Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meanwhile back in Taiwan....

The community of Mihu in the hills above Dongshih.

So much commentary on Xi's assumption of imperial power... This live blog on the CCP Spring Gala, the annual craptacular, pointed out something interesting....
In general, this year's show's focus on Taiwan is really remarkable; not just in terms of singers coming from Taiwan but also the sketches using storylines that include Taiwan. It is especially noteworthy that this sketch's title is "homecoming" or "returning home", suggesting the 'homecoming' of Taiwan to the mainland.
...scary, not remarkable. As my man Donovan noted in a piece at News Lens this week:
Xi clearly intends to not just be a powerful leader, but one who goes down in history. The Chinese people have grown accustomed to strong economic growth, but that alone won’t qualify Xi as a historic leader.

This is where the terrifying part lies. Xi may consider actions purely for glory that his more institutional predecessors wouldn’t or couldn’t have.

This should make China’s neighbors very nervous. An absolute ruler of a massively powerful nation with ambitions to enter history is potentially very dangerous and unpredictable. China wants the Senkaku Islands from Japan, several border areas from India and to consolidate power over the South China Sea. But the obvious big prize to achieve glorious “reunification” of China and finally end the “century of humiliation” would be to take Taiwan.
Yup. Not many cases of one-man rule of powerful states that don't involve foreign wars. Xi is probably looking at Putin in Ukraine and Crimea and thinking he ought to do that.... who would do anything if China occupied Bhutan, for example? Taiwan is hardly the only small state in China's sights...

Jenna observes that Taiwan is the Canary in the coal mine, and it is getting hard to breathe. Taking her cue from Donovan, she expands.....:
It's just that Westerners are afraid of using them to describe China (or really any non-Western/non-white nation) for fear of seeming - or being labeled - racist. They're afraid someone will say they don't understand how the historic injustice of white privilege means that anything non-white people do can't be considered the same, or as bad, as anything white people do. (A worldview which has its uses, and which I am often sympathetic to, but which doesn't apply here.)

That's really all it is - it's a race thing. All they need to do is take their old frameworks, dust 'em off and apply 'em to a regime that happens to be Asian. There's nothing new or uncharted about it. Just stop being afraid of criticizing China because someone might think you're racist if you criticize shitty things non-Western powers do, and call China's actions what they are using words you already have.
One aspect of China's power: Taiwanese face discrimination from Chinese when they don't kow-tow. This NYT piece describes a problem I have heard complaints about for years. Chinese in other countries who employ Taiwanese abroad fire them if they don't say Taiwan is part of China. Let us recall something else: small businesses are favored espionage, intelligence, and covert action operations for North Korea and historically, for other Asian countries, as a friend pointed out, and it is likely that many of these small businesses are fronts... or are terrified that if they do not enforce annexation ideology, they or their relatives back home will be punished.

Of course the Vatican is considering switching recognition to China. I wonder if there is a hidden factor: the decline of the KMT. The Church has been aligned with the authoritarian party in Taiwan, not with the democracy party. Now that it is out of power, there is less of a pull toward Taiwan.

The M503 air route controversy continues to echo through the commentariat. This is the sturdiest and most useful piece, on the security issues surrounding the M503 route. The pro-China/KMT pieces have a common theme: the 1992C. For example, consider this distortionate piece here at Taiwan Insight, ironic considering it provides no "insight" at all:
Given the unrealistic nature of these arguments against the M503 route, hostile rationalization is the closest answer to them. No matter what the Mainland does, it will be interpreted by Tsai government and its core supporters as malicious. It is a Cold War mentality. Nevertheless, Cold War is over. This anachronistic mentality is a hazard to Cross-Strait relations. If Tsai really wants to negotiate with the Mainland, 92 Consensus is the magic word. In fact, according to various polls, over 50% of Taiwanese people support 92 Consensus. Many of them also voted Tsai. After all, most Taiwanese are ethnic Chinese. China is a historical and cultural concept and is not equal to PRC. Keeping this in mind and the current Cross-Strait deadlock can be overcome overnight.
The entire piece is geared not at explaining the M503 route issue but getting in that last idea about the fictional 1992 Consensus. The reader is to be left contemplating that. Similarly, over at the National Interest KMTer Charles Chen urked up:
Xi does not trust Tsai, nor does he feel obligated to negotiate or just communicate with her about his decisions on Taiwan affairs. Xi was willing to cooperate with Ma for a singular but simple reason: Ma’s mainland policy was based on the 1992 Consensus—which recognizes one China but allows different interpretations—and was at least against the eventual separatism of Taiwan. In Xi’s unprecedented summit meeting with Ma in November 2015 in Singapore, Xi defined this “agreement of disagreement” as the “anchor” of cross-Strait relations and made it the highest doctrine in his Taiwan policy. Yet Tsai has so far rejected this Consensus. Xi has therefore chosen to dominate Tsai, instead of cooperating with her.
The "1992 Consensus" was mentioned in several other paragraphs. The point of this M503 offensive by KMTers is to keep in the media the idea that the real problem is Tsai and everything would be solved if she followed the 1992 Consensus. This is so deeply ingrained that Ma's former Premier Jiang Yi-hua wrote a piece on the Taiwanese identity for Lowell Dittmer's recent edited volume on Taiwan and China (free from Luminos) in which the final paragraphs are dominated by kvetching about the lost 1992 Consensus. This constant mentioning of the 1992C is the kind of staying on-message that KMTers understand without having to be told.

