Thursday, May 21, 2015

Black Island Book Launch at Café Philo in Taipei

Mark your calendars! The first book event for Black Island: Two years of activism in Taiwan will be held at Café Philo in Taipei on Thursday May 28, 2015, from 7-9pm. The author will give a brief talk, followed by a Q&A. Autographed copies will be available for NT$500. Limited quantities available.

Where: Café Philo (台北市紹興北街三號一樓, Taipei, Taiwan 10049) MRT Shandao Temple, Exit 6
When: Thursday, May 28, 2015, 7-9pm.

Sign up for the event here (recommended to evaluate number of attendants)
Official Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The US Position on the ‘1992 Consensus’: Why it Matters

Despite what President Ma has said, the U.S. does not recognize the so-called 1992 Consensus. Here's why it makes a difference 

As Taiwan’s 2016 presidential election approaches, the issue of the “1992 Consensus”—whether it exists, who signed it, who recognizes it, and how indispensible it is to cross-strait relations—has once again become the subject of heated debate. President Ma Ying-jeou, who has made the alleged consensus a cornerstone of his administration, has contended on a number of occasions, and did so again last week, that Beijing, Taipei, and the U.S. recognize its existence. Whether the construct actually exists or not is debatable. However, one thing that is certain is that Ma is being disingenuous when it comes to U.S. views on the matter: Washington does not recognize the 1992 Consensus—its official position is that it has “no position.” This may seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference. 

With the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) unwilling to embrace it, the “consensus” has become a handy tool for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which has long positioned itself as the party that is best able to handle relations across the Taiwan Strait in a peaceful and constructive manner. According to the KMT’s logic, the DPP’s refusal to recognize the consensus (in large part due to its presumption of “one China”) signifies that the latter is insincere in its desire to cultivate ties with Beijing (the KMT’s official line on the consensus is “one China” with different interpretations of what “one China” means, a precision that is evidently left out by Beijing). Also implied is that a DPP victory in January 2016 would mean a return to an atmosphere of contention and instability in the Taiwan Strait. 

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

What Would Taiwan Actually Gain from Unification with China?

Can we name one thing that the Taiwanese do not enjoy at present that China could offer to them? 

With a third transition of power in Taiwan in 2016 looking increasingly likely and attendant fears that a return of the Democratic Progressive Party into office could “jeopardize” relations with an intransigent regime in Beijing, the “Taiwan Question”—and more pointedly the matter of its official status—is once again a topic of interest among Asia experts and political analysts. 

Some, apprehending the high risks of maintaining security guarantees to Taiwan, have recently counseled a shift in U.S. policy aimed at striking a “grand bargain” with Beijing, ceding Taiwan in return for concessions by China on other longstanding territorial conflicts. At the heart of those lies a key question: Under which terms would Taiwan’s 23 million souls consider a political union with China as an acceptable outcome? 

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

What’s Going On with President Ma?

With a year left before he must step down, Ma Ying-jeou is starting to sound a bit erratic. This could cause serious headaches for the KMT 

It’s been a constant over the years that as presidential elections approach, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) tone has tended to become more “Taiwan-centric” and, if only to secure the necessary votes, more attuned to the views held by the majority of Taiwanese. While we still don’t know who the KMT candidate for 2016 will be, there is every reason to believe that the party will once again use that strategy in the lead-up to January 16. Strangely, this time around there’s an outlier, someone who has been doing the exact opposite — President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). 

Why the president, who normally emphasizes his “no unification, no independence” stance on cross-strait relations, has decided to do this now remains a mystery. It could very well be that as he is unable to run for a third consecutive term, and since he is no longer KMT chairman, Ma no longer feels constrained by the electoral forces that compel politicians to adopt a centrist line in public. 

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015




最近幾周以來,懷特(Hugh White)和 Charles Glaser 等學者的言論,表面看來是預期台北和北京的關係將會重蹈升高對抗的覆轍,實際上要表達的卻是:不值得冒著經濟大規模崩壞、甚至與中國發生核戰的風險幫助台灣,調和兩岸才是唯一的出路。同時,美國海軍戰爭學院戰略研究系副教授金來爾(Lyle Goldstein)又在最新著作《與中國各退一步:緩和美中緊張對峙的方法》中,專門用一章篇幅擬定出一套計畫,按部就班斷絕美國對台灣的軍售,以換取中國放棄對台灣使用武力,最終透過「和平協議」與台灣實現政治統一。從金來爾過度樂觀的論點看來,台灣實在沒甚麼好怕的,因為中國「對待前英國殖民地(即香港)所謂的高壓手段,長久以來都是被西方給誇大了的」,台灣的民主政治「在大陸與台灣的一中邦聯架構下」還是能夠存續。就算金來爾承認2016年的大選結果可能讓事態變得更複雜,他還是能夠做出這樣的規劃,因為在他看來,從2008年到現在,和平已經在台海兩岸「迸發出來」;但這個看法完全沒有把幾個關鍵因素納入考量,下文還會進一步說明。






