level" of satisfaction with the President in Taiwan irrespective of what is asked.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Just some links

Just don't feel like hitting the blog today... so enjoy a few links.
Daily Links:
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Japan's first land survey in Taiwan

From Japanese Mapping of Asia-Pacific Areas, 1873–1945: An Overview, Shigeru Kobayashi, Osaka University, Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review E-Journal No. 2 (March 2012).

(Remarks on cadastral (agricultural land/land use) surveys in Japan's newly-acquired territories....)
....In each of these territories, the new Japanese colonial government saw the importance of establishing its financial base in order to build up the local economy. Each colonial government set up a land registration system, including a cadastral survey, which was indispensable for raising revenue from landed property. This kind of project in the colonies has been considered an extension of the Land Tax Reform in the Japanese mainland (1873–1881). Concerned researchers widely accept that the modern landholding system established by domestic reform was reproduced in the colonies. However, if one scrutinizes the cadastral surveys in Taiwan (1898–1905), Korea (1910–1918), and the Kwantung Leased Territory (1914–1924) along with that in Okinawa Prefecture (1898–1903), several distinctive features can be found (Kobayashi and Narumi 2008). First, these surveys were carried out by special provisional government offices with specialized equipment and instruments, in contrast to the Land Tax Reform, which depended heavily on local administrative offices and inhabitants. Second, as a result of the experience of the Land Tax Reform, the surveys were conducted systematically and efficiently. The provisional government offices investigated thoroughly traditional land systems, which were deemed incompatible with modern landownership, and developed policies to cope with them carefully. Cadastral maps based on modern surveying techniques, including triangulation, were made along with land registers.
Other sources indicate that this cadastral survey -- difficult in the mountains where survey teams were under constant threat from aborigines -- helped bring much land that had been hidden from Qing taxation into the Japanese tax and agricultural regimes. Liu Ming-chuan, the progressive governor late in the Qing period, conducted land tax surveys that also brought much land under Qing taxation, but was nowhere close to a realistic figure. Kerr observed in Licensed Revolution... that the Qing were taxing 867,000 acres, but the Japanese survey more than doubled the amount of land known to 1,866,000 acres. Liao and Wang, in Taiwan Under Japanese Colonial Rule, 1895-1945: History, Culture, Memory, point out that land revenue in 1903 was .92 million yen, but by 1905 it had tripled to over 2.8 million yen.

A presentation of Shigeru's on the net gives an example of the kind of maps the survey produced. The scale for the survey was 1:20,000 and 1,466 sheets were produced, according to Shigeru.

Liao and Wang observe that this was the first survey to map the island scientifically, and its explicit goal was to map each piece of land and assign a number to it. They also observe that the survey, in addition to its obvious purpose of increasing revenue and clarifying ownership and location, made the unknown known, making it more difficult for Taiwanese guerrilla bands to hide in what had previously been unmapped areas.

This kind of post is what happens when you are just randomly surfing the net...
Daily Links:
  • SPECIAL: Greenpeace ship Esperanza to be docked in Keelung 3/31-4/2, press conference Saturday for announcement on results of Pacific Fishing commission discussions on central pacific marine reserves 
  • Isn't it great to have Lien Chan out there? Because we need someone on the KMT side to balance Annette Lu....
  • Pingtan Experimental Zone, created by China to lure Taiwanese money and tech, is "somewhat political" says intelligence chief. No, ya think?
  • Commonwealth on the island's meat oversight by gov't. Great job.
  • Taiwan woman who killed self while chatting on Facebook makes international news.
  • China Reform Monitor:
    China and Russia are on the verge of concluding their biggest arms contract in a decade but it is being held up by Moscow’s insistence on new intellectual property rights protections to limit Chinese competition in third country markets. Beijing has agreed in principle to buy 48 Su-35 multi-role fighters for $4 billion (approximately $85 million each) but is reluctant to stop copying Russian fighter aircraft. Despite an existing Sino-Russian agreement concluded in 2008 on the protection of military and technological intellectual property, Moscow is demanding additional guarantees. Yet, even if Beijing agrees to formalize Russian intellectual ownership of the Su-35, tracking compliance would be impossible, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reports. China’s share of Russian arms exports has declined steadily since 2007 and the two have not concluded a major contract since 2003.
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Monday, March 26, 2012

Photos from a Lovely Weekend

From here in Taichung, we returned Taipei's weather to its rightful owners, and enjoyed a couple of lovely days on Sunday afternoon and Monday. Here, walking the dog in the morning, I caught this spiderweb heavy with dew.

