Saturday, August 31, 2013

The people versus the construction-industrial state

A candy maker in Tainan sculpts a goldfish.

The construction-industrial state cancer in Taiwan continues to metastasize, this time consuming a chunk of land belonging to the Thao people....
Performing a traditional exorcism ritual, a group of Thao Aborigines yesterday protested against a build-operate-transfer (BOT) resort project near Sun Moon Lake on Thao traditional lands, for which the government gave initial approval without consulting them.


The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration Office and the Nantou County Government are planning to work with a developer to build a four-star resort hotel costing more than NT$2 billion (US$66 million) near the lake.

The project is financed by Hong Kong’s Bonds Group. If it goes ahead as planned, the resort will be completed and opened in 2017.
You can see how the law is abused by the government. In the Huaguang community case, the government used civil laws to fine recalcitrant residents in order to evict them from a plot of land a developer wanted. When it was criticized for this, government officials said they were acting in accordance with the law. In the Thao case, the government simply ignored its own laws and shook hands with Chinese money to occupy Thao land in defiance of the law. The courts can do nothing to intervene here, so the only recourse is protest. The EPA, a reliable shield for construction-industrial state expansion, approved the project this week as well.

The developer promised -- tragicomically -- to offer the Thao jobs as singers in the hotel. But we all know that any real jobs will go to the Han. Two colonial processes have joined hands to reinforce each other -- the flow of Chinese money to reshape Taiwan, and the ongoing process of Han settler occupation of aboriginal lands.

About the only good thing is that it is taking place in the already overbuilt Sun Moon Lake area, meaning that other, prettier, less developed areas are being ignored. For the moment. S&M Lake is acting like a sump, sucking up money that might be spread like poison over the mountains of central Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the construction-industrial state is receiving another challenge, this time from the newly-established Constitution 133 alliance, which seeks to recall incompetent legislators and send a message to Ma Ying-jeou. Article 133 of the Constitution specifies that elected officials may be recalled. The rules for recall are:
Recalling a legislator requires a minimum of 2 percent of the total electorate in the legislator’s electoral district to propose the recall bid for it to be legitimate. If the proposal is accepted, it must then be jointly petitioned by no less than 13 percent of the total electors. The motion then must receive votes from more than half of the total electorate, more than 50 percent of which have to support the recall if the motion is to pass.
Robin Winkler, the well-known Taiwanese lawyer, activist, and environmentalist, observed that the process will be unprecedented, regardless of its results. Neil Peng, the Alliance leader, is interviewed in the TT here. The Alliance has already named its first target, KMT legislator Wu Yu-sheng:
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) was yesterday named as the first candidate for a civic group’s recall campaign because of his consistent alignment with President and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) rather than with the public he is meant to serve, according to the group.
It seems like another one of those well-intentioned but essentially pointless quixotic moves so common after protests here. Construction-industrial state politicians are interchangeable and expendable; if Wu is knocked out, another will take his place. Wu Yu-sheng won his district (New Taipei City 1) 107,821 to 90,825 votes against the DPP candidate in 2012. Another 5,000 votes went to the New Party candidate (in 2008 Wu's margin was 26,000 votes). If Wu is knocked out -- highly unlikely -- the KMT will simply slot another similar politician into the district and the kind of public service we've come to know and love will continue.

In my view these celebs need to bend their fame and brains to the project of changing the way voters think about their legislators and how they vote for them. Recalling legislators will not send a signal to Ma, who obviously doesn't care, and who is fulfilling his assigned role of lightning rod for Taiwan's 1%. What is really needed is social change on a vast scale..... voters need to stop electing candidates who have been convicted of crimes or who are related to convicted criminals by marriage or descent, who attempt to buy their votes, who organize networks of neighbors and relatives to stump for them, and who pay off temples to stump for them. They need to stop wasting legislators time by demanding they and their assistants show up for funerals and weddings and traffic accidents and god knows what else. Surely at least some of these changes are possible to attain.....
Daily Links:
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...And the rain continues

We're getting pounded. The center and south are overwhelmed with water. Rail lines out. Apple Daily ran this image of a building sliding off a mountain (video at that link), and a gigantic boulder that slid down a hill. The boulder is on video:

UPDATE: The moment the big boulder came down is captured here, I think.

A Facebook friend posted some pics of a train he is trapped on, stuck outside Keelung:

Ugh. Tracks knocked out in several places, according to news reports. PNN has a collection of news vids on Youtube in Chinese showing the damage. Tomorrow we expect more of the same....
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Court to decide in Formosa Plastics Lawsuit against Environmental Researcher

Nature has a write-up of the coming court decision in the case of the scientist sued by a big company for reporting on what it was doing to the environment.
A Taiwanese court will rule on 4 September in a libel lawsuit filed by a petrochemical company against an environmental engineer whose studies had suggested that a plant operated by the company was causing higher cancer rates in its vicinity.

In December 2010 Ben-Jei Tsuang, an environmental engineer at Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, presented evidence of increased cancer rates in residents living near a Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) hydrocarbon-processing facility in Mailao, Taiwan, at a scientific meeting. He also presented evidence in a press conference in November 2011.

In April 2012, FPG sued Tsuang for defamation, demanding that he pay US$1.3 million in damages and that he publicly apologize by publishing a statement in four major newspapers.

In the trial, which had its final hearing today at the Taipei District Court, Tsuang’s lawyers framed the case as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation”. An open letter signed by 1,000 academics, including chemistry Nobel laureate Lee Yuan Tseh, expressed support for Tsuang.
The island's prosecutors, ever ready to strike a blow for truth and freedom, at one point threatened to indict Dr. Tsuang, but you can imagine what a chilling effect the lawsuit and the threatened indictment have had on reporting of environmental issues in Taiwan. Commendably, the prosecutor's own report noted that prosecuting and suing academics was likely to have a chilling effect on research in Taiwan. Yet, the government acts from time to time against environmentalists, often in ham-handed ways, like the time the Hsinchu city government examined the visa of a local foreign professor over environmental remarks.

Wild at Heart, the local environmental group, has a full write up of the case here.

The Mailiao complex seen the from wetlands in Changhua to the north.

