Friday, October 23, 2009

Can you spot the lie?

The following letter by Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) was published today in the New York Times:

Regarding “Taiwan and China” by Philip Bowring (Views, Oct. 7): In a turnaround from the confrontational stance of the past, the government of Taiwan is pursuing negotiations with mainland China. Cross-straight relations are progressing into a new era of peaceful development that bodes well for the prosperity of people on both sides.

Most of Taiwan’s people favor the decision to bar Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled Uighur leader, from visiting Taiwan but the government has allowed her film to be shown in Taiwan. This is in accordance with the law and out of concern for Taiwan’s national security and the public interest (by protecting freedom of speech).

As for the notion that Taiwan’s government has launched a witch-hunt against members of the previous administration in the name of fighting corruption, several points require exploration. Former President Chen Shui-bian, who was suspected of involvement in several illegal acts, including corruption and money laundering, was indicted in December 2008. Since then, many of Mr. Chen’s former aides and family members that were also accused of crimes admitted to some or all of the charges against them.

I want to stress that Taiwan sees the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan as the cornerstone of peace in East Asia. Improved cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China are advantageous to all parties.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration is determined to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty and hold to the principle of putting Taiwan first for the benefit of its people. There is no question of accepting a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” arrangement. We need the international community to gain a deeper and more balanced understanding of Taiwan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

‘Liberty Times’ not part of media delegation to Beijing

On Oct. 14, the Central News Agency (CNA) reported the following:

High-ranking executives of Taiwan’s media outlets will visit China from Oct. 28 through Nov. 11 for discussions on ways and means of enhancing cross-strait media cooperation, Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Vice Secretary General Ma Shao-chang said on Wednesday.

Headed by SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung, the 20-member group will visit Beijing and Shanxi Province to exchange views on journalistic exchanges with their Chinese counterparts and Chinese officials in charge of the media.

Currently, Taiwan and China allow correspondents from their major media outlets to remain on assignment on the other side for a maximum of three months on a rotating basis.

However, there have been calls for a “normalization” of journalistic exchanges between Taiwan and China through the reciprocal establishment of media branches or offices on each side. The Taiwan media delegation to China will include executives and senior journalists from SET TV, Formosa TV and the Liberty Times, which in the past were deemed as having embraced a pro-Taiwan independence stance.

After asking around, senior management sources at the Liberty Times — which is one floor above that of its sister newspaper, the Taipei Times, where I work — informed me that the Liberty Times will not be part of such a delegation. It appears that the Chinese version of the same CNA report read that the SEF had invited top Liberty Times executives to be part of the delegation, an invitation that the Liberty Times turned down. As such, the passage in the English version of the report, that “The Taiwan media delegation to China will include executives and senior journalists from SET TV, Formosa TV and the Liberty Times,” is wrong.

I have also learned from a credible source at the Liberty Times that contrary to what I had been told, the Liberty Times does not have a directive barring its reporters from going to China to cover major events. In at least one instance, however, China has refused to grant a visa to a Liberty Times reporter while showing a willingness to grant one to another reporter who was “acceptable” to the Chinese authorities.

The difference is not insubstantial, as it disputes the belief that management at the Liberty Times forbids its reporters from going to China.


I have now learned that the Apple Daily, which had also been invited by the SEF to be part of the delegation, is not welcome in China. So much for cross-strait media liberalization the very subject of the meeting in Beijing later this month!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Paradigm Shift: Expanded opportunities for Chinese espionage in Taiwan

The MacArthur Center for Security Studies (MCSS) at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University (NCCU), had its grand opening today, with six panelists — including The Associate Press’ Peter Enav, Wendell Minnick of Defense News and myself — discussing national security and the Taiwan Strait. About 125 people were in attendance, including officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council, as well as foreign diplomats (AIT Director William Stanton made an appearance but did not stay for the round table). The MCSS is sponsored by the US-based MacArthur Foundation, with an annual budget of US$550,000 for three years. Its Web site can be accessed here.

Interestingly, about a dozen Chinese exchange students (undergraduates) were also present. In my short chat with them, they told me that the process of getting visas to come to Taiwan was very complex — especially on the Chinese side. They said that about 30 students were currently at NCCU for one term, until the Spring Festival.

