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.  

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Taiwan’s Pan-Blue Camp is at War with Itself

The Chinese Nationalist Party is in crisis. And it has itself, not Hung Hsiu-chu, to blame 

Something rather extraordinary occurred outside the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) headquarters in Taipei on 7 October as hundreds of angry protesters gathered to vent their anger at the party. Unlike the usual protests by civic activists or pro-independence groups, this crowd was made entirely of pan-blue supporters—in other words, of people who traditionally vote for the KMT. Behind the unusual show of discontent were efforts by the party, unveiled earlier this week, to drop the unpopular Hung Hsiu-chu as its candidate in the 16 January 2016 presidential election and presumably replace her with party chairman Eric Chu. 

A defiant Hung, whose support lies in the low 20 percent against the almost 47 percent enjoyed by Tsai Ing-wen, her opponent from the Democratic Progressive Part (DPP), told a press conference on 6 October that despite the KMT shenanigans she intended to run and threatened to take the KMT to court for attempting to change the rules in order to cast her aside. Soon afterwards, a Facebook announcement called upon Hung’s followers to protest outside the KMT headquarters on 7 October. 

Despite the 2,000 or so Facebook users who indicated they would attend, about 300 did so, blocking parts of Bade Rd from around 1 pm. As dozens of police officers looked on behind the police fences and barbed wire, the enraged crowd exploded with shouts of “Hung Hsiu-chu go! go! go!” and “Eric Chu step down!” 

My article, published today on the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute Blog, continues here (photo by the author).

Friday, September 25, 2015







在我的經驗裡,寫作是主動學會的,而不是被別人給教會的。我開始學英文是因為我小時候想玩「龍與地下城」(Dungeons & Dragons),卻不想花大錢跟遊戲店買法文版的說明書。隨後不久我就對文學有了興趣,那時多半是看恐怖小說;洛夫克拉夫特(H.P. Lovecraft)是我最愛的作者,而我很快就感覺到,讀法文譯本是件愚蠢的事,要是能從原文讀他的超自然恐怖短篇或中篇,必定會感到更加痛快。

差不多在這個時候,我開始有了寫作的志向。那時還只是小朋友的我,是用我爸媽的Olivetti打字機寫短篇故事的(通常是冒險或科幻),但我那時還太小,不明白總有一天這會為我將來想做的事情定性。上了高中之後我開始用英文寫短篇,多半是彆腳的愛情故事,其實不過是在模仿洛夫克拉夫特、穆爾柯克(Michael Moorcock)等作家的風格。我明白了如果我想要好好寫作的話,首先就必須熟練英文的文法原理,像母語一樣。所以我報考了魁北克市唯一一所英語教學的預科學校聖羅倫斯學院(St. Lawrence College),主修文學藝術課程。

我一開始表現得不好,一部分是由於語言障礙,我永遠記得教授對我說,要是我的英文無法在短期間內突飛猛進,他不太相信我有辦法讀完學期。這當然讓我提高警覺,採取了一切必要措施確保這種結果不會發生。失敗絕對不是選項。我一直都是個貪婪的讀者,但現在我是有所為而讀,自覺地決定讀經典。我想,還有甚麼方法比閱讀大師們的文章更有益於學習語言呢?葉慈(W.B. Yeats)、康拉德(Joseph Conrad)、史坦貝克(John Steinbeck)、格林(Graham Greene)、吳爾芙(Virginia Woolf)、狄更斯(Charles Dickens),當然還有我一開始完全摸不著頭緒的莎士比亞,他們都成了我的老師。經由我的閱讀課程,我學會了欣賞風格、語氣、音調、論點、架構,以及好的敘事方式。每讀一本書我就把看不懂的字抄下來查字典,再把字義記下來,讓自己牢牢記住。沒有人教我這麼做,是我自己學會的。