Sunday morning the weather was still grim. Dom models his new Seven custom steel bike, with an 11 speed Campy grupo. Sweet...

We went over BaGuaShan. In the morning the Taipei weather still lingered like a bad hangover, but the crowds were out and about on BaGuaShan in Changhua.

I've been up on BaGuaShan cycling many times but always had bad luck with the haze. But today it wasn't too awful.

The telephoto gives a good sense of the crowding in the area.

Since it was actually good cycling weather, the ridge was full of cyclists.

Everyone was selling pineapples.

Drew stops to image Dom's new bike.

The road is lined with homes and alleys in many places.

A cyclist mecca, this temple and police station provide toilets and water, and shops cluster in the area. On weekends it is packed with cyclists.

As you leave Changhua and head towards Nantou, tea farms begin to appear.

Self portrait with rolling farm country.

Caught this fellow hiding in the trees along the road on the ridge.

Dom and Drew rolling towards Nantou.

We rolled down 139 into Nantou city at the end of BaGuaShan. The descent is amazing -- no wacky curves, not much crossing traffic, and lovely views. I let the bike rip and laughed at the cars that couldn't quite bring themselves to pass me at the speeds we were going. Here is the view into Nantou city as you enter town crossing the 3, a key north-south route.

Betel nut girls, deep in converse.

After lunch in Nantou we took the 3 over to the 14丁, a bucolic route through farms and small towns.

The 14丁is one of my favorite little roads in the area.

On the way home I caught this egret in a Taichung river.

The beautiful weather today simply demanded that we take the dog for a walk.

He takes a rest while climbing.

Northern Taichung city wreathed in haze.

I know you are missing pictures of orb spiders.

These tiny spiders are difficult to photograph. I am always happy to get a picture.

Taking a rest break.

Hope to see you on the roads and trails of Taiwan someday!
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Daily Links, March 26, 2012

Beautiful night, last night. Here's a shot of what everyone was ooohing and aaahing at: Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon together in the western sky. That green light directly below them is the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium.

This week's collection....

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Media Freedom under China Influence

Cain Nunn from Global Post with an excellent piece about the way pro-Beijing media initiatives are affecting Taiwan's political climate...
The FAME report says that Chinese government agencies began placing advertorials in Taiwanese print media in 2008, but the number of “embedded” stories — which are published under the guise of objective journalism — more than doubled last year.

Citing national security concerns, Taiwan does not permit Chinese nationals to invest in the island’s media. However, critics claim that Beijing skirts these rules by pumping money through offshore dummy companies, and through Taiwanese businessmen with close ties to mainland authorities.

Tsai Eng-meng, chairman of the food manufacturer Want Want Group, has been singled out by media monitors as one such case. Earlier this month, Tsai came in second on Forbes’ richest Taiwanese list, with a fortune of $6.2 billion USD. He added $1 billion to his net wealth in 2011.

Tsai, who runs many food, real estate, hotel and health businesses in China, recently started purchasing media outlets in Taiwan that champion closer ties between the two sides. He echoes the Beijing line that the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 was overblown by Western media. To date, he has acquired three dailies, including the leading China Times, a TV station and a cable network and has plans to secure to a second cable operator.

Since Tsai purchased The China Times in 2008, a raft of senior journalists and editors have resigned over what they say is the increasing “Sinozation” of the paper.

“The owners influence their writers. If you analyze editorials in these papers then obviously there is a lot more pro-China talk and a lot less about China’s problems. It’s in the [news] pages as well, although it’s more subtle. But it’s there,” Chang said.

Freedom House, a US democracy advocate, has noticed the changes too.

