Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday Round up: It's the Economy, stupid!

Gary Rawnsley (@GDRaber sent around this Taipei Times cartoon from 2000, still applicable today.

WIDELY SEEN ON THE TAIWAN INTERNET: Ko Wen-je biked from Taipei to Kaohsiung this weekend. And all over the Taiwan net, netizens are saying: "if an old man can do that in a day, what's your excuse for not going home to vote this weekend?" The young are pushing each other out to vote. Young people are standing up for Taiwan, according to Channel News Asia. Want to see how the young are thinking? Reflections from a first time voter at The News Lens.

EAST ASIA FORUM STILL NOT ADMITTING ECFA IS A FAILURE WHILE CLAIMING ECONOMY IS DRIVING THE ELECTION: Several years ago the East Asia Forum cheer-led the push for the stupid ECFA agreement with China, which has done little for Taiwan's trade with China while flooding Taiwan with legal and illegal Chinese imports, pushing down our trade surplus with China almost every year since its signing, and of course, putting the kibosh on the KMT's chances in this election. Apparently, EAF can't tell the difference between a good trade agreement and a sell-out, though thankfully the locals can. This week EAF hosts a couple of good pieces on the election, including Mark Harrison's excellent and insightful piece:
The distance between the domestic and international viewpoints on Taiwan is one of its enduring challenges. Should Tsai be elected president, managing these two very different perspectives will be a key task for an incoming Tsai administration. As president, she will need to take heed of the international view of Taiwan and communicate the reasons why the electorate have voted for a more circumspect relationship with Beijing.
Yes, and local youth activists and third force supporters will have to come to terms with this reality as well.

Also at EAF is Economics with Determine the Taiwan Election, which notes:
But Ma’s economic policies have failed over the past eight years and he has broken many campaign promises. Ordinary people in Taiwan have not seen significant economic benefits from improved cross-Strait relations. The so-called ‘cross-Strait peace dividends’ have not spilled over to the general public but have primarily benefited the upper socio-economic class.

The general public has consequently become increasingly sceptical about the value of deeper integration with mainland China. Debates over integration have become dominated by concerns about Taiwan’s national security with little attention given to the potential boost greater economic ties could give Taiwan’s troubled economy. These accumulated concerns were reflected in the Sunflower Movement in March 2014, which saw students occupy Taiwan’s legislative assembly to protest, among other things, the KMT’s handling of a new trade deal with China.

Polls suggest that disappointed economic voters will likely replace the KMT with the opposition DPP. The DPP is considered a driving force of Taiwanese independence. The biggest challenge for a DPP government in the future would therefore be to gain Beijing’s trust — without it, instability associated with poor cross-Strait relations may lead to an economic downturn.
By supporting the failed ECFA, EAF helped slow the pace of the East Asian integration it loves so much. Yes, I am lovin' the irony. The above quote is fine for the most part, but paragraph three has the "biggest challenge" wrong, one problem that China-focused discourse about Taiwan has. Tsai is facing several massive challenges -- reshaping Taiwan's government from the KMT's colonial system to a robust democratic one, reviving the economy whose overdependence on China is a massive problem, upgrading and expanding defense spending, closing old heavily subsidized KMT-connected primary input businesses like steel and PVC production whose profits depend on government money flows and imports of subsidized suppressed labor from abroad, and reshaping the energy system, among others. KMT rule has left Taiwan a mess; which challenge is the biggest depends on the taste of the observer, and all are interrelated, since the KMT is China's hand in Taiwan's domestic politics. Obviously keeping Beijing in a stupor while we unplug our economy from China's is important, though Beijing will never "trust" anyone, it doesn't even trust its own people. You can have trust, or power, but you can't have both...

The economy is a huge concern, and KMT Presidential candidate Eric Chu promises to "turn things around":
Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate and Chairman Eric Chu has pledged to "turn Taiwan around" via three strategies — raising the minimum wage, narrowing the rich-poor gap, and achieving consensus on efforts to strive for Taiwan's international space, if he wins the Jan. 16 election.

