Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gaoping Great Lakes Controversy

Map of Gaoping Great Lakes Project (source). Google satellite image of area.

Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert remains one of the great books on water policy, and one of the things he notes in it is how water projects develop a life of their own, with justifications and shapes shifting over time, but with the drive to build the dam thing no matter how bad a dog it is never dying. Are we seeing this in the Gaoping Great Lakes Project? The Taipei Times reports on a protest:
Environmentalists and farmers from Pingtung County and Greater Kaohsiung yesterday staged a protest against the Gaoping Great Lakes (高屏大湖) project, which they fear would divert water used for farming and damage local soybean production.

A project of the Water Resources Agency’s (WRA) Southern Region Water Resources Office, it would build five manmade lakes in a nearly 700-hectare area covering many farms at the border of Pingtung County’s Ligang Township (里港) and Greater Kaohsiung’s Meinong District (美濃).

The project was originally part of the Jiyang artificial lake project, which passed an environmental impact assessment in 2002, for cross-border water channeling and to save water during dry seasons.

After severe flooding in the south caused by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009, the project was modified to become part of a southern Taiwan water stabilization project by the WRA. It was further modified into a three-phase project, with the first artificial lake — covering about 200 hectares — being constructed in the first stage.


The project aims to channel excess water from the Nanhua Reservoir (南化水庫) and the Gaoping River Dam (高屏溪攔河堰), but the only time the two areas have excess water is in summer, Yang said.

Moreover, since the target areas do not suffer from a water shortage during summer, he questioned why the government should spend billions of dollars to construct manmade lakes that would have very limited benefits.
The lakes have a depth of just 12m. This website observes that not only are the soybean farmers and workers in the area protesting, but in Ligang the Thai Shrimp farming and vegetable farming will also suffer from water shortages if pond E is built. Because locals are so dead set against the project, the legislature has canceled the budget on several occasions, it reports.

Another view (source).

Another article states the government's position on the young soybean impact:
The irrigation authorities, citing the Council of Agriculture, say that the total area of the first and second soybean crop is 7,338 hectares, of which the initial development, E area, represents just 188.86 hectares, or 2.57% of the (re)planted area, or 7.56% of the Pingtung young soybean land area of 2,497 hectares.

The farmers respond that the first crop and the second crop are not identical -- the government is engaging in mathematical sleight of hand, lowballing the estimate by playing with the first crop vs the total area planted. According to the farmers, soybeans are planted in spring and fall in Taiwan. Thus, the effective area lost to the farmers is 367 hectares (twice the government's estimate) because two season's worth of production, first and second crop, is lost.

Of course, that estimate is only for the E area, phase 1. Once phase 2 and phase 3 are completed, the farmers point out, they will cover 500 hectares -- meaning that two crops of production totalling 500 hectares are lost, effectively 1000 hectares of production. Total soybean production in the area is only 2,497 hectares for all seasons.

That article says that some soybean farmers are arguing the project isn't about water at all, but about gravel. As the project plan makes clear (google "1.2 開發行為之內容" and see section 1.2), creation of the lakes, 12 meters deep, will necessitate the removal of millions of cubic of meters of gravel, a material in high demand in Taiwan, which whoever owns the land and sells the gravel can make an easy and quick profit off of. More need not be said....

ADDED: See good comment below arguing main issue is really tiny amount of water provided. I was really just curious to understand why such an obvious dog of a project was still being completed.
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KMT Wants Stock Transaction Tax "postponed"

There is nothing so permanent as a temporary emergency -- Robert A. Heinlein

The KMT moves to protect one of its most important constituencies, the nation's wealthy non-taxpayers, by mooting a delay in the implementation of the stock transaction tax.
Several legislators called on the government to postpone levying a capital gains tax on stock transactions because the stock market continues to remain sluggish. KMT legislator Sun Ta-chien (孫大千) proposed raising the stock transaction tax from the current 0.3% to 0.35% and postponing the effective date of the recently passed capital gains tax on stock transactions. Moreover, as the capital gains tax on stock transactions would take effect on January 1, 2013, a high- ranking KMT official stated that the Legislative Yuan and the Cabinet could jointly propose a "sunrise clause" to postpone its implementation.
As I've noted a few times since the election (and before), I suspect a key hidden factor in the election was the support of the class of non-taxpaying holders of capital wealth for Ma. Now they are getting their money's worth out of the KMT.

Another factor here is the role of the stock market as an indicator of the nation's economic performance. Obsessive interest in rankings are a key cultural trait of the Taiwanese; playing with the stock market is playing with a major component of the national psyche.
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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spies again...and again...and again....

WSJ reports the sad tale:
A retired Taiwanese naval officer and two others were arrested on suspicion of spying for China, the latest in a string of cases that underline the mistrust between Beijing and Taipei despite warming economic ties.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said in a statement Monday that Lt. Col. Chang Chih-hsin was suspected of "spying for officials at the Communist Party in China" and "bribing other officers in the navy for illegal gains" during his tenure, which ended in May, at the Naval Meteorological & Oceanographic Office. The office provides mapping data for the military.
J Michael Cole has an excellent article in The Diplomat (which is always full of good articles) on this case and some of the issues. After reviewing a couple of terrible cases of Chinese espionage over the last two years, Cole notes:
All this occurred at a time when the Ma administration was striving to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait via a series of agreements and exchanges, in the hopes that such contact would encourage Beijing to become less antagonistic. Such expectations, it seems, were misguided. Or rather, while Beijing was happy to take the first steps toward the liberalization of relations between the two historical enemies — which has arguably benefitted Taiwan in some respects — it never abandoned the hard measures of the past. As a result, China’s soft approach has not replaced the belligerent strategy of the past; instead, it complements it as part of a united front strategy to wrest Taiwan from the grips of independence and bring it back into the Motherland’s embrace.
Reality as Cole notes: there was never any soft approach, except as an aspect of the hardline. The spy issue unfortunately isn't just an issue of getting closer to China since Ma took office. Cases like this go back years -- retired officers have been moving to China in droves since the Lee Administration. Chang was close to retirement when the case began, he was permitted to visit China and was heading back for a second visit when he was arrested. The other two officers were already retired. The problem of China and retired officers is severe -- hundreds are living and doing business there. The Taipei Times noted a DPP legislator's complaint that the procedures for preventing Chang's visit to China were in place but that they were not appropriately handled. Just another case of Taiwan having decent laws and regulations but lacking enforcement.....

