Friday, December 30, 2011

Chinese magazine pressured on Taiwan elections

Caijing, one of the rare independent publications in China, appears to have run into the limits of Beijing’s willingness to allow coverage on the election and Taiwan’s democratization

Despite signs the Chinese authorities are allowing unprecedented access to information about next month’s elections in Taiwan, Beijing remains intransigent on certain issues it regards as lines in the sand and it is taking action to ensure that its control remains unchallenged.

A senior editor at Caijing (財經), an independent Beijing-based publication that focuses predominantly on finance and politics, was recently invited by the Lung Yingtai Foundation in Taipei to visit Taiwan for a month to experience the elections, said Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Australia and a specialist on Taiwan.

Founded in 2005 by a group of entrepreneurs and intellectuals, the foundation is committed to fostering cultural exchanges, intellectual dialogue and enlivening a positive civic spirit within a democratic framework. The foundation has previously invited Chinese academics and journalists to visit Taiwan on cultural exchanges.

However, the senior editor’s application to visit Taiwan was rejected by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Jacobs said. Undaunted, the editor, whose identity could not be revealed for this article, decided to travel to Taiwan via Hong Kong. Within 48 hours of his arrival, the TAO had reportedly faxed a document to the magazine’s office asking it to explain what the editor was doing in Taiwan.

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beidou satellites raise fears of threat to Taiwan

With resolution reaching 10 meters next year, the Beidou constellation of orbiters could provide guidance coordinates for a number of military devices, from precision-guided munitions to unmanned vehicles

Defense specialists are warning that China’s Beidou (北斗) satellite-based navigation system, which began providing services on Tuesday, could pose a long-term threat to Taiwan’s security and they are calling for countermeasures.

Xinhua news agency announced on Tuesday that the Beidou (“Compass”) Navigation Satellite System had begun providing initial positioning, navigation and timing services for China and the surrounding areas. Hoping to diminish its reliance on the US’ global positioning systems (GPS), China began work on the Beidou system in 2000.

Ten satellites which form the Beidou “constellation” have been launched since 2007, with six more launches scheduled for next year to provide extended coverage for the Asia-Pacific region. By 2020, the Beidou constellation will comprise 35 satellites.

At present, only the US and Russia, with its Glonass constellation of 24 satellites, have fully operational satellite-based navigation services, with the EU’s Galileo expected to enter full service in 2013. According to an October 2008 article by Jane’s Defence Weekly, China’s involvement in the Galileo project might have benefited the development of the Beidou constellation, especially dual-use technology used by the EU consortium.

Although China claims Beidou will provide commercial services, such as mapping, fishery, transport, meteorology and telecommunications, the system could also be of great assistance to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Taiwan Air Force upgrading ‘Skyguard’ system

One defense analyst has called the upgrade the best development in the nation’s point defenses against precision-guided munitions

Taiwan’s ability to defend itself against Chinese aircraft and missile attacks is expected to receive a shot in the arm following the scheduled completion next year of an upgrade program for its “Skyguard” short-range air defense system.

As part of the three-year, NT$3.08 billion (US$101.6 million) “Tian Wu 7” (天武7) air defense upgrade program launched in 2009, Taiwan’s air force has been converting the GDF-003 Oerlikon 35mm twin cannons that are part of the Skyguard Air Defense System to a GDF-006 configuration, which will use Advanced Hit Efficiency And Destruction (AHEAD) munitions to shoot down manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, air-to-ground missiles and other targets.

Each AHEAD round consists of a shell filled with 152 tungsten pellets with a small programmable charge timed to detonate several meters in front of the target, sending an expanding cone of pellets forward to destroy the incoming projectile.

According to this month’s edition of the Chinese-language Asia-Pacific Defense Magazine, the air force has 24 “Sky Sentinel” radar units and 50 Oerlikon 35mm twin cannons. Each barrel can fire 550 rounds per minute at an altitude of about 4km and within a range of 8.5km.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ex-AIT director taking fire in Hong Kong

First it was media mogul Jimmy Lai acting as paymaster to the opposition. Now Stephen Young is being accused of trying to create chaos in the territory. All signs that Beijing is nervous about 2012

Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Stephen Young has run into trouble with Chinese authorities in Hong Kong for reportedly ignoring “solemn warnings” to keep quiet about democracy in the territory, the Washington Post reported.

Young, who assumed the position of US consul-general in Hong Kong in March last year, has in recent months faced accusations by Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-controlled media in the territory of being part of a US plot to sow discord in the territory to “keep China down.”

Leading the attacks against Young, the Chinese-language and pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po has said the diplomat comes from “an anti-China, anti-communist family,” adding that “wherever he goes, there is trouble and so-called color revolution.” The paper has also reportedly launched attacks on academics who favor democratic reform in Hong Kong.

The Mandarin-speaking Young was AIT director from March 2006 until July 2009, and US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 2003 until 2005, when the former Soviet republic was rocked by a democratic uprising.

The severity of the campaign against Young climbed a notch after Lu Xinhua (呂新華), head of the Hong Kong branch of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made a personal rebuke during a meeting with reporters in Hong Kong recently.

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

Bad, bad timing on visa waiver announcement

Both the DPP and the KMT deserve praise for the achievement. But the US timed its announcement in a way that invites exploitation by the KMT ahead of crucial elections

Some great news came Taiwan’s way on Thursday when the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announced that Taiwan had been put on the candidate list for the US’ visa-waiver program, taking the nation another step closer to sealing the coveted agreement.

