Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Links and comments for the New Year

Mountain gardens.

I'd say good-bye and good-riddance to 2017, but 2018 looks like it is going to be worse in every way. For one thing, 2017 revealed that Trump is China's greatest victory, a vast strategic opportunity for Beijing. 2018 is already shaping up to very ugly out here, with the incompetence of the Trump Administration following the dilatory and pro-China policies of the Obama and later Bush Administrations. We've had over a decade of drift out here effectively ceding Asia to the Chinese, as China rockets up its power and influence. But luckily we have invested trillions making Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Africa safe for Chinese investment... future historians will marvel at the suicidal stupidity of American foreign policy in the early 21st century....

Fortunately US policy toward Taiwan is likely to remain unchanged, as former AIT  head Steve Young contends in the Taipei Times. Tsai herself took the right view, correctly charging China's military expansion with destabilizing the region. Constantly positioning China as the problem is the right move for the government to take....

According to the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (FocusTw)....
Tsai's approval rating was 35.9 percent at year's end, down 2.7 percentage points from the 38.6 percent support she received in November, the survey by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation found.
The survey attributed this to the President's response to the recent spate of Chinese military incursions. It made me laugh however -- note that when Tsai's ratings fell hit pieces comparing Tsai to Trump were immediately produced by Sheryn Lee at EastAsiaForum (a very pro-China site that occasionally offers good stuff) and in July by Ralph Jennings for the LATimes (and inevitably by Lawrence Chung at SCMP). But when Tsai's ratings rose after she appointed William Lai premier, and remained up (for months, no less), there was no reporting of that. That's right, if you are writing about Tsai's ratings only when they are falling, then you are writing hit pieces, and are a propagandist, not a journalist.

But her poll numbers fell? Looking forward to another round of ZOMG TSAI GIVES TAIWAN THE SADZ in the int'l media. *sigh*.....

The DPP and its government are fighting over polls about its labor law changes.
The results of a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) poll released on Saturday, which found that 59.7 percent of the public was in favor of proposed amendments to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), clashed with poll results released by the Ministry of Labor on Friday, which showed that 58.4 percent did not support the proposals.
I tend to believe the Min. of Labor on this one, though the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation did find that that the public in general approves of the labor law amendments (here) 53-31.

After so many years of toxic air, suddenly it is a serious political issue (my recent post). Mayor Ko weighed in this week to say that banning fireworks really doesn't address the issue, which is systemic. This review article observes of air pollution:
Ambient air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health and is estimated to contribute to 2·9 million annual deaths globally,1 of which more than 85% occur in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs).2 Particulate matter (PM), a heterogeneous mixture of suspended solid and liquid particles from different sources and varying in size, mass, and chemical composition, is often acknowledged as the most damaging element of ambient air pollution to human health, particularly PM2·5 (PM with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2·5 μm) with its ability to penetrate deeply into the human respiratory and circulatory systems and cause direct localised and systemic damage. Both short-term (days) and long-term (years) exposure to PM has been independently associated with increased risks for mortality and morbidity, particularly cardiorespiratory outcomes. Additionally, unlike other environmental risk factors, PM has no observable threshold, and adverse health outcomes have been recorded at levels lower than the most stringent air quality guidelines.
...and in Taiwan we live in a soup of PM. A 2017 study on Taiwan counted the likely number of deaths:
In 2014, PM2.5 accounted for 6282 deaths [95% confidence interval (CI), 5716–6847], from ischemic heart disease (2244 deaths; 95% CI, 2015–2473), stroke (2140 deaths; 95% CI, 1760–2520), lung cancer (1252 deaths; 95% CI, 995–1509), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (645 deaths; 95% CI, 418–872). Nationally, the population attributable mortality fraction of PM2.5 for the four disease causes was 18.6% (95% CI, 16.9–20.3%). Substantial geographic variation in PM2.5 attributable mortality fraction was found; the percentage of deaths attributable to PM2.5 ranged from 8.7% in Hualian County to 21.8% in Yunlin County. In terms of absolute number of deaths, New Taipei and Kaohsiung cities had the largest number of deaths associated with PM2.5 (874 and 829 deaths, respectively) among all cities and counties.
Why it has become a political issue is more fascinating. There's a widespread perception that pollution has become worse. I remember the days in 1989 when I lived in downtown Taipei before all the factories moved to China, and it was much, much worse. I could sit in my room in the old Namaste Hostel, right next to the train station, and on a hot summer day the air would form acid in the back of my throat. But the factories left and the air in Taipei got better.