國民黨立法委員在政論節目上也一再說出和民進黨對手們莫名相似的言論,最近在國民黨主席朱立倫訪問中國之後,他們呼籲大眾關注政府問責(governmental accountability)的必要,以及不遵守民主政治規範對他們競選連任所帶來的傷害。朱立倫對於「一個中國」的言論所引發的喧擾,應當被解讀成台灣政治領袖在中國境內不得不打的太極拳。(幾年前中日兩國對於尖閣列島/釣魚台群島的領土糾紛升高之際,我請教一位國民黨資深官員,為什麼沒有一個國民黨人參與當天台北市區一場要求和中國合作保衛釣魚台的小型示威。他的回答是「我們才不跟那些急統的瘋子一起丟人現眼。」)更加耐人尋味,也更能說明問題的,則是某些來自「支持統一」的親民黨「深藍」立委,與強烈促統的「白狼」張安樂,或是在朱立倫訪問中國時當面建議為了經濟發展,不要把台灣一般人民意見看在眼裡的台商董淑貞之流的爭吵對罵。國民黨甚至親民黨人士和中國共產黨對手們的思想斷裂是很巨大的,就算經歷了過去八年的「兩岸和睦」也不曾縮小,聽來很矛盾,但事實的確如此。不願和中國統一的台灣社會群體,遠遠不只有「主張獨立」的民進黨,就現況而言,無論台灣人的文化或語言認同為何,他們幾乎是一致反對統一的。



中譯:William Tsai
Original article:

The Question that is Never Asked: What do the Taiwanese Want?

Experts often talk about grand bargains and strategies to resolve the Taiwan issue once and for all. But rarely, if ever, do they bother to ask the Taiwanese what they think 

With about eight months left before the presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan, in which the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely regarded as the favorite, political watchers are once again, after an eight-year interregnum, forecasting possible trouble in the Taiwan Strait. Fearing a return to old tensions, some analysts have been proposing creative ways to resolve the “Taiwan question” once and for all, and by so doing prevent the island-nation from dragging the U.S. into a catastrophic conflict with China. Call it appeasement or a “grand bargain,” the theory is that Taiwan is neither defensible nor worth defending, and that longstanding security guarantees should therefore be retracted and Taiwan left to fend for itself. 

In recent weeks, and ostensibly expecting a return to more contentious relations between Taipei and Beijing, academics such as Hugh White and Charles Glaser have articulated the view that helping Taiwan isn’t worth major economic disruptions or the risk of nuclear war with China, and that accommodation is the only solution. Meanwhile Lyle Goldstein, an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College, dedicates an entire chapter in his book Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry to a step-by-step program to gradually wean Taiwan off U.S. arms sales in return for Beijing abandoning the possibility of using force against the island, with a “peace agreement” and political union as the climax. In Goldstein’s somewhat rosy view, Taiwanese have nothing to worry about because China’s “allegedly heavy-handed approach to the former British colony has long been overhyped in the West,” and Taiwan’s democracy could continue to exist “within a confederation between the Mainland and Taiwan.” While admitting that 2016 could complicate matters a little, Goldstein is able to make his projection because of his view that since 2008, “peace is breaking out” across the Taiwan Strait, a view that fails to take several key factors into consideration, to which we shall return later. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Thursday, May 07, 2015

If the Unthinkable Occurred: America Should Stand Up to China over Taiwan

Nothing would be more dangerous than for Beijing to conclude that aggression would go unpunished and that the United States and a coterie of key allies do not have the will or the capacity to intervene 

In back-to-back articles published in recent weeks, Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, posited that China has become too powerful, and too critical a player in the global economy, for the continuation of tacit U.S. security guarantees to Taiwan, the island-nation that Beijing regards as an inalienable part of China. In White’s bleak worldview, the risks of major conflict—perhaps even nuclear war—are too enormous, and consequently, Taiwan should simply be abandoned to its “inevitable” fate. Not only is this wrong, it’s a very dangerous proposition. 

I would first like to thank Professor White for his response to my article “Don’t Let China Swallow Taiwan,” which gives me an opportunity to expand upon and to refine my earlier observations on the subject. Although I have strong disagreements with his argument, his is a position that has enjoyed a modicum of traction in some circles, and as such, it is essential that it be properly countered. 