The complex has made someone lots of money via government subsidized water, electricity, raw materials, and land development, but the Yunlin County government has complained bitterly about the company's string of broken promises. One can only imagine what a disaster I-lan would be now if it had taken the plant as originally planned (see this)...
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South China Sea: Beijing has no historical claim

With the Obama Administration about to engage in more aimless, useless killing in the Middle East (brilliantly satirized by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker this week), an excellent and timely piece reminds us of the coming wars in Asia as China flexes its expansionist muscles. This piece argues, as so many of us have before, that history is the weak link in China's maritime claims:
History, as is well known, is written by the victors, not the vanquished. China’s present borders largely reflect the frontiers established during the spectacular episode of eighteenth-century Qing (Manchu) expansionism, which over time hardened into fixed national boundaries (except outer Mongolia, largely because of the Soviet Union) following the imposition of the Westphalian nation-state system over Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Official Chinese history today often distorts this complex history, however, claiming that Mongols, Tibetans, Manchus, and Hans were all Chinese, when in fact the Great Wall was built by the Chinese dynasties to keep out the troublesome northern Mongol and Manchu tribes that repeatedly overran Han China; the Great Wall actually represented the Han Chinese empire’s outer security perimeter. While most historians see the onslaught of the Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan in the early 1200s as an apocalyptic event that threatened the very survival of ancient civilizations in China, India, Persia and other nations, the Chinese have consciously promoted the myth that he was actually “Chinese,” and therefore all areas that the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty) had once occupied or conquered (such as Tibet and much of Central and Inner Asia) belong to China by retrospectively superimposing the sixteenth century European notion of sovereignty over the twelfth century Asia. China’s claims on Taiwan and in the South China Sea are also based on the grounds that both were parts of the Manchu empire. (Actually, in the Manchu or Qing dynasty maps, it is Hainan Island, not the Paracel and Spratly Islands, that is depicted as China’s southernmost border.) In this version of history, any territory conquered by “Chinese” in the past remains immutably so, no matter when the conquest may have occurred.
Not many writers on this issue get it so clearly and so broadly. Kudos to him. Read it all, well worth the time spent. Meanwhile Taiwan continues to waste money upgrading facilities on its Spratly Island base, which Beijing will be able to take away from it with very little effort when the time comes:
Taiwan plans to spend more than $100 million to build a dock big enough for warships in the disputed Spratly islands, a legislator said Thursday, as other claimants strengthen their regional military presence.

The plan submitted to parliament Thursday by the coastguard would cost Tw$3.4 billion ($112.4 million). Sources said the spending is expected to be approved.

The dock will be an upgrade on the existing pier at the Taiwan-controlled island of Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys. It is scheduled to become operational in 2016.

“National security authorities have decided to expedite the project as the other countries in the region have been increasing their naval and air force deployment in the past few years, further complicating the issue,” legislator Lin Yu-fang said in a statement.
After the dock is completed, the government plans to upgrade the runway. When one thinks what $100 million could do in Taiwan....not to mention the irritant to good relations with its southern neighbors, which Taiwan and its fishing boats needs.
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Flooding down south

One of the many pics circulating right now. From here. The south got hammered today.
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tainan: But...but our land grab is different!

Art takes shape.

The Taipei Times editorialized today on the land expropriation for the rail line in Tainan....
The project, which was approved by the Executive Yuan in 2009, aimed to move an 8km long stretch of railroad track underground. To facilitate the project, the Greater Tainan Government plans to demolish more than 400 houses on the east side of the current tracks in downtown Tainan. When the project is completed, the original surface tracks are to be removed to make way for a park and a commercial district.

The land expropriation case in Greater Tainan has sparked protest from some households who accused Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) of reaping the benefits of land expropriation and disregarding people’s property rights. They urged the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to pay as much attention to the case as it has to condemning Miaoli County Government Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) over his handling of the Dapu case.

Lai has insisted that the railroad project in Tainan is completely different from the Dapu case, because the expropriation of 62 hectares of land in Dapu was to benefit developers, with most of the seized land to be used to build residential and commercial complexes. The railroad project in Greater Tainan, on the other hand, is a major public construction project, with much of the land to be used for road construction to benefit the city, Lai said.
Lai's claim that Dapu is being expropriated for developers seems like a bit of misdirection. The rationale for the Dapu demolitions is that they are needed to round off a science park..... But your bullshit alarm should be going off. Read that again:
When the project is completed, the original surface tracks are to be removed to make way for a park and a commercial district.
A friend of mine present at a hearing on the issue said that Taiwan Railway officials testified that they did not have enough money to do a deeper line, and they couldn't pay higher prices for the land since they didn't have enough money for that either. So the land was expropriated and compensation was low. TRA officials also said that the underground line will help stimulate Tainan's economy, though it is hard to see how, unless they mean the commercial development which is going to take place above it. I'm trying to track down some artist's rendering of what the freed-up land is going to look like, but I've heard that includes shopping malls. We both know, dear reader, that the land is going to make some big businessman a ton of money on that "commercial district". None of which will reach the original land owners.
Daily Links:
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

US Arms Sales vs China's Military Build Up

A delicate damselfly.

Two counterpoints in the Taipei Times today. First, longtime Taiwan supporter Randy Shriver, speaking at a conference this week, urged the continuance of US arms sales....
However, despite the economic, diplomatic and political improvements, the PLA has not “removed a single missile, a single military unit,” he said.

“They have done nothing to reduce the posture opposite Taiwan in a way that reduces their military capability and presence,” he added.

In fact, the Chinese military buildup opposite Taiwan has “continued apace” while Taiwan’s own military budgets have fallen, Schriver said.

“Perhaps the PLA and the PRC [the People’s Republic of China] leadership is not confident in the ultimate trajectory of Taiwan,” he said. “Perhaps they understand some things that a lot of Americans miss.”
Meanwhile President Ma said he would continue to purchase US arms. Both sets of remarks came in response to reports in the media that China had claimed the US had responded positively to discussing the sales. Reports even said that China would "adjust" its military deployments against Taiwan in exchange for reduced arms sales. Adjust upward, they no doubt meant. Washington later said that talks would be held with Beijing on several issues, but arms for Taiwan would not be included.

From the number of people who echo Shriver's last observation there -- that American observers are not getting what is going in the cross-strait relationship, it seems that, well, lots of people aren't getting it. It seems obvious that if the military build up continues apace, then tensions are not being reduced. They are merely being obscured.....
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Saturday Linkies

Building facades in Shiluo, Yunlin. I actually spent three days in Yunlin this week. It's so wonderful that some kind soul invented hard liquor....

