Monday, August 23, 2010

Analysis: Taiwan’s debate on submarine expansion resurfaces

Amid mounting apprehensions surrounding the emergence of China as a major military power, defense experts continue to focus their attention on Washington’s reluctance to sell Taipei advanced combat aircraft. A small group of military specialists, however, argues that another long-neglected system could prove a superior deterrent to Chinese aggression: submarines.
For almost a decade, the issue of submarines has been subject to the political vagaries of the triangular relationship between Taipei, Washington and Beijing, as well as disagreement over their utility and high cost.

Mark Stokes, executive director at the Project 2049 Institute, is a strong proponent of submarines for Taiwan.

“The key thing about submarines is their inherent stealth and potential lethality,” he told the Taipei Times. “They represent one of the few capabilities that would be difficult to take out in a first, disarming first strike, especially if on patrol.”

According to most scenarios, a Chinese attack on Taiwan would open with missile salvos against Taiwan’s military targets, including airfields and command-and-control centers.

This analysis, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review: China’s journalists find chinks in the state’s armor

Watchdog journalism has flourished in China over the past decade as reporters and editors risk their careers and sometimes their lives to expose official corruption and government malfeasance

Despite strong control of information by the state, the characterization of Chinese journalism as invariably propagandistic and uncritical of the authorities is an unfair one. For a minority of reporters, watchdog journalism is their raison d’etre, a calling that forces them to play a constantly shifting game of cat-and-mouse with the state apparatus and corrupt local politicians who, more often than not, are the object of their reportage.

This noble tradition finds its roots in baogao wenxue (報告文學), or reportage literature, which artfully blends fact and fiction to expose actual events. One of the pioneers of the genre was the China Youth Daily’s Liu Binyan (劉賓雁), whose stories exposing injustice in the 1950s earned him the designation of “rightist” and landed him in a re-education camp until the late 1970s. Only during the period of soft liberalization in the 1980s, however, did investigative journalism in a form recognizable to Western news consumers emerge in China, especially after then-premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) in 1987 incorporated the term yulun jiandu (輿論監督), which literally means “supervision by public opinion,” into his annual report to party leaders.

This form of journalism is the subject of Investigative Journalism in China, which explores eight cases of watchdog journalism as told from the perspective of the prominent reporters themselves, who were invited to the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong to share their experiences.

This book review, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here (html) and here (pdf).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Taiwan caught in the middle as US, Japan to hold exercise near Diaoyutais

The Yomiuri Shimbun today reported that Japan and the US were planning to hold joint naval exercise near the disputed Diaoyutai (釣魚台, Senkaku in Japanese) Islands later this year. Citing unnamed sources, the paper said the US Seventh Fleet would participate in a scenario involving Japan recapturing an unnamed remote southwestern island from an enemy.

Japanese fighter and patrol aircraft, as well as 250 paratroopers from cargo planes guarded by F-15 fighters, will also be involved in the drill in Oita Prefecture, near Okinawa.

This announcement, though the Japanese defense ministry has yet to confirm it, points to a shift in US posture in the Asia Pacific. Not only does it come on the heels of a US Department of Defense report on the Chinese military threat, but the exercise will be held in an area close to a chain of islands contested by Japan, China and Taiwan, and away from the traditional exercises to Japan’s east, in the Pacific Ocean.

This is a shift inasmuch as it reinvigorates the US-Japanese security alliance after nearly a decade of neglect. The timing of the announcement, soon after a series of exercises with the South Korean navy in the Sea of Japan, points to US re-engagement with its traditional allies in the region. It also clearly places China, whose naval ambitions appear to be expanding, as the main enemy, and will most assuredly exacerbate fears in Beijing that it is being “boxed in.”

Where things become less clear-cut, however, is Taiwan’s position in the equation. There is no doubt that the US’ reaffirming who it would side with during conflict over the Diaoyutais is based on hard political calculations and that Taiwan, which has a claim of its own over the islands, is an afterthought in Washington. We can expect that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, along with the lunatic, China-funded Chinese Diaoyutai Defense Association, will go through the motions and express nationalist anger at this latest development, but at the end of the day, the US has little time for them: The principals are Japan and China.

