Saturday, September 26, 2009

China’s ‘terrorists’ are now Taiwan’s

It is the prerogative of governments to decide who can and cannot enter their borders based on national interest considerations. In that regard, the Taiwanese government was entirely within its rights when it said on Friday that it would not give an entry visa to Uighur leader Rebeiya Kadeer if she applied for one following an invitation by Taiwanese groups for her to visit the country.

Had Taipei limited itself to saying that a visit by Kadeer it this point in time would be “inappropriate,” that it risked “damaging” relations between Taiwan and China — or even that it was not in the “national interest” — the denial could have been bearable, however begrudgingly.

In rationalizing its decision, however, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) entirely undermined its credibility by adding that the World Uyghur Congress is related to “a terrorist organization” — ostensibly the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). “We are trying to prevent terrorism from overshadowing Taiwan,” Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) told the legislature on Friday.

Terrorism overshadowing Taiwan? Based on whose assessment — that of Taiwanese intelligence agencies? US? Or Chinese? Furthermore, even if, as it sought Chinese acquiescence prior to its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Washington agreed to list ETIM as a terrorist entity (a decision that is now being questioned), it never recognized Kadeer as a terrorist, as doing so would have constituted guilt by association (in fact, after being sent into exile from China, Kadeer received asylum in the US).

It now appears that Taiwan’s assessment of who can and cannot be allowed in the country, and of what constitutes terrorism, is dictated by Beijing. In fact, the Taiwanese government never listed ETIM as a terrorist entity. It was unnecessary for the MOI to add the reference to terrorism, unless it felt the need to signal, to Beijing and the rest of the world, that Taiwan under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) now sides with China on issues of self-determination, seeing “splittism” as coterminous with terrorism.

In many online forums and comments posted on Chinese newspaper Web sites, Taipei’s decision is being feted by overtly xenophobic and racist readers as “wise.” If wisdom means mirroring the views of a murderous authoritarian government, then the government under Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is indeed becoming wiser.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mobilize — now!

I’ve long been a believer in retributive democracy — in other words, using election to “punish” governments for their misdeeds. But the way things are going right now, with the judiciary acting in a way that is reminiscent of Garrison Command in Taiwan and using the “law” to target a widening circle of pro-independence officials from the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration (while dropping cases involving members of the pan-blue camp), would waiting until 2012 to achieve this too long a wait? Some other form of mobilization is direly needed, both in Taiwan and abroad among its supporters, but I’m just not seeing it! I see many bystanders shaking their head, but some odd (if not inexplicable) sense of powerlessness seems to prevent them from acting. I find this hard to explain and welcome my Taiwanese readers to share their views on this: What they think is the cause of this, and means by which this could be remedied.

I’ve written many pieces calling on Taiwanese to get “angrier” and to not act like sheep — all well received — but this led nowhere. Someone with gravitas in Taiwan (and this has to be a Taiwanese) will have to rise up and say enough is enough. The Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, and now the judiciary, are just not listening. I increasingly wonder if the tool of democracy might not be unsuited for a situation like this, when one side in the “conflict” simply acts in an undemocratic manner.

Thoughts on the 10 Conditions

On a related subject, it is interesting to see how often Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese officials accuse the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of trying to “cause trouble” or “derail” cross-strait talks through shenanigans such as inviting the Dalai Lama and presenting The 10 Conditions of Love, the film about Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. What the KMT doesn’t seem to understand is that the DPP, along with the opposition writ large, feels powerless, mostly because of the KMT’s quasi-total control of the executive and legislative branches and its refusal to listen to public apprehensions and to explain its policies. It blames the opposition for acting “irrationally” — a term long favored by the KMT when describing the DPP — but does not realize that the fear of the unknown that drives this type of behavior is of its own making. Seeing little alternatives to be heard, of course the opposition will politicize visits and movies, and try to “derail” cross-strait talks. What else can they do when the legislature is a one-sided street while the executive acts in an increasingly authoritarian manner, a reality that can only be exacerbated when Ma becomes KMT chairman. People are cornered and they will do whatever they can to be heard.

Another factor behind this tactic is that it serves to reaffirm Taiwan’s values while determining whether remains possible, on Taiwanese soil, to invite whoever we want to invite, or show whichever movie we want whenever we want. Under a fully democratic system, these used to be taken for granted. It seems we can no longer make that assumption.


I encourage readers to read the following article in the Global Times about reactions to the screening of the Kadeer documentary. It’s that bad. Note, for one, that Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) is referred to as “Taiwan ‘Premier,’” and that Xinhua news agency refers to Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) as “Chen Shui-bian the second.” A so-called Chinese expert, meanwhile, claims that “The separatists [sic] in Taiwan are being marginalized, and their political power has been compressed [sic] … They have to collude with the separatists in Xinjiang and Tibet to make their own voices heard.”

Note, too, the transparent attempt by Chinese media to split Taiwan into two bickering entities — Taipei, which like Beijing “criticizes” Chen Chu, and Kaohsiung, in the south, which is filled with “separatists.” The fact is, “Taipei” — that is, the central government — did not criticize the move; only some KMT legislators did (in fact, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin 郝龍斌 has just announced that he welcomed the documentary being shown in Taipei, adding, however, that the city government would not sponsor it). This is an overt attempt to portray Taiwanese “separatists” as isolated and without appeal in northern cities.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beijing corrupts minds

I’ve pointed this out many times before: One cannot deal with China and not be changed in some fundamental way by it. Even when, strictly speaking, relations are limited to economic exchanges, the ramifications of that contact quickly spread to other areas, such as defense, culture, and human rights.