I presented the following paper:

Paradigm Shift: Expanded opportunities for Chinese espionage in Taiwan


While it is too early to render judgment on whether the cross-strait policies of President Ma Ying-jeou will create long-lasting peace in the Taiwan Strait, there is growing evidence that rapprochement has not resulted in a military drawdown on the Chinese side. In fact, while Beijing has shown some diplomatic “goodwill” toward Taiwan, the Chinese military posture vis-à-vis Taiwan has remained belligerent and, in some ways, has hardened. Beijing has refused to redirect or dismantle the 1,500 ballistic missiles it targets at Taiwan, and the rapid modernization of its armed forces, though not solely directed at Taiwan, has been accomplished with a Taiwan contingency very much in mind.

Given this, we can assume that this military posture is being replicated on the espionage front. This is arguably the area where China has benefited the most since Ma assumed office in May 2008, for while the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has gradually been drifting in China’s favor, there has been no fundamental change, no paradigm shift, in Taiwan’s ability to defend itself militarily. In other words, attacking Taiwan today would be just as formidable a challenge as it was, say, five years ago.

On the intelligence front, however, a paradigm shift has occurred. We are seeing today an unprecedented influx of Chinese visitors in Taiwan. This creates opportunities for Chinese intelligence to conduct surveillance, gather information and cultivate sources, “conscious” or otherwise. The second shift has occurred in the investment sector. By opening Taiwan to Chinese institutional investment, the Ma administration is exposing various sectors of the economy to economic espionage, technology transfer and cyber attack. In other words, while investment could be beneficial economically, we must not forget that China is not an ordinary investor and that it may have ulterior motives.

The threat assessment can be summed up with the following: While China’s intent and capabilities have remained stable in military terms, on the espionage front its capabilities have been greatly enhanced by Taiwan’s rapid opening to Chinese tourism and investment.

Tourists, or spies?

In late May this year, a Chinese tourist named Ma Zhongfei was caught taking pictures in a restricted area at the Armed Forces Recruitment Center in Taipei. We will probably never know whether Ma was simply curious, had improvised himself as a spy, or was acting on orders from the Chinese government. What is certain is that his actions were clumsy, overt, and not the work of a professional intelligence officer. This case nevertheless highlights the greater potential for spying by the Chinese intelligence apparatus.

Beijing has retained a tight grip on the Chinese who are allowed to visit Taiwan. By controlling the spigot, China is in an ideal position to insert agents posing as tourists or businesspeople, or to ask ordinary citizens to do something for the state, either for patriotic reasons or through blackmail. Given Taiwan’s relative lack of intelligence about ordinary Chinese, screening potential spies before they enter Taiwan will be a formidable, if not insurmountable, task. It will be even more difficult to keep tabs on Chinese visitors in Taiwan once restrictions on their movement are relaxed, which the Ma administration has said it would do. Clumsy Ma Zhongfei was caught, but for every one that is caught, many intelligence-gathering operations may have succeeded and gone unnoticed. As I have argued elsewhere, it is also possible that Ma Zhongfei was part of campaign to overload Taiwan’s security intelligence apparatus with a series pinprick “attacks.” By creating “info glut,” Chinese agents could generate so much noise that it becomes virtually impossible for Taiwan’s finite intelligence resources to tell credible threats from false ones.

For the past 60 years, strict rules on Chinese visitors to Taiwan meant that its borders were relatively secure from human intelligence (HUMINT) operations on its soil by Chinese agents. As a result, little effort was made to protect critical infrastructure, airports, telecommunication nodes, government offices and military bases from espionage. The sudden influx of Chinese in Taiwan, however, caught everybody by surprise, with the consequence that most of that infrastructure is now relatively accessible to anyone with an intent to conduct espionage. In some cases, “spies” do not even have to be highly professional to collect actionable intelligence.