Cole then points out that the spy issue creates distrust of Taiwan in Washington -- it is frequently cited in the media as a reason why the folks in DC don't want to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, since their secrets might be leaked to Beijing.....

Aries Poon has been reporting here since the Qing Dynasty. He certainly couldn't make an error like this. How the heck could this have been produced? A new editor who didn't know anything?
Despite closer economic cooperation and conciliatory rhetoric between Taiwan and China in recent years, there is still mistrust between the two sides. Beijing has yet to renounce the option of military force as a way to reclaim Taiwan, which it considers part of China. Taiwan, under the Taiwan Relations Act signed with the U.S. in 1979, is still opting for purchase of more weapons for self-defense. The U.S. in September 2011 agreed to upgrade Taiwan's aging fleet of F-16 for $5 billion.
The Taiwan Relations Act wasn't "signed with the US." It is a US law passed by the US Congress. Taiwan had no part in it. D'oh!

And can we not use the term "reclaim" since the PRC never owned Taiwan? What's going on is annexation. At least use the term unification, if truth cannot be spoken.
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Monday, October 29, 2012

Daily Links, Monday, Oct 29th

What's wriggling around on the blogs this week? The misnomered Monday links....


  • AsiaEye's under-the-radar news for this week.
  • Raw crab! No, thanks.
  • Craig with pics from the LGBT parade.
  • Travel in salt pans of Tainan. Good pics.
  • Understanding Taiwanese scooter rage. And don't miss his Hsinchu man jailed for comparing a woman to Doraemon.
  • The Dignified Rant rewrites history a bit. Ok, a lot:
    Of course, President Bush offered to sell F-16s to Taiwan, too, over a decade ago. By the time Taiwan wanted to buy them, President Obama wasn't selling.
    It was the Bush Administration that started the US refusal to sell F-16s to Taiwan. The formal request from Chen Shui-bian arrived in 2006; the US State Department pretended for years that no formal letter had been sent, or else begged Taiwan not to send one, or their dog ate the letter, or whatever. President Bush refused to sell F-16s to Taiwan; President Obama continued this policy. Let's not let ideology bend reality, eh Brian?  The current policy is a pavane -- whenever Taipei talks about actually buying them, the US will say that it won't sell; whenever the US hints it might sell, suddenly Taipei will have budget trouble. Neither the Ma Administration nor the US foreign policy establishment, irrespective of who is warming the White House throne, wants Taiwan to have 66 shiny new F-16s. Simple as that. UPDATE: Brian responded:
    I'd like to say that this was simply a post to remind the Taiwanese to buy when the offer is out there and not to wait until Chinese pressure can get the offer cancelled. Yes, Bush did turn down a Taiwanese request for new F-16s near the end of his presidency. But the reason given for turning down the request was that previous years of Taiwanese political arguments over defense purchases led President Bush to be wary of accepting a request absent indications that Taiwan's government would appropriate the money to buy them.

    While President Obama certainly "continued" the failure to sell new F-16s from the Bush era, the excuse of Taiwan not being serious about spending the money didn't seem like the issue. Indeed, the Obama administration was reassured by the Taiwanese that they were serious about wanting to buy new planes. In the end, the Taiwanese considered upgrades to the old F-16s a mere consolation prize.
Since he doesn't allow comments, I am forced to respond here. The Ma government was never serious about buying new planes; when Chairman of the KMT during the Chen Administration the KMT blocked the F-16 sale from reaching the legislature's floor many times. The Chen administration was serious about obtaining F-16s. Contrary to Brian's claim, the money was appropriated to begin the sale in 2006 and again in 2007. The money was there and Taiwan was ready, but individuals on both sides were playing a game, taking turns throwing up obstacles, the KMT-led legislature freezing the funds ostensibly because the US wasn't providing data on costs. Haha. Had the Bush Administration wanted, there were many ways to arrange a transfer of aircraft. Ultimately, the Bush Administration was serving Beijing on this issue, because it had its own priorities, including North Korea. Thus, three times between 2006 and 2008 the Bush Administration refused to accept a Letter of Request (LOR) from Taipei. It was not "reluctant" or "wary" or whatever. It was pro-actively establishing a policy of not selling F-16s because it was "sensitive" to China. When the Obama Administration decided not to sell F-16s, it was  following established policy, equally pro-actively and for the same reasons. There wasn't any difference between the attitude of the two Administrations.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Great China Post Editorial on Cycling

Bike path outside Ershuei, Changhua. Note the high quality surface.