In a way, this could be construed as a sign that Washington has abandoned Taiwan to the Chinese camp — something that would not have happened under the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) or Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) administrations, which could even have sought (albeit with little chance of success) to participate in the exercise. There is a very real risk, depending on how Taipei responds to the situation, that the exercise will push Taipei further into Beijing’s sphere of influence. Whereas the line used to be drawn in Taiwan, we may be experiencing the consolidation of a fallback that is now clearly defined in the area near the Diaoyutais and Okinawa. This could be a way for Japan and the US of ceding territory to strengthen their rear, part of a strategic readjustment that began with Japan’s redrawing in June of its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) from Yonaguni Island westwards, about 500km out at sea from Okinawa and 110km from Taiwan.

At this writing, Taipei had yet to respond to the announcement.

Cambodia nixes Taiwan trade office over ‘one China’

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) promise that China would be more amenable to Taiwan inking free-trade deals or integrating with other regional economies after signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was put into question after reports revealed that Cambodia turned down a request by Taipei to open a representative office because of Phnom Penh’s “one China” policy.

The Phnom Penh Post last week quoted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (seen above, left, with Chinese President Hu Jintao) as saying that Taiwan could not establish a trade office in Cambodia because the country abides by the “one China” principle, prompting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Aug. 11 to issue a statement emphasizing the Republic of China’s status as a sovereign and independent country.

Any Cambodian official departing from the “one China” policy and seeking to allow Taiwan to open a representative office would be dismissed, the Post said.

As Taiwan seeks to sign trade agreements with regional economies — especially ASEAN members — opening trade offices constitutes a crucial step toward achieving this goal.

This article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Enough with words, a call to action

The pages of this newspaper [the Taipei Times] and other liberal publications are filled with beautiful slogans about the need to “protect” Taiwan based on lofty principles such as democracy, justice and human rights. Commendable as these prescriptions may be, in and of themselves they are impotent in the face of the present challenges confronting this nation.

Although the intentions of the opinion writers who propose such measures are undoubtedly honorable, their prose often lacks the rigorous intellectual inquisitiveness that would give them true meaning, leaving us with little more than a constellation of presumptuous abstracts. In fact, more often than not, the ideals they espouse are at best a means to contrast what the authors are trying to protect with the entity that poses the most formidable threat to it — China.

However, using words to describe what China is not is hardly the kind of call to action that will ward off the threat to Taiwan’s continued existence.

An understanding of the opponent makes this abundantly clear. Sloganeering doesn’t gain traction with the Chinese Communist Party and the politicians and business leaders in Taipei who seem inclined to be co-opted by the Chinese. It doesn’t move, sway or frighten them.

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We are doomed

Car-free initiatives have become trendy in cities worldwide trying to sensitize the population to the environmental damage caused by motorized vehicles. Taipei, like many other major cities, participated in that initiative, doing so for the first time in 2008.

This year’s month-long series of activities will begin on Monday, with a festival and various promotions encouraging use of public transportation touted by the city government. However, in announcing the activities today, the authorities said that to avoid inconveniencing the public during the car-free day on Monday, the department of transportation would … not close roads to traffic, meaning that car-free day will be anything but car free.

Undeniably, car-free days in busy metropolises is always inconvenient, but isn’t that the whole point? Without hassle, without inconvenience, we simply go on with our highly polluting and highly destructive lives, unaware that this very insouciance is taking our fragile habitat closer to extinction, one particle per million of carbon dioxide at a time.

Short-lived inconvenience now, if it serves to educate us about the impact of our rapacious behavior, is far more desirable than the (likely permanent) inconvenience that awaits us years hence when we’ve passed the tipping point.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Media wars

Officials at the US-based Freedom House on Monday [early May] denied the watchdog was angry at the Liberty Times over its coverage of a draft report on press freedom in Taiwan released last week.

Want Want China Times Group’s CtiTV on Saturday accused the Liberty Times of “politicizing” the report in a front page article on Friday, in which it provided excerpts both in the original English version and a Chinese translation. The Chinese-language Apple Daily also ran a story on the report, as did the Taipei Times and Agence France-Presse.