In early August, Australia had a taste of this with China’s belligerent attitude to the presentation of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about Uighur leader Rebeiya Kadeer, at the Melbourne Film Festival and the festival’s subsequent invitation of Kadeer to attend the film’s showing. Beijing’s saber-rattling, added to repeated attacks on the festival’s Web site by “lone” Chinese nationalists in Australia and elsewhere, and the pulling out of three movies — including one co-produced by a Taiwanese film company — caused an unfortunate controversy, but festival authorities stood their ground and did not allow freedom of expression to be undermined by Chinese machinations.

Other instances, such as the torch relay prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing, showed the various effects of the Chinese “corruption of minds,” with some cities adopting security measures (amid tensions in Tibet) that would have perfectly fit Tiananmen Square in the lead-up to the People’s Republic of China’s 60th anniversary celebration. In those instances — and there are many others — liberal democracies smothered their core values to ensure stable relations with Beijing. In other words, people looked the other way and ignored Beijing’s many ugly sides for a fistful of yuan.

Taiwan, which under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has increasingly become beholden to the mighty renminbi, is now facing a similar onslaught, and sadly there are signs that some people will not be as resistant to Chinese pressure than their counterparts in other parts of the world. The refusal by Ma and other members of his administration to meet Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama when he visited Taiwan a few weeks ago was one such instance, where elected leaders of a democracy chose (or rather were forced) to avoid meeting a person reviled by Beijing within their own borders. More recently was the decision by the Kaohsiung Film Festival not to present The 10 Conditions of Love during the festival, as originally planned, but rather two weeks earlier to ensure that Beijing would not be “angered.” This concession was the result of pressure from the Taiwanese tourism sector, which argued that Chinese tourists would cancel their hotel reservations in southern Taiwan if the film were presented during the festival. A Kaohsiung City councilor from the KMT upped the ante today by comparing Kadeer to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Hitler!

In other words, tour operators were putting greed ahead of the nation’s hard-earned values of democracy and freedom, and saw not “angering” Beijing as more important than retaining the right to choose which movies we can watch, where, and when. This decision, which for some (such as Kaohsiung Tourism Association chairman Tseng Fu-hsing, 曾福興), was still not enough and still risked irking the rulers who control the spigot of Chinese tourists, creates a dangerous precedent, as it can only invite further meddling by China into the socio-cultural affairs of Taiwan. If a film about Kadeer can result in self-censorship, what’s next? Movies about the Japanese? Books? TV series? Dance shows? Theater? (Two film directors, Chen Li-kuei 陳麗貴 and Chen Yu-ching 陳育青, have announced the withdrawal of their films from the festival in protest of the city government’s decision to reschedule the screening of the documentary.)

If Taiwanese do not take a firm stand against this cultural aggression, and if, by doing nothing, they allow Chinese censorship to determine the content of what we’re allowed to access in Taiwan, then the creeping transformation will only accelerate and Beijing will have won.

It’s still too early to see how the Kaohsiung City Government under the capable Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) will react. But if this self-muzzling is allowed to proceed, others will have to take action. One way to do this would be to boycott Chinese films playing in Taiwanese theaters — especially movies that serve as cover for propaganda. One appropriate target would be the “propaganda blockbuster” Jianguo Daye (Lofty Ambitions of Founding a Republic), a movie produced by the state-owned China Film Group and directed by its chairman and chief executive, Han Sanping, about the Chinese civil war and the defeat of Nationalist forces by the communists.

Ironically, the Taiwanese government said it would not censor the movie, which will be released in Taiwan next year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

INTERVIEW: Former envoy to US warns on Ma policies

The Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration is proceeding carelessly in its cross-strait policies, is unreceptive to criticism and appears to be focusing on its relations with Beijing at the expense of the nation’s ties with long-standing allies, former representative to Washington and Mainland Affairs Council chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said in an interview with the Taipei Times last week.

In its efforts to develop ties with China, Wu said, the Ma administration seemed to have decided on the political end-state before conducting the proper security/strategic assessments to determine the wisest course of action.

“On the higher national security level, there has been no grand assessment on Taiwan’s standing with China and all other important countries, and no report on Taiwan’s priority list with other countries, including China,” said Wu, who is now a research fellow at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations.

Since Ma came into office, old allies like the US, the EU and Japan have been ignored, he said, adding that the only country that seemed to matter to Ma was China.

He also said some prominent US academics had begun to worry that China has gained more influence and leverage over Taiwan than the US.

The full text of my interview with Joseph Wu, pusblished today in the Taipei Times, is available here.

‘Status quo’ is a hostile takeover

Ever since the US ended diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC) and recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1979, a move followed by the passage of the US’ Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) in April that year, Washington’s policy on Taiwan has consistently been that its future cannot be determined through the use of force by China.

The diplomatic relationship with Beijing, the TRA reads, “rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means [and that] any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes” would be “of grave concern” to the US.