The 1992C was never about relations with China. Relations under Ma would have been exactly the same with or without it. It was just Ma and the KMT creating a euphemism to say that Taiwan is part of China, without saying it directly so as not to offend voters.

The hilarious aspect of using the air route to tout the 1992 Consensus is how absurdly wrong it is. The pieces above steadfastly ignore the reality that Ma had the 1992 Consensus yet had not one but FOUR new air routes shoved into the Taiwan Strait by China in 2015 (M503 began testing then). O yeah....

Look for more of these pieces, ending always with the wholly fictional 1992C. Any excuse to mention it.

The Tsai Administration shuffled that Cabinet again. As many observers noted, it was a case of musical chairs. There was some speculation that it was about satisfying the hardliner independence types. That speculation is normal -- all changes appear to be about that -- remember when Tsai appointed William Lai as premier to satisfy those hardliners? *sigh*

Although I have often pointed out how "upgrading" the useful vocational colleges, which produced many small business founders in the old days, was economically destructive, the TT pointed out an aspect of them I did not know. Amid an article pointing out that the nation's agricultural sector is desperate for workers, it said:
In central Taiwan, the sort of workers needed in the agriculture sector are similar to those needed by the manufacturing sector, but most workers go for the latter because it offers better pay, he said.

The nation’s vocational colleges changed into technological universities about two decades ago, which deeply affected the agricultural sector because most high-school graduates enter service industries instead of agriculture, Lee said.

Municipalities that rely on agriculture have been urging the government to improve the shortage of labor.

The Yunlin County Government since 2013 has been asking the Ministry of Labor to allow foreign laborers to be employed by farms or to allow the manufacturing industry’s foreign workers to help out on farms in their spare time.
The low pay in Taiwan is slowly eroding the nation's economy. Think anything will be done? Not as long as big business controls economic policy in Taiwan...
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Monday, February 26, 2018

Toilet Paper Shelves... just wiped clean

My local supermarket is bare of toilet paper. The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2018 is real (BBC):
Toilet paper getting more expensive is a direct result of rising raw material costs globally, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Forest fires in Canada and disruption to production in Brazil are among the factors being blamed.

And as a result, the price of short fibre pulp, used to make toilet paper, now costs about $800 (£600) per tonne, compared with $650 a year ago, it said.

But one of Taiwan's largest toilet paper suppliers, YFY, says the situation is more drastic than that. It claims pulp costs have increased even faster than government estimates, soaring by about 50% since the middle of last year. Packing and transportation costs are also rising, it added.
People are panicking, and both the possibility of price rises and the panic have been covered in the media, each feeding the  other. *sigh*

Stories like this are common, and I suspect makers push them. Anyone remember, years ago, during the SARS panic some enterprising individual spread the idea that pineapple stopped SARS? And prices rose accordingly...
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

China Redidivus

The mountains of Miaoli...
"'Nay, Éomer, you do not fully understand the mind of Master Wormtongue,' said Gandalf, turning his piercing glance upon him. 'He is bold and cunning. Even now he plays a game with peril and wins a throw. Hours of my precious time he has wasted already. Down, snake!' he said suddenly in a terrible voice. 'Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price? When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman you desire? Too long have you watched her [Eowyn] under your eyelids and haunted her steps.'"
It/s 2018 in the world, but it's 1928 here in Asia. News this week was all bad and trending downhill no matter how hard you squint. Two more western corporations, Lufthansa and British Airways, caved to Beijing and listed "Taiwan, China" on their websites. Many articles in the last two weeks warning that the Vatican will switch to recognition of China.

And Xi Jinping today declared himself emperor, doing away with term limits (Xinhua). Sauron has declared himself openly and is now based in Mordor... and his agents sweep across our nations... Xi has not consolidated his power in order to consolidate his borders. This means war, especially if the economy begins to slide.

China is everywhere... apparently Chinese agents or NZealanders operating on their behalf -- lots of Chinese money flowing into N Zealand -- broke into the house of a well known researcher and critic of Chinese influence ops... here is her commentary on China's influence ops: N Zealand could be the next Albania. Then her house was broken into:
A New Zealand academic who made international waves researching China's international influence campaigns has linked a number of recent break-ins to her work.