However welcome the news may have been, the timing could hardly have been worse, coming as it did a mere three weeks before the closely fought presidential election. Washington’s decision to make the announcement when it did can be explained in two ways: either is it naive and unaware of the political uses that could be made of the news or, despite its professions to the contrary, it is taking sides in Taiwan’s elections. Either way, this does not reflect too well on Washington’s ability to remain neutral in the electoral affairs of a democratic ally.

Reporters had hardly made their way back from the AIT when Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tung Kuoyu (董國猷) was heard hailing the announcement as reflecting Washington’s high degree of confidence in President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). For his part, KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) compared the nomination to a “cardiac stimulant” that gave Ma an advantage over Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in the election.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Chinese aircraft carrier could soon embark on third sea trial

Less that two weeks after completing its second sea trial, the Varyag looks set to embark on a third journey at sea

China’s Liaoning Air Police on Monday issued a navigational warning for a zone northwest of the Bohai Sea, east of Dalian, where the country’s first aircraft carrier is berthed, amid reports that the refurbished Soviet-era vessel could soon embark on a third sea trial.

The 60,000 tonne Kuznetsov-class Varyag returned to Dalian Port on Dec. 11 after completing a 13-day sea trial, its second since the carrier was officially unveiled to the world.

Quoting military enthusiasts at Dalian, the reports said the Varyag was docked at the pier and that “faint smoke” was emanating from the vessel, a sign that the engines were running.


In addition, the life rafts had not been removed and weapons systems were not covered by protective sheeting, reports said. Unnamed sources said landings could be attempted during the third sea trial. No date has been given yet for the operation.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Calm down, no DF-21D’s heading our way

There’s already enough speculation about China’s intentions out there. We don’t need journalistic irresponsibility to amplify the problem

Readers who are feeling a sense of alarm over recent reports in Taiwanese media that China could test-fire a Dong Feng-21D anti-ship missile in the Taiwan Strait prior to the Jan. 14 elections in Taiwan should note that the article in Defense News from which those claims originate was in fact a Nov. 21 op-ed by Roger Cliff, formerly of RAND Corp and now at the Project 2049 Institute. Once again, media here are omitting to mention that very crucial factor in news making — neglect that got me into no small amount of trouble when a certain newspaper failed to mention that when it did a write-up of one of my op-eds in the Wall Street Journal.

Besides the fact that firing a DF-21D (or any missile, for that matter) off Taiwan mere days prior to a key presidential election in Taiwan would be the height of folly on Beijing’s part (one assumes it learned its lesson from the missile crisis of 1995-96), what Cliff does in his op-ed is merely speculative, based on the auspiciousness of one-one-one, added to the fact that China has used Jan. 11 on previous occasions to conduct “surprise” military tests.

There is a very real difference between “hard news” and opinion. Had that distinction been made, no journalist would have asked a Ministry of National Defense spokesman at a press conference today (and in the process, made a fool of himself) to comment on “alleged plans by China to fire a ‘carrier killer’ missile near Taiwan before the elections.”

A tyrant, a dissident and a writer

Three larger-than-life men passed away in the past few days, and each, in his own way, will leave a mark on history

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who for more than 17 years led an autocratic economic system that could only be described as the very antithesis of capitalism, would have taken delight at the irony that stock markets across Asia had dropped following the announcement of his death.

Equally ironic, albeit for different reasons, is that his death occurred within 24 hours of that of another man at the other end of the political spectrum, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, and within 48 hours of that of a staunch opponent of totalitarianism, Christopher Hitchens.

More than the era in which they lived unites the trio, as each played a role in defining our times, and each was an actor on the stage where totalitarianism collided with liberty.

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

Sale of additional PAC-3 units to Taiwan proceeds

After initial fears that the year-end deadline to sign the LOA would pass, the agreement is finally inked

Raytheon has signed a US$685.7 million Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract to provide two additional new fire units of the combat-proven Patriot Air and Missile Defense System for Taiwan, the company announced.

In a press release last week, the defense contractor said the fire units would feature new advanced technology, improved man-machine interface and reduced life cycle costs.

In 2008, Raytheon was awarded a contract to upgrade Taiwan’s existing Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) systems, followed by a second one in 2009 for new systems. The first PAC-3 upgraded radar system was delivered to Taiwan earlier this year, 10 months ahead of the original program plan requested by the Taiwanese Air Force.

The new fire units were part of the US$6.4 billion arms package agreed by the administration of US President Barack Obama in January last year.

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

US qualms may have nixed Taiwan space launch program

Potential military applications may have prompted Washington to apply pressure on Taiwan not to embark on an indigenous satellite launcher program

US fears that an indigenous satellite launcher capability for Taiwan could help it develop longer-range missiles may have forced Taipei to abandon, or at least delay, the project, sources told the Taipei Times.

After years of relying on foreign space-launch capabilities to lift payloads into space, reports began emerging in 2008 that Taiwan’s National Space Program Office (NSPO) had long-term plans to develop an indigenous satellite and launcher for scientific use.

At the Fourth Asian Space Conference that year, a paper presented by NSPO officials said the agency’s first choice to launch FORMOSAT-6, a micro-satellite under development to carry out scientific investigation, would be the Taiwan Small Launch Vehicle (TSLV).


A cable from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) dated April 6, 2009, reported that then-NSPO director-general Miau Jiun-jih (苗君易) had informed the AIT five days earlier that the agency’s long-term plan called for Taiwan to develop an indigenous satellite and launcher and that Taiwan was “very keen for US reaction to that plan.”

The cable said Miau had told the AIT that the TSLV would be locally built in cooperation with CSIST and used to propel locally made satellites weighing between 50kg and 200kg into orbit. A test launch for a 50kg satellite — very likely FORMOSAT-6 — was scheduled for next year to collect data on disaster management and environmental observation.