Some links for you to survive the rain in:
  • Commonwealth, always an excellent read, explains Why Hong Kong is Smitten with Taiwan
  • J Michael says writes that China is buying Taiwan. Cole says that China wants to increase Chinese in positions of authority in Taiwan. Hey, we already have that, it's call the KMT. China's strategy is many pronged. More important than a few hundred executives is the coming financial tornado, the long-term strategy of hollowing out Taiwan's industries and stealing its technology, and using tourism to offer faux economic development while inserting itself into the local construction-industrial state and growing links to local patronage networks. 
  • Michael Chase analyzes the DPP's defense White Paper over at the Jamestown Brief.
  • WSJ on the fad for gua bao
  • Also another good WSJ piece on how Taiwan is no longer so tightly coupled to the US economically. 
  • Do you agree Taiwan offers a model for human rights?
Great quotes from China on the protests over the death of conscript soldier Hung (via China Reform Monitor):
Protests in Taiwan over Hung’s mistreatment and death have caused many mainland Chinese to ask online why such protests are allowed in Taiwan but not in China, the South China Morning Post reports. “If this sort of event occurred on the mainland, who would dare attend it? Even the petitioners themselves would get thrown into prison,” wrote one Sina Weibo user in response to the news. “Taiwan is a place where the people call the shots. National leaders there must make decisions that reflect the values of individuals in society, rather than simply corrupting and oppressing vulnerable groups. In Taiwan they’ve protected Chinese culture, human rights and freedom of speech,” wrote another user. “Why in the world would the Taiwanese people ever want to return to the motherland? The Chinese Dream is actually in Taiwan.”
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!

Government's repressive tactics against protesters

Over at Far Eastern Sweet Potato J Michael scribes on the government's ugly campaign of intimidation:
It gets worse. On Aug. 20, the Bureau of Energy, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Presidential Human Rights Advisory Committee held a meeting in Taipei to discuss the matter of adequate distance for wind turbines and, we are told, to “maximize public participation.” However, there were so many procedural problems with the meeting, which was termed an “experimental hearing,” that it is difficult not to regard it as a joke — if only public money were not wasted on it.

For one thing, the “experimental hearing” had no authority to enforce anything; it was just people talking. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that (we’re all for all sides in a dispute to sit down and try to reach a consensus), here’s the catch: Before the hearing had begun, a large number of individuals associated with InfraVest had “signed up” for the event, which left precious few seats for Yuanli residents and environmental NGOs. In other words, opponents of the project were selected out even before the hearing was held. Oddly, many of the people who had registered never materialized during the meeting.

It gets better. Several police officers and members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were inside the venue during the hearing, which in itself is an odd departure from protocol. Moreover, several law enforcement officers held video cameras; individuals who were present (I failed to attend it myself) told me the cops only filmed whenever the villagers were speaking or asking questions. The inevitable intimidation associated with this act, and the selectiveness of its targets, are evidently cause for worry. It made suspects of individuals who have done no wrong, while clearly telling them that the powers that be are clearly siding with the local government and the German firm.
J Michael describes the violence in the Dapu case in this post here. The tactics may vary, but this is always the way it has been: the government has never sided with the little guy. But recently the government's tactics have been especially brutal, especially at Huaguang:
To facilitate evictions, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which owns the land, filed lawsuits against residents for “illegally” occupying state properties, resulting in fines to residents that range from a few hundred thousand New Taiwan dollars to several million. Most inhabitants have been forced to leave. Others have died while fighting for their right to stay."
Residents of the Huaguang community said that the police conveyed threats to themThis Taipei Times article reports on the propaganda put out by the Miaoli county government over the Dapu case. Certainly 98% of those contacted permitted the gov't to demolish their homes, because they were not told they could say no. Let me note again the missing factor: the courts. People facing demolition have no recourse to an impartial judiciary with powers that have teeth. The judicial system is not a part of this process. Hence everyone faces the same sign-or-get-nothing choice, while the government can more or less dictate terms. What this really means is that your land is yours only until someone more powerful than you wants it, and the government will support them, not you.
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!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pang Laowai shot by policeman

Wishes at a small temple in Tainan.

I put a peaceful image above, to calm my readers before they encountered this stupid story...

I suppose it is too much to expect professionalism from a Taiwanese news organizations, but this Apple Daily report really angered many of us in the foreign community. The story behind the video is a common enough. A drunken man on a scooter is flagged down by the cops, an altercation ensues. The cops shoot the man, unusual, but not unknown. Note that there is no need to mention the nationality or origin of the man; it has nothing do with his behavior. Drunken male stupidity is universal, alas.

But the Apple report calls him, several times, laowai. And not just laowai. pang laowai (fat laowai) -- I highlighted it in the screen capture above. At 0:21 they call him a "more than 100 kilos fat laowai". The references to foreignness are there simply to Other him, to place him Outside. Totally unprofessional. The references to his size might be there to explain why the cop felt threatened, but the term "fat" can only be there to insult.

Normally I do not object to the term laowai. The prefix lao- (old) is used in a number of phrases that to me confer inside-ness on those so termed, like "old friend" and "old man" (= Dad). In my experience the term waiguoren is the nasty one that immediately Others you, it's most commonly applied by kids. That Othering experienced by its target is infuriating. But here Apply Daily is needlessly applying the term as an totally unprofessional insult to Other the alleged criminal. His large size might conceivably be an issue, his place of origin is not.

For those you who are wondering, the man should make a full recovery. He is filled with remorse for his actions, which, by the way, is the proper mode of behavior should you find yourself in a similarly stupid situation.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

I have no words for this headline

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dapu Demolition Protests Continue

Photo being passed around FB.
Heard about 20,000 were out tonight protesting the Dapu demolition, which has become a symbol of government oppression and land-theft in Taiwan. The Chinese says "Yesterday demolish Dapu, today demolish the government." Dapu is already done and over and no one is going to demolish the government (how?). If the protesters want to accomplish something, let's hope they can organize and move on to projects planned or currently being implemented all over Taiwan, like this project in which aboriginal land in Hualien is being stolen. If they want the State to take notice of them, they have to do something that will force the construction-industrial state to react. Protesting something that has already occurred is very unlikely to make a difference....
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!

Taiwan's future already signaled by Hong Kong?

Dragonfly, Taiwan
Dragonfly grabbing a break.

As I have noted many times, the biggest obstacle China faces in annexing Taiwan is its democracy. It ain't a perfect one, but it has been incorporated into the social identity of the Taiwanese and is now an important part of being Taiwanese. Hong Kong may be showing where things are heading. From SCMP:
Dangerous and ominous developments are occurring in Hong Kong politics, yet not a single senior official has cared to comment on them. They have, though, had a great deal to say about disruption that might be caused during an event which may not occur next year.

Not for the first time, but with greater swagger and clearer evidence of organisation, a bunch of thugs, including triad-linked gangsters, were sent to "deal with" anti-government protesters at the chief executive's public forum in Tin Shui Wai last Sunday.

In case there is a scintilla of doubt as to their intention, Tsang Shu-wo, one of the rural chieftains, proudly admitted that he had mobilised 40 villagers for this event and later said: "It is normal to have bloodshed if we are protecting Yuen Long. Let's see who will shed more blood."

At the demonstration itself, the thugs demanded that the police cease hampering their activities because they were "protecting the government". Fortunately, they were largely ignored and arrests were made, but anyone looking at the many videos of this event will note that the police also stood back while anti-government protesters were attacked. These videos also show it was far from being a spontaneous protest, as those giving the orders were not subtle enough to avoid the cameras.

