Friday, April 29, 2011

Tsai Ing-wen wins DPP primary

Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won the party’s primary on Wednesday, meaning she will be the facing off against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Jan. 14 next year.

Australian magazine The Diplomat asked me to share my views on support for Tsai — Taiwan’s first female presidential candidate — ahead of what could very well be the most important presidential election in the nation’s history.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chinese media publishes photos of J-15 fighter

Days after Chinese Web sites reported the test-flight of a fifth-generation J-18 carrier-based aircraft, state media released pictures of the J-15. Skeptics say China may be using news reports to project power

Barely two weeks after splashing photographs of an aircraft carrier on the Internet, China’s state media on Monday published what it claimed were the first close-up pictures of a J-15 (pictured) carrier-based fighter aircraft.

The day before, Web sites that focus on China’s military had run the same photographs, snapped outside the Shenyang plant in northeast China where the plane is being developed. The J-15 Flying Shark has the folding wings, shortened tail cone and hardened landing gear that would allow it to serve on China’s first aircraft carrier, which is expected to start sea trials soon. Some analysts said this was indisputable evidence of China’s growing mastery of military technology.

However, Contacted by the Taipei Times for comment, Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, said one should always be cautious with print stories about new Chinese weapons that only appear on Chinese Web pages.

In his view, Chinese state media have developed the habit of picking up material posted on Web pages and turning it into news stories so that Western media will propagate the message that “China is getting bigger and badder.”

This article, a combination of New York Times News Service coverage and my own analysis, was published today in the Taipei Times. My material appears at the end and includes the part on the J-18 and Richard Fisher’s comments. My article on the same subject in Jane’s Defence Weekly can be accessed here (subscription required). Of course, what is drawing attention to these two stories is the fact that they come on the heels of reports that China’s first aircraft carrier could embark on its maiden voyage as early as this summer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hedging against a (Chinese) rainy day

China’s banking sector, weighed down by billions of dollars in non-performing loans used to finance massive insfrastructure projects, is a time bomb whose impact on the economy as a whole can only be guessed at

It is clear that whoever hopes to win the presidential election next year will have to propose a sound strategy on how to deal with China: not just politically, but also economically.

The process of cross-strait economic liberalization launched in the 1980s and sustained even under the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party from 2000 until 2008, accelerated dramatically after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stepped into office on May 20, 2008. With the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in June last year and various other economic pacts in recent years, the dependence of Taiwan’s economy on China has grown by leaps and bounds.

Putting the political implications of those agreements aside, we will leave it to the history books to judge whether the decision to open the gates to Chinese money was economically sound for Taiwan. A growing number of economists are claiming that China’s economic miracle is heading full speed for a brick wall. Although such predictions have been made for more than a decade, there is evidence that this time the alarmists could be right.

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

Friday, April 22, 2011

Taiwan gives US$500,000 to ally Gambia’s military

The Taiwanese embassy in Banjul, Gambia, has donated US$500,000 toward renovation and rehabilitation work for soldiers’ residences at the Yundum Barracks, reports said earlier this week.

Taiwanese Ambassador to Gambia Richard Shih (石瑞琦) handed the check for 15 million Gambian dalasi to permanent secretary of the Gambian Ministry of Defense Harry Sambou at a ceremony at the barracks, the Daily Observer reported on Tuesday.

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

While it is encouraging to see Taiwan continue to engage its diplomatic allies and offer development assistance in various areas, what is more contentious with this aid package is that it is intended for the armed forces in a country whose human rights track record under President Yahya Jammeh (who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1994) is less than enviable. As Freedom House wrote in its Freedom in the World 2010 report:

Jammeh has drawn criticism for erratic statements and behavior. He has claimed that he can personally cure HIV/AIDS using traditional herbs, and in 2008 the president threatened decapitation for any homosexuals who remained in the country. In September 2009, he publicly warned against causing instability through human rights activism, reportedly saying, “If you think that you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders, and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it.” Also in 2009, the president continued his practice of arbitrarily replacing top government officials, sacking the chief justice, the speaker of parliament, and a number of cabinet ministers in June. Dozens of military officers were reportedly arrested in November on suspicion of planning a coup.


The Gambia is not an electoral democracy. The 2006 presidential election was marred by serious government repression of the media and the opposition, and Commonwealth observers found similar flaws in the 2008 legislative elections.


Impunity for the country’s security forces, particularly the NIA [National Intelligence Agency], is a problem. A 1995 decree allows the NIA to search, arrest, or seize any person or property without a warrant in the name of state security. In such cases, the right to seek a writ of habeas corpus is suspended.

