Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book Review: The thin red line in the Taiwan Strait

If the world is to see its first hot war between two nuclear superpowers in the 21st century, its principal cause will likely be a small democracy of 23 million people. Or so argue Richard Bush and Michael O’Hanlon in their timely A War Like No Other: The Truth About China's Challenge to America. Bush, a former director at the American Institute in Taiwan and current director of the Center for Northeast Asian Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and O’Hanlon, a senior military analyst at Brookings, use their considerable knowledge in the fields of diplomacy and defense to show how the longstanding political dispute between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwan’s sovereignty could escalate to devastating effect and why world leaders should do everything in their power to avoid this contingency from becoming reality.

In commandingly clear prose and avoiding overly technical terminology, the authors explain why the decades-old US policy of mutual deterrence against Beijing’s hard-line “one China” stance and Taipei’s desire for sovereignty has worked and why future US administrations should continue to abide by this guiding principle. By opposing unilateral moves by Taipei to break the status quo — such as the declaration of a Taiwan Republic — while providing assurances, as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), that the US would help Taiwan defend itself against an unprovoked Chinese military attack, Washington’s strategy has been to create space and buy time so that leaders on both sides of the Strait can resolve the conflict peacefully.

Published one year before the election of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to the presidency and the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) victory in the legislative elections, one can nevertheless imagine the author’s sigh of relief at Ma’s election and his peace initiative, which would seem to confirm the wisdom of Washington’s longstanding policies on the Taiwan Strait. In this vein, the authors also make no effort to conceal their assessment of the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as having been “provocative,” “unreasonable” and taking unnecessary risks. Still, Bush and O’Hanlon helpfully point out that Beijing, having no substantial experience of democracy, is bound to misinterpret political developments in Taiwan, which could precipitate conflict. As such, one conflict-preventing measure the authors propose is for Washington to ensure that Beijing is able to “distinguish actions that the island’s politicians take for political gain and those that reflect policy intentions” as well as to impress upon the Chinese that Taiwanese are not necessarily opposed to all forms of unification.

Another important point the authors make is that the leadership in Taipei tends to assume rationality in Beijing regarding the Taiwan question, which could prompt the former to act “recklessly” — codeword for a move toward independence. Either as the result of misinterpreted signals or actual “provocation” by Taipei, China could feel compelled to abandon diplomacy and apply military pressure on Taiwan. Such action would involve a variety of scenarios, from a naval blockade to limited missile strikes to amphibious invasion, used separately, incrementally, or in combination.

Despite the authors’ assertion that war in the Taiwan Strait remains unlikely given what the participants stand to lose in terms of economic loss and casualties, there is a small chance that the Chinese leadership could think that war against Taiwan — or even against the US — is winnable, which could make conflict likelier.

Regarding Taiwan’s or the US’ ability to counter a Chinese attack, Bush and O’Hanlon are optimists, concluding that with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lacking three critical determinants for a successful amphibious assault — air superiority, initial troop/firepower superiority at point of attack, and reinforcement advantage at point of attack — added to hardened targets throughout Taiwan, an invasion would be prohibitively costly, if not impossible. Other analysts, including William S. Murray, an associate professor at the US Naval War College, are less optimistic and counter that the optimistic view, including the one O’Hanlon has held for years, fails to take into account the leaps made by the PLA in terms of modernization and accuracy.

Regardless of whether one sides with O’Hanlon or Murray on this issue — and admittedly Bush and O’Hanlon’s position appears to be slightly overoptimistic — the likeliest scenario of a Chinese attack remains the blockade, which Taiwan’s growing economic dependence on China has turned into a tempting, and possibly quite effective, weapon. As the TRA refers to such a contingency as a “threat to peace and security of the Western Pacific and of grave concern to the United States,” an economic embargo against Taiwan would likely prompt a response from the US military, which could be required to ensure safe passage for Taiwanese and international ships entering the Taiwan Strait.

Once the PLA and the US military are brought within proximity to each other, with a third party — Taiwan — beyond the control of both but capable of inflaming the situation, the likelihood of escalation becomes dangerously real, the authors argue. Errors could be committed that, unlike the peacetime mid-air collision between an EP-3 naval reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter in 2001, could easily spin out of control in a war scenario. With Beijing perhaps working under the assumption that Washington would be unprepared to suffer mass casualties to defend Taiwan (the so-called “imbalance of fervor”), the PLA could target a few US Navy ships, or an aircraft carrier and hope that a few thousand US casualties would be enough to deter further US action. Bush and O’Hanlon, however, argue that rather than break Washington’s will, such a “limited” option would spark retaliation and widen the war to China’s shores — including preventive conventional military strikes against Chinese nuclear installations. In return, fearing that its nuclear arsenal would be obliterated before it could use it, China could feel impelled to turn to the nuclear option.

With such imponderables, Bush and O’Hanlon contend, if perhaps alarmingly, that war in the Taiwan Strait could “create the most serious nuclear risk since the Cuban Missile Crisis.” It is, therefore, in everybody’s advantage to prevent the cold war in the Strait from turning into a hot one, and to this end, leaders in Taipei, Beijing and Washington would benefit tremendously from heeding the warnings and prescriptions provided by the authors in this highly relevant book, and, for those in Taiwan, to overlook the authors’ creeping bias against the Taiwanese independence movement.

Link to article (.pdf format)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advice in a vacuum

Every time the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT) gives advice to Taiwan on how it should run its economy, I get a strong impulse to visit their office and tell them to pack up and go home. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an economist, but I know enough to distinguish between measures that would benefit Taiwan and those that would be detrimental to its survival.

The main problem with the ECCT is that aside from its neocolonial “Europe knows best” approach to Asia, its recommendations are usually made in a vacuum, as if Taiwan did not face an existential challenge political in nature. As such, the ECCT’s “solutions” are always to “prioritize cross-strait trade normalization” or some variation on that theme. Never, in its wisdom, does the ECCT take into account the long-term impact of further coupling Taiwan’s economy to the “greater China” area, which not only makes Taiwan increasingly dependent on its gigantic neighbor for its economic survival, but also makes it much more exposed to economic embargo, blockade and blackmail should Beijing decide one day to rely on such measures to force Taipei’s hand on political matters, such as unification.

It is quite obvious that the ECCT cares not one iota about Taiwanese, their independence, or the survival of their country as a political entity separate from China. It completely fails to understand, or refuses to see, that the “red tape” it complains about is a means by which Taiwan has managed, sometimes by a thread, to retain its independence and identity.