Based on the lack of progress in developing a TSLV, it appears the US reaction to the plan was negative.

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

In memoriam: Christopher Hitchens

Writer, journalist, book lover, renaissance man, Christopher Hitchens passed away yesterday at age 62, after a battle with esophageal cancer

Often controversial, Mr Hitchens never minced his words and would not self-censor for the sake of political correctness. Everybody, and every subject, was fair game, from Henry Kissinger to Mother Theresa. Even religion.

It would be impossible, given his body of work, to agree with everything the man wrote; for me, his apparent volte-face on Iraq following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, after years of taking up the Palestinian cause alongside the likes of his friend Edward Said (whom he still does not spare in his memoir, Hitch-22), was one such occasion where we parted ways ideologically (not that he was alone, as another inspiration of mine, Michael Ignatieff, made a similar U-turn).

The occasional disagreement notwithstanding, Mr Hitchens served as a tremendous inspiration on my career as a journalist. The breadth of his knowledge (there isn’t a book he doesn’t seem to have read; his collection of essays, Arguably, makes that pretty clear) and the sheer musicality of his writing soared to such heights as I cannot ever hope to achieve, though both remain, fixed high above, as a reflection of what I aspire to. (Some critics of my writing style, which tends to favor long, complex sentences, should know that Mr Hitchens shares some of the blame. He is also partly to blame for the piles of books that occupy a lot of floor space at my house.) 

Whether one liked or disliked him — and there are plenty in both camps — Mr Hitchens’ departure is a great loss to journalism, literature, and all of us who continually strive to make sense of this complex, mad world of ours.

I wish I could write something better to do the man justice, but this is all I can summon for the moment. Cheers, Mr Hitchens.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Taiwan giving up on US subs, eyeing local plan

MND has reportedly commissioned a local shipbuilder to contract a country other than the US capable of building submarines for cooperation in building conventional subs

Taiwan has all but given up on acquiring diesel-electric submarines from the US and is expected to embark on a domestic program with assistance from abroad, a leading defense analyst told the Taipei Times.

Longstanding plans to augment Taiwan’s small and aging submarine fleet gained momentum in 2001, when the administration of US president George W. Bush offered to provide eight diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan for about US$12 billion.

With efforts going nowhere, in 2003 the Pentagon suggested that Taiwan consider buying refurbished submarines from Italy, and Rome reportedly agreed to sell four Nazario Sauro-class boats and an additional four following their decommissioning by the Italian Navy. However, Taipei rejected the offer, saying it wanted new submarines.

As a result of political wrangling in Taiwan’s legislature, moves by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the US to appease Beijing amid efforts at cross-strait reconciliation, and pressure from China on Washington, Bush’s deal never materialized. [...] The arms package announced to the US Congress by US President Barack Obama in October did not include submarines, or even a feasibility study.

This could be about to change, with a US defense analyst familiar with the Taiwanese military saying he feels positive the navy will move ahead on the submarine program in the not-so-distant future.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ministry in F-16 upgrade wrangle

The Taiwanese Air Force could save a lot of money if it asked suppliers to bid on the jets’ upgrade, but the Ministry of National Defense seems to have only one supplier in mind

The Ministry of National Defense could be contravening a legislative directive if it does not request that the US government perform an open competition bidding process for suppliers involved in upgrading its fleet of 146 F-16A/Bs.

In a meeting on Oct. 12 attended by legislators from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) and a representative from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, the legislature stipulated that to ensure the proper use of government public resources, the ministry’s Letter of Agreement for the upgrade package for the F-16A/Bs “shall not specify any supplier and shall request the US team to perform open competition.”

Despite this directive, the ministry appears to have only one supplier in mind — Lockheed Martin Corp — and does not seem to have asked the US to facilitate competitive bids for avionics and weapons systems integration.

This comes as Lockheed Martin is locked in competition with BAE Systems over a program for avionics upgrades and weapons systems integration for 135 KF-16C/Ds for the South Korean air force (ROKAF) worth about US$1 billion.

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

US has not pivoted toward Taiwan

The idea that Washington has shifted its strategy on Taiwan is mere wishful thinking

There has been no shortage of optimism in recent weeks over visits to Taiwan by relatively senior US officials, with some pundits pointing to signs of a shift in US policy that would place greater emphasis on US-Taiwan ties.

The excitement stems from visits by US Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, who arrived yesterday on a three-day visit, and that of US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah earlier this month. As media have noted, Poneman will be the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since 2000.

Commenting on the visit on Thursday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman James Chang (章計平) said this not only proved the solidity of Taiwan-US relations, but also showed that the US was honoring its commitment to send high-ranking officials, words echoed by Edward Chen (陳一新), a US studies specialist at Tamkang University, who told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post: “By sending senior officials to visit Taiwan, the US is assuring us it will not abandon Taiwan.”

However, the fact remains that no Cabinet-level US official has visited Taiwan since the administration of former US president Bill Clinton, making, in some critics’ view, the visits more theater than substance.

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

The KMT is growing desperate

Rather than look to the future, President Ma Ying-jeou’s presidential campaign looks to the past, trying to uncover skeletons that will give it an edge over its opponents — and Chiu Yi is happy to help

There is a general consensus among Taiwan watchers that next month’s presidential election will be pivotal for the country’s future.

Consequently, hopes have been high for presidential campaigns that provide substance on topics such as relations with China, the economy and a number of environmental issues.

Sadly for all involved, the party that from the onset had insisted it would run a “clean” and “responsible” campaign has failed to abide by its commitment and has chosen instead to turn to the past — the distant past, in some cases — as it attempts to tarnish the image of its resurgent opponent.