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

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Rather Lackluster Performance by Xi During Meeting with Chu

The KMT chairman’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Monday spoke volumes about the gap that continues to exist between the two sides 

Given that it had been nearly six years since a chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had journeyed to Beijing to meet the secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) performance on May 4 was rather odd. If only for the propagandistic value of the meeting, one would have expected Xi to do his best to be charming (admittedly no small challenge) when meeting Eric Chu (朱立倫). Instead, a dour-looking Xi gave the impression that he would rather have been somewhere else. 

The scene of the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing was worth a thousand words and epitomized the gap that continues to exist between the two societies. On the KMT side of the table, the Chu delegation included men and women. On the other side, the Chinese delegation was entirely made up of middle-aged men. Even more telling was the body language. During his speech, KMT Chairman Chu spoke eloquently, without referring to his notes, and looked straight at Xi and other members of the Chinese group, smiling occasionally. Xi, meanwhile, sounded sometimes bored, sometimes condescending, making little eye contact and constantly referring to his written notes, stumbling on a few occasions and sounding very much as if this was the first time he’d seen them. Chu exuded confidence; Xi, disengagement. From that scene, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Chu, not Xi, was in charge. 

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

Monday, May 04, 2015

Chu-Xi Meeting: Neither Historic Nor Groundbreaking

Forget the hype. The meeting was bereft of substance and in no way a new departure in cross-strait relations

Following weeks of anticipation, the chairman of Taiwan Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) met the secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing on May 4—and despite all the hype, there was very little of substance to write home about.

Part of the excitement about the meeting between KMT Chairman Eric Chu, who took over the party in January 2015, and CCP Secretary-General Xi Jinping stemmed from misconception and short-term memory. Unlike what has been reported, the meeting was neither “historic,” nor was it “only the second time since 1949 [that] the leaders of the KMT and Communist Party will meet each other in Beijing.” In fact, it was the fourth since 2005.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal Puts Politics Ahead of Lives, Says No Thank You to Taiwan SAR

Taiwan is ready to send rescue teams to quake-hit Nepal, but Beijing-friendly Kathmandu says no thanks 

Given China’s significant presence in Nepal, the news today that Kathmandu has turned down Taiwan’s offer to help with search-and-rescue efforts following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck at the weekend, killing more than 3,200 people and displacing thousands more, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Along China’s periphery, politics tend to get in the way of people’s welfare. 

Hours after Saturday’s deadly temblor, several SAR teams in Taiwan readied to depart for Nepal to help look for survivors under collapsed buildings. This included a 20-member team with rescue dogs. Taipei, which routinely tops donors’ lists in post-disaster assistance to foreign countries, has also pledged US$300,000 in financial assistance so far, and the Taiwanese Red Cross has started a fundraising drive to collect US$1 million 

However, Kathmandu said “thanks, but no thanks,” citing lack of diplomatic ties, the “great distance” and the absence of direct flights as the reasons why it turned down Taipei’s offer to send rescue workers. 

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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Taiwan’s All-Volunteer Force Pains: There’s a Way Out

Taiwan’s politics are proving ruinous for the country’s national defense. Here’s what needs to be done 

If there is one subject that should never get sucked into the morass of Taiwan’s electoral campaigns, it is national defense. Irrespective of ideology or political preferences, politicians should always seek to transcend party politics and work together to ensure that the island-nation’s armed forces are fully prepared to meet the security challenges that confront Taiwan. However, Taiwan being Taiwan, even national security is politicized, and now a row has emerged over the nation’s shift to an all-volunteer force (AVF), with one side accusing the other of trying to reinstate conscription. 

The sad thing is that as politicians try to score political points ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Taiwan’s AVF program continues to face many challenges. Despite improvements in salaries, service-extension stipends, and slick publicity drives, lower-than-expected enlistment has forced the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to proceeded with a streamlining of the basic force that some critics say may have gone too far. Facing sluggish recruitment in the initial phase of the AVF program, the military was forced to postpone the shift to AVF, first planned for 2015, to 2017, and to reduce the expected active force from the planned 215,000 soldiers to between 170,000 and 180,000, or about 0.8 percent of the population. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here (photo by the author).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Don't Let China Swallow Taiwan

Allowing China to conquer Taiwan would almost certainly fan the flames of Chinese expansionism rather than extinguish them 

With the prospects of a transition of power next year, the punditry is once again shifting into high gear with alarmist messages about the risk of renewed tensions in the Taiwan Strait. As always, it is the Taiwanese side—not only the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) but also the millions of Taiwanese who want to maintain their way of life—that is being blamed for the potential risks, not the bully on the other side who is aiming his canons at the island. 

