Friday, September 28, 2012

The limits of Chinese hard power

PLA soldiers sing anthems
China is rapidly acquiring the means to become a major regional power, if not a global one. But the world needn’t fear it just yet 

The commissioning on Tuesday of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to the People’s Liberation Army, marked an important milestone for the Chinese military, and even though it will be perhaps years before the PLA can deploy carrier battle groups, its entry into service underscores a new reality in Asia: China’s “hard power” is now a force to be reckoned with. 

While the modernization of the Chinese military, buttressed by a rising economy and double-digit growth in military spending for a good part of the past decade, has been an ongoing process since the late 1990s, the past 18 months have seen an unprecedented series of highly symbolic developments. Chief among them was the unveiling, in January 2011, of China’s first fifth-generation stealth aircraft, the J-20, with reporting of a second project, the J-31, also in the works. 


But China still has ways to go before it can represent a true challenge to regional forces, let alone the United States. 

My op-ed, published today in the Ottawa Citizen, continues here.

Fishermen give Ma a golden opportunity

Fishing boats gather at Suao prior to departure
A true test of the Ma administration’s commitment to a peaceful resolution will be the quick resumption of fisheries talks with Japan

There is a wonderful little Japanese restaurant near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei, where the sensuously soft and ever-so-fresh nigirizushi makes one’s toes curl up. Every morning, the chef, Abura-san, goes to the fish market in Suao (蘇澳), Yilan County, to buy the choicest catches. 

Little known to the outside world, the township became close to a household name this week after dozens of fishing boats sailed out from there to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) to protest the recent purchase of three of the islets by the Japanese government. There’s a reason why Abura-san travels the distance every day. In his opinion, it’s the best fish one can find and the fishermen there know where to go to catch it.

This oft-ignored connection between our palates and the hard work of fishermen who every day toil the sea to bring us its riches should make us pause at a time when governments engage in sloganeering and protesters call for war over the disputed islands. 

As former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), a rare voice of reason in the spiraling dispute, said earlier this month, what truly matters is the livelihood of the thousands of Taiwanese fishermen who over the years have laid their nets in waters around the islets, not who owns them. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) can say whatever he wants about sovereignty, for the majority of sailors who set off for the islands on Monday, practical issues — rights of access to fishing grounds — is what is at stake. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

ANALYSIS: Local politics and fishing rights, not China (or evil KMT plot) behind fishermen’s sea gambit

A Taiwanese fishing boat, Japan coast guard ships
The recent sortie by dozens of Taiwanese fishermen near the Diaoyutais highlights the complexities of the issue and the various players involved 

The dramatic standoff between dozens of Taiwanese fishing boats, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) vessels and Japanese patrol ships near the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) on Tuesday morning made global headlines and fueled speculation that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration may have orchestrated the incident to divert attention from domestic issues or to do Beijing’s work. However, observers said that things are not that simple. 

Following the announcement by Tokyo on Sept. 11 that it had nationalized three islets in the Diaoyutais — known as the Senkakus in Japan — Taipei and Beijing, which both claim the island chain, protested the move, which had generated violent demonstrations across China and a much smaller rally in Taipei on Sunday. 

On Sept. 20, the Suao Fishermen’s Association in Yilan County announced that several dozen Taiwanese fishing boats would set sail for the Diaoyutais on Monday to protest against what they called Japan’s “illegal occupation” of the island group and “harassment of fishermen” around the islands.

Although the Yilan County Government, headed by Commissioner Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), turned down a request for NT$5 million (US$170,000) in fuel subsidies for the fishermen, the sortie was eventually made possible by a donation of that amount by Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), who has often been portrayed as pro-China. 

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

China’s aircraft carrier ‘Liaoning’ is commissioned

PLA soldiers at the commissioning ceremony
After a false alarm earlier this week, it’s now official: China’s first aircraft carrier has been commissioned and delivered to the military

The ex-Varyag, which China purchased from Ukraine — minus the engines, navigation and weapons systems — in 1998, had underwent years of refurbishing work at Dalian Port in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, and sea trials began in August 2011. Earlier this month, China announced that the carrier would be christened Liaoning and was given hull No. 16. Regarded as a “strategic” weapon, the carrier will be under the direct command of the Central Military Commission (CMC) rather than the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and top generals were present at the ceremony, which occurs at a time of high tensions between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. The timing has little to do with the crisis, however, as the vessel’s entry into service had been scheduled to occur around this time several months ago.

It will be a while before the Liaoning can play a combat role, as it has yet to be fitted with naval aircraft on its deck, and Chinese naval aviators require further training before they can embark on carrier-based operations at sea. For the time being, the Liaoning is expected to  predominantly serve as a training platform while China develops its own carriers, which could enter service by 2020. The commissioning is nevertheless a significant event for China’s ambitions as a major sea power. Until today, China was the only permanent member of the UN National Security Council that did not have operational aircraft carrier capability. 

The Liaoning’s main defenses system consists of four Type 1030 close-in weapons system (CIWS) guns, four AK-630 30mm naval CIWS guns, and four HHQ-10 short-range surface-to-air missiles. Its deck can accommodate between 18 and 30 fixed-wing aircraft (J-11/15) and a number of helicopters (among them Ka-28s and Z-9s).