In its global press freedom survey, Taiwan fell to 47th place in 2011 from 23rd in 2008. Back then, this diplomatically isolated island about 130 miles off China’s southern coast, was ranked as having the freest press in Asia. Freedom house said it was Asia’s eighth freest media environment in 2011.
The entire piece is excellent and well worth reading. It covers what some sharp observers have termed, not the Sinicization of Taiwan that so many in Taiwan fear, but its Hong Kong-ization. A commentator at a forum on China's influence over Taiwan's media a few days ago observed:
The current situation of Taiwanese media is similar to that of Hong Kong and Macau’s media before their handover to China in the late 1990s, when Beijing bribed, sweet-talked and threatened media in the two regions to promote its propaganda and “brainwash” people, Chen said.
Anyone familiar with the pernicious effects of media concentration and billionaire domination of the "free" press in the west will recognize this paragraph:
Over the years, ownership of much of Taiwan’s media has been dominated by business tycoons who have large investments in China, Lin said, citing the examples of Want Want Group chairman and chief executive Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), Fubon Financial chairman Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) and HTC Corp chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅).
This has a worrisome parallel in Hong Kong that bodes ill for Taiwan. Wiki notes that in Hong Kong growing self-censorship and muted criticism of China have followed the increasing links between business moguls and the CCP:
In 2011, Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairwoman Mak Yin-ting (Chinese: 麥燕庭) commented, "Now, more than half of Hong Kong media bosses or high media management have been absorbed by the Communist government... This will affect how news is handed down the hierarchy. They may consider whether reporting on some issues will affect the relationship between their bosses and the government."
It reads like the ending of Animal Farm.... Julian Baum reported last year in the CS Monitor on self-censorship in Taiwan's media:
“In the past, criticizing China was not something we avoided,” Yao said. “Now there are many things that can’t be said. So many Chinese delegations and VIPs are arriving, so many agreements have been signed, and certain topics are no longer discussed.”

Nearly all the Taiwanese media practice self-censorship in reporting about China, agrees Chuang Feng-chia, senior editor at the independent website and a past president of the Association of Taiwan Journalists.
As I noted at the time, outside the pan-Green papers, readers in Taiwan are either getting news about China from avowedly pro-China sources like the WantWant China Times, or from self-censored sources. Scary.
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

New Taiwan Studies Book

Dafydd Fell passed around an alert for Routledge's newest volume on Taiwan...

The ninth book in the Routledge Research on Taiwan series is now out. Routledge informs:

"Since the lifting of martial law, documentary has witnessed a revival in Taiwan, with increasing numbers of young, independent filmmakers covering a wide range of subject matter, in contrast to fiction films, which have been in steady decline in their appeal to local, Taiwanese viewers. These documentaries capture images of Taiwan in its transformation from an agricultural island to a capitalist economy in the global market, as well as from an authoritarian system to democracy. What make these documentaries a unique subject of academic inquiry lies not only in their exploration of local Taiwanese issues but, more importantly, in the contribution they make to the field of non-fiction film studies. As the former third-world countries and Soviet bloc begin to re-examine their past and document social changes on film, the case of Taiwan will undoubtedly become a valuable source of comparison and inspiration."

Routledge's information page on the series is here.
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CDC Annexes Taiwan to China

The map at left there is the CDC map of Taiwan which has the erroneous (China) note under the name TAIWAN from their travel recommendations page for Taiwan.

There is absolutely no need for this kind of error, since the CDC is well aware Taiwan is not part of China and lists the island separately on its pages for individual diseases and separately in the drop-down menu for the customer satisfaction survey that may appear when you access the site. For example, the page on Japanese Encephalitis, a dangerous disease which your children should be vaccinated for has separate entries for Taiwan and China.

The CDC is a US government agency and should follow US government policy, which is that Taiwan's status is undetermined.