University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady, speaking today from Christchurch to the Australian Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee in Canberra, outlined three recent events which caused her concern.

"I had a break-in in my office last December. I received a warning letter, this week, that I was about to be attacked. And yesterday I had a break-in at my house," she said.

She said this weeks' burglary at her Upper Riccarton home was particularly suspicious.

"I had three laptops - including one used for work - stolen. And phones. [Other] valuables weren't taken. Police are now investigating that."
NZ paper editorialized that the SIS needs to find out who did it... But the key part of that editorial:
Either way, it would be a particularly foolish thing to do as part of an attempt to discredit her. For that reason, the possibility that the break-ins were the work of ordinary criminals cannot be ruled out. But whoever did it has drawn attention to the warnings she has been giving for the past six months. Brady, who speaks Mandarin, believes New Zealand is too receptive to China's influence peddling which involves political donations, cultivating respected public figures and using them to promote China's global interests.

She published her paper just before last year's election and both party leaders played down her concerns. Bill English said, "I don't see any obvious sign of things that are inappropriate." Jacinda Ardern noted Australia had launched an inquiry into foreign political interference and said she would be following it with interest. Brady's testimony of burglaries has got her attention.
Always, when the subject of China comes out, there's a chorus of voices, soothing, patronizing, knowing, that contend that there is really nothing wrong. There's no problem. Your fear of China is overwrought and hysterical. For example, despite information and articles from both the US intelligence community and the academic community on the negative effects of these institutes, including calls that they be closed from major educational associations, universities still host them. Indeed, UCLA defended its Confucius Institute in its uni paper and says it has no plans to close  it. Readers will remember that Ed McCord at GWU defended Confucius Institutes in The Diplomat, with neither the magazine nor McCord informing readers that GWU hosted a Confucius Institute.

That's right. These institutes are well known to be intelligence operations that collection information on academics and students, suppress Taiwan related events and organizations, watch the Chinese student population, and seek to spread China's malign influence. But the UCLA Daily Bruin piece was tweeted around by Michael D. Swaine, of the Carnegie Institute, as a "positive view". Yes, there are people who think it is possible to take a "positive view" of Chinese intelligence operations in the United States.

The Confucius Institutes are just an example. The flow of Chinese money is supporting whole networks of people willing to defend these flows, which means defending China and downplaying the threat, criticizing and marginalizing voices which might oppose China.

But what about the US? You know, imperialism, colonialism, racism. Yeah, whataboutism, that's one of the approaches Chinese defenders, explainers, and downplayers use to deflect criticism of China. Brian H finds this a conceptual problem: fundamentally, the west which for 200 years has done the bullying and extracting and "developing" of other lands now faces an empire which is doing the same thing, and it doesn't have any way to talk about that.

Watching China's money flow hither and yon, Chinese influence spreading in ways too vast to track, and chronicling the endless flow of failures in the west to stem the tide or deal rationally and steadfastly with what is obviously the greatest threat the west has ever faced, I feel more and more like Villani...

“And the plague lasted until . . .”

Donovan: Why Taiwan Should be Terrified of Emperor Xi
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A hard choice

Twitter's suggestions for me the other day.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Election Posters: Early Harvest

Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕), now the KMT candidate for mayor in Taichung (story). Lu is a mainlander politician whose family is from Shantung. This means that in Taoyuan the KMT is running a princeling who lost the last election to the current DPP mayor, in Hualien it is running the wife of the current county chief, and in Taichung another mainlander politician who appears to be a machine politician. The Taipei mayor nomination will probably go to a mainlander as well.

Anyone who thought the KMT was going to reform itself should consult the last two decades of KMT history to understand it: it is the political organization of an ethnic colonial ruling class, and can't change without destroying that fundamental organizing principle of mainlander control. This is why in the long run the KMT is doomed. NPP politician Freddie Lim said in a recent trip to Washington DC that the NPP is going after the disaffected Blues who cannot vote for their grandfather's party or the DPP, and hope to replace the KMT as the number 2 party.

Note that Lu's sign prominently displays her party affiliation. This is not a bad thing here in battleground Taichung where voters are divided between the parties and often vote on personal, family, and local connections. In my district, for example, we supported the DPP at the legislative level but elect KMT politicians at the local level.

Much of the vote will be determined by whether the fast growing population of Taichung moves its household registrations here. Since many of them come from further south, where they are more likely to be green, the DPP needs to conduct GOTV drives by emphasizing the need to switch household registrations. However, many of these new voters rent homes, and landlords are often reluctant to give permission to move the household registration because then they have to pay tax on the rental income.

More after READ MORE....

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Top Three Settlements on Dadu Shan

Today my man Drew took me up to the "Yang Yuan" area above Taichung city atop Dadu Shan (google map link). This area, enclosed in the green box, takes its name from some prominent local family named Yang. It is filled with old houses, and also hints about what used to be there. Note the name above the purple line: "savage city"....