My man Drew's Taiwan in Cycles gets a mention in the China Post in an editorial on (f*ck yeah!) how cycling in Taiwan is done all wrong. Great work, Drew! The CP says:
Let's face the biggest problem straight off the bat — the central and local governments like cycling because of cash and self-promotion. It comes as no surprise that this year's Tour de Taiwan route — like those before it — was taken to task by cyclists for being dull. The Taiwan in Cycles blog actually summed it up quite well as “a bunch of boring crap.” Instead of showing what they were made of by pushing up the alpine hills of Hehuanshan or following the turquoise seas of the East Coast, entrants battled mainly boredom and muggy air. Keeping the event profitable, both monetarily and politically, means keeping its route bound to densely populated areas instead of using the event's considerable exposure to help make the country be taken seriously by the international racing community.
I blogged on why the Tour was so awful here, with maps and all (in the comments there is an explanation of why the Tour de Taiwan routes are so awful). Drew's original post is here. Great work, China Post, in using Drew's trenchant blog and in pushing cycling, for which the island is so totally suited. Great work, Drew, in being relevant (Drew's own post).

The excellent editorial itself hits many of the problems:
Making this jump [to bike commuting] would be far from difficult. Cycling is already popular, folding bicycles are common, Taipei is generally flat and there is already an extensive public transport system that allows bicycles to be carried onboard, making mixed-mode commuting easy. The biggest obstacle is getting bike paths constructed to make commuting safe. Dedicated bicycle lanes are not and will never be sufficient, given the local driving habits and amount of traffic. Taipei's YouBike system is admirable but is not built for commuting and the capital needs a systematic overhaul of its roadways and road rules. Unfortunately other attempts at cycling paths are not encouraging, like ones in which motorists unflinchingly dive in and out of the lane and others with uncomfortable, tiled surfaces.
These are all things that Drew and I and other cyclists have complained about for years. Just yesterday I rode around the bike paths outside Ershuei. The landscape was enjoyable, but the surface of the "bike path" was appalling. As you can see in the above pic, a steady flow of powered vehicles has ripped huge holes in the path surface. We were passed several times by blue trucks carrying farm equipment. The routine use of bike paths by vehicles for driving and parking is a problem all over the nation, in both rural and urban areas. So is the insane use of bricks, tile, and cobble for biking surfaces. If I were cynical I'd be arguing that someone was making a bundle using leftover bricks and cobbles for bike lane surfaces, but of course I am never like that. But the lack of law enforcement, and the poor choice of surface materials, reinforces the view that the government's bike lanes are simply Potemkin villages not meant for a serious change in the island's lifestyle.

The CP editorial correctly points out that the metro could permit bikes, but in fact it permits only at some stations and then only on weekends. The first step would be to permit bikes on the metro all day long at every station except for Taipei Station during off-peak hours.

Not only is Taipei flat, it is also not very large. Lead the nation, folks!

Another issue that would have to be addressed is Taiwan Railway's often bizarre bike rules. At major tourist cycling stops such as Fangliao (for Kenting) and Fulong (NE coast) you can ship a bike by train as a parcel, but you can't ship one out -- you have to ride the train with the bike back to another station like Songshan or Keelung to ship it as baggage. The act of putting a bike in a bag -- any bag, even a plastic garbage bag -- means that shipping is free on so-called "bike trains" as luggage, whereas on the same train shipping the bike unbagged means that you pay the express parcel shipping fee. The last time I trained to Hualien there was a group of cyclists who had special bags so large they didn't have to disassemble their bikes; they just popped the bike whole into the bag, zipped it up, and schlepped it onto the train. The "designated bike local train" simply means that you can only put your bikes on certain trains, which have no special infrastructure or rules for bikes -- and they frequently occur during rush hour. Because so many people enter the Taipei basin by early morning train rides, the TRA situation will have be addressed by a rational policy. Just take the 7:37 express out of Taoyuan -- it is absolutely packed with commuters, yet it is a designated bike train -- the commuters all sit in the "bike car" which is either a dining car or a baggage car with no special adaptations for the needs of bikes.  All locals should be bike trains, and designated bike trains should have special hangers and whatnot for bikes. Fortunately, local station managers are frequently relaxed about the rules, especially on the east coast line, mitigating much of the obtuseness.

But above all, the government has to take the view that the bicycle is more than just a trendy recreational vehicle. It needs to truly support bicycle commuting, and build a bicycle culture here.

EVENT: The next big bike ride is over Alishan Nov 24-25, leaving from Taichung. Overnighting in Caoling. Leaving early, climbing up to Fenchihu via the 169, picking up the magnificent 159A in Shijhuo to finish the ride to Chiayi city. Train home from Chiayi.

ADDED: Speaking of communications and traffic, how about this ferry for the Suao-Hualien run? 80 mins back and forth!
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Saturday, October 27, 2012

New train cars, way cool...oops!

In case you ever wanted to visit that Formosan Macaque Education Center outside Ershuei in Changhua, don't bother. Note the errors here, and also how title and content are totally unrelated. There weren't any monkeys, and the exhibition center is tiny. If I were the cynical type, I might speculate as to how somebody is made a bundle laying that thing out, but as you know, I am never like that.

Taiwan took delivery of tilting train cars for east coast operation. Yay! There's a pic there, they look very sweet:
TRA director general Fan Tzu-ku said his company has purchased a total of 136 Puyuma tilting train cars from Japan at a total cost of NT$10.6 billion, with the remaining 120 cars to be delivered in two batches in May and August, respectively.

Fan told reporters that the Taiwan version of the train is splashed red in front, and shows a distinct TRA logo. The trains, which use light aluminum alloy frames, won't have to slow down when passing through bending railway sections.