The CDC does have a disclaimer:
The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on maps do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Sure, the disclaimer may say that the CDC takes no position, but if you write (China) under the name Taiwan when that status is disputed, you've taken a position. Drop them a polite line; if they survey you when you enter the website, leave a message on the bottom of the survey too. It's confusing to have the China notices mixed up with Taiwan; it leaves they impression that Taiwan has China's health issues. Contact page for the website is here.
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Friday, March 23, 2012

Oceania not at War with Eastasia: One Country, Two Areas

Champagne corks were flying all over the Taiwan media today as former KMT Chair Wu Po-hsiung hacked up a new formula for cross-strait relations: "One country, two areas" in a meeting with the ruler of China and mass murderer Hu Jin-tao. Thank all gods! Now we can relegate beef to the back pages since we can report on something that looks and tastes like actual news but has only half the calories.

As my friend Andrew K wittily parsed this, Wu meant Taiwan north and south of the Choshui River.

The BBC reported:
Mr Hu told Mr Wu that Taiwan and mainland China should push for a peaceful development of cross-strait relations "hand in hand like a family", reports the People's Daily Overseas Edition.

The Global Times says Mr Wu has proposed a new concept of "one country, two areas" as the "legal base" for handling relations between the two sides.
Wu also informed Hu that relations between the two allied, centrally-organized, Party-State political organizations  the KMT and CCP the two governments were "special" but were not "special state-to-state" (FocusTaiwan). Premier Sean Chen then officiously stepped in to remind everyone that this was perfectly in accordance with the ROC Constitution which specifies that China is one nation and the ROC is its ruler. Mutual Non-Denial? Down the memory hole, where it nestles comfortably beside APROC, 6-3-3, and FTAs.

Wu also said that exchanges with China and with other parties and interest groups will expand mutual understanding, benefiting "the softening of internal biases in Taiwan and aids in establishing a consensus." In other words, China is the club that will beat the DPP and those pesky pro-democracy types back into their place.

Yes, now that the election is over, the Ma Administration is suddenly not Taiwanese anymore. On the net there was much wearing of sackcloth and ashes at this, as if anything else were to be expected of this government.

It is interesting to contrast the KMT and DPP on this issue -- in 2009 Chen Chu went off to China and referred to President Ma as "the President of our central government." Apparently the earth remained in its orbit and China still signed ECFA.

Really, when Wu talks about "One country, two areas" he means that outside of Taiwan the KMT talks about Taiwan in a completely different way than it does when Party officials are speaking to home audiences. It doesn't really matter what Wu actually says since whatever happens in public is as scripted as a pro wrestling bout, and of even less import. The key is that he signals the continued willingness of the KMT to ally itself with the CCP and garner the benefits of cross-strait agreements for the KMT, big business, cross-strait organized crime, and other interested parties.

More pertinent in its way was the less touted report from the Taiwanese General Contractor Association that shows what "one country, two areas" actually means in practice for Beijing: relentless suppression of Taiwan. For Beijing's bid to join an international general contractor association, Beijing sent a memo....
In the memo, China listed as a prerequisite before it applied for membership that, in any activity and meetings of the international association, there be no presence of the “so-called ROC [Republic of China] national flag, national emblem or national anthem.”

It also said that Taiwanese officials could not attend in any capacity.

The Chinese association also demanded that the international group remove the Taiwanese association from all lists of nations in all meetings, events, documents, Web sites and paperwork to avoid creating the impression that there are “two Chinas,” or one Taiwan and one China.
Even more importantly, the article also recognizes one of the important conflicts that will shape the KMT's internal politics in the coming years:
Though China has yet to apply for membership, after the Ma administration announced that public infrastructure construction would be opened to Chinese investment, Chinese influence in Taiwan’s economy and politics would increase, the sources said.

At that time, the international association would inevitably be forced to agree to China’s strict demands, the sources said.

The sources said that the public sector is worried that further opening up of infrastructure construction to Chinese investors would enable China to control local factions through construction benefits and the contracting of subcontractors, and that such control would be able to influence elections.
There's no reason to think that CCP won't be as savvy as the KMT in playing off local factions against each for benefits from China, and there's no reason to think that the local factions won't be happy to play off Beijing against the KMT to extort greater benefits. Local contractors may also revolt against the KMT leadership when firms from China make off with plum projects. Managing its local patronage networks, historically a challenge muted by flows of central government money for public construction patronage in local areas, will become even more complex once giant firms from China muscle into the Taiwan public works market.