Monday, February 12, 2018

The problem with rail relocations isn't democracy, but its lack...

Miaoli, Taiwan's hidden treasure.

Dafydd Fell on Democracy and Rail location in Taiwan in the Taiwan Sentinel. Fell describes the politics of rail in the 1950-70s and then moves on to discuss the changes in the post-1980 era when local politicians began moving rail lines out of urban areas, and to the present day, when they are moving them underground or elevating them... he concludes...
A related practice that seems especially common in Taiwan is for existing railways to be shifted either underground or on to elevated tracks. Political pressure has again been a critical driving force in such developments. Such projects, however, are extremely expensive. Often it would have been cheaper to build brand new routes to serve areas excluded from the railway network. Such practices have further eroded the possibilities for freight transport as we can see in sections where tracks were taken underground or elevated the original freight terminals have been disconnected. In other words, political pressures have pushed Taiwan’s railway ever closer to becoming essentially a passenger only network.

Even if there was an environmental call for greater freight transport by rail, the trends over the last three decades mean that this will increasingly not be feasible. Thus, though democracy has offered many environmental benefits, it has at times promoted environmentally damaging policies.
The problem with this claim is that democracy is not responsible for or related to these decisions. I have no doubt that if the people had been consulted, they probably would have voted to move the rail lines, but they weren't so the point is moot. The issue was Taiwan's anti-democracy construction-industrial state with its patronage links to local gangsters and businesses hard at work. Take his Kaohsiung example....
As Taiwan moved into the democratic transition era, political pressure became open and for the next decade and a half there were repeated news items of politicians pressuring TSC. In a TV news report from 1986, local KMT politicians demanded the removal of the North South Line tracks through residential areas of Kaohsiung. Similarly, when the track was lifted from Fengshan to Kaohsiung port in 1989, it was clear that this was due to pressure from the county government and local elected politicians. Their dream to turn the tracks into extra parking lots had been achieved. The ultimate outcome of this process has been that all this freight shifted to road transport, increasing air pollution as well as the potential for road accidents.
There were four mayors of Kaohsiung in the 1980s and all were KMT appointed by the KMT central government. The succession of speakers of the city council, one of the dirtiest in Taiwan, were all KMT. The speaker position was so lucrative because it controlled the agenda that in the late 1990s Chu An-hsiung paid US$10 million to buy the speaker election for himself. In the 1980s the city council itself was full of alleged gangsters like Chang Sheng-wu, who was shot by gunmen in 1982, and the Hsu brothers, one of whom got in trouble over a shootout in one of the sex establishments he owned (lest you imagine that this was a KMT problem, a local DPP legislator was once convicted of heroin trafficking). Local organized crime groups were seen as some of the most powerful on the island.

In major infrastructure construction the driver of these projects is their ability to feed and water local patronage networks. If the local population happens to support the infrastructure construction (and when does it not?), so much the better. The Developmentalist State remains a key ideological construct in the minds of many Taiwanese...

No context is provided here by Fell, and it is highly likely that nothing remotely democratic was going on. Rather, this looks like a case of the usual performance art in which local politicians ask for something the central and local governments already planned to give, the decision already being made behind the scenes. Local politicians -- especially in K-town in the 1980s of all places -- aren't going to go on TV to demand something their party/government superiors don't want. The TV appearance was probably made to help put pressure on Taiwan Railways and Taisugar to move their lines out of the city, with this crop of alleged gangsters posing as defenders of the people. Moreover, in those days, to get elected meant getting your face on TV as often as possible, preferably in the defender of the people role.

But what of the democratic era? Tainan is a good example. Talk of placing the rail lines underground began in the late 1980s and early 1990s and predates the democratic era. The project was approved in 2004 but ground was not broken until last year. It frees up a ton of land for developers though the city government insists it will all be public land.. A friend of mine whose family lost land to the project said that when it was first proposed, the new land was defined as public parks, but as-delivered, their land is going to be for private commercial buildings -- a classic construction-industrial state move. Public hearings have been marred by protests from "self-help" groups (often extortionate in nature and run by local gangsters). Then-Mayor William Lai complained about the Ma Administration's attacks on the land expropriation for the project... and local academics demanded that proper procedure be followed in the expriopriations for the project, with the implication that it probably wouldn't be.

How did "democracy" figure in this decision? Largely by its absence, the decision was made by the inertia (or momentum, if you prefer) which governs all construction-industrial state projects (quick, can you think of any that have been killed by public objections?). Once proposed, they gradually become reality in some form. The public seems to have passively accepted these projects, since it regards new infrastructure as "progress", and knows that the island's domestic political economy is driven by infrastructure spending. Only a few hundred families are affected by the relocation of the rail line. Their problem.