Chinese media

The Ma administration has also shown its willingness to allow more Chinese media to operate in Taiwan and to water down restrictions on the duration of postings. Given the state’s control of most Chinese media, and in Xinhua news agency’s case its close ties with the Chinese intelligence apparatus, Chinese reporters also represent a real espionage threat to Taiwan. While there is a long history of journalism acting as a cover for intelligence officers — not only by China but also the US and the UK, among many others — Xinhua distinguishes itself by being seen by most Western intelligence agencies as an espionage threat. In fact, my former employer, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), always assumed that whoever was sent to Canada by Xinhua was an intelligence officer. In light of the situation in the Taiwan Strait and the high stakes involved, we can assume that whoever Chinese media deploy to Taiwan will not only be more aggressive in their intelligence collection, but also far more professional. By virtue of the greater access that the profession gives them, such agents could develop high-level sources, gather information on dissidents and members of the media, and provide a variety of actionable data on government, the military and critical infrastructure.

Chinese investment

After embracing market reform during the Deng Xiaoping era, China under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao appears to have backtracked on economic reform, with the state gaining more, rather than relinquishing, control over the private sector. While some critical companies (in the energy and communications sectors, for example) are fully owned by the state, the great majority of firms are semi-private or only private on paper, with funding coming from state-owned banks.

Many boards of directors and chief executive officers at such companies are retired Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials. For example, China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou is a CCP official who has occupied various posts in government, while Zhang Qingwei, the chairman of the board at Commercial Aircraft Co of China, or COMAC, is chairman of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense of the People’s Republic of China.

With this in mind, the Ma administration’s decision to open various sectors of Taiwan to Chinese institutional investment is troublesome. While critical sectors, such as telecommunications, defense, semiconductors and LCD, remain off-limit or restricted for the time being, many others, such as real estate, banking, electronics and construction, are now — or will soon be — open to Chinese investment. One that door has been opened, little by little the Chinese could whittle away at Taiwan’s restrictions on investment, while Taiwanese firms may pressure Taipei to accelerate the pace of opening or lift restrictions altogether, until we reach a point where no sector is off-limit to Chinese investment.

Already, we have seen attempts by China Mobile to buy a 12 percent stake in Far EasTone Telecommunications (FET), Taiwan’s second-largest telecommunications operator, while the Taiwanese government-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), which among other things designs the Ching Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter, has proposed cooperating with COMAC to co-assemble commercial airplanes.

As with tourists and journalists, the more contact there is between Chinese and Taiwanese, the greater will be the opportunities for Chinese individuals to collect intelligence, cultivate sources, conduct blackmail, set “honey traps” and so on. Furthermore, institutional contact will involve creating data links between Taiwanese and Chinese parties to facilitate the sharing of information. The consequences of Chinese investment in the banking and telecommunications sector could be dire for Taiwanese, as Chinese intelligence could far more easily gain access to personal and credit information at the source (e.g. theft, malware, etc), or by conducting intercepts on electronic conversations, transactions and so on. Aside from purely economic espionage, the principal targets of such activity could be government and military officials, as well as the Taiwan Independence movement, members of the opposition, and its supporters. Creating an in-depth profile of such individuals and drawing a link network (i.e., who knows who) would therefore be far easier than it has been in the past.


All this is contingent on the Taiwanese government’s assessment of the threat. Previous Taiwanese administrations also opened certain sectors of Taiwan to Chinese investment, or allowed Chinese to visit Taiwan. But as their threat perceptions was far more cautious than that of the Ma administration, they set quantitative and qualitative limits to ensure that national security would not be undermined. The Ma administration, however, seems to live under the premise that its still testy cross-strait initiative has resulted in an immediate change of posture in Beijing. In fact, in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, Ma was arguing that nature, rather than China, was the nation’s greatest enemy. There are indications as well that the National Security Bureau (NSB) under secretary-general Su Chi has adopted a more China-friendly attitude, which implies that its threat perception may have changed. A close reading of Chinese elite views on Taiwan,[vi] however, or an assessment of its Order of Battle (ORBAT), shows that cross-strait dialogue has not been accompanied by goodwill in terms of the behavior of the Chinese military and intelligence apparatus. The kind of assistance, if any, that the Taiwanese government provides to the industry to help it protect itself against Chinese espionage will be a good indication of whether Taipei takes the threat seriously or not.