Inside the train cars, there are baby nursing rooms, multifunction circular arc toilets, and small desks on which passengers will be able to use their smartphones and tablets, said Fan.
The cars are for operation on the Tz Chiang expresses on the east coast line. 16 of the new cars are going for trial operations over the next three months. Alas, the new trains became stuck in Keelung Station on their way out of town for testing. Still, teething troubles are to be expected. Looking forward to riding these in the next couple of months... but will they have bike spaces?
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Working Traditional Kiln Near Mingjian, Nantou

Tripped down to Ershuei today for a round trip of 123 kms, light riding on flat roads. Very nice time. Just north of Mingjian town I ran across this still working traditional wood fired snake kiln, making tiles.

These kilns are always very long. The fire is at the low end. In the middle there's a door.....

....for access..... the center of the kiln....

This one actually had two snake kilns, side by side.

Must have seen better days, but it is obviously still a working kiln.
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Stagnant Wages = Reviving Competitiveness

The twin volcanoes of Guishan Island, just offshore from the fourth nuclear plant. It took real genius to put a nuke plant there.

Ralph Jennings with a strong article in Forbes on how wage stagnation is actually making Taiwan more competitive: Taiwan quality at cut rate prices.
Since the 1990s manufacturing and other jobs have streamed out of Taiwan and into China. That’s depressed Taiwanese wages, leaving them unchanged in real terms for a decade. The stagnation has driven middle-class workers to live with their parents and spike plans to raise children. But now it’s spurring growth in both ambitious startups and established companies weary of the growing costs and headaches of doing business in China. In short, Taiwan is becoming more competitive.
Jennings details some of the fallout, including the squeeze felt by many families from rising mortgage costs, as well as Taiwan's ultra-low birthrate, in part because no one can afford children. One factor missing in the low-wage equation is the record number of foreign workers here, who also help keep wages down. In case you missed it, Commonwealth magazine had another one of its top-notch analytical pieces, this one on the Korea-Taiwan tussle (whole thing is excellent, do read). The rise of South Korea was driven by good government policy, according to the article:
Another key to South Korea's ascendance over the past 15 years has been the government's effective implementation of several policies, including the development of a "Korean cultural wave" in 2001, an FTA blueprint drafted in 2003, and support for the auto industry and the creative and cultural industries, all of which were competitive internationally. Taiwan's main economic initiatives over the same period, including the promotion of free trade ports and support for six emerging sectors, were not well executed and were not internationally competitive.
Taiwan's government has taken a different route:
South Korea harnessed the country's power to support big companies in creating value and developing brands. In Taiwan, on the other hand, emphasis was put on containing and lowering costs and subcontracting for international vendors.

Tsing Hua University professor Perng Ming-hwei observes that when Taiwan arrived at a crossroads, it faced the choice of either having its companies relocate overseas in pursuit of cheap labor or upgrading its industries. Most Taiwanese companies chose the former approach and headed across the strait to China in droves, taking advantage of China's cheap land, labor, utility and even environmental costs to support their continued growth.

Perng laments that these companies chose an "easy money" option that entailed buying foreign turnkey solutions and importing raw materials in the pursuit of higher production yields and lower manufacturing costs.

In contrast, South Korean companies decided to invest heavily in technology and R&D and in building global brands.

Over the past 10 years, South Korea's spending on R&D as a percentage of its GDP has consistently outpaced that of Taiwan, and it exceeded 3 percent in 2006 to overtake Japan's as the highest in Asia.
Taiwan's industry make up has changed substantially since the 1960s, but at heart its remains an economy driven by subcontracting and small firms, whereas South Korea is dominated by huge conglomerates that operate on a global scale. South Korea chose to build productivity, Taiwan chose to hold down costs, a hamster trying to spin the wheel ever faster and faster. The Ma government's "new" policy of permitting firms that return to Taiwan to hire more foreign labor, as I noted in earlier posts, is simply more of this same, well-trodden path of industrial districts and cheap labor, a policy right out of the late 1950s.

Of course, Korea has not sent its firms to China. I just want to take a moment to savor the silence: when was the last time you heard anyone argue that Taiwan would zoom like Korea if only it were more open to China (hilarious past moment). Hear that silence? Well, we've got our ECFA, which isn't helping much and only covers about 5% of exports anyway. Even the Ma Administration, with its policy of inviting Taiwan's makers home, is tacitly admitting that Taiwan has been made worse off by moving them all to China (why else would it be out there, hat in hand, begging them to come back)?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sounds familiar?

A ladybug, just after dawn.

The EU suggests small agreements first.... no FTA in the offing, of course...
"We could begin with smaller agreements," said Frederic Laplanche, head of the European Economic and Trade Office, when asked about the possibility of a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the EU.

Smaller agreements could include an economic cooperation agreement or an investment protection pact, Laplanche said on the sidelines of an EU-Taiwan trade expo in Taipei.

Before any talks on smaller agreements, however, Taiwan needs to remove some trade barriers, such as the restriction of EU meat imports to Taiwan and the government's conservative procurement system, Laplanche said.

For a free trade agreement to exist between the EU and Taiwan, Taiwan needs to make more efforts in opening its market to make the target more feasible, he said.

The EU began just a few years ago to sign free trade agreements with other countries, and Taiwan still "stands far behind in the queue," the envoy said.
Public construction and meat are/were perennial complaints of the US too, but that issue was resolved, and now Taiwan can display its shiny new visa-free status for US entry. Meanwhile the EU says:
Taiwan applies a ban on the bovine meat and bovine products due to the BSE. Such a ban is not in line with the OIE standards, which foresee trade of certain products, like de-boned meat, regardless of the BSE risk status of the country. In addition, the EC has comprehensive measures in place aimed at assuring the highest level of consumer protection, in form of a strict feed ban and strict controls on Specific Risk Materials and active surveillance. OIE has recognised these measures, as 25 Member States are officially classified by the OIE as "controlled risk" or "negligible risk". Despite these OIE guidelines and classifications, EU beef and other bovine products are still banned.

