Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ma and China in the News

My son practices for the driver's license exam.
But they were shut out, listening at a door to words not meant for them: ill-mannered children or stupid servants overhearing the elusive discourse of their elders, and wondering how it would affect their lot. Of loftier mould these two were made: reverend and wise. It was inevitable that they should make alliance.
Lots of stuff on the 1992 consensus, One China, and Ma Ying-jeou this week. China congratulated Ma on his victory in the KMT chairmanship election -- it was a proper CCP/KMT election, with only one candidate. Taipei Times reported:
Chinese officials yesterday gave high praise to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) statement that both sides of the Taiwan Strait should implement the “one China” principle in their legal and political systems, and conduct cross-strait relations with the principle as its basis.

The remarks by Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) came in the wake of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) recent reply to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) telegram congratulating him on his re-election as KMT chairman, in which Ma said: “Both sides of the Taiwan Strait reached a consensus in 1992 to express each other’s insistence on the ‘one China’ principle.”
Commentator and former legislator Lin Cho-shui ripped this in a great piece in the Taipei Times, pointing out that at the time Ma rejected any idea that a consensus had been reached....
First, the 1992 talks in Hong Kong did not establish any consensus. The truth is that the talks did not end amicably. After the talks, on Nov. 6, the Chinese-language Central Daily News published an interview with Ma, the then-deputy chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council. Ma said that “the talks in Hong Kong fell short of success at the last moment … the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits [ARATS] ignored the Straits Exchange Foundation’s requests for continued talks and went straight back to China … a lack of sincerity.”

Second, the reason the talks ended on bad terms was that the two parties were unable to reach a consensus on the “one China” principle. Ma said that “there is no agreement between the two sides regarding the interpretation of one China.”
Lin's piece is excellent, and as he notes, up until 2001 Ma was still angrily denying that any kind of consensus had been reached. But now, Ma and Beijing both behave as if agreement had occurred. As I noted several years ago, if both sides behave as if there is a consensus, then there is one. It is nice historiography to dig this sort of thing up, but we already knew that what kind of person Ma is.

Bloomberg ran a report on Ma saying that conditions are not ripe for political talks, though he didn't rule them out.
The more than 1,100 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan are less of an impediment to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) than whether talks would be backed by the people in Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said.

Any meeting would be contingent on Ma being present in his capacity as president of the Republic of China, he said in an interview at his office in Taipei on Thursday. While not ruling out an engagement with Xi before the end of his term in 2016, Ma said conditions are not yet ripe.
The most interesting thing in that bog-standard set of declarations by Ma is that there is actually a TVBS poll cited that shows Ma's disapproval rating at 70%.

Whether Ma will go to China for "political talks" -- sellout talks -- is going to be decided privately. Public signals like this are strictly for public consumption. Besides, does anyone really imagine that when high-ranking KMT members go to China, they are not engaging in political talks? What does that mean about what is said in public between Ma and his allies in Beijing?

All this is simply noise. It really doesn't matter. As one local anthropologist put it, the Chinese live in the innermost circle of three concentric circles. The first consists of themselves and everyone they consider friends and family. Those people must be taken care of. The second circle consists of everyone how can do them good or ill. Everyone in that circle gets placated. The third circle consists of everyone not able to affect them. That circle is simply ignored.

To the extent that all this noises matters, what Ma is doing is treating Beijing (and the Taiwanese) as a member of that second circle. He's placating. His words don't mean anything, just as his words don't mean anything when he becomes Taiwanese a few months before every election, in which all Taiwanese become, for the duration, members of that second circle. Just like when he promised the American delegation back when he was merely KMT Chairman that he'd get the special arms purchase through the legislature and later, that he'd get ractobeef in. It's all constant placating. Just noise.

What matters are the concrete things he has done. In all this noise the land and stock tax laws have not been meaningfully changed and local governments remain underfunded and debt-ridden. In all this noise defense spending remains in the crapper and the armed forces currently find it difficult to get people to serve as they switch to an all-volunteer military. The land laws have not been revised and at the moment, ordinary people own land only so long as no one wealthier and more powerful covets it. And of course, there is ECFA and the new services pact, which is the real prize in the ongoing sell-out. Stop listening to what people say, watch what they do. If events are moving in a certain direction, then it is because things are going pretty much the way Ma wants them to go.
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Friday, July 26, 2013

Suao-Hualien Ferry!!!!!

Chamber of Commerce, Lukang.

W00t!! W00t!! W00t!!

Apparently a Suao-Hualien ferry is opening on a trial basis....
The Maritime and Port Bureau yesterday confirmed that the Natchan Rera (麗娜輪), a high-speed passenger ship owned by the Wagon Group, had completed trial operations between Suao (蘇澳) in Yilan County and Hualien in May.

Several travel agencies have already booked the ship for package tours billed as a trip over the “Blue Highway,” the bureau said.

The Wagon Group said it would invite a group of distinguished guests for the ship’s pilot run on Aug. 7. Regular passengers can start boarding the ship on Aug. 8, the group said, adding that six voyages are available each week.
Tickets cost between $700 and $1500. It means you can see the sea-cliffs from the sea, a safe and beautiful way to view them. Robert Kelly, longtime expat and travel writer in Taiwan, added on Facebook:

I talked to the Tourism Bureau this morning. They said it is not a regular passenger ferry. You need to buy tickets in advance from this agency:

But this is a trial and no one knows if it will continue:

This is the ferry website (very little info and apparently the phone number is wrong):
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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rabies Redux

Rolling past an earth god temple in Sanzhi township.