Lastly, while there is no knowing what will happen in cross-strait dialogue, as the two sides start addressing more contentious aspects of the relationship — political issues, sovereignty and so on — frictions are bound to arise, not only in the dialogue itself, but from within Taiwanese society, which could threaten to derail Ma’s plans through electoral retribution in 2012. Should Beijing fear a return of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the Presidential Office in 2012, it could decide that force is the only option and could do so in concert with aggressive intelligence operations in Taiwan. Given the paradigm shift that has occurred since Ma came into office, Beijing would be in a far better position to target Taiwanese society, critical infrastructure, government buildings, and military bases — the direct result of the intelligence collected by Chinese agents while Taiwan slept.

Government keeps mum after alleged missile test

By J. Michael Cole

Taiwan has carried out a major missile exercise less than a fortnight after China showed off advanced ballistic weaponry in a massive National Day parade in Beijing, local Chinese-language newspapers reported yesterday. The Presidential Office, however, declined to confirm or deny the reports.

Missiles capable of striking major Chinese cities were launched on Tuesday from the tightly guarded Jioupeng (九鵬) base in Pingtung County, both the pro-opposition Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) and the pro-government United Daily News reported.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has been accused of being too friendly with China, was among the observers of the exercise, the papers said, citing a “reliable military source.”

Both Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and the Ministry of National Defense yesterday declined to comment on the reports.

The Apply Daily yesterday quoted anonymous military sources as saying that Ma was “very satisfied” with the missile test.

The missiles tested included the Hsiung-Feng 2E (HF-2E), which has a range of around 600km and has not yet officially entered the military’s inventory, the media reports said.

The missile is intended for launch from both land and sea and would be capable of striking airports and missile bases in southeast China, as well as cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, military experts say.

In the annual presidential address on Double Ten National Day, Ma said Taiwan would “never ignore the other side’s military threat despite significant improvements in cross-strait ties.”

China celebrated 60 years of Communist rule on Oct. 1 by parading high-tech weapons, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, through the streets of Beijing.

Asked for comment yesterday, Wendell Minnick of the Defense News global weekly said: “I am skeptical there was a test of the HF-2E cruise missile. For one, we are only a couple weeks away from the first economic cooperation framework agreement [ECFA] meeting with China and I do not believe Ma would do anything to upset that meeting.”

“Second, [Taiwan’s] budget for Hsiung-Feng 2E was cut last year,” Minnick said. “Third, if there was a missile test, it was for the Hsiung-Feng 3 anti-ship missile or the Tien Kung 3 air defense missile, but that is a big maybe.”

Developed under extreme secrecy at the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology in Taiwan, the Hsiung-Feng 2E missile program has run into difficulties over the years. Defense News reported in October 2007 that the US State Department had been pressuring Taipei to cancel the program because of its offensive nature.

The US defense establishment is also reported to have refused to provide Taiwan with terrain- mapping data necessary for the missile’s guidance system, although sources say such systems could have been obtained from a third party.

While the Taiwanese government has pledged to only develop and acquire defensive weapons, pressure mounted under former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration to develop a deterrent capability.

Link to article.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Security Prison 21

It was a cool evening in Phnom Penh, the low-lying French colonial houses in the capital slowly fading into the bluish darkness as I gazed from the rooftop of the Chinese-owned Golden Gate Hotel, situated in the posh diplomatic neighborhood. It was also surprisingly silent — nothing like the constant roar of cars, buses, MRTs and motorcycles in Taipei or other big Asian cities. As night fell, my thoughts turned to the city’s past — three decades ago, to be precise, when a nightmare of unprecedented evil would descend upon the city, force everybody out, and reset the clock to zero in an orgy of bloodletting. From my vantage point, I could almost see families being forced from their homes; men, women and children, at first not comprehending what was happening, being murdered in the streets by the Khmer Rouge, or taken away to the Killing Fields, where more than 2 million Cambodians were slaughtered.

Before being taken to one of the 800 mass graves discovered so far in Cambodia, many Cambodians were held at the infamous S-21, which prior to being turned into a prison had been the Chao Ponhea Yat High School. Today, the site is known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which I visited on Saturday.