In addition, Taiwan by accepting de-boned meat from the US, with the same OIE risk status, as the EU Member States acts in a discriminatory way toward other trading partners.
 I have to admit, there's a certain irony in the EU, which does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state, or sell it weapons -- what staggering cowardice! -- complaining about discrimination by Taiwan.  Nor is Taiwan the only nation that does this -- national markets worth 85% of EU beef exports do this.
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Daily Links from Yesteryear:
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Northern Cross Again: In which the Bike Gods reward the Faithful

Enjoyed another staggeringly gorgeous Northern Cross Island Highway Ride, with possibly the most beautiful weather I've had for two days on that ride. Lovely skies without a cloud in them, gorgeous mountains, four friends whom I love. It doesn't get any better than this. Click on read more for the whole nine yards.... (Michael Cannon's pics are here)

Taiwan to be sold off to China in pieces....?

Diaoyutai propaganda is everywhere. I think this one, which asks readers to get the government to stiffen its resolve, is from a private association. Nope, it's from a local politician.

AFP reports:

Parliament's defence committee passed a resolution from the ruling Kuomintang party calling on security authorities to follow similar moves in the United States and Britain.

"The National Security Bureau should work together with the Ministry of Defence and relevant units to conduct a comprehensive evaluation as to which infrastructure items should not be invested (in) by mainland companies," the resolution said.


Under the new measures, Chinese investors will be allowed to buy up to 50 percent of shares in key public infrastructure including subways, light rail systems, bridges and tunnels, as well as cultural and educational facilities.

They will also be allowed to invest in conference centres, national parks, cable car systems and six other categories without restrictions, the ministry said.
The Taipei Times said that a TSU legislator claimed that the gov't is mulling opening up certain telecoms anyway, despite the global suspicions that Chinese telecom firms are catspaws for Chinese intelligence services.

At first glance it may look like Taiwan is being sold off to China in pieces, but things are not so simple. Investors are profit-oriented, and many large public infrastructure projects are money-losers. As I noted a while back, China does not invest much in the economies around it. There is some potential for Chinese influence, but more importantly, the pressure to provide subsidies so investors can get their money back will be stronger if China is backing them..... Recent major overseas investments have been to secure resources, which Taiwan is not rich in, or to purchase assets at fire sale prices in stressed economies, in Europe. Sorry, but I suspect we'll several well-publicized cases, but little serious interest, from China.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Daily Links, Monday, Oct 22

Apologies for the lack of posts since Thursday. Been out enjoying myself on the Northern Cross Island Highway. Three gorgeous days with four of my best friends on one of the island's most beautiful roads. Added a new wrinkle -- because we had time, we skipped the awful 7 going into I-lan city, and instead took the 7 Alternate starting from the Niudou Bridge, which is much nicer, along the south side of the Lanyang R (to the 196 and thence to the I-lan 61 into Yuanshan and back to the 7). This added a couple of kms to the ride but skipped all the gravel companies and speed-obsessed drivers, taking us along mostly empty or modestly trafficked roads until we hit the I-lan 61. That post will be up tomorrow.

In the meantime, the world was busy writing....


Tonight's moon (Flickr). Canon EOS 550D+ that $99 800mm fixed f8.0 lens. Finally made it work. By far the best of my moon pictures.

SPECIAL: Awesome photos of Taiwan's major peaks
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Good-bye NextMedia, we hardly knew ya

Bloomberg lays it out, the deal is going through:
Next Media signed a memorandum of understanding to sell its print and television operations to Jeffrey Koo Jr., according to a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange yesterday. Koo is the eldest son of Chinatrust Financial Holding Co. founder and Chairman Jeffrey Koo Sr.

The sale marks the exit of the Hong Kong mogul, known for criticizing the Chinese government, from Taiwanese media as business and political ties improve between the island and China. Lai’s foray into Taiwan’s television industry in 2010 led to two straight annual losses for Next Media as the company battled regulators for licenses and distribution rights.
I heard that the monetary issues weren't the real problem to Lai. Essentially, Lai is leaving the market because he felt the regulatory cards had been stacked against him. Lai wrote in WSJ on this two years ago over the cable company mess. Lai's Apple Daily, which I have had a love-hate relationship with over the years, had successfully managed to position itself as a non-partisan paper in Taiwan's highly partisan media environment, an awesome feat. Both Forbes (Taiwan poised to lose defender of free speech) and WaPo (China Critic to Sell Taiwan Media holdings) acknowledged the political issues involved in the sale.

Nice try, Mr Lai. Better luck next time.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Those Clever Aborigines of Formosa....

Popular Science, Aug, 1885, relates this anecdote:
Concerning the manners and customs of the savages of Mount Sylvia, Formosa, Mr. E. Colborne Baber related in the Royal Geographical Society: "A party of English officers from a man-of-war landed on the island, and, meeting a company of natives armed with matchlocks, challenged them to a trial of skill in shooting. Affixing a mark to a tree about a hundred yards distant, the officers made what they considered pretty fair practice, without, however, astonishing the natives, who, when it came their turn to fire, disappeared into the jungle like one man, and crawled onto their bellies through the undergrowth to about three yards from the target, which, of course, they all hit exactly in the center. When the Englishmen protested that such a method of conducting the competition was hardly fair, the natives replied 'We do not understand what you mean by fair, but, anyhow, that is the way we shoot Chinamen.'"
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Senkakus Coffee Klatches This Week

CSIS is at this very moment meeting on "Taiwan's" approach to the Senkaku mess:
Taiwan's Approach to Escalating Sovereignty Disputes in East AsiaWednesday, Oct 17, 2012 | 10:30 am - 12:00 pm CSIS

With tensions in the East China Sea at their highest levels in some time, the Freeman Chair invites you to attend a discussion of Taiwan's stance on sovereignty over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands and President Ma's expressed desire to establish a code of conduct in light of territorial disputes in the East China Sea. Our panel of experts also will address Taiwan's approach to the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and what role, or potential role, Taiwan can play in resolving the dispute.