Chu promised to raise the minimum wage from the current NT$20,008 (US$606) to NT$30,000 per month within four years, narrow the rich-poor gap by raising taxes on the wealthy, and pump up economic growth through wage hikes and seeking cooperation and a win-win situation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
What's interesting is not Chu addressing the economy, but the fact that he is implicitly criticizing KMT President Ma Ying-jeou. Yet, he is not running against Ma, since he embraces almost all of Ma's major policies. Awkward...

Ben Goren of Letters from Taiwan sent around this image from Hau Long-bin's legislative bid in Keelung.  The English translates only right-hand string of Chinese. The left-hand side echoes the language of the third parties in saying "Positive Power." Recall that the NPP in Chinese is literally "New Era Power". No doubt it's just another coincidence...

Hau is the son of General Hau Pei-tsun, the die-hard reactionary politician who fought a rear-guard action against democracy, and left the KMT to run for the New Party as a Veep candidate in 1996. Thus Hau, a scion of an elite and a princeling himself, is fighting for his life in a four-way tussle. Ketagalan Media's wonderful 10 Legislative Races to Watch in Taiwan's Elections observes:
After flirting with a southern run to rally the troops, former Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin 郝龍斌 (KMT) pushed aside local politicians to seize the party’s nomination in this historically blue city this spring. A victory in this “safe” district would be his springboard to becoming the next KMT chairman. However, the blue camp has split, with the PFP’s Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄) and the MKT’s Yang Shih-cheng (楊石城) (a city councilor) running credible campaigns against Hau, and he is in real danger of an embarrassing defeat by young DPP challenger Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應).
I don't think a victory in this election matters much for Hau's bid for the Chairmanship (assuming he wants it). Rather, it's his bloodlines that count. One need only look at Lien Chan, loser twice for the presidency, but he retains his clout in the KMT. Not being a legislator might even give Hau renewed interest in being Chair, to give himself a real position of power somewhere.

But of the north in general, the China Post had an excellent piece on the changes there and the competitive races:
Nowhere will the likely redrawing of Taiwan's political landscape be more apparent than in the nation's capital and the Greater Taipei metropolitan area as a whole (Taipei, New Taipei and Keelung) accounting for 21 of the 73 island's regional legislative seats. This breakdown of the legislative field will flesh out the race's key themes and highlight emblematic contests that encapsulate them.
The north merely awaits the 2018 mayor elections. Then New Taipei City will go as well, and everything will be under control of Taiwan-centered politicians for a few years. At present I expect Ko Wen-je to be re-elected, and in another six years the demographic shift in Taipei will be even further along, and another swath of old KMT voters will have passed away. It will be interesting to see who the KMT runs against Ko next time.

Ben Goren also is interviewing legislative candidates. He has two up now in his Taiwan Democracy Uncut series (here is the second). A little taste of what's going on.

WE ARE SPARED CHINA TOURISTS: Tour groups decline sharply, thankfully. I noticed that when I was on the coast last weekend. The KMT news organ reports:
The number of Mainland tourist groups to Taiwan has declined sharply in the run-up to Taiwan’s January 16 Presidential Election.   Hotels in Taitung, Eastern Taiwan, have reported that occupancy rates have declined by 40% to 50%.  The number of Mainland tourist groups the Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) in Taipei has also declined by 50% compared to last month. 
Taiwan rejoices. Was wonderful without the tourist buses on the east coast...

I photographed this Chinese tourist on the east coast last week.

Kharis Templeman offers 5 data driven points on what to watch for on election night. For some reason drunken exuberant bloggers didn't make the list, though I am sure we'll constitute at least 32% of the electorate on Saturday night. Templeman argues that the KMT isn't finished; it's just a downturn...
All this is a long way of saying our default assumption should be that the 2016 election will be a low-water mark for the KMT. Everything that could go wrong, has. As a result, a lot of pan-blue supporters are going to abandon it this election (emphasis on this election): in the presidential race, Soong is going to get a lot of protest votes if the polls are at all accurate, and the PFP, MKT, and NP will probably peel away a significant chunk of its LY support and throw some seats to the DPP. The KMT is facing renegade pan-blue candidates in many districts it should win easily, and it may well suffer embarrassing defeats in some of them (such as Hau Lung-bin in Keelung). But it's misleading to conflate the KMT's fate in this election with a collapse in pan-blue partisanship, which remains significant.