And wait til they want to import Chinese workers to do it....
Daily Links:
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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Beef Crisis Follies

One good thing about Taiwan's political crises is that sooner or later some legislator will have a moment of outstanding looniness that provides comic relief.... in this case, a DPP legislator suggests that the nation's soldiers consume a kilo of domestic pork a day to alleviate the ills of the nation's pork producers....
DPP Legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) recently said each of the nation’s 270,000 servicemen and women should be made to eat 1kg of pork a day to reverse falling prices because of consumer worries over the use of leanness-enhancing animal feed by the livestock industry.
....the math doesn't really work, as the paper claims thats like 10 pork chops a day, but it turns out our proud defenders are already following this policy with respect to fruit.....
Ministry officials said that in late 2008, when a glut of oranges was plaguing farmers, the armed forces had launched a 20-month campaign to increase its orange consumption.

By the end of that campaign, the military had consumed more than 600 tonnes of oranges.

Soon afterward, banana farmers saw prices plummet, so the ministry bought more than 100 tonnes of bananas, which made some servicemen feel they were being “force-fed” fruit, ministry officials said.
The article ends by noting that the reason people are suspicious of pork is because the government doesn't enforce the laws. All it has to do to cure the problem is start enforcing the laws about what can be in pork. It should also be noted that the lack of law enforcement is a subsidy to pork producers.....
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Musings on Beef and the US Shaping of Taiwan

The beef issue remains in the news as the government is busy conducting a propaganda campaign to convince the public that ractopamine-laden US beef is safe....
People First Party (PFP) caucus whip Thomas Lee (李桐豪) yesterday urged the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government to stop what it says is a propaganda campaign surrounding its policy to allow conditional imports of US beef containing residues of the feed additive ractopamine.

The Government Information Office (GIO) on Monday produced 250,000 leaflets and fliers to explain what ractopamine is, why the government plans to ease the import ban and the benefits the policy would bring the country.

Local governments and KMT lawmakers are responsible for handing out 10,000 copies, 100,000 copies were distributed with newspapers yesterday, while the rest will be distributed in magazines.

“Is the government a sales representative for a ractopamine producer? It should not use public funds to advertise the safety of a drug when its use is still banned in Taiwan,” Lee said, adding that his party was “extremely angry” that the government had mobilized public resources to “brainwash people.”
If you can get over the irony of a pan-Blue politician scolding the government for using public resources to brainwash people (not to mention that Lee once notoriously asked the public to kill the previous President), Lee's criticisms are dead on.

A local reporter pointed out to me that the beef issue is being closely watched by the other main beef exporters to Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand. If the US is able to force Taiwan to accept its beef (and pork!) with the leanness drugs, then those two nations can also export such beef (and pork!) to Taiwan. Given the rising incomes in China and greater demand for high-status foods like beef, one has to wonder whether US importers also have one eye on the China market in this spat with Taiwan, since ractopamine-treated beef is also banned in China. Recall too that Taiwan consumers have a preference for "sweeter" US beef and will switch to it if it is available, which may indicate the preferences of consumers across the Strait as well.

One thing that has struck me observing this controversy is how it reflects just one of the myriad ways that the US shapes Taiwan. It just so happens that this semester I am teaching an elective course on American Mass Culture and its Dissemination in the World, which is essentially a course in the creation and dissemination of the global consumer culture invented and promulgated by US corporations. The beef issue is a good example of US marketers using a blunt instrument to open markets to their products. Difficult to miss this influence.

From the corporate point of view, the purpose of cool is merely to sell goods to the youth market. That sort of thing, from the pervasive and jarring sight of hip-hop dancing in Taiwan to the omnipresence of US brands, is easily spotted.

But the US also organizes Taiwan in another fundamental way, and that is through the supply chain system with its networks of trading companies and OEM/ODM makers. These firms produce and ship products for the US market. The capabilities of these networks of production, once sometimes transferred or introduced from the US, how they are used by large global brands, and how they themselves grow and learn from US corporate practice, and from business school practices that globalize US management beliefs and training, influence many aspects of Taiwanese life, from the size of their salary to whether their firm has a grievance process, as well as what consumer products they use in their own lives. Beef is just the tip of the iceberg....
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Book Review: Stranger in Taiwan

Stranger in Taiwan
Hartley Pool
Revenge Ink, 208 pp

Hartley Pool sent me a copy of his new, quasi-autobiographical book discussing his experiences as a language teacher in Taiwan. Below is my review.