One of the great pleasures of living in Taiwan is the lack of rabies among the stray animals. It means that you can interact with them without worry of a bad death. It looks like that may be coming to an end... first, the WSJ:
But this week the Council of Agriculture confirmed that the lethal disease has made a comeback on the island after three dead wild Formosa ferret-badgers found in the mountains of Yunlin and Nantou counties tested positive for the disease.

Although currently the zoonotic disease is isolated among wild ferret-badgers, the news has sowed panic among pet owners and animal rights groups who fear the return of the virus could spark a massive cull of feral animals. Some animal groups also worry the news could deal a severe blow to overseas adoption programs.

Thanks in part to its rabies-free designation, Taiwan is a major exporter of abandoned animals: In the last 10 years, the Taichung-based Animal Rescue Team Taiwan has sent 2,300 cats and dogs to the U.S. and Canada. Animals Taiwan, a group founded by a British expatriate that takes in mostly injured and sick animals, sends around 50 animals overseas each year.
The local Taiwan media is saying....

[paraphrase] "The quarantine unit should do a survey" said the President of the Taiwan Ecological Society.... researchers on ferret badgers suspect the virus may have been lurking in the mountains for years.
The piece also identifies China as a possible source of the infection. According to that piece, experts are divided on whether the infection has peaked; they cited one from each side of the isssue. Pets are now forbidden in 22 forest recreation areas in Taiwan. There's a cute pic of a ferret badger here. Rabies has such a high dread factor that the local media is now reporting it when a dead ferret badger is found.

UPDATE: LOL, and of course I forgot to include the article from today's Taipei Times whose story I had read about yesterday in UDN.
According to the council, a 31-year-old man surnamed Huang (黃) of Donghe’s Singchang Village (興昌) was bitten by a wild ferret-badger at home on Monday night. He reported the case to the local animal disease control center on Tuesday and was sent to the Hualien Hospital for emergency precautionary treatment consisting of intravenous injections of immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said while initial testing found no signs of the virus having infected Huang, the center will continue to monitor his health for a month and administer the necessary five vaccine shots in this period.

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Stop Land Grabbing and End Police Violence in Taiwan

The Taiwan Rural Front asks for your support..... read the whole thing; suggested actions in the link:

Dapu Land Case
The power of eminent domain has been routinely abused in Taiwan for the sake of land speculation. The case of the Dapu Village is the most appalling case of such state-sanctioned robbery. On 9th June 2010, excavators bulldozed and destroyed the Dapu villagers' crop two weeks before harvest in a dawn raid.

On 18th July 2013, hundreds of police officers returned and razed the residents’ homes, while the house owners were away pleading with the central government to stop demolition as the expropriation decision is still contested in court. The thuggish behavior of the police and government triggered spontaneous civil disobedience protests by ordinary citizens across Taiwan. The police responded with undue violence and repression. Many people were detained and prosecuted, and many injured. ...

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Traces of Soulik: Wrecked Bridge

My man Steve F and I rode out east of Jhuolan over to Shuangchi village. The view east from the Baibufan Bridge was even lovelier than usual, because typhoon Soulik had knocked down the wires that usually chop the scene in half. And not just the wires....

....Soulik's fury had sent streams of water cascading down the hill behind Steve's left shoulder. It had undermined the bridge and sent that retaining wall floating out into the river.

Another view of the damage.

In this photo, if you look carefully at the expansion joint, you can see that the end of the bridge shifted to the east roughly an inch or so. This kind of thing is so routine, yet so expensive, a reminder of how difficult it is to keep infrastructure up in this land of steep, frangible hillsides and torrential rain.
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A couple of Lin Jia-lung Posters

The DPP's Lin Jia-lung asks voters to support him in the DPP's phone poll primary for the Taichung mayoral election. The top poster proclaims "The Hope of Taichung". We sure could use some hope down here.
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The Chickenshit Society

Caught this cool bee with lime-green stripes in a field near my house.

Indeed, it was doubtless in Germany that chickenshit reached its wartime apogee. Consider the activities devised for the inmates of camps like Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz -- digging holes to fill in again, endless "roll calls" in freezing weather with the dead falling in place: these are merely chickenshit raised to the highest power. - Paul M. Fussell, Wartime.

A few posts below this one I blogged on Death by Chickenshit, quoting Fussell. Yet, chickenshit shapes how authority everywhere in Taiwan culture acts, one of the darker legacies of its links to China. It's one I have long wanted to discuss, but frankly, have been afraid to. A couple of paragraphs in a Taipei Times report on the Dapu Demolition caught my eye because of the classic chickenshit move:
The groups said the county government even asked one of the homeowners to pay a disposal fee of about NT$242,000 — approximately the same amount as the owner received in compensation for the land expropriation.

They said the request laid bare the “brutal and intentional bullying” nature of the Miaoli County Government.
Yes, knocking down someone's house because you want to round off a science park and then charging them to have the debris removed, that is a classic chickenshit move. It is the Taiwan construction-industrial state equivalent of the Chinese security state's classic chickenshit move of sending the families of executed criminals a bill for the bullet that killed their loved one. The State added the bonus chickenshit move of wrecking the houses with their things still inside, then piled on even more chickenshit by arresting a protester for chanting (J Michael has an excellent full report here). The recent demolition of the Huaguang Community produced a similar flow of amazing chickenshit -- like fining and suing the people who didn't or couldn't move, wiping them out financially.