The latent electoral support for the combined pan-blue camp is both the hardest to measure and the most important for the future direction of Taiwan's party system. But two indicators should give us at least a rough idea of this level: the combined pan-blue (Chu + Soong) vote in the presidential race, and the combined pan-blue vote (KMT+PFP+pan-blue renegades) in the district races.

My expectation: both the combined pan-blue presidential and LY district vote shares will be well above 40%. (For reference, in 2008, the DPP's presidential candidate got less than 42% of the popular vote, and the party's district candidates carried only 38%.) If the pan-blue vote falls much below those benchmarks, then the case that this election represents the start of permanent KMT decline becomes considerably stronger.
Templeman approaches the problem as if the KMT were an actual political party and not the political organization of a colonial ruling class. Once you adopt the latter point of view, you can see the problems that the KMT isn't going to overcome. I like Kharis and don't want to argue with him, and since both myself and Donovan have written on this elsewhere, I won't repeat. Suffice to say that the DPP in 2008 was a political party in a downturn, while in 2016 the KMT is a colonial regime in crisis.

One thing Donovan Smith likes to emphasize in his writing and in private alcohol-fueled conversation with me is that many Blue voters, especially outside of Taipei, can't bring themselves to vote DPP, but are looking for non-KMT alternatives to vote for. Hence, pan-Blue partisanship is more loosely connected to the KMT than many observers think. Local politicians are aware of this, and positioning themselves accordingly. Over time it is likely that more faction politicians will take the local independent route, especially if the DPP legislature creates some sort of proportional representation system.

Surveying on the east coast

In 1991 Chen Chi-li, one of the gangsters connected to the murder of writer Henry Liu in 1984, was given clemency by the KMT government, released from jail, and deported. He made his way, like many KMT mobsters over time, to Cambodia, where ran a construction company. The KMT has old connections in the area, with the Lost Army in the Golden Triangle, and KMT-supporting Chinese gangsters like the United Bamboo and the Four Seas gang have extensive networks trafficking weapons, drugs, laborers, and sex slaves through their overseas gang connections out of Cambodia to Taiwan, among many destinations. The women were delivered to brothels in Taiwan, which often had connections to A Certain Political Party. The trade in Southeast Asian women for brides overlapped this trade, and of course the brokers supported A Certain Political Party. the Party of Han Chauvinism which looks down on brown people from Southeast Asia.

In the Taiwan election, a Cambodian immigrant woman is on the KMT party list and will likely be given a legislative seat. Japan Times notes:
“I had never thought about going into politics. In Cambodia, democracy was not a familiar concept,” Lin said in an interview. “It’s unbelievable how life turns out.”

Now 38 and a Taiwanese citizen, she was set up by her mother with a Taiwanese husband via a profit-making brokerage at the age of 20.

She moved from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to become one of Taiwan’s tens of thousands of immigrant spouses, mainly from Southeast Asia and China.

Their vulnerability has been highlighted by abuse cases in recent years, and Lin wants to draw on her own experiences to improve that.
She got a masters degree and has worked as an activist on the issue of immigrant wives.

This is an area where the DPP has its work cut out for it.

IN  TEARS: I seldom get worked up over the death of a celebrity, but David Bowie was a giant whom I knew my whole life. He'll be... missed.

EVENTS: Sunday Ketagalan Media is hosting a webcast from their forum in Taipei. You can watch this on Saturday in the US.
Daily Links:
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!


les said...

When I lived in China I heard a great many Chinese say they would love to visit 'their' Taiwan, but would not so while 'that man' (referring to CSB) was in office. Hopefully these people will now refuse to come here while the DPP is in power, and the Chinese visitor numbers will never rebound to where they were.

Anonymous said...

Did you notice that Yang Chiung-ying has a billboard that looks almost exactly like Hau's? I had to compare them to make sure they didn't use the same people. They didn't; Hau's adoring crowd is overwhelmingly male while Yang's is more diverse.