Torture of prisoners, including political prisoners, has been reported. Diplomatic relations with Ghana have been strained over The Gambia’s failure to investigate the 2005 deaths of 50 African migrants, including 44 Ghanaians, reportedly while in Gambian custody.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Presidential Office explains timing of documents probe

The Presidential Office broke its silence on a joint letter criticizing the Ma administration over the timing of a probe into 36,000 missing documents. The response, sent via TECRO, skirted substance and raised more questions than it answered

The “prodigious” amount of material and the fact that only three staffers could look into the matter are why it took almost three years before President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration announced that former senior Democratic Progressive Party officials were under investigation over missing documents, the Presidential Office said yesterday.

Seeking to clarify “apparent misunderstandings” in an open letter to Ma signed by 34 academics that was published in Chinese and English on April 10 and April 11 respectively, Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said in a letter that the case concerned events over a period of eight years, involving the offices of 17 officials serving in former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration.

“Given the prodigious number of documents that are missing and the fact that these documents were not traceable with computers, it took the Presidential Office a great deal of effort to carry out the one-by-one audit of documents and to attempt to confirm their confidentiality level,” said the letter, a copy of which was seen by the Taipei Times.

In their open letter, the academics raised questions about the timing of the announcement that the Presidential Office was handing over the investigation to the Control Yuan, coming as it did on the eve of former premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) registration for the DPP’s primaries for next year’s presidential election. Su is one of the 17 people being investigated.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chinese activists facing tough times

While in the past, allegations of corruption against Chen Shui-bian were used to discredit DPP members, it now looks like the Chen tar baby can also serve as a means to undermine those whom Beijing regards as its enemies

Barely a day has gone by in recent weeks without a report from China of police rounding up dissidents or religious figures as part of measures adopted by Beijing to stave off a so-called “Jasmine Revolution.”

For those on the receiving end of the repressive state apparatus, one small country across the Taiwan Strait has served as a beacon of hope — and in some cases as a refuge — for Chinese activists. A few received political asylum in Taiwan following the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Among those who made a new home in Taiwan while continuing the fight for freedom in China was Wang Dan (王丹, seen above, foreground, accompanied by Wuer Kaixi), one of the student leaders of the Chinese democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, a role that landed him several years in prison before he went into exile in the US. Soon after receiving his doctorate at Harvard, Wang moved to Taiwan.

In Taiwan, Wang found not only an audience that was receptive to his views, but also support and a sense of security. It can be said that Wang had found a safe haven that allowed him to continue his advocacy for political freedom in China.

Then Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stepped into the Presidential Office on May 20, 2008, with a mandate to improve relations with China.

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

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A case against combining the elections

Merging the presidential and legislative elections would save the nation about NT$470mn; a 3 percent pay raise for public servants would impose an estimated NT$22bn burden on state finances every year

With legislative and presidential elections scheduled for the end of this year and March next year, the government has made the case for a merger of the two important votes, arguing that holding them separately, as is mandated under the prevailing system, imposes too heavy a burden on the national coffers.

Although cost-saving measures and convenience for the public are hard to argue against, we should not lose sight of the benefits of the current system, however unwieldy and costly it may be.

The principal advantage of staggered presidential and legislative elections is that it increases the frequency by which the public can impose checks on the executive. Optimally, legislative polls should be held halfway through a presidential term, which would give the public enough time to assess the effectiveness of the government’s policies and, with their vote, adjust legislative checks (restraints) on or support for the executive.

Conversely, if the two elections were to be held simultaneously, the public would have to wait a full four years before it could use its vote to express support for or opposition to the executive and thereby ensure that the appropriate correctives are made.

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chinese aircraft carrier nears completion

Once its radar and missile systems are installed, China’s first aircraft carrier will be part traditional carrier, and part Aegis-type missile cruiser

After nearly nine years of refurbishing work, China’s first aircraft carrier — a platform that could add to Taiwan’s defense concerns — could soon embark on its maiden voyage, Chinese media reported last week.

Work on the Varyag, a refurbished carrier purchased from Ukraine in 1992 for about US$20 million, was near completion and the hull was being painted in the standard Chinese naval color, a Web site associated with the state-run People’s Daily newspaper reported last Wednesday.

Seen as one of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) last accomplishments before he steps down next year, the aircraft carrier could take to sea as early as July 1, reports said.

Expected to be renamed “Shi Lang, 施琅” — after the Qing Dynasty admiral who commanded a Manchu fleet that conquered what is now Taiwan in 1681 — the carrier has been undergoing modernization work at the port of Dalian since 2002. Although the hull was built in 1988 by the former Soviet Union, the vessel acquired by China did not include the electronic circuits, radars, antennas, engines or other devices.

A report by UK-based Jane’s Defence Weekly on Friday said the carrier would come equipped with phased array radars and surface-to-air missiles, making it a more independent platform than its US equivalent, which is dependent on Aegis-type guided missile cruisers for protection.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. This article also builds on a piece I wrote for Jane’s Defence Weekly last week, which can be accessed here (subscription required).