上了大學搬到蒙特婁,主修英語文學之後,我對英語文學的愛好變得更強烈。那時我第一次和那些後來一直影響著我的語言藝術家結緣,像是歐威爾(George Orwell)、納博可夫(Vladimir Nabokov)、奈波爾(J.S. Naipaul)、魯西迪(Salman Rushdie)、石黑一雄、渥伍(Evelyn Waugh) 、艾利森(Ralph Ellison)、勒卡雷(John Le Carre)等人。我也經由閱讀世界文學開拓了自己的眼界(通常讀英文或法文譯本),也因此認識了杜斯妥也夫斯基(Fyodor Dostoevsky)、契訶夫(Anton Chekhov)、索忍尼辛(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)、馬哈福茲(Nagib Mahfouz)、巴爾加斯‧略薩(Mario Vargas Llosa)、馬奎斯(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)、米蘭‧昆德拉(Milan Kundera)、克里瑪(Ivan Klima)、湯瑪斯‧曼(Thomas Mann)、卡達萊(Ismael Kadare)、卡繆(Albert Camus)、法拉赫(Nuruddin Farah),還有三島由紀夫、谷崎潤一郎、村上春樹等作家。也是從那時開始,我飢渴地閱讀報紙和雜誌,從《紐約時報》到《科學人》,從《經濟學人》到《自然》。我也閱讀威爾遜(Edward O. Wilson)、薩根(Carl Sagan),以及最近不幸過世的薩克斯(Oliver Sacks)等等大師寫下的探討人類進化、流行病學、天文學及生命科學的科普著作。後來,當我對政治有了興趣,我也開始閱讀傳記、歷史研究,以及一些政治學著作(那時,麥基爾大學(McGill University)書店的政治學部門還有著十分豐富的選書)。我讀希欽斯(Christopher Hitchens)、伊格納蒂夫(Michael Ignatieff)、薩依德(Edward Said)、哈伯斯坦(David Halberstam)、卡普欽斯基(Ryszard Kapuscinski)、卡普蘭(Robert Kaplan)等人的著作,而且絕不錯過任何一期《外交政策》和《外交》雜誌。到了1996年大學畢業時,我已經讀過幾百本,沒錯,好幾百本書了。



第一課:閱讀、閱讀、閱讀,然後繼續讀更多。選你喜歡的主題,但不要侷限於單一類型。把小說和紀實文學搭配著讀,閱讀外國著作,讓自己向不同的文化敞開,就算讀翻譯書也不要緊。除了本地暢銷書榜上常見的(何其悲哀!)商場生存教戰書籍之外,還有一整個宇宙等著你去發掘。去探索不同的敘事傳統,很快你就會明白《哈利波特》和《卡拉馬助夫兄弟們》差別在哪、又為何不同,以及兩者何以各自有所成就。感受觀點切換與非線性敘事是怎麼影響我們理解一個故事的。閱讀你喜愛的作家傳記,看看他們是怎麼學會寫作的(我跟你保證,他們沒有一個寫作老師)。認識紀實作品之中同樣具備的敘事方法,以及薩根、古爾德(Stephen Gould)、霍金(Stephen Hawking)和薩克斯等等廣受大眾喜愛的科普作家,是怎麼把故事說得動聽的。寫作者要能夠分辨行得通和行不通的方式,才能真正長進,最好的學習方法則是親身體驗。不要忘記寫作是心智的映射,若是心智漫無章法、缺乏訓練,就不可能產生有價值的成果。必須先充實心智,然後才能將心智貢獻於宇宙。把你付給寫作老師的錢省下來,拿去多買幾本書。最後要知道,閱讀可以很有趣,而且獲益極大(我早就嗜讀成癮了)。



中譯:William Tsai
Original article: A Few Words on Writing

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chinese Propaganda: Coming Soon to a Conference Near You

A few things you should know about the Oct. 5 CEFC US-China colloquium in Washington 

One week after Chinese President Xi Jinping completes his landmark visit to the United States, a Sino-U.S. Colloquium, under the theme “Beyond the Current Distrust,” will be held in Washington, D.C. The eighth in a series since 2012, the colloquium is organized by the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a Chinese “strategic think tank” which recently established a branch in the Washington area. If you plan on attending the event, here are a few things you need to know about the organizer and some of the panelists. 

Though it advertises itself as a “non-governmental, non-profit civil society organization,” as I demonstrated in an earlier investigation, the Hong Kong-registered CEFC has high-level connections with China’s political warfare apparatus. Funded by the Shanghai-based multibillion-dollar energy logistics company CEFC China Energy Co., Ltd (Huaxin) — the sixth-largest private company in China — the CEFC has sponsored a series of events in recent years, many of them in support of China’s expanding territorial ambitions and claims of sovereignty over Taiwan. (Interesting trivia: Huaxin also recently acquired a majority stake in Slavia Prague, the Czech Republic’s oldest football club.) 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hung Hsiu-chu’s Crusade Against Populism

Given her tendency to demonize civil society by constantly comparing it to Middle East-style terror organizations, we can only imagine how activists would fare under President Hung 

Seemingly incapable of coming up with a campaign platform that can resonate with the general public, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) has instead turned her rhetorical guns on the very thing that on Jan. 16 will decide who Taiwan’s next president will be: the people. Besides being a stunningly poor decision on the part of her advisers (if Hung listens to them at all), her fixation on “populism” as a supposed cancer eating away at Taiwanese society bespeaks a darker streak in the candidate’s personality — authoritarianism. 

Hung’s definition of the word “populism” has an irremediably negative connotation: Whoever disagrees with her views and policies is “irrational” (an old KMT trope) and does so because he/she has been influenced by “populist” ideas. Included in that category is anyone who has participated in civic activism to challenge the authorities. In fact, by repeatedly comparing Taiwanese activists to Islamic State and the Red Guards, Hung co-equates “populism” with terrorism and extremism as a not-too-subtle way to further discredit her many opponents. 

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

POLITICAL WARFARE WATCH: Chang Wei-shan’s Troubling Connections

A young employee at the Executive Yuan who supports unification is also involved with organizations that promote the secession of Okinawa from Japan 

Chang Wei-shan (張瑋珊) is innocent-looking enough. She is 24 years old, a native from Yunlin, and currently works at the Executive Yuan as part of its “new media” team, created last year after the Sunflower Movement, when Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) was still premier. At the weekend, the young woman became the object of controversy after it was revealed that she had appeared in a program by the Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television on “pro-unification youth in Taiwan,” which aired as part of the commemorations surrounding the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. More troubling are the people she associates with. 

To summarize the interview: Chang grew up believing she was a Taiwanese and that China was a threat. She was raised to unquestionably support Taiwanese independence, and to “venerate the Japanese,” which she blames on the “de-Sinicized” education she received under former presidents Lee and Chen (interestingly, she checks all the boxes listed recently by supporters of the China-centric changes to school curriculum guidelines). Following her “awakening,” which she says occurred after she read various Chinese history books, Chang realized that Taiwan and China’s fates are “inseparable,” that she was “Chinese,” and became a supporter of Taiwan’s unification. 

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Few Words on Writing

Young Taiwanese are often willing to fork out tens of thousands of NT dollars to be taught how to write. That’s a complete waste of your time and money

I’ve lost count of the number of times since I relocated to Taiwan ten years ago where I was asked by a Taiwanese if I could teach him/her how to write. Taiwanese society seems to have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare’s language, yet many are those who, for pragmatic reasons surely, want to learn it. In this culture of the cram school, the belief seems to be that if you (or your parents) throw enough money at it, a linguistic skill will automatically be acquired.

I am sorry to disappoint, but that’s just not how one learns a language—especially not how to write. Many Taiwanese will pay NT$800, perhaps even NT$1,000 an hour, once or twice a week, on an expatriate who may or may not be qualified to teach anything. For many, one’s skin color, rather than education and background, is the main factor in selecting a “teacher.” This practice has yielded results that should not surprise anyone: English literacy in Taiwan is deplorable.