Until the ECCT sees Taiwan as more that a means to an end, as a market for European products or a mere “springboard” to China, it should keep its self-serving, if not condescending, recommendations to itself.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A strong dose of fear

Despite high expectations by the world, and Americans alike, that the election on Nov. 4 of Barack Obama would bring about a sea change in US policies — and by default an end to the disastrous past eight years of the George W. Bush administration — there are strong signs that continuity, rather than a fresh start, is what’s in store when the new administration comes into office in January. In fact, one need only look back at the transition from the Ike Eisenhower administration to that of John F. Kennedy in 1961 for another period of high hopes that were later deflated by more of the same (three words: Bay of Pigs). Back then, the enemy was communism; today, it is terrorism and nuclear proliferation, threats joined at the hip during the Bush presidency.

Just as then, fear — fear of the unknown, of an enemy “out there” but also among us — is being used to justify continuity or to undermine efforts to bring about change in policy direction. Under Kennedy, who inherited plans drawn up by the CIA under the Eisenhower administration for the invasion of Cuba, fears that the Caribbean country would serve as a forward base for communism in the Western hemisphere undermined whatever intent Kennedy and his administration may have had to create a better world, leading to a retention of Republican policies, government officials and advisers, by the Democrat government.

Fast-forward about half a century, and Cuba is now Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the “war” on terror into which all three have been subsumed.

It is certainly no surprise, then, that one of Obama’s first announcements regarding his foreign policy team was that he would ask Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to stay on the job — at least for a little while.

To ensure that a public with high expectations of change does not feel betrayed when those expectations are unfulfilled, the state will turn to fear and imponderables. One example will be former secretary of state Colin Powell’s hinting, during an interview on Oct. 19 with Meet the Press, that on Jan. 21 or Jan. 22 — just as Obama comes into office — a “generated crisis … that we don’t know about right now” would test the new leader. This vague assertion, which was quickly picked up by the media, left everybody wondering what the threat might be. An invasion of Iran? A terror attack? There was no way of telling, but everybody assumed that as a former government official and retired military officer, Powell had access to “special” information or “intelligence.”

As I have pointed out before on this site and in my book Smokescreen, intelligence is a powerful tool by which the state can manipulate public opinion, for three principal reasons: (a) it feeds on the assumption that intelligence officers know more than ordinary people; (b) in the name of secrecy, sources, corroboration and credibility cannot be shared; and (c) it exploits public fears.

Another example of this was provided today, with the US government warning that al-Qaeda suicide bombers were allegedly contemplating an attack on New York’s mass-transit system. The timing, less than two months before the new administration comes into office, could not be more conspicuous.

A closer look at the wording used in the warning is quite revealing.

We are told that an “internal memo” showed that the FBI had received a “plausible but unsubstantiated” report that al-Qaeda terrorists in late September may have discussed attacking the subway system and that they may also target passenger rail lines running through New York, such as Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road.

The problems with this report are many. We are not told what makes the threat “plausible,” or why it could be “plausible” if it is “unsubstantiated.” Another problem with this “memo,” of course, is the use of the word “may,” which in and of itself should be sufficient to make us question the credibility of the warning. An asteroid may collide with planet Earth tomorrow; you may get hit by a bus walking your doggie. The nature of the so-called “memo” is also left to our imagination. Is it an official threat assessment, operational notes, an intercept?

The report then goes on to say that “We have no specific details to confirm that this plot has developed beyond aspirational planning, but we are issuing this warning out of concern that such an attack could possibly be conducted during the forthcoming holiday season.” No specific details; no assessment of the individuals who may have discussed the plan; no reason to believe that it has moved beyond an idea; and no information that would indicate why, if the plotters actually met, they moved beyond planning or whether they have the capabilities (material, assets in the US) to carry out the plan, or why the attack would take place during the holiday season, are provided. Note, too, that the “persons” mentioned in the articles have all requested anonymity, ostensibly because we are dealing with intelligence matters, which adds a second layer blocking our ability to critically assess the information.

Finally, to ensure the threat prompts an emotional response, news reports conclude with references to foiled plans to attack various targets in the New York area — all plots whose credibility is also impossible to assess, given the dearth of information about them.

With the Obama cabinet-in-the-making’s connivance or via more obscure channels, fear is being used either to limit the possibility of change, or to ensure that those who stand to profit from the perpetuation of past policies (from the defense industry to imperialists to Israel to al-Qaeda itself) continue to do so.

Either way, expect more fear in the coming months.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wo Weihan, a case for Taipei [UPDATED]

With organizations such as Amnesty International calling on Beijing to commute the death sentence against Wo Weihan (伍維漢), 59, a medical scientist convicted of spying for Taiwan, authorities in Taipei, already embattled by accusations of politicizing the judicial system, cannot afford to remain silent. Despite Taipei’s attempt under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration to mend ties with Beijing, or Wo’s alleged intelligence collection on Taiwan's behalf, the Wo case is such an example of Chinese injustice that failure to make an appeal would be tantamount to Taipei forsaking the moral high ground in the Taiwan Strait.

Wo (pictured above, with daughter), who was sentenced to death in May 2007 — a sentence that was recently approved by the Supreme People’s Court — could be executed as early as tomorrow.

The reason why Taipei should follow Amnesty and Wo’s daughter, Ran Chen, in appealing to Beijing to extend the stay of execution is that aside from China executing more people annually than any other country (470 documented cases last year), there are indications that Wo did not face a fair trial: He was not represented by a lawyer, the trial was held behind closed doors, and he was forced to make a confession while in detention, which he later recanted.

Furthermore, the nature of the accusations — even if they turned out to be true — certainly should not carry the death sentence. Wo was found guilty (the indictment actually reads “might”) of discussing the health of Chinese leaders, which under Chinese law is considered a “state secret,” as well as passing on, or “leaking,” unclassified publications available in library (subsequently classified) to a group with alleged ties to Taiwanese intelligence.

At the very minimum, Taipei must publicly and in no uncertain terms, even if this means undermining warming relations with China, appeal to Beijing and use whatever leverage it has with the regime to have the ruling overturned. Failing to do so, failing to stand by and defend due process, the Ma administration would only confirm what many fear is a slow erosion of Taiwan’s sovereignty, as no Taiwanese government that respects itself would remain silent in the face of such a gross miscarriage of justice. (Not to mention that a man, even if he were guilty, would be executed for reasons that by whatever yardstick one evaluates the case, should not have been sentenced to death.)

Ironically, while this case is in China, it provides the Ma administration with an opportunity to uphold Taiwan’s sovereignty and show the world what Taiwan stands for. Whether it seizes that opportunity or not will be a test of its independence vis-a-vis Beijing and indicative of whether Taipei sees itself as an equal, or a lesser partner, in its dealings with China.

