Monday, January 31, 2011

Talks on ECFA submission ongoing: MOEA

After weeks of asking the Straits Exchange Foundation for updates on the submission of the ECFA to the WTO, the Bureau of Foreign Trade finally responded. An expert on preferential trade agreements comments

Taipei and Beijing are still negotiating the “best timing” to submit the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) document to the WTO, government officials said.

Chang Chun-fu (張俊福), deputy director of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ (MOEA) Bureau of Foreign Trade, said both sides had translated the document into English, but had yet to decide when to notify the global trade body on the content of the pact.

“We are taking all things into consideration, but there is no time limit,” he said, adding that some countries took years to complete the process.

Earlier last week, the bureau’s ECFA Task Force told the Taipei Times it “would notify the ECFA to the WTO pursuant to the WTO’s rules and procedures,” adding that “as a usual practice, we will consult the other signatory before making any RTA [regional trade agreement] notifications.”

My article with Ko Shu-ling, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sea power with Chinese characteristics

In Red Star Over the Pacific, Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes examine China’s navy and how it is influenced by Mao Zedong ... and a 19th century US Navy flag officer

China’s maritime capacity, two associate professors of strategy at the US Naval War College argue in an important new work, is close to reaching a point where its theories will be put into practice. What this commanding of the seas “with Chinese characteristics” will look like, and what it will imply for regional stability and the ability of the US to remain involved in the region, is the focus of Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes’ Red Star Over the Pacific.

While there is no dearth of studies on the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), efforts to understand it have for the most part been limited to the Order of Battle — that is, tallying up what China currently deploys, plans to deploy and is developing. Much less effort, however, has been put into understanding China’s maritime doctrine, and this is where Yoshihara and Holmes’ book, which assesses a variety of Chinese-language sources and pronouncements on the subject, provides helpful illumination.

My review of Red Star Over the Pacific, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

National defense on the cheap

If Taiwan did not face a determined opponent like China, its armed forces would probably be adequate. But in the face of a rising and still belligerent power, the stalled modernization of the Taiwanese military is worrying — and largely the KMT’s making

Last week’s United Air Defense Fire missile exercise — the largest since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in May 2008 — sparked consternation in many circles after six of the 19 missiles fired either misfired or encountered technical problems.

Although a hit ratio below 70 percent is considered less than optimal, what several media outlets omitted — fixated as they were on the failures — was the fact that some missiles, including the indigenous Tien Kung II “Sky Bow,” the only potential “game changer” on display last week, performed quite well.

Given the timing of the exercise and the fact that reporters were allowed on the Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology’s (CSIST) off-limit Jiupeng missile testing base for the first time since 2002, the Ministry of National Defense was likely seeking to send a signal of strength to China. The failures and the subsequent media focus on the shortcomings indicate that that effort may have backfired and highlighted weakness rather than strength.

Ma, who attended the exercise, said after its conclusion that he was not satisfied with the outcome and called on the armed services to determine what went wrong and redouble their efforts.

While there is little to disagree with in Ma’s remarks, there is no small irony in the fact that his discontent targeted an exercise that fielded equipment that belongs in a museum rather than in the field facing a military giant.

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beans are spilled — ECFA is political

Studies show that in the past decade, Taiwan trade with Asia performed as well as, and in some cases better than, countries that signed various trade agreements from which Taiwan was excluded

It may have been inadvertent, but recent praise by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US President Barack Obama for the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) cut through the smokescreen blown up by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration by directly pointing to its political impact.

Ever since the idea of a free-trade-like agreement between Taiwan and China was proposed, Ma and his government have emphasized time and again that the pact was purely economic in nature and had no political ramifications whatsoever. This position, stemming from necessary constraints, dovetailed with Ma’s promise not to enter political dialogue with Beijing during his term in office.

Though critics of the ECFA have not been deceived by these pronouncements and have repeatedly assailed it over its political ramifications, and despite open references to it by Beijing officials as an instrument of unification, Taipei has been unwavering in its claim that politics are extraneous to the agreement.