What is even more extraordinary about this lopsided logic is that its adherents do recognize the extraordinary accomplishments that have been made by Taiwan over the decades. And yet they still find it within themselves to propose policies that are as defeatist as they are bereft of human decency—or logic, for that matter, as we shall see. 

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Alarm Over China’s S-400 Acquisition Is Premature

The S-400 is an impressive system, but China’s acquisition of the system shouldn’t spark alarm just yet. Physics is part of the reason why  

The confirmation last week that China has purchased between four and six battalions of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system has sparked alarmism in many circles, with experts stating that the new missile will allow China to strike aerial targets over major Indian cities, all over Taiwan, as well as within disputed areas in the East and South China Sea. But before we start calling the S-400 a “game changer,” a few comments are in order. 

Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run agency in charge of export of defense articles, announced on April 13 that Moscow had agreed to sell China four to six S-400 battalions for the sum of approximately $3 billion. The confirmation ended years of speculation as to whether Russia would agree to sell the advanced air defense system to China, a “strategic partner” that on some occasions has bitten the hand that feeds it, advanced weaponry by reverse-engineering Russian products and producing copies—some intended for export—for a fraction of the price. 

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Taiwanese Military Reform and the Challenge of PLA Political Warfare

Military transformation cannot ignore the human element 

Transforming Taiwan’s military to ensure that it can meet the many external challenges that lie ahead is an absolute necessity. However, platforms and reorganization alone — the issues that usually receive the greatest attention when terms like “reform” and “transformation” are involved — are insufficient. Without enough motivated men and women to fill the ranks, and without proper political and civilian support, all the “nuts and bolts” transformation in the world will amount to little. Consequently, as Taiwan’s military establishment ponders future capabilities and organizational requirements, just as importantly it must bolster the image of the armed forces and seek to counter the sustained propaganda/political warfare campaigns unleashed by Beijing to undermine morale in the troops, destroy the reputation of the military at home and abroad, and convince the Taiwanese population, as well as Taiwan’s allies, that resistance is futile. In other words, the people, not the Chinese military, might be Taiwan’s worst enemy. 

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

As Tsai Ing-wen Enters Taiwan’s Presidential Race, the China Challenge Looms Large

As Tsai Ing-wen gears up to run for Taiwan’s presidency, she will have to wrangle with a tough problem: China 

As expected, Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on April 15 confirmed that chairperson Tsai Ing-wen would be the party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election. And just as expected, no sooner had the eight-minute press conference at the party’s headquarters in Taipei concluded than Beijing was issuing a stern reminder that relations in the Taiwan Strait could quickly sour should Tsai flirt with “splittism.” Yes, whether we like it or not, the China issue will once again be a major factor in the elections. 

Tsai ran unopposed within her party and is widely seen as the strongest contender in the elections scheduled for January 16, 2016, for which the ruling—and somewhat disorganized—Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has yet to announce a candidate. President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT, who has staked his entire presidency on improving ties with China, will step down next year after serving his maximum two terms. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here (Photo by Jessie Chen)

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Rise of Civic Nationalism in Taiwan: A Conversation with J. Michael Cole

The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda and Shannon Tiezzi speak to J. Michael Cole about Taiwanese politics, society, and his new book, Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan

The 30-minute podcast, which primarily focuses on Taiwanese politics heading into the January 2016 elections, the rise of civic activism on the island, and the evolving relations between Beijing and Taipei, can be accessed here. The book is available on Amazon.

Sunday, April 12, 2015



作為一個以中間偏左的自由派立場而自豪,堅決反對2003年美國出兵伊拉克,甚至一度和古巴領導人卡斯楚(Fidel Castro)一同出現在《反擊》(Counterpunch)雜誌同一頁上的加拿大人,我在這些年來是多麼頻繁地因為主張國際社會有切身利害、更有責任支援台灣抵抗中國侵略的自衛努力,而被說成「右翼分子」、「戰爭販子」或是西方情報機構的工具,實在是很耐人尋味的。這些指控被按步就班地運用,以詆毀在國際社會上支持台灣的人,足以說明中國的宣傳機器取得了多大的成功。





台灣人最想要的,不過就是不受外力脅迫決定自己未來的權利,我們應當指出,這份權利是受到聯合國憲章明文規定,並被世界各國領袖一致宣告為「普世」權利的。美國前總統小布希(George W. Bush)在連任就職演說中道出了這份高貴的情操:「我們在世世代代中宣揚住民自治(self-government)的誡命,因為沒有誰生來就該做主人,也沒有誰生來就只能當奴隸。」