It is little wonder that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would say over the weekend that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), having no accomplishments to show for in its nearly four years in office, had chosen instead to launch an all-out attack on her and her party.

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chinese netizens praise democracy

Despite its tight grip on the media, Beijing appears to have adopted a surprisingly open attitute to coverage of and discussions on the presidential election in Taiwan

Interest in Taiwan’s presidential election among Chinese citizens could go well beyond the actions of a man from Xinjiang who paddled from Xiamen, China, to Kinmen last week to “help” with the elections — at least if cyberspace is any indication.

Data mining conducted last week on various Chinese social media platforms seems to indicate great interest in the first presidential debate on Dec. 3 between Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).

On the Baidu platform alone, more than 880,000 Chinese-language searches for “uncut television debate for the 2012 Taiwan Area leadership election” were recorded, with several variants also producing a high number of returns. Two combinations had more than 1 million searches.

Furthermore, Sina, the Global Times, Xinhua news agency, China Central Television (CCTV), Tencent, Phoenix, Kaidi and many local portals all contained news on the debate, although there were complaints online that some posts and video links had been deleted.

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

Friday, December 09, 2011

Leaked video shows greater repression in Tibet

The release of video footage and photos showing Tibetans being humiliated in public and taken away by large contingents of Chinese security forces points to a possible whistleblower within the Chinese apparatus

Recently leaked footage of a crackdown by Chinese security forces in Tibet indicates that the level of repression against Tibetans appears to be much more serious than generally acknowledged by the international community.

A video posted on the exile Tibetan Web site on Wednesday showed a raid by a Chinese SWAT team comprising about 100 People’s Armed Police (PAP) officers on what is believed to be Unit 2 of Dode Village, near the Sera monastery northeast of Lhasa.

The quality footage, which is believed to have been shot in 2008, displays an unprecedented show of force by Chinese authorities, with SWAT teams, accompanied by numerous dogs and an armored vehicle, assuming attack formation and aiming assault rifles at sleeping villagers. In all, four confused-looking men and one elderly woman are taken away. Each is forced to stare into the camera and provide details to the cameraman, who is presumably a PAP member.

Unlike previous unrest, such as the 1989 riots in Lhasa or the March 2008 incident, during which nervous and sometimes vengeful PAP officers were confronted with an emergency, the troops in the video are not responding to any immediate threat.

As of last evening, the 22-minute video appeared to have been taken offline. It has since emerged on YouTube.

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

NOTES: The pictures used in this post are from eight photographs released by a Tibetan Web site last week, and are not from the video discussed in this article. 

The list of names the PAP is searching for appears at 16’06” in the video and has twelve names. One of them, Pasang, 38, is believed to be the same individual sentenced to life for beating and smashing objects during the March 2008 Incident.

The level of despair among Tibetans was captured by Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet, in an op-ed in the
Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Commenting on the 13 monks and nuns who have committed suicide in protest since 2009, Woeser said the Chinese Communist Party does not understand why this is happening.

“The despots only believe in guns and money. They not only have no faith themselves, they can't even understand the power of faith to motivate acts of great selflessness,” she wrote. “Tibetans are not so foolish that they value their lives lightly. Rather it is the despots who have ignited the flames that engulfed these monks and nuns by pushing them to the point of desperation.”

“[N]o matter how it tries to hide the self-immolations and distort their meaning, the truth continues to get out. Even in that high elevation, where Tibet stands at the end of a muzzle of a gun, there will always be Tibetans ready and willing to become ‘burning martyrs,’” she wrote.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

GIO remains silent about China’s tightening media

Despite vows to liberalize its media environment for the Olympics, China has imposed further restrictions on the press. This raises serious questions about cross-strait media exchanges

The Government Information Office (GIO) yesterday refused to comment on reports showing a tightening of media controls in China and said it would maintain its plan to further open Taiwan to Chinese journalists.

Chinese social media were abuzz over the weekend after remarks by the new head of China Central Television (CCTV), who said that the first job of a journalist was to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the state, were leaked on the Internet.

Hu Zhanfan (胡占凡), who took the reins at CCTV last month, said journalists who believed they were independent professionals rather than “propaganda workers” were making a “fundamental mistake.”

Although Hu had made the comments at a special forum on “fake news” in January, they quickly spread after they were posted on a Chinese microblogging site over the weekend. Angered by signs that the media environment was failing to liberalize, some Chinese Internet users likened Hu to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

By yesterday, the posting had attracted more than 10,000 responses, though most were quickly removed by censors.

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

Recent discussions with China and Hong Kong-based fellow journalists compelled me to try to distinguish between what I believe are two types of media censorship regarding China, both of which rear up their ugly heads in the above article. As I discussed in a recent article, there are questions about the degree to which editorials and op-eds in state-owned Chinese media, such as the People’s Daily, reflect official policy in Beijing. Some media controlled by the state, such as the Global Times, have adopted a more aggressive stance as they seek a larger marked share, and as such may aim for a more sensationalistic editorial line. On some occasions, as on the South China Sea, editorial may appear that are more nationalistic and extremist than official Chinese policy. Such media can also serve as an echo chamber reflecting debate within the Chinese elite and government circles. In general, however, the main editorial line adopted by state-controlled media exists within parameters set by the CCP, oftentimes resulting from meetings between government officials and the editors-in-chief. In other words, we can expect state-owned media to reflect, to a fair  extent, official policy in Beijing. This applies to Hong Kong-based media that are also owned by “PRC interests,” such as Wen Wei Po, Ta Kung Pao, and the Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