In a mere four years (from 1975-1979), an estimated 20,000 Cambodians are believed to have been held at S-21, which consists of a few concrete complexes surrounded by barbed wire and a few desolate trees. Even as a school, the buildings must have been grim. Reconfigured by the Khmer Rouge as a prison and mostly left the way it was found when the Vietnamese liberated the capital in 1979, the buildings have retained an aura that can only be explained as lingering evil. The moment one approaches them, one is visited by the uncomfortable feeling that something not right, almost inhuman, happened here. Decades have failed to completely wash that sticky darkness away.

One three-story-high building is filled with row upon row of pictures of Cambodians — men, women and children — who at one point were detained there. A few are smiling, suggesting that the pictures were taken when the revolution was still young and news had yet to spread about what was going on. Many looked defiant, others terrified. The great majority — even the children — had the eyes of grown-ups who had seen their share of atrocities. Other pictures showed the narrow wooden chair on which prisoners were ordered to sit while their picture was taken, a vise-like device holding the head straight from behind. One picture has a young woman sitting on such a chair. She is holding a baby. Thousands of pictures. All of them were massacred. The “fortunate” ones were taken to one of the Killing Fields nearby and killed there, usually with farming equipment so that the precious bullets could be spared to fight the Vietnamese. The less “lucky” ones — former government officials, the educated class — were subjected to torture so evil in nature that the act cannot be reconciled with the need to extract information. In fact, there is only one way to explain what went on there: the torturers took delight in inflicting horrendous, sadistic pain on their victims. In other words, torture was not a means to an end, but was rather the end in itself, evil unleashed for no purpose.

The next building shows us what happened. Climb a few stairs and you find yourself on a balcony surrounded by barbed wire, designed in such a way that while it would prevent inmates from running away, the wounds inflicted would never be severe enough to make suicide an option (some, however, were able to put their hands on knives or pistols and managed to do so). The rooms on the ground floor are fairly large, perhaps five by seven meters. There is nothing in them, aside from an iron bed frame in the center. On one wall, a black-and-white picture shows the state the room was in when it was discovered in 1979: human remains shackled to the bed, twisted like insects, their banged-in faces frozen in agony and a pool of dark blood underneath the bed. Here again, various agricultural instruments were used: axes, shovels, knives, pincers. Room after room, the spectacle of horror is the same. Only the victims differ, and the manner in which they were tortured and finally murdered. It is easy to imagine oneself in such a room, or the cries that must have emanated from them, even if special glass windows were used to dampen the sound.

Another building has the holding cells, their size depending on which floor they are located. Some were meant for groups, while others were individual cells, about one-by-one meter. The separations are made of red brick and the narrow wooden door has a small window at the center. The hours spent locked in those rooms must have been interminable and harrowing.

After S-21, a one-hour bus ride will take you to Choeung Ek, one of the Killing Fields on the outskirts of the city. The name itself has an ominous ring to it. There, among the grassy knolls and ancient trees, thousands were eliminated and thrown into mass graves. As one walks around the area, bone remains, pieces of clothing still dapple the ground, left untouched as monuments to what happened here. “Here lie the remains of about 100 women,” a wooden placard reads, just above a small pond filled with murky water. Here lie about 150 corpses, reads another. Then there is the “magic tree,” which was used to hang loudspeakers that blasted loud noises to drown out the moans of people who were being executed. As many as 20,000 Khmers are believed to have been murdered there. At the center, a simple shrine has been erected, which contains the skulls of about 8,000 Cambodians. May the souls of the dead rest in piece, reads a card left behind by visitors from the Japanese Red Cross. Underneath the skulls, clothes have been piled up, ostensibly belonging to the many victims. All over the county, similar shrines, their bellies filled with skulls and bones, can be found, reminding us that the nightmare spared no one. City dwellers and peasants alike were all fair game in Pol Pot’s infernal revolution.

