Friday, July 31, 2015

After Young Taiwan Activist’s Suicide, Hundreds Storm Education Ministry

The crisis over controversial changes to school curricula in Taiwan intensified after the suicide of one of the activists 

Hundreds of Taiwanese activists stormed the Ministry of Education building in Taipei after midnight on July 31 as anger mounted over the ministry’s efforts to implement controversial changes to high school curriculum guidelines and the death by suicide of one of the young activists the previous day. 

The occupation—one of several direct actions in the past two years—occurs after months of snowballing protests over efforts by the government to make “minor” changes to curriculum guidelines. Critics say the process lacked transparency and that the new Sino-centric content imposed by the guidelines distorts history and whitewashes the authoritarian period in the nation’s history. The dissidents also maintain that members of the 10-person committee in charge of the “minor” adjustments, set up by then-minister of education Chiang Wei-ling in January 2014, are not suited to handle the matter. Chief among them is convener Wang Hsiao-po, a vice chairman of the Alliance for the Reunification of China. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here (photo by Hsiengo Huang).

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Better Get Used to it, China: Taiwan and Japan Will Get Closer

A changing geopolitical context and domestic sentiments mean that Tokyo and Taipei are likely to draw closer together 

Despite applying considerable pressure on Tokyo in recent weeks, Beijing was unable to prevent the Japanese government from rolling out the red carpet for former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui last week. During a visit to Japan, Lee addressed a packed Diet and had a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Besides showcasing the longstanding warm relationship between Japan and Taiwan, the Abe government’s decision to stand up to Chinese pressure presages a likely deepening of ties between Tokyo and Taipei, the result of both growing fears of China’s assertiveness as well as political change in Taiwan. 

In a strong protest on July 24 after Lee, 92, was allowed in Japan, a spokesman at China’s Foreign Ministry expressed Beijing’s “grave concern” over the visit by the former leader, whom he described as “a stubborn Taiwan splittist.” 

On the same day, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Beijing “strongly oppose[s] any country providing a stage for ‘Taiwan independence’ activities, and take strong umbrage at Japan allowing Lee to visit.” 

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

Taiwan-China Relations: Continuity or Renewed Tensions?

What will cross-strait relations look like after the Jan. 16, 2016, elections in Taiwan? More of the same? Renewed tensions?

With the high likelihood that Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will regain the presidency in the January 2016 elections, many analysts have predicted a return of tensions in the Taiwan Strait after eight years of relative stability under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration of President Ma Ying-jeou. 

Whether a DPP victory in those elections would indeed mark a return to hostilities will be largely contingent on how Beijing reacts to this likely development. 

From the outset it's important that we clarify what the DPP under its Chairperson and presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, is not. Unlike her predecessor Chen Shui-bian, who served two terms from 2000-2008, Tsai has taken a more subdued approach to cross-strait relations. She has chosen instead to focus on domestic matters and to consolidate the nation. When pressed to explain her cross-strait policies, Tsai has adopted a more centrist position than her predecessor by vowing to maintain the 'status quo' under the current constitutional framework of the Republic of China (ROC) and to seek continuity in the relationship with Beijing. 

Part 1 of my article, published today in the Lowy Interpreter at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, continues here. Part 2 is available here (photo: Tsai Ing-wen Facebook page).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taiwan and the Diaoyutai Spat: Is All that Noise Really Necessary?

The government tends to make a big deal over the Diaoyutais, but it’s a poor subject to garner popular support. Here’s why 

If a few years ago you had asked people outside the region whether they had ever heard about the Diaoyutai islets, or the Senkakus as they are known in Japan, the likely answer would be that they had not. That this is no longer the case is in large part due to China’s territorial assertiveness — which has recently become militarized — and Japan’s equally hard-noised response to what it regards as dangerous expansionism. The world started paying attention to those rocks in the middle of the East China Sea because it was feared that the dispute could lead to a military confrontation between the two Asia competitors and perhaps even draw in the U.S., Japan’s security partner. Both sides had “historical rights” and various maps and documents to support their claims, but in the end that didn’t matter, as facts rarely matter when nationalism is involved. 

The third claimant — Taiwan — doesn’t get mentioned as often in international media and at academic conferences on the subject, in large part because its stance on the issue has been much less bellicose. It briefly made the news when a flotilla of fishing and coast guard vessels were “fired upon” by the Japanese Coast Guard using water cannons, when overzealous military personnel asserted Taiwan’s claims by jotting a few Chinese characters on a Mk-82 500lb bomb carried by a F-16 aircraft, or when President Ma Ying-jeou proposed his “East China Sea Peace Initiative,” but for the most part Taiwan’s role in the dispute has received little world attention. It, too, has provided various legal documents or referenced historical fishing rights to make its case, but without the bluster, its voice was often ignored. 