In Taichung the rail elevation cost nearly $1.2 billion and the public has complained vociferously about the new station, which takes longer to get in and out of and requires climbing up and down several flights of stairs (the old station was at ground level and you could run right through the ticket machine and onto a train). It is hard to see any of this driven by or related to democracy -- I can't recall even a single poll. Everyone seemed to assume that putting in all this infrastructure was a good idea, because it has always been done that way.

Another example of railway improvement is the relocation of the Taitung Railway Station in the 1990s, which sucked the life out of the city center. As this 2017 news report notes, the area around the new station remains pathetically undeveloped and forlorn...
16 years ago, the Taiwan Railway Administration and Taitung County government discussed the relocation of Taitung Railway Station, to let the old Taitung City urban area expand, so it was moved to the outskirts of Taitung at Yanwanli. However, 16 years later, the land surrounding Taitung Station has become a city planning area, bought and sold by construction companies and financial consortiums to develop into a commercial area, but this still depends on the market mechanism.
The public was never consulted over the move, which was made over public heads by local politicians deciding amongst themselves. I think the motive for placing the station outside of town on undeveloped land is rather obvious...

Fell's major observation, that removing rail lines in urban areas has been very bad for the environment because it leads to more trucks, is entirely correct. But the reasons for such moves have little to do with democracy, but instead are driven by the needs of the construction-industrial state which seems to operate on automatic pilot...

...the other issue with freight, which Fell does not cover, is that trucks are preferred because throughout most of the Taiwan Miracle firms ran on just-in-time type supply systems in heavily networked small firms, whose goods and raw materials were carted around by truck, often by the familiar blue truck. Rail would actually crimp those delivery networks. Moreover, container volume rapidly expanded after the 1980s, more than doubling between 1980 and 2010 (source). It hardly seems possible that rail expansion, especially in cramped urban areas around ports, could have kept pace with this growth. Today roughly 95% of freight travels by truck (source). Coastal shipping, better for the environment, might play a greater role (as it actually does in Japan), but Taiwan's efficient highway network means it is usually faster to put it on a truck then to wait at a crowded port.   

All in all, what these rail relocation, elevation, and burial projects show is the remarkable way in which large infrastructure projects have become insulated from bottom-up democracy on Taiwan. The general public's passive acceptance of these projects demonstrates the underlying ideological continuity between the authoritarian and democratic eras in their regard of big infrastructure projects, the authority of the local and central government to make those decisions, and the supreme importance of the construction-industrial state.
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Saturday, February 10, 2018

KMT candidate for Taichung set

Our fair city.

KMT's Lu Hsiu-yan, who had led in every poll. defeated Johnny Chiang to clinch the KMT mayoral candidacy for Taichung (Yahoo in Chinese). Chiang elected not to contest the outcome. Lu has in fact invited Chiang to run her campaign, a nice display of unity. So different from elsewhere in the KMT.

This means that in Taichung, the nation's second largest city, the KMT has a viable candidate with full party support. In Chiayi, by contrast, it is split. In Taoyuan the KMT is running a princeling. In Hualien, long a KMT fief, the wife of the current mayor. In Taipei the picture has not yet cleared, but with the Deep Blue factions in control of the KMT and voting on ideological purity, it might not be able to find a candidate that can win over centrist and younger voters.

As I've already noted several times, because of Taichung's importance, if the KMT wins the Taichung election, the new mayor will automatically become a figure of national stature, since the KMT has few such politicians and controls only New Taipei City.
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Friday, February 09, 2018

Earthquake Update

This user posted the image above showing how the five large downed buildings all lay along the fault.

The death toll has now reached 10, and 58 are still missing. Among the dead and missing are many people from other countries. A Filipino caregiver was found dead, and 2 Canadians were feared trapped in one collapsed building, along with 5 Chinese.

Over 100 aftershocks followed, many of them big enough to be felt here in Taichung, including five over 5.0. The Central Weather Bureau said it couldn't rule out another big one hitting soon. The CWB also said that the quake(s) were unprecedented:
The magnitude 6.0 temblor that struck Hualien late Tuesday has re-written Taiwan's earthquake history, as both the intensity and number of its foreshocks and aftershocks are higher than have ever been recorded in the region, according to the Central Weather Bureau.
News Lens has an excellent infographic on Taiwan's quakes.

The government might set up an independent inspection commission for buildings. That is something much needed...

Meanwhile, the rescue teams are doing yeoman work, and donations are pouring in. Taiwan is amazing when there is trouble, people really pull together.

MEDIA: Lawrence Chung, whose political sympathies will be well known to my readers, published a long diatribe in SCMP on Taipei's rejection of China's offer of help. The piece casts the blame on Taiwan...
The Mainland Affairs Council told the South China Morning Post it appreciated the offer of help – seen as an olive branch from Beijing at a tense time for cross-strait relations – but it had enough manpower and resources.
*sigh* All "olive branches" from Beijing are the fruit of the poisoned tree. Let us recall that in the Szechuan quake help from Taipei was rejected by Beijing.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Links for a quake day

I've gone round the bend...

Enjoy some links...

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6.4 hits Hualian, 2 dead =updated=

Beach outside Hualien

SCMP reports on the quake that hit Hualien about 11:50 last night, collapsing several buildings and killing two...
Two people were killed when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the Taiwanese city of Hualien on Tuesday, trapping dozens in collapsed buildings and damaging roads and bridges.

Premier William Lai said both of those killed were employees of the Marshal Hotel, which had collapsed; he also said that more than 200 people were injured, some seriously.


Sections of the Suhua Highway connecting Ilan and Hualien counties were severely damaged. Cracks appeared on bridges and roads, leading to closures in some cases. Damage to gas pipes was also detected.
The dead and injured were largely from the Marshal Hotel, which collapsed. Among the injured were 50 Japanese tourists, according to CNN (with video). The dead included one person at the Marshal Hotel, and a local resident, according to ABC.

Here in Taichung we felt light shaking which went on for some time, felt like about 30 seconds. Word went out to expect a few more weeks of aftershocks.

I will be updating throughout the day...

UPDATEApple Daily with pics
UPDATE: Taiwan News with pics. Five major buildings collapsed.
UPDATE: Image from here shows all five buildings lay right on the fault.

MEDIA: While even SCMP from Hong Kong did not add The Formula, ABC out of Australia went full on stoopid:
A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck nearby on Sunday.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, is prone to earthquakes.

Some people in Taiwan are still scarred by a 1999 magnitude-7.6 earthquake in which more than 2,000 people died.
There is no need to drag China's desire to annex Taiwan into this. BBC went there too.
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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Landslide on Suao Highway last night

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Major Quake Imminent?

List of tremors from the Central Weather Bureau

Hi folks. As of this morning Hualien is still experiencing one tremor after another. This may presage a major quake. I have also heard that the ROCAF in Hualien is quietly preparing its aircraft for a major quake.

Please folks, check your quake preparations. The great Tobie Openshaw posted a list to my Facebook:
Keep your wallet with ID and money and cards in the SAME spot every night so that that will be the FIRST thing you grab.
Keep shoes in the SAME spot every night so you can grab them right away. You do NOT want to be running over broken glass in bare feet and in this cold.
Prepare a bag that you can grab if things start falling off the walls. Think what you need to spend a night or two in a shelter:
warm clothes, gloves.
Spare underwear/socks.
Chemical heating pads.
Cellphone power bank and cable.
At least 4 bottles of water.
Some chocolates/ nuts for energy.
Spare set of house/car keys.
Do you have a car? Keep some emergency rations and a spare blanket in the car, it will provide you with shelter and warmth, and get you out of danger. Make sure the tank is kept full.

Have a plan. If there's a big one while you're at work, where do you go, what do you do, who do you contact? If at home, what do you grab, where do you go? When everything is rattling around your ears is NOT the time to be thinking, "Oh shit what am I supposed to take?" (Experience tells us that people take the most nonsensical things while leaving essentials.)
Boy Scouts motto apply: Be Prepared.

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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Tree Poaching and the Sanyi Wood Carving Industry

A carver at work in Sanyi.

Nick Aspinwall turned in a very interesting piece at the News Lens on tree poaching in Taiwan and its relationship to the wood carving industry in Sanyi in Miaoli. The piece is excellent, read it. An excerpt:
Lee’s father, who asked not to be named, joined many others in working only with legal imported wood after the Forestry Bureau instituted a nationwide logging ban in 1991. However, domestic wood products – such as essential oils drawn from felled trees, elaborate life-sized sculptures, and irregular pieces of wood known as burl coveted for their unique, intricate patterns – are still openly sold in Sanyi to a robust market of Taiwanese and Chinese buyers. Shopkeepers worry little about police interference, openly advertising cypress wood from the forests of Alishan and Nantou County.
Aspinwall also observes an interesting intersection of various illegalities:
To stop illegal logging, the government has mostly aimed for the source, targeting poachers – colloquially referred to as 山老鼠, or “mountain rats.” Many of those hired to poach trees are runaway migrant workers, who leave their jobs to join gang-affiliated groups operating in central Taiwan’s remote old growth forests. The eldest and most prolific of Taiwan’s trees are also its most coveted.
Runaway migrant workers are common in fruit and vegetable growing regions in the mountains, where they are employed as workers. Farmers can pay them in food and little else, since they have nowhere else to go.

Aspinwall gives a thumbnail of history:
Taiwan yellow cypress, often called Hinoki (its Japanese name), was first logged when Japan occupied the island between 1912 and 1945. Once the Kuomintang came to power, its Forestry Bureau operated as a for-profit state industry which exported cypress to Japan, decimating Taiwan’s primeval forests. In response to growing fears that old-growth trees would be lost forever, the logging of centennial trees was banned in 1990, and ban on logging in all natural forests was instituted in 1991.
This paper gives a fuller account:
The history of forest conservation and restoration in Taiwan is closely linked to the economic development of the island. Timber harvesting peaked during the Japanese colonial period and immediately following World War II. Large areas of valuable timber, primarily cypress, spruce, and camphor, were cut and shipped primarily to Japan. Economic pressures led to an aggressive management, with plantations of native species and timber harvesting program through the 1950s to the 1970s, with an average of 1,552,600 m3 harvested from 1965 to 1975, corresponding to about 18,000 ha cut annually (Lu et al., 2001). These levels of harvesting brought petitions from citizens and environmental protection groups urging forest protection. This intensive level of exploitation was essentially halted with the national forestry management policy of 1976 (Wang, 1997). Since then, the emphasis of forest management in Taiwan has shifted almost entirely from timber production to forest protection. After 1977, timber was harvested mainly from forest plantations with an annual cut of about 100,000 m3 and by 1990, 99% of Taiwan’s timber supply was imported (Wang, 1997; Lu et al., 2001). Currently, national forest lands are managed almost exclusively for the purposes of streamflow regulation, erosion control, and conservation of biological diversity. Under this new approach, the harvesting-reforestation approach is no longer viable and alternatives need to be devised.
It's quite interesting that public pressure halted the destruction of Taiwan's forests, highlighting how the state will respond to the public even in an authoritarian state where dissent can be suppressed. Such articles also show how criminal exploitation of natural resources is a threat not only to the resources themselves, but to regional biodiversity: when big trees are lost the whole forest suffers.

My man Drew pointed out on Facebook that the linkage between illegal logging and the production of wood artifacts for the tourist trade gives lie to the claim that tourism is good because it is sustainable. What actually happens is that the damage takes place outside the area frequented by tourists....
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Friday, February 02, 2018

The Vatican Capitulates... clock ticking on relations with the Holy See?

The old railroad bridge in Shigang, now a bicycle trail.

The news wires were burning up this week with the announcement that the Vatican and the CCP had come to an agreement. WSJ reported...
Pope Francis has decided to accept the legitimacy of seven Catholic bishops appointed by the Chinese government, a concession that the Holy See hopes will lead Beijing to recognize his authority as head of the Catholic Church in China, according to a person familiar with the plan.
The pope capitulated, as WSJ observed in a few places in the article, and received no guarantees. The camel's nose is now inside the Big Tent, in classic Beijing fashion. Beijing will simply slice and slice away in tiny chunks until the Pope's authority is emptied and the Catholic Church in China is completely under CCP control. That is Beijing's short-term plan. In the long term, one can foresee that Beijing dreams of the first Chinese pope... of course, a staunch member of the CCP.

The Vatican itself described the negotiations:
Interview with the Secretary of State who responds to the accusations made against the Holy See regarding the ongoing contacts, “We trust that the Chinese faithful, thanks to their spirit of faith, will know how to recognize that our action is animated by trust in the Lord and does not answer to worldly logic”
Well, when the Church itself says it is irrational....

As many noted in discussions of the agreement this week, this rapprochement between the two Leninist organizations fighting for control of China's Catholics means that at some point Beijing will ask the Vatican to switch recognition to the PRC, and the Vatican, eyeing competition from Protestant Churches in China, as well as the flow of donations from China's increasingly affluent population, will concede. Indeed, all last year rumors went caroming around the intertubes to that effect.

The Vatican is the last European government to recognize the ROC as China. Tick, tick, tick.....
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Anette Lu Jumps into Taipei Race + Links

Some of my excellent students.

This day brought the news that Annette Lu, Chen Shui-bian's Veep and longtime independence activist, announced her candidacy in the upcoming election for mayor of Taipei (Chinese)(Annette Lu on Wiki). Lu's political career probably peaked in 1997 when she was elected  County chief of Taoyuan, her birthplace. In 2000 she became Chen Shui-bian's Veep and her penchant for buffoonish remarks was one of the many factors undermining his presidency. For example, longtime residents will recall that Lu once suggested that the aborigines emigrate to Central and South America. She has also said that AIDS was punishment from God. On another occasion, with the stolid stupidity of a typical nationalist purist, she lectured the popular aboriginal singer A-mei that she had to choose between a singing career in China and Taiwan's national interests. The list goes on....

Lu is from the Hoklo Nationalist old school wing of the DPP, and shares all of their rigid, traditionalist, purist, Han chauvinist, and provincial views of the world. Such thinking is the reason a friend of mine once described Taiwan to me as "a nation with the heart of a province." Because of her clownish pronouncements and out of date mindset, she has sadly but inevitably become a marginal figure when silence and dignity could have made her an elder statesman. In her previous attempts to become presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012 she failed to break the double digit mark in the DPP primary. Even within the DPP she is not popular. It is a measure of how completely out of touch with reality she is that she is attempting to become the DPP candidate for mayor in a city which is widely considered the Bluest in Taiwan, and whose well educated population will likely find her desperate floundering to remain relevant more amusing than impressive.

