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.

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 Amazon.com. 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).

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Chinese Students Go Ballistic at Model UN Event

Proud and nationalistic Chinese students are increasingly vocal overseas. Often, though not always, they get away with bullying others on key issues 

A delegation of Chinese students at the Harvard Model United Nations held Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 made a dreadful discovery when they cracked open this year’s conference handbook. What they saw was so offensive that they made a scene, and several members of the group ended up being expelled from a meeting. Two words were at the heart of the kerfuffle: Taiwan and country. 

There is something about Taiwan that brings out the very worst in many a Chinese student overseas. Time and again, young Chinese have gone haywire at academic settings whenever someone dared to argue that Taiwan may actually be a country rather than a province of China, as Beijing claims. When that happens, they just snap. They scream, storm out, threaten, gang up on others, and intimidate whoever stands in their way, including school authorities. 

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Taiwan: Between the Pivot and a Hard Place

What role, if any, can Taiwan play in the U.S. rebalancing to Asia? And what can Taipei to do increase its chances of being given a role in the fledging regional alliance? 

More than three years have elapsed since then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton posited the idea of a U.S. “pivot,” or “rebalancing,” to Asia in her article for Foreign Policy magazine. To this day, nobody seems to have a clear idea how to define the nature and shape of the endeavor in either quantitative or qualitative terms. An even more difficult question is whether Taiwan could, or will, play a role in the pivot, and if so, what would be the extent of its involvement. 

Although several factors favour a role for Taiwan—its geographical location within the first island chain and a democratic political system, among them—integrating the island-nation into the pivot also involves risks and challenges that are unique to its situation. 

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Two Ways of Looking at a Spy

The Zhen Xiaojiang spy network sounds like bad news for Taiwan, but the damage to national security might not be as severe as it sounds 

The philosophical questions over what compels individuals to betray their country were once again raised on Jan. 16 when prosecutors unveiled indictments against five Taiwanese and a Chinese citizen on espionage charges. As with other cases over the years, the revelation that members of Taiwan’s armed forces had agreed to spy for Beijing exacerbated the perception that the island-nation’s security apparatus has been thoroughly penetrated, that it is unreliable, and that Taiwanese would sell their country for a dime. 

Given the frequency with which spy cases have been uncovered in the past decade, the alarmists are certainly not entirely unjustified in contending that this is bad news for Taiwan and its security relationship with the U.S., though as I argued elsewhere, we do not want to overstate the matter and need to take the propaganda value of intelligence operations — even those that are discovered — into consideration. 

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Does Taiwan Need a Ko Revolution?

Reforming the system is absolutely necessary. But what can society do if entrenched interests and status quo powers stand in the way of what needs to be done? 

On many occasions since the members of the Sunflower Movement voluntarily exited the Legislative Yuan after a more than three-week occupation in April 2014, I had found myself correcting the perception among a number of foreign journalists and at academic conferences overseas that the dramatic events in the spring constituted a revolution. Though the term “Sunflower Revolution” was repeatedly used, it was a misnomer: It was never the intention of the Sunflowers to overthrow the system, or to replace it with another. Rather, the sole objective was reform of existing institutions. Therefore, notwithstanding the “extreme” nature of their actions, the Sunflowers overwhelmingly agreed that the prevailing political system should continue to exist, though they wanted to see its many flaws remedied, and unaccounted officials expunged. 

We still don’t know to what extent the Sunflower Movement succeeded in achieving its goals. What is clear is that governments can rarely implement in the whole the maximalist requests of civil society; after all, politics is the art of compromise — at least in democratic societies. The controversial services trade agreement that sparked the occupation remains stalled, and an oversight mechanism for future cross-strait negotiations, one of the conditions set by the activists before they vacated the legislature, to is under consideration. 

There were other less easily quantifiable successes. Despite officials claims to the contrary, the Ma administration’s reputation suffered a terrible blow. The drama re-energized civic activism, bringing political awareness among the population to levels unseen in years, and generated substantial interest overseas by making Taiwan exciting and newsworthy. Finally, the occupation undoubtedly had an impact on the Nov. 29 “nine-in-one” local elections, in which the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was roundly defeated. 

As I argued in a commentary a few months ago, the next step for the Sunflowers and the young activists the movement inspired is for themselves to enter politics and work from the inside. Since then, it has been encouraging to see a number of them choose to do so. Some of them ran in the Nov. 29 elections, while others started their own party or decided to join an existing political party — in almost every case the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a much more natural ally, given its ideology, than the KMT. 

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Spies Are Coming! The Spies Are Coming to Taiwan!