If I had to guess, I'd say that (1) the air in Taipei got worse recently, and god forbid the Celestial Dragon City suffer like hoi polloi in the hinterlands and (2) the omnipresence of apps that show the air pollution in realtime meaning ordinary people finally have something like real numbers and (3) the fact that more people are out and about in the air jogging and cycling. Changing the air pollution here will mean cracking down on factories. Hahaha. I think I will do a shot of whiskey now...

Taiwan News ran a piece on overbuilding in Taiwan. The decadal survey results show a rise in empty houses, which I am sure underestimates the true number.
Currently the number of vacant homes in Taiwan is estimated to be about 1.2 million. That amounts to about 14 percent of 8.5 million homes nationwide being unoccupied.

Over 70 percent of the 1.2 million vacant homes are concentrated in the six large municipalities of Taiwan; New Taipei (18.62 percent), Kaohsiung (12.38 percent), Taichung (11.65 percent), Taipei (11.09 percent), Taoyuan (9.36 percent), and Tainan (7.92 percent).
The numbers are very uncertain. A 2011 survey had the figure at 1.56 million, or 19.3% of all housing. Many "empty" buildings are rented off the books, while other rentals are not rented to a human, but are rented as storage units. Taiwan's heavily subsidized construction-industrial state and the recent bubble have, like all subsidized industries, overproduced, dealing immense damage to our environment and national economy, but making many people rich.

Which is what is important.
Daily Links:
  • China's new pollution regs hit Taiwanese factories there hard. So they must seek another country they can poison....
  • American stupidity infects the world: Taiwan ISP calls for relaxation of net nuetrality.
  • Beijing to get more menacing toward Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. 
  • Shirley Lin on the re-emergence of the Taiwan Identity: Interview with the News Lens
  • Fuel prices headed up!
  • Looks like 2018 growth will be above 2%
  • Taiwan's new national defense white paper is out.
  • Jon Sullivan on China's influence campaign. Good work, Jon. The trick in talking about that is attempting to write truths about it, while not getting accused of racism (Jeremiah Jenne repackages that issue here). Good luck with that, anyone who tries. There are certain truths about Chinese interaction with rules based systems that cannot at present be publicly stated... but which are blindingly obvious to everyone who has been out here a while. It will be amusing to watch people struggle not to articulate them in order to avoid being called racist. I think I will do a shot of whiskey now....
  • Nearly 200 university departments in Taiwan registered no students this year. Because of the idiotic Chen era subsidies, too many universities were built, mostly to farm government subsidies, even though the demographics were obvious. Moreover, many of the useful tech and vocational schools, important sources of factory workers and entrepreneurs, were upgraded to universities, which produce service workers. Unfortunately the government needs to move ruthlessly to shut down universities, so that will never happen. I think I will do a shot of whiskey now....
  • S Korea seizes Hong Kong-flagged, Taiwan-chartered boat shipping oil to N Korea. The situation is more complex. A Marshall Islands registered firm owned by Taiwan nationals chartered the boat. Crew is Chinese and it is registered in Hong Kong. Local newspapers, especially the opposition, were unhappy with Tsai's tepid response, which was basically, "it's not really Taiwanese" rather than a strong "we won't put up with this shit".
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!


Anonymous said...

Supposedly the EPA used to base air quality on PM10 instead of PM2.5 so that's one recent change that skews statistics. Without going off of stats (which there may not be as accurate keeping of if the EPA hadn't previously been using PM2.5 and also hadn't been tracking though maybe they did track, who knows), but I would say the pollution floating over from China is what's made things much worse. China had their worst year last year, and this year, it seems a climate difference has helped. Unclear how much polluting factories have in reality been shutdown despite media reports.

Anonymous said...

New Cold war is coming between US and China. Let's hope it does not go hot: