Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Unifying Themes Behind ‘Black Island’ and ‘The Convenient Illusion of Peace’

My two recent books look at the impact of civic nationalism in Taiwan, one from a domestic perspective, and the other at the strategic level 

I distinctly remember the feeling that something had shifted, that a new, undefined force had installed itself in Taiwan. It was in the air, in the glimmer of determination that showed in the young protesters’ eyes. That was the summer of 2012, following a major rally against a pro-Beijing Taiwanese billionaire’s attempt to expand his media empire. In my nascent excitement, I made the observation that youth seemed poised to change the face of politics in Taiwan. I was immediately accused of being naïve, of placing my hopes in a segment of Taiwanese society that was apathetic, materialistic, and irremediably apolitical. 

As recent history has demonstrated, my critics were wrong, though I can understand why they viewed things differently as the mood at the time was indeed pessimistic. Throughout 2013, the fabric of politics in Taiwan was transformed by the intensification of civic activism, which in early 2014 translated into the Sunflower Movement and its three-week occupation of the Legislative Yuan over a controversial services trade agreement with China. Those two intense years were the seeds of the ideological split that brought the once seemingly undefeatable Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to its knees and ensured that President Ma Ying-jeou’s ambitions would be dashed. 

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute blog, continues here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Taiwan’s New Leader Likely to Surprise on Cross-Strait Ties

With pragmatism, creativity and understanding from both sides, there is no reason why relations in the Taiwan Strait should sour under a DPP administration

After nearly eight years of relative tranquility in the Taiwan Strait, voters on January 16th handed Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) a potentially disruptive strong mandate. The island nation not only elected the country’s first female president, but also gave the pro-Taiwan DPP control of parliament for the first time ever. 

Occurring just two months after the historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s outgoing Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore, the landslide for Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP has prompted fears that relations between the two sides could quickly sour. However, early signs suggest that Taipei and Beijing may be willing to act pragmatically. 

My article, published today in the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, continues here.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Great Power That Can’t Help Itself

The public humiliation of a young Taiwanese entertainer in South Korea has sparked outrage among the Taiwanese, who retaliated with an even more powerful weapon — their votes 

Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) isn’t her usual bubbly self in the short video, which has spread like brushfire in social media over the past 24 hours. The Taiwan-born 16-year-old member of the South Korean pop band TWICE has been forced to apologize, on film, for holding a Nationalist flag (symbol for the Republic of China) during a recent filming, and, reading from a script, to “admit” that she is Chinese rather than Taiwanese. Visibly shaken, the young woman doesn’t exactly radiate pride in her avowed Chineseness. In fact, it is clear that the confession, which has drawn many comparisons with videos produced by the Islamic State, was made under duress and under threat by her South Korean agent and Chinese sponsors that her career as an entertainer would be jeopardized had she refused to humiliate herself on camera. 

What is most shocking about the incident (besides the idea that Chinese zealots would force a 16-year-old to go through this) is its timing. As the confession was beginning to spread on the Internet (more than 2.5 million views on YouTube since Jan. 15), millions of Taiwanese were readying to vote for their future president and parliament in the sixth free general election since their country democratized after decades of authoritarian rule. By depicting Chou as a “Taiwanese splittist” for displaying the ROC flag, those responsible for this incident confirmed once again why the majority of Taiwanese want nothing to do with becoming part of the People’s Republic of China. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Taiwan's election: Change is a good thing

Administrations tend to ossify over time. Peaceful transitions of power are a healthy way to rejuvenate a democracy 

Politics is a bit like sailing through rough seas without proper navigational instruments: there's a general idea as to the destination, but how to get there is very much an exercise of trial and error, triangulation, improvisation and adjustments. 

The benefits of adjustments – their indispensability, in fact – are often underappreciated, as the human tendency is to favor the status-quo and predictability. However, as long-serving governments and authoritarian regimes have demonstrated over centuries, state and party institutions tend to ossify over time. As 'group think' sets in, the government becomes less and less capable of generating new ideas or implementing new practices. Rejuvenation cannot be self-generated, and stasis sets in. 

Luckily for democratic countries like Taiwan, they have the advantage of having institutionalised the cyclical mechanisms by which citizens, as non-participants in the daily routine of governance, can judge that a regime has reached the limits of its utility and that the time has come for a course correction. 

And a course correction is exactly what's in order for Taiwan after nearly eight years of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule, just as it had become necessary after eight years of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rule from 2000-2008. As the 16 January elections approach, it is very clear that President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT has run out of steam and that it is no longer capable of generating the new ideas that will guide Taiwan toward a more prosperous future. 

My article, published today in the Lowy Interpreter, continues here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Taiwan’s 2016 Elections: An Exercise in Generational Change

Why the KMT will likely be severely defeated on Saturday 

More than ever before in Taiwan’s history, political contention is not defined by ethnicity. A clash of generations, rather, is shaping the positioning of the two leading parties in the 2016 elections. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has understood, and then embraced, this shift most effectively, becoming associated with “youth,” “change” and rejuvenation. 

The ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in contrast, has proved incapable of acknowledging generational pressures, and its ideology now has traction with an increasingly marginal segment of society. 

My article, published today on the University of British Columbia’s Asia Pacific Memo, continues here (photo by the author).

For Millions of Taiwanese Voters, Not All Roads Go Through China

Rule #1 in electoral politics: know what your voters want 

Recent developments in Taiwan, from the boisterous campaign leading up to this weekend's presidential election to last November's Singapore meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan, have resulted in unusual amounts of coverage for a nation that is otherwise far too often ignored by the international community. 

Much of this attention, however, has suffered from a tendency among international media and analysts to look at Taiwan almost exclusively through the lens of its challenging relationship with China and from the assumption that China is unremittingly on the minds of the Taiwanese. This fixation on China is not only misleading, but it also denies us the ability to truly comprehend what lies behind the decisions that the island nation's 23 million people will make when they head for the polling stations on Jan. 16. 

My article, published today in the Huffington Post, continues here (photo: Sam Yeh, AFP)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Taiwanese Election Candidate Denied Entry Into Hong Kong

New Power Party candidate Huang Kuo-chang was invited to appear on a CNN talk show. But the territory’s immigration authorities won’t let him in 

Amid mounting speculation surrounding the mysterious disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers, another development this week suggests a further erosion of freedoms in the Special Administrative Region as Beijing turns the screws on the former British colony. 

In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), a candidate of the small New Power Party in Taiwan’s Jan. 16 legislative elections, revealed that Hong Kong authorities had refused to issue him an entry visa. An associate research fellow at the prestigious Academia Sinica in Taipei and a former leader of the Sunflower Movement, Huang was invited by CNN to appear on a special program on Taiwan’s elections, to be filmed in the news network’s Hong Kong studios after the Jan. 16 vote. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo by the author).

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Mind Your Language: Why Taiwan Isn’t the Provocateur in the Taiwan Strait

On how language often unfairly frames the discussion on Taiwan and China

British author George Orwell, one of the greatest polemicists ever to have put ink to paper, once wrote that “Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” In that same essay (“Politics and the English Language”), Orwell also observed that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought,” adding that “bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.” Much of the standard reporting about Taiwan nowadays is affected by “bad usage” that has spread “by tradition” and “imitation” — and China, which denies Taiwan’s sovereign status, has made large contributions toward the continuation of that practice. The corruption that has affected the language used when academics and journalists discuss Taiwan originates with Beijing’s framing of the argument for political ends.

Many writers today uncritically regurgitate Chinese propaganda such as “Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times,” a claim, similarly made about East Turkestan/Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibet, that can only be substantiated through the routine distortion of verifiable history. The endless references to the “re-unification” of Taiwan with China or “the Mainland” that are encountered in newspaper copy, books and documentaries is a perfect example of bad usage spread by tradition and imitation. While any intelligent person would admit that, logically, that which was never united cannot be re-united, the same mistake continues to pop up on a daily basis.

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute blog, continues here (photo by the author).

Monday, January 04, 2016

A Fire That Shall Not Be Extinguished

Fire Ex lead singer Yang Ta-cheng shows us what love (and the new Taiwan) is all about 

Greatly needing a break from electoral politics, last weekend I began reading Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers, a monster of a book that, among its many plot lines, explores the theme of homosexuality through its main character, the octogenarian novelist Kenneth Toomey. Earthly Powers is a challenging book, filled with wonderful punning, references and uses of the English language that one can only hope was still in vogue today. Beyond its artistic appeal, the novel delves into the devastating socio-religious pressures on homosexuals to conform, to un-choose, if you will, that which wasn’t — isn’t — a choice to begin with. 

Burgess’ novel is filled with linguistic assaults on homosexuality, the most disastrous by far coming from family members. The narrator, whose reliability is often in doubt, doesn’t always tell us how painful the arrows are and it is left to the reader to imagine the agony. As I read the book I couldn’t help but think about my personal experience, that of my mother’s coming out several years ago, a development in my family that allowed me to experience first-hand both the healing powers of tolerance and the devastating blows of intolerance. Luckily, the reaction in my immediate family fell in the former category, which greatly mitigated the potentially dislocating effects of that new reality. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015, And What Have You in Store for Us, 2016?

Another year comes to a close, and once again this man-made transition reminds me of the truth behind what my parents told me, years ago, when I was a small child, and which sounded utterly preposterous at the time: That as one gets older, the passage of time — our perception of it, that is — accelerates. Every year that passes makes me more hurried, more afraid that I will not have enough time to accomplish all the goals that I’ve set for myself, to try to make the world a better place through my work, my actions.

The year that is about to expire was once again a very generous one to me. The highest of many high points was the publication in late March of my book Black Island, a project that was very close to my heart and represented the culmination of three years of hard work covering Taiwan’s social movements. The publication of 《黑色島嶼:一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調性報導》, the Chinese version of Black Island, in early December was also a new high, as this was my first book to appear in that language. There will be a second book in Chinese in early February, and this one will be another new achievement as it will be my first book to be published in Chinese first, with the English edition to come later in 2016. Needless to say, having my work translated into Chinese has truly been a great honor, and something that I’d never imagined would happen when I relocated to Taiwan in 2005.

The year that’s about to begin will also be one of transition, as Taiwan will elect a new leader in January. With that comes some uncertainty, no doubt, but also the promise of rejuvenation. Change is a positive thing, as the recent election of Justin Trudeau made perfectly clear in my home country, ending nine long years of Conservative rule that often took the country in a direction that I would argue didn’t always reflect Canadian values. After eight years of KMT rule under President Ma Ying-jeou, irrespective of his accomplishments and failures, it’s time for change here, too.

My wish for Taiwan in 2016 is for its people to transcend the political divide that, in the current election cycle, has become more pronounced (at times vitriolic), and to genuinely work together to improve their home. As I strive to explain in my upcoming book, the things that the people of Taiwan have in common greatly outweigh that which separates them. And yet, the tendency among politicians and in the media is to focus almost exclusively on the political preferences, ethnic background, and social status that set them apart from one another.

One thing that I have discovered during my nearly ten years working as a journalist here, and especially in the past three years that I have spent documenting civil society, is that the overlapping values and interests of the people in Taiwan, the liberal democratic way of life that they enjoy, are far more defining of their identity than the politicians they vote for or the political parties that they support. Though generally not acknowledged, that characteristic is not only Taiwan’s strength and resilience; it is what defines it and what sets it apart from the authoritarian neighbor that claims ownership over it. My fondest hope is that in the wake of January 16, regardless of the outcome, people from both sides of the “divide” will have the wisdom to see in the “other” that which is equally precious to themselves, and the ability to work together to strengthen the precious — and fragile — nation that is Taiwan.

I promise to continue to work to the best of my abilities, and with utmost sincerity, to serve this beautiful land and its extraordinary people.

Wishing all a happy, prosperous, peaceful, and healthy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Taiwan-China Talks Won’t Collapse…Unless Beijing Lets Them

Forget the 1992 Consensus. What matters is substance, and Tsai Ing-wen has promised it 

With Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) well ahead in the polls and a sustained negative campaign by the incumbent Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) failing to influence the numbers, Taiwan’s ruling party has shifted gear in the past week by fanning the flames of fear. From the unsubstantiated claim that Taiwan stands to lose as many as 18 diplomatic allies if the DPP were elected on Jan. 16 to warnings that tensions could return to the Taiwan Strait after eight years of relative stability, the message is clear: If the DPP wins, the sky’s going to fall. And today Beijing joined the chorus of fear-mongers by threatening the total collapse of bilateral talks if Ms. Tsai doesn’t recognize a “consensus” that may or may not exist. 

China’s intervention was ostensibly sparked by remarks by Ms. Tsai during a televised debate between Taiwan’s three presidential candidates on Sunday to the effect that the “1992 consensus,” the framework under which Taipei and Beijing have held negotiations since 2008, was only one of many options. Beijing has long insisted that adhering to the “1992 consensus” was a precondition for talks, and the KMT under President Ma Ying-jeou, who will be stepping down in May next year after serving two four-year terms, was happy to oblige, if only because doing so presumably gave it an edge over the DPP, which refuses to recognize the consensus due in large part to the “one China” clause at its core — not to mention the fact that the very existence of the “consensus” is under question. 