However, no sooner had Washington begun praising the trade agreement in terms of its political benefits than Taipei shifted gear and interpreted this as encouragement for extended dialogue with Beijing. Speaking at the US Department of State on Jan. 14, Clinton praised the ECFA and called for more dialogue and exchanges.

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

Taiwan likely to hold second set of missile tests

The majority of missiles that failed in the NT$300 million (US$10 million) missile exercise earlier this week were foreign-made. Some of those will be re-tested during a second exercise later this year

Following a less-than-stellar major missile test on Tuesday, a military official yesterday said that a second exercise would likely be held in the second half of this year.

Of the 19 missiles fired during the United Air Defense Fire exercise, held at the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology’s Jiupeng missile testing base in Pingtung County, two misfired and four encountered various problems resulting in failure to detonate upon nearing their target.

Following the exercise, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) told media he was “not satisfied” with the results and called on the military to improve its performance.

Among those that failed were the indigenous Tien Chien II “Sky Sword” (TC-II) and French-made Mica — both air-to-air missiles — as well as the US-made surface-to-air Sparrow, which misfired and plummeted into the South China Sea.

In all, 11 types of missile were fired — almost every air-to-air and surface-to-air missile in the nation’s arsenal minus the AIM-120 AMRAAM and PAC-2 missile systems, Defense News quoted an unnamed defense official as saying.

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

What failed on Tuesday:

- 1x Mica air-to-air (FR)
- 1x Dual-Mounted Stinger surface-to-air (US)
- 1x TC-II air-to-air (TW)
- 3x Sparrow (1x AIM-7 air-to-air and 2x RIM-7 surface to air) (US)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ma ‘unhappy’ with major missile test

President Ma Ying-jeou and military officials deny a major missile exercise was in reaction to a visit to Washington by Chinese president Hu Jintao or the J-20 stealth fire recently unveiled by Beijing

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said he was “not happy” with the results of a major air defense missile test at a testing base in Pingtung County that coincided with the departure of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) for Washington on a state visit.

In the first major exercise open to the media at the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology’s (CSIST) Jiupeng missile testing base in Pingtung County since 2002, three services — the air force, army and marine corps — fired 11 types of surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, including the indigenous-made Tien Kung II “Sky Bow” (TK-II) and US-made RIM-7 “Sparrow.” A total of 19 missiles were fired during the air defense drill.

Months in the making and involving the participation of 576 members of the armed forces and the CSIST, the exercise showcased a number of platforms, including the F-16A/B, Mirage 2000, F-5E/F, Ching Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter, as well as various ground-based launchers.

However, despite the impressive array, six of the 19 missiles encountered technical problems, with one Sparrow climbing about 200m into the air before radically changing direction and plummeting into the South China Sea. Of the six malfunctions, four involved missiles coming close to their target, but failing to detonate, while the other two missed their target altogether.

The TK-II, which has a range of 200km, performed handsomely, the military said, reportedly destroying its target at a distance of 100km. At its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is about 130km wide.

Air force Political Warfare Department director Pan Kung-hsiao (潘恭孝) told reporters at a debriefing that the military and CSIST were investigating the causes of the malfunctions. Early reports pointed to problems with tracking mechanisms and target acquisition.

At a press conference following the exercise, Ma, who had watched from a building overlooking the sprawling testing base located deep in the mountains, appeared unimpressed.

My coverage on location of the United Air Defense Fire exercise, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sweeping Taiwan under the carpet

Pretending that Taiwan does not exist will not succeed in convincing Hu Jintao that the subject should not be raised during his state visit. In fact, it is a sign of weakness

Briefing the press corps prior to a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to Washington this week, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon made extra efforts to avoid mentioning Taiwan, leading some media to conclude that Taiwan perhaps would not be on the agenda.

At a time when Beijing’s political weight is in the ascendancy and that of the US is increasingly in question, the last thing Washington should do is send signals of weakness — and avoiding a topic, in the hope that somehow Beijing would forget, is just that.