The book opens in London where he meets an attractive Taiwanese girl, Anita, while teaching ESL classes. Soon they are involved in a long-distance relationship, and he decides to go out to Taiwan to pursue the relationship. The story then becomes a series of vignettes of his encounter with Taiwan, rich with wit and self-deprecating humor.

Told with a constant flow of jokes, wisecracks, and irony that often rises to real wit, Strangers in Taiwan can be quite entertaining. It will always make you smile, and sometimes it is laugh-out-loud funny. The book does a wonderful job of capturing how outre and disconnected the Taiwan experience is when you first get here, how disorienting and bewildering it can be. Anyone who has been here any length of time will have had the same experiences and will instantly be able to relate to them: the hospital. The Girl. The Family. The Job. Touring with The Girl.

Unfortunately the book never gets past that level. In Pool's hands Taiwan and his girl, Anita, are merely foils for displays of wit. It ends with his marriage to the girl he came for, but despite this apparent movement through two years of his life, the book lacks any definite story or even narrative flow. People and things flow into the book like crowds on a dark street briefly illuminated by a streetlamp before hurrying on their way past, having as little effect on either Pool or the reader. Events and issues are seldom introduced or explained at any length, meaning that the reader ends up as disoriented as Pool. Why did Pool stay for two years? Why did he marry his girlfriend? How does Taiwan cause him to reflect on his own life, his own culture, his own values? What can the reader learn from his experience?

As a set of disconnected tales, this is an excellent work, each chapter worth the time spent. But taken as a whole, it lacks the kind of depth and development that would have made it a truly memorable and illuminating work.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Feel the Powershot II: Canon SX260 HS

Many years ago I bought my first camera in the Canon Powershot series, an S5 IS. I upgraded from that to a Fuji HS10, which except for its magnificent lens is at best mediocre. Tired of lugging that big lens around, I got my hands on Canon's superb Powershot S95, which is a fantastic camera that takes luscious pictures, has great functionality, and is really easy to use. A solidly designed and engineered camera in every way, it is the digital camera equivalent of a DC-3 or an AK-47. I love that camera.


Yet when I got back from my most recent trip to the east coast, I found I sorely missed having a big telephoto at hand. Clearly the HS10 wasn't the solution due to its weight and poor design, so I started poking around for a pocket zoom camera. Eventually I focused on four options: the Nikon Coolpix S9300, the Olympus SZ30-MR, the Canon Powershot SX260 HS, and going DLSR, in this case, a Canon 600 series.

I eliminated the Nikon, partly because I couldn't find any examples of it in Taiwan and so was forced to look at the 9100, and partly because I never find Nikon menus easy to use. I went out to look at the Olympus a couple of times. It has a very attractive 25-600mm equivalent zoom. It's light as a feather, so light it feels like a toy. The icons also make it look like a toy, and I had trouble overcoming this visceral reaction. It took good pictures and its controls were sensibly arranged. However, in the end I decided to go with what I knew, the Canon. I rejected the DSLR because I don't like the weight and the fact that I'd be buying extra lenses.

The Canon Powershot SX260 HS is not available in Taiwan and was not yet stocked in the big camera sellers in the US, who in any case won't ship it overseas. So I acquired it by circuitous routes. Here's my quickie first look review.

First, the good news. It takes great pictures, just like the S95. It has a solid feel that feels right in the hand, and lens retracted, takes up almost as little space as the Canon Powershot S95. It has a rubber piece that helps with the grip as well. The shutter button on the S95 has always felt cheap and flimsy to me, but the SX260 has a big silver button like an SLR. Very comfortable.