Type 071 hulls 998, 999 and 989
Although an aircraft carrier could play a role in a Taiwan, East China Sea or South China Sea contingency, a more immediate threat will come from the Type 071 Yuzhao-class amphibious transport docks (LPD). Two Type 071s are currently in service (998 Kunlunshan and 999 Jinggangshan), with a third, 989 (Changbaishan), to be commissioned soon.

Would Taiwan Fight?

Taiwanese special forces parade in front of Ma on 10/10
The assumption that Taiwanese would not fight if attacked by China is not supported by similar cases in military history 

It is often said that if China attacked Taiwan, the majority of Taiwanese would choose not to fight rather than defend their country from external aggression, the main argument being that the “mainlanders” in the Taiwanese military would be disinclined to turn their weapons on their “brothers.” 

Such assumptions about Taiwan’s will to fight deserve further scrutiny, as their validity have serious ramifications for U.S. security assistance to Taiwan and stability within the region. To assess whether those assumptions do indeed reflect Taiwanese proclivities, it is essential to examine the factors that fuel such a line of argument. 

The first and most often cited reason is that Taiwanese and Chinese are ultimately all Han Chinese, or, at a minimum, they share common ancestors. On the surface, Taiwanese and Chinese do look alike; most share a common language; they often prey to the same Gods; are both shaped by Confucian traditions; and Taiwanese ancestry often finds its roots in China. This leads directly to the second oft-given factor, that conflict in the Taiwan Strait is but the continuation of the Chinese civil war that pitted Communist and Nationalist forces before, during, and after World War II, and which led to the exodus of about 2 million Nationalists to Taiwan after their defeat in 1949. 

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

China to increase maritime surveillance through UAVs, holds landing drills, deploys J-10B, Su-30s

Chinese test various UAVs yesterday
China has embarked on a plan to increase the use of UAVs to monitor its coasts and areas under dispute, including the Spratlys and the Diaoyutais 

As Beijing locks horns with a number of countries over the islands and waters of the East and South China Sea, China has launched a program to greatly increase its remote-sensing capabilities through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), reports said yesterday. 

The State Council last year approved a 10-year “national marine zoning” program to establish integrated, three dimensional, high-precision monitoring of China’s maritime areas. As part of China’s 12th five-year plan, which runs through to 2015, the State Oceanic Administration has been ordered to increase its remote-sensing capabilities through the acquisition and deployment of UAVs, pilot training and the construction of support infrastructure, Xinhua news agency reported. 

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Organized religion and the attack on individuality

People pray at a temple in Taipei
Like politics, organized religion is a means of control, and like its cousin, it crushes the individual in its path

Not once during the three-hour funeral did the voice of the master of ceremonies depart from the meticulously calibrated tone, soothingly providing comfort to the grieving while announcing the delegations of people who had come to pay their respects. But every now and then he’d say something that hit us like a stun gun, not because he’d deviated from his droning — he never did — but because of what was said.

We’re in Taoyuan on Friday morning attending the funeral of a young Taiwanese woman who decided to end her life last month. Her father, who spent about five years in jail following the Kaohsiung Incident of 1979, a protest by pro-democracy activists, is a former legislator for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who now faces 10 years imprisonment on corruption charges.

The young woman, a beautiful and wonderfully talented artist who had gone to school in New York, also studied law so that she could help with her father’ defense, and turned to well-known international lawyers for assistance, to no avail. Much of her art reflected the deeply held political views of her family, which emphasize a Taiwanese identity separate from China. Some of her creations had been used, or were to be used, by the FAPA-YPG, a group of US-based young Taiwanese who support Taiwan’s right to determine its own future. The beautiful booklet, DVD and postcards handed to those who attended the service — much of it her own artistic work — also had an undeniably pro-Taiwan slant.

And yet, the mc repeatedly referred  to 我們中國人, or “us Chinese,” which stopped us in our tracks the first time we heard the mention. How could the man not have been aware of the political views of the grieving family and those of the woman whose life and death we had gathered to remember? How insensitive would the man have had to be to not realize that the father, a well-known DPP politician with a reputation for singing and wearing costumes, had served five years of his life behind bars because he and others had stood up to the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the White Terror of the martial law era? How could he not take her work, her life, into consideration, knowing fully well that in life she fought for, and took pride in, her Taiwanese identity, and would always refer to herself as 台灣人, or “Taiwanese”?

To me, the affront again confirmed that organized religion has little patience for individuality and limits itself to general platitudes. I’ve seen this occur time and again at weddings and funerals, regardless of the denomination or belief system. That’s why priests or monks will movingly talk of “loving husbands” when describing a deceased man who spent his entire married life inflicting physical and emotional pain on his wife and members of his family. I don’t think the mc meant any slight or sought to impose his political views on the family; in fact, I’m pretty sure he was simply following the script. Had we assembled to mourn a Martian, he’d likely still have referred to the little green man as a 中國人.

By focusing on the masses, organized religion (and the same could be said of another system of control, politics) fails to bring itself down to the level of those whom it claims to represent. How simple, though, it would have been for the temple to change the wording ever so slightly so that it actually meant something for the family and reflected their desires, wishes, and beliefs during that one last moment. There’s no reason why priests and monks and rabbis and other men and women of the cloth shouldn’t have to do their homework about the people on whose behalf they purportedly serve as celestial intermediaries. But then again, since when were religious figures servants of mankind? (This op-ed appeared in a slightly altered version in the Taipei Times on Sept. 25.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

China and Japan Turn the Screw over Island Dispute

Chinese protesters express their anger at Japan
The nature and tone of the anti-Japan protests that rocked China last week can provide clues on possible policy decisions by Beijing 

Once again Tokyo and Beijing played with fire over the disputed Diaoyu or Senkaku islets in the East China Sea, operating under the assumption that the consequent outbursts of nationalism can be contained indefinitely and will not degenerate to the extent that they would threaten the mutually beneficial bilateral ties. 

