Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No such restraint on Lien shooting

Overall, the two parties showed restraint during the campaigns for the Nov. 27 special municipality elections, with the KMT doing a little more sniping than the DPP. But a shooting incident on election eve revealed the KMT’s true colors

US academics over the weekend added their voices to the chorus of analyses following Saturday’s five special municipal elections, with highly laudatory remarks on the manner in which the campaigning proceeded.

While their argument that the two camps avoided highly ideological pitfalls and tried to appeal more to grassroots voters was for the most part accurate, the researchers were quoted by Central News Agency as saying that the parties had displayed “restrained reactions” to the shooting of Sean Lien (連勝文, left), son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), during a campaign rally for a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate for Sinbei City councilor on Friday night.

Unfortunately for the academics, they stumbled on that one, or failed to watch the right TV channels in the aftermath of the incident.

Although it is true that on election day President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other KMT officials adopted a relatively neutral stance on the matter, on Friday night the KMT apparatus — and the pan-blue media — went into full gear insinuating that the attack was somehow related to the election and that the DPP stood for violence. They never said it directly, mind you, but when officials called for voters to “cast their ballots against violence” the following day, the implication was obvious.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bigoted response was shameful

If Taiwanese are to express their accumulated anger, they should learn to aim it in the right direction

The outbursts of anger some Taiwanese have directed at South Korea in the wake of the disqualification of Taiwanese taekwondo athlete Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, last week brought to the surface undercurrents that are certainly nothing to be proud of.

Not only was burning the South Korean flag, crushing instant noodles, hacking Web sites and throwing eggs at the Taipei Korean School misguided, these acts — with encouragement from some in the media — highlighted an underlying racism that does not put modern, democratic and pluralistic Taiwan in a favorable light. Such nationalistic bigotry, in fact, is the very poison that lies behind Beijing’s policy of isolating Taiwan and denying its people the right to a separate existence.

That some, though by no means all, Taiwanese would engage in such shameful behavior based on some subconscious hatred for another people makes the claims that Taiwan is a beacon of democracy in Asia ring hollow and, as such, it should be roundly condemned.

Yang’s mistreatment struck a nerve with many Taiwanese who otherwise tend to be apolitical and who have exhibited little or no nationalistic fervor. Whatever the trigger, to rally round the flag in time of crisis is not necessarily unhealthy, but to translate that energy spontaneously unleashed into acts of hatred against individuals, institutions or even entire countries that have nothing to do with the controversial decision is uncalled for.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Admittedly, the Yang controversy is symptomatic of the “Palestinianization” of Taiwanese, who far too often are treated by the international community as stateless second-rate citizens whose aspirations and grievances are conveniently ignored. From that perspective, the disqualification and the ensuing eruption of anger could be construed as a necessary outlet through which Taiwanese can finally vent their pent-up frustrations after being silenced for too long.

However, what is more difficult to comprehend — and which delineates a moral paralysis on the part of the international community — is the almost unanimous characterization abroad of the controversy as “unjust” and “sickening.” Though true, we need to ask ourselves why aren’t the same people, who are so readily offended by an underhanded decision at a sports event, using similar language when China prevents Taiwan from participating in international organizations, or threatens to use military force against it. How do we explain the mobilization of indignation over what remains a trivial event, while rampant injustice cannot even register in people’s consciousness, let alone translate into calls for redress, which would see Taiwanese installed as a full and equal participants in the community of nations?

Correction: I have been informed that WTF secretary-general Yang Jin-suk, whom my editorial refers to as South Korean, is actually Korean-American and a US citizen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

China’s military prowess on full display at air show

China was anything but low profile on matters of military planning, and it was easy to imagine who the targets were

Efforts by the Chinese military to modernize its aerospace capabilities were on full display at the eighth China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition that concluded in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, China, yesterday, with no less than 25 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on display.

According to a report in Defense News, three Chinese companies — ASN Technology Group, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC) and China Aerospace Science Technology Corp (CASC) — produced the majority of the UAVs unveiled at the show.

The different models served various roles, from combat to battlefield reconnaissance, reports said.

The most sophisticated models, Defense News wrote, were -produced by CASIC and CASC — the main provider for China’s space program — which had systems designed not only to locate targets, but to destroy them as well.

One model, the CH-3 (right), was a multipurpose medium-range UAV platform suitable for battlefield reconnaissance that could be modified as a precision-attack platform using air-to-ground missiles similar to the US’ Hellfire.

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

War Clouds Over Taiwan

Beijing's expectations that Taiwanese will relinquish their separate identity will be disappointed

Two years into his term, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou seems to have transformed the dynamics of his country's troublesome relationship with China. But this détente is only a temporary phenomenon. The risk of war in the Taiwan Strait is actually growing as Beijing's expectations for a political end to the unfinished civil war rise, and Taiwan's ability to defend itself against attack withers.

After years of cross-Strait tension under Presidents Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, it's hardly surprising that everyone is breathing a sigh of relief now that the two sides are at least on civil terms. The international business community is taking a fresh look at Taiwan both as an investment destination and, given the linguistic and cultural similarities with China, as a bridge to the world's second-largest economy.