Conversation is one thing, and if, by dint of practice, one becomes more confident speaking a foreign language, then the investment might be worth it. However, I have strong reservations when someone tells me that the art of writing can be taught. It just doesn’t work that way.

A few weeks after I arrived in Taiwan, a friend of a friend, who had ambitions to study abroad, asked me to do just that. We did that for a while before his military service put an end to our meetings. I hated it. Yet this brief effort made me realize that writing cannot be taught. And it made me think about the manner in which I, now a writer, learned how to write in English in the first place (my mother tongue is French).

In my experience, one learns how to write; one isn’t taught how to do so. I first learned English because, as a child, I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons but didn’t want to spend the ludicrous amounts of money that the store was charging for the French translations of the rulebooks. Soon after that came my interest in literature, mostly horror at the time. H. P. Lovecraft was my favorite, and I quickly felt that it was silly to be reading French translations, that my experience would be all the more satisfying if I could read his novellas and short stories of supernatural terror in their original language.

It was around that time that my ambitions to become a writer emerged. As a mere toddler I’d written short stories (mostly adventure and science fiction) on my parents’ Olivetti typewriter, but I had been too young to realize that this would one day define what I wanted to be. During high school I wrote my first short stories in English. Those were abysmal affairs, mostly, and mere attempts to copy the styles of Lovecraft, Moorcock and others. I realized that if I wanted to do this properly, I’d first have to master the basics of English, as it were. So I enrolled in the only English-language CEGEP in Quebec City, St Lawrence’s College, in the arts and literature program.

I did somewhat poorly at first, partly because of the language barrier, and I will always remember the professor who told me that if my English didn’t improve fast, he had doubts I could complete the program. This certainly caught my attention, and I did the necessary to ensure that such a thing would not happen. Failure was not an option. I had always been an avid reader, but now I had a purpose, and I made the conscious decision to read classics. What better way to learn a language, I thought, than by studying the masters of prose? Yeats, Conrad, Steinbeck, Greene, Woolf, Dickens, and of course Shakespeare, who initially was complete Chinese to me, became my teachers. Through my classes, I learned to appreciate style, tone, voice, point of view, structure, and what makes good storytelling. Whenever I read a book, I’d jot down the words that I didn’t know, would look them up in a dictionary, and commit the meaning to memory by writing it down. Nobody taught me that; I learned it.

My appetite for English literature became even greater after I moved to Montreal to pursue studies in English literature at university. There I was first introduced to wordsmiths who have had a lasting influence on me, writers like Orwell, Nabokov, Naipaul, Rushdie, Ishiguro, Waugh, Ellison, Le Carré and others. I also expanded my horizons by reading world literature (usually translations into English or French). It was thus that I became acquainted with the likes of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Mahfouz, Vargas Llosa, Garcia Marquez, Kundera, Klima, Mann, Kadaré, Camus, Farah, Mishima, Tanizaki and Murakami, among many others. It was also around that time that I became an avid reader of newspapers and magazines, from the New York Times to Scientific American, the Economist to Nature. I also read scientific works on human evolution, epidemiology, astronomy, and life sciences by greats like Edward O. Wilson, Carl Sagan, and Oliver Sacks, who unfortunately passed away recently. Later on, when I became interested in politics, I started reading biographies, history, and several books about political science (back then the McGill University bookstore had a very rich selections of books in its political science section). I read Hitchens, Ignatieff, Said, Halberstam, Kapuscinski, Kaplan, and so on, and never missed an issue of Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs. By the time I graduated in 1996, I had read hundreds—several hundreds—of books.