因為我主張台灣有權自衛而貼在我身上的標籤,可真是長長一串,其中包括:「中情局特務」、「西方情報員」(我坦白招供:我在加拿大安全情報局當過情報分析員)、「好戰分子」、「戰爭販子」、「新帝國主義者」,還有「軍火販子」。我還一天到晚被說成「仇中人士」,有一次甚至還花了漫長的幾分鐘,被一個從上海打電話來的人咆哮著要我說清楚為何這麼「痛恨」他的祖國。說實話,我對於中國本身一點都不反對,我認為中國是一個歷史悠久、地大物博的國家,但我堅決反對一個日益顯露其法西斯傾向的政權。這不是零和的問題:「愛」台灣並不意味著「恨」中國。那些指控我們仇恨中國的人,是為了實施「中國受害」(China as victim)戰略,抹黑我們主張台灣有權自衛的動機而這麼做的(在這一點上,中國和猶太復國主義者其實有些共通之處)。






中譯:William Tsai

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Great Chinese Lie About Taiwan

Condone Chinese militarism and you are being a realist. Support the defense of democratic Taiwan against authoritarian expansionism, and you are dubbed a militarist, a warmonger 

As a left-of-center and proud liberal Canadian who vehemently opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and once shared a page with Fidel Castro in CounterPunch magazine, it is fascinating how often I have been accused over the years of being a “right-winger,” a “warmonger,” or an instrument of Western intelligence for arguing that the international community has an interest in and the responsibility to help Taiwan defend itself against Chinese aggression. The systematic use of such allegations, which have been used to discredit supporters of Taiwan, demonstrates the extent of the Chinese propaganda apparatus’ success. 

The plot is actually rather simple: A nation of 23 million people that bloodlessly transitioned from authoritarian rule to democracy in the 1980s faces the prospect of being taken over — perhaps by military force — by an authoritarian country of 1.4 billion people with an atrocious human rights record and increasingly expansionist tendencies. Unlike Israel, with which it is sometimes (wrongly) compared, Taiwan does not occupy another people’s land, nor does it have any intention to threaten its neighbors. In fact, its people are often accused of lacking martial spirit. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here (photo by the author)

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Taiwan’s ‘Apache-gate’ and a call for restraint

Security violations are a serious matter. But Taiwanese media and the opposition should not blow things out of proportion 

The optics could hardly have been worse: Lt. Col. Lao Nai-cheng, a pilot manning the Taiwanese Army’s AH-64E “Guardian” helicopter—one of the most advanced helicopters of its kind in the world—is caught after surreptitiously taking a group of civilians, including a few foreign nationals, on a tour of the base, during which an entertainer had her photo taken while sitting in the cockpit. 

As the details of the March 29 visit to the Army base in Longtan, Taoyuan, became public, it was soon evident that the Taiwanese military had yet another controversy on its hands. Besides failing to register the visit with security officials at the base, it emerged that Lao, a pilot with Army’s 601st Aviation Brigade, had also taken the Apache helmet—a controlled item—off base for a Halloween costume party at his home in 2014. 

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute blog, University of Nottingham, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

US Marine F-18s Land at Taiwan Air Base, Beijing Protests

Exactly 14 years after the EP-3 incident near Hainan, and as the PLAAF conducts exercises in the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines, two U.S. F-18s make a precautionary landing in Taiwan

Two U.S. Marine F/A-18C Hornet aircraft did a precautionary landing at an air force base in southern Taiwan on April 1 after one of the aircraft reportedly flashed a persistent engine oil pressure light warning. Unusual in itself, the incident, which has been widely covered in Taiwanese media, could be more significant than initially thought.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed on April 2 that the two aircraft were from the U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323). The squadron is under the Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11). Mark Zimmer, the spokesman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the United States’ de facto embassy in the absence of official diplomatic ties, said the two aircraft took off from an airbase in Japan on Wednesday. Major Paul L. Greenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps,added that the F-18s were on a routine mission in support of a training exercise. According to the U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Public Affairs Office, the pair of F-18s was en route to Singapore to participate in the COMMANDO SLING air-to-air joint exercises with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo: Liberty Times)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Politics Behind Taiwan’s AIIB Bid

Expect the controversy over Taiwan’s application to join the Beijing-led financial body to spill into the 2016 elections 

The sudden announcement on the evening of March 30 that Taiwan had applied to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — Beijing’s answer to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank — caused some consternation after it was discovered that Taiwanese authorities agreed to join despite Beijing’s precondition that it do so under the “one China” principle. Lack of transparency, the absence of consultations or review within the legislature, as well as uncertainty over which channels were used to submit the application have raised serious questions about what happened. Alarming though this may all be, expect more trouble ahead as the AIIB question will likely become an item of contention in the lead-up to the 2016 elections and a challenge for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). 