The other type of censorship applies to media that aren’t owned by the CCP but whose owners have substantial business interests in China, a list that includes, but isn’t limited to, the
South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and the China Times and Want Want Bao in Taiwan. While such media are technically free of editorial meddling by Beijing, the well-being of their business interests in China is largely contingent on good relations with the CCP. Consequently, such media will usually refrain from carrying stories that are overly critical of China on human rights, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Falun Gong and Taiwan, among others. Some, either for the sake of “balance” or to please Beijing, will adopt an editorial stance that favors China, one that approximates what the editors believe Beijing wants to hear.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Locking in the ‘1992 consensus’

In addition to raising questions about future political talks, the appointment of Su Chi on the SEF board sends a signal to Beijing that the KMT is bent on destroying any chances of the DPP finding an alternative to the '1992 consensus'  

Upon being re-elected chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) on Friday, Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) vowed to forge ahead with negotiations under the so-called “1992 consensus,” a clear sign, if one was needed, that Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) intend to leave no room for the emergence of alternative approaches to cross-strait talks.

Chiang’s pledge plays right into the KMT’s insistence on abiding by the controversial consensus, whose existence is denied by both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who was in office at the time the agreement was alleged to have been struck.

Chiang showed that the nation’s top cross-strait negotiator is anything but neutral, since it has been widely rumored that the DPP is hard at work trying to ensure that communication with Beijing would not cease if the party’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), were elected on Jan. 14. Although the DPP has refused to confirm the rumor, at least two of Tsai’s advisers are reportedly engaged in talks with Chinese officials on alternatives to the “1992 consensus” that would be palatable to both sides — perhaps a sign that Beijing realizes that a DPP return to the executive office is not altogether impossible.

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

Friday, December 02, 2011

European election observers denied funding by MOFA

Although it will not provide financial help to foreign observers, a MOFA official said technical support would be provided on a case-by-case basis to any delegation seeking to experience Taiwan's democratic development

Academics from top European institutes said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has declined to fund their visit to monitor the January elections in Taiwan, a development that follows upon similar claims by Australian academics last month.

A European source told the Taipei Times on Wednesday that the European academic election observers group, whose members would have drawn from three of the most influential think tanks in Europe — Chatham House, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP Berlin) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute — had been informed that the ministry would not provide funding for their visit.

The source said the ministry had provided financial assistance to the European observer group for the 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential and legislative elections — under the administration of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), then of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and the Democratic Progressive Party.

This would mark the first time that the group would not be able to come to Taiwan, the source said, adding that the ministry did not provide reasons for the decision.

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

UPDATE: Following publication of this article, I was informed that in the past, MOFA provided funds in the form of a donation to the Asia Research Centre at the London School of Economics (LSE), which covered a series of Taiwan-related projects, including election observers. The funds came from MOFA and the accounts had to be sent to the ministry, but to maintain academic independence they were channeled through the Centre. That Centre is no longer operative, as its director stepped down a few years ago and was not replaced.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ex-Varyag embarks on second sea trial

Unconfirmed reports claim that aircraft still cannot land on the carrier because Russia has refused to sell China the necessary arrestor cables

China's modified Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier embarked on its second official sea trial on 29 November amid rumors that it remains 'dead in the water' as a result of Russia's refusal to supply key components.

In a press conference the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said that all refit work and testing in the ex-Varyag was completed on schedule following its initial sea trial on 10 August.

The 67,000-tonne carrier left Dalian in Liaoning Province and headed for the Yellow Sea, where the latest trial is to be conducted.

My article, published on November 30 in Jane's Defence Weekly, continues here (subscription required).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PLA sets up strategic planning department

Creation of the department formalizes what has been a longstanding and personalized ad hoc arrangement

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) announced on 22 November that it had set up a strategic planning department aimed at providing guidance for increasingly modern and sophisticated military operations.

According to PLA analysts, the move is seen as a very important and long-awaited initiative, especially in linking policy planning and weapons development. It is ostensibly in response to increasingly sophisticated military operations that could involve multiple combat forces and headquarters.

My article, published on Nov. 29 in Jane’s Defence Weekly, continues here (subscription required).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chinese academic claims South China Sea holds no ‘high seas’

The rhetoric on the South China Sea in official Chinese media is becoming increasingly strident. But do those editorials really reflect Beijing’s policy?

An op-ed in the Chinese-language editions of People’s Daily and Global Times says there are no international waters in the South China Sea and that China should act with strength to repel US interference in the contested area.

In the article, which appeared last week, Pan Guoping (潘國平), a law professor at China’s Southwest University of Law and Politics, disputes the claim that the South China Sea comprises gonghai (公海), or “high seas,” as the term is translated in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

According to Article 86 of the convention, “high seas” refer to “all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone [EEZ], in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State.”

By denying the presence of high seas in the South China Sea, China would deny freedom of navigation and use of airspace to other countries over the entire area, which Pan made clear.

“The United States is only a passer-by in the South [China] Sea ... As a country that has no sea coast in the region, does the United States have freedom of navigation and flight in the South [China] Sea? The answer is no! There is no international water in the South [China] Sea,” he wrote.

“China should act with stronger force ... to resolutely repel [US] interference, defend China’s nine-dotted line area that history has bestowed to us,” Pan wrote, referring to the large U-shaped swathe of territory claimed by China that encompasses most of the South China Sea.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with more on Chinese saber rattling, confirmation by Vietnam that China used force in 1974 over disputed islets, and the launch of a strategic planning department within the PLA.