If Donilon’s press conference is any indication of US President Barack Obama’s strategy for dealing with Hu, it shows us that rather than seek to set the agenda on a problem that continues to haunt Northeast Asia, Washington will allow the Chinese leader to do so, at which point US officials will have little choice but to backtrack or use soothing language that can then be exploited by Beijing.

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Taiwan rights ranking stable: Freedom House

In the fifth consecutive year Freedom House was reporting a decline in political rights and civil liberties worldwide, Taiwan remained stable, though the watchdog for the second year in a row raised questions over government interference in the media

US-based watchdog Freedom House released yesterday its annual Freedom in the World report, with little change in Taiwan’s ranking despite some concerns over continued government interference with the media.

Based on the organization’s initial findings for last year, which were to be made public at a conference in Washington, Taiwan scored 1 in the political rights sphere and 2 on civil liberties, the same as the previous year.

“Taiwan remained one of Asia’s strongest democracies,” Sarah Cook, Asia research analyst and assistant editor at Freedom House, told the Taipei Times by e-mail yesterday.

“Municipal elections held [on Nov. 27] were widely viewed as free and fair, despite a shooting at a rally the evening before the polls,” Cook said.

She did not mention, however, the rapid mobilization by some senior Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials to exploit the shooting of Sean Lien (連勝文) for the party’s benefit the following day.

On the handling of the corruption charges against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Cook said: “Procedural irregularities evident in earlier stages of ... [the] case did not appear to repeat as the case moved up the judiciary during the appeal’s process.”

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taiwanese, Hong Kongers angry: panelists

Minority parties in Taiwan and Hong Kong face the remnants of a Leninist past and increasingly powerful conglomerates and vested interests, which bodes ill for democracy and good governance

Amid a growing sense of disenfranchisement, young people in Taiwan and Hong Kong are increasingly angry and want their governments to pay more attention to them, two panelists told a conference on democracy building in Taipei yesterday.

Speaking during a panel on majority and minority rights in government at the “Democracy Building in Interesting Times” conference organized by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the Heritage Foundation and Institute for National Policy Research, Alan Leong (梁家傑), a pro-democracy activist and one-time contender for the post of Hong Kong chief executive, said that while about 60 percent of people in Hong Kong support full democracy, its advocates remain the minority in the Legislative Council.

“Functional constituencies” representing the interests of conglomerates, big business and other small groups, as well as interference by Beijing, ensure that these legislators are forever in the opposition, said Leong, leader of the Civic Party.

That system, he said, gives those “vested powers” de facto veto powers and ensures that the “fruits of economic success” are not shared evenly and remain in the hands of the few.

Leong also said that in light of the proposed electoral models for the elections of chief executive and the Legislative Council in 2017 and 2020 respectively, “there is practically no way that Hong Kong can see universal and equal suffrage” applied during the vote.

Speaking of the deficiencies in the system, Leong said: “It is indeed a coincidence that the Hong Kong people comes to expect so much from the opposition parties in a system where the opposition is supposed to be irrelevant and ineffective.”

“This is not what the designer of our political system had in mind,” he said.

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

The end of this article stemmed from a question — admittedly a loaded one — that I asked Mr. Leong, in that I prompted him to talk about identity. Unexpectedly, this engendered a response that included the contention that Taiwan is part of China, which to me confirmed yet again that even democracy activists in China and Hong Kong cannot necessarily be counted on to be supporters of Taiwan independence. Experiences can be shared, the desire for democracy can be common, but self-determination and the rights of minority, as Chinese academic Wang Lixiong (王力雄) has argued, are not necessarily matters such individuals are willing to support.

The ‘wayward cousin’ syndrome

Regarding the Chinese threat as the antics of a ‘wayward cousin’ rather than a classical external threat could account for the Ma administration’s apparent lack of seriousness on the subject

Even after North Korea invaded the South in 1950, sparking the Korean War, followed by decades of tensions marked by skirmishes, missile tests, nuclear detonations, artillery attacks and the sinking of a navy vessel, the authorities in Seoul have often been less strident about the North Korean threat than their allies like Japan and the US, a response that, at first glance, may seem counterintuitive.