Damage assessments following the busting of a spy ring must look not only to the secrets that were stolen, but also to the propaganda value of the exercise 

The optics couldn’t be worse — four Taiwanese military officers, including an Air Force pilot, a lieutenant colonel and a former Army major general, indicted on charges of belonging to a spy ring led by a Chinese intelligence officer. Oh, and the owner of a karaoke club, to boot. The January 16 indictments, which follow the arrest in September last year of Zhen Xiaojiang, the Chinese handler who was also indicted, are but the latest in a string of arrests on espionage charges in recent years. Fifteen cases were uncovered in 2014 alone. Has the Taiwanese security apparatus been completely penetrated by Chinese spies, as some analysts have been arguing? 

Maybe, but the extent to which systems and people have been compromised is anyone’s guess. The People’s Liberation Army is particularly interested in establishing a complete picture of Taiwan’s C4ISR architecture, radar and air defense systems, as well as war preparedness plans, a focus that has been confirmed through the string of arrests over the years, including the latest case. Despite warming ties between Taiwan and China since 2008, espionage efforts against the island-nation never abated; in fact, substantially increased contact between the two sides created a wealth of opportunities for intelligence collection and source recruitment by China. 

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Debunking the Myth of Inevitability in the Taiwan Strait

Unification between Taiwan and China is not inevitable; in fact, it is no longer an option 

For decades academics and politicians have sought to find ways to untie the Gordian Knot in the Taiwan Strait. Almost every solution proposed has at its core contained some reference, howsoever worded, to “one China.” Thinkers in China, and within both the green and blue camps in Taiwan, have toyed with variations on the theme — “one China, two constitutions,” “1992 consensus,” “one China, different interpretations,” “greater one China,” “constitutional one China,” “one country, two systems,” and so on. Creativity, they hoped, would help avert war in the Taiwan Strait. The problem with all these proposals is not only that the underlying assumption of unification as an inevitable outcome is deeply flawed, but that it is a myth that was created by Chinese propagandists to limit Taiwan’s options — to lock it in, in fact. 

More recently, with the prospect of a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) comeback in 2016, some intellectuals have argued that future stability in cross-strait relations will be contingent on the DPP agreeing to freeze its “independence clause.” Others have more recently opined that the party’s “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future,” which after its adoption on May 8, 1999, replaced the “independence clause,” must also go. 

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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

China’s New Flight Routes Rile Taipei

Beijing no longer has use for President Ma and therefore will not hesitate in the coming year to take what with wants without any consideration for the Taiwanese president’ reputation 

With China’s unexpected announcement on January 12 that four new flight routes running extremely close to Taiwan proper are to be launched on March 5, Beijing may have dispelled any lingering notion that relations across the Taiwan Strait in 2015 will continue to be as “stable” and predictable as they had been over the past six years of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou administration. Though sudden, this development is part of a series of signals that lead us to conclude that the era of détente in the Strait, during which Beijing and Taipei engaged in negotiations somewhat as equals, is over. We are now likely entering a period of Chinese unilateralism. 

During the six years since Ma became president in 2008 on a platform that emphasized the need to improve relations with China, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait made good use of the many semi-official bodies and Track-1.5/2 forums at their disposal to negotiate a number of agreements, chief among them the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). Over time, those efforts were supplemented by party-to-party and, in some instances, contact between government officials from the two sides, such as face-to-face meetings between the Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Minister and his counterpart at the Taiwan Affairs Office. In other words, there has been no lack of communication channels between Taiwan and China, and the opportunities to negotiate various agreements were seemingly limitless. 

Which makes China’s announcement on the air routes — M503, running on a north-south axis west of the centerline of the Taiwan Strait, and the east-west routes W121, W122 and W123 — rather alarming. Judging from Taipei’s reaction, Taiwanese authorities were either not consulted or negotiations on the matter had yet to have concluded. According to Bloomberg News, Taiwan and China had held two rounds of discussions to date. 

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Setting the Agenda for 2015

The 2016 presidential elections are approaching fast, and Thinking Taiwan wants to be part of the action by providing in-depth analysis of what is at stake for Taiwan and the region 

What an exciting, and in many ways pivotal, year 2014 was for Taiwan! In the spring, civil society converged on the Legislative Yuan, which for many had come to symbolize political unaccountability, and occupied the building for more than three weeks, sparking a political crisis which will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for politics in the Taiwan Strait. Then in the fall, Taiwanese voters used their ballots to send a clear signal to the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that they’d had enough with old practices. Nothing encapsulated that sentiment more than the election on Nov. 29 of Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a quirky medical practitioner with no political experience and no party affiliation, over the KMT’s Sean Lien (連勝文), who was very much the “establishment” candidate. 

Launched on May 6, Thinking Taiwan couldn’t have seen the light in more interesting times. With the 150-plus articles published since, we have sought to help our readers navigate the complex maze of Taiwan’s domestic politics and relationship with China in a period ebullient with emotions and high in uncertainty. We thank our many contributors from the fields of academia, journalism, politics and civil society, in Taiwan and overseas, for shedding light on those important issues. 

This editorial, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here. (Photo by the author)