Friday, January 30, 2015

Taiwan: Between the Pivot and a Hard Place

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Two Ways of Looking at a Spy

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Does Taiwan Need a Ko Revolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

















中譯 : William Tsai
Original article:

Debunking the Myth of Inevitability in the Taiwan Strait

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

China’s New Flight Routes Rile Taipei

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Setting the Agenda for 2015

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Former Taiwanese President Chen Released on Medical Bail

Chen Shui-bian’s temporary release could further complicate Taiwanese politics in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election 

Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, the outspoken politician who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for embezzlement and money laundering, was temporarily released on medical bail on January 5 in a move that is sure to complicate the island-nation’s already laden political scene. 

Chen, who led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to victory in the 2000 elections and ended more than a century of uninterrupted rule by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), stepped down in 2008 after serving two complete terms. Soon after the election of Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT that year, the authorities targeted Chen for investigation on various charges relating to misuse of funds and corruption. 

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

Monday, January 05, 2015

Calm Down, Taiwan Does Not Seek War with Vietnam

By parroting the remarks of legislators who don’t know what they are talking about, journalists are contributing to Taiwan’s problems 

The following is a classic example of what can go wrong when legislators who know little about military affairs and are ignorant of geopolitics decide to play Henry Kissinger and are taken seriously by journalists who fail to think critically. 

In late December 2014, reports came out that Vietnam, like Taiwan one of the claimants in the South China Sea territorial dispute, was bolstering its military presence on Son Ca Island, which lies a mere 11km from Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island (Itu Aba). The initial news reports on the matter cited Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) and Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who were using information contained in a Ministry of National Defense (MND) report to the Control Yuan.  

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

Thursday, January 01, 2015

‘Press Areas’ Threaten to Undermine Work of Journalists

New administrative measures unveiled by police on Jan. 1 could make it very difficult for the press to document police misdemeanor during protests 

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) may have waxed about the need for reconciliation and cooperation during his New Year address, but judging from an announcement the day before, it seems that one of his administration’s resolutions for 2015 is to make it more difficult for journalists in Taiwan to do their work. 

As Taiwanese were preparing to usher in the new year, police on Dec. 31 announced that under new regulations which had been in the making for some time, journalists covering protests will now be required to stay within designated “press areas” (採訪區). According to an exercise held by the Zhongzheng First Precinct on Ketagalan Blvd in Taipei this morning, which journalist Sun Chiong-li (孫窮理) of coolloud attended and whose account is used for this article, the press areas will be delineated using red police tape. “Media liaison” officers wearing pink vests will serve as contact points for journalists seeking to conduct interviews. 

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