Singling out the Liberty Times, CtiTV’s Washington correspondent Zang Guohua (臧國華) alleged that the Freedom House was “not happy with the paper after it used the report as a tool for political battle” and implied that the Liberty Times had overemphasized concerns raised by Freedom House over possible changes in the editorial line at the China Times following the takeover by Want Want Group in November 2008.

Zang’s report included excerpts of an interview with Karin Karlekar, managing editor of the “Freedom of the Press Survey” at Freedom House, in which she said of the Liberty Times article: “It is very troubling. We’re trying to describe a situation as best we can and raise issues of concern, but it is annoying to be used like this as part of a bigger political battle.”

In a telephone interview with Sarah Cook, the researcher who wrote the section of the report on Taiwan, Zang asked her if she had spoken with Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明).

"No,” Cook said.

Pressed as to whether she had spoken with anyone else at the China Times, she said she preferred not to go into details of the sources used to write the report.

Asked about the CtiTV report on Monday, Freedom House officials said they were quoted out of context.

Moreover, while they denied having any major problems with the coverage given to the report by the Taipei Times or the Liberty Times, they repeated general editorial “concerns” about the China Times.

In separate telephone interviews from their New York offices, however, Karlekar and Cook both stressed there had been no major decline in press freedom in Taiwan.

Cook sent copies of her draft report on Taiwan to some newspapers last month, but the final report is not expected until next month.

“We have released draft reports for years. In past years, as happened this year, the media has wanted to pick up quotes from the draft report and we don’t have a problem with that," Karlekar said.

“The date of publication by the Liberty Times and the Taipei Times was not an issue at all. They published after the embargo, there was no problem," she added.

“The only trouble I had with the Liberty Times was that it wasn’t mentioned this was a draft report. And it seems that the bits concerning the China Times were the main bits that were quoted. I would be troubled if they were trying to imply the China Times was the reason for a big decline in press freedom,” she said.

I tried to make it clear there had not been a big decline in press freedom in Taiwan. The score remained almost the same as last year. The reason for any deterioration was not particularly the China Times. It was a pretty big report and the China Times was only one part of the report,” she said.

Moving on to the CTiTV program in which she was interviewed on camera, Karlekar said: “I have just looked at the CTiTV report and the bits that are in English are pretty selective. They must have had me on camera for about 45 minutes and so it was pretty easy for them to pull out the few bits that they felt would help them, that would help their story the most.”

“What I was trying to say, what I did say during the interview, was that I was not the person writing the report, that I was not sure what evidence they had, or did not have, of a change in editorial policy at the China Times. But we had contact with a number of sources and some of them had raised this as an issue,” she said. “That is why it was in the report as being a continuing issue of concern — that is, a potential change in editorial policy at the China Times. It’s not that we had hard evidence of it or that we had done content analysis, but some of our sources had raised this as an issue. And statements made by the head of the China Times group also raised concern and had become an issue.”

Karlekar said that while no major changes were expected in the final report on Taiwan, comments and criticism of the draft report would be taken into consideration.

Cook, who has visited Taiwan on a number of recent occasions, said that the China Times did not receive a copy of her draft report because “I had a contact at the China Times, but for some reason whenever I followed up with that person to send them drafts or information, I never received a response.”

"In the end I sent the draft to the Taipei Times and to a range of people that I know are interested in these issues. I feel badly that it seems there was some kind of discriminatory act here, but it was very much unintentional,” she said.

On the CTiTV interview, Cook said: “We do feel that there was some misleading, misquoting, out-of-context use of what we had said in the TV interview.”

“When I sent the draft to the Liberty Times and the Taipei Times, I had every intention that they would be able to quote it as it is and other than the fact that it could have been emphasized a little bit more that this was a draft report I don’t think we have serious concerns about the way it was covered,” she said.

“It was a fairly fair portrayal of the content of the report,” she said.

She said that Freedom House hoped that news stories about the draft report on Taiwan would emphasize the reasons for the small decline in press freedom over the last year.