This is not an isolated incident; I have witnessed an intimidating group of "protesters" outside Broadcasting House who got very angry when, in the spirit of journalism, I asked them what they were protesting about.

There is nothing new about authoritarian governments using gangs of thugs to intimidate opponents. It was a favoured tactic of the former Kuomintang dictatorship in Taiwan before democracy took hold. Today, it is the hallmark of Robert Mugabe's thuggish government in Zimbabwe; and so on. While these governments sit back and allow the thugs to do their work for them, they have the gall to blame their opponents for the violence.


I have been loath to jump to the conclusion that there is an attempt to turn Hong Kong politics in a more violent direction but the evidence is increasingly pointing in that direction.

Fortunately, we have not yet reached the tipping point where thugs hold sway and they are licensed by the government to do their worst - indeed, many frontline police officers are doing their best to prevent this. However, the signs should not be ignored.
Many of us saw in the recent return from China of a major gangster with old connections to Taiwan's security state a signal, perhaps, of where Taiwan might be heading. He subsequently stated that he was going to participate in support of pro-China politics in Taiwan. J Michael Cole has commented forcefully on the use of individuals claiming to be plainclothes police to intimidate and coerce onlookers and journalists here in Taiwan.
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!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Flight of the Lapwing

The East Coast is now being overbuilt with loud, kitschy hotels. Hurry up and visit before it is destroyed.

I was trawling through the Theological Commons (run by the Princeton Theological Seminary), which has more than 70,000 texts from the 19th and early 20th century on theology and religion in PDF format (including many scholarly works), and found this treasure, The Flight of the Lapwing. The book is subtitled A Naval Officer's Jottings in China, Formosa, and Japan. An apt description. Click on READ MORE.....

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Our nuked environment

Chinese chess pieces.

Wow. Making the rounds since last night is the news, not exactly unknown, that the KMT government is totally despicable. The Min. of Economic Affairs purchased internet keywords, including the names of anti-nuclear activists, to promote its pro-nuclear propaganda:
The anti-nuclear activists from various civic groups discovered that when they searched for their own names on Google, Yahoo and other search engines, a pro-nuclear power Web site ( operated by the ministry will appear as the first suggested Web site.

As the Web site’s content is clearly in contrast with the activists’ beliefs about nuclear power, the anti-nuclear advocates, including Nuclear-Free Homeland Alliance executive director Lee Cho-han (李卓翰), Tokyo-based Taiwanese anti-nuclear writer Liu Li-erh (劉黎兒) and Green Consumers Foundation chairman Jay Fang (方儉), among others, expressed anger and disgust about the advertising link.

The linkage was first discovered by Lee last week when he was searching for his own name on Google. He immediately contacted Google and Yahoo on the same day, asking them to take down the advertisement.

The Bureau of Energy said on Tuesday that it had bought the keyword advertisement on popular search engines, linking to a total of 92 keywords — including 29 names of people who often spoke publicly about nuclear power.
With a government like this, how can anyone trust the safety and financial assurances of these selfsame pro-nuke bureaucrats? Speaking of safety, Reuters reported that the first nuke plant was leaking water:
A nuclear power plant in Taiwan may have been leaking radioactive water for three years, according to a report published by the government's watchdog, adding to uncertainty over the fate of a new fourth nuclear power plant.

The First Nuclear Power Plant, located at Shihmen in a remote northern coastal location but not far from densely populated Taipei, has been leaking toxic water from storage pools of two reactors, said the watchdog, called the Control Yuan.

An official of Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower), which operates the island's nuclear power plants, said the water did not come from the storage pools, but may have come from condensation or water used for cleaning up the floor.
Don't you feel re-assured now? The bad news out of Fukushima continues -- last month plumes of steam were observed emanating from one of the damaged units, meaning that it is possible something is fissioning in there. We have many of the same conditions here that Fukushima does, from a government and political party maniacally committed to nuclear power to the same set of quake and tsunami zones. There could hardly be anything dumber than building nuclear power plants in a place beset by quakes, tsunamis, and possible bombing and missile attacks, but the government of Taiwan put in four. With no place to store the waste.

Speaking of the environment, the government is relaxing development restrictions around reservoirs. The Liberty Times says:

The Executive Yuan yesterday passed the draft amendment of certain provisions of the Soil and Water Conservation Act. Except for future reservoir catchment areas requiring special protection designated as a "Soil and Water Conservation Area", the reservoir catchment area can be developed and will be designated as slopeland areas. The Executive Yuan for approval and notice of the changes. But environmental groups criticized this move as the "subjugation of the law," saying that Taiwan will be finished.
This blogpost, forwarded to me by a local environmentalist, gives more details. Originally as many of my readers know, development was forbidden across the catchment area in its entirety. However, the Water Bureau felt that this was having a negative impact on the economy (hahahaha) by which it meant a negative impact on pockets filled by land development under the benevolent gaze of the construction-industrial state. Gravel and soil digging will also be permitted, according to this piece.

Thus, now the term "Soil and Water Conservation Area" will cover only those areas such as streams and slopes with severe landslide threat. As if developers won't ignore that the way they always do. The result, according to the blogger, is that just 17% of catchment areas will be protected, leaving 83% -- 1.72 million hectares -- for developers to ensorcel that land using that special alchemical brew by which public land is turned into private gold.

The blogger goes on to note that only Baihe and Wushantou reservoirs will have entirely protected catchment areas. The destruction is going to be immense.

UPDATE: Don't miss Fagan's comments below.
Daily Links:
  • DON'T MISS: Excellent IPS piece by longtime Taiwan reporter and commentator Dennis Engbarth on the Services Pact and J Michael's piece on how reporters covering the protests against the forced evictions are being manhandled and blocked by the police.
  • China prepares for psy-ops in war with Taiwan
  • Only in China: A private zoo in Henan puts Tibetan mastiff in cage, labels it a lion
  • 30,000 Pinoys line up for jobs in Taiwan as ban on hiring is lifted.
  • Chinese herbal medicines can cause cancer. D'oh.
  • How China is poaching skilled physicians from Taiwan: Commonwealth
  • From Donovan Smith of ICRT, another 'Only in Taichung' story:
    "Last Friday marked the opening of the “City Govt Tourist Night Market” featuring in the ballpark of 400 booths, amusement rides and more covering over 11,000 square metres. Billed as ‘Taiwan’s most expensive night market’ and located by the posh and fashionable Qiqi district, the market was an instant hit as crowds poured in to check out the newest city attraction.

    Aside from the unexpectedly large crowds creating more traffic and garbage than was expected, the market had one significant problem--it wasn’t legal, and the ‘city govt’ portion of the name related to the street name and area of its location, not any connection to the city govt itself. The city had rejected their application on the ground that the proposed market was to be nearly 7 times larger than what is allowed in a residential district. Undeterred, organizers forged ahead.