My article, published today in the China Policy Institute blog, continues here (photo Xinhua).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Some Young Taiwanese Might Not Be Able to Vote

Abolishing the hukou system and adopting absentee voting would make a lot of sense, but doing so is more complex than you think 

It was a problem during the 2012 elections, and it’s going to be a problem again less than three weeks from now: Because of the timing of their final exams set by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and inflexibility on the part of the Ministry of Education (MOE), a number of Taiwanese students probably won’t be able to cast their vote on Jan 16. 

At the heart of the problem is the hukou, or household registration, system, which when it comes to elections stipulates that citizens of voting age (currently 20 years old) can only cast their vote where they are registered, and must do so in person. In short, Taiwan has no absentee voting system. Consequently, a number of university students whose last day of finals is Friday Jan. 15 will have a difficult time getting home in time to vote the next day, on the 16th. They might get there late, or could simply be unable to purchase high-speed rail, train, or bus tickets during those two days, when demand for public transportation will be inordinately high, it being the weekend and a nationwide Election Day. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (composite photo: nownews)

Monday, December 21, 2015

That ‘One China’ Policy Thing

By convincing us that our Taiwan policy is the same as Beijing’s, the Chinese government has succeeded in imposing limitations on our ability to engage the island-nation that simply do not exist 

It’s actually a pretty straightforward matter, but with major elections approaching and more people than usual paying attention to and writing about politics in Taiwan, it is one that is worth revisiting. Despite what Beijing, government officials worldwide, journalists and academics often argue, most countries around the world do not have a “one China” policy regarding Taiwan — Beijing does, of course, but for most countries, their policy vis-à-vis Taiwan and China is one of ambiguity. And that ambiguity makes all the difference. 

The “one China” mantra isn’t the result of bad intentions toward Taiwan or special disdain for its claims to sovereign status. It is, rather, the child of institutional ignorance, intellectual laziness, over-cautiousness, and an all-too-human tendency to uncritically repeat a gospel. It goes without saying that all this is also a direct result of Beijing’s constantly “reminding” the international community about their purported “one China” policy, a nakedly Marxist-Leninist strategy whereby, by dint of repetition, a falsehood comes to incarnate reality. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

《黑色島嶼:一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調查性報導》is now available!

《黑色島嶼: 一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調查性報導》, the Chinese-language version of Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan, was published by Business Weekly Publications (商周出版) on Dec. 3, 2015, and is now available in bookstores across Taiwan (e.g., Eslite, Sanmin, Kingstone, Books.com.tw) and at select bookstores in Hong Kong. An e-book version was also released on Dec. 9. The translated version includes a new introduction for the Chinese edition and a foreword by Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人) of Academia Sinica.

Taiwanese publisher site (Chinese): http://www.cite.com.tw/book?id=63502
E-book version (Chinese) available here
Original English version (paperback) available on Amazon
Original English version available on Kindle

作者:寇謐將(J. Michael Cole) 譯者:李明、陳雅馨、劉燕玉 出版社:商周出版 書系:Discourse 出版日期:2015-12-03 ISBN:9789862729335 城邦書號:BK7065 規格:平裝 / 單色 / 544頁 / 15cm×21cm

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Revealed: Washington’s Latest Lethal Arms Sale to Taiwan

"Taipei had to wait through nearly the entire second term of the Obama administration before it could secure a new arms package from Washington" 

Washington on December 16 authorized a new and long-awaited arms package for Taiwan, ending an over four year hiatus in U.S. weapons sales to the island-nation—the longest such hiatus since the late 1980s. Although the approximately $1.83 billion arms package does not include any defense article that is remotely close to a “game changer,” notifications to Congress nevertheless send an important signal of continued political support for Taipei—perhaps even more so this time around, as it occurs one month prior to presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan in which the “pro independence” opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely expected to prevail. 

Included in the package—which is not a commitment on Taipei’s part but rather a list of articles authorized for sale—are two decommissioned FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates (of four that were authorized for transfer to Taiwan in 2014) plus refurbishment and upgrades; 36 AAV-7 Assault Amphibious Vehicles; 13 MK 15 Phalanx Block 1B ship defense Close-In Weapon Systems, upgrade kits, ammunition, and support; 208 Javelin guided missiles; 769 BGM-71F-series TOW 2B Aero Radio Frequency anti-armor missiles; 250 Block I-92F MANPAD Stinger missiles; Taiwan Advanced Tactical Data Link System (TATDLS) and Link 11 communication systems integration; as well as follow-on support for Taiwan’s previously procured MIDS/LVT-1 and JTIDS. 

My article, published today in The National Interest, continues here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Wang Controversy is a Symptom of KMT Sclerosis

In the post-Sunflower context, it was downright foolish of the KMT to think that it could pick a running mate who had abused some of society’s most vulnerable elements and get away with it 

After the disaster that was Hung Hsiu-chu, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) initial pick for presidential candidate, it was expected that Taiwan’s ruling party—a political survivor if ever there was one—would somehow get back on an even keel. With Eric Chu replacing the unpopular Hung in October, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that the KMT would narrow the immense gap that had developed between it and frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And then the KMT blundered again, this time by picking a vice presidential candidate whose checkered past has succeeded in alienating pretty much every segment of society, including traditional KMT voters. 

At first glance, the decision to make Jennifer Wang Chu’s running mate looked like a wise move. A former human rights lawyer, Wang could have helped repair the KMT’s image after a bruising three years, during which Taiwan’s media and civil society exposed a series of human rights violations stemming from urban renewal projects to deaths in the military. 

My article, published on Dec. 9 on the China Policy Institute Blog at University of Nottingham, continues here.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Xinjiang, Terror, and China’s Contempt for Freedom of the Press

The assault on a French journalist occurs at a time when Beijing authorities are tightening their grip on the media and the Internet, which has further narrowed the space available for those who seek solutions to the formidable challenges facing China 

There’s a reason why China ranks No. 176 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index, only better than Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Syria. Its contempt for journalists, both domestic and foreign, who refuse to toe Beijing’s stridently nationalistic and increasingly paranoid line is boundless. A recent incident involving a French journalist highlights why China fully deserves the dishonor of being in the bottom five. 

The controversy started with an article, published on Nov. 18, by Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for the French news magazine L’Obs (formerly known as Le Nouvel Observateur). Titled “Après les attentats, la solidarité de la Chine n’est pas sans arrière-pensées” (“after the attacks, China has ulterior motives”), Gauthier’s article made the mistake — in Beijing’s eyes, that is — of pointing out the fundamental differences between the type of nihilistic international terrorism by the Islamic State that struck Paris last month and the local retributive violence that has flared occasionally in Xinjiang. 

My article, published today on the CPI Blog at the University of Nottingham, continues here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The ‘Spy Swap’ That Wasn’t

Those who were hoping that a recent prisoner exchange between Taiwan and China was a sign of warmer ties are deceiving themselves 

Two jailed spies for Taiwan’s Military Intelligence Bureau were returned to Taiwan in October after Taipei granted early parole to a Chinese spy in what some foreign media outlets described this week as a “spy swap” and a sign of further détente between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. As with the “historic” Nov. 7 summit between presidents Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore, international media are reading too much into this development and seeing connections that simply do not exist. 

The release and return to Taiwan on Oct. 13 of convicted spies Chu Kung-hsun (朱恭訓) and Hsu Chang-kuo (徐章國), after each had served more than nine years of a life sentence in Chinese prison, was indeed a first, as was the parole granted to Chinese spy Li Zhihao (李志豪). 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

VOTE 2016: The DPP Did Not Mastermind Sino-Skepticism

China’s actions and repressive political system are to blame for public apprehensions about China, not the DPP 

Lacking an actual policy platform ahead of the January 2016 elections, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) camp appears to have made it a policy to blame the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for just about everything, from tainted cooking oil to the state of the economy. On the campaign trail today, Mr. Chu continued that trend with accusations that the DPP had “masterminded,” presumably for political gain, “Sino-skepticism” among a large swath of young Taiwanese. 

Mr. Chu is absolutely right: many young Taiwanese today are apprehensive about China and wary of its intentions. A small number of them could even be said to have feelings of hatred for their neighbor and want nothing to do with it. 

My article, published today in Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo by the author).

Monday, November 23, 2015

DMG Bid to Buy Taiwan’s Top TV Network Has PLA Twist

The powerful Chinese man behind the attempted acquisition of Eastern Broadcasting Co is the son of a former top PLA leader 

The recent announcement that Los Angeles-based Dynamic Marketing Group (DMG) Entertainment is seeking to acquire Eastern Broadcasting Co, Ltd (EBC, 東森), the largest privately owned Mandarin-language TV network in Taiwan, from the private equity firm Carlyle Group for the sum of US$600 million has raised fears in Taiwan that the acquisition may be an indirect attempt by China to further penetrate the island-nation’s media environment. 