A new Cold War looms in East Asia

The current dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region are making it likelier that states will engage in zero-sum behavior

Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith last week announced that Canberra would “seriously” consider the possibility of holding trilateral military exercises with China and the US; a move that, in a perfect world, would probably make sense.

However, the world is far from perfect, and Smith’s idea, which Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono purportedly raised with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the ASEAN summit in Bali the week before, fails to take current realities into account.

Live-fire exercises involving the US in the Asia-Pacific symbolize a key role for Washington in a region that China considers its own backyard. Rather than seek to reinforce the legitimacy of a US military role in Asia, Beijing has worked effortlessly to undermine such a role, mostly by dealing with its neighbors on a bilateral basis. This has been one of the principal reasons for the failure of regional powers to resolve long-standing tensions in the South China Sea, with Beijing refusing to participate in multilateral negotiations on the matter.

The recent announcement that the US could deploy as many as 2,500 marines at a base in Darwin, Australia, is likely to make Beijing even less inclined to give its seal of approval to such a relationship, as the deployment is anathema to China’s desire for a reduced US presence in what is rapidly becoming a key geopolitical and economic region.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Friend or foe? Canada is a target of Chinese espionage

Stating the fact may be politically and economically inconvenient, but the reality remains that China has been, is, and will continue to be a major intelligence threat to Canada

The scandal surrounding the flirtatious e-mails from MP Bob Dechert, a parliamentary secretary to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, to the Xinhua News Agency Toronto bureau chief appears to have awakened the Canadian public — and it is hoped, official — to the risk of greater engagement with China.

However, the risks associated with that bilateral relationship transcend political affiliation, and did not begin with Mr. Dechert’s first electronic indiscretion. Canada may not be China’s top priority for espionage activity, but as a highly industrialized economy with an abundance of natural resources, it nevertheless possesses a number of items that are of interest to Beijing. Only when those areas are identified will Canada’s counterintelligence authorities be able to determine the appropriate countermeasures that need to be implemented.

My article appears on page 14 of the current issue of FrontLine Security magazine.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It’s conspiracy season in Taiwan

With key elections coming, wild conspiracies are starting to circulate among the public. Skepticism is in order, but this does not mean we should not be paying attention

I have, on occasion, made the case that Palestinians and Taiwanese have several things in common, including the refusal by the international community to recognize their nation and statehood, an irredentist threat from a more powerful neighbor, and the perception that their predicament is inconvenient for the powers that be.

Like analogies, this is an imperfect one. For one, Taiwanese have not, for a number of reasons, chosen the path of violence to advance their cause and are, in many respects, far better off that Palestinians, despite the ever-present threat of an invasion by China.

However, this is another aspect that unites, if only symbolically, the two peoples: the preponderance of conspiracy theories that circulate among the punditry. The Arab world in general has long been animated by conspiracy theories concerning US and Israeli designs upon their resources and territories, assassination plots and so on.

A lot of this talk in the so-called “Arab street” tends to be speculative, with little grounding in reality, but not all those theories are wrong. What has been difficult for observers of the Middle East is extracting truth from the noise for the real information. To a large extent, the same applies to Taiwan, a reality that imposes upon people with real information on plots in the making a serious handicap in terms of credibility and the willingness of external actors to take them seriously, let alone intervene on their behalf.

Conspiracies usually thrive in environments characterized by fear, uncertainty and secrecy on the part of the stronger opponent, conditions that apply to a large extent to the Arab side in the Middle East, and to Taiwan as well. A history of repression by the stronger side also aliments conspiracy making, again an element that is relevant to Taiwan — twice so, in fact, if we take both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and China as the oppressors.

Conspiracy season is upon us again, with the presidential and legislative election just around the corner. Not only is the race a very close one, but the outcome is seen by many as a pivotal point in Taiwan’s history, one that will determine whether Taiwan remains a distinct, sovereign state, or one that slowly but inexorably drifts ever closer to domination by China. Needless to say, the apprehension has reached feverish levels on the pan-green side, which expects the KMT — perhaps with help from Beijing, which would rather President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) be re-elected than see the Democratic Progressive Party re-enter the Presidential Office — to use a variety of underhanded means to ensure victory.

Representatives from the pan-green camp have already intimated to me, and presumably others, some plots they believe may be in the making. In such instances, one is counseled to take the information with skepticism. What is interesting is that the people I interacted with were already aware they were facing a credibility gap, the direct product of a culture that has allowed conspiracy theories to spread like brushfire.

When faced with such a situation, what one must pay attention to is the specificity of the information. Vague plots, those with no setting, timing, means or actors, can usually be discarded out of hand. Another important element is whether the information can be corroborated, meaning that it is obtained from more than one source (those two factors are at the core of the matrices used by intelligence agencies to assess the reliability of information in their possession, and should apply to a similar degree to the journalistic profession).

With this in mind, one piece of information that has been communicated to me in recent weeks makes me pause, as I’ve heard it more than once from more than one source. Even more importantly is how specific that information was. Starting about a month ago, I began hearing chatter about the possibility that the KMT, if defeated in January, would manufacture a crisis that would ultimately “force” the government to annul the results of the election. Back then such information remained in the “vague” and “unreliable” categories, failing as it did to provide setting, timing, means or actors (the age-old who, what, where, when).

Weeks later, however, I met individuals who did have specifics — not all of them, mind you, but enough to give the creature of conspiracy a little more flesh around the bone, as it were. And remember: I’ve been told this more than once, by more than one source. By no means should this be interpreted as meaning that the information is real, though it certainly makes it somewhat more credible and worthy of our attention.