But... chickenshit is everywhere. In the extra work loaded onto students, especially in senior high, but the torment extends throughout the System, teaching the young the true meaning of arbitrary, unchecked power. In the immense quantities of wasteful paperwork -- like at a university where I once worked, for the teacher evaluation we were required to download information stored in the university computers, print it out, and hand it to the authorities in printed form. In the meetings where leaders ramble on, unchecked -- chickenshit loves to hear itself talk. In the petty punishments meted out to underlings of every stripe -- students, employees, even children by parents. We foreigners in Taiwan are often protected from the full flow of chickenshit. But imagine for a minute how it shapes the lives of the Taiwanese....

UPDATE: The kind of chickenshit that dominates the Huaguang case, in which a semi-legal community of squatters have occupied government land for decades is being pushed off to make way for big developers to make big bucks, is on display here:
Yu said the house he has lived in for more than 30 years was bought from a friend and the transaction was completed after filing for registration at the Daan District Office.

“Although I did not own the land, the house was mine,” Yu said.

Therefore, Yu said he does not understand why he was found by the ministry to be illegally profiting from occupying the land.

After the ministry won a lawsuit, the court ordered forfeiture of one-third of his youngest son’s salary to pay legal costs of NT$130,000.

In addition to a fine of NT$2 million (US$66,862), Yu must pay NT$110,000 for the dismantling of his house if he fails to demolish it by the deadline.
The community was put on the land by government officials years ago. There were actually many empty houses in Taipei at the time these people came over with Chiang in 1949, but they were occupied by high-ranking KMT members and similar powerful types. Hoi polloi like Yu were left to fend for themselves.
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Monday, July 22, 2013

Daily Links, Monday, July 22, 2013

Standing by the side of Chengde Road in north Taipei early the other morning was this man waving burning ghost money in the air.

Some links. J Michael's piece at the top is a must-read.
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Death by Chickenshit

In Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, probably the best book ever written on the Second World War, literary critic and WWII combat veteran Paul M. Fussell describes chickenshit:
What does that rude term signify? It does not imply complaint about the inevitable inconveniences of military life: overcrowding and lack of privacy, tedious institutional cookery, deprivation of personality, general boredom. Nothing much can be done about those things. Chickenshit refers rather to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant "paying off of old scores"; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickenshit is so-called -- instead of horse- or bull- or elephant shit -- because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war.
Today in Taipei thousands protested a young recruit killed by chickenshit. The Taipei Times reported:
Shouting slogans and holding placards bearing messages such as: “Give justice to the victim’s family,” “Ensure human rights in the military” and “Without the truth, there is no forgiveness,” the protesters also called for the inclusion of an independent third party in the investigation into Hung’s death.

Hung died on July 4, following punishing exercises he had been forced to do as part of his punishment while being confined to detention barracks.

In making the appeal, dozens of young male protesters sang military songs with revised lyrics criticizing the army officers thought to have been involved in Hung’s death, while others made a show of drinking bottled water — a reference to reports that Hung’s superiors allegedly refused to give him water despite repeated requests.
The Taipei Times estimated 30,000 showed up, while the police said 15K. The case has made international news. Several officers are facing charges, but really, what killed recruit Hung was chickenshit.

My son will likely go into the local military this year. I hope these protesters can create change.....

REF: In 2010 a recruit committed suicide after being similarly tormented by an officer. Here's a 1990s piece... things CAN change.
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Saturday, July 20, 2013

ACT: Support the Taiwan Policy Act

A reminder: Americans, write your representatives and have them support the Taiwan Policy Act
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Land taxes and Dapu Demolitions

Awesome cyclist Nathan Miller rides the side roads of the side roads up Yangmingshan.

At the Far Eastern Sweet Potato, J Michael provides an excellent description of the police protests and the Dapu Demolition protests:
We all knew it was going to happen eventually, that efforts over three years by residents and their supporters, lawyers, journalists and academics to prevent a local government thug from destroying their homes would likely fail, but when the outrage was actually perpetrated on Thursday, the cold, hard reality hit home. On that day, as hundreds of people protested in front of the Presidential Office, the bulldozers rolled in and razed people’s homes in Dapu (大埔), Miaoli County, pulverizing wood, concrete, dreams, lives lived, memories — and faith in people’s ability to rectify government abuse through legal and peaceful processes.

More and more, Taiwanese are realizing that harsher, perhaps more extreme measures will be needed to unhinge a government that makes a travesty of democracy and rule of law while enriching itself and its cronies at the expense of ordinary citizens.
J Michael observes that the county government hacked on the activists and protesters, while taking out ads in major newspapers denigrating the protests and claiming a need to take the last 4 homes. He concludes:
It takes a lot to push Taiwanese to take non-peaceful measures, but from everything that has happened in recent months, and with the crime of Dapu perhaps serving as a catalyst, I believe we may soon cross a line where more direct — perhaps even violent — action will be taken. It’s always easy to regard individuals like the Rice Bomber as extremists, terrorists even, but how can we not agree with their tactics when years of rational efforts, abiding by legal and democratic rules, are simply ignored by those in power, by crooks who undo the very fabric of Taiwan’s democracy in the process of seizing valuable land to fatten their bank accounts, perhaps in expectation of the day when Taiwan will relax its regulations on Chinese purchase of land here?
Conclusions like that first sentence occur when history disappears from the discussion (and when you live in the Chinatown Bubble Taipei). The Taiwanese are not and have never been a peaceful people. In fact the 1990s and 2000s version of the "peaceful Taiwanese" is an illusion born of a rising economy and democratic legitimacy -- the last two decades have been totally anomalous. For all the rest of history, Taiwanese have been violent, ornery bastards much giving to redressing wrongs via group violence. Yea, verily, we still live on the island of "every three years a revolt...," where powerful individuals operated private armies, where villages were protected by sworn gangs of bravos, where aborigines fought against outside powers for two centuries...