Underneath this façade, however, lies a dangerous reality: Beijing's recent "goodwill" toward Taiwan, which culminated in the signing in late June of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, is fully in line with its stated strategy to complete the consolidation of China after a "century of humiliation." While the Ma administration maintains that the ECFA and other such deals are purely economic in nature and have no political implications, Chinese officials and leading academics are convinced that Taiwan is unwittingly preparing the way for eventual unification.

My op-ed, published today in the Wall Street Journal, continues here.


As I stepped into my office this afternoon, I received, on my landline at work, a most extraordinary phone call from a very, very angry vice chairman of a Shanghai-based global Chinese business organization (didn’t get his name, unfortunately). In good, if uncertain, English, the man started politely, telling me his office had been receiving “lots of angry phone calls” from Chinese all over the world — in China, Hong Kong, the US, Canada — who were complaining about “biased” articles in the Taipei Times. Recently, his office had received many more, he claimed. Why are we so biased, he asked. Why do we do this? He then turned to the article I published today in the Wall Street Journal, which he said made “a lot” of Chinese “very angry.” Again, why did I do that, when “the entire world” knows and agrees that Taiwan is part of China? I tried to say that people were entitled to their own views on the subject, but he always cut me off. Even the Canadian government agrees that Taiwan is part of China, he said — and you’re Canadian, right? Why do you do that? I then told him the 23 million people in Taiwan don’t agree with this view, whereupon he went ballistic and started screaming at me, so much so that I had to take the earpiece away. I tried to ask if he’d ever set foot in Taiwan so he could perhaps understand why his views didn’t dovetail with those of many Taiwanese, but by that point there was no conversation to be had. He said I “hated” China. I said I didn’t, and that instead I loved Taiwan and the fact that it’s people had a right to choose who rules them. Why do you attack China? He screamed. I don’t attack China; I replied, adding that it was “you guys who are pointing 1,500 missiles at us.” “F**k you!” he screamed, and hung up. I’d obviously touched a raw nerve. This is what we’re dealing with, folks, blind, ebullient nationalism that brooks no difference of opinion and shuts the door on any dialogue. Those who think the Ma administration can negotiate with those people — the same kind of nationalist people, plus the military they control — in a way that ensures Taiwan’s independent future should perhaps reconsider.

Dec. 1 update: CNA has Chinese-language coverage of responses to my Nov. 18 op-ed and related editorial in the Wall Street Journal. See also original letters in the WSJ.

Director at Freedom House objects to CNA’s coverage

Negligence or darker motives? A CNA piece on a speech by Christopher Walker on the weekend made him sound as if he was taking sides in the Chen Shui-bian controversy

The director of studies at US-based Freedom House yesterday accused state-owned Central News Agency (CNA) of “misapprehending” his comments regarding the judicial process in Taiwan and claiming that he saw a recent verdict against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as positive for Taiwan’s democratic development.

The Formosa Foundation, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, invited Christopher Walker to give a speech on freedom in Taiwan on Sunday, in which he focused on democratic processes, institutional transparency and media freedom in Taiwan and the region.

However, a CNA report of the event released the following day misrepresented his remarks on the judicial process in Taiwan in a way that made it appear he was specifically commenting on the corruption cases against Chen, Walker said.

The Chinese-language report, which has not been translated into English by the wire service, read: “After former president Chen Shui-bian recently [on Nov. 11] received his final [guilty] verdict, Christopher Walker ... said he believes that while this was a tough choice to make, punishing a corrupt regime with jail will help Taiwan’s democratic system become stronger.”

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One ‘friendly reminder’ too many

Signs are emerging that the Ma administration is taking a soft authoritarian approach to freedom of speech

Seemingly isolated incidents observed over a given period of time can, if they occur frequently enough, form a pattern. This is what appears to be emerging under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in terms of how it handles the right of ordinary people and the media to freely express their opinions.

Though the origins of this process can be traced back to the early days of the Ma administration, this month alone confronted us with a series of incidents involving government intrusion into the realm of freedom of expression.

First was a notice by the Ministry of Education to the Professional Technology Temple’s (PTT) Gossip Board, a popular online bulletin board hosted by National Taiwan University, calling on administrators to request that users tone down their political rhetoric to ensure a “cleaner” environment. Although Minister of Education Wu Ching-ji (吳清基) called the notice a “friendly reminder,” PTT users by the hundreds saw it differently, referring to it as the imposition of “martial law on the Internet.”

Then, less than a week later, came the outburst over comments by political commentator Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀), who during a public event used “improper” language when referring to Ma and subsidies for Chinese students. What should have been a minor incident was instantly turned, both by the Ma administration and pan-blue media, into the public crucifixion of an individual who disagreed with the administration’s policies.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Was the judiciary truly independent?

The Nov. 5 acquittal of former president Chen changes nothing about the heavy sentencing he faces, and provides the KMT with  the ammunition it needs to get the vote.  Accidental timing, or is something afoot?