“The reasons for the decline were circumstances other than the specific example of the China Times. And from that perspective the Taipei Times article was more even handed and reflective of what we would have liked to have gone out than the Liberty Times. They emphasized more of the China Times angle and that — in terms of the numerical scores and stuff like that — wasn’t something that contributed to the decline,” she said.

"Before the final report comes out, there will be more fact checking, she said, but “our intention is to put out in the public domain what we see as being an accurate reflection of the analysis we have done and not to change it one way or the other because it may upset particular individuals or entities,” she said.

We talked to a range of different people and looked at a range of different sources of information, including the comments that the owner of the China Times made himself to the media. Comments like that, coming from the owner of a media outlet, raise eyebrows,” Cook said.

“That was part of it, but there were other issues relating to the actual content of the newspaper and concerns that people were raising. Part of it was that concerns were being raised and we don’t have the resources at the moment to do a thorough content analysis," she said. “But we do feel it is important. We did not go in looking to raise concerns about the China Times. But when there are comments like that, and you have some of the other concerns expressed, and some of the other incidents that occurred during the year, we felt it was very important to reflect that. Again, it was concerns and not necessarily conclusive,” Cook said.

This article, scheduled for publication sometime in May, was eventually cancelled.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

In one fell swoop, Ma dispenses with the PRC

Based on recent comments by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), it would seem that the cross-strait “diplomatic truce” he initiated soon after coming to office either enfeebles the mind, or cannot be explained by anything other than contradictions.

During a roundtable on Monday, Ma was all wisdom when, channeling ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius (孟子), he said the best means by which two countries can get along was for the smaller country to be smart and flexible in dealing with the bigger one.

By smart, we can conclude that Ma meant keeping a low profile, being conciliatory and willing to compromise and not rattling the diplomatic cage — all things that his administration has managed with considerable success.

Just as the churning waters in the Taiwan Strait looked like they might be pacified by Ma the wise, however, the president on Wednesday told visiting Japanese academics that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in late June was not a treaty signed between two states. The reason?

“We do not recognize China as a state, so our relationship with each other is not one of country-to-country,” Ma said.

So in Ma’s alternate universe, former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — who both recognized the existence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a sovereign state — were “troublemakers,” and yet the man who would deny Beijing’s legitimacy, and the government of its 1.3 billion people, is somehow a “peacemaker.”

Only in the hallucinatory world of Ma’s cross-strait politics could insulting the larger neighbor by denying its existence be equated with wisdom and peacemaking.

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

Friday, August 06, 2010

Preserving the ROC Air Force’s rich history

As my latest article in the Taipei Times indicates, we have good reason to worry about the ability of Taiwan’s military to ward off an invasion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which, according to the findings of the Ministry of National Defense’s latest computer simulation, would only require three days to occupy Taipei, command-and-control centers and the Presidential Office.

This development stems from three principal reasons: the PLA’s rapid modernization in the past decade; the long delays (caused by a KMT-controlled legislature) in arms acquisition by Taipei during the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration; and Washington’s unwillingness, under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to provide Taiwan with the advanced weapons systems it needs to maintain the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. A fourth, albeit more recent, development is the lack of military preparedness under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, which, as I point out in my article, has cut military budgets by as much as US$1.2 billion in the past two years, toned down live exercises, and made nature, rather than China, the military’s principal opponent.

Dispiriting as the situation may be, Taiwan’s military wasn’t always in such a pitiful state and has a fascinating history that spans attempts, under Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), of retaking the “mainland,” to ensuring superiority in the Taiwan Strait. The modernization of Taiwan’s military, which for decades kept Taiwan safe, would not have been possible without US assistance and the role played by individuals such as the legendary Claire Chennault (seen right).

This rich history is well captured at the Republic of China (ROC) Air Force museum that is being built in Kaohsiung under the supervision of Major General Mike Tien (田在勱). I had the good fortune of visiting the partially open museum last week, at the invitation of the ROC Air Force, which flew about three dozens journalists in a Hercules C-130 (lots of leg room, though very noisy) from Songshan Air Force Base to Kaohsiung  last Friday.