Update: Mr. Wo was executed on Friday, sparking strong condemnation from the US and EU. At this writing, I am not aware of any comments being made by Taipei.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PAC-3: Costly, costlier and of marginal value

A major component of Taiwan’s planned US$6.5 billion arms acquisition from the US is 330 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) interceptor missiles, as well as associated equipment and services. If all options are exercised,* the total value of the missile acquisition would be US$3.1 billion, nearly half of the total value of the arms package. Adding to this cost would be an as-yet unspecified “research and development” and “production line reinitiation” fee that, according to United Daily News, could reach as much as US$800 million, with possible sharing with other clients (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, who have confirmed purchases this year).

Conservatively, this means that Taiwan’s acquisition of the 330 PAC-3s could amount to US$3.5 billion.

The problem with this purchase, however, is that is does not meet Taiwan’s defense needs against a growing arsenal of Chinese missiles. Given standard procedure of firing two PAC-3s for every missile to be intercepted and assuming an unlikely 100 percent kill ratio (the Pentagon estimates a nine-in-ten hit ratio against incoming Chinese short-range ballistic missiles), Taiwan could, at best, intercept but a fraction of a missile attack, perhaps not even enough to defend critical infrastructure such as command-and-control and airstrips. Analysts have argued that given China’s arsenal of about 1,400 SRBMs — which is growing at an estimated rate of 100 missiles annually — the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could easily overwhelm Taiwan’s PAC-3s, perhaps by using less-precise missiles to deplete the interceptors, followed by a second strike using more precise missiles.

Ironically, the acquisition of PAC-3s by Taiwan could prompt the PLA to increase the number of missiles it aims at the island and, if an attack were launched, to greatly augment the number of missiles used in a strike, to devastating effect for Taiwan.

Given the steep cost of acquiring PAC-3s versus the marginal defense advantage the system confers on Taiwan, it would be fair to caution against the purchase. At best, the PAC-3 should be used ONLY at critical infrastructure and in combination with other measures, such as hardening and redundancy. But even there, the financial cost is prohibitive, perhaps reflecting Washington’s strategy of tying weapons purchases by allies with diplomatic support and, in Taiwan’s case, of confusing “warmer ties” with defense acquisitions.

* Four AN/MPQ-65 Radar Sets, two Tactical Command Stations, two Information and Coordination Centrals, six Communication Replay Groups, four Engagement Control Stations, 24 Launching Stations, 12 Antenna Mast Groups, 282 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) (115 AN/VRC-88E, 96 AN/VRC-90E, 13 AN/VRC-91E, and 58 AN/VRC-92E), 9 Electronic Power Plant III, 50 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems, battery and battalion maintenance equipment, prime movers, generators, electrical power units, personnel training and equipment, trailers, communication equipment, tool and test sets, spare and repair parts, publications, supply support Quality Assurance Team support services, US Government and contractor engineering and logistics services, technical documentation, and other related elements of logistics support.
A lesson in life for TAS students

It is often said that young people have it easy, that they have everything served on a silver platter and that they do not know what it means to live in hardship. But for a group of 34 students at Taipei American School (TAS), a recent trip to Cambodia not only taught them a lesson in hardship — it also changed how they look at Taiwan. For eight years TAS, in cooperation with the Tabitha Foundation, has dispatched teams of students to rural Cambodia to build houses for families in need. While the foundation provides the building materials, the families of the students pay for the plane tickets and the students give their time.

Armed with little more than nails and hammers and a desire to do some good, what awaits the students is much more than blisters, hammered fingers and crushing heat.

“Hard to forget,” 17-year-old Stephanie Hsu said after returning from her second trip to Cambodia in as many years.

“We don’t really get lots of chances to go to exotic places,” said 16-year-old Catherine Tung, adding that the Cambodia trip was “a great opportunity to help out” as well as a way to make new friends.

In less than two days, the army of 34 dedicated students — the school’s biggest showing so far — built 10 houses in a marathon they said often turned into a deafening cacophony of hammering.

Asked what aspect of homebuilding was the most difficult, all agreed that getting the nails straight was the greatest challenge.

“As we pretty much hit the ground running, the first house was the most difficult,” 17-year-old Christine Aurlund said, adding that locals looked on and laughed as they riddled it with crooked nails.

But they learned their lessons.

“You really want the second house to look good,” she said.

For Andrew Crawford, a teacher in the English department at TAS who took charge of the initiative this year, the greatest reward was seeing the immediate results of their hard work.

“These people have nothing,” he said.

So the moment a house is completed, the entire family moves in. The green-paneled houses are elevated on long wooden legs to deal with flooding, with animals — goats, cows — often living underneath the structure.

“They get to go home,” Catherine said, her eyes aglimmer.

But the eye-opening did not end there. In fact, for all the muscle-numbing hard work, building the houses may have been the easy part. Cambodia had other things in store for them. First, it was the poverty, which could shock anyone who had never seen it before, especially young TAS students, who have lived in Taiwan, the US, Canada and other more developed countries where poverty is of a different gradient.

“It’s sad to see how little they have,” Christine said. “And yet, they never complain.”

“It made me realize how truly lucky, how well provided for we are in Taiwan,” said Stephanie Lin, another chaperon.

Children run around naked and nothing is wasted, something else youngsters from an affluent society were not used to. In fact, so destitute were the people there that it sometimes complicated exchanges with them. Among other things, it meant not holding young children — especially the good-looking ones — as parents might feel pressured to repay you with them.

Janne Ritskes, the Tabitha Foundation representative in the country, drilled the rules into the young minds from day one. It also meant not giving out any presents, Andrew said, recounting how the simple gift of a soccer ball the previous year had created a commotion in the village.

“It’s hard,” Stephanie Lin said, “but you have to tell them that their kids are ugly” so that they won’t give them to you. “But they’re all so beautiful.”

Still, the students were able to organize simple games with the local children and partake in the simple joys of a different life.

The second unexpected thing for many students was Cambodia’s history, which is still very visible today. The scars of war and the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot have not been hidden or forgotten. In fact, the infamous “killing fields” are still dappled with human remains, the odd bone, a piece of clothing at the bottom of a tree once used to hang people, an open-air museum of atrocity.

For the students, all of this was transformative and, beyond serving as a contrast to their couched lives in Taiwan, where the ghosts of its own troubled history are often hidden, it gave them a new perspective on education.

“In school, there is so much focus on academics,” Stephanie Hsu said, that we tend to lose sight of everything else that’s out there.

Christine concurred.

Trips like this one “teach you to learn about something else. Not everything is in books,” she said.

The foundation, founded and organized by Ritskes in 1994 and whose patron is Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, continues with its efforts, of which the annual TAS trip is but one part.