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

Taiwan Applies to Join AIIB Under ‘One China,’ Sparking Protests

Echoes of the Sunflowers? Taiwan applies to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, provoking protests in Taipei 

Dozens of young protesters clashed with police and security guards outside the Presidential Office in Taipei on the evening of March 31 after the government unilaterally announced that Taiwan would join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), an international financial institution initiated by China. 

After Taipei expressed its interest in joining the AIIB, Beijing said it would welcome Taiwan as long as it joined under the “one China” principle. Beijing’s terms also stipulated that Taiwan must apply through the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the agency under the State Council that handles relations with Taiwan. Beijing does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty and regards Taiwan as a province, to be “re-united” by force if necessary. At this writing, the name under which Taiwan applied to join the AIIB remains unknown. 

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the government agency in charge of relations with China, faxed the Letter of Intent to the TAO at 7 pm on March 31. The TAO will then transmit Taiwan’s application to the Interim Secretariat of the AIIB. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo: Black Island Youth Front)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Taiwan's Master Plan to Defeat China in a War

The surest way Taiwan can defeat China in a major war is to make sure that it never happens 

A consensus seems to have developed among a large number of defense analysts in recent years arguing that despite the balance of power having shifted in China’s favor, Beijing has no intention to use its military to invade Taiwan and thus resolve the Taiwan “question” once and for all. Doing so would be too costly, some argue, while others contend that Beijing can accomplish unification by creating enough economic dependence and incentives to convince Taiwanese over time of the “inevitability” of a “reunited” China. 

Although these factors certainly militate against the desire to go to war over the island-nation, we cannot altogether discount the probability that the Chinese military would be called into action, especially if the rationale for launching an attack were framed in terms of a defensive war—China being “forced” to take action because of changing and “untenable” circumstances in its environment. 

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan is Out!

Long before the student-led Sunflower Movement stormed the legislature in Taipei on March 18, 2014, sparking the most serious political crisis in Taiwan’s modern history, journalist J. Michael Cole was chronicling the rise of civic activism in this young democracy and warning us of the coming troubles. In this long-awaited collection of essays, the author takes us to the heart of this extraordinary recrudescence of activism and shows that there was nothing ‘spontaneous’ about the Sunflower Movement. With on-site observations and unique access to the protagonists, Black Island brings you to the frontlines of civil unrest — the police shields, pro-Beijing gangsters, victims of injustice, callous government officials and the idealists who are fighting back — and explains why the rise of civil society will change the face of politics in Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait for years to come. 

The book comes in three sections — The Long Road to 318; Article 972 and the Rise of Christian Evangelicals-Yes, in Taiwan; and Game Changer: The Sunflowers Take Action — and collects most of my writing on activism published since the end of 2012 through March 2015, all of it updated and re-edited. It also includes a long introduction that puts everything in context.

Black Island is now available on Stay tuned for updates on book events in Taiwan, and join the Facebook page for updates and extra material!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Unstoppable: China's Secret Plan to Subvert Taiwan

A convoluted network of Chinese companies and organizations is involved in Beijing's "onion layer" strategy against Taiwan and the world 

Mao Zedong reportedly once said that warfare is 70 percent political. Arguably, no conflict in recent times has adhered to this concept more faithfully than China’s ongoing campaign to “reunite” Taiwan with the “Mainland.” While analysts have tended to focus on the threat which an increasingly powerful People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poses to the democratic island-nation, the political warfare component of Beijing’s “reunification” strategy has received much less attention, perhaps because cross-strait symposia on tea and culture are far less “newsworthy” than the latest missile boat or combat aircraft. 

Given Beijing’s preference for “nonkinetic” solutions to the impasse (war would be costly and unpredictable), it makes perfect sense that its leadership would explore alternative means by which to win the war in the Taiwan Strait. Political warfare (or the “Three Warfares,” 三战), targeting both Taiwan and its supporters in the international community, is a favored instrument. There has been a growing number of interactions between Taiwan and China since 2008. And what with rapidly expanding cross-strait travel, academic exchanges and investment, the opportunities for China to engage in political warfare have increased exponentially. 

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Big Bad Blue Lying Machine is Back

An incident involving an academic’s invented quotes from a closed-door meeting between the DPP chairperson and a US official sets a new standard for crassness 

How time flies! Less than a year from now, Taiwanese will have elected a new person to lead the country, concluding eight long years of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) presidency. The idea hasn’t completely sunk in yet, but election season — and the complete, all-consuming madness that comes with it — is right around the corner. In fact, the madness part of the electoral cycle has already begun. 