Functionality is awesome. I haven't explored them all yet, but it has nearly 60 scene modes, and overall greater functionality than the S95, which is to be expected since it is a next generation camera. It has GPS, which I have not used yet. The zoom, 25-500mm, is excellent and deploys rapidly. I did not find the shutter lag noticeable let alone objectionable, and like the S95, it powers right up. The controls are laid out sensibly, all operable by one finger. The record button is separate from the shutter (yay!). There is no control ring like on the front of the S95, sadly -- that's a great feature. ISO can only be controlled from the menu. It takes the same batteries as the S95 too.

Downers: It doesn't shoot on RAW (which is why they invented Canon camera hacks: WIKI). It does not have the range of ISO choices the S95 does (why not?).  [[Another annoying issue is when you change the PASM dial, you often accidentally press the picture review button. The shutter dial requires real effort to turn, a compromise that keeps it from turning when you put it away. MT -- this appears to be related to the newness of the camera and is no longer an issue.]]

All in all, this appears to be a solid camera, perfect for traveling and touring. Very happy with it and really looking forward to using it. Below I have some sample images for your enjoyment... the originals are all on FLICKR, click on READ MORE to view the rest of the post. The images are all taken on the highest picture fineness setting, superfine, and are ~7 meg each unprocessed.

UPDATED APRIL 2012: Some additional comments. The lack of the front wheel like the S95 is very annoying. Another annoying problem is having to go into the menu to change the ISO instead of having it accessible from either the wheel or a button. The more I use the big shutter button, the better it feels. The bokeh on either close ups or telefoto is very enjoyable.

UPDATED AUGUST 2012: Huge problem: the shutter cover doesn't work. If you slip the camera into a pocket, that nested cover will move, exposing the glass beneath right in the freakin center of the lens. This means that (1) the piece of glass covering the lens is constantly getting dirty from whatever is in your pocket and (2) it is vulnerable to scratches and stains from things in your pocket. That slip of glass now has two small gouges in it right in the center, permanent until I can pay to get it swapped for a new one. This is a serious design flaw....
My friend and longtime Hualien resident Ryan sent around this pic. Hualien County Chief Fu Kun-qi, an "independent" with longtime KMT ties, recently spent what appears to be county money on this empty bag which he handed out to county residents, labeling it a Tsunami Survival Kit. Naturally his name is prominent on it. Ryan helpfully translated the list of stuff you should put in it:
The list of things... 1. water 2. food 3. copies of your ID 4. cash 5. first aid 6. work gloves 7. flashlight 8. coat/underwear 9. blanket 10. light raincoat 11. heat pack 12. tissue/face mask 13. stationery 14. spare keys 15. swiss army knife/whistle...
"Hualien County Magistrate Fu Kun-qi cares about the safety of your family."
Ryan added:
Notably absent: water purification tablets. Duct tape. Plastic bags. Can opener. Hygiene products (sanitizer). Tools. extra batteries. candles. flares. water-proof matches. lighter. rope.
Fu's tale is told here.
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Daily Links, March 20, 2012

Helmets? We don't need no steekin' helmets!

Should have had these in yesterday, but too busy. So enjoy the weekly links a day late.....

Brought my Fuji HS10 with the big 720mm lens out to Miaoli with me on Saturday...

Butterflies above the Liyutan Reservoir in Miaoli

A gorgeous day in Miaoli on Saturday

  • The Taipei Times on, the new website about living and playing in Taiwan
Taiwan beauties atop Yundongshan on 130 in Miaoli. It was far too hazed over to see the distant mountains.
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Taiwan to Liberalize Investment in Crown Jewel Firms by China

WSJ laconically reported:
The person, who asked not to be named, told Dow Jones Newswires the new rule--which will require final approval from the Cabinet--would allow Chinese investors to own up to a 50% stake in any Taiwanese tech firm, from 10% currently. The new rule would apply to companies including flat-panel and semiconductor manufacturers, the person added.
There's precious little investment from China in Taiwan, especially compared to the massive monies that Taiwanese have pumped into China, and even less into the tech sector. The move is ostensibly to permit Taiwan's capital-hungry firms to receive injections of lucre from China. Yet the pattern so far has been that there is no quid without a political pro quo from Beijing....