    City inspectors were ready on Friday, and immediately issued NT$60,000 in fines and ordered the market be shut down.

    This did nothing to deter the organizers, however, and an increasing frustrated city govt kept increasing the fines--reaching a whopping NT$9.6 million total by the end of the weekend. Their defiance ended when the city pulled the plug on power and water, and moved in with equipment to tear it all down--leaving vendors and organizers scrambling to get their gear out before the city did it for them."
  • NOT TAIWAN: If you want to understand what's happening in Egypt, mideast expert Juan Cole has a great post explaining it.
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In Kinmen with FTV

Another trip with Michella and FTV, this time a brief night in Taipei followed by a trip to Kinmen. I really enjoyed Kinmen's completely different atmosphere and its interesting and well-preserved old buildings. Hoping to get back there soon for a few days of cycling around the island. Click on READ MORE for photos and commentary on the visit.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blast from the Past: Cinema enters Taiwan

A rain squall seen from Shiti Port on the east coast of Taiwan.

From here (it downloads a .doc file):
In August and September of 1899, an unnamed businessperson brought an Edison projection system from the US and showed a documentary short on the Spanish-American War. Encouraged by these new historical findings, film historian Ye Long-Yan dug deeper into the colonial archives and was greeted by an even greater surprise. In August 1896, less than a year after the “invention” of cinema, a time coinciding with Japan’s acquisition of Taiwan, a Japanese merchant brought with him to Taipei some ten Edison short films. That was the very first exhibition of Kinetoscope in Asia, three months before the same technology arrived in Kobe, Japan.
The kinetoscope, an early movie system in which customers watched films individually, is introduced on Wiki. How cinema was used by the Japanese later is discussed here.
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Economic Round Up: Beijing to strip Taiwan banks?

So hot on the east coast this weekend, everyone is taking a dip.

With President Ma away on a foreign trip, FocusTaiwan provides some of the most recent numbers on Taiwan's economic situation....
Taiwan's exports usually post strong growth in July, but that was not the case this year. A rare monthly decline in exports was recorded in July and the annual export growth rate for the month was also lower than expected.

Even though exports rose 1.6 percent year-on-year, the growth rate fell far short of expectations, said Liang Kuo-yuan, director of Polaris Research Institute.


Taiwan recorded a rare 0.9 percent annual decline in exports to China and Hong Kong in July, according to customs statistics.

Another factor that affected exports in July was the 7.7 percent drop in the export of information and communication technology (ITC) products, Liang said.
According to the articles FocusTaiwan collected, Taiwan's July exports fell 4.4 percent from June but increased 1.6 percent year-on-year. In June exports had annualized growth of over 8%. A huge chunk of growth was due to mineral exports, which grew 20%, with the steepest decline in capital goods. Another signal of bad times to come: imports from the US and Japan both shrank over 15%. Since those two countries are Taiwan's most important sources of production technology and raw materials, shrinking imports should mean that producers are planning to produce less.

The Taipei Times published an excellent editorial on the economy the other day. It noted:
Taiwan’s economy lost steam again last month after exports shrank 4.4 percent month-on-month to US$35.3 billion, data released on Wednesday by the Ministry of Finance showed. That brought the nation’s exports up just 2.3 percent during the first seven months to US$175.74 billion from a year ago.


Taiwan’s exports to six emerging countries, including Malaysia and five other ASEAN members, showed robust growth as reflected by an annual growth of 7.3 percent in exports to US$33.45 billion in the seven-month period ending on July 31.

That makes ASEAN countries Taiwan’s second-biggest export destination, surpassing the US, Europe and Japan.

In fact, ASEAN seized the No. 2 position in 2007, when exports to those countries grew at an annual rate of 16.7 percent, outpacing China’s 12.6 percent expansion based on the statistics compiled by the Ministry of Finance.
Facts like these show the retrograde nature of Ma's go-China policy in its full light: it actually refocused Taiwan away from cultivating growing markets abroad to a stronger focus on the China market. You could hardly ask for a better strategy for Taiwan if you were an economic planner in Beijing looking at a Taiwan that was competing with your exports to the ASEAN area. I'm sure it is just a coincidence.

The services pact with China was totally ripped by Huang Tien-lin, President of First Commercial Bank, in the Taipei Times....
Why do I say this is the beginning of a disaster? You need only look at how enthusiastically the financial services industry has flocked to China. Confucius said: “Going too far is as bad as not going far enough” (過猶不及). This is a sentiment deemed fundamental to economists and yet, even now, there are many financial holding companies preparing to increase their investments in China and plough billions into local banks, mergers and acquisitions, and stocks and securities, and opening overseas branches in Fujian Province.

Initial estimates suggest that Taiwanese banks have either already transferred, or are preparing to transfer, not less than NT$160 billion in core capital to China. This is another example of integration with China that will surely see the further marginalization of Taiwan, just as the exodus of Taiwanese manufacturing to China did in the past.

Closely related to this is the deregulation of Chinese yuan deposits in February that, in the short four-month period to the end of June, has seen the accumulation of more than NT$360 billion worth of Chinese yuan in domestic and offshore accounts. This figure is increasing at the rate of NT$50 billion per month, giving a projected annual increase of NT$600 billion, a rate and amount equivalent to half Taiwan’s average annual increase in national M2 deposits — NT$1.2 trillion — in the decade from 2001 to 2011.

What is the purpose of accumulating all these yuan deposits? Naturally, they are to be used for providing financial services in China. This increase in credit financing in China means squeezing the amount of credit available to be extended in Taiwan.
Credit is a key driver of economic growth, the lubricant of a healthy economy. As Huang notes, the money flows not only will reduce investment on this side of the Strait, but also threaten Taiwan politically and socially by increasing the exposure of local banks to China's increasingly slowing economy. This "financial integration" has long been an important goal of China precisely because its political effects are so powerful. Unlike the US, Taiwan cannot simply print an enormous pile of money and save its banks. Debts owed to Taiwan banks give China additional leverage over Taiwan -- both directly: "Submit! Or we won't pay up!" -- and indirectly, since bank officials are likely to pressure the government to further align itself with Beijing in order to protect themselves from the consequences of the coming overexposure. Not that they aren't already.

Consider also: Taiwan's truly wealthy keep their wealth parked overseas or in land; savings in local banks are likely to be held by middle class and upper middle class individuals. It is they who will suffer if and when Taiwan's overexposed banks are punished by huge losses in China.

The move to China by the banks comes at a time when private domestic investment is moribund. The Economic Daily News observed:
According to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, the increase in consumption was driven by rises in stock transactions and mutual fund fees. This demonstrates that the consumption increase had nothing to do with real consumption.