While the museum, whose main building is under development, will not be open for another two years, it already has, for public scrutiny, a cornucopia of Air Force memorabilia, from historical pictures, badges, documents, statues and many other items, many of which were donated to the museum by Maj. General Tien. While this alone makes this well worth visiting, the open-sky museum, a tour of which Mr. Tien and other Air Force officers were kind enough, in the crushing heat, to give me and Defense News’ Wendell Minnick, makes a visit even more worthwhile. Aside from retired ROC aircraft, which include F-104 Starfighters and a variety of spy and transport airplanes, the museum also has the actual MiG aircraft that were flown by defecting PLA Air Force pilots across the Taiwan Strait, as well as North Korean MiG that was seized years ago, in pieces, on board a cargo ship and pieced back together  for the museum.

Interestingly, the museum is open the Chinese tourists, though, as one officer told us, there is no knowing what Chinese think when they see their MiGs, 八一 emblem with the Red Star (8-1 stands for Aug. 1, 1927, the year the PLA was created following the Nanchang uprising) and all. Chances are they’ve never heard of such a thing as a PLA defector.

The well-respected Maj. Gen. Tien, who as I was leaving could not help but give me wise advice (“remember, always write good things about the Air Force”), is hard at work trying to obtain a variety of retired aircraft from the US Air Force, including a U-2 spy plane. Should he succeed, the fully completed museum should be a must see when it officially opens two years hence.

Sadly for us, the clouds were too low for the scheduled AT-3 trainer aircraft show, which, though it would have been the highlight of the visit down south, had to be canceled for safety reasons.

Now the question is, amid signs that the Taiwanese military is losing steam and becoming increasingly irrelevant in the face of a growing threat across the strait, can Ma (and the US) ensure that the long, rich tradition highlighted in the museum is maintained, and that the sacrifices made by the dedicated men and women who people its history were not made in vain?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Three days is all it would take the PLA

The latest computerized scenario carried out by the military showed that in a war with China, Taipei would be occupied by enemy forces in just three days, a magazine report said yesterday.

Last month’s simulation, attended by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), came amid warnings that China was expected to increase the number of its missiles aimed at Taiwan by several hundred to more than 1,900 by the end of this year. These include ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and other weaponry deployed throughout China.

Under the scenario, which assumed war at next year’s force levels, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched intensive air raids on Taiwan before sending in ground troops from the sea and air, the Chinese-language Next Magazine reported.

The drill found that Chinese troops could march into Taipei on the third day of hostilities, seizing control of top military command facilities and the Presidential Office, Next said, quoting unnamed sources.

The results were a severe blow to Ma’s goal of building “solid defense and efficient deterrence” with a small but elite army, the magazine said.

During his presidential campaign, Ma vowed to build a stronger military as a deterrent against aggression by Beijing. Under Ma’s plan, Taipei has worked to achieve an all-volunteer force, but this will come at great cost to the defense budget, which is set at US$9.3 billion this year, a 6.9 percent drop from last year’s US$9.6 billion and US$10.5 billion in 2008.

The military must also cope with a number of aging defense systems that are due for refurbishing or replacement, including its F-16A/B fighter aircraft.

The Ministry of National Defense dismissed Next’s report.

This article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

KMT makes a mockery of free media

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) confirmed on June 23 that Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC) chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) — founder of the pro-China New Party — was joining its team of campaign advisers and image experts ahead of the crucial November municipal elections.

Jaw, we have learned, was invited by KMT Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), a spin doctor who serves as the clearest evidence that, despite claims to the contrary, the KMT continues to extend tentacles in the media — both to grab its profitable assets and to control information.

A bit of history is in order to demonstrate how incestuous the relationship between the KMT and the media remains, even after years of alleged divestment.

Amid a program under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration to end influence by political parties and the military in the media, in 2005 BCC (formerly a KMT-owned radio station) was privatized and sold to Jungli Investment Co, a subsidiary of the China Times Group, a media conglomerate that, since it was acquired in November 2008 by Want Want Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), has adopted an unequivocally pro-China editorial line. In December 2006, the China Times Group sold BCC to UFO Radio, which is controlled by Jaw. (Unsurprisingly, both BCC and UFO Radio were strong supporters of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) during the presidential election, while far less wealthy stations tended to back the DPP.)