Among other things, its integrated development initiatives provide help safely delivering newborns and building wells, adequate sewage and roads. It also provides assistance for small businesses and sells various hand-made items to help local women. According to its Web site, as of this month, 63,280 families, representing 506,240 Cambodians, had graduated from poverty through the Tabitha Savings Program. (More information about the foundation is available at

Photos by Stephanie Lin

Link to article (.pdf format).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Peace in the Strait? ORBAT says otherwise

Intelligence analysts are trained (sometimes mistakenly) to assume the worst in their field. The assumption that the other is up to no good is so endemic that even the absence of intelligence is often construed as an act of maliciousness. This phenomenon, though not restricted to counterterrorism, often manifests itself in two ways: either the individual or group is “inactive” or in “sleep” mode (as in so-called “sleeper cells”), or the target is so proficient that nefarious activities remain beyond the reach of surveillance, communications intercepts and intelligence officers.

In this world of the paranoid, Ockham’s razor principle, whereby — to paraphrase the English logician from whom the principle gets its name — all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is best, absence of evidence is in and of itself incriminating, just as the infamous Team B in the 1970s sought to discredit absence of intelligence by the CIA on a secret Soviet submarine project by arguing that the Soviet Union had succeeded in developing subs that could not be detected, known as anti-acoustic submarines. (No such subs were ever developed.)

With this in mind, we have two ways to assess Beijing’s recent conciliatory moves toward Taipei, which include dispatches of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait vice chairman and chairman to Taiwan last month and this month, and Beijing’s supposed “goodwill” act of allowing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to send former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) to represent the country at the APEC leaders’ summit in Lima, Peru, this weekend and for Ma to be referred to as president of “Chinese Taipei” — a first, we are told, since Taiwan joined the group in 1991.

The first more optimistic interpretation, if we were to abide by Occam’s principle, would be to see these developments as proof that Ma’s “diplomatic truce” is bearing fruit and that Beijing has become less strident on the Taiwan issue since the KMT regained power in March and replaced the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Under this scenario, the Ma administration’s flexible interpretation of sovereignty and concessions to China, added to a series of measures taken in recent months to facilitate trade and travel between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, are making war in the Strait less likely, as both sides see the advantages in stepping away from the brink.

The second more pessimistic interpretation — the one that intelligence analysts would probably favor — is that Beijing is bidding its time, putting Taipei, and perhaps the US, to sleep through deception by giving Taiwan crumbs, such as allowing Lien to represent the action at APEC, or even allowing Lima to refer to Ma as president.

In this view, absence of threat information and indications of reconciliation are smoke and mirrors and China’s option of a military attack on Taiwan remains as real, if not more so, than it has been in the past 20 years or so.

To put this in counterterrorism terms, China would be in “sleep” mode, seemingly inactive but readying for activation. China watchers all agree that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will never agree to anything less than “one China,” with Taiwan as one of its provinces. Given this, Beijing’s “goodwill” on such matters as APEC and cross-strait travel is counter to the CCP’s ideology and must be something other than a heartfelt concession. In other words, as there is no room for such a paradox in the CCP universe, the gifts must be something else.

Having said this, which option is most feasible — the optimistic view, or the pessimistic one?

All things being equal, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Order of Battle (ORBAT) says it all. Despite the cross-strait rapprochement that we have seen in recent months, the PLA has failed to deactivate or redirect the odd-1,300 ballistic missiles it aims at Taiwan, something that even Ma has said would be a road block to negotiations. That he has chosen to negotiate despite this speaks volumes.

In other words, where confidence-building measures would be expected to accompany diplomacy, we have seen nothing that suggests the PLA is reducing its threatening posture. Furthermore, news this week that the PLA had deployed YJ-62A anti-ship missiles that, with a reach of 400km, would bring most of Taiwanese ports within range, points to continued acceleration and refinement in range, precision and destructiveness of the arsenal at the PLA’s disposal.

Given the relatively weak Taiwanese navy, it is likely that the YJ-62As (pictured above) are meant to deter US Navy warships and aircraft carriers, which could be deployed to the Taiwan Strait should Washington feel compelled to come to Taiwan’s assistance during a military crisis.

Also, despite Beijing’s longstanding claims that the modernization of its military is in line with its growing global responsibilities rather than directed at Taiwan, the YJ-62A’s 400km range means that their only use is for a Taiwan contingency, as the distance between Fuzhou and Xianyou, Fujian Province, where most of its DF-11 and DF-15 short-range missiles — and the YJ-62s — are likely deployed, and the closest likely target after Taiwan, namely Okinawa, is between 834km and 903km respectively and thus well beyond range (the only other target in the region would be Guam, which lies more than 3,000km from the missile bases).

While analysts often confuse capability — in other words, the ORBAT — with intent, a growing and modernizing ORBAT with capabilities specific to a given target — in this instance Taiwan — that occurs parallel to “peace talks” is either an indication of malicious intent or the belief by one of the parties to the talks that a diplomatic resolution to the Taiwan question is unlikely.

Link to article.

Apologies to regular readers. I was in Japan for a few days. Regular postings should resume forthwith.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Should the demonstrations be a DPP affair?

There has been much criticism leveled at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) since the demon-strations surrounding the visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) to Taipei last week. The main accusation, aside from its supposed inability to stem violent protesters, is that in this time of crisis, the party could no refrain from campaigning, using every opportunity to turn the spotlight on star councilors and legislators, such as DPP deputy caucus whip Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩).

There undoubtedly was some of that during the Nov. 6 “Yellow ribbon siege” in Taipei, where placards and banners of prominent DPP members — including Chiu, who is indeed a master at getting media attention — were displayed on vehicles or carried by protesters, which made me wonder if perhaps I had not joined the wrong crowd and had found myself in the thick of an electoral campaign. Seeing this, I could not help but think that such politicians were exploiting the situation for selfish political gain.

On the other end of the spectrum are the groups of students who since last week have held sit-ins at various locations across Taiwan. In their case, serious attempts were made to cleanse their protest of any particular political party. No “pan-green” banners were to be seen, and the organizers kept a safe distance from the DPP or the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), expelling anyone who sought to bring political parties into their discourse. That apolitical stance, if you will, earned the young demonstrators many kudos, often by the same people who had criticized the DPP for stealing the show.

Ironically, many have also lamented the poor organization of the anti-Chen/anti-Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) protests, saying that the demonstrations lacked coherence or coordination and thus rendered the whole affair impotent.

There is some truth in this, and if the opposition is to be coherent and well orchestrated, there will be little choice but for political parties — either the DPP or its smaller ally, the TSU — to step in. For protests and popular movements to be successful, or, at minimum, difficult to ignore by the government, there must be some rallying point, a center of gravity around which people can organize themselves. While the masses have energy, an despite the undoubtedly good intentions of the “Wild Strawberry” movement, that potential will remain untapped if that energy is not channeled through some figurehead. Even in democratic systems — and perhaps even more so in such systems — politics remains a field upon which it is charismatic leaders who carry the ball. Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, or the Solidarity movement in Poland, to use but two examples, would not have been the successful anti-authoritarian movements they were had they not be led by Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa respectively.

Someone needs to provide guidance and must have at its disposal a modicum of resources to give structure to the opposition. Some may not like it, but if the protests are to gain traction and be sustained long enough to attract the kind of attention outside Taiwan that will be required to end the impasse, an organizing force like the DPP — probably the only viable option at present, unless something else emerges — will be necessary. Otherwise, the protests will remain incoherent, disunited and will eventually fade away as the authorities feel no inclination whatsoever to heed them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guilty until taken to court

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-affiliated radio this morning that as Taiwan is a country run by laws, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who was taken to a detention center early this morning over allegations of corruption and money laundering, would be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the government would not meddle in prosecutors’ efforts to determine his guilt.

Ma, who studied law at Harvard but never passed the bar, was probably too jubilant to fully appreciate the irony in his remarks. For given the KMT’s strong hold on pan-blue media in Taiwan, anyone from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who is already in jail or faces jail over various accusations of corruption is already painted, in the court of public opinion, as being guilty, with little chances of clearing their names. Or that the court has been dragging its feet on 26 separate cases of corruption involving KMT officials, as DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said yesterday.

It doesn’t help, either, that some KMT legislators were celebrating Chen’s detention with public comments and firecrackers on Tuesday night, as if his detention were proof of his guilt before his trial even begins. Or, for that matter, that the Prosecutors' Office could not provide any compelling argument for Chen's detention, let alone why he needed to be handcuffed yesterday.

In such an environment, ensuring a fair and impartial court decision on Chen and other DPP defendants will be a formidable task. In fact, to avoid a repeat of the kangaroo courts that characterized much of the Martial Law era in Taiwan, if the Ma administration means what it says when it claims to respect judicial independence and to be dedicated to the rule of law, should take the lead and invite outside observers to oversee the cases.

No Chinese need apply, though.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chen’s arrest — terrible timing [UPDATED]

It didn’t take long for critics of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration to characterize the detention on Tuesday of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on charges of money laundering and embezzlement as a “gift” to Beijing, as during his eight years in power, Chen, an ardent pro-independence advocate, was a thorn in the side of China. Others, meanwhile, claimed that this was payback for the large, and sometimes violent, demonstrations that surrounded the visit to Taiwan last week of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), while some saw it as vindictiveness, or part of a recent series of politically motivated arrests of opposition members by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.

While the applicability of any of those suppositions has yet to be ascertained, the context in which Chen’s arrest occurred, added to the images, splashed over TV screens across Taiwan, of the former president being led from the prosecutor’s office in handcuffs, can only but fuel an already explosive political crisis in Taiwan, which earlier on Tuesday took a new twist when an 80-year-old member of the KMT set himself on fire in front of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall in Taipei.

The fact is, Chen may very well be guilty, and if he is, he should pay the consequences, as should any former leader in a democracy and country run by law. However, given the heightened sensibilities of the opposition since Chen Yunlin’s visit last week, prosecutors could not have chosen a worse moment to arrest the former president, as it invites the kind of conspiracy theories listed above. Chen Shui-bian was not going anywhere. Even if he had tried to flee the country (hard to do, when said country is an island), he could easily have been stopped by border officials.

A wiser course would have been to wait some time and allow the emotions brought to a boiling point by Chen Yunlin’s visit and the clashes with police to cool down. Assuming for a moment that none of the theories discussed above are credible, either through incompetence, authoritarianism or a desire to humiliate its opponents, the KMT government nevertheless managed to inflame the situation, made matters worse in Taiwan and opened the door to other demonstrations, violence, self-immolations and who knows what else by people who fear the KMT is selling out the country to China.

Earlier this week, Ma said that Taiwan needed to remain united to survive. No sooner had he said this than the political divide was widened even further by government action. Ironically, through this latest move, the KMT may very well have turned Chen Shui-bian — guilty or not — into a symbol of government oppression and rallying point for the millions of Taiwanese who disagree with the Ma administration.

Associated Press later reported that Chen Shui-bian was taken to hospital late on Tuesday night, prompting the suspension of a court proceeding to determine whether he should be formally detained. The former president was reportedly undergoing examinations for a possible injury sustained en route to court earlier in the day. At about 3:45am, Chen was returned to court, where deliberations were held until about 7am. Chen was then taken to a detention center outside Taipei, while police strengthened security at the site after Chen’s supporters threatened protests. Under Taiwanese law, Chen can be detained for up to four months without being formally charged.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A disgrace? Think again

I have seen many comments in recent days by people criticizing the opposition — more specifically the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — for “tarnishing” Taiwan’s image, or “disgracing” the nation with the demonstrations and occasional violence that surrounded the visit to Taiwan last week by Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林). Even here in Taiwan, the anger directed at the opposition has at times reached vitriolic levels, while others have claimed that the DPP has been discredited, dealt a final blow after the initial double hit of electoral defeats earlier this year and accusations of corruption leveled at the family of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and other former DPP government officials.

While it is indeed unfortunate that things had to turn violent — and again, it should be emphasized that those incidents were isolated and came after police had forcefully prevented peaceful demonstrators from displaying so much as the Taiwanese flag — the accusations are, in my view, unfair. Unfair, because they miss the context and put the cart before the horse. They see the violence as calculated and planned well ahead of Chen’s visit, rather than as a reaction to fear, to overwhelming police presence, to the enactment of outdated laws that have no place in a democracy, to the lack of transparency that characterized the negotiations between Chen and his Taiwanese counterparts, and to repeated humiliations as symbols of nationhood, flags, banners, even music, were erased, with force if necessary.

Detractors of those who took to the street last week also fail to look at things in a larger context. On Nov. 2, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said in Tokyo that the drive for greater autonomy for Tibet had failed:

My trust in the Chinese government has become thinner, thinner, thinner. Suppression [in Tibet] is increasing and I cannot pretend that everything is OK ... I have to accept failure. Meantime among Tibetans in recent years, our approach failed to bring positive change inside Tibet, so criticism has also increased.

Years of peaceful resistance, of negotiation, had therefore failed to bring any positive results for Tibet, and the main proponent of non-violent action was publicly saying that he had lost all hope. Such news, one day ahead of Chen’s arrival in Taiwan, cannot have gone unnoticed by Taiwanese who are skeptical of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s peace initiative with Beijing, especially when we take into consideration the fact that in Beijing’s eyes, the main prize is not Tibet, but Taiwan, upon which hinges the credibility of the Chinese Community Party in the eyes of the Chinese. Aware of all this, seeing that decades of peaceful resistance had ended in abject failure, Taiwanese who fear for the future of their nation had every right to voice their opposition to the negotiations and to flaunt their political colors, flags and music. Only when police deprived them of that right in the presence of an overbearing opponent, only when their own government told them that they should hide who they were to please an emissary from Beijing, did some turn to violence. But what choice did they have? Would the world think any better of Taiwanese if they simply capitulated?