At first glance there isn’t anything overtly untoward about the transaction, which has been confirmed by a spokesman for Carlyle: Dan Mintz, chief executive of DMG Entertainment, has signed the deal, which will be subject to approval by the National Communications Commission (NCC), Taiwan’s broadcast regulator, and the Investment Commission at the Ministry of Economic Affairs. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Ma-Xi Summit: Democracy is Thicker than Blood

'In reality, the meeting was a distraction that is unlikely to fundamentally alter the face of politics between the two countries' 

The eyes of the international community were turned to Singapore this weekend for the “historic” summit between President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan and Xi Jinping of China—the first direct contact between the leaders of the two sides since the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Eager to portray the unprecedented meeting as a potential game-changer, some commentators flirted with hyperbole: an eighty-second handshake had reversed six decades of hostility, realizing common hopes that, we were told, would propel relations across the Taiwan Strait in an entirely new and hopefully peaceful direction. All of this, however, was overhyped by media that thrive on dramatics. In reality, the meeting was a distraction that is unlikely to fundamentally alter the face of politics between the two countries. 

It was certainly tempting to regard the summit as a milestone in cross-Strait relations, especially among latecomers to the issue, who may not have had all the information they needed to fully grasp the hugely complex relationship that exists between China and Taiwan, the democracy of twenty-three million that Beijing regards as a mere breakaway province awaiting “reunification” and the significance (or lack thereof) of the meeting. 

My article, published today in The National Interest, continues here.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Ma and Xi Hold ‘Historic’ Meeting in Singapore

Despite the little substance to the summit, President Ma’s reference to ‘one China’ has sparked severe criticism back in Taiwan 

For the first time since the creation of the People’s Republic of China after the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the leaders of Taiwan and China met in Singapore on November 7, in a summit that has been widely described as “historic.” Historic it certainly was, and this was the big news internationally on Saturday. But as expected, photo ops and a long handshake aside, the landmark meeting yielded precious little substance and is unlikely to have much of an impact on future relations between Taiwan and China, as that will be decided elsewhere. 

Media worldwide, which normally fail to pay attention to Taiwan, took a sudden interest in the place following the sudden announcement, late on November 3, that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would hold a meeting in a third country on November 7. No sooner had the news spread than talking heads began talking of a “game changer,” of a new phase in relations across the Taiwan Strait, which until a few years ago had been regarded as a dangerous flashpoint. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Friday, November 06, 2015

China-Taiwan summit: Empty symbolism or game changer?

Those who look for a game changer on Saturday stand to be disappointed 

The oft-neglected island-nation of Taiwan was at the center of international news this week after it was announced that its President, Ma Ying-jeou, and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, will hold a summit in Singapore on Saturday. 

Described as "historic," the meeting—the first between the leaders of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists defeated Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces in a brutal civil war, forcing Chiang and more than a million Nationalists to flee to Taiwan—promises additional drama ahead of Taiwan's upcoming presidential elections and could have repercussions on future relations between Taiwan and China. 

My article, published today on the CNN web site, continues here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

BREAKING: Presidents Ma, Xi, to Meet in Singapore Nov. 7

Less than two months before presidential and legislative elections in which the KMT is expected to fare poorly, a bombshell that is sure to shake things up… 

The Presidential Office in Taipei confirmed late on the evening of Nov. 3 that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and President Xi Jinping (習近平) are to meet each other in Singapore on Nov. 7. Both leaders have reportedly been invited by Singaporean authorities. President Xi will head for Singapore after visiting Vietnam. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Monday, November 02, 2015

China’s Taiwan Policy Under Xi Jinping and Implications in a Time of Transition

Ideology is a driver of Xi’s policy, but its influence must also be weighed against other, and often more pragmatic, considerations 

The challenge of analyzing and writing about China’s Taiwan policy — or any policy that touches on China’s “national security,” for that matter — lies in the country’s authoritarian style of governance, which often makes information difficult to access. Moreover, due to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, more often than not we can only guess what the Chinese leadership really thinks. 

China has undeniably been very clear and consistent about its position on Taiwan (it is part of China awaiting “re-unification”), but ironically that clarity does not necessarily help us understand what China’s actual short-term, medium-term and long-term policies regarding Taiwan are. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Taiwan: China's Finger is on the Pulse, Not the Trigger

Despite the balance of power having shifted in China's favour, Beijing's list of options to coerce Taiwan is rather limited 

With the prospects of victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan's January 16, 2016, elections becoming increasingly solid, several academics have been warning of the likelihood of renewed tensions in the Taiwan Strait as Beijing reacts angrily to the perceived abandonment of cross-strait detente. 

Writing in The Age on October 27, Hugh White issued such a warning, which in my opinion rests on twin false assumptions about decision-making in Beijing and the resilience of the Taiwanese. 