The timing is Ma’s concession speech. The location is presumably the Presidential Office or Ma’s campaign headquarters, with a crowd nearby. The means — and this is where things become very specific — is one or more hand grenades “without a metallic casing,” which is enough to cause bodily harm while keeping destructiveness to a minimum. The only questions left unanswered for the moment are the nature of the actor (on the pan-blue side, presumably, or someone associated with China) and the actual target of the attack (Ma, an aide, or the crowd).

As to what happens next, well…

Task force working on cross-strait CBM: source

Officials all denied knowledge of the alleged task force, while opponents of the Ma administration warn of the risks that under him, military CBMs with China could be signed under a one China framework

Soon after assuming office in 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) established a “military confidence-building mechanism” (CBM) task force at the suggestion of then-National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), a body that continues to function to this day, a source said.

From its inception, the task force was reportedly headed by Lieutenant General Lee Hsiang-chou (李翔宙), then-deputy dean of National Defense University (NDU), with Major General Tsao Hsiung-yuan (曹雄源), then the head of the school’s Graduate Institute of Strategic Studies, acting as deputy, said the source, who is affiliated with the Ministry of National Defense.

The task force was reportedly charged with evaluating and fleshing out a framework for Taiwan to establish military CBMs with China.

The Chinese-language United Evening News reported in August that Lee Hsiang-chou was highly trusted by the ministry and had been assigned to conduct research on certain “highly sensitive” national security issues, including a CBM with China.

The reports said Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) had specifically requested that Lee Hsiang-chou, who represented the ministry in communications with the NSC, apprise himself of developments on the CBM issue.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with responses from various current and former government officials, including Su Chi.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fear descends upon the elections

Sources within the DPP have said that out of concern for Tsai Ing-wen’s personal safety, the presidential candidate is unlikely to campaign in Kinmen and Matsu

Although it is too early to tell whether a telephone threat to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) presidential campaign office yesterday was the real deal, there are already indications that fear and intimidation could become an important ingredient in the January presidential election.

An unidentified man, who called twice, allegedly threatened to set Tsai’s office in Banciao (板橋), New Taipei City (新北市), ablaze. Tsai’s staff, who immediately called police, said it was the first time the office had received threatening calls.

While Tsai said she would not be intimidated by such threats, close advisers have admitted that fears for her personal safety are imposing limits on the type of campaigning she will be able to do in the lead-up to the Jan. 14 polls.

One example of this is the DPP’s campaign team’s purported decision to skip Kinmen and Matsu, despite the role Tsai played in the opening of the “small three links” with China under former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration in January 2001.

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do we need a Canadian CIA?

The Harper government shouldn't spend money on foreign intelligence if it doesn't plan to heed it

At a time when Ottawa is instructing federal agencies to trim their budgets, the Conservative government is reportedly contemplating expanding the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's mandate to allow it to engage in intelligence collection abroad, a measure that would signify additional costs and whose returns are by no means certain.

At the heart of the problem lies Section 16 of the CSIS Act, which contains a clause — "within Canada" — that has long cast a shadow on the agency's ability to operate abroad. The government wants to do away with that constraint, arguing that new imperatives, such as international terrorism and Chinese espionage, require that CSIS have the same powers to spy on people abroad as it does within Canada.

Now, it is an ill-kept secret that, thanks to built-in flexibility in the mandate, CSIS is already conducting operations abroad, sometimes in some of the world's most dangerous places. What a revamped mandate would signify is that CSIS would be able to engage in more such activities, or feel less like a criminal when it does so. Arguably, such intensification in espionage abroad would imply additional costs related to training and deployment, among others, which goes counter to the government's budget cuts plan. What this would create, in fact, is justification for CSIS to ask for more money.

My op-ed, published today in the Ottawa Citizen, continues here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Funding for observers allegedly delayed

The decision has fueled speculation that the Ma administration is nervous about the outcome of the elections and does not want to lose face in the presence of foreign observers

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has allegedly postponed all funding for groups of international academics who had applied to come to Taiwan to monitor the January elections, sources said yesterday.

In one case, a group of four academics from Australia that obtained approval more than a month ago was informed by officials at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canberra on Thursday that the grant would be postponed until late January, meaning that it would be made available only after the elections.

For that delegation, funding was to cover accommodation for four nights and five days through the Jan. 14 elections, as well as airfares. The members of the delegation were informed about the decision in writing.

According to one source knowledgeable of the affair, the decision came from “high up” at the ministry and “all delegations,” including those from the US and Europe, were also reportedly informed that funding deals were postponed.

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Strange structures in Gobi perplex China-watchers

Experts are struggling to explain the purpose of a series of large structures in the Gobi desert, but all the evidence points towards bombing practice sites

Unidentified structures spotted by satellites on the borders of Xinjiang and Gansu Province, China, and posted on the Google Earth Internet service recently are giving rise to speculation about possible military activity, reports say.

The vast structures, all situated in parts of the Gobi used by China for its military, nuclear and space programs, have puzzled analysts. The imagery also leaves unanswered questions over whether the structures are dug in or painted.

Some of the sites observed are situated less than 160km from Jiuquan, where China’s space program and its launchpads are located. The Ding Xin military airbase, where China is believed to conduct classified aircraft tests, is 640km from some of the sites.

One picture taken in 2007 shows an aggregate of orange blocks the size of shipping containers arranged in a circle, with three military aircraft occupying the center. A more recent satellite sweep of the area shows the blocks scattered as far as 4.8km from the site.

Another image shows a series of metallic squares littered with what appears to be the debris of exploded vehicles, lending credibility to claims that some of the structures are used for gunnery or airstrike practice. Other structures consist of kilometers-long grids.