This remains Washington’s official line on the Taiwan Strait, which was reinforced by the fifth article of the “Six Assurances” to Taiwan issued in July 1982, stating: “The United States would not alter its position about the sovereignty of Taiwan … that the question was one to be decided peacefully.”

Attendant to this formulation has been Washington’s reliance on ambiguity through the so-called “status quo,” which on the one hand is contingent on Beijing not using force against Taiwan, and on the other on Taipei refraining from doing anything — adopting a new Constitution, moving toward de jure independence, and so on — that would undermine that stability.

For three decades, this strategy appears to have been wise, for aside from the Missile Crisis of 1995 and 1996 and occasional violations of Taiwanese airspace by Chinese military aircraft, the Taiwan Strait has not descended into war and both sides remain de facto separate entities.

This article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CSIS has more in common with the CCP than you’d think

Those out there who do not understand how Chinese authorities have managed to control, censor and manufacture information within their country for so many years need look no further than a certain intelligence agency in what is otherwise a leading, mature democracy, to understand why. That agency, of course, is the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), where I worked as an intelligence officer from April 2003 until September 2005.

As I argued in Smokescreen, my book about my experiences at CSIS, one of my main disagreements with the agency was its resistance to change and different opinions. Seeing that this inflexibility fixed minds in time and prevented the organization from adapting to current (and ever-changing) circumstances — in the process allowing for great abuse of human rights — I felt it was important for someone “from the inside” to tell that story to the public. Of course, given the agreements that I signed upon joining CSIS, I could not do so while I was employed there. Two-and-a-half years after I handed my resignation, however, the book was released, and I was extremely pleased to see that CSIS had ordered copies. It was my hope that while I could not change things from within (and I made repeated, albeit unsuccessful attempts while I was there), future generations of intelligence officers who read my book would at least be somewhat more critical about the directives and information that is forced upon them from above the moment they join the service.

As expected, my book was not well received by CSIS, about which I was unashamedly critical, and some members of the larger Canadian intelligence community also took exception to some of my arguments — which is fine, as debate on intelligence matters, Canada’s role in the “war on terrorism,” and alliance with states such as the US and Israel, was what I hoped to spark with my book. Others, mostly rights activists, lawyers and members of the media (not to mention a former informant for CSIS), openly welcomed it and provided favorable reviews.

A little more than a year after the publication of Smokescreen, I released another book titled Democracy in Peril: Taiwan’s Struggle for Survival from Chen Shui-bian to Ma Ying-jeou. As the title indicates, my second book has nothing to do with CSIS or the “war on terror,” but rather focuses on Taiwan, China, and Northeast Asia, as well as the international community’s engagement of those players. Given the substantial amount of useful open-source intelligence contained in my book, added to the fact that CSIS has an obvious interest in the matter (not so much Taiwan, but certainly China), it was my belief that despite my critical book about it, CSIS would order my second book. To this end, I asked a close friend who works there to look into the matter. Her reply today confirmed my expectations and reinforces the arguments that I make about CSIS in Smokescreen:

I had an interesting response from the circus [i.e., CSIS] today when I asked them why they had [Smokescreen] and not [Democracy in Peril]. They responded that the 1st book was ordered to assess your credibility. It was decided by the ‘experts’ that your info is skewed and so they will not order it [Democracy in Peril].

So there you have it: I criticized them, so my views were “skewed.” While the second book has nothing to do with them, they nevertheless could not risk my “skewed” views infecting the young minds of their employees for a second time.

My friend continues:

I tried to make a case, but got the impression my wrists were being slapped. I’ll bet if you had not been a member [i.e., a former employee], they would have loved your work.

This is how organizations — which in CSIS’ case I likened to an “authoritarian system” — and indeed entire countries can resist change and remain monolithic in their view of the world around them. If this can occur, albeit in a limited circle, in countries like Canada, it certainly can be perpetuated in countries where a government has tentacles in every sector of society, with hundreds of thousands of brainwashed government officials and millions of party members. If organizations that operate in liberal democracies like Canada can resist change despite the tremendous pressure that exists outside, then there is every reason to doubt that, barring a traumatic event, China will liberalize and democratize of its own volition.

Who would have thought: China as an analogy for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. They can criticize me for all they want, or not order my books because their feelings were hurt. I rest my case.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Who cares about human rights when the world needs China so badly

Even after the administration of US president George W. Bush realized it needed China’s help to combat international terrorism, launch an invasion of Iraq and deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, Washington continued to openly criticize Beijing on human rights. Tone down the criticism it certainly did, but criticism nevertheless remained.

Now, one could question the Bush administration’s own record on human rights and argue that, by contrast, the administration of US President Barack Obama is faring better in that domain, with some improvements on the Iraq front, the CIA interrogation program and the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Given this, one would expect that Washington with Obama in office would be more critical of Beijing’s human rights record, especially as it hasn’t improved since Bush left office, and quite possibly has worsened.

Statements by US officials, however, show that this hasn’t happened. Arguably, though the US’ need for China’s acquiescence on the “war on terror” and Iraq may have diminished somewhat, new problems — predominantly the global financial crisis — added to lingering ones, such as global warming, AIDS, swine flu and North Korea, appear to have convinced US officials that criticism on human rights should remain minimal.

Nothing made this clearer than a statement by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who during an address in Washington honoring Wu Bangguo (吳邦國), chairman of the rubber-stamp Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, did her utmost to highlight the need for greater cooperation between the US and China on a slew of challenges.