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) may still be struggling to find a viable candidate for the January 16 election, but this hasn’t prevented the big machine behind it from shifting into high gear to undermine its opponent, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). And given what’s at stake and the high likelihood that Tsai could win this time around, the nastiness of the 2012 elections could feel like a walk in the park compared with what lies ahead. 

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Is Taiwan out of Vogue in Washington DC?

We don’t hear much about Taiwan in Washington nowadays. But not for the reasons that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman gives us 

After delivering remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on February 27, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy R. Sherman was asked a rather simple question by one of the journalists present: Why don’t we hear much about Taiwan in Washington, D.C. nowadays?  

John Zang, a journalist with CTiTV in Taiwan, had good reasons to ask. After all, in Sherman’s entire presentation, which focused on the situation in Northeast Asia, Taiwan was only mentioned once. And in that one passing reference, her formulation — “our friendship with the people of Taiwan” — deftly skirted the possibility of Taiwan existing as a nation or state, or the fact that U.S. relations with the “people of Taiwan” are rather more substantial than mere friendship. 

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Independent Candidates: How Independent Can They Afford to Be?

Unless it wants to be the eternal outsider, the ‘third force’ in Taiwanese politics must agree to form strategic coalitions within the system 

The decision by a number of social activists and academics in recent months to step over the line and dirty their hands in the muck of electoral politics is a healthy development in Taiwan’s contemporary history. In the past few weeks, two new parties — the New Power Party (NPP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) — have come into being, promising to shake up a political environment that without doubt has ossified over the years. By bringing fresh faces and ideas to the political arena, new independent parties bring hopes of rejuvenation to the nation. But how independent can this third force really be? 

The decision to form a new party already tells us a few things about the state of mind of its creators and points to a disagreement (usually along ideological lines) with existing parties and the system of which they are part. The goal is therefore to propose something new, to promote a specific issue (e.g., environmentalism), or to change the system from within. 

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Contesting Nationalisms in the Taiwan Strait

Much of the irreconcilable differences between Taiwan and China are the result of different types of nationalism, the ‘blood’ versus the ‘civic’ 

“The degree of shared or conflicting understandings of what the nation is,” writes Stephen M. Saideman, “has significant implications not just for whether a country will go to war but with whom” (Nationalism and War, John A. Hall & Sinisa Malesevic, eds., Cambridge UP, p. 342). Though Saideman does not once mention China in his chapter, could just as well have been discussing Beijing’s irredentist designs on Taiwan. Conflicting understandings of what the nation is, as he writes, is at the heart of the decades-long conflict in the Taiwan Strait, one that, despite the recent rapprochement, will not be resolved anytime soon. 

Although academic literature often draws a direct link between nationalism and war, I would argue that in the context of the Taiwan Strait, misunderstanding the other side’s nationalism (or a conflicting understanding, to quote Saideman) is even more likely to drag the two countries — and perhaps the region — into war. 

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

China Demolishes the Taiwan ('92) Consensus

Chinese President Xi Jinping doesn't think that the 1992 consensus, the framework that has facilitated 'peace and stability' in the Taiwan Strait over the years, is good enough anymore

After decades of high tensions between Taipei and Beijing and the looming shadow of a devastating war between the United States and China, relations in the Taiwan Strait underwent a major transformation in 2008 with the election of Ma Ying-jeou and the return to power of the Kuomintang (KMT).

Over the seven years that followed Ma’s victory, Taipei and Beijing made substantial strides in liberalizing their interactions, signing 21 bilateral agreements, opening the floodgates of tourism and investment, and facilitating academic exchanges. Amid the cross-strait summits and handshakes, the international community breathed a sigh of relief, optimistic that the old tinderbox could soon be shelved—as long as we ignored, that is, the mounting apprehensions of a segment of Taiwanese society, which saw behind the rapprochement evidence of Beijing’s machinations to bring about “one China.”

[...] Given what has been achieved under the Consensus, it would be logical to assume that Beijing would seek its continuation. However, recent comments by Chinese President and CCP Chairman Xi Jinping, as well as articles appearing in official Chinese media, indicate that the Consensus no longer suffices.

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

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Xi, the PLA, and the State of Perpetual Conflict

What if the leadership in Beijing saw advantages in not resolving the Taiwan ‘issue’?

Continuing a long tradition set by his predecessors, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) on Wednesday warned against “independence forces” in Taiwan, calling them “the biggest threat to cross-strait peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

Xi, who made the remarks at this year’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), was not saying anything we’ve not heard before: The Taiwan independence movement “poisons” stable cross-strait relations and threatens to “divide” the Great Chinese Nation.