Not only that, but these things go in cycles. Stay here long enough, and you'll hear again and again that such and such as case will catalyze a new movement. Anyone remember the DuPont case? Remember when the farmers locked up downtown Taipei for two days in 1988? When fisherman shut down the petroleum industry for three weeks over a pollution incident near the Linyuan Petrochemical Plant? How about them Wild Lilies? What's going on now is tame by comparison to what went on at the end of the 1980s. When Hau Pei-tsun became premier, he went after the social activists, farmers, anti-nuke activists, and others advocating progressive, human-centered values. He jailed many, but in the long run, he lost. Thankfully.

In the 1990s street protests "stopped" for a variety of reasons. The government acquired genuine legitimacy via real democracy. Activist groups became formal associations and organizations that gained traction, most illusory, within the system. And so on. We've been living in a period of relative calm for the last twenty years in which public protest is normalized and part of the System even while ostensibly opposed to it. Even though the total number of protests skyrocketed throughout the 1990s, everyone viewed this period as a calm one. This calm is totally anomalous in terms of Taiwan history.

Lurking in the background of why Dapu and these other cases probably won't catalyze anything is Taiwan's artificially low land tax. Had a long chat with an old friend and wise observer of Taiwan affairs who pointed out a couple of interesting things. First, the complete absence of the courts. They have no power to enforce injunctions and are not a meaningful part of the process of adjudicating cases like the Dapu Demolition mess. In the US the government would bring its land assessments, and the individuals whose land is being threatened with them, and compensation -- real compensation that took into account something like the actual market value of the land -- would occur. And both parties would comply.

In Taiwan, the government simply announces that it will take the land and it pays a pittance in compensation. Why does it pay a pittance? Because the assessed value of the land is used to determine how much is paid -- and as I have noted in several long posts (for example), that value hasn't changed since 1987. Landowners can delay this outcome via protests, but because there are no courts with the power to issue and enforce injunctions, they can't stop it. Hence when courts do step in, they are ignored by the government, which routinely breaks its own laws in pursuit of tracts of land for developers to make big bucks on.

Work it out: this low assessed value means that land-owners in Taiwan pay far lower taxes than they should, with all the pernicious effects of such a policy, ranging from broke local governments to real estate functioning as a tax shelter for the wealthy. Thus, the government gives land-owners a tax subsidy, until it comes time to take the land, and then it pays too low a figure.

For the compensation system to change, and land-owners to get fair value, the assessed value would probably have to rise. Given that low assessed values help the rich and help the government, and no one who owns land wants to pay higher taxes on it, how is that compensation scheme, which is at the heart of many of these protests, going to change? I suspect that most land-owners consider their risk of being punished by the System to be low, while they reap the benefits of low land taxes.....

The heartless savagery of the government towards those whose land it takes has overshadowed this key issue: no one protests because if the System changes then they will all have to pay higher taxes. The participation of a few high profile students in protests has overshadowed the fact that the vast majority of students aren't protesting -- they are too busy struggling to survive in the brutal economy their parents have created for them. People look at the Jhunan land seizures or the Dapu demolition, and say to themselves "whew, thank god it wasn't me."

Moreover, the land seized in Dapu was for (another needless) science park. Most residents of a place, upon being told that a science park was being bestowed on their area, would probably be quite happy. The Taiwanese retain their developmentist orientation: development = good, and buildings and factories and roads = development. Science parks mean business opportunities and rising land values for the vast majority of individuals around the park. No doubt local onlookers pity those who lose their homes (who wouldn't?), but this pity is tempered with the knowledge that wealth opportunities may arise. Once again, acting on their behalf means taking a hit in the pocket book. This is especially true because Taiwanese are part of extended families and there are usually family members getting benefits from local investments. That is why local government officials in cahoots with land development companies attack activists for hurting development, because that resonates with many locals whose incomes are, after all, a third of those in Taipei.

Yet another reason nobody wants the land laws looked at too closely is that Taiwan's weird, lax land laws permit powerful local groups with local political influence, like local temple organizations, to steal the land of others without compensation. Another friend of mine described to me about how his family is in the process of losing land to a local temple. The temple association simply occupied his family's land and began building on it, because it wasn't being "used." "Unused" land can be legally seized and then used (yes, there's a process for it), and then it becomes the user's land after a few years. When my friend's family attempted to get building permits so they could "use" their own land and stop the process, mysteriously, they couldn't get them from the local government. Again, social groups that might work to change the way land laws and land usage work in Taiwan benefit from the current system. Why should they change it?

Finally, the laws and land taxes aren't going to change because President Ma was installed precisely to prevent such change from occurring. The Ma Administration has been a total success, if you are not an ordinary mortal. Perhaps a DPP administration might be more amenable to progressive change, but I am pessimistic on that score.

I could go on, and talk about the problems of empathy with the Other in local society, but that's probably enough....

If you want an issue that might drive widespread public protests, look at the coming food prices problem. Rising food prices helped trigger the Arab Spring, for example. Taiwan is almost completely dependent on imported food. As humans heat the earth, warming-induced droughts are going to become normal, along with food scarcity, which means rising global food prices. At the moment, the cost of food relative to income is low in Taiwan, but that will change over the next couple of decades..... especially as incomes are failing to keep pace with economic growth.
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Senior Taiwan-related Teaching post at SOAS

That's one way to dry peanuts.

Dr. Fell of SOAS sent this around:


Applications are now open for the Senior Teaching Fellow in Taiwan Studies at SOAS. I've attached the details, pasted the ad below and this is the link to the SOAS Vacancies page:

PTV Looking for Touching Foreign Tales

PTV sent this to me, so I am sharing it with you. Positive stories strongly welcomed.