Another issue here is that approvals of such investments would likely be on a case-by-case basis. Readers will recall that back in 2009 Taiwan telecom giant FarEastOne inked a deal to sell a 12% share to a ginormous China firm, but the deal was never approved. I blogged on it at the time, citing an excellent piece by J Michael Cole on the Chinese firm's close ties to the government and state security entities.

It appears likely that the KMT Administration might promulgate such a law in order to appear as if it is doing something, but in fact throw up bureaucratic obstacles to concrete realization of the law. Even if the Ma government is sincere about letting Beijing's firms invest in Taiwan's tech sector, the turning over of a large chunk of a local crown jewel to Beijing may well spark the kind of public outcry that would kill the deal. If Beijing is smart its first investment will not be large and the usual connections to state security and investment firms will be lacking.
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ma Administration takes Beef Poll Hit

Help! Somebody stop me before I use the diorama function again!

Apologies for the title, but I just couldn't think of a good had to scribe a boring straight title.

The Week of Poll Wars: The Taiwan Thinktank has come out with polls on the beef issue over the last week, triggering a government response that predictably seems to discredit government polling.

First, a few days ago Taiwan Thinktank released a poll showing public support for a zero tolerance approach to US beef was massive:
In related news, an opinion poll conducted by the pro-DPP Taiwan Thinktank showed that 77.6 percent of respondents agreed that a zero-tolerance stance on ractopamine should be made law, DPP Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said.

The support for such a move is bipartisan, Lin added, with 78.8 percent of pan-blue supporters and 86 percent of pan-green supporters favoring such legislation.
It then followed up with another poll showing that Ma's disapproval ratings are high and his approval ratings, both in general and on this issue, are low:
Meanwhile, the latest survey conducted by a DPP-led pan-green think tank shows that 62.1 percent of the respondents are not satisfied with President Ma Ying-jeou's administration.

A total of 67.7 percent of the public are not satisfied with Ma's policy on conditionally allowing imports of ractopamine-tainted U.S. beef, while 73.8 percent expressed dissatisfaction at the way that the government handled recent avian flu outbreaks...
I didn't comment on this poll because I was waiting for the pro-KMT polls, since the Taiwan Thinktank polls are partisan and I don't trust them. If the other side's polls tell a similar story.....

The government poll, done by the RDEC, paints a totally different picture:
The latest government poll, carried out by the Cabinet-level Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, shows that 48.4 percent of the respondents were against any easing of the ban on beef containing ractopamine residue, said KMT spokesman Yin Wei, compared with more than 60 percent against the idea in another earlier poll conducted March 1-2.
The government then claimed that public support for easing the ban is rising. It also dissed the Taiwan Thinktank for producing erroneous polls prior to the election. Actually, the two polls asked different questions, as the Taipei Times reported....
A survey by the commission, which polled 1,084 adults from March 6 until Friday, showed an increase of 22 percentage points in support of imports of US beef containing ractopamine when four conditions established by the government were factored in, while the disapproval rate declined by 19 points.
As I read it, the Thinktank poll didn't factor in the idea of the four conditions the KMT administration proposed, meaning that the public is being polled on different items, apparently constructed to produce just these results. I haven't seen spins like this since my last drinking contests in college....

... the other side's partisan polls finally did speak, however, and told basically the same story as the Taiwan Thinktank. The pro-KMT TV station TVBS came out Tuesday with a poll that casts severe doubt on the KMT position. It noted that Ma's approval rating has fallen to 28%, the first time in two years below 30% in a TVBS poll. It also said that "nearly 60%" (59%, actually), were against opening the market to US beef even under the four conditions proposed by the KMT -- rising to 64% among voters who see themselves as in the middle. This is 10% higher than the government poll. Even in the TVBS poll KMT voters didn't support the KMT Administration.

PS: Taiwan Thinktank needs a more robust English page. The latest English update is from January and is about the election. Nothing on the recent beef controversy. Can someone thump a few heads over there? The more convenient Taiwan Thinktank makes it for non-Chinese speakers to use their pages, the more their message will get out into the wider world.

ADDED: The Writing Baron with observations on the "Aussie" beef also found to have icky chemicals and other stuff.
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