The ruling by the Taipei District Court on Nov. 5 finding former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife not guilty in a bribery case was construed by many — including this author — as a sign that the judiciary under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration was beginning to reassert its independence. Reaction to the news by the pan-blue camp was so strident, and the decision so antithetical to what ostensibly has been a policy of keeping Chen in check, that the court appeared to have laid to rest fears that the judiciary had become little more than a conveyor belt for the Ma government.

Commenting on the ruling, some elements within the pan-green camp, meanwhile, said this was only part of a series of rulings that ultimately would fully exonerate the former president. Chen’s smile as he emerged from a police van on his way to court for another case earlier this week also spoke volumes about how he interpreted this unexpected development.

However, we should refrain from jumping to conclusions and assuming that this proves the independence of the judiciary. In fact, the timing — less than a month prior to the Nov. 27 special municipality elections — is itself suspicious. No sooner had Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) announced the decision than the KMT shifted into high gear and turned the court ruling and by rebound Chen, into an instrument to mobilize pan-blue voters.

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Clinton is coming, but Bush Jr. and Gingrich couldn’t

Former US president Bill Clinton’s visit to Taiwan on Nov. 14, where he will deliver a speech, comes after unsuccessful attempts by former US president George W. Bush and former House speaker Newt Gingrich to visit Taiwan earlier this year

The Taipei Times has learned that Bush had initially intended to visit Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei, but after his office in Dallas, Texas, allegedly received multiple protests from Chinese officials, the former president’s office said Bush could skip Shanghai and Hong Kong altogether and visit only Taiwan.

Chinese officials then allegedly changed their strategy and shifted the pressure onto Taipei, whereupon the latter allegedly asked Bush to reconsider the timing of his visit, in reference to the Nov. 27 elections.

According to a source, Bush’s visit would not have received any funding from the Taiwanese government.

The Taipei Times has also learned that Gingrich’s visit, which would have been sponsored by a private firm, was initially planned for between June and August, and that the former speaker could not come to Taiwan any later than September, given the midterm elections in the US earlier this month.

After a series of delays, organizers allegedly appealed to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Presidential Office, but approval for the visit was received four months later, by which time Gingrich could no longer visit Taiwan.

The above section, which I wrote, is part of an article on Clinton’s visit to Taiwan this coming weekend published today in the Taipei Times.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Chen’s ghost returns to haunt Ma

The Ma administration reacts to a decision by the judiciary in a manner that, in its disdain for the law, is oddly reminiscent of the Chinese leadership 

Ever since he was taken into custody in December 2008, the Presidential Office has made sure that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — the nation’s top “troublemaker,” if we believe the propaganda — did not make waves. It did so via a complicit judiciary that time and again denied the former president his freedom by using tenuous claims to justify extensions to his detention, which now approaches 700 days.

Although Chen managed to publish a few books and articles from prison, the government’s efforts to erase him from the political scene were largely successful, an accomplishment that, admittedly, was compounded by a decision by the Democratic Progressive Party — the party Chen once led — to distance itself from him as it sought to reconsolidate after difficult years. By neutralizing the otherwise ostentatious former president, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration paved the way for its controversial rapprochement with Beijing, which, had he been a free man, Chen would surely have relentlessly attacked publicly.

That was until the Taipei District Court on Friday said it had found no evidence proving that Chen and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), were guilty of corruption and money laundering in a bank merger deal. No sooner had the decision been made than Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) cried foul, prompting officials — with the president in the lead — to sound worryingly like their counterparts across the Taiwan Strait, where, as Richard McGregor writes in The Party, his study of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), “judges must remain loyal — in order — to the Party, the state, the masses and, finally, the law.”

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Book review: Deep inside the Chinese Communist Party

Two recent books add to the growing body of literature on the Chinese Communist Party and reach similar conclusions about its methods and future

The claim that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is misunderstood by outsiders has become something of a cliche recently, conferring upon the almost 80-year-old political organization an aura of impenetrability. This dearth of knowledge has slowly been remedied, however, with the publication in recent years of solid studies on the party’s philosophy, modus operandi and ability to defy the odds by remaining in power.

Two new books, The Party, by former Financial Times Beijing bureau chief Richard McGregor, and The Chinese Communist Party as Organizational Emperor, by National University of Singapore professor Zheng Yongnian (鄭永年), make important new contributions to our understanding of this most enigmatic of political parties.

This double book review, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Weak defense, poor intelligence

When dealing with China, Taiwan cannot afford to cut on defense and neglect intelligence at the same time, yet this is exactly what the administration is doing

Recent news of a plan by the National Security Bureau, the nation’s top civilian intelligence agency, to introduce an award system to address low morale in the intelligence ranks is as a clear a demonstration of the state of affairs under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as we could get.

Amid cutbacks in the defense budget — with the Ministry of National Defense announcing last week that it had no choice but to defer payment on key defense items lined up for purchase from the US — and diminished emphasis on military exercises preparing for potential Chinese aggression, it is not surprising that Ma’s critics have pointed to his apparent lack of commitment to ensuring that Taiwan has the means and skills to defend itself.

This headline-making focus on the military aspect of Taiwan’s defense, however, has concealed what in many regards is an equally worrying trend under Ma — the undermining of the security intelligence apparatus that assesses and analyzes information pertaining to threats against national security.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.