Seek touching stories of foreigners in Taiwan!

-Where I can watch?
Now is paper work, will shooting from September 2014
The first season will show on PTV in 2015

-Is this a talk show or variety program?
No, this is a series feature stories, kind of documentary, each episode is 30 mins and only explore one protagonist's story

[click on READ MORE for the rest]

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rabies is back

A fly friends a slug.

The KMT news organ reports important news.
Rabies has reappeared in Taiwan for the first time in five decades. The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday morning convened a meeting of experts and confirmed three cases of rabies-induced deaths in wild ferret-badgers (Melogale Moschata Subaurantiaca). One of the three dead ferret-badgers was found in Yulin County’s Gukeng Rural Township (古坑鄉), and the other two in Nantou County’s Yuchih (魚池鄉) and Chitou ( 溪頭 ) Rural Townships. The COA would inform the World Organization for Animal Health of the confirmed rabies infections. Taiwan will now be listed as a rabies-infected area after five decades on the rabies-free list.
We have to be rabies-free for two years before we go back on the rabies-free list. One of the best things about Taiwan is that the stray animals are safe from that disease. I am seriously phobic about rabies: maybe someday I will tell the story of How I got Rabies in Kenya.
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Taipei Times Editorial on TI: Who has Egg on Face?

I went down to Lukang today and couldn't believe my eyes. Some prime loser erected this monstrosity right on the famous Mo Ru (lit: "rub breast") Lane, which has lots of historical houses, a couple of historical sites, and temples that date back to the 17th century. The lane is kept in that kitschy historical style so often seen in Taiwan. 

I was planning a longer post on how ridiculously stupid the Transparency International index for Taiwan in 2013 is, and lo and behold, the Taipei Times put out an editorial on the burgeoning mess with Transparency International's ridiculous conclusions on corruption in Taiwan, entitled "How to deal with egg on your face". Apparently the TT believes that the government has egg on its face. Actually, the editorial consists largely of remarkably silly and unconsidered claims. Thanks for the blogfodder, guys! It observes:
Last week, Transparency International (TI) released its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer report. The local media immediately picked up on the fact that the survey said 35 percent of Taiwanese respondents reported having paid bribes to the judiciary. The media then inferred from the various category results that the nation’s overall rating placed it third among the Asia-Pacific region’s most corrupt nations.

TI has an impeccable reputation: Few would question its integrity or the quality of its work. Ma has on several occasions even met members of the organization to express his support. The government should not paint TI as the enemy just because it is unhappy with this year’s findings. The way that the Presidential Office, the Cabinet, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reacted will do little to help the situation.


The government was keen to say that previous reports found corruption of less than 5 percent, so this year’s high figure must be incorrect. It was a ploy that was doomed to failure. If it had confidence in its own figures, and if these figures were to be believed both in Taiwan and abroad, the government would not concern itself with the report’s findings. However, the government is very concerned, and many people in Taiwan and overseas trust the findings. If the government wants to go on the offensive, it needs to choose its targets more carefully.

The focus of the criticism then moved to the fact that TI commissioned a Shanghai-based market research agency to carry out the Taiwanese part of the survey, which some believe casts doubt on the findings’ accuracy. Such politicized criticisms are unlikely to find sympathy or support abroad, as TI commissions local or regional agencies to carry out the surveys in each country, and it will naturally enforce consistent standards and regulations, without which international comparisons would be impossible. To say errors were caused because a Shanghai-based agency was responsible for Taiwan’s survey is simply not a persuasive argument.
There's much here to unpack... ;let's take the last paragraph first. TI believes that pointing out that the bizarre numbers are "politicized criticisms" which are unlikely to find support abroad is belied by a simple point: an article in The Diplomat. This article is written by, well, a foreigner, who lives in Washington DC. One of those the TT insists is unlikely to sympathize with Taiwan in this case.

The TT also claims that it is "simply not a persuasive argument" to claim that since a "Shanghai-based firm" conducted the polls, it must be erroneous. But TT is wrong. First, the argument is that the 36% figure who paid a bribe for government services in the last twelve months (not bribes to the judiciary) is absurd because no poll taken by various groups in the last decade has been anywhere near that number. According to the TI results, corruption has increased 18-fold since 2006, when the same survey reported just 2%. No one is claiming that the figure is absurd because a Chinese-based firm reported it. It's absurd because it is inconsistent with all previous findings.

The reference to the origin of the data -- in a Chinese organization -- exists to explain why the data is insane. In point of fact, it was not a "Shanghai-based firm" that conducted the survey, but the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) based in Beijing, according to The Diplomat piece, which notes:
Although CASS is China’s oldest and one of its most respected social science research institutions, it is also directly under the direction of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) State Council (cabinet). It of course, therefore, also has strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself.

For example, in announcing its new president last month, a CASS publication said, “The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council of the Chinese Government recently announced Wang Weiguang as the new president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).” It also said that in this position, Wang would also hold the title of “secretary of the Party Group of CASS.”

In listing the CRC as one of its affiliates, WIN/Gallup itself writes that “CRC cooperates closely with the Chinese government.”
Another interesting thing I saw in Lukang today: a homemade, gasoline-powered tricycle.

I got to thinking about what this number, 36%, means, on my 110 km ride down to Lukang and back over Dadu Shan today -- lots of time to think. According to TI, 36% of people in their poll answered that they had paid bribes for government services. Well, few children solicit services on their own; the payments must have been made by adults. Taiwan has over 18 million registered voters, so let's use the number 19 million for the total number of adults in Taiwan, just to be generous. Multiplying by .36 gives us 6.84 million bribe-paying Taiwanese. Anyone know any of these? Anyone paid a bribe themselves?