Two phenomena could account for this reaction: cultural proximity — South Koreans often refer to North Koreans as “wayward cousins” involved in a family dispute — and the fact that South Korea would suffer the brunt of an attack by the North. As such, the leadership in Seoul has often gone to great lengths to avoid unnecessarily alienating Pyongyang.

In many ways, Taipei under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) appears to have reached similar conclusions with regards to China. Amid a growing sense of alarm among regional powers at an increasingly assertive Chinese military, one of the few countries that has downplayed the threat is Taiwan. There is no small irony in this, given that Taiwan, despite supposedly warming ties with Beijing, remains the primary, albeit not the only, target of China’s rapidly growing and modernizing military.

As with Seoul vis-a-vis North Korea, Taipei has emphasized the need for dialogue, while Ma, who never misses an opportunity to remind Taiwanese of their “Chinese heritage” and the “Chinese nation,” also seems to regard Chinese as “wayward cousins” in an unresolved family feud. Ma’s tendency to look at Chinese as a misled family member, rather than the “other,” could help explain what comes across as his failure to fully account for the magnitude of the Chinese threat, or at least shed some light on his often fuzzy definition of Taiwan and Taiwanese, as is often the case with the two Koreas.

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

Thursday, January 06, 2011

It takes two to play at detente

How much signaling can the Ma administration do before those efforts cross the line from olive branch to capitulation?

Detente is like a carefully orchestrated minuet, with each side reacting in accordance with the subtle shifts of the other. Only when participants abide by those governing rules, and when both operate under the assumption that the other will reciprocate, can bodily poetry avoid descending into artistic catastrophe.

When it comes to efforts at detente in the Taiwan Strait launched by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), one side has shown a willingness to dance. Amid efforts to encourage better relations with Beijing, Taipei has repeatedly signaled that it is ready to de-escalate. The frequency of military exercises has been reduced and those that are held often do not involve live fire or invoke a Chinese attack. The overall military budget has been cut and now stands at about 2.5 percent of GDP, less than the 3 percent Ma had promised to secure for national defense. Officials inform us it is unlikely the military budget will increase significantly in the near future.

Budgets have tightened to such a extent that, citing “financial constraints,” the Ma administration announced in October that it would seek to defer payment on PAC-3 missile batteries and 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters it has committed to purchase from the US, raising questions over the year of delivery.

Meanwhile, reports over the last six months claim that the National Security Bureau, the nation’s top civilian intelligence service, has been ordered to stand down on intelligence collection in China and may have become less generous in sharing signals intelligence on China with key allies, such as the US and Japan. Intelligence-sharing agreements being what they are, this will likely result in reciprocal stinginess and could be disastrous in terms of preparedness for the Taiwanese military.

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

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

An inconsistent Presidential Office

President Ma’s only consistency is his inconsistency, which makes it very difficult for the electorate to take him at his word

If futures were built on promises, Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would be the envy of the international community — prosperous, dignified and safe from harm.

Sadly for Ma, running a country requires more than slogans designed to meet a moment’s requirements — statesmanship calls for vision, action and consistency, all qualities that our promise-prone president, after more than two-and-a-half years in office, has yet to show us he possesses.

While it would be unfair to expect politicians to deliver on every promise they make or to turn every slogan shouted at a podium into reality, they should nevertheless meet minimum standards of consistency. In other words, for promises to be part of a vision, they should be followed through with action, commitment and resources.

Ma’s promise to create an all-volunteer military by 2015 — a laudable, albeit costly idea — is one example of a plan that is unlikely to come to fruition as a result of lack of commitment and funding. The Ma administration’s vow to submit the text of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed with China last year to the WTO also looks like an empty one now that the “early harvest” list has come into force without the global trade body having seen the documents.

What Ma has delivered so far is a long list of promises, the implementation of which has left much to be desired and which do not appear to be part of an overall plan. In fact, his only consistency has been his inconsistency, with slogans thrown cheaply about depending on the nature of the audience being addressed. By dint of repetition, Ma has succeeded in undermining his credibility in the eyes of Taiwanese, who by now could be forgiven for taking a cynical view of his vows.

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