With the Lop Nur nuclear test site located about 600km away from some of the structures, some experts have suggested the latter could be optical test ranges for missiles simulating the street grids of cities, with some speculating that this could be a replica of a Washington street layout. Others posit that the grids could be used for satellite calibration.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

‘Ditch Taiwan’ camp hits new low

A virtual unknown somehow managed to place what can only be called a mediocre op-ed calling for the abandonment of Taiwan in the journal of record in the US

Calls by what remains a small number of voices in the US academic community for Washington to “ditch” Taiwan for the sake of better relations with China reached a new low last week with the publication of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Paul Kane, a former international security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Earlier this year, a handful of articles were published in journals, including Foreign Affairs, making the case that realist US foreign policy required the abandonment of Taiwan to clear the way for a full relationship with China in difficult economic times. Reactions to those pieces then showed beyond doubt that the arguments advanced by those academics failed on several grounds, including moral.

As this newspaper argued in response to the previous articles, the 23 million people who inhabit this nation are not mere commodities who can be traded by larger nations on a diplomatic chessboard. Not only is the commodification of human beings morally bankrupt, it is also a recipe for disaster, as the subjects — treated as pawns in the machinations of great power politics — are unlikely to regard such decisions with equanimity.

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

New US defense body could focus on Chinese threat

News of the new office comes as US President Obama is expected to announce the deployment of US Marines to a base in Australia

The US Department of Defense last week announced the creation of a tri-service Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO) that, according to defense analysts, is directed mostly at the Western Pacific and its principal actor, China.

The new office, which was created on Aug. 12, but whose existence was only confirmed in a press release on Wednesday, integrates the US Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and will develop a “comprehensive concept to counter emerging anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) challenges.”

One Pentagon official has described the office as a “highly classified clearinghouse set up to consider a wide range of current and potential threats.”

The ASB concept will guide the services to ensure continued US advantage against the global proliferation of advanced military technology and A2/AD capabilities, Marine Corps News reported on Friday.

The tri--service collaboration will “leverage military and technological capabilities that reflect unprecedented Navy, Marine and Air Force collaboration, cooperation, integration and resource investments,” it said.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Taiwan gun group joins global fight to bear arms

The organization has a goal to see 8 million people in Taiwan own a gun and 5 million people obtain a license to carry concealed firearms

The Taiwan Defensive Firearms Association (TDFA) earlier this month became a member of the International Association for the Protection of Civilian Arms Rights (IAPCAR), a global gun rights association working to protect and expand the ability to keep and bear arms around the globe.

In a press release, IAPCAR said the TDFA was joining 16 other groups from nine countries on five continents that represent millions of firearm owners and citizens concerned about civilian gun rights.

“The IAPCAR coalition defending gun rights worldwide continues to grow and we are proud to have Taiwan join with us,” IAPCAR executive director Philip Watson is quoted as saying.

“The Taiwan Defensive Firearms Association is an important addition in our battle to protect the human right of self-defense,” Watson said.

The TDFA is reported to be Taiwan’s highest profile gun advocacy association, which according to its Web site opened its office in Taipei in May last year, with Boris Yang acting as chairman.

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

Making Taiwan an end in itself

China has had plenty of opportunities to learn from democracies in the past decades, and yet remains authoritarian. The idea that contact with Taiwan will yield different results is a mistaken one

Despite the occasional suggestion by a handful of US academics that Washington should “abandon” Taiwan to its “inevitable” fate of unification with China, a good number of experts and officials maintain that the nation of 23 million cannot simply be willed out of existence and must therefore be dealt with.

Welcome though this defense of Taiwan may be, a surprisingly large number of such proponents, often in the same breath, add that democratic Taiwan is useful because it serves as an example for China, encouraging the incremental democratization and liberalization of the authoritarian giant next door.

Using terminology like “the first Chinese democracy,” such individuals fail to recognize that Taiwan is a distinct entity unto itself, or that the existence of its 23 million people is more than a means to an end.

Although qualitatively better than the argument that Taiwan should be forsaken by its allies and protectors for the sake of better relations with Beijing, the case that the nation is “useful” because it can foster change in China fails on moral grounds.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Interview: Wolfowitz praises Taiwan’s democratic legacy

Former US deputy secretary of defense and current US-Taiwan Business Council chairman Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, sat down with me in Taipei on Saturday night to discuss US arms sales, the future of Taiwan and cross-strait relations

Taipei Times (TT): What brings you to Taiwan this time around?

Paul Wolfowitz (PW): Every year or so, we [the US-Taiwan Business Council] get out here to meet officials and get a reading of the state of things. With the political competition as intense as it is, we felt it would be interesting to get a feel for that.

I’d like to come back in January and actually see what the election is like. If you think about it, this [will be] only the fifth democratic election in Chinese history. It’s still not something to take for granted and I think what’s happening here is important for China.

It’s commonly said in American policy discourse that Taiwan is an obstacle in US-China relations — and I know what this means — but I think it’s wrong not to recognize this as an opportunity. One of the things that struck me is how many people I met in the last few days who said the Chinese tourists who come here spend a lot of time in their hotel rooms watching Taiwanese talk shows. The fact that this can happen is a relatively good thing.

One has to give a little bit of credit to the regime on the mainland, which I am not known for giving enormous amount of credit to, for they’re willing to let this happen by the millions. I do think there is recognition that there has to be change to their system over time. The long-term trend is that developments here can be educational to China.

My Q&A with Wolfowitz, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. This article does not include other topics discussed during the hour-long interview, such as revolution in the Arab world and the invasion of Iraq. Wendell Minnick of Defense News will have a report on the same interview on the DN Web site later today.