White and I have been debating the possible ramifications of a transition of power in Taiwan and how the international community might/should adjust. Through his Realist lens, White has been pessimistic about Taiwan's ability to resist China and has argued that the international community might not be inclined to risk its relationship with Beijing — let alone nuclear war — to defend the democratic island-nation. 

My article, published today in The Age, continues here (Photo: Chris Tzou)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Why We Must Push Back

Opponents of same-sex marriage have no compelling argument and must therefore resort to fear and senselessness. We should not remain silent when they do so 

There comes a time in a debate when one must decide whether responding to the absurdities of the other side might risk legitimizing one’s opponent rather than put the argument to rest once and for all. When it comes to the same-sex marriage issue, for example, I’ve often been encouraged to remain quiet lest my continued writing about the subject bring more attention to the small yet influential groups that have actively argued against it. However, when their rhetoric turns to hate speech and outright lies, as it often does, I believe we are compelled to push back. Each and every time. And since it is impossible to have an intelligent debate based on facts with those individuals, we must therefore ridicule them not by stooping to their level, but by pointing out how preposterous their arguments are. 

The main problem with the groups that have actively opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan is that they do not have a viable argument to start with. Their views on the issue tend to come from a narrow — and certainly not universal — interpretation (some would say misreading) of a holy book that is read by less than 10 percent of the people in Taiwan. Their argument is built on a highly restrictive definition of marriage — strictly between a man and a woman, and for the sole purpose of procreation — and, when that fails to sway the population, a biblical flood of fear-mongering with the recitation of various plagues that will come down on society should we allow homosexuals to get away with their “sins” — AIDS, bestiality, incest, polygamy, chaos, destruction of the “blood line,” rampant immorality, natural disasters, and so on. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo by the author).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

China needs to learn that the Taiwanese people can't be bought

The pursuit of an economic solution to the Taiwan 'issue' is an exercise in futility and one that can only cause more frustrations in Beijing 

After nearly eight years of rapprochement between Beijing and Taipei under the custodianship of President Ma Ying-jeou, a process that has given Chinese people an unprecedented opportunity to better understand Taiwan, many academics, journalists and officials in China persist in their belief that economics is the key to 'peaceful unification,' and that a better distribution of the wealth created by closer ties is all it will take to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese. 

But that line of argument will only result in greater consternation on the Chinese side as ingrate Taiwanese continue to reject all that 'goodwill' by persistently resisting unification. 

My article, published today in the Lowy Interpreter, continues here (photo: Reuters).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

KMT's Hung Hsiu-chu is Out, Eric Chu is In

The eleventh-hour move was made to prevent further hemorrhaging at the local level and to salvage the KMT’s chances in the legislative elections 

By a single show of hands, party representatives from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Saturday ended weeks of speculation by overwhelmingly deciding to drop their controversial presidential candidate for 2016 in favor of the party chairman, in a move that was widely seen as an attempt to prevent a further implosion of the party. 

At about 4 pm, 812 of the 891 representatives present at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei supported a motion to remove Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who almost three months earlier had seen her candidacy confirmed by party members in the same hall. Hung, who delivered a fiery speech early in the meeting, had already departed by the time of the vote. By 5 pm, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) was the new candidate. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Does Beijing Believe Its Own Official Line On Taiwan?

Maybe China does have a better understanding of the island-nation it claims as its own. But it just can’t admit it 

Hardly a meeting between officials from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait goes by without the Chinese side waxing grandiloquent about the “responsibility” of every Chinese to actively work toward “national rejuvenation.” In the context of cross-strait relations, “national rejuvenation” is about unification—or in Beijing’s view, the re-unification of Taiwan, which it regards as a “breakaway province,” with the “mainland.” Chinese officials, as well as many academics, invariably present the matter as a common goal, and maintain that only a small group of disgruntled individuals in Taiwan opposes the realization of this glorious Chinese dream. The problem with propaganda—especially propaganda broadcast by authoritarian regimes—is that it is often disconnected from reality, as is definitely the case here. 

As this is being written, Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), is meeting his Taiwanese counterpart, Andrew Hsia of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), in Guangzhou in the latest round of meetings between the two sides. Like a broken record, Zhang’s opening remarks once again were replete with references to both sides having adopted the “right path” toward the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”—a goal, he said, that was “closer than at any time in history.” 

My article, published today on the University of Nottingham’ China Policy Institute Blog, continues here (Photo: CC by Michael Chen/flickr).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Careful Not to Mistake Chinese Hawks for Doves

China is now sponsoring a number of conferences in the West. While we should always encourage dialogue, we should also be aware of who we are dealing with

In his Oct. 2 response to my latest article in The Diplomat, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and a flag bearer of “communitarianism,” demonstrated that even well intentioned and intelligent individuals can be duped by Chinese political warfare. [Note: I decided to publish my response on this blog rather than on Thinking Taiwan or at The Diplomat to avoid dragging those publications into the dispute. As always, the views expressed here are mine alone.]