On several occasions in recent years, relations between the two countries degenerated on issues such as sovereignty over the islands or the controversial visits by Japanese prime ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine, sparking large, and sometimes violent, protests across China and engendering vitriolic editorials in Chinese media (“Sino-Japanese Relations: Citizens Taking Charge Despite Government Efforts,” China Brief, September 7). In every instance, however, tensions were diffused before the crisis could translate into clashes between the two Asian competitors.

The belief that nationalistic fervor — a useful instrument for politicians to rally various constituents around the flag in times of domestic discontent — always will be manageable and that precedent provides the assurance of similar outcomes in the future is a recipe for disaster. 

My article, published yesterday in the Jamestown Foundation China Brief, continues here. The full issue is available in .pdf format here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

When public figures should shut up

ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin, left, and Master Hsing Yun
Han chauvinism, a mix of racism and exceptionalism, is on the rise (again), even among some 'Mainlanders' in Taiwan 

Two prominent individuals are head-to-head this week in the contest for “bad person of the week” thanks to the tactlessness of their public remarks. Our first candidate, Wang Shaw-lan (王效蘭), publisher of the Chinese-language United Daily News, showed her true colors in comments on the sidelines of a book fair in Taipei last Friday when she called Taiwanese “detestable,” adding that she did not want to live in Taiwan anymore because its people “angered” her.

While the 71-year-old is entitled to her opinions and can express those in democratic Taiwan, her remarks are nevertheless insulting in the extreme, given that her fortune — her father founded the UDN in 1951 — would never have been possible had it not been for Taiwanese buying the newspaper. Without that fortune, Wang could not have acquired such symbols of prestige as the Lanvin fashion house in Paris or enjoyed the high-class clubs she normally frequents in Taipei.

Wang Shaw-lan
Equally, if not more, offensive is the fact that Wang and her kin would likely be dead today had Taiwan not become their refuge as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in which her father served as an army colonel, faced defeat to the communists in 1947. She was seven at the time. Had it not been for Taiwanese, Wang, assuming her life had been spared during the nightmare that followed the communist victory in 1949, could not have aspired to more than a life of want and misery in some reform camp overseen by the Chinese she so clearly admires. Nor, in the atmosphere that exists in China today, could she have gotten away with calling Chinese “detestable,” should she ever want to. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mk-82 bomb says Diaoyutais belong to Taiwan [UPDATED]

A 'Snake Eye' Mk-82 says it all: the islands are ours
Ensuring Taiwan’s claims are not ignored requires that Taipei make some noise. But it’s a dangerous balancing act, and flashing bombs isn’t going to help 

There was a time, not so long ago, when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would accuse Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of being a “troublemaker” and taking unnecessary risks as it sought to gain admission to the UN or to expand Taiwan’s international presence. Those accusations, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, were also echoed by the George W. Bush administration. 

Chen’s detractors, then and now, would tell us that his efforts (though legitimate under international law) “heightened tensions” in the Taiwan Strait and “angered” Beijing into building up its military. During his campaign for the presidency in 2008, and since then, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) portrayed himself as Chen’s opposite, promising to turn Taiwan into a “peacemaker” and the Taiwan Strait into a “boulevard of peace.”

This is all very moving, but there’s a problem: Ma’s wonderful rhetoric, aside from appeasing Beijing, has failed to translate into action. In fact, under his watch, Taiwan has appears to have embarked on a program to militarize its foreign policy. The first instance of this was the decision to reinforce the Coast Guard Administration on Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea, by providing its officers with AAA and mortar units with extended range, while ordering the armed forces to provide training. Taiwanese academics told me that such behavior was a means for Taiwan to make sure that other claimants — and by extension, the international community — did not ignore it. The same argument was made to justify Taiwan’s slightly more muscular stance on another island dispute, this time over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea, which in the past week has been the focus of media worldwide as tensions escalate between Beijing and Tokyo. 

In many ways I agreed with, and reported, those rationalizations, seeing them as an effective way to internationalize the matter by making sure Taiwan had a seat at the negotiations. As I argued in an editorial, doing so required a careful balancing act, as going too far risked undermining Taiwan’s image rather than gain it the attention it deserves. This strategy, furthermore, seemed to dovetail with Ma’s East China Sea Peace Initiative, which would ensure a role for Taiwan in any future attempt at conflict resolution. (Another component of those initiatives, it must be said, was the fact that Ma, his cabinet facing abysmal public approval in the wake of a corruption scandal involving his Executive Yuan secretary-general and a stalled economy, could use a diversion.) 

Now, I’m not sure whether this was someone’s idea of a joke or the result of a decision from above, but pictures emerged today, on the 81st anniversary or the Mukden Incident and as China was raked by anti-Japan protests over the Diaoyutais, of an F-16 aircraft at Hualien Air Force Base carrying a “Snake Eye” Mk-82 — a 500lb bomb with anti-ship applications — on which the characters 釣魚台是我們的 101.9.18 (the Diaoyutai Islands belong to us) had been inscribed.