The absurdity only grows worse because for the vast majority of government service users, the routine payment for the service is sufficient. Such bribes would have to be paid for services that are less routine, most likely by businessmen seeking favors. By males, in other words. I would bet money that the bribe-paying population consists largely of males -- of which there must be around 10 million or so, meaning that, if we arbitrarily assign 3/4 of bribes to males, more or less half of all adult males in Taiwan have paid a bribe for government services. In the last twelve months. That is, on its face, insane. Especially since no other survey has come close to these results.

Of course all this playing with numbers is arbitrary, but you get my point: when you start thinking about the numbers -- which the Taipei Times apparently did not -- the outstanding silliness of the TI results becomes apparent.

Saw this really cool windscreen-equipped bike in Lukang today.

Or, you could look at some other methodology, a scholarly one, using that wonderful tool, Google. For example, you could look at comparative studies like this one which assess South Korea as consistently more corrupt than Taiwan. The percentage having paid a bribe in South Korea in 2013? 3% (BBC has a list of all nations). TI's results don't make sense in a comparative perspective either -- Taiwanese are paying bribes at 12 times the rate of South Koreans, according to TI. Heavens! Don't let the Taiwanese find out the Koreans are beating them there too!

Note that TI says Taiwan is more corrupt than Vietnam, and the same as Indonesia. LOL.

Or you could look at another methodology, such as the CCI developed by Kaufman. Here are numbers for Taiwan from 1996 through 2011 (last section, scroll to bottom). Note that they vary little over time. It is not difficult to find theses and papers that use the CCI to look at Taiwan. For example:
Estonia has been a “green country” since 2000. In the last decade, it has achieved the second highest score among Eastern European and post-Soviet Union countries, as it moved from the 71st to the 80th percentile. South Korea still remains in the “yellow area”, but has come closer to the 75th-percentile threshold. Taiwan ranks slightly above South Korea; according to the indicator, its score has somewhat deteriorated in the last years, but still remains among the best in East Asia, and therefore it is a case worth looking into. Finally, there is Ghana, which still ranks at the 60th percentile, but appears to have improved much in the last decade. It is considered as a good example in Sub-Saharan Africa, so it is an interesting case for analysis, even if it still needs further improvement to really become an achiever.
In fact, on the CCI Taiwan has consistently been among the best in Asia. Again, the TI numbers for 2013 don't make sense.

Finally, you can look at the simple fact that CASS is now attempting to distance itself from the TI mess, according to the South China Morning Post. You don't distance yourself from claims that you have confidence in. If you read between the lines, you can also see that The South China Morning Post also feels the TI claim is not defensible, for it also refers to previous scores by Taiwan on the TI index. Indeed, the mere running of such an article implies that as well.

Hey wait....isn't SCMP one of those foreign types who weren't going to be sympathetic?

It should be blindingly obvious to any rational human who bothers to look into it that there is something wrong with the methodology behind the TI numbers, if they are not simply made up outright.

Egg on whose face? The Taipei Times', of course. Shame to have run such an outstandingly unconsidered editorial when the information was out there to support the government's case, and easily found.

UPDATE: A friend suggested that the problem is actually simple. Somebody left off a decimal point, should be 3.6%.
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Monday, July 15, 2013

Daily Links, Monday, July 13, 2013

In the aftermath of typhoon Soulik, the roads are covered with mud and debris. This is Miaoli 55, Pinglin Road, out of Jhuolan in Miaoli, one of the area's most enjoyable roads. Highly recommended.

Some Daily Links for you to enjoy.... links have become much harder since Google terminated Reader.
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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hegemonic Warfare Watch: Taiwan in the Pivot

Michael Mazza over at AEI argues that Taiwan has a crucial role in the US "pivot" toward Asia....
Yet Taiwan can take steps to ensure that US forces would have access to the island’s facilities during a time of crisis, even in the absence of a formal access agreement. Taiwan, for example, could invest in infrastructure that would enable the island to serve as a logistics hub for US forces in the event of a conflict to the island’s north or in the South China Sea. Along similar lines, Taiwan might stockpile supplies that would be of use to American forces operating in the region. Doing so would complicate China’s war planning, improve deterrence, and enhance America’s ability to come to the aid of Taiwan and other allies during an emergency, all without provoking Beijing in the way that formal access arrangements or actual US presence would.
Mazza also argues that the best way Taiwan could help "the pivot" is to beef up its own defenses so it can hold off China longer.

It's more interesting to consider whether Taiwan would get involved as a supply base in a US-China conflict over islands in the South China Sea. "Taiwan" as such has no claim to any of the islands that the ROC claims, and the ROC claim is the same as Beijing's -- the whole of the South China Sea belongs to the ROC. If the US enforces another nation's sovereignty in the area then that would bring the US into conflict with the ROC. The pragmatic thing for Taipei to do would be to quietly help the US and harvest that big economic stimulus. One could easily see a DPP government doing that, but a KMT government might balk at helping the US hack away its China fantasies. Reviews like Mazza's show how stupid and short-sighted the US was to support Ma Ying-jeou, in effect helping Beijing over the long run in many different ways.

Meanwhile Taipei, ever working on never getting the fighters it needs, is now asking for F-35s.
Washington, July 10 (CNA) A delegation from the Taiwan-US Inter-Parliamentary Amity Association of Taiwan's Legislature said Wednesday in Washington that Taiwan wants to purchase advanced F-35 fighter jets that best suit its defense needs.
If we wouldn't sell them F-16s, why on earth would we sell them F-35s? This constant mention of F-35s is just another delaying tactic to prevent the island from ever getting fighters.