What prompted Etzioni’s reaction was my Sept. 23 article, titled “Chinese Propaganda: Coming Soon to a Conference Near You,” which discusses the links between the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a “strategic think tank” which recently co-organized a conference in Washington, D.C., and the PLA’s General Political Department Liaison Department (GPD/LD). As one of the co-organizers of and main speakers at the “Beyond the Current Distrust” conference, held on Oct. 5, Etzioni doesn’t seem to have appreciated the fact that such uncomfortable information was exposed to the public a week prior to the event, or my pointing out that the panels were nakedly stacked in China’s favor.

Leaving aside his preposterous and factually wrong reference to my employer — which was based solely on unnamed “commentators” at the bottom of my initial article, something the 86-year-old professor of sociology should have known not to do — some of Etzioni’s remarks warrant a few words. I do thank the professor for his response, which allows me to clarify my position. (Oddly enough, Etzioni feels compelled to defend his own think tank, of which I make no mention whatsoever in my article. There is something to be said about individuals who have an urge to deflect accusations that were never made in the first place.)

The principal aim of my article was to alert readers, and possibly some individuals who intended to attend the conference, to the fact that the Chinese propaganda apparatus has extremely close connections to the CEFC. Given that China-organized academic conferences in the West are a relatively new phenomenon, it is crucial that society be aware of the origins, goals, and connections of such organizations. When a “strategic think tank” that is headed by a billionaire and former deputy secretary general of the GPD-LD-linked China Association for International Friendly Contacts (CAIFC) claims to be an impartial outlet, it’s important that we know who it is we’re dealing with — and such transparence isn’t exactly a strength of the Chinese.

Let me first state that propaganda isn’t merely “subjective.” In China’s case, as is often the case with Marxist-Leninist regimes, there are institutions, funded by the party/state and staffed with intelligence officers, whose sole remit is to engage in propaganda and information/political warfare, and whose efforts are normally accompanied by heavy censorship. GPD 311 Base (61716 Unit), to which I refer in my article, is an example. 

Using hyperlinks to various Chinese-language articles, I also supported my claims about the CEFC with plenty of evidence from my own research, articles by journalists Andrew Chubb and John Garnaut, and the landmark report on Chinese political warfare by Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao of the Project 2049 Institute.

My objective therefore wasn’t to say that such conferences should not be held, but solely to alert consumers to the likelihood that what they were about to hear presented a very pro-Beijing position on issues ranging from its territorial claims to its attempts to annex Taiwan. Mr. Etzioni may claim all he wants that the CECF didn’t “advocate for the presentation of any particular viewpoint at the conference [or] seek to influence our selection of speakers,” the fact remains that the panel titled “Time to Decide: Contain China or Accommodate It?” only comprised individuals who favor the latter option. And why not? After all, Etzioni himself has sided with the accommodationists and the intellectuals who have made the case for ending U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in the naïve belief that doing so would secure guarantees that Beijing would drop its annexationist designs on the democratic island-nation.

Etzioni seems to have concluded that I was aiming to silence the “doves” and, presumably, of siding with war-hungry militarists. This is the usual trope, which turns logic on its head: call for the defense of democracy or respect for international law, and you’re a “hawk.” And that is where I think we enter sensitive territory with individuals like him. Although I have no doubt that Mr. Etzioni, who says he has seen combat, has pure intentions and wants to encourage dialogue between the U.S. and China, I fear that his noble intentions are being exploited by wolves passing off as doves. With all due respect to the old sociologist, there is nothing “dovish” about an increasingly authoritarian regime that builds military airstrips in the South China Sea, holds a fascist-style military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific, threatens a democratic neighbor with military invasion, occupies two nations and ethnically cleanses them, and that oppresses its own people by locking up dissidents, lawyers, writers and a Nobel Prize winner, and censors its media. I’m not saying we should demonize the CCP, but let’s not kid ourselves: we’re not dealing with doves here.

The CCP has demonstrated a keen talent for identifying individuals — prominent academics, retired generals and so on — who can be manipulated to further the Chinese cause. Some are conscious that this is happening; others, customarily known as “useful idiots,” aren’t. I believe that Mr. Etzioni falls in the latter category, and that his indignant reaction to my article stems from the all-too-understandable resentment at being proven to have been duped by the CCP.