One peculiar characteristic of that rhetoric is that regardless of who runs the government in Taipei — Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) or Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — Beijing keeps repeating it. That is not by accident. By sustaining the notion of “Taiwan independence” forces threatening peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing ensures that Taiwan and China remain in a state of perpetual conflict.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

KMT Reform? We’ll Believe It When We See It

A former KMT spokesman argues in an influential foreign publication that the KMT is in the ‘throes of reform’. That would be wonderful, but don’t hold your breath 

A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine penned by Charles Chen (陳以信) has caused a bit of a sensation among some Taiwan watchers for its seemingly candid assessment of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) failures and need to reform. Chen, who until recently was the KMT spokesman and has now been elevated to the position of spokesman for the Presidential Office, is absolutely right when he argues that the party needs to change. Sadly, he gets just about everything else wrong. 

Published on Feb. 17, Chen’s article, titled “How Taiwan’s Ruling but Reeling Kuomintang Can Win the Future,” sparked an odd reaction among some Taiwan specialists who saw in the piece the germs of true reform within the KMT, which since Jan. 17 has been headed by Eric Chu (朱立倫). A number of those experts, who up until then had been scathing critics of the KMT, regarded the article as a groundbreaking admission of mistakes by the party, a “wow” moment even. Undoubtedly there are many others overseas who will likely reach similar conclusions. 

However, if we pay close attention to the language used in the article, it becomes clear that Mr. Chen’s blueprint for reform is not quite what it seems. 

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Sky Isn’t Falling Over Taiwan

Overly bleak pictures of Taiwan’s willingness and ability to defend its way of life are not only misleading, they play right into Beijing’s political warfare strategy 

This cannot be repeated often enough: Although the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is now the most powerful military in the Taiwan Strait, and despite the fact that the capability gap continues to widen in China’s favor, Beijing would much prefer to “win” Taiwan without having to fire a single bullet in anger than plunge into the fog of war, what with all the messiness and unpredictability of armed combat. 

Although it is generally recognized that winning without fighting is a major aspect of Chinese strategy honed over centuries, many people — defense analysts among them — seem to develop severe amnesia when it comes to the question of Chinese designs upon Taiwan, the island-nation Beijing hopes to annex, “by force if necessary.” 

Undoubtedly, in the past two decades or so the PLA has acquired and modernized capabilities that would ostensibly play a role in a Taiwan contingency, and it has held a number of military exercises (some of them high profile) simulating an amphibious assault on Taiwan. 

However, for every drill practicing an attack against the island, armies of soldiers engage in silent, non-kinetic operations to whittle down perceptions of Taiwan’s ability to defend itself — and most importantly perhaps, to erode the willingness of Taipei’s allies to come to its defense should the PLA be activated at some point. 

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Prison Hostage Situation in Taiwan Turns Deadly … and Political

A botched prison break in Kaohsiung turns into a political melodrama with a tragic conclusion 

A dramatic hostage-taking situation at a prison in southern Taiwan took a tragic turn early in the morning of February 12 when the six hostage-takers, all inmates at the jail, failed in their bid to escape and turned the guns they had stolen from the prison’s armory on themselves. 

The situation at Kaohsiung Prison began a little before 4 p.m. on February 11 when the six inmates, led by Cheng Li-te, a member of the Bamboo Union triad who is serving a 28-year sentence for murder, pretended they were ill and were sent to the infirmary. Soon thereafter, they reportedly used scissors to take three prison officials hostage and were then able to break into the armory, where they seized four assault rifles, six handguns, and more than 200 rounds of ammunition. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let 118 Sunflowers Bloom

A total of 118 people, including Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, will be prosecuted for the 318 and 323 occupation and a smaller incident on 411 

If we could be 100% certain that the court system in Taiwan can act independently, it would perhaps be less tempting to suspect that the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office’s announcement on the morning of Feb. 10 that 118 individuals, including student leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), will be prosecuted for various “crimes” committed during the occupation of the Legislative Yuan (“318”), of the Executive Yuan (“324”) and a small protest outside a police station (“411”) last year was politically motivated. 

Sadly, our faith in the court system is justifiably shaky, and this encourages speculation that the indictments, and the timing of the announcement, may provide needed distraction for the embattled Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which faces numerous crises at the moment, including the recent arrest of Tainan City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao (李全教) for bribery in the Dec. 25, 2014, council elections, the possibility that the reprehensible Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) will be unseated by the Appendectomy Project on Feb. 14, and corruption investigations that could very well implicate former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who has presidential ambitions, and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). 

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