Keep an eye on the China-Russian reconciliation aimed at the US. Joint military exercises. Brr.... this should last about as long as it takes Moscow and Beijing to start feuding over who owns Central Asia. But the weapons transfers from Russia to China have a profound effect on Taiwan's defense situation...
Daily Links:
  • Phils-Taiwan fishery meeting tied to shooting, investigation
  • If the Chinese economy has hard landing, who is most exposed?
  • Soulik kills two
  • Taiwan-New Zealand sign free trade pact (WSJ). Note the background paragraph, it's just horrible. Taiwan and China HAVE NOT agreed they are part of the same China for the past twenty years, and they did not split in 1949. Hello, nuances. The pact....
    Wednesday's pact calls for Taiwan to lower tariffs on virtually all its imports from New Zealand, including meat, dairy products and kiwi, over the next four years. Tariffs on fresh and long-life milk and ground deer antlers—popular in Chinese medicine as a growth tonic, arthritis treatment and even as an aphrodisiac, among other uses—will be phased out over a longer period, 12 years, to protect Taiwanese farmers from a flood of cheaper imports. New Zealand, in turn, will eliminate tariffs on Taiwanese electronic goods.
    "ground deer antlers." Yeesh. Meanwhile commentary in TT argues that NZ products threaten Taiwan farmers. Probably not very much. 
  • Transparency International totally screws up corruption survey, still defending it. There's a news story in this, international media people.
  • My man Drew goes from Hualien to I-lan via Taroko. Awesome ride, awesome write-up
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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Prez signs H.R. 1151, an Act concerning participation of Taiwan in ICAO

Wind turbines south of Tunghsiao in Miaoli

The White House sent out this press release:


Office of the Press Secretary


July 12, 2013

Statement by the President on H.R. 1151

Today I have signed into law H.R. 1151, an Act concerning participation of Taiwan in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The United States fully supports Taiwan's membership in international organizations where statehood is not a requirement for membership and encourages Taiwan's meaningful participation, as appropriate, in organizations where its membership is not possible. My Administration has publicly supported Taiwan's participation at the ICAO and will continue to do so. Consistent with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs, my Administration shall construe the Act to be consistent with the "one China" policy of the United States, which remains unchanged, and shall determine the measures best suited to advance the overall goal of Taiwan's participation in the ICAO. I note that sections 1(b) and 1(c) of the Act contain impermissibly mandatory language purporting to direct the Secretary of State to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives and to report to the Congress on the progress of those initiatives. Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my Administration will interpret and implement these sections in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy and to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.

Brian Benedictus noted that there was a big TECRO (the Taiwan representative office in the US) push for this, remarking:
[TECRO] knew what they were doing---which is setting a precedent--Which is to ask (and receive) support from Congress on Taiwan's international participation in a lesser degree than they should. This was a bad precedent to set, and Taiwan's international space actually got a little smaller tonight.
Daily Links:

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Taoyuan Pond Ride

A while back I wrote a post about the Ponds of Taoyuan which I've always liked and which inspired me to contemplate riding around and photographing the ponds. You should read that post as a backgrounder to this ride. With that post in mind, this Thursday I took the HSR up to Taoyuan to get some pics of these historical sites. For a camera, I took only my trusty Powershot S95. Click on READ MORE below in order to, well, read more.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

CEPA Failing to win Hearts and Minds in Hong Kong.

My man Charles Tsai rolls past an old and long disused coastal defense blockhouse on our 100 mile ride today.

Hong Kong had ECFA before there was ECFA, called CEPA. SCMP reports that it's failing to win hearts and minds in Hong Kong. Any of this sound familiar? Beijing is treating Taiwan exactly the same as Hong Kong:
The cross-border free-trade pact offers Hong Kong companies preferential access to mainland markets. There are zero tariffs on goods imported from Hong Kong, although the city's small manufacturing base limits the effectiveness of that measure. Nine supplementary deals signed since 2004 have further liberalised trade in goods and services. [just like ECFA! Pact + supplementary deals]

The Hong Kong government has hailed the economic impact of the deal. [just like the Ma government] Earnings for Hong Kong companies from mainland-related business facilitated by Cepa reached HK$61.6 billion between 2004 and 2009, according to government figures. The individual traveller scheme, which allows mainlanders from key cities to visit Hong Kong without joining tour groups, is credited with boosting the retail, catering and property sectors, although the influx of visitors has proved controversial. [just like Taiwan]


However, the political benefits of Cepa appear to have gradually faded. In a similar survey last month by the public opinion programme, just 25 per cent said they trusted the central government - the lowest since February 1999 - while the proportion of respondents who distrusted Beijing was at its highest since February 1997.

Beijing has also failed to make much headway in fostering Hongkongers' emotional attachment towards the mainland. The HKU tracking poll asks Hongkongers to rate how strongly they identify as Chinese, on a scale of one to 10.

Last month's poll saw the rating fall to 6.8 points - 0.67 point lower than in the previous poll in December and just a whisker above the record low of June 1999. By comparison, the ranking for Hong Kong identity stood at 8.13 points.

The survey also found that 38 per cent of the 1,055 respondents identified themselves distinctly as Hongkongers, an increase of 11 percentage points from December. Some 23 per cent identified themselves as Chinese. [yawp, just like Taiwan only not as far along in the process]
The article quotes an advisor to the CCP government on Hong Kong affairs as saying that its as if some in Hong Kong feel the city-state is too dependent on China. Another expert observes that economic issues can't win hearts and minds because political issues are the real problem. Anyone recognize any parallels with Taiwan?