When I entered grad school, my passion for the written word continued, and even though I was now working for the Canadian government and spent days writing dry reports like threat assessments and files on intelligence targets, I made sure to keep reading fiction and non-fiction. When I moved to Taiwan in 2005, I brought with me about 2,000 books, a number that has nearly doubled in the ten years since. I am not suggesting that anyone who wants to become a writer should weigh himself down with such large quantities of books (and yes, there is Kindle now, a medium that, conservative me, I abhor), but there is no doubt that all great writers that I know of and who inspired me to become one, were avid readers. Hitchens, Orwell, Vargas Llosa, Nabokov, all of them read as much as they could, and they never limited themselves to the comfortable literary traditions of their home country.

So, rather than spend huge sums of money being “taught” how to write by foreigners who likely are looking to make easy money, I’d do the following:

Lesson #1: Read, read, read. And read some more. Choose topics that you like, but do not limit yourself to one genre. Mix fiction and non-fiction, and open yourself to different cultures by reading books from abroad, even if they are translations. There’s a whole universe outside books on how to be a successful businessperson, which (sadly) are the usual bestsellers in this part of the world. Explore different traditions of storytelling; soon you will see how and why Harry Potter and The Brothers Karamazov are different, and why both succeed in their own way. Discover why shifting points of view and non-linear storytelling can affect how we respond to a story. Read biographies by your favorite writers, see how they learned the trade (they didn’t have tutors, I can tell you that). Learn how non-fiction also involves storytelling and why popular science writers like Sagan, Gould, Hawking and Sacks, to name a few, were also such successful storytellers. Writers improve by seeing what works and what doesn’t; the best way to learn is by experiencing it for oneself. Remember that writing is a reflection of the mind; if the latter is poorly organized and ill trained, it won’t be able to produce anything of value. It needs to be filled with something first before it can make its own contributions to the world. Set aside the money you would have paid for a tutor and use it instead to buy books. Lastly, know that reading can be fun and extremely rewarding (I’m addicted to it).

Lesson #2: Write, write, write. At first, one’s writing will seek to emulate the works of one’s favorite writers. Mine initially was very similar to Lovecraft’s overwrought and adjective-laden prose, which I eventually outgrew and now find rather unbearable. Then I started mimicking Conrad, then Greene, then Orwell, until, through multiple series of triangulations, I found my own “voice” and style. Undoubtedly my style is the result of all those influences and will continue to shift, ever so slightly, as a consequence of my current and future readings (for example, when I read Rushdie or French literature, my sentences tend to become longer and more complex; a good corrective when I risk going too far in that direction is to pick up Hemingway or Orwell). The more you write, the better you get. Between 2006, when I joined the Taipei Times as a copy editor, and today, I’ve written more than 2,000 news articles, editorials and book reviews, as well as five books. Progress occurs over time; it’s subtle, but it becomes evident years later when you re-read your early work (which is why writers rarely do so, as it makes them cringe). It’s like weightlifting, really, and explains why even someone as prolific as I am will struggle to write anything publishable if I’ve not written for an extended period (a couple of weeks is enough for those muscles to atrophy). Set aside one or two hours every day to write—write anything: short stories, an autobiographical rendition of the day’s events, op-eds, book reviews, letters to friends real or imagined. Know that writing can be fun and extremely rewarding (I’m addicted to it).

It’s that easy (and complex). There is no magic bullet. Writers get good through emulation and practice, and by opening their minds to the world of letters and taking in as much as possible. It’s a process that never ends, which is also what makes it so fascinating. Reading the classics (and contemporary literature in some increasingly rare instances) is your safest bet. Don’t be daunted by names like Vargas Llosa or Dostoyevsky; jump in and learn what you can. It’s like adding intellectual weights: you need to challenge your brain just as you’d push yourself in long-distance running or weightlifting. I’m always shocked when young people tell me they want to learn how to write and yet they don’t read more than 1.2 books annually. I read, on average, five to six books, and several dozen articles, per month, and I try to vary my selections by alternating between fiction and non-fiction, English and French. You don’t necessarily need to read this much, but one thing is certain: you won’t learn a thing, and certainly won’t learn how to write, by playing videogames on your smartphone, even if you pay a foreign tutor tens of thousands of NT dollars.