I visited S-21 and Choeung Ek with a group of students from Taipei American School. Sadly, most didn’t seem to fully grasp the significance of those locations, or simply couldn’t relate to them. One or two didn’t want to visit, but we made them. Horrible though these places may be, they serve as reminders of man’s potential for inhumanity — an extreme, granted, in Cambodia’s case — and of the fact that these things can happen again. Fifteen years after the liberation of Cambodia, about 800,000 Rwandans were being killed in genocide. Never again are empty words, mere slogans, if we fail to learn from the past, whcih is why I found it unfortunate that the children I was with did not seem interested. Some of them are descendants of victims of the 228 Massacre in Taiwan, where as many as 20,000 people were massacred by the KMT regime. Taiwan had its very own S-21, which was located on Green Island. The horrors there were of a different degree, granted, but no less real for that. Other students were from South Korea and will soon have to do their military service. Their home country faces an unstable enemy that, in a matter of hours, could incinerate Seoul and kill tens of thousands, if not more. 

It can touch them. It can touch all of us. We cannot afford to ignore these things, or believe that we are exceptional in that somehow history would spare us. It spares no one.

Life, however, goes on, and Cambodians are healing, however slow and painful the process may be. A handful of surviving Khmer Rouge officials, including the director of S-21, are now in the dock and awaiting trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. Justice was never served to Pol Pot, who passed away before he could be apprehended (for many years, top Khmer Rouge figures were allowed to walk freely, while others fled overseas or across the border into Thailand). Lower Khmer Rouge militants, for their part, faced immediate justice after the Vietnamese came in: they were sent to the wall and executed.

All things in balance. The principal reason for the trip was to build houses for 10 families who, because of their deeds in the previous year, had been selected by villagers. The site was a mere hour’s drive outside Phnom Penh and was striking for its poverty (as a local reporter told me, there’s Phnom Penh, and then there’s Cambodia). The contrast with the capital, what with its diplomatic compounds, bars, restaurants and SUVs, could not have been more obvious. Entire families lived on next to nothing, proof that whatever money is being made has yet to trickle down to ordinary Cambodians, who make the great majority of the population. Only a small corrupt clique, fed by diplomats, NGOs and international aid (China and the US are fighting it off for influence, the same local reporter told me), as well as the proceeds from illegal logging, mining, prostitution, and sheer corruption, is benefiting and prospering. In that injustice, I fear, may lie the seeds of the next revolution, which could reopen old, terrible wounds and unleash yet another round of bloodletting. Looking at the beautiful, brown-skinned children who found joy with a mere soccer ball, I hoped against hope that unlike previous generations, they would be allowed to prosper and not be visited by some new iteration of the Khmer Rouge demons.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Interview with Martin Jacques, Part Two

Part Two of my interview with Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, was published today in the Taipei Times. In it, Jacques turns to the notion of “contested modernity,” Taiwanese independence, Western reactions to his theory and the possibility of a trade war between the US and China.

From this interview, and the great amount of material that was generated during our discussion but didn’t make it into the final text, my sense is that Mr Jacques equates “modernity” with brand new airports, skyscrapers and double-digit GDP growth and that the cost to the environment and personal freedoms is only of secondary importance. This definition of modernity, in my view, is rather narrow, as it does not encompass more novel notions of modernity such as environmental protection — which sometimes acts as a brake on industrial development — and personal freedoms. Based on his definition of the term, big Chinese cities, pollution and repression notwithstanding, are more “modern” than, say, Taipei, whose development may have been less striking in the past decade (of course, rapid development will be more impressive when it starts from nothing, which wasn’t the case with Taipei, whose development began much earlier). The same holds for GDP growth; gone are the times when Taiwan will experience the same rapid pace of growth that developing economies like China and India have seen, simply because Taiwan is already a developed economy, and rapid growth cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Jacques was a very agreeable person to be with and he seemed to appreciate being challenged on some of his assumptions. While readers are likely to find much to disagree with in Jacques’ book, there nevertheless is value in our own assumptions being challenged by a work that — in Jacques’ own words — was geared more towards Chinese readers than those in the West. Sadly, making his work “acceptable” in China, an issue that is raised in the interview, may have come at the cost of a rosier picture of the Chinese Communist Party than was warranted. In one instance, for example, Jacques claims that the communists played a prominent role in the resistance against the Japanese during World War II, a view that has now largely been discredited (I raised the matter with him, to which he replied that he had yet to be convinced by the “evidence” his detractors had shown him, adding that such questions were a matter of opinion rather than facts).