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Taiwan Needs a Counter-Propaganda Strategy

The Taiwanese need their own United Front to counter Beijing’s propaganda. But before they can do so, they need to better understand each other 

Anyone who has spent enough time in Taiwan should be aware of the fundamental difference that exists between the Chinese and Taiwanese society. Young Taiwanese — those who were born in the late 1980s onwards — have no other experience of citizenship than that of living in a democracy. Granted, their identity can be shaped by the experiences of their parents and grandparents who lived under Martial Law and the Cold War, but first and foremost, theirs is the life of citizens of a liberal-democracy. 

For young Chinese from the same generation, the experience is markedly different. They grew up in an authoritarian system that fosters amnesia. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn’t want them to know the past — or to put it better, it wants them to know a version of the past that lionizes the CCP and one in which discussing party mistakes is risky business. For most young Chinese, a strong party-state that ensures stability, economic growth, and which fuels their nationalistic pride, is sufficient. Democratic ideals are unnecessary — and sometimes dangerous — intrusions by a West that wants to keep China “weak.” 

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Taiwanese Students Occupy Education Ministry Over Textbook Controversy

Taiwanese students are up in arms regarding recent changes to the country’s history textbooks...and they escalated on Thursday 

Dozens of Taiwanese students briefly occupied the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Taipei last night to protest a series of “minor” adjustments (課綱微調) to school textbooks which activists and academics claim are Sino-centric and whitewash the authoritarian period in Taiwan’s history. 

Scaling ladders, the activists slipped by police and stormed the ministry building late on Thursday evening. According to the police, 18 activists subsequently barricaded themselves inside Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa’s office, using furniture to block the door. By about 1 a.m., police had succeeded in expelling the students, some of whom had their hands tied behind their backs with plastic restraints. 

In total, 33 persons were arrested, including 24 students—11 of them under the age of 18. Three journalists were also arrested and taken away. Law enforcement said they detained the media personnel to ensure they were not participating in the protest. Reporters at the site complained they were prevented from doing their work. Footage provided by one of the journalists who was taken away (he was released in the afternoon on NT$10,000 bail) shows police using strobe lights to prevent him from taking photographs, while other officers are pulling at him and are heard saying, “No one asked you to come to cover the story.” 

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chinese PLA Simulates ‘Attack’ on Taiwan’s Presidential Office

Why did CCTV show footage of PLA soldiers storming a computer-generated facsimile of Taiwan’s seat of government? 

His back to us, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier is seen running towards a building that bears a striking resemblance to the Japanese-built Presidential Office in Taipei. Following a collage of tanks and artillery firing rounds of ammunition, the scene switches back to infantry, which is seen approaching and eventually entering what is, presumably, the same building. 

According to reports in Chinese media, those scenes, featured in a three-minute video clip aired on state-run CCTV on July 5, come from Series C of this year’s live-fire Stride 2015 Zhurihe (跨越-2015·朱日和C) military exercises, which commenced at the Zhurihe Training Base in Inner Mongolia last month. 

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Authoritarians' Credibility Gap

Whatever the CCP tells us about public support for its policies should be treated with skepticism 

As the Chinese government’s clampdown on human rights lawyers and activists in China intensifies, with 233 of them taken into custody since July 10, the international indignation has been countered by apologists of the regime in Beijing who are quite ready to speak on behalf of the 1.3 billion Chinese. 

Their response usually consists of a variation on the following theme: “Article X on the intensifying repression across China is ‘interesting,’ but the topic is meaningless to most Chinese people because President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption, and his effort to expand China’s international influence, have won a wide support, especially among the grassroots.” 

Besides turning criticism of Beijing’s mechanism of repression into a mere object of curiosity (“interesting”), this stance presumes to “know” what ordinary Chinese think of the matter. It is surely not by accident that their views tend to align perfectly with whatever campaign the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has embarked upon. According to this version of the “truth,” the 1.3 billion Chinese are perfectly fine with their freedom of expression being further curtailed, their access to the Internet increasingly limited, bloggers being silenced, magazines being censored or shut down, instant messaging (e.g., WeChat) coming under greater scrutiny, and lawyers and activists being arrested, disappeared, and possibly subjected to harsh interrogation—as long as Xi fights corruption and expands China’s presence internationally. 

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Is Xi Jinping Losing Control of China...and the 'Peripheries'?