ECFA was signed on the anniversary of the CEPA signing and was originally called CECA....

I have heard Chinese complain about how the Tibetans are well treated but still resist. I wonder sometimes whether the function of things like ECFA and CECA isn't to address hearts-n-minds in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but to address hearts-n-minds in the Motherland, saying "See how well we've treated them? And still they reject us!" -- to prepare the population for the anguish of maiming and murdering their brothers across the Strait in order to bring them into the fold. "See? They deserved it for rejecting us."

Speaking of ECFA, New Zealand and Taiwan are inking an economic cooperation pact, one of those FTAs that ECFA was supposed to get us in droves. The signing takes place July 10. Hopefully Singapore will follow soon.
Daily Links:
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Monday, July 08, 2013

The White Wolf Returns

Some eye candy for you: a hot guy in tight biking shorts.

I posted on Asian on Chang An-le. Storied Gang Leader The White Wolf Returns.
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Sunday, July 07, 2013

AJISS: Japan - Taiwan Fisheries Agreement Backgrounder and fisheries agreement round up

This recent cycle of late afternoon thunderstorms is really playing havoc with my cycling, since I like riding in the nearby mountains but don't like descending on slick, leaf-covered, muddy roads threatened by landslides. The picture above is Shuili at about 5 pm the other day. My friend Wayne and I had taken the 147 over to the 131, swung around Sun Moon Lake, lunched, and then climbed the Nantou 63 in anticipation of one of the best descents in the area when all hell broke loose. The skies deluged us. We took refuge in front of someone's house, waiting thirty or forty minutes while the pounding rain continued, and finally flagged down a little blue delivery truck. He raced down the descent over several landslides including a couple of small trees lying across the road, applying the Taiwanese theory that road conditions are irrelevant if you just drive fast enough. All the while he had one hand on the wheel and the other on his cellphone, while chatting with my man Wayne up front. I sat in the rear, stunned, watching the landslides recede into the distance. Rapidly. 

AJISS has an interesting commentary that goes into some of the political aspects of the Fisheries Agreement between Taipei and Tokyo. It observes:
As the above account shows, the Japan-Taiwan fishing talks were wrapped up via political decisions made by both sides. However, the greater context of regional politics that made these decisions possible cannot be overlooked. China-Taiwan relations have stabilized since the Ma administration came to power, and the US, Japan and other neighboring countries have welcomed this. A political understanding on prioritizing the development of economic ties over sovereignty issues premised on both parties belonging to "one China" has brought stability to China-Taiwan relations. In light of this understanding, China has outwardly criticized the words and deeds of the Ma administration but finds it difficult to take actions that would harm Taiwan's interests, as a loss of support for the Ma administration in Taiwan could result in the collapse of the "one China" premise. Realizing that the Chinese government would not protest or interfere, Japan and Taiwan then moved step by step along the process leading to the fisheries agreement.
"loss of support for the Ma Administration." Once again, Taiwan's democracy, which Ma must ostensibly appeal to in order to keep his underlings in power, places restraints on what China can do because it sees Ma as its servant.

Another piece on the agreement by a Japanese commentator observed:
Fishermen in Okinawa have been concerned about the illegal operations of Taiwanese trawlers. They have been asking that the Japanese authorities maintain order in the surrounding waters, securing the area so that they can operate safely, and arresting fishermen who operate illicitly. According to media sources, a Japanese government official commented that the agreement embodies about 80% of the desires of the Okinawan fishermen; however, fishermen from Kumeshima, who are close to the area where Taiwanese trawlers will be allowed to operate, may be dissatisfied. Protecting the interests of fishermen in Okinawa is necessary for the Japanese government.
Illegal trawling operations by Taiwanese fisherman have cause political problems for Taiwan across the Pacific. When commentators in Taiwan argue that the agreement with Japan could be a model for an agreement with Philippines, what they mean is essentially an agreement that legalizes Taiwanese poaching in Other People's Waters. The Japan Times reported that in practice Tokyo is strictly and rigidly interpreting the agreement. The June 13th piece notes:
Since the agreement came into force May 10, Taiwanese vessels have been detained for trespassing four times, only one of which in a zone subject to the agreement. The other three cases concerned fishing equipment drifting outside the zones.

The Japan Coast Guard has increased the number of vessels to patrol waters beyond the areas subject to the fisheries pact at the request of Okinawa’s fishermen.

The Taiwanese fishermen, of course, are not happy either.

Huang Yi-sen, chairman of Yilan County’s Association of Fishermen’s Rights, said the way the Japanese authorities are carrying out the agreement is “simply too strict.”

For instance, while the JCG previously allowed some leeway when infringements occurred, it is now detaining Taiwanese trawlers when their fishing equipment drifts out of the zone even less than 1 nautical mile, he said.

Suao Fishermen Association Director Chen Chun-sheng said if the situation continues, Tokyo will push Taiwanese fishermen into the embrace of China, which has been acting like a big brother to Taiwan in its fishing disputes with Japan.
Yeah, right, like the Suao Fishermen Association wants to see Chinese fishing boats in those waters....

Agreements like this also highlight another aspect of the issue, Taiwan's food security. If you look at the  numbers, Taiwan appears self-sufficient in seafood and "produces" a large surplus. This is an illusion, however; Taiwanese waters are fished out. Rather, Taiwan "produces" so much seafood because it has access to the waters of other nations, legally and illegally. Preserving this access and maintaining harmonious relations with the Pacific island nations whose waters are trawled by Taiwanese boats should be a core policy of every Taiwanese administration. That Taiwan's policies are so China-focused is one of the many costs Beijing's desire to annex Taiwan imposes on the people of Taiwan.
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