Taiwan's Approach to Escalating Sovereignty Disputes in East Asia

Amb. Stephen S. F. Chen
Convener of the National Security Division, National Policy Foundation
Randy Schriver
Partner, Armitage International LLC
Alan Romberg
Director of the East Asia Program, Stimson Center
moderated by:
Christopher K. Johnson
Senior Advisor and Freeman Chair in China Studies, CSIS
Meanwhile the ROC government is throwing a party on the Senkakus and inviting sympathetic academics for fun and validation, on Oct 19. Taiwan Today has a description. Note the final, formula paragraph:
In addition, the MOFA and NCHU will run an exhibition Oct. 18-23 featuring historic documents on ROC sovereignty over the Diaoyutais.

“The exhibition is part of a series of MOFA events aimed at raising public awareness on the archipelago,” the official said, adding that the ministry has received more than 300 submissions for its Diaoyutais writing competition, with the winners announced Nov. 12 on the MOFA website.

The Diaoyutais are an uninhabited archipelago located roughly 170 kilometers northeast of Taiwan proper. The island group is historically attached to the ROC and includes Diaoyutai Island and the islets of Huangwei and Chiwei.
"Historically attached to the ROC". The islands have never been part of the ROC. They've been Japanese since 1895. The level of misrepresentation is frightening....
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Popular Mechanics, May,1909

Googlebooks is a treasure trove. I never realized they had old magazines, like this one, Popular Mechanics, May, 1909. This 1923 issue of The Rotarian has a long article on James Davidson. I searched the term Formosa -- tons of stuff out there.....
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China's influence on Taiwan's media expands?

Life, available on GoogleBooks, has a large number of articles on Formosa. If you made me guess, I'd say these bombers are hitting targets in southern Formosa, perhaps Kaohsiung. Is the long island in the center-right Cijin Island? Maybe Taiwan Airpower knows....

WaPo says it all. Jimmy Lai sells his Taiwan media organs to Jeffrey Koo, Jr. of the powerful Koo family, and Wang Yen-wen of the Formosa group (according to WantWant, the pro-China rag run by the owner of another powerful conglomerate), both from clans that have extensive business interests in China....
“The expected sale underscores growing Chinese influence on the island of 23 million people, especially in the free-wheeling media, where there is increasing soft-peddling of issues concerning China… The development comes on the heels of pro-China Taiwanese newspaper publisher Tsai Eng-meng’s attempts to complete a $2.4 billion deal for a cable TV network system. Tsai’s outspokenly pro-Beijing China Times newspaper balks at almost all direct criticism of the mainland.”
Sold include Apple Daily, Sharp Daily, Next Magazine and Next TV..... Next Media has completely left Taiwan. Selling price: US$600 million. The WantWant report adds that a Formosa Plastics board member said he had not heard of such a deal and does not believe the reports are true. WantWant also says that private equity funds from Singapore are involved.

UPDATED: A friend reminds that Apple Daily has consistently published critical environmental pieces, including some on Formosa Plastics' nightmare plant down in Mailiao. Big business control of the media is about more than just curbing critical commentary on China.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Daily Links, Oct 15, 2012

Looking down on Lishan town.

Pinned to my house with sore throat and headache. Hope you got out today. The island was talking about Brother 300, who had gone to gas station after gas station in Changhua. He'd tell the employee to fill 'er up, then go off to the bathroom, or pretend he was harried and talking on his phone. When the fill up was finished, he'd say he only said $300 and said he wouldn't pay for the rest. 14 stations attested to this. His photo was finally circulated, and he inevitably he drove into a gas station where it was posted. He yelled at the workers there, then threatened to have someone come and "redecorate the place". All on tape too. A welcome comic relief from all the crap that the government isn't doing anything about.....



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Greenpeace Occupy Action on Taiwan overfishing

Taiwan's fishing practices are a sore point with Pacific nations and with world environmental groups. Case in point: Greenpeace occupied K-town shipbuilding yard this week to bring attention to the problems of Taiwan's massive fishing fleet. Activists unfurled banners......
The Fisheries Agency yesterday denied accusations that Taiwan is complicit in overfishing in the western and central Pacific Ocean, saying the building of fishing vessels is strictly controlled by the government and that all newly built fishing vessels are replacements of old boats.


Greenpeace said the agency agreed in 2008 to follow the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (WCPFC) advice to limit the number of fishing days for its purse-seine tuna fleets in an effort to help Pacific tuna stocks recover from overfishing. However, it still allows the shipbuilding industry to build bigger ships with larger storage capacity, Greenpeace said.

It said the agency approved 22 new big purse seine ships between 2007 and this year, accumulating a total tonnage of 38,988 tonnes worth of new purse seines boats in five years — five times greater than the the tonnage of Japan, 14 times that of China and 38 times that of South Korea.

Banner in Kaohsiung (source). FTV video. Blog post of participant, with many pics.