Surely, as the world holds its breath hoping that China and Japan don’t come to blows over the islets, someone in the Air Force would have realized that such signaling on Taiwan’s part isn’t helpful. Surely this wasn’t what Ma meant when he promised to turn Taiwan into a “peacemaker.”

Update: Soon after media began reporting on this yesterday, Air Force Command was informed of the matter. The Ministry of National Defense said on Wednesday that while it was understandable that pilots would want to express their patriotism, and that pilots often inscribed markings on bombs, there were more appropriate ways to do so. The pilots will not be reprimanded, it said, adding that the Air Force pilots is charged with defending the nation and that the Diaoyutais are part of its sovereign territory. The F-16 in question was involved in a live-fire exercise at a range off Penghu on the 18th.

Taiwan’s squandered 12 years

A vendor trades her wares at Xingtian Temple
Tackling entrenched interest groups will not be easy and will have political costs domestically. But, this needs to be done 

For 12 long years, every administration that has occupied the Presidential Office has failed to do what was necessary to ensure the nation could keep pace with a rapidly changing world. The cost of such inaction is becoming increasingly salient and will become heavier still, with the risk that Taiwan will become obsolete not as a result of political isolation, but from an irreversible exodus of brainpower and capital. 

Former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which came to power on May 20, 2000, after 53 years of uninterrupted Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule, came in as a left-of-center party, proposing a more socialist alternative to the conservatism of the KMT. 

However, neither the unfavorable context that arose from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nor Chinese obstructionism or the party’s lack of ruling experience can fully account for the little that the Chen administration, over the two four-year terms it was given, had to show when it comes to modernizing Taiwan. And the KMT, which unseated the DPP in 2008 on promises it would “revitalize” Taiwan’s economy after eight “wasted years,” has not fared any better. 

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Images emerge of China’s second stealth fighter

A picture of what could be the J-21/31 aircraft 
The lack of transparency in the Chinese military has fueled speculation, but new images seem to confirm that the J-20 is no longer the only bird in town 

A Chinese aerospace manufacturer on the weekend released high-resolution images of what could be China’s second stealth fighter at a time of high tensions in the East China Sea over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islets. 

For months, Shenyang Aircraft Corp (SAC), one of China’s principal aerospace firms, has been rumored to be working on the prototype of a stealth aircraft known as the J-21 “Snowy Owl.” This first came to the attention of defense analysts after a video surfaced in late June showing an aircraft fuselage covered in camouflage tarp being transported on a highway from SAC to a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) test center at Xian-Yanliang Airbase in Shaanxi Province, Defense News reported at the time. 

Although experts had cautioned that the video and images could be part of a disinformation campaign, the crisp images of the dark-gray prototype serial “001,” posted on China Defense Blog on Saturday, appear to provide confirmation that rival Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corp, which unveiled its J-20 less than two years ago, was no longer the sole player in China’s efforts to develop stealth aircraft. 

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Avoiding the Unthinkable in the East China Sea

A Japanese coast guard ship shadows a CMS vessel
Things are getting from bad to worse in the Diaoyutai/Senkaku crisis, but the point where it can no longer be managed has not been reached

The catalyst for escalation in this longstanding dispute, which involves claims to sovereignty between China, Japan, and Taiwan, was the announcement by Tokyo on September 10 that it had signed a deal to nationalize three of the islets — Uotsurijima, Kita-Kojima and Minami-Kojima — by purchasing them from a private owner for 2.05 billion Yen ($26 million USD). According to reports, the Japanese government had drawn up multiple plans for its next move, and nationalization, the one ultimately selected by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, was regarded as the least likely to anger Beijing and Taipei — with the exception of Plan A, which was to do nothing. Far more provocative among the eight options considered was the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to the islands around the clock.

A P-3C observes CMS ship
No sooner had the announcement been made than protests erupted in various cities across China, and the following day Beijing ordered the cancellation of a scheduled visit by Japanese lawmakers, and linked the decision to the dispute. The Japanese consulate in Shanghai announced on September 14 that four Japanese citizens had been injured in attacks in China. In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Japanese representative Sumio Tarui and recalled its envoy to Tokyo, Shen Ssu-tsun. Around the same time, China announced it had dispatched two China Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships to conduct patrols “near the islets,” while the Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) raised its profile with public demonstrations of escort procedures. Tokyo then announced it would mobilize its coast guard when the CMS vessels reached the archipelago. On September 14, media reported that six Chinese surveillance ships had “briefly entered waters” near the Diaoyutais. By afternoon, all vessels had left following a warning by the Japanese coast guard. 

While Chinese media brought the rhetoric to fever-pitch levels, with the Beijing Evening News posting "a link to an article comparing weaponry for a potential with Japan, claiming that China should use the atomic bomb" and protesters holding placards calling on the government to “Declare war on Japan [to] settle new scores and old scores together,” apprehensions of war remain premature. This is not to say that the situation does not have the potential to escalate. 

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

China’s Achilles’ heel: Symbols

Taiwanese artist Chao Tsung-song in front of the mural
By consistently overreacting to art and other symbols, the Chinese may be telling us a lot about where their weaknesses lie 

There is something about art and symbols that really gets under the skin of Chinese Communist Party officials and makes them behave in ways that even they must know is against their self-interest. 