The rise in net exports, meanwhile, was the result of slower growth in imports, due to slower demand for equipment. Consequently, capital formation contracted 3.03 percent in the second quarter, cutting 0.52 percentage points off overall economic growth.

More worrying still, over the past five years, there have been four years in which private-sector investment recorded negative growth, despite various efforts made by the government to promote investment.
Recall also that Taiwan is not attracting much foreign direct investment; FDI was negative in 2011, positive for 2012 (source). With economic expansion slowing in Japan, and the US and Europe afflicted with austerity madness, it seems Taiwan will continue to suffer from the stupid, self-destructive policies of European and American elites.

Finally, enjoy a well written blog post on the nature of the debates over China, its credit issues, and its growth model from Michael Pettis.
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Friday, August 09, 2013

Phils/Taiwan fisherman killing mess links

Temple procession in Tainan

Not much time for blogging today, in Kinmen enjoying that island's wonderful atmosphere and old buildings, but Manila has put out its official report on the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman.

Meanwhile Taipei is responding quid pro quo by announcing that it is lifting the sanctions on Manila. Good news. An emissary came to apologize -- something that had already occurred -- and Manila announced it was prosecuting the sailors, obvious sacrifices to Manila-Taipei relations.
When asked to elaborate on dissatisfaction, Hung Tzu-chien said she felt it was a pity that reporters were denied a chance to raise issues regarding the long-term harassment that Taiwanese fishing boats have suffered at the hands of the Philippine Coast Guard over the decades.
The actual behavior of Taiwanese fishing boats abroad is apparently still unknown in Taiwan, where the media has fallen down on the job (shocked to hear that, I know you are). I would have loved to see the issue of Taiwan's fishing practices discussed in public.

UPDATE: Here are video links to videos posted by Taiwan TV stations:
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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

UPDATED: Hegemonic Warfare Watch: Taiwan, pivotal or not?

Catholic facility in Tanzih, probably aimed at the large population of Filipino workers in the nearby export processing zone. With what's coming in Asia in a few years, we'll need all the help we can get.

Typing this on my new Nexus 7 tablet with a mobile Bluetooth keyboard. Got it so I'd have a light computer solution for biking and travel. The two together weigh roughly 750 grams....

The resignation of Andrew Yang after only six days as Minister of Defense for plagiarism has rocked the nation. The local media and several longtime observers who know Yang personally are saying it appears to be the result of a power struggle within the Ministry of National Defense.... UPDATE: J Michael Cole has a great post on it pointing out that two DPP politicos sparked it, and he detects the hand of China in it. What purblind stupidity. Not only does this attack on Yang appear to have violated DPP goals and policies but it also appears to have hurt Taiwan. By all accounts Yang would have made a great Defense Minister who was truly committed to the island's defense. The Kuan Bi-ling who brought up the alleged plagiarism charge against Yang also has her name on the credulous "Two Minutes, One Fact" video that went viral during the crisis with the Phils two months ago. Self-promotion, much? Can we have some Party discipline laid down on these people.

The Diplomat says China's new aircraft carrier should be put into perspective... and that perspective should be Sino-Russian cooperation.
There are also long-term regional factors that must be evaluated. While Russia today is considered a regional partner and not a threat to China's borders, history shows that the situation can change rapidly. Beijing has been able to pour tremendous resources into its naval assets in part because Sino-Russian relations have transformed in recent decades.
...this will last only as long as China and Russia are friends. When they break up, then resources will have to shift to the land forces. Meanwhile, Manila expanded its Navy by taking aboard a US coast guard cutter. Which is 46 years old. Beijing must be quaking in its boots.

A former staffer for Cong. Ros-Lehtinen, a strong Taiwan supporter, added another piece to the ongoing discussion inside the Beltway over whether the US should continue to support Taiwan:
Any hint of a diminution of American commitment in the Pacific, however, could trigger a slow unraveling of this very alliance structure that maintains the peace and prosperity of the most economically dynamic region of the world. Imagine the shock waves, from Seoul and Tokyo in the north to Manila and Canberra in the south, which would follow in the wake of an American accommodation to a coercive move by Beijing against Taiwan. The imposition by force of an externally mandated political settlement contrary to the aspirations of the people of Taiwan would not only be diametrically opposed to America's own core values but would raise doubts about the durability of Pax Americana in the Asia-Pacific.

Whatever the restraints placed on Asian capitals' freedom of action by Beijing's coercive “one China” policy, diplomats in most of these capitals look to Washington as a strong counterweight to a re-emerging but still authoritarian China. If this counterweight is brought into question, policy makers in Seoul might conclude that Korea's best, if painful, option would be to return to its traditional, compromised relationship with the resurgent Middle Kingdom. An increasingly isolated Japan, concerned once again with the acquirement of energy resources in a post-Fukushima era, might see a risky go-it-alone strategy as the only option. Southeast Asian nations might also view further accommodation to Beijing's mercantile and territorial demands as the only viable alternative.
Sturdy, familiar language, all true, of course. I wonder if it too strongly echoes the kind of strong claims made about "losing" Vietnam. Not so much a criticism, as a thought about rhetoric and positioning. Yet what other language is there to speak?

USA Today also ran a piece recently on the limits to US engagement with Taiwan:
But three weeks from now, on August 11, the president of another Asian territory with close proximity to China will be slipping as quietly as possible into the United States. Ma Ying-jeou, the Harvard-educated lawyer who is president of Taiwan, will find himself treated to none of the pomp and circumstance of a White House welcome. Indeed, he's not welcome in Washington at all. He'll be touching down in New York, en route to Paraguay where he will be an honored guest for the inauguration of their new president. But in New York, President Ma will be whisked off as quickly and quietly as possible to an undisclosed hotel where folks into whose ears his arrival has been whispered will be allowed to pay him a stealth visit. There'll be no press conference. Not even a press release when he is still in the U.S. And the folks in the Taiwanese consulate in New York, when queried, simply raise a single finger to their lips. On the return trip, he'll repeat the same, stealth-style visit to Los Angeles.
Another one of those don't-they-have-google moments: Ma is not a lawyer. That silliness will never die. It's not much of a piece, merely noting that the US begrudges Taiwan less than it deserves, and that Taiwan is being moved closer to China.

Finally, an interesting recent piece in The Diplomat observes what so many of us have remarked on: that China is basically containing itself:
Today, a new bipolar competition is taking shape. While not a global chess match for influence or a new "Cold War" as some theorize, the United States and the People's Republic of China faceoff in a competitive contest in the Asia-Pacific and larger Indo-Pacific region. In November 2011 in a now famous long form op-ed in Foreign Policy, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out American's strategy of a "pivot" to Asia. Chinese pundits and media have panned the pivot or now respun "rebalance" as a blatant attempt to contain China's rise. One Chinese professor even remarked, “The pivot is a very stupid choice… the United States has achieved nothing and only annoyed China. China can’t be contained.”