Greenpeace's own press release stated:
Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency (FA) had agreed in 2008 to follow the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s advice to reduce fishing effort by limiting the number of fishing days for its purse-seine tuna fleets (1).


Instead, the FA has sidestepped the regulation and is allowing its industry to build bigger ships with larger storage capacity, directly undermining efforts to rescue tuna populations.

Taiwan's Fisheries Agency approved 22 new big purse seine ships between 2007 to 2012. And the total new purse seine tonnage is 38,988 tons (3).

Taiwan's distant water fishing fleet mainly operates in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, home to more than 60 percent of the world's tuna. Taiwan has the most fishing vessels in the region – 72 purse seiners and 1,600 long liners (4). In addition, half of the US purse seiners are owned and operated by Taiwanese companies.
Greenpeace has been tracking this issue for some time. Last year there was some media coverage of its report on how Taiwan's nearby waters are fished out. Notably:
Greenpeace says that 75 percent of the nearly $388 million spent by the Taiwan Fisheries Agency to subsidize Taiwan's distant water fishing fleet from 2002 to 2010 was earmarked for "enhancing the fishing capacity."
The subsidies explain why Taiwan's fishing fleet is so enormous. Seafood is the one area in which Taiwan is "self-sufficient" but this self-sufficiency is an illusion possible only because Taiwan continues to gain access to distant waters to fish. In fact, the massive harvest goes largely to exports to Europe, Japan, and the US.

Taiwanese boats operate all over the world. For example, this year a report on Somali waters observed that the still-plentiful tuna catch there supported large Taiwanese vessels hiring gunman from Sri Lanka to protect their boats. They sold the tuna at a profit in Japan because Japanese domestic regulations forbade hiring protection.

However, as Pacific Island papers have long reported, a (perhaps large) portion of the "Somali" catch is actually taken illegally in the EEZs of Pacific Island nations and then transferred to other boats in international waters, and reported as caught in Somalia. A report from a few years ago described this:
Japan says "fish laundering" was occurring on a wide scale. The tuna pirates meet shadowy cargo vessels on the high seas and transfer their catch. It is then taken to Japan where, depending on the state of quotas and placement of legal ships, the cargo ship declares the fish came from the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean. Mostly it has been illegally taken out of the South Pacific.

Tokyo gave the example of Lung Yuin, a Taiwanese company-owned freezer cargo ship flying a Panamanian flag, carrying frozen bigeye tuna to Japan.

When authorities inspected it, they found that the tuna had been caught by 25 Taiwanese vessels and three Vanuatu flagged fishing boats owned by Taiwanese companies. All 28 boats had given false information about where they had caught the fish, while Lung Yuin had two log books-one true, the other false.
The Somali "pirates" are in fact the ritual scapegoats for the real, serious, and destructive acts of piracy against small Pacific nations carried out by the major Asian fishing nations every day, piracy used as political theatre. Imagine if the US navy deployed its fleet to stop that smuggling, worth hundreds of millions, instead of piracy by Somali freelancers, worth hundreds of thousands.


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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Short Shorts

Today may have been the best day of the whole year. Dongji Rd, north of Dongshih.

The Taipei Times reports on some of the fallout from this silliness:
About 10 percent of Japanese tour groups with bookings to visit Taiwan have canceled their travel plans amid a territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), local media reported.

Located about 185km northeast of Taiwan, the Diaoyutais — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — have been under Japan’s control since 1972, but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.
The second sentence contains a gross error, as the islands have been Japanese since 1895. This is a CNA report, but the fact that such sentences occur, without comment or nuance, is scary. The tour groups said the cancellations were caused by fears of encounters with Chinese tourists, but the report also said that the incident where Taiwanese and Japanese ships exchange water cannon fire caused Japanese to think that China and the ROC are ganging up on Tokyo. This may be the government's intention, but I kinda doubt it. The ROC claim to the Senkakus is so faux and so disconnected from reality..... UPDATE: Yankdownunder observes:

  • Error 3: The move sparked widespread protests in China that hurt Japanese businesses. J businesses were looted and burned. That sentence like most reports is very misleading.
  • Error 4: engaged in a water-cannon altercation in waters near the Diaoyutais on Sept. 25. Wrong! not near but in Japanese waters.

One negative consequence of the Senkaku blitz by Beijing is the creeping realization by the world's media that right-wingers in China claim Okinawa, and that the Senkakus are related to the Ryukyus in Chinese minds. It was a pleasure this week to see AFP, whose reporting has at times been remarkably pro-Beijing, come out with a piece on that very topic. Its grasp of history is sketchy but it sure is nice to see...
The belief that China has a legitimate claim to the Ryukyu Islands has existed among flag-wavers in China -- and Taiwan -- for years.

But it has been given new attention by the row over the uninhabited islets, known as the Diaoyu islands in China, which claims them, and as the Senkaku chain in Japan, which controls them.
This follows a WaPo piece a few months back.

Unicorns FTAs: The Legislature's Budgetary Research Center, after ripping the government a couple of weeks ago for the lack of benefits from ECFA, came out with another study this week on the weakness of the government's FTA drive.
Efforts by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to sign free-trade agreements (FTA) with other nations has failed to show any concrete results thus far, a report from the Legislature’s Budgetary Research Center has said, adding that “it lacks clear strategic planning and negotiation mechanisms and is inefficient in forging domestic consensus.”
I am assured that the Budgetary Research Center is non-partisan, by people in the know, much like the GAO. Its reports are alas, not available online. Ma spoke on that topic recently, apparently aware of the report. Talk is cheap. Where are my FTAs?
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Taiwan Communique Issue 138 Hot off the press!

Something for everyone...