This is exemplified by the deplorable decision made during the London Olympics this summer to take down the Republic of China flag from Regent Street after Chinese representatives in the UK pressured British officials to do so. Chinese officials apparently could not bear the idea that a symbol of Taiwanese nationhood, disagreeable though it may be to some Taiwanese, could flutter alongside the flags of other nations. However, rather than strengthen China’s interests, the move damaged its image while bringing into full contrast the reasons why Taiwan is not — and cannot be — part of China. The controversy received substantial coverage in the media, especially after hundreds of young people bearing flags gathered on Regent Street for various photo ops. 

Over the years, Chinese officials, sports coaches and students have constantly lost their senses over art, images, films and other manifestations of freedom, ripping flags, boycotting festivals and sometimes resorting to physical violence. It is hard to tell whether this instinctive reaction to symbols stems from growing up in a society where propagandistic images played such a powerful role in cultivating nationalism, or from the realization that symbols can spark an emotional response in people.

The letter
The best example of this occurred earlier this month, when two officials from the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco attempted to intimidate David Lin (林銘新), a Taiwan-born American who erected a large mural depicting Chinese repression of Tibetans and Taiwanese, by writing letters to and then visiting the mayor of the town Lin lives in: Corvallis, Oregon. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ROC Navy eyes ‘war of the flea’ option

Kuang Hua VI fast-attact missle boasts at sea
Taiwan’s Navy aims at blocking an amphibious assault with smaller, faster craft. A look at future strategies for littoral defense  

The days when the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) could engage in a boat-for-boat competition with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are long gone. This reality — one with which Taipei appears to have reconciled itself — has forced military planners to reassess how Taiwan can best secure its littoral waters. 

My article in the September issue of Strategic Vision for Taiwan Security, published by NCCU’s Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University (NDU), can be accessed here. Don’t miss the other articles in this issue, which was produced in conjunction with the ROC 2012 International Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) Conference sponsored by NDU.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

China’s first aircraft carrier has hull number — and a name

China's first aircraft carrier on a sea trial
The ship won’t be named ‘Taiwan,’ ‘Diaoyutai,’ ‘Beijing,’ ‘Shi Lang’ or ‘Mao Zedong’ 

After months of speculation, the name of the Ukrainian-built ex-Varyag — China’s first aircraft carrier — has finally been made public. A Chinese expert and military insider told Chinese media on Monday that the retrofitted carrier, which now bears the marking hull No. 16, is to be named after the Chinese province where refurbishing work was carried out since 2002: Liaoning, where Dalian Port is located.

The decision follows Chinese navy regulations, whereby large ships are usually named after provinces, while frigates and destroyers adopt the names of large or medium cities.

So far, the carrier, which can accommodate between 18-30 fixed-wing aircraft (Su-33/J-15) and a crew of about 2,000, has completed 10 sea trials, and is expected to enter service later this year.

Cross-strait ‘detente’ is unilateral, critics say

The Ray Ting-2000 during a military parade in 2011
The nation has reduced spending on defense and is now acquiring non-combat platforms like excavators and rafts as the threat from China continues to grow 

Low spending on national defense as well as cuts in projected weapons acquisition, are signs that the armed forces are moving away from a combat-oriented to a relief-oriented military role and that detente in the Taiwan Strait is “unilateral,” critics of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration have said. 

During the presidential campaign in 2008, Ma vowed to bring spending on national defense to 3 percent of GDP, a pledge that he has not met in his four years in office. The proposed national defense budget for next year has been set at NT$314.15 billion (US$10.59 billion), lower than the NT$317.2 billion for this year. 

Beyond a failure to meet the target defense spending, appropriations for next year also indicate a shift away from combat readiness to operations other than war, predominantly relief operations, reflecting Ma’s 2009 announcement that natural catastrophes were now Taiwan’s “No. 1 enemy.” The Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Sunday that initial plans by the army to procure 57 domestically produced Ray Ting-2000 (“Thunder 2000”) multiple rocket launchers for a total of NT$14.45 billion had been slashed by one-quarter in next year’s budget. According to the report, the Ministry of National Defense ordered in July last year that production be dropped to 43 launch vehicles, which are to be divided into three battalions. The budget for the acquisition has reportedly been cut to NT$13.22 billion. 

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

U.S. Seeks New Rules for Foreign Arm Sales

A US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV in flight
US arms exports abroad were at record levels last year. The Pentagon hopes new regulations will allow for even more 

Facing defense budget cuts in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade and an increasingly complex world made all the more challenging by the emergence of China as a strategic competitor, the Pentagon is hoping to hit two birds with one stone by exporting more arms abroad — drones, in particular. 

Starting last year, the Barack Obama administration launched a wide-ranging program to establish, and in some instances loosen, guidelines on arms exports to foreign countries. Through those efforts, the government hopes to create a comprehensive policy that would unify the two lists of defense-related export items administered separately by the State Department and the Department of Commerce. Defense firms, which could reap huge benefits if exports policies were streamlined and restrictions loosened, patiently await the decisions by Congress and the State Department on the matter.

While the policy makes its way round government, agencies have adopted an interim measure by evaluating whether some of the categories from the Munitions List could be moved to the Commercial List. Although such a move wouldn’t mean that a defense article has become “decontrolled,” it would nevertheless make it easier for the U.S. government to export sensitive weapons systems to close allies.

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

China to launch eight new oceanographic satellites by 2020

The HY-2A is launched last year
Images and data provided by the satellites will help efforts by maritime agencies to secure China’s waters and EEZ — including disputed islets 

China intends to launch eight maritime surveillance satellites over the next eight years, a senior official from the National Satellite Ocean Application Service has announced, amid efforts by China to improve its surveillance capabilities in the contested waters of the East and South China Sea. 