I hope the DPP finds a nice, green pasture for her...
Daily Links:
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Thursday, February 01, 2018

Taiwan's Bizarre Import Tax System

Holly Harrington, well known to the expat community here, and someone who has worked hard on behalf of that community and of Taiwan, posted this rant about Taiwan's nutcase import tax system to Facebook:


Ending my Facebook hiatus with a rant. It’s a doozy, and if you live in Taiwan and order things from overseas at all, you’ll want to be paying attention. (希望台灣朋友也會看,雖然有點長但這很重要)

Bottom page: My recent iHerb order. NT $1957 + $355 shipping with DHL. Total: $2312.

Top page: The complicated calculus Jen Chen just walked through on the phone with DHL to understand why DHL was asking me to pay an additional NT $923(!) to get my package delivered when the import tax on the items was only $361.

Long story not so short:
First: Duties are calculated based on original price, not on discount price. So my order value is seen as $2492, and the “loyalty credit” discount I got from iHerb was distributed back into the prices of all 4 items.

THEN, the individual tax categories were applied, at 20 or 30% per item, which added up to $361.

But WAIT, there’s more! Not only do I have to pay $361 in import duties, but also another 5% AFTER import tax on the total order value + tax. So I’m PAYING TAX ON THE TAX.

Lastly, because the tax to be collected exceeds $500, DHL charges a $420 fee for processing, hence a total extra $923 on a handful of personal use products that I have been ordering regularly for close to 2 years.

BUT.... luckily I’m an angry American who has no tolerance for bureaucratic bullshit. And luckily Jen is an aggressive Taiwanese who was willing to keep arguing on my behalf. And luckily someone in DHL has some sense and human decency and agreed to waive the processing fee.

HOWEVER, this is outrageous on so many levels.

1. Because of the new import laws, orders over $2000 NT VALUE (including SHIPPING!) will get stuck in customs, regardless of what was paid. In effect, I’d have had to cut my actual order to around $1500 to receive it without all these extra steps.

2. There’s not only a 進口稅 (variable based on the category of Every Single Item, which good luck figuring out before you order!) but also 營業稅 (that 5%) which is calculated as (ORDER VALUE + 進口稅)*5%. Tax on tax.

3. Because this nonsense is creating an insane amount of extra work for logistics companies like DHL, they have no choice but to charge more fees to recoup their costs. I understand their perspective, and frankly it’s not their fault.

4. Taking the protein bars I ordered as an example (because I eat these all the time and cannot buy this low-sugar brand in Taiwan):
Original price on iHerb: $734
20% tax: $147
5% extra tax: $44
Actual cost: $925? NOPE

Price calculated by arbitrarily adding some of my loyalty discount back in: $857
20% tax: $171
5% extra tax: $51

So I’m paying $346 more than the actual cost of the item I ordered, an effective 47% tax on 12 freaking protein bars. And this is just ONE item in my order.

This protectionism is not helping anyone. It’s hurting consumers. It’s hurting logistics companies. It’s not implemented in any logical way.

Most of all, it’s moving society in the wrong direction, making commerce harder rather than easier.

I’m not against paying taxes. I’m against excessive bureaucracy, lack of transparency in taxation, and laws that create more work for anyone.

You shouldn’t need a PhD in mathematics to figure out how much tax needs to be paid for an item.

Logistics companies shouldn’t need to waste their time sending out declaration forms and explaining tax laws to consumers for ordering what amounts to USD $50 on the internet.

Finally, I think I deserve sainthood or at least an award of some sort for NOT using as many swear words as this nonsense deserves.

(Holly added after I asked if I could post it to my blog):

Sure thing! Although one correction/update which I don’t have time to make at the moment (on the way to 尾牙!) — the tax is also on the shipping fee itself. So the $857 for the protein bars included a portion of the shipping fee. (DHL said it was higher because of the discount but I did the math again after posting this and found the difference exactly matches the shipping fee)

Which is still insane. Paying 20-30% tax on both the item and the shipping added together, then 5% on top of that, then given a $420 surcharge by DHL because the tax was over $500. Glad DHL didn’t push on the surcharge after we pushed back but feel sorry for other folks who pay without questioning.
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Maps of Language use in Taiwanese families

Famed Taiwanese linguist Ang Ui-jin (Wiki) posted these maps to his Facebook. These are based on 2010 household survey data.
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Taiwan Gazette opens for business


The Taiwan Gazette opened this week. It will be providing translations of long-form Chinese language articles into English, as well as doing interviews. Looks very promising, put it on your aggregator's list!

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