We are pleased to let you know that the new issue of Taiwan Communiqué is hot off the press. This issue starts with an overview of the rising tensions surrounding the Senkaku Islands, particularly from the Taiwan perspective, and describes how current President Ma Ying-jeou– while proclaiming Taiwan sovereignty -- has been leaning towards China on this issue....

Friday, October 12, 2012

Journal of Current Chinese Affairs Taiwan Issue

Pre-game warmups.

Some great stuff here. The Sullivan/Sapir article is really good and you should track down Sullivan's articles on Chen Shui-bian's discourse, which I keep forgetting to blog on. Sullivan loves Taiwan and is a very insightful writer and thinker. The Schubert "analysis" of the election is basically a Grand Narrative Establishment rehash (you're probably better off with mine). The European integration piece is quite balanced all things considered; I haven't had a chance to read the others.

Journal of Current Chinese Affairs

Content alert: Issue 3/2012
Taiwan under KMT Rule: Recent Trends in Domestic Politics and Cross-Strait Relations

Gunter Schubert:
Contemporary Taiwan Studies in Europe: More Institutionalized, More Vital

Research Articles

Cal Clark and Alexander C. Tan
Political Polarization in Taiwan: A Growing Challenge to Catch-all Parties?

Jonathan Sullivan and Eliyahu V. Sapir
Ma Ying-jeou’s Presidential Discourse

Christian Göbel
The Impact of Electoral System Reform on Taiwan’s Local Factions

Wang Hung-jen
Liberalist Variation in Taiwan: Four Democratization Orientations

Stefan Fleischauer
Cross-Strait Relations and the Way Forward: Observations from a European Integration Perspective


Gunter Schubert
No Winds of Change: Taiwan’s 2012 National Elections and the Post-election Fallout

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Looking Backward: Free Economic Zones in Taiwan

Anyone remember the promises? 6-6-3? The Golden Decade? All that good stuff? Yeah, they foundered somewhere off the Diaoyutai. President Ma's ROC National Day Address offered a kind of apology for ignoring the economy in the form of still more promises...
In his National Day address titled “Forging Ahead Together with Composure in the Face of Adversity,” Ma sought to tackle economic issues and said his administration would focus its efforts on boosting the development of service industries, raising salaries and eliminating investment barriers to create more job opportunities.

“To bolster of national security and Taiwan’s interests, we will relax regulations on foreign investments to create a friendlier and more convenient investment environment. In the future, liberalization will become the norm and barriers the exception,” Ma said at a National Day ceremony in front of the Presidential Office.

Ma said relaxing regulations on foreign investment would create a better investment environment and more jobs, and he promised that the government would strike a balance between labor rights and foreign investment.
Why the need to strike a balance between labor rights and foreign investment? It seems an unsubtle hint that the government is going to make another half-hearted attempt to bring in Chinese workers via some kind of increased foreign labor plan, something that keeps being proposed by KMTers (over the last two decades) and opposed by everyone else, including many in the KMT. The government has already relaxed the rules on foreign labor to allow another 80,000 workers on top of the record-high 440,000 foreign workers already present in Taiwan. The new rules say that any business that relocates from China to Taiwan will be able to recruit additional foreign labor. Moreover, overseas firms that establish an enterprise in Taiwan will be able to recruit 5-10% of their labor force from overseas. Wonder how that would work with Chinese firms? Would they be able to bring in labor from China?

In any case there already is a loophole through which Chinese labor is entering Taiwan in a trickle -- a business can open an associated school and hand out "scholarships" and "internships", then bring in Chinese "students" (read: workers) via that route. I've heard this is already happening. Would like more confirmation.....

The Ma Administration also plans to erect "Free Economic Demonstration Zones" around Taiwan. The first one is slated for K-town, already under development. WantWant ChinaTimes has some simply penetrating commentary:
Taiwan's Council for Economic Planning and Development announced recently that a draft plan for showcase free economic zones will be presented in November before its scheduled introduction next year, aimed at attracting investment to boost exports.

The free economic zones, which are part of President Ma Ying-jeou's policies formulated to achieve his Golden Decade vision, are based on the traditional model that ensures rapid economic development through free trade.
The Ma Administration's policies are the policies of the 1960s: low-cost labor and economic development zones.

The FEDZ plan, according to another WantWant piece, offers foreign investors terms more favorable than the WTO mandates, while offering China "only" what the WTO mandates.

A Taipei times commentary observed that in many cases, FTAs forbid labor payment discrimination systems. This means that the FEDZ policy may hamper Taiwan's ability to sign FTAs -- another broken Ma promise, recall -- as outgoing labor minister Jennifer Wang observed as she went out the door. Both that commentary and the WantWant commentary make exactly the same point: if low-wage labor in Taiwan grows, it will only bring in dirty, labor-intensive industries....from the TT commentary:
If a policy of decoupling the wages paid to foreign workers from those paid to native workers is to have the desired effect of increasing job opportunities for Taiwanese workers, it will have to be a nationwide policy, not one limited to certain special zones. Furthermore, if special zones were to promote differential wages for foreign migrant workers as an attraction, it is very likely that most of the investors it would attract would be labor-intensive manufacturers, and that is not in keeping with the original purpose for which special zones were set up.
The whole purpose of the original export zones was to get foreign makers to invest, bring in expertise, and upgrade the skills of Taiwan workers. The wave of science parks help foster growth in tech industries. Now it's 1960 again....

...worse, we all know what those industries will want: free land in the zone, subsidized labor (foreign workers at low cost), subsidized water, and subsidized electricity. The profits of such firms will come, essentially from the pockets of taxpayers in the form of government subsidies.
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