I agree — unless China makes the choice to contain itself.
Instead of sweet-talking the region and exploiting its strong opposition to imperialism and colonialism from the west, Beijing's very obvious expansionism has made enemies of would-be friends, driving them to contain it.

Daily Links:
  • Only in Taiwan: making dictators cute.
    "I have remarked elsewhere that he still lords it up in some spectacularly inappropriate locations, such as the Zhongzheng Park (中正公園) in Chiayi (嘉義) opposite the museum dedicated to the artist Chen Cheng-po (陳澄波), a man who Chiang had shot in the street for daring to ask for Formosan participation in government."
  • Legislature agrees to try Hung case in civilian court. This will have zero impact on the military's culture and atmosphere, but it does give the appearance of actually doing something.
  • HSR tix to rise nearly 10%.
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Monday, August 05, 2013

Hung's Death, Protests, and justice

A truckload of mushrooms outside Hsinshe waiting to be distributed to small family processors who will cut off the stems.

The Taipei Times hosted a commentary on the low probability of anything like justice occurring in the Hung case....
The Criminal Code sets rather strict conditions for making a group of offenders “joint principal offenders.” Apart from acting jointly in the commission of a crime, the group must also share criminal intent. In this case, Hung was abused to death by a group who tortured him by exploiting flaws in the military’s disciplinary system. Although they acted jointly, there is no evidence that they shared criminal intent. It appears to be difficult to make all the suspects “joint principal offenders” based on Article 44 of the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法), which states that if a soldier is abused to death, the offender or offenders “shall be punished with imprisonment for life or no less than seven years.”

As a result, Staff Sergeant Chen Yi-hsun (陳毅勳), who oversaw Hung’s confinement, is the only “principal offender” and so faces the heaviest punishment for the corporal’s death. The others were charged according to Article 45 of the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces and face a maximum sentence of one year.

Even if they were tried in the civil judicial system, they would only be charged with “minor offenses” under the Criminal Code. This is tantamount to blaming the front-line personnel executing the punishment, while ignoring the structural nature of the offense. The indictment’s suggestion of heavy punishment for several of those indicted is only a declaration of intent and will not necessarily be carried out.

Hung’s death highlights the difficulty of assigning responsibility for perpetrators of structural crimes. This is particularly true because high-ranking officers are unlikely to commit any offense in person, or order their subordinates to do so in writing. This allows them to pass the buck to their subordinates without much effort. Even if high-ranking personnel are punished, they will be charged with minor offenses or receive demerits.
All, true, as I noted a few posts ago. The military's problems with punishment are structural. After the finding of low ranking scapegoats, another structural feature of the System -- as in the Ma case, where Ma was found innocent even though government funds were downloaded into his private accounts, but a low ranking government employee did time. Ma stopped by to pay his respects and promise "justice" yesterday:
Ma, accompanied by Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), newly appointed Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) and former defense minister Kao Hua-chu (高華柱), again promised the family that they would seek to uncover the truth behind Hung’s death.

“Just as protesters rallied on Ketagalan Boulevard yesterday [Saturday] demanding truth, yes, the truth is the point, this must be clear,” Ma said.

Ma said the facts of the case would be revealed during the trial for the 18 military personnel who have been indicted.
But the protesters are essentially demanding two things, justice for Hung, and reform of the military. Ma only appears to have responded on the first: the "truth" about the Hung case. Unless the protests can compel the Administration to make meaningful changes in the military, then the future holds more Hungs. The KMT introduced a bill to enable certain types of cases to be tried under civilian law instead of military law, but again, it does not call for wholesale review and changes in the military's culture and atmosphere. The president does have a 13 point proposal for reforms....
Stressing the importance of reforms to the military justice system, Ma has asked three top government organs -- the Executive Yuan, Legislation Yuan, and Judicial Yuan -- to begin discussions and conduct a joint study on the reform of military law.

He has also asked relevant authorities to study the practices followed in the United States, Britain, Japan, and Singapore before arriving at a decision with regard to the mechanisms of solitary confinement, self-reflection and correction in the military.
....but it looks more like tinkering at the margins. Since the KMT needs the military's support -- and one of the first things that Ma did in 2008 was to put the Party back into the military....

REF: Ketty Chen's blog entry on the protest
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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Protest Video

Video of Protest. Let's hope that this leads to meaningful change.
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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Colossal Protest in Taipei

UPDATE: Numbers now up to 250,000. Craig Ferguson has a pic collection. TT article.

From one of my students
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Friday, August 02, 2013

Housing Bubble In Taipei...Resumes growth

The luxury tax had only a temporary dampening effect on the booming Taipei, says the CNA, and the market appears to have adjusted:
Citing the statistics, Yung Ching Realty Group, one of Taiwan's leading property sales agencies, said transactions of shops, offices and homes in the two major cities located in northern Taiwan grew 15.8 percent month-on-month in July, two years after the implementation of the luxury tax.


Under the tax scheme, a 15 percent tax was introduced on second homes not occupied by the owners and sold within one year of purchase. For such homes sold within two years of purchase, the sales tax was set at 10 percent.
The sales rise was driven by increased supply in Neihu and in several New Taipei city districts. Sales in July also rose in Tainan and Taichung. The key outcome is expressed in the final paragraph of the piece:
On the back of the July sales growth in July, the construction sector on the Taiwan Stock Exchange ended up 1.25 percent, with Cathay Real Estate Development Co. up 7 percent, the maximum daily increase, to close at NT$22.85, and Kindom Construction Corp. up 3.28 percent to end at NT$47.25.
...without the housing bubble driven by the low real estate taxes, the construction sector upon which the domestic political economy depends would take a huge hit, dragging down the entire economy. Remember what happened when the construction bubble in the US popped a few years ago....
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1930s films on Taiwan

This link will take you to a series of 1930s films on Taiwan.
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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Services Pact, Protests, Democracy: Eternally Abraded by Gold

The cycle path through the wind machines along the coast in Miaoli. An enjoyable stretch, one I do regularly.

The protests in Taipei over the services pact finally made the international news. AFP reported on it in its usual slanted way, characterizing the protesters as "pro-independence activists" (of course some of them actually were).
Dozens of Taiwanese pro-independence activists clashed with police during a protest Tuesday against an agreement to further open up service sector trade with China as lawmakers debated the pact. mention of the students who have played a prominent role in the protests, as J Michael Cole has noted here and here.