Jiang Xingwei (蔣興偉), director of the service, said four of the satellites would be used to monitor sea coloration and two to keep track of sea currents which would bring China up to speed with other developed countries on oceanographic surveillance.

Of special interest to other countries involved in territorial disputes with China over islets and waters in the area, including Taiwan and Japan, the other two orbiters are to act as maritime radar satellites to reinforce China’s jurisdiction over those areas. 

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

Saturday, September 08, 2012

A manifesto for Taiwan’s youth

Young Taiwanese showed up ready to shoot
The challenge is formidable. It’s up to you to decide how, when and where to confront it 

It is difficult to imagine how one could not have been moved by the thousands of young people who gathered last Saturday, armed with determination, humor, wit and a cornucopia of effigies, placards, banners and costumes, to protest against what they fear is the eventual emergence of a “media monster” should the Want Want China Times Group be allowed to expand its empire. 

Although calculating turnout is never an exact science, it is fair to say that the crowd, made up almost entirely of young people, numbered in the thousands and was substantially larger than the organizers — journalist associations, student organizations and various civic groups — had expected. 

In the days prior to the protest, held to coincide with Reporters’ Day, young Taiwanese launched sustained efforts online to mobilize like-minded individuals and encourage them to turn up on Saturday. From videos teaching warm-up exercises and protest slogans to messages reminding people to avoid violence and not to litter, organizers of all stripes once again exhibited an uncanny ability to turn modern media to their advantage. In many ways, this was reminiscent of the Wild Strawberry Movement’s use of Webcasts in 2008 and 2009 to bring their protests against the Parade and Assembly Act (集會遊行法), which they deemed was “unconstitutional,” to the world.

Young people protest
There is no hiding the fact that today’s young Taiwanese have a rather regretful reputation for not involving themselves enough in politics. It is often said of them that they care more about video games, KTV or dating (or heaven forbid, their schoolwork) than the fate of their country and its democracy. Judging from the usual composition of the crowds that turn up at large protests, such criticism would appear to be justified. Accused thus, young Taiwanese will usually respond by stating their aversion to party politics, which they regard as a hodgepodge of cronies and cynics bickering not for the sake of the country, but rather for their own selfish interests. They will also point out that the majority of protests have been hijacked by the major political parties, turning perfectly legitimate expressions of dissatisfaction into mere electioneering opportunities. 

This is not to say that today’s youth is unmoved by what’s going on around them, or that they will not act when their interests — and the issues that matter to them — are threatened. Saturday’s protest, the largest turnout of young people, it must be said, in 22 years, was evidence that young people can and will act, but will do so only when they are confident enough that by participating they will not become the tools for politicians. One of the main reasons why the young turnout was so high last weekend was the organizers’ insistence that political parties not take over the protest or bring the usual party flags and paraphernalia, a request that was respected. (Former premier Yu Shi-kyun of the Democratic Progressive Party and Lin Huo-wang (林火旺), a former adviser to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), were present, but kept a low profile and showed that when it matters, the green-blue divide can be transcended. One wonders if only young people have what it takes to make politicians work together rather than tirelessly snipe at one another, to the detriment of this country.) 

Saturday, added to the hundreds of young Taiwanese who mobilized in London and on the Internet during the Olympics this summer to protest against the removal, following pressure from China, of the Nationalist flag, gives us reason for hope. After all, the future of this nation depends on its youth, and its future leaders will also emerge from this generation. The world they inhabit will be a consequence both of what the current leaders make of it and of youth’s ability to shape its development.

Fighting is hard work...
Now, some people, usually those who complain about the lack of political participation by young people, will argue that student protesters are somewhat “naïve” if they think they can bring about change without the legitimization that only political parties can provide, or adopt strategies that reflect those that have prevailed in past decades. Some have already argued that Saturday’s protest will likely not have any impact on the National Communications Commission’s (NCC) ruling on the Want Want bid for China Network Systems’ TV stations, to which we could shoot back: How more successful have the much larger, opposition party-led protests held in the past four years in dissuading the Ma administration from embarking on a set of policies that, in their view, endangers Taiwan’s sovereignty and way of life? 

Young people know which issues matter to them, and the reason why issues of social justice, rather than politics, are closer to their heart stems partly from the conscious decision by the previous generation — their parents’ generation — to avoid discussing politics, either out of fear following decades of White Terror, or because the subject is so painfully divisive.

That said, rather than confront politics head on, in most cases social justice, from the seizing of farmers’ land by the state to the destruction of residences by municipal authorities, or young people’s inability to find good jobs or to buy a house after graduation, is related to politics. Not only that, but it is becoming increasingly evident that social justice in Taiwan will be affected by the political decisions made by Taiwanese government officials, especially on the issue of Taiwan’s future and relations with China, which have direct ramifications for freedom of speech and treatment of minorities. At some point — and we may be on the verge of an awakening — young people will realize the immensity of the challenges that lie ahead, and that if they do not take action, decisions will be made in their name that risk compromising their future.

Young protesters gather
To the young Taiwanese who dedicated time and energy organizing the 9/1 protest and who spent hours on a beautiful day earnestly assuming their civic responsibilities rather than, say, play video games: Do not ever listen to those who would discourage you from acting again, or who show disdain for what you have accomplished. Usually, such criticism comes from a misunderstanding of what matters to you, or from individuals who fear they will become irrelevant if they pass the baton to the next generation. Your actions were a sign of maturity, not naivety, and the significance of what you accomplished has been noted by supporters and opponents alike. Moreover, success will be measured by much more than whether the NCC approves the deal or not, but by how you continue the fight.

One thing is certain: The battle for one’s rights, and ultimately for the future of this wonderful nation, is a long one, one that must be sustained and waged on many fronts. Armed with the knowledge of what is important to you and with tremendously empowering skills and tools at your disposal and by harnessing modern technology, you can have a long-lasting impact on those around you and those who will come after you. Decades ago, when freedom seemed but an elusive dream amid the darkness of authoritarianism, people with dreams and aspirations just as big and honorable as yours, people of a similar age, defied power and ultimately prevailed.

You are no less empowered, and arguably more so today. But the challenge is as formidable. It’s up to you to decide how, when and where to confront it. An edited version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times on Sept. 11.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Lessons for Taiwan from Quebec

Pauline Marois of the PQ celebrates in Montreal
Taiwanese can learn a lot from the PQ about what to avoid in their battle for nationhood, such as racism and xenophobia 

The Parti Quebecois’ (PQ) victory in Tuesday’s snap election in the predominantly French-speaking Canadian province will likely embolden some supporters of Taiwanese independence, as it usually does when the separatist movement takes power, to draw parallels in their struggle for nationhood. 

While it may be tempting to regard events in Canada as a source of inspiration, the Quebec experience is a bad template for Taiwan’s struggle against Chinese encroachment and therefore should not be used as an analogy. Above all, unlike Taiwan, Quebec is part of a federal system whose “colonial” power that the separatists have been struggling against is democratic, officially bilingual and does not threaten to use force or unleash paramilitary columns if they do not behave. Contrary to China, Ottawa does not brandish 1,600 ballistic missiles at the province’s 6.1 million people, nor does it have a so-called law that would legitimize the use of force against it should its people decide to secede, which they have tried to do twice through referendums. 

Still, politicians and pundits in Taiwan will sometimes argue the case for independence along “ethnic” and “linguistic” lines, and in that aspect, Taiwan can learn from the PQ’s experience, primarily to find out how not to behave. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

MND denies AT-4 anti-armor rocket deployed to Itu Aba (Taiping)

Legislators look at a 40mm AA gun
Both the MND and the CGA denied reports that the launcher was delivered to the island. But there is no doubt that Taiwan is boosting its capabilities there 

The Ministry of National Defense yesterday denied reports that the Taiwanese army had “secretly” provided Coast Guard Administration forces on Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) with AT-4 anti-armor rocket launchers to counter landing craft, a move that would have created further controversy with regional claimants. 

The news came as legislators and military officials were observing a live-fire exercise on Tuesday by the coast guard, which since 2000 has been in charge of protecting the island, located about 1,600km from Taiwan’s southernmost tip. Itu Aba is the largest island in the Spratly island chain (南沙群島). 

Citing military officials, the Chinese-language United Evening News reported that the AT-4 would help Taiwanese forces defend the island against landing-dock ships and vessels in nearby waters.

The AT-4
However, contacted yesterday, a spokesman at the ministry told the Taipei Times that the AT-4 “was not on the list of items shipped by the ministry to the island last month,” when the coast guard received delivery of an unspecified number of T63 120mm mortar systems and eight Bofors L/60 40mm anti-aircraft guns to replace older weapons. At the time, no announcement was made that the AT-4 would be part of the arms delivery. Coast guard spokesman Hsieh Ching-chin (謝慶欽) also said that coast guard personnel on the island had not been equipped with the AT-4. 

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

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Taiwan Navy plans to build six minehunting ships

A naval mine blasts near a ship at sea
If the program is approved, work on the six minehunters would begin in 2013 and conclude in 2025 

The Navy plans to spend NT$35.9 billion (US$1.2 billion) to procure six domestically built minehunting ships over a 12-year period to strengthen the nation’s ability to counter a blockade by China, the draft Ministry of National Defense budget for next year shows. 

The program’s budget has yet to obtain final legislative approval, said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who sits on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee. Lin said the addition of the minehunters would “significantly enhance” the Navy’s ability to counter a naval blockade, which experts regard as a possible strategy by China to exert pressure on Taipei short of declaring war, or as part of the opening rounds in a military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. 

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

China's Second Artillery Corps now aims 1,600 missiles at Taiwan

Soldiers from the Second Arty during an exercise
A military report to the LY indicates that China has boosted its arsenal to 1,600 missiles, with the new medium-range DF-16 among them 

The number of ballistic and cruise missiles aimed by China’s Second Artillery Corps at Taiwan has grown from 1,400 last year to more than 1,600 this year, which poses a serious threat to the nation, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said in its China Military Power Report 2012 (中共軍力報告).

This year’s annual report, which has been delivered to the legislature, emphasizes China’s growing missile threat. It said the People’s Liberation Army had deployed a small number of advanced Dong Feng-16 (DF-16) missiles to complement the arsenal of DF-11 and DF-15 short-range missiles that has threatened Taiwan over the years. 

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

Taiwan Hedges its Bets on China

The Second Arty fires missiles
After four years of tempered language and optimistic signalling, Taipei appears to be hardening its stance on the military threat from China. Here are possible reasons  

By a number of yardsticks, relations in the Taiwan Strait today are the best they’ve been in years, if not ever. But if a report released by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Friday is any indication, Taiwanese government officials don’t appear to be convinced that such détente will last for very long.