Rarely is authoritarianism a signal of strength; instead, it stems from fear, paranoia, and panic 

For a country that has accumulated great power and stupendous wealth in recent years, and whose “meritocratic” political system is supposedly leaving democracies in the dust, China’s behavior has been rather odd of late, its regime acting more like a fearful government than an in-group that has the situation well under control. Highly paranoiac and increasingly retributive, President Xi Jinping’s Beijing doesn’t inspire confidence—not among the Chinese people, and not among those who live on China’s “peripheries,” who have taken note of the erosion of liberties that has accompanied this slow descent. 

Given its accomplishments over the years, from a booming economy that has lifted millions of people out of poverty to Beijing’s emergence as an indispensable player in global affairs, we’d have assumed that China would have become more self-confident and therefore more willing to accommodate different voices within its society. After all, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has performed rather well on most of the issues that presumably contribute to the legitimization of the party in the eyes of the Chinese people: economy, prestige, and respect. 

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

As Hung Secures Grip on Presidential Bid, KMT Sacks Members

In one fell swoop, the KMT has rid itself of five vocal critics of the direction the party has taken in recent weeks 

We won’t know until the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) congress this coming Sunday whether Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the prospective presidential candidate who has scared the bejeezus out of most of us—and out of many a KMT member—with her out-of-touch views on China, but already the party is taking measures to quiet the internal grumbling. 

Following President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Orwellian take on Hung’s “one China, common interpretation,” the party announced today that it had sacked five of its members for being too critical of the KMT. Thus, rather than accept that Hung’s views are out of sync with the wishes of the majority of Taiwanese and will likely cost it both the presidency and its majority in the Legislative Yuan, the KMT is choosing to clamp down on internal dissent. 

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Ministry of Truth with KMT Characteristics

Hung Hsiu-chu’s views are a problem for the KMT. If she is to continue as the presidential candidate past July 19, party members will have to engage in Newspeak 

Much has been said in recent weeks about prospective Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) “one China, common interpretation” remarks, which have been widely regarded as her recognition of Beijing’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan. Hung’s departure from the KMT’s “one China, different interpretation” baseline was not well received within her party, prompting a number of its members to jump ship and to join the People First Party, with several others threatening to follow suit unless Hung is either cast aide or forced to articulate more acceptable (and current) views on Taiwan’s relationship with China. 

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the high priest of the “one China, different interpretation” concept, was himself said to have been “deeply angered” by Hung’s unilateral dismantling of the KMT’s ambiguous — and thus far arguably useful — formulation. And rightly so, as Hung could put at risk the balancing act that President Ma has performed over the past seven years and torpedo the KMT’s chances in the presidential and legislative elections in January next year. 

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

Thursday, July 02, 2015









昨晚上演的正是這種場面。獲得「最佳客語專輯」項目提名的歌手黃瑋傑等人,揮舞著大幅的「今天拆大埔,明天拆政府」旗幟走上星光大道,那是2013年台灣公民挺身反抗政府在苗栗竹南大埔里對人民強拆迫遷的記號,但新加坡的觀眾只能看到一個黑色畫面,上面寫著幾行字:「這一部份的節目內容,因尺度考量,不宜播出,不便之處,敬請原諒。」不過當然了,新加坡政府對於他們把16歲少年余澎杉(Amos Yee)抓起來關進精神病院,只因為他膽敢批評已故的前總理、也是極力宣揚所謂「亞洲價值」與民主互不相容的大祭司李光耀(Lee Kuan Yew)所帶給少年的不便和困擾絕無懊悔之意,更不須請求諒解。


另外一件事倒沒那麼惡毒,卻也同樣令人困擾:儘管經由台灣電視公司(TTV)的官方轉播收看這次頒獎典禮的觀眾,都能不受阻礙、不被過濾地看完全場直播,台灣其他電視台稍後的大多數新聞報導,卻都不提滅火器贏得年度最佳歌曲這件事。每一家電視台全都大篇幅報導蔡依林、張惠妹,還有香港的陳奕迅(Eason Chan)抱走了多少獎項。國家官方的中央通訊社英文網站「焦點台灣」(Focus Taiwan),在頒獎典禮當晚發出了10篇報導,卻沒有任何一篇的標題寫到滅火器贏得「年度最佳歌曲」,只有在「蔡依林『呸』大贏家」這篇報導內文的得奬者完整名單裡提到過(註2)。(值得肯定的是,「焦點台灣」確實有一篇報導談到香港歌手莫文蔚(Karen Mok)對美國聯邦最高法院裁定同性婚姻合法化表達支持(註3)。)



中譯:William Tsai
Original article: