Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Canada’s new brand of ‘terrorists’ — British MPs

During my 14 weeks of training as an intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) a few years ago, I spent countless hours memorizing what, according to the law, constitutes terrorism — a definition that was somewhat altered following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. There were those who had committed terrorist attacks, those who were planning to commit a terrorist attack, and those who abetted, or helped, others in the commission of, or planning for, a terrorist attack.

The main difference in how the law interpreted what constitutes terrorism was that prior to 9/11, an individual, or group, needed to have committed an act of terrorism to face charges of terrorism, whereas after the legal changes (promulgated in Bill C-36), intent and support were now sufficient to investigate and prosecute someone on terrorism charges. What this meant was that someone who donated money to a terrorist organization, raised funds for it or provided material support, could now be accused of engaging in terrorism, provided, of course, that a proper investigation by intelligence agencies determined that one had indeed engaged in such activities. At an extreme, the new law meant that the more than 100 Canadians who in recent weeks have chipped in to purchase a plane ticket for terror suspect Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Sudan-born Canadian national who has been stranded in Sudan since 2002, could technically be accused of aiding a terrorist. (Abdelrazik has been cleared of terrorism charges by Canadian and Sudanese authorities, but remains on the 1267 UN watch list, which targets individuals associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and Ottawa has yet to provide him with a passport).

Pushing the definition of what constitutes terrorism one step further, the Canadia Border Services Agency (CBSA) in early March barred British MP George Galloway, an outspoken critic of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, from entering Canada, on grounds that he represents “a threat to national security” — a decision that was not overruled by a Federal Court judge on Monday.

The main fault of Mr Galloway, who was scheduled to give a speech at a “Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar” forum in Toronto on Monday, was that on March 11 he, along with about 50 British and Scottish volunteers, delivered money, humanitarian aid and vehicles to war-torn Gaza directly rather than through a recognized international aid agency or the UN. By doing so, Galloway sought to demonstrate that it was possible, despite the Israeli/Egyptian blockade imposed since 2006 — which the UN and aid organizations say has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in the territory — to deliver aid. In other words, he refused to abide by a state-sponsored system that has ensured that, despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, Palestinians remain in a state of destitution.

In a letter dated March 20, Ottawa said that during his visit to Gaza, Galloway gave Hamas — listed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, the European Union and Canada, among others — US$45,000.

Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said that those who support, promote and help terrorist organizations should not be allowed to come to Canada.

The problem with the CBSA and the Federal Court’s decision is that Galloway has denied the charges that he supports, promotes and helps terrorist organizations, and no investigation has been launched by CSIS or other Canadian intelligence agencies to prove him right or wrong. In other words, beyond the questionable wisdom of branding Hamas a terrorist entity, an assumption of guilt underlies the Canadian government’s decision to bar him entry, which contravenes the presumption of innocence that lies at the core of the Canadian legal system. Based on my experience at CSIS, if there is any intelligence supporting the claim that Galloway gave money directly to Hamas, it came from a single-thread, or “uncorroborated,” Israeli source of questionable credibility — which sadly is often enough to convince allied agencies to act.

It is therefore quite feasible that Mr Galloway was denied entry into Canada not because he is a terror suspect or, risibly, poses a threat to national security, but rather because he has been a supporter of the Palestinian cause, has been critical of Israel, and opposed the neo-imperialistic interventions in Iraq — which Ottawa ostensibly opposed — and Afghanistan, where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers have been deployed since 2001. The decision is also reflective of the position the Conservative Stephen Harper administration (as has the Liberal opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff) has taken on Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in December and January, which was overwhelmingly supportive of Jerusalem’s actions.

By twisting anti-terror legislation and disregarding the process by which an individual can be accused of engaging in terrorist activity, the Canadian government has with Mr Galloway’s case entered the realm of preventing free speech and once again shown its disregard, if not contempt, for the fate of ordinary Palestinians.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

He said it'd be OK to kill my wife

We met when I worked as an intelligence officer in Canada, part of an organization that at times risked making racism and hatred for the “other” — in that case, mostly Arabs and Muslims — a normal policy. After nearly three years in that suffocating environment, whose siege mentality I could no longer bear, I resigned, choosing to abide by the values of humanity and inclusiveness that I cherished and believed defined me as a Canadian.

Throughout the long, difficult months that preceded my decision, my partner, a Taiwanese, was always supportive and helped me in uncountable ways, as did other members of her family.

Soon afterwards, we left Canada — her adopted homeland — and moved to Taiwan, where I sought to build a new life and write a book about what I had gone through at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

What immediately struck me in Taiwan was the warmth, friendliness, selflessness and generosity of its people, at a level I had possibly only encountered in Cuba on my two visits there [...]

Op-ed on Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), hatred, ethnic divisions and the series of vitriolic articles he wrote under the pseudonym Fan Lan-chin (范蘭欽), continues here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Review: It's war in the Taiwan Strait

The year is 2012. In Taiwan, a charismatic new leader named Yo Tuan occupies the Presidential Office — and he is filled with ambition to make his county independent. Across the strait, president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has been replaced by Wei Ching-chun, an inexperienced and somewhat stoic leader whose ability to steer the Chinese Community Party (CCP) remains unproven. In Washington, President Jocelyn Adams, an African-American woman, succeeded George W. Bush in 2008 and is seeking re-election in a country weighed down by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and severe water shortages that are threatening to create domestic instability.

For my review of William E. Cooper's novel Flashpoint China, published today in the Taipei Times, click here. (.pdf format).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Education key to future of China’s economic ‘miracle’

China’s economic “miracle” has pulled 200 million people out of poverty in the past two decades, a feat largely generated by the “necessary evil” of migratory workers. But as the birthrate — pulled down by the “one child” policy and women entering the workforce in larger numbers — drops, China will soon face a series of new challenges: higher salaries, greater demand, and fewer workers. To deal with this, Beijing will have to turn to one often overlooked spoke in the great development wheel: education.

Despite its “rise,” China’s education system — especially in rural areas — remains mostly primitive, underfunded and weighed down by rampant poor health. And yet, the government does not appear to be making the investments and adjustments that will allow future generations of Chinese workers to maintain the country's industrial competitiveness.

Stanford University’s Dr. Scott Rozelle, a specialist on agriculture and rural development in China, was in Taiwan to address Academia Sinica and National Taiwan University on the above challenges. He also spoke at Taipei American School, which I covered for the Taipei Times. The article can be accessed here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

‘Ultranationalists’ versus ‘terrorists’

News broke out on Tuesday that Israeli prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking to strengthen the position of his minority Likud party in parliament, had brought into his “unity government” Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman, who, in Reuters’ words, is “a far-right politician whose policies have raised Arab ire and international concern.”

In its coverage, Agence France-Presse referred to the future Israeli foreign minister Lieberman — who among other things supports continued illegal settlements in the West Bank (he is himself a resident of one, Nokdim) as well as law that would force Arab Israelis to sign an oath of loyalty to Israel or lose their citizenship — as an “ultranationalist,” a “controversial firebrand” and, quoting his detractors, a “racist.” The Associated Press, for its part, also used the designation “ultranationalist” and “racism” in describing him, while the Guardian newspaper called him an “outspoken far-right Israeli politician” and “unashamed hardliner, adding that the former nightclub bouncer from Moldova had resigned from the government in protest at the resumption of peace talks with Palestinians.

The New York Times, meanwhile, referred to Lieberman as a “nationalist” and “often indelicate and outspoken politician whose threatening language aimed at Arabs arouses suspicion and some trepidation abroad.”

Five news organizations. One “ultranationalist” whose party — which would also handle the internal security, infrastructure, tourism and integration of new immigrants portfolios in the “unity government” — undeniably stands against peace. The question is, what kind of adjectives would the same five news organizations have used if the individual in question, rather than be an Israeli politician, had been a new member in the Palestinian Cabinet advocating the same policies? Would he have been an “unashamed hardliner,” an “ultranationalist,” a “firebrand” or a “racist”? Of course not. He would have been characterized as an “extremist” and “terrorist.”

This is not to say that the news organizations sampled above did not do a good job raising questions about Lieberman’s political stance (in fact, the Guardian did a pretty decent job). But they still couldn’t bring themselves to use language with the kind of even-handedness one would expect from professional and supposedly “impartial” media. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that had any one of those organizations catalogued Lieberman as an “extremist” or “terrorist,” the Anti-Defamation League and other Israeli lobby organizations would have screamed “anti-Semitism.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Where the f*** is ‘Chinese Taipei’ anyway? [UPDATED]

As I was searching the Web for data on Taiwan’s accomplishments for a book I am working on — provisionally titled Democracy in Peril: Taiwan’s struggle for survival from Chen Shui-bian to Ma Ying-jeou — I came upon the following passage:

Gender Equality in Chinese Taipei

It is perhaps easiest to consider the situation of women in Chinese Taipei in comparison with that of women in mainland China (PRC). While Chinese Taipei has adopted a Western civil and capitalist legal system over the past century, its Civil Code retains strong paternal characteristics whereas PRC legislation upholds the principle of gender equality …

The site, Wikigender.org, shows the Nationalist flag with the caption “flag of Chinese Taipei.” The About page informs us that Wikigender is a project initiated by the OECD Development Centre to “to facilitate the exchange and improve the knowledge on gender-related issues around the world.” One listed source, APEC Gender in Chinese Taipei, Chinese Taipei Framework for the Integration of Women in APEC, links to http://gender.wrp.org.tw, a page on the Framework for the Integration of Women in APEC, which also refers to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei.”

Given China’s weight at APEC and its bullying of member states on the question of Taiwan, it is not surprising that the designation “Chinese Taipei” would be used, and it is in fact the name under which Taiwan has participated at its meetings. But at a project initiated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development? (It should be noted that while China is not an OECD member, it is what is called an “enhanced engagement country.”)

This bodes ill. Little by little, the name Taiwan (or even Republic of China) is being effaced and replaced with the name “Chinese Taipei.” The global commons of free information is being exploited to cultivate future generations of people who will have no clue that there once was this place called Taiwan. On the gender equality question, which I wanted supportive data on, the great accomplishments that the people of Taiwan have made on that front — Taiwan is second to Japan in all of Asia — are being ignored by the designers of the Wikigender site and the OECD. The Taiwanese architects of that great success are being replaced by people in that odd place that doesn’t exist called “Chinese Taipei,” as if Taiwanese didn’t even have a right to be proud of what they’ve achieved. By rebound, this creates the impression that China — or part of China, as “Chinese Taipei” must be — would be capable, under the current government there, of such social accomplishments.

I have written to the designers of the Wikigender site to complain. As always, if they bother to respond (or, less likely, correct the error), I will keep readers informed.

[UPDATE] Wikigender responded today in a short e-mail: “Based on OECD agreements with the Chinese Authorities, the Development Centre (as the creator of Wikigender) is equally obliged to follow this denomination.

After filing an application for observer status at the OECD in September 2003, Taiwan was granted “ad hoc observer status” in December 2004 under the name … “Chinese Taipei.” OECD sources at the time, however, said the designation was a “temporary arrangement” rather than a “formal status.” Regardless of whether the deal was made with Taipei or Beijing, it coincides with China’s strategy of removing the name “Taiwan” from international institutions. Four-and-a-half years on and with presumed pressure from Beijing (the so-called Chinese Authorities mentioned in Wikigender's reply to me, presumably), the “temporary” arrangement risks congealing into something more permanent; in other words, it is turning more into a “status.” All OECD documents and publications, it should be noted, refer to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei.”
Not a time for a nation of sheep

Since dialogue between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was initiated following President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) taking office in May, Beijing has made no secret of its ultimate intentions regarding Taiwan. In speech after speech, the Chinese leadership — including President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) on the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) — has been surprisingly transparent about the fact that cross-strait talks and various agreements are a means to an end, the stepping stones toward the great goal of “reunification.”

It is puzzling, therefore, that the Ma administration would continue to argue that an ECFA and other pacts with China are nonpolitical and will not undermine the sovereignty of the nation. And yet, despite the unequivocal signals from Beijing, this is what the administration keeps harping about, vaunting the economic benefits of closer ties with China and the alleged security benefits attendant to cross-strait dialogue.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A professional military by 2014? A pipe dream

On Monday, the Ministry of National Defense said that starting in 2011, the Taiwanese military would start replacing military conscripts with professional soldiers at a rate of at least 10 percent annually, with conscript measures ending in 2014. At present, all men above the age of 20 are required to do one year of military service.

The idea of a professional army is not a creation of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), nor is it the result of supposed reduced tensions in the Taiwan Strait. In fact, plans to create an all-volunteer or “partial” all-volunteer military were first floated during the first term of the Democratic Progressive Party administration.

Given the increasingly sophisticated weapons systems soldiers have to operate in a modern combat environment and the relatively short period of training conscripts receive during their one-year compulsory service, attracting motivated career soldiers who can be fully trained and upgraded as systems and concepts change makes perfect sense. In fact, under the current conscription system, one could be excused for doubting that young Taiwanese fresh out of compulsory service would be able to defend the nation if China attacked. Aside from the month or so they spend in boot camp, the great majority of conscripts spend time pushing paper in a stuffy office and cannot wait to resume their civilian life.

The problem with the ministry’s announcement on Monday, however, is that it comes amid cuts in the military budget by the KMT government, which has used the illusion of warmer ties with Beijing to justify the reduction. Taiwan’s overall defense budget for 2009 is US$10.17 billion, or NT$10.4 billion (US$301.4 million) lower than the 2008 level.

As studies have shown, creating a fully professional army is a costly endeavor. One initial estimate, mentioned in Bernard D. Cole’s Taiwan’s Security, was more than US$4 billion, or NT$138 billion, while the initial cost for a “partial” professional army was set at US$400 million. To put things in perspective, creating a fully professional army would cost Taiwan about one third of its overall defense budget for 2009. Even if this is spread over a five-year period, the project represents a major investment.

Without an increase in defense spending or special budget allocations, the creation of a fully professional army by 2014 will be financially impossible. And yet, when the ministry made the announcement on Monday, it did not mention any increases in defense spending. Nor has it said anything about raising soldiers’ salaries (about US$1,000 a month presently) to make the military an attractive employer for young Taiwanese. Absent career opportunities and remuneration that can compete with what is offered in the private sector, or even in academia, there is no way the military will manage to attract the talent, in large enough a quantity, it needs to meet its requirements.

What this means is that either the professional military will be anything but — a botched job — or the number of professional soldiers that current budgets allow for would be so low as to make Taiwan’s military unable to defend the nation. Either way, this bodes ill for Taiwan’s future ability to defend itself.