Sad though it is that Taiwanese civilians, police officers and reporters ended up getting injured in the clashes, the events last week tell the world that Taiwanese will not go gently into the night, that they are willing to resist anything they see as threatening the foundations laid in lives and suffering and blood by their forefathers — yet another context that critics of the demonstrators have failed to take into account. The wounds of the past are still there, many of those who suffered them are still with us, and they should never be forgotten. In fact, what transpired last week could result in a newfound interest, by younger generations of Taiwanese, in their own history, in what it was like to live under Martial Law, what it meant to live in fear during the White Terror, and who paid with their lives on 228.

There are limits to peaceful resistance and a point where its continuance crosses a line and enters the realm of capitulation. Gandhi, often cited as the perfect example of successful non-violent resistance, was successful because the enemy, in this case Great Britain, was a democracy, and perhaps more importantly, is was a waning power (his involvement in the Indian movement began in 1916, when the British Empire was already in decline, and ended in 1945, by which time the very idea of empire had been discredited). In cases where, unlike the British Empire, the opponent is not a democracy, where its power is not in decline and where the motivation to use force against the weaker opponent exists, peaceful resistance, though a useful tool, will not work on its own. Such a situation obtains in the Taiwan Strait today.

This is what I had in mind when I wrote about the need for angrier Taiwanese youth. Not radicals or extremists, but young people, students, soldiers, who will not accept oppression. True, every violent demonstration counts in its midst some who are there for no reason other than to create trouble, and there might have been some such people last week. But the great majority — those who demonstrated peacefully as well as those who clashed with the authorities — where there for a reason, and their anger was nothing to be ashamed of.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Letter to Human Rights Watch

Readers are encouraged to use the letter provided below, or to write their own, and to contact human rights organization so that pressure can be applied on the Taiwanese government following its abuses of power during the visit of ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin last week (photos from journalist Michella Jade Weng's blog Alive and Kicking [Warning: graphic content]).

Human Rights Watch — Asia

Please allow me to draw the attention of your esteemed organization to recent developments in Taiwan.

With unprecedented (at least since the end of the Martial Law era) police deployments to “ensure security” for visiting Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin last week, many human rights violations were committed by the state. Freedom of speech, expression and assembly were seriously undermined, with individuals arrested for displaying the national and Tibet flag or other symbols of nationhood.

Among a long list of state-sponsored infractions, a music store in downtown Taipei was forced to close its doors for playing Taiwanese music. On Nov. 3, a 34-year-old woman was injured when police pried a Tibetan flag from her hands before arresting her and two other women for “assembling” close to Taipei Grand Hotel, where Chen was staying. On Nov. 5, a French national was taken away by police for shouting “Taiwan is not part of China.”

Using the outdated Parade and Assembly Law during Chen’s visit, Taipei deployed about 7,000 police officers, erected barbed wire and gates to block access to various parts of the city and at venues frequented by Chen and his delegation. While the great majority of protesters who took part in the numerous protests held last week expressed their views in a peaceful and orderly manner, when clashes did occur, police authorities often reacted with unnecessary strength, using batons and other riot equipment. Several injuries have been reported, involving civilians, members of the press and representatives of opposition parties.

Freedom of the press was also severely undermined, with numerous complaints by foreign reporters who had received proper accreditation that they could not access key venues where Chen held meetings with his Taiwanese counterparts. The Association of Taiwanese Journalists (ATJ) and the Taipei Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) have gone on record in their condemnation of those curtailments. In addition, secret scheduling and last-minute changes to scheduled events meant that on a number of occasions, reporters were forced to follow developments on television and could not cover the events in a manner that is consistent with a free and open society.

There have also been reports of police violence against the media — even when journalists were within designated press areas, which on some occasions were changed without prior notice — and a documentary filmmaker was taken away by law enforcement authorities for filming Chen’s car at Taipei Grand Hotel. A photojournalist affiliated with Central News Agency (CNA) was reportedly dragged away by police at Taipei Grand Hotel.

Taiwanese flags were removed from most government buildings so that Chen would not have to see them, a belittling of the nation’s status by both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and Beijing that not only went against people’s right to self-determination as stipulated by the UN Charter, but also prompted the protests and the escalation that ensued.

Starting on Nov. 6, hundreds of students gathered in front of the Executive Yuan building to protest the use and abuse of the Parade and Assembly Law by the Ma administration and ask that the law be amended to reflect democratic principles. Early in the evening of Nov. 7, police forcibly removed the students and put them on police buses.

While the Ma Ying-jeou administration has portrayed Chen’s visit as a success in cross-strait negotiations, many Taiwanese fear that he is “selling out” the country to China and undermining Taiwan’s sovereignty. The lack of media access only served to exacerbate those fears. Regardless of whether protesters are justified in this belief or not, they should be allowed to express their views and not live in fear of state oppression when they seek to express their discontent at decisions that are being made with lack of transparency, little legislative oversight and with handicapped media supervision. They should also be allowed to express their anger, through protests, when a senior representative of a state that denies their existence, threatens them with more than 1,300 missiles, simulates military invasions, passes an “Anti-Secession” Law that “legalizes” the use of force should the island declare formal independence, and isolates them internationally, visits their country.

Demonstrators were afraid, on edge for the arbitrariness of arrests and unclear rules that accompanied the enactment of the Parade and Assembly Law by the government. As a result, there has been growing apprehension of a return to authoritarian rule and politically motivated arrests, which Taiwanese fought off with sweat and blood from 1949-1989.

Various local organizations, bloggers, academics and media outlets have sought to expose the crimes of the Ma administration and law-enforcement authorities, but sadly, the timing of Chen’s visit, which coincided with the Nov. 4 presidential election in the United States, added to spin by Beijing- and KMT-controlled media, have severely undermined the ability of Taiwanese to make their voice heard in international media.

I therefore strongly urge HRW to investigate the matter and, if appropriate, to bring pressure on the government in Taipei.

Friday, November 07, 2008

November 6 ‘Yellow Ribbon Siege’

It is difficult to determine how many people defied the scalding sun and showed up near Taipei Guest House on Thursday afternoon to protest the presence of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林). But caught in its churning midst, it felt like it was at least in the tens of thousands. (In an ostensible attempt to thwart demonstrators, a last-minute decision was made to move the meeting between Chen and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) from 4:30pm to 11am.)

As expected, demonstrators young and old had brought highly creative banners, placards, flags and posters, whose contents ranged from “Taiwan is my country” to “Made in Taiwan” to various depictions of Chen, Ma, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), to the UN, Tibet and US flags, to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union emblems and slogans. Various groups, Aboriginals and others, were also present. Numerous vehicles, with the ubiquitous flags and blaring horns, took part in the seemingly endless line of demonstrators that meandered the streets, energizing them with slogans and the occasional song.

Once again, two out of three demonstrators were of a fairly advanced age, not unsurprising, given that this was a weekday. Very few foreigners showed up, however. In my four hours or so on scene, I only saw four. On the way to the “siege” meeting point at the Taipei Guest House, a lone vendor, selling smoked sausages at a small stand, was making brisk business. Most 7-Eleven convenience stores along the way were making a killing selling water and bottled drinks.

Overall, the whole demonstration was peaceful, with protesters limiting themselves to throwing water bottles and roses at police officers behind the barbed wire barricades. Most had heeded DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) call and brought horns, whistles, drums and other items with which to create noise. Gas canister horns were distributed for free and, when used in unison, created a deafening wail from which this writer’s ears have yet to fully recover.

On at least 50 occasions I was approached by demonstrators who either asked me where I was from, thanked me for caring for their country and helping out, tapped me on the shoulder, gave me the “thumbs up” or shook my hand. One person gave me a yellow “Taiwan in my country” ribbon, while another offered me cigarettes and yet another gave me a horn, which not long afterwards died on me. A few asked to have their picture taken with me. The atmosphere was extraordinarily welcoming and I have lost count of the smiles and “hellos” I received throughout the afternoon. The last time I was thanked with such warmth and conviction by a people, I was with Palestinian friends, another group that has long been denied what is rightfully theirs by the international community.

At about 2pm, former DPP vice presidential candidate Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and DPP Chairwoman Tsai addressed the crowd, which exploded in a deafening roar, horns a-blow and flags a-flutter. Soon afterwards, demonstrators tore down a section of the barricades and joined demonstrators on the other side. From my vantage point, I did not see police intervene.

ARATS chairman Chen may claim that he and his government are misunderstood by Taiwanese, that in time they will “gain their trust,” but there is nothing to be misunderstood in the more than 1,300 missiles being aimed at this peaceful nation, or in the military exercises held by the People’s Liberation Army simulating an invasion of Taiwan, or in Taiwan’s continued isolation on the international scene resulting from pressure from Beijing. A true friend would not request that the Republic of China flag be removed from the hotel he is staying at. A true friend would not have as a right-hand man an emissary who says — while on a visit to Taiwan — that there will be no war across the Taiwan Strait as long as Taiwan does not declare independence.

Sadly, as the day progressed and after I had left, things turned violent, with protesters throwing stones at police and, at night, police using brutal force against demonstrators on Zhongshan Road and other parts of the city. Police, protesters and members of the media were injured in the process.

Deplorable though this escalation may be, you cannot deploy 7,000 armed police officer, create a sense of siege, erect barricades, block sections of road, dapple neighborhoods with barbed wire, and conduct talks that will affect the welfare of an entire nation with anything less than transparency, and not expect that people will react. Such a muscular deployment was provocative and unnecessary. Moreover, if, in the first days, police had limited itself to preventing violence and not acted as an agent against free speech, escalation may very well have been averted.

The fear of the unknown — the unknown itself — created an explosive situation. Well before the first police line was stormed, well before the first stone was thrown in anger, the seeds had been sown by the Ma administration, which resuscitated an era that Taiwanese had long left behind. On the other side, many of the police officers deployed were young, inexperienced — they had never had to deal with such a situation — scared and bound to overreact. Just as when two armies are brought in proximity to one another, the risks of accidents and things getting out of hand increase.

Let us hope that Chen and his masters in Beijing saw what has taken place throughout the week. Let us hope that the horns and shouts taught them a thing or two about the power of democracy and the determination of a people to keep it alive. Let us hope, too, that the Ma administration got the message that while Taiwanese do not oppose cross-strait talks, there must be transparency, accountability, and that the sovereignty of Taiwan must be preserved. And dignity. Despite the claims by the Ma administration that Chen’s visit was only to discuss economic matters and therefore not political, the long, shameless list of effaced national symbols, the flags removed, official titles snubbed and liberties curtailed, made the whole thing primarily political, relegating the four agreements signed during the visit to secondary news.

One cannot speak of peace, of warming relations, as long as Beijing continues to threaten Taiwan militarily and diplomatically. To treat emissaries of China as if they were friends, and to bend over backwards, as the Ma administration has done, to please Chen and his cronies — turning a democracy into a police state, and Taiwanese against Taiwanese, in a manner of weeks — is unconscionable. It is immensely saddening, after experiencing the warm brotherhood that I felt this afternoon, to see Taiwanese hitting Taiwanese over the visit of a Chinese official. Perhaps no scene touched me more than that of a middle-aged police officer crying as he surveyed what was going on, caught between his responsibility to his troops and the people he is supposed to be serving.

While the Ma administration harps about creating “win-win” situations, this week has been “lose-lose” for all Taiwanese. With Chen having returned to China, now is the time for Taiwanese to heal and mend the sad divide that reared its ugly head this week. (As I write this on Friday afternoon, students demonstrating peacefully are being taken away, one by one, by police officers.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

ATJ accuses government of violating press freedom

By Loa Iok-sin and J. Michael Cole

Wednesday, Nov 5, 2008, Page 3

The Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) released a statement on Monday accusing the government of restricting press freedom as it prepared to welcome Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).

At least two verbal and physical clashes have occurred between local journalists and law enforcement personnel safeguarding Chen and other members of the ARATS delegation since they arrived on Monday.

Cheng Chieh-wen (鄭傑文), a photojournalist affiliated with the Central News Agency (CNA), was dragged away by national security agents at the Grand Hotel on Sunday while he was standing within the designated press area.

Yesterday, reporters engaged in verbal disputes with security officers over press areas that had been changed without prior notice.

“The ATJ strongly condemns security personnel for violently dragging and pushing reporters, and demands that the government explain such incidents and apologize to the CNA journalist,” the statement said.

“Press freedom cannot be compromised,” the ATJ statement said. “Although press passes had been issued to journalists, security officials still intervened and restricted media access. We regret such severe violations of press freedom.”

The ATJ urged the Government Information Office to better arrange media areas to protect press freedom during the next few days of Chen’s visit.

In related news, the Mainland Affairs Council said on Monday that more than 500 local and foreign reporters from 138 media outlets had received approval to cover Chen’s visit.

Among the 574 who received accreditation, 30 were from China, it said, adding that several major foreign news outlets were also covering the event.

However, a survey of major news outlets by the Taipei Times yesterday showed that the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Guardian newspapers relied on Edward Wong’s reporting from Beijing, while Canada’s Globe and Mail and the Australian relied on reporting by Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse respectively. France’s Le Monde, the US-based Christian Science Monitor and UK-based Independent were not covering the event.

While the BBC carried a report with a Taipei dateline, CBS News and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp did not report on the event, while CNN relied on AP and Qatar-based al-Jazeera used various news agencies.

The majority of major international news outlets — those that have the budgets to dispatch reporters to cover special events — therefore did not send a correspondent.

Meanwhile, asked by the Taipei Times to comment on the number of foreign correspondents present at major Chen venues, such as the Grand Hotel and Taipei 101, Taipei Foreign Correspondents Club president Max Hirsch said it was in “the few dozens,” adding that he had dealt with “many complaints” by foreign reporters about lack of access to the venues.

Link to article

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Day 1 of demonstrations against ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin [UPDATED]

Heavy rain and equally heavy police deployments did not deter small groups from showing their colors at the corner of Zhongshan E Road and Minzu Road in Taipei yesterday. With the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Grand Hotel as a backdrop, a few dozen demonstrators gathered at about 11am under the watchful eyes of the hundreds of police officers who had lined up on both sides of the road. All awaited the arrival of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) motorcade on its way to the Grand Hotel.

Nearby, approximately 100 pro-unification demonstrators carrying red banners and the Chinese flag also gathered, engaging in a shouting match with a lone woman on her motorcycle who heckled them from the other side of the street, making the “thumbs down” sign. A handful of yellow ribbons bearing the words “Taiwan is my country” were tied to the motorcycle handles.

One young woman carrying a UN flag was initially stopped by a police officer who asked her to remove a red banner she wore across her shoulder that read “Anti-China; we will definitely win; Taiwan will become an independent country.” The woman refused, however, and the police officer let her continue on her way.

A few minutes later, a friend, named "Lina," used red paint to write words such as “liberty” and “love” on her arms and umbrella, with a handful of police officers watching on while others cheered them.

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” the woman told this writer. “No flag, nothing provocative, right?”

Next to her, another young woman was painting “Formosa betrayed” on her jeans, her hands daubed in red paint.

At one point, a minivan filled with balloons parked in front of the demonstrators, which police officers immediately swarmed. A few minutes later, a window was opened and a few dozen balloons, with hearts and various Chinese characters alluding to tainted Chinese products, escaped and lodged themselves in the trees nearby.

At about 12:15pm, Chen’s motorcade, preceded by police on motorcycles and in cars, arrived, whereupon demonstrators began chanting slogans and waving their balloons. A few small national flags were unfurled, while one woman displayed a large Tibetan flag. Police did not ask them to take the flags away. The bus Chen was on drove by at normal speed, the chairman waving at the crowd.

Asked by the media why she was present at the demonstration, a woman said in English: “President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has betrayed us. That’s why I’m here,” before joining a small group of demonstrators heading for the Grand Hotel.

At about 3pm, "Lina" informed this writer by telephone that she and two other women had been arrested by police and that her finger had been broken when a police officer attempted to take away her Tibetan flag. Police did not tell them why they were being arrested. Later on, a source informed this author that a city councilor and a lawyer had joined them at the police station.

The women were later released.

Full story here

Additional notes on Monday’s protests

It is interesting to note that while demonstrators were arrested for displaying the Tibetan or Taiwanese flags, the about 100 pro-unification demonstrators present at the corner of Zhongshan and Minzu were not bothered by police, even though five or six giant Chinese flags were in full display. It is therefore “legal” to show the CCP flag, but illegal to display the Republic of China, Taiwanese, or Tibetan flags.

At about 2pm, a woman in her mid-30s joined the small group of pro-independence demonstrators I had been following and complained to me that a police officer had just told her he was surprised that she was part of the “pro-Taiwan” gang, as she “looked so professional” — a blatant expression of the prejudicial view that the pro-independence movement is comprised of “uneducated” or “lower-class” Taiwanese, while the pro-unification, or pro-KMT ones are “professionals,” “the elite” and part of a “higher social class.”

As I arrived quite early in the morning, I walked around the scene and mixed with both crowds. While the pro-Taiwan group was welcoming and cheerful, with many people thanking me for joining them and caring about their country, members of the pro-unification camp addressed me with undertones of contempt and were overall intimidating. Their assumption probably was that as a foreigner — the only present at the scene — I was in favor of independence.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Young Taiwanese fear authoritarian revival

By J. Michael Cole
Taipei Times Monday, Nov 03, 2008, Page 3

Under normal circumstances, these young Taiwanese professionals would be doing just what about any other people their age would do on a Saturday afternoon: rest, or go shopping. But for the three or four sitting at the table sipping cappuccinos and smoking cigarettes, shopping is the last thing on their mind.

It’s only a couple of days before the arrival of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) and already their anxiety is palpable. Like many others this past week, they are planning on demonstrating his presence in Taiwan, as well as the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s opening to China.

What truly worries them, however, isn’t Chen’s presence here, or even Taipei’s closer relations with Beijing. Their primary concern lies at home, with what they see as a dangerous and rapid shift toward authoritarian rule under Ma.

“Look at the indictment of [Democratic Progressive Party Tainan City Councilor] Wang Ting-yu (王定宇). It only took them eight or nine days” to conduct the investigation, one said.

Added to this are the government’s restrictions on assembly and demonstrations outside the Presidential Office Building and the many instances where police have disrupted the activities of people who were not breaking the law, such as Wu Ting-ho (吳庭和), a World United Formosans for Independence member, who was manhandled by a group of police officers in front of the Presidential Office Building on Oct. 11.

Wu wasn’t doing anything wrong, he wasn’t breaking the law, one of the young professionals told the Taipei Times. They stopped him because of what was written on his T-shirt. Video footage shown to the Taipei Times also showed two elderly individuals being forced to leave the premises.

“We’re scared,” another said.

Because of the arbitrariness of police action and how unclear the rules about what constitutes a violation of the law have become, “we don’t know what to expect. We don’t know if we’ll be arrested.”

For many of them, such police action is new, as they were too young to remember when the nation was still under martial law.

“Look at the [anti Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁)] demonstrations by the ‘Red Shirts’ last year,” one said. “They were allowed to demonstrate for months, to camp at [Taipei Main Station] and the police didn’t bother them.”

Asked if Chen Yulin’s motorcade would try to avoid demonstrators by using the back streets, one of them said: “No. For such an important figure, using the back streets would be a loss of face. His car will use major roads.”

“That’s why there will be such a large police presence,” the person said. “There’s going to be 7,000 police officers deployed for Chen’s visit.”

“We’re pretty pessimistic,” another said. “Maybe some of us want to be arrested. It feels like it’s martial law all over again. Perhaps what the Ma government is doing by cracking down on dissent and freedom of speech is preparing the terrain” for a Taiwan that is part of China.

Link to article