Sunday, October 04, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Su Chi’s ‘Taiwan’s Relations with Mainland China’

Su Chi, sometime government official, sometime academic, shows his political colors in his treatise on cross-strait ties under Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian

The problem with academics who are also politicians is that they tend to say one thing when in office, and something quite different when they’re in academia. This certainly applies to National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起), who is both an academic and has a long history of involvement in government under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and in the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, and served as a legislator for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for a good part of Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency. Su the political animal has a weakness for hyperbole, such as when, in October 2007, he claimed that Taiwan was developing nuclear weapons, which was false.

A consequence of this is that Su the academic must be approached with caution. That being said, this does not mean Taiwan’s Relations with Mainland China: A Tail Wagging Two Dogs is a bad book. In fact, it’s a fairly good book — at least when Su manages to restrain his political Mr Hyde.

Su’s book covers the period from 1988 through 2004, which includes tentative efforts to open diplomatic talks across the Taiwan Strait all the way to the end of Chen’s first term as president.

My review of Su’s book, published today in the Taipei Times, is available in HTML and PDF.

INTERVIEW: China to ‘rule the world,’ British author says

Published earlier this year, British author Martin Jacques’ book When China Rules the World argues that the global environment is being reconfigured as a result of the re-emergence of China, a ‘civilization state’ with such a long and complex history that Western concepts of modernity cannot fully account for its significance. Jacques sat down with Taipei Times staff reporter J. Michael Cole on Tuesday to discuss this development.

Part One of my interview 1-hour, 46-minute interview with Martin Jacques during his two-day passage in Taiwan as part of his Asia book tour, is available here. Part Two will be published in the Monday edition of the Taipei Times.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Let’s turn the wire crap filter on — again

Good old Agence-France Presse (AFP) has done it again. This time, reporter Amber Wang, or whoever edited the piece afterwards, managed to bring their reporting to a new low not only by misrepresenting developments, but clearly getting the facts wrong. Let’s dissect:

China plans to sign a key financial pact with Taiwan later this month as a reward for the island barring a visit by Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, a report [by the Commercial Times] said Thursday … [citing] remarks by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office officials to Taiwanese businessmen in Beijing ahead of the mainland’s Oct. 1 National Day. The arrangement was made after Taiwan decided last week to prevent exiled Kadeer, branded a “criminal” in Beijing, from making a trip to the island, the paper said. [my italics]

Here’s the facts: Taiwan and China have been discussing the financial pact for months, and even before Kadeer was invited to Taiwan it was expected that the agreement would be signed later this year (with an ECFA following early next year). It is therefore misleading to portray the signing of the pact as a “reward” for the Taiwanese government’s decision not to allow Kadeer to visit. To be fair, the Commercial Times may be the originator of that lie, which AFP simply would be perpetuating.

For different reasons, financial pacts are important for both Taiwan and China — perhaps even more so for China, given the political implications of further tying Taiwan’s economy to China’s. Given this, and since abandoning the pact would go counter to Beijing’s interests, it is downright incorrect to refer to China as “rewarding” Taiwan for something. It also encourages the distorted notion that Taiwan is embracing Beijing’s ideology (on Uighurs) and as a consequence reaping the economic rewards, while providing the image of a father figure (China) rewarding its child (Taiwan) when it “behaves.” Kadeer or no Kadeer, visit or not, that pact was to be signed, period.

AFP continues:

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party will show Kadeer’s film and a documentary on alleged Chinese repression in Tibet later Thursday to demonstrate Taiwan’s support for freedom and democracy, it said. [my italics]

There is nothing alleged about repression in Tibet — it’s a fact. Truth be told, the very person who made the documentary has been jailed by Chinese authorities for making it. There is documentation, eyewitness reports, photographs and various electronic recordings of Chinese repression in Tibet, from 1951 onwards. If stark facts such as Chinese repression can be made light of, what other fundamental aspects of our world is AFP not taking seriously, realities easily discarded or conveniently ignored when doing so coincides with the rising untouchable giant?