“The relationship between our two countries has the potential to chart a brighter course, not just for our own nations and peoples, but indeed for the entire world,” Clinton said, adding that Beijing and Washington have had “productive exchanges on issues ranging from the global economic crisis to climate change to poverty and disease to the security threats that confront us.”

Tellingly, the American Institute in Taiwan’s Electronic Information Service’s Highlights on Foreign Policy and International Relations, to which I subscribe, did not once mention references that Clinton may have made to human rights in China. Only the full transcript of her speech showed that Clinton did not ignore the issue altogether.

“We have different histories, different experiences, different perspectives,” Clinton is quoted as saying. “But we must seek to talk honestly and openly even when agreement is not possible. And we are committed to doing so. In July, we had a very full and frank discussion about human rights, and we agreed to hold the next round of our Human Rights Dialogue before the end of the year, and to reconvene the US-China Legal Experts Dialogue. We know that this is an important part of our engagement with China.”

This passage, which does not even openly criticize China on human rights, is the only reference to the matter in Clinton’s entire address. (Not a single mention, meanwhile, was made of China’s continued arms buildup, or Taiwan.) In fact, one reading could argue that Clinton appears to be embracing, or at least not criticizing, the view that human rights do not apply in Asia or in China. In fact, her choice of words appears custom-made to reflect remarks Wu made in March this year that “The Western model of a legal system cannot be copied mechanically in establishing our own,” which basically meant that China would never develop into a Western-style democracy and would emphasize the primacy of the “path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

At best, the US has a “disagreement” with China, based on “different histories,” “different experiences” and “different perspectives.” As long as the universality of human rights is not stated clearly by the US, China will be able to deflect criticism and make a case for “exceptional circumstances” that allow it to continue to repress minorities, dissidents, free speech, religious organizations and neighbors alike, while threatening stability in certain countries it conducts business with, such as Myanmar, Sudan, Zimbabwe and many others.

So much for “chart[ing] a brighter course, not just for our own nations and peoples, but indeed for the entire world.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A feckless opposition made a harsh ruling against Chen possible

Although some foreign media on Saturday referred to the life sentences handed to former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), as “unexpectedly stiff,” to quote the LA Times, anyone who has paid close attention to politics in Taiwan since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regained power last year would see this as an almost inevitable outcome.

From the very beginning, the handling of Chen’s trial over allegations of corruption has been marred by political meddling in the form of gerrymandering within the judiciary, leaks to the media and guilt by association. The fact that the former president was kept in jail for almost 10 months for no valid reason also serves to highlight the fact that expectations of a fair trial were all along unfounded.

While a case could be made that the harsh sentences were to teach a lesson or, as the Apple Daily editorialized, to “serve as a warning for all parties and politicians,” it is difficult to imagine that a similar ruling would have been made had the political environment been different.

First of all, Chen, whom Beijing referred to as the “scum of the nation,” spearheaded the independence movement in Taiwan by carrying the torch lit by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), in the process taking the rhetoric to the next level. Regardless of whether his policies ever succeeded in taking Taiwan closer to official statehood, the fact remains that for Beijing, Chen came to serve as a symbol of resentment and umbrella for the entire pro-independence movement. By muzzling him during his trial and giving him a life sentence, the Taiwanese judiciary was responding, if perhaps unwittingly, to the political needs of the KMT administration, which has sought to develop closer ties with Beijing. As a token of “goodwill,” Beijing could not have asked for more.

One reason why the trial could become so overtly politicized, or the ruling been so harsh, is the ineffectiveness and fecklessness of the entire opposition movement, which has been divided against itself (for no small part as a result of the case against Chen) and has therefore been unable to challenge to Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration with one voice. So weakened has the opposition become, both in the legislature and in public opinion, that Ma has been able to ignore public apprehensions about his cross-strait policies, going as far as to snub an otherwise legal request for a referendum on the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China. The best that Ma and his team of cross-strait negotiators has been able to come up with in terms of answers has bordered on blind faith, which in effect concealed resentment for public opinion.

A more unified opposition would have forced the Ma administration not only to take more seriously the apprehensions of the public vis-à-vis an ECFA, but quite equally would have ensured a fairer trial for Chen. If, as has been the case, the Ma administration can so readily disregard public fears over policies that will undeniably have a substantial impact on the future of this nation, it follows that making a “gift” of a harsh sentence against an individual who stood up to Beijing and earned its venom would also have been relatively easy.

There is no doubt that in its calculations, the judiciary and its masters took the potential for backlash against a severe ruling against Chen and his wife into consideration. Had they feared that a harsh ruling would be detrimental to their ability to remain in power, or that it would serve as an incident that would allow the fissiparous opposition to coalesce into a coherent movement once again, political intervention would have verged in the opposite direction; in other words, the Ma administration would have pressured the judiciary to ensure a lighter verdict.

Fears that Taiwan is slowly turning into an authoritarian state may be a little premature, but there is no denying that when the opposition is discredited, disorganized and easily discounted by those in power, the judiciary will inevitably yield to the political preferences of those at the top, especially in highly charged political environments such as the Taiwan Strait. As such, the key to Taiwan’s future as a healthy democracy lies as much in the hands of an opposition that will need to get back on its feet quickly as in those of the officials who currently hold the reins of power.

The need is all the more pressing in Taiwan, for behind the KMT officials and members of the Ma administration who are slowly becoming intoxicated, if perhaps unconsciously, with the sweet wine of authoritarianism, lies a far more dangerous entity that is far less restrained in its use of the swift knife. If Taiwan is to survive at all as a democracy, it will need to deal with its problems at home before it’s too late. This starts with an opposition that can be taken seriously and whose voice cannot be ignored, with an opposition that is credible enough to serve as a brake on those who would otherwise ride roughshod on that which, to this day, remains the best — though by no means perfect — political system we have to deal with conflicting interests.

Put simply, we need voices that can promise consequences if the government overreaches, as it may have done on Friday.

A slightly diffferent version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times on Sept. 16,

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fidel, Che, 9/11 and a call for radicalism

As the saying goes, you don’t choose books; books choose you. Rather than keep reading a book by National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起), which I intend to review for the Taipei Times, or distract myself with Murakami Haruki’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I spent my day off reading Simon Reid-Henry’s fascinating dual biography Fidel & Che: A Revolutionary Friendship, while enjoying Café Odeon’s fine selection of Belgian beers and perfect background music.

Why, on Sept. 11, 2009 — eight years after 9/11 and the day former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife were receiving life sentences for alleged corruption — would I pick, or be picked by, a book about the Cuban revolution and the two individuals who spearheaded it?

That’s a good question. As I approach a burn-out, my mind wanders and needs to take a step back from Taiwanese politics — only to be drawn back in as parallels and analogies emerge in what would, ostensibly, be altogether different histories. As it turns out, Taiwan and Cuba — both island nations threatened and politically isolated by a larger neighbor — have quite a bit in common. I have lived in Taiwan for almost four years, and visited Cuba twice. Both countries have amazed me and won my admiration and love for their accomplishments in the face of great odds. While Taiwan eventually became a democracy, Cuba remains authoritarian, a system that replaced a right-wing regime propped by Washington.

What struck me, as I followed a young Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro become radicalized in the face of injustice, is that the revolution in Taiwan may not be over. After all, it faces an existential threat in China’s ambitions to annex it — and heaven knows that even if Taiwan has become a liberal democracy, its opponent remains radical and revolutionary at the core. Given this, can Taiwan afford not to be revolutionary as well? Can a democracy survive in the face of a far bigger undemocratic opponent? As the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) forge ahead with their policies of tying Taiwan economically — and eventually politically — with a murderous and undemocratic regime, it might be time for Taiwan to see the emergence of its own Ernesto “Che” Guevaras and Fidel Castros, for it is becoming amply obvious that democratic means will not suffice. I regret to say this, but when a government rides roughshod on democratic principles in its quest to achieve political goals that do not have the sanction of the majority of the population, something must be done to correct the imbalance. Even Fidel, radical that he was, initially relied on opposition politics to change things, until the military coup by Fulgencio Batista obviated that recourse.

I am all for democracy. But on the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington — the day I was starting my Master’s Degree in War Studies — I am convinced more than ever that extremism will arise if all other democratic venues have been extinguished. Extremism, or radicalism, as probably better applies to the two subjects of the biography I read today, is not its own raison d’etre; it is, rather, a means to counter injustice, and when democracy is ignored, or threatens to be undermined by external forces, it may not be entirely unacceptable for it to turn to more radical means to right wrongs or make itself heard.

Almost a year ago I was publishing a well-received article titled “Wanted: Angrier Taiwanese Youth,” which called on young Taiwanese to stop wasting their lives on video games, TV and other leisurely activities and to act in a meaningful way to ensure the survival of their beautiful country. Nearly one year has elapsed, and I have yet to see signs that what needs to be done is being done. Many have written to me, some have published excellent articles on their blogs or participated in colorful demonstrations against Ma, his cross-strait policies and the visit to Taiwan of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林). But it ended there, while Taiwan continues to drift into the toxic embrace of the People’s Republic of China.

Where are the youth of action, those who give a voice to ideas? Fidel and Che were flawed characters, but they never ceased believing in the idea, and never shied from doing what was necessary to achieve what they believed in. Their accomplishments were far from perfect — I have seen this firsthand on my visits to Cuba — but there is reason to believe that, had they not acted, Cubans could be doing far worse today.

Chen was a flawed leader. But he is being sacrificed by a regime that cannot help but bend over backwards to please Beijing. As he and his wife face life behind bars, Beijing has successfully split Taiwanese Aborigines, turned Taiwanese against one another, while dealing as death blow to the only opposition party in Taiwan that makes the country worthy of being called a democracy.

The sadness I experienced eight years ago is still clear in my memory, the tons of concrete vaporized in downtown New York, the thousands of lives extinguished in an act of ultimate anger. I deplored the act, and in fact joined an intelligence agency to ensure that such extremes would never be carried out on Canadian soil. But I remember being even angrier at the fact that the world had ignored serious — and reasonable — grievances for so long that a group of individuals had felt it necessary to make use of such extremes to awaken us.

I certainly do not wish a 9/11 in Taiwan, or anything resembling a Cuban Revolution. But if the voice of the people continues to be ignored like this, and if Beijing continues to succeed in its plan to annex Taiwan one voice at a time, I fear that nothing less will be necessary.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

‘Like a rave without sound’

To “celebrate” the unexpected resignation of (incompetent) premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) yesterday, some coworkers and I at the paper decided to go out for drinks after work. Once the paper had been sent to the printer down south, we tempted fate and took the trouble-plagued Muza-Neihu (a.k.a. Zahu, or “cheating,” as at mahjong) MRT Line and got off at Nanjing E Road, ending up, inevitably, at the expats’ favorite watering hole, the Brass Monkey. Far from my favorite place in Taipei, the place nevertheless has decent drinks and, as an extra, two-for-one pizza on Monday nights.

The place was unusually packed for a weekday, and it took me about as long as it takes to say “Guinness” to realize that the patrons weren’t the usual bunch. The place was filled with foreigners alright, but on that night, the foreigners consisted of, oh, maybe 60 or 70 athletes from the Deaflympics, which are currently being held in Taipei.

Though packed, the bar was, quite understandably, eerily silent, and one could actually hear the music. The waitress who served us seemed surprised when she realized we could actually hear and speak. Later in the evening, a walk to the washroom provided a fascinating scene, that of a bar filled with deaf and mute individuals all communicating in sign language, like some choreographed dance or, as a friend put it, like a rave without sound. Some people were obviously inebriated, others were engaged in what were obviously animated discussions, but in the half-light it was like a Kabuki dance, slightly out of place in what is usually a rowdy bar, but none the less fascinating.

As 1am approached, the waitress walked around the bar holding a sign that said, in both Chinese and English: “Sorry, we are closing at 1am.”

Leaving the place, I wondered if, when mute individuals become intoxicated, their sign language becomes slurred and confused, as does the tongue and mouth for those of us fortunate enough to be able to communicate “normally.” Does the hand become sloppy, too? Probably.

Once again, this wonderful country was providing me with rich, new experiences.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

’Tis the season to ‘hurt the feelings’ of the Chinese

Here’s a short bit of good news for freedom of expression, brought to you by the City of Kaohsiung: Organizer Liu Hsiu-ying of the Kaohsiung Film Festival (KFF) announced yesterday that the festival, which will be held from Oct. 16 through Oct. 29, would screen Ten Conditions of Love, the documentary about World Uighur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer. Fresh in memory is Beijing’s childish fit over the Melbourne Film Festival’s decision to present the documentary in early August, which resulted in cyber attacks against the festival’s Web site, the removal of Chinese-made films (including a co-production with Taiwan) and Chinese officials bullying of Australian government officials.

The theme of the festival, Liu said, will be “people power,” adding that the fact that none of the 70 films to be shown came from China was merely a “coincidence.” A likelier explanation for the absence of Chinese films, of course, is that movies about “people power” are simply not being made in China, because producing them would quickly land whoever is involved in the project in jail (or, at minimum, see all funding removed).

Coming on the heels of a visit to Taiwan of Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama — another “splittist” reviled by China — news that the KFF will be screening the documentary will likely further “anger” China … and perhaps even hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, which is a good thing, because whenever Beijing gets angry and its 1.3 billion people hurt, it means that we’re doing something right, something that corresponds with our values.

There are no news yet that Kaohsiung will imitate Melbourne by inviting Kadeer to attend the screening, but that, too, would be both desirable and interesting. In fact, it would be fascinating if Taiwan were at one point to host a festival featuring all the movies and documentaries that have been banned or censored in China, and invite artists and individuals that Beijing attempted to silence for addressing “forbidden” topics.

This is another great move by the south. Yes, it’s a bit of politics, but it’s also an expression of Taiwanese thirst for freedom and a message to the world that despite Taipei’s efforts to forge closer relations with authoritarian China, the people remain committed to safeguarding their identity and rights.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The ‘China Post’ takes democracy to task

Even before I began working for its competitor three years ago, I was never a big fan of the English-language China Post newspaper. Not only did its pan-blue political line not coincide with my preferences, but the quality of its copy, and dearth of local reporters, made alternatives more obvious choices to stay informed about what’s going on in Taiwan.

This said, I cannot but help encourage my readers to check out the editorial it published on Wednesday, titled “Time to think the unthinkable on system of government?” I urge readers to give it a try not because they will learn something, but because it is so irreparably bad. After all, what else should we expect from an opinion piece that opens with the following: “Democratically elected former President Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁], some would argue, has turned out to be the most corrupt head of state in modern Asian history,” which is followed by a similarly risible, albeit dishonest, attempt at political balance: “Democratically elected President Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九], others would argue, has turned out to be the most incompetent head of state in modern Asian history”?

Most corrupt? Most incompetent? Where was the China Post when Ferdinand Marcos, Thaksin Shinawatra and Suharto, to name just a few, were in power, amassing billions of dollars illegally while mismanaging their countries, sometimes bringing them close to civil war? What about Kim Jong-il, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong (毛澤東), for that matter, who all engineered widespread famine, dislocated and displaced entire segments of society, and executed untold many of their own people?

The gist of the editorial is that Western liberal democracy “is nothing more than a political system riddled with defects,” and that democracy can do no better than offer voters a choice between the lesser evil. It argues that Francis Fukuyama, who announced “the end of history” soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was wrong (in that regard, the Post isn’t entirely off the mark) and that former British prime minister Winston Churchill, in all his wisdom, was equally mistaken in saying that “Western liberal democracy may be a system riddled with defects, but it is nevertheless the best form of government mankind can ever hope for.”

The China Post argues that “the rest of us” — that is, not Churchill, Fukuyama and those who are foolish enough to place their hope in democracy — do not have to accept that flawed Western liberal democracy is our best option. The alternative, we are told, is “an entirely different political system, one that isn’t riddled with defects.”

Fair enough. So what is this new political system? The Post: “something unfamiliar to most of mankind, and which most of mankind has yet to try. Perhaps the final form of human government, the one that will replace Western liberal democracy, is ‘self government.’”

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere: “self government.” That form of governance, the Post tells us, is not the US model, which is “elective government,” whereby an influential minority, or self-interest groups, govern and “coerce” the majority. Sadly, by the time we reach the last line, which wisely advises us that “perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable,” we are no closer to knowing what “self government means.” In fact, I’m not sure the Post knows either. The wording is nevertheless chillingly reminiscent (though probably more banal) of Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea member and Khmer Rouge Vice Premier for Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary’s reference to socialism “without reference to any existing model,” which quickly became the nightmare of the killing fields in Cambodia soon after Phnom Penh fell in April 1975.

Whatever system of government a country chooses, it will always be flawed, as human beings are by their very nature flawed. The few experiments in history where groups of people attempted to scientifically engineer a flawless, or Utopic, political system, led us collectively into the heart of darkness and cost tens of millions of lives: communism, fascism and all the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in between. “Thinking the unthinkable,” the Post’s prescription for a better Taiwan, is just empty words, hot air that altogether fails to propose anything.

In its dirge for Western liberal democracy, furthermore, the editorial completely fails to contrast this undeniably flawed system with that which defines governance across the Taiwan Strait — a non-liberal, non-Western and certainly non-democratic system that brooks no opposition, silences, locks up and kills dissidents, and corrupts whoever comes in contact with it, even Taiwan. Is this silence an apology for that system? Is this the “unthinkable” the China Post would have us ponder?

Yes, democracy is flawed. But Churchill (and many others who came after him) was right: It is the “least bad” system we have at our disposal and the one that is most likely to impose checks and balances on power and the few who wield it in our name. A good criticism of democracy is healthy. But to discard it out of hand while proposing an undefined “unthinkable” is an insult to our intelligence and invites social experiments that had better be left alone.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

‘Taipei Times’: ‘splittists’’ No. 1 source of information

Couldn’t help it … I edited and designed the front page. Picture taken today as the Dalai Lama was heading for Taipei on the high-speed rail.

The PRC threat grows, and more people are noticing

As I argued in an article in the Taipei Times on July 15, security experts who initially warmly welcomed rapprochement between Taiwan and China and claimed that the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was ushering in a new era of peace in the Taiwan Strait are slowly starting to realize that “peace” notwithstanding — and we’re still very far from reaching that stage — China continues to build up its military at an alarming pace, and one that does not reflect the emerging detente in the Taiwan Strait.

Academics like former AIT director Richard Bush III, whose pro-KMT views (and, conversely, bias against the DPP) are no secret, sighed in relief when Ma’s KMT defeated Frank Hsieh’s DPP in the 2008 elections and immediately put on blinders as they waxed enthusiastically about Ma’s China policies, while fears grew in Taiwan that Ma’s approach to cross-strait relations was coming at too high a price in terms of human rights and national security.

A few months ago, however, Bush and others began asking why, if relations across the Taiwan Strait were going so well, China was continuing to modernize its military and investing in weapons systems that, while not all specifically designed for a Taiwan contingency, had most assuredly dual-use capabilities and could be used in such a scenario.

Such weapons included the development of an antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) based on a variant of the DF-21/CSS-5 solid propellant medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), which has a range exceeding 1,500km, as well as second-generation nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (Type 094, or Jin-class).

Now even news agencies, which have traditionally been pro-KMT, are beginning to acknowledge the realities on the ground. In an analysis piece published on Tuesday, Reuters wrote that “[t]he balance of military power between China and Taiwan is shifting towards Beijing, leaving the island few options without US aid in the event of attack, a threat that has not eased despite warming ties.” Later in the article, Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow and Asian military expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, was quoted as saying that Beijing’s intention with economic integration and a military buildup is “to combine growing military leverage and a stronger military to maybe eventually just present Taiwan with some kind of fait accompli about accepting reunification.” Reuters also referred to a RAND Corp assessment of the growing threat of China’s short-range missiles to Taiwanese runways and its Air Force.

Furthermore, the announcement on Wednesday by Chinese state media that China will unveil a range of previously unknown missiles during its Oct. 1 National Day parade — including intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles — will surely add to the growing apprehensions surrounding China’s “peaceful” intentions. The new hardware on display, the Global Times newspaper said, will also include conventional cruise missiles and both short- and medium-range missiles, an unnamed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) source said. Missiles believed to have been developed — and deployed — by China include the Dongfeng 41, a solid-fuel ICBM with an estimated range of up to 12,000km, the report said.

“These missiles are domestically designed and manufactured and have never been officially reported before,” said the source, who reportedly works in the PLA’s strategic missile defense unit.