Without doubt, the pace of normalization in relations between Taiwan and China, especially at the economic level, has accelerated dramatically since Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was elected in 2008, a process that is expected to continue with Ma securing a second four-year term in January. In addition to the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in June 2010, the governments on both sides have inked 16 agreements touching on various aspects of cross-strait relations, including an agreement reached on Friday that will allow banks in Taiwan to clear renminbi transactions, a move that obviates the need for converting the currency into U.S. dollars before a transaction can be made.

Beyond trade, visits to Taiwan by Chinese officials have become almost routine, a limited number of Chinese can now study at Taiwan’s universities, Chinese tourism to the island has boomed, and joint exercises by the countries’ respective coast guards are now held every other year since 2010, mostly for the purpose of sea-rescue operations in the waters off Taiwan’s Kinmen and China’s Xiamen. While those developments have for the most part contributed to a less tense, if not amicable, environment in what was once regarded as a potential tinderbox, Taiwanese officials are aware that Beijing remains committed to far more than economic liberalization: it wants unification, and will use force if necessary.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here, with related material here in the Taipei Times.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Young Taiwanese tell Tsai Eng-meng what they think [UPDATED]

Young protesters mobilize in Taipei
Young Taiwanese can’t be mobilized? Think again. Give them a cause that animates them, and they’ll show up with wit, energy and creativity 

It’s often been said that young Taiwanese are not political enough, naïve, or simply don’t care about politics or the future of their country. Whenever I hear this being said of younger generations, my answer is to tell the (usually older) critics that it isn’t so much that young Taiwanese cannot be mobilized, but that the issues that awaken the fire in their bellies tend to be different, focusing more on matters of social justice than abstract concepts about, say, unification versus independence.

Who's the monster?
Anyone who doubts this surely hasn’t followed the news about the various student organizations across Taiwan that came out in opposition to the bid by the pro-China Want Want China Times Group to acquire the cable TV services operated by China Network System (CNS), especially after an employee at the media giant threatened to sue a student from National Tsing Hua university for posting pictures of a China Times Weekly deputy editor-in-chief on his Facebook, or when the group used its media outlets to launch attacks against an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica, accusing him of paying students to attend protests against the media merger. 

Earlier this year the chairman of the group and Taiwan’s richest man, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), denied during an interview with my friend Andrew Higgins of the Washington Post that the events of June 4, 1989, constituted a massacre, a convenient denial for someone who has made his fortune in China. As his empire grows, Tsai has awakened fears in Taiwan that if the CNS deal went through, his group would become a “media monster” with too much control over information and distribution. The National Communications Commission (NCC), Taiwan’s media regulator, needed 18 months to look into the controversial acquisition, and finally have conditional approval last month, which Tsai, contemptuous as ever, said he was not required to follow.

Very few elderly there
It’s difficult to say whether it’s fears of a pro-China media empire, the attack on a student or against an academic, but what is certain is that young Taiwanese have come out in force, mobilizing on the Internet, launching boycotts of Want Want products and, today, Sept. 1, participating in a large rally co-organized by student groups, journalist associations, civic groups and NGOs, that started from the group’s headquarter building and ended up in front of the NCC. (Tsai couldn’t help display his arrogance, with large banners gracing the wall of his building heckling its media competitor, the Apple Daily — “Who’s scarier, who’s bigger” — while responding to the young people’s protest slogan “You are very big, we’re not scared.”)

Tsai heckling protesters
Although organizers said they expected about 2,000 people to turn out, at least twice that many, if not more, showed up, armed with purpose, humor, and creative banners, effigies and placards (“Today’s my birthday, all I want is an apology,” or, from a group representing the rights of homosexuals, “I don’t want big media, I want a big dick”). Dogs, parrots, a very large number of people in their 20s from various student associations and older supporters meandered their way for about 4.5km under the direction of student organizers who did an impeccable job ensuring everything remained civil (how many protests include instructions on the Internet that include tips on what to bring, how to hold warm-up exercises, while reminding people not to litter, as it is their city and they want to keep it clean?). Another admirable — and revealing — aspect of the protest was the organizers’ insistence that political parties should not involve themselves, lest their presence turn into a publicity event for the green camp while detracting from the purpose of the rally.

Whether the exercise will have any impact on the group or the NCC remains to be seen, but what is known is that young Taiwanese do care about issues and will act if powerful individuals or government are perceived to be compromising their interests and future. Today’s protest was very moving, renewed my hope for Taiwan’s future and confirmed beyond doubt that the nation’s future leaders were somewhere in that crowd.  

Some additional thoughts: There are some people out there (usually people from older generations) who will say that efforts like yesterday were “naïve” and ultimately “fruitless.” Some of those people are purportedly friends of Taiwan and presume to speak on behalf of its people in newspaper editorials or at various gatherings. Do not ever let such cynics destroy your sense of purpose or make you doubt whether it’s worth your time and effort. Today’s youth are like that of three decades ago, who fought the first battle to pry this nation from the cold iron claws of authoritarian rule. New, equally daunting challenges lie ahead, and whether Taiwan safely navigates the stormy seas will depend on you, your conviction, and the expression of your leadership. What you did on Saturday was as commendable as it was beautiful. More of that will be required of you.