A mere three months after Tsai was acquiring the China Times Group, King was becoming chief executive officer of Next Media’s planned 24-hour news TV station, claiming that despite his close relationship with Ma — both as a campaign aide and former deputy Taipei mayor, among others — the TV station would provide “balanced” reporting on the Ma administration. Back then, King also vowed not to take a formal post with the Ma administration.

The decision to hire King as CEO was Next Media founder Jimmy Lai’s (黎智英), whose group lost the bid to acquire the China Times Group to Tsai’s Want Want. (Rumor has it that it was Lai who also arranged for King to get a six-month visiting professorship at Hong Kong University in the summer of 2008, which served as cover for King to do “underground” political work for Ma.)

Ten months later, in December last year, the National Communications Commission was rejecting Lai’s bid for a news channel in Taiwan. Within the same 24-hour period, the KMT was confirming that King was taking over as party secretary-general.

Since the KMT came back into power in 2008, it has faced numerous accusations of interference in the media, from personnel changes at Radio Taiwan International to the appointment of Joe Hung, a fellow at the National Policy Foundation — the KMT’s think tank — as chairman of Central News Agency. Half of Public Television Service’s (PTS) US$38 million budget was frozen by the KMT-controlled legislature in 2008, just as the party was considering increasing government influence over its programming.

The problems PTS has run into present a particularly worrying case and actually began two years prior to the KMT’s return to power, when the station became part of the Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS), which also included the recently privatized Chinese Television System (CTS), formerly a KMT-owned media outlet. Around that time, a famous KMT legislator (who shall remain unnamed) was unashamedly telling a senior official at PTS that the KMT was just bidding its time and expected to regain control, if indirectly, of CTS and its prized assets (including valuable land), once the KMT came back into office.

On Jan. 1 the following year, Hakka Television, Taiwan Indigenous Television and Taiwan Macroview Television merged to form TBS. Under KMT pressure since 2008, not only did PTS see its government funds frozen by the legislature, but it also had to divided its now very limited resources to also ensure the operations of the other entities that now formed TBS.

In the past year or so, the PTS board has been attacked and intimidated by the KMT, often with the help of the Government Information Office (GIO). This includes verbally assaulting PTS officials in the legislature after some of them made critical comments about the Ma administration at a media conference in France, suing seven PTS board members, and breaking the law by approving eight KMT/GIO-selected board members in a legislature that (a) was in recess, and (b) whose composition of judges no longer reflected the balance of power in the legislature after the KMT lost a series of seats to the DPP. Rather than select a new panel of judges, as required by law, the legislature claimed it could use the one from the previous legislative session. And it got away with it.

The legislature passed an amendment to the Public Television Act (公共電視法) in June increasing the number of PTS board members, a move that was largely seen as an attempt by the government to increase its influence on PTS. Only an injunction by acting chairman Cheng Tung-liao (鄭同僚) halted the appointment of the eight board members and that of his likely replacement, the KMT’s hand-picked Chen Shih-min (陳世敏), a former colleague of King at National Chengchi University. So problematic was the whole process that the Control Yuan censured the GIO for what it said were problematic procedures involving the appointment of the eight members. Still, this didn’t prevent “acting chairman” Chen Sheng-fu (陳勝福) — head of the Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera troupe and a strong supporter of the KMT, whose wife, opera diva Sun Tsui-feng (孫翠鳳), was tapped by the KMT as a potential spin-spokesperson for the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) — from showing up in court with a mere “note of acknowledgment” (hardly a legal document) from the GIO to have the injunction against the eight (including himself) lifted. The executive letter was stamped, but PTS allegedly never saw it (as a “goodwill” gesture, the GIO injunction against the six original board members was also lifted so that the internecine-stricken board could resume its work).

Not only does this point to the judiciary doing the KMT’s bidding in facilitating the party’s assault of free media, but the Control Yuan didn’t even lift a finger to stop the process.