AP's report has a more interesting slant....
The pact is the latest in a series of China trade agreements promoted by Ma. The Taiwanese leader believes that unless Taiwan tightens its economic links with the mainland, the island's standard of living will suffer, particularly as neighboring Asian countries pursue their own commercial preferential arrangements with Beijing.
What makes it interesting to me is how the writer characterizes Ma as believing the pact is necessary to save Taiwan's standard of living -- when said standard has been deteriorating for most Taiwanese for more than a decade now. Wages have regressed to late 1990s levels, for example. Indeed, this regression is occurring even as Taiwan moves closer to China and arguably, because of it. Wouldn't it have been great if AP had reported that? Hahaha. What earth am I living on? Meanwhile Ma is still promoting the move to China as necessary to "save" Taiwan, even at this late date....

I'm not even going to bother to discuss the pact; we all know what a pact supported by the Ma Administration, the KMT, big companies, and global financial capital means for Taiwan.

Rather, I'd like to talk about something J Michael Cole wrote about in his stream of posts on Dapu, Huaguang, and the services pact protests. Here's what he wrote: Young Taiwanese fear authoritarian revival. Oh, wait a second, that was from 2008, Chen Yun-lin visit. Remember that? And yet, "despite" the anger, ECFA sailed through the legislature and Chinese negotiators continue to visit, just like the current services pact is going to sale sail through the legislature.....

Yep, student protests have become, well, a regular feature of Taiwan's democracy. Probably the first major one was in March of 1990 (unless you want to count the Tiaoyutai Movement), one report here in the NYTimes.....
More than 6,000 students and thousands of onlookers gathered in a city park today to demand greater democracy, and there were reports that the President would convene a national conference to discuss the pace of political change on the island. can also date them back to the 1980s, when Lin Chia-long, the current likely DPP mayoral candidate for Taichung, was organizing free speech protests/clubs on university campuses (those clubs grew into the 1990 protests). What's happening in Taipei at the moment is hardly on the scale of the protests of even five years ago -- in Dec of 2008 several thousand students marched to the presidential palace, after 400 had begun a sit-in, in a huge ruckus over the parade and assembly law driven by the Wild Strawberry movement. Remember that?

Yeah, thought you did. Bet you can't tell me what happened to the parade and assembly laws as a result of the protest.

Alas, the protests do not signal the possibility of change. That was the case in the 1980s and 1990s, because there was so much potential for positive change and because protests could make that change by signaling public displeasure when other avenues are closed. In the authoritarian days protesters appeared to outsiders as fighters for freedom. Now they appear as partisans for particular self-interested causes, avatars of interest-group democracy -- which is how the media typically interprets democratic processes -- rather than heroes of democratic development.

Really, several of these latest protests are just the squirming of the bugs as they are being crushed.  Dapu was over when the project was planned; Huaguang was finished when some developer wanted that land....

These protests have now become normalized and part of the System. Think about it. Every time some group is displeased at some event or decision, they go up to Taipei and protest. After all, we have democracy, and protests are no longer exciting and risky challenges to a fading authoritarian regime, they are part of the normal democratic process and have become a kind of background noise of democracy, like the cosmic radiation left over from the Big Bang. Such protests change nothing, of course. Whatever decision has been made goes on, a few sops may be handed out to the offended group. Government officials will express sympathy and concern. And the official refrain, one always hears it whenever officials are challenged: "This was done in accordance with the law." And whatever action was being opposed, goes on. Democracy thus functions to legitimate KMT power, especially for outsiders. Because the KMT makes the law.

The real, fundamental problem is that the KMT/construction-industrial state alliance has rendered Taiwan democracy irrelevant. Taiwanese can do as they want, talk, protest, whatever, it affects the construction-industrial state not a whit. The KMT has been able to this because it controls the legislature where the laws are made, and as I pointed out several years ago, it will probably continue to control the legislature for years to come. The "reform" of the legislature, which shrank it and changed the districts to winner-take-all, will someday be seen as a turning point in the march of democracy in Taiwan, cooperating with that as possibly the DPP's greatest fuck-up of all time. These protests and others to come when a few thousand of the next generation of idealistic students takes to the streets will break like foam against this wall of lawmaking incompetence and corruption. Cole claims:
....In the past two months I have noticed a marked hardening in the words used in slogans and art against the government, including the now popular “fuck the government” stickers, the “Today Dapu, tomorrow the government” slogan and the “civil revolt” towels. More and more, I see references to “overthrow,” “bring down” and “cleanse” on various Internet platforms, language that I had rarely seen in my nearly eight years as a journalist in this country.
If I had a nickel for every time I've heard the equivalent of "fuck the government" from a Taiwanese in my twenty years here -- most of it not spent in the Taipei bubble -- I'd be a wealthy man indeed. No one is going to overthrow or "cleanse" the government, it will remain as always when the current round of protests peters out, controlled by KMT even if the DPP wins the Presidency, and more fundamentally, by the construction-industrial state. That vast capitalist machine spits out money all over Taiwan, linking powerful local clans in patronage networks to the central government, and dusting everyone's lives with a little cash. Everyone has a little stake in it. Student protests aren't going to affect that Machine. It will just ignore them.....

Indeed, it should be noted, the vast majority of students are not protesting, they are preparing for jobs in China or studying for the endless exams (whose political function is to curtail student political action by loading them down with work) or taking selfies or collecting LV bags or smartphones or breaking records on World of Warcraft. One thing the System beats into students here repeatedly is that You Can't Beat City Hall and If You Try We Will Fuck On You. Dropping out and ignoring the System is also a form of protest against it, the only form of protest available to so many here.

The most recent iteration of the student movement has attempted to bridge the Blue/Green divide by embracing social issues that cross it, like the Losheng Sanitarium or the parade and assembly laws or in this case, the construction-industrial state as manifested in the demolition of the houses at Dapu. They have also embraced the Hung case, the conscript allegedly tortured to death. This is a new tactic, but it is a classic case of a useful tactic making a poor strategy. Sooner or later it will run up against the problem that the construction-industrial state (like most other Taiwan problems) is predominantly a KMT project, however much it may have corrupted the DPP......and then it will be standing on one side of that divide. And then it will be discredited by the tribal identity politics here.

If I could make one change, a key bottleneck is the nation's legislative bodies, with the Legislative Yuan the worst. If we could get decent legislators, we might have a chance to make meaningful change. Taiwanese voters need to change how they vote for their legislators, yet, how to make them change? Complete this sentence: change will only begin when....
  • ....when the students take their protests outside of Taipei. Protesting at the LY is useless; it confines the movement to Taipei, neutralizing its possibilities. The movement is seen by outsiders as something that happens in Taipei. It needs to be national. Its Taipei leaders need to fan out and seed movements at other universities. 
  • ....when those celebrities megaphoning about Dapu start making PSAs aimed at getting the public to change the way it thinks about voting. 
  • ....when.... what's your answer? 
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