The fact that a PLA official would proudly state the fact that the missile program has never been officially reported is also revealing, as it comes amid growing pressure by the international community on Beijing to be more transparent about its military. In recent months, Beijing had seemed to play along and made more documents public, but this latest development highlights the fact that secrecy remains intrinsic to Beijing’s defense strategy.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on Tuesday that “Beijing is not conceding next-generation air superiority to anyone, least of all the United States,” with plans to develop “fifth-generation fighter plane equivalent to the US F-22 and F-35.” While the report rightly points out that China faces serious technical obstacles in developing advanced engines capable of 15-ton thrust levels to achieve “supersonic cruise,” it fourth-plus-generation fighters, like the J-10B, have already begun flight testing. Continued technical assistance from Russia, as well as growing domestic capabilities and industrial espionage, meanwhile, should make sure that whatever technical bottleneck China faces in developing those aircraft will be address in a matter of time.

China’s development of fourth-plus and fifth-generation aircraft will also render obsolete the fourth-generation aircraft used by Japan and the US in East Asia. It would also mean that even if Taiwan were able to obtain the more advanced F-16C/D aircraft is has long sought to purchase from the US, by the time they were delivered, they would already be insufficient to ensure air superiority in the Taiwan Strait. Analysts have often stated that the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan could prompt an arms race in the Taiwan Strait; with these news, it now appears that this prompt was not necessary.

Whether it is for area denial or a Taiwan contingency, China’s continued military buildup, combined with this latest show of secrecy on Beijing’s part, should serve as a wake-up call to the Ma administration that China, not Mother Nature, remains this nation’s No. 1 enemy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Yes, it’s democratic — but it’s sinister

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a five-day tour of areas devastated by Typhoon Morakot early last month, has run into small pockets of opposition, including Aborigines, Buddhist monks and pro-unification groups, among others. Overall, the demonstrations have been harmless, with shouts and placards basically echoing Beijing’s line on the leader — that he is a “splittist” and a representative of an “unorthodox” (whatever this means) version of Buddhism. Ever the deft orator, the Dalai Lama has said that the opposition to his visit is part of democracy and nothing to worry about.

This is true, except that this so-called democratic opposition displays all the signs that it is being orchestrated, if not paid for, by individuals who are anything but democratic in the positive sense of the word. Nothing highlights this more than Chang An-le (張安樂) — better known as the White Wolf — the supposedly “ex”-gang leader of the Bamboo United criminal organization, admitting publicly in a TV interview on Tuesday that he was behind one of the demonstrations, while spitting venom at the spiritual leader.

Known as the “brain” behind Bamboo United, Chang was born in China and was indicted for his indirect involvement in the 1984 murder of writer Henry Liu (劉宜良) in California. As Chin Ko-lin writes in his book Heijin, which dissects the criminal underworld in Taiwan, Chang spent about 10 years in a US federal prison for drug trafficking (Chin), kidnapping and attempting extortion (LA Times), before being deported to Taiwan in 1995. When Taiwan launched its third major crackdown on criminal organizations, known as Operation Chih-ping, in 1996, White Wolf was among the targets (over a major bid-rigging case) and fled to China, where he remains to this day.

When individuals like Chang are allowed to organize demonstrations against a man of peace like the Dalai Lama and mobilize members of the underworld to do so, those protests are not democracy — it’s intimidation. What’s even more worrying is that other “high-class Mainlanders” who favor unification with China, such as the racist (in fact the Chinese equivalent of a white supremacist) former official at the nation’s representative office in Toronto, Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), are receiving protection from those criminal organizations. For example, after he was recalled from Canada for publishing anti-Taiwan and inflammatory tracts under a pseudonym, Kuo was picked up at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport by a group of Bamboo United members (Chang said in a telephone interview that he had orchestrated the pick-up operation).

The nexus of pro-unification and crime is worrying, though nothing new. Still, the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s silence on the matter implies that it supports the involvement of such characters in the anti-Dalai Lama protests. Even worse, given the nature of their activities, such groups could actually threaten the security of the Dalai Lama (especially the younger members, who tend not to follow orders as strictly as their forebears did).

On Tuesday, the Presidential Office confirmed that despite the involvement of criminal groups in the demonstrations, special forces would not be deployed to ensure his safety.

As for Aborigines and Buddhists who protested against the Tibetan leader, there is no doubt that some are doing so on Beijing’s behalf, and probably with some of its money (e.g., China’s Taiwan Affairs Office donating US$2.9 million in “relief aid” to Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator and half-Aborigine May Chin 高金素梅 during her visit to Beijing in late August). As such, their “democratic” protests are actually being financed — and perhaps even initiated — by a regime that is altogether undemocratic. By allowing themselves to become mouthpieces for Beijing, these groups are forsaking their right to be perceived as part of the democratic voice.

The Dalai Lama’s visit is having a positive impact on Taiwan, not the least of which that it brings comfort to the victims of Morakot. It’s also contrasting, perhaps to an unprecedented level, those who stand for the well-being of this nation against those who have darker, ulterior motives. The protests, picked up by international media, have been small and inconsequential. But they’ve nevertheless allowed us to see that segment’s true colors: anti Dalai Lama, pro-Beijing, pro-unification and, in some cases, with ties to the criminal underworld — in all, beautiful social company.

Let’s hope that these revelations manage to completely discredit the handful of groups that have opposed the visit by a giant of humanity.