A senior official at PTS who is very close to all this told me on condition of anonymity that the man behind all this is no other than King, whose cronies are either seeking to get PTS “on message” or to regain control of CTS assets. The official also said that under the DPP, PTS was very much left alone and allowed to operate as an independent broadcaster, as it should.

There is very little independent media left in Taiwan, and the little that remains is, like PTS, under assault. Equally worrying is the fact that the non-independent majority is developing increasingly close relations with government, with officials — like King and Jaw — effortlessly crossing from one side to the other and ensuring the interests of both in the process.

Late last month, reports emerged that an amendment that would scarp a seven-year ban on investments by political parties, government agencies and the military were making their way through the Executive Yuan. Early copies of the revision state that, if passed, the three groups could be allowed to indirectly own as much as a 10 stake in satellite TV broadcasters.

A clause, meanwhile, would prohibit public officials from holding management posts in the industry.

The amendment is believed to have passed a preliminary review by the Executive Yuan and would also need to be approved by the (KMT-dominated) legislature before coming into force.

KMT spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said that as political parties, government and the military are different in nature, they should not be lumped together pertaining to their investment and management of media outlets.

KMT Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said he supported relaxing the regulations.

Note: For reasons that I will not discuss here, I have been unable to publish this op-ed in the Taipei Times.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Interview: Actor-producer brings Taiwan’s history to the big screen

Taiwanese-American Will Tiao, producer and actor in the political thriller ‘Formosa Betrayed,’ sat down with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter J. Michael Cole last week to talk about the political and philosophical underpinnings of the film and the threat from China.

Taipei Times: Given your parents’ experience of being blacklisted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) during the White Terror era, did they ever worry about your safety after you embarked on this project?

Will Tiao (刁毓能): Ever since I left Washington, my career in politics, to pursue a career in Hollywood, I told them I wanted to do something about this issue, with regards to this idea of there being a series of murders of Taiwanese intellectuals, some of them in the US … that there were student spies on almost every campus. I had always wanted to tell the story for an American audience. I knew it was part of my parents’ story. I made it clear from day one that this was something I wanted to do. My father especially said that if you’re going to do something for Taiwan, then I’ll support you.

Of course we knew that doing this movie was something that would be provoking and controversial. But we were always careful about not pointing fingers. Other than Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), no other historical figure is mentioned. Never in the film did we use the terms Kuomintang or waishengren (外省人); we don’t call out any specific person … Of course we were aware that this could cause — and obviously caused — a lot of consternation among certain people, but we were always careful not to keep this in the typical blue-green divide that deals with Taiwan.

My interview with Mr. Tiao continues here.

Interestingly, the interviewee also had a few things to say about our encounter last week:

The final interview of the day is with J. Michael Cole of the Taipei Times. I'm pleasantly surprised to find out that he is French Canadian, and we joke around for a bit in French much to the chagrin of the Chinese/Taiwanese speakers in the room who have no idea what we're saying! It turns out Mr. Cole has a very interesting history. He used to work for the Canadian version of the FBI — but was frustrated by the policies of his government. He met and fell in love with a Taiwanese woman, and they moved to Taiwan. Now, he is the Deputy News Editor for the Taipei Times, which is Taiwan's leading English language daily newspaper.

The Taipei Times has already done some interviews with me about Formosa Betrayed and done some news coverage about the film's release in North America. So Mr. Cole decides he wants to get into some of the more weighty political and philosophical issues that we tackle in the film. It's a fun and wide-ranging interview, different than most of the typical questions I get. We also give him some information that hasn't been made public up to now — about why we decided to film Formosa Betrayed in Thailand instead of Taiwan. You're going to have to read his story to find out why...

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Book Review: The great divide: Can Asia and the US work together?

The global economic crisis, added to missteps by the administration of former president George W. Bush, widened the space between the US and Asia in a process that could have far reaching implications economically and politically, Simon Tay argues in a timely new book.

My review of Asia Alone, The dangerous post-crisis divide from America, continues here (pdf) and here (html).