Rule of law or rule by law?

The Ma Ying-jeou administration is sounding more and more like Beijing as it tries to defend a series of moves by the judiciary targeting officials from the main opposition party

Facing another round of criticism by academics over the weekend about fears of abuse of power, the Presidential Office again responded by maintaining that Taiwan was a country of law and order, and that the authorities were only following the law.

The matter in question, which involves allegations that 17 senior officials in former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration failed to return as many as 36,000 documents — several of them classified — seemed untoward from the beginning, coming as it did almost three years after the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) return to power and as the campaign for next year’s presidential election began to shift into gear.

Some of the DPP officials targeted include former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), a man with impeccable political credentials, as well as former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who is one of the three candidates in the DPP presidential primary.

While some could dismiss the timing as mere happenstance, the explanation collapses when it is taken in the context of the Presidential Office’s reaction to the criticism.

“Taiwan is a country of law and order,” Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) was quoted as saying by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) yesterday.

What Lo fails to tell us is whether he means rule of law or rule by law, a seemingly minute nuance that, in countries with a history of authoritarian rule, can make a world of a difference. Indeed, if we think about it, Lo’s explanation means nothing whatsoever.

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beijing cancels annual inter-university debates on 1911 revolution

Uneasy with the idea of university students meeting on weekends to discuss democracy and revolution, China requested that an annual series of debates on the Xinhai Revolution, held since 2002, be suspended

The Chinese government has called on organizers of an annual series of inter-university debates on the meaning of the 1911 revolution to cancel the event amid fears of unrest in the country, a Hong Kong newspaper reported yesterday.

The ban, ordered by the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Youth League on Friday, was the first since the event was launched in 2002, the South China Morning Post reported. The debates were scheduled to commence on Saturday.

The move comes amid a nationwide crackdown on dissidents calling for a “Jasmine Revolution” and political liberalization in China.

Sixteen universities, including top institutions of learning like Peking University, Renmin University of China and Tianjin University, were to take part in the debates, the SCMP said. Beijing’s keen sensitivity to the political threat of mass mobilization is believed to have been the principal reason behind the decision to cancel the event.

Wen Yunchao (溫雲超), a Guangzhou-based blogger better known as Beifeng (北風, or “North Wind”), told the paper that the timing of the event, the nature of its participants and the topics for debate were very sensitive in the eyes of the authorities.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here (the part on the Christian worshipers who were detained is by AFP; the rest is by me).

Saturday, April 09, 2011

CCP news articles seep into Taiwanese paper

An official in charge of cross-strait affairs at the GIO said the insert could be an attempt by China to circumvent screening of print content by Taiwanese authorities

All seven stories in a China Reports insert accompanying the local English-language China Post newspaper yesterday were stories originally published in Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-run publications, but nowhere were the sources mentioned, an omission that could violate domestic laws on product placement.

The eight-page insert, dated April 8, and which purports to be the Volume 2, No. 12 issue of the Reports, contains seven human interest stories, all of which were taken from the People’s Daily, Xinhua news agency and the China Daily in recent months. All three are owned by the CCP and well known for their pro-CCP editorial stance.

Readers informed the Taipei Times that the insert has appeared sporadically in recent months, including the past three Fridays.

All seven articles were published without a byline, date of original publication or the name of the original publication, and nowhere is the insert identified as originating from an outside source, which could lead readers to believe that the material comes from the China Post staff.

When contacted by the Taipei Times, the editorial department at the Post said they were in no position to comment on the matter since the entire insert was produced and sent to them from Hong Kong.

Asked if any China Post staff had control over content in the insert, the person contacted said: “I don’t think so.”

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with interesting remarks by an official at the GIO in charge of cross-strait affairs and a reference to what is probably the longest guideline in the history of government regulations.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Canadian firm to provide P-3C simulators

A Canadian maker of simulators for civilian and military aviation was awarded a contract to design trainers for the 12 P-3C marine patrol aicraft Taiwan has purchased from the US

Canadian firm CAE has been awarded a contract to design and manufacture a flight simulator and tactical trainer for the P-3C “Orion” maritime patrol aircraft Taiwan has purchased from the US, the company announced in a March 23 press release.

Under the terms of the contract, CAE will design and manufacture a P-3C operational flight trainer (OFT) as well as a P-3C operational tactics trainer (OTT). The P-3C OFT will be a Level D equivalent flight simulator and used to train the pilots and co-pilots of Taiwan’s P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, the press release said. The P-3C OTT will be used to train the sensor operators in the P-3C aircraft.

Both training devices are scheduled for delivery in 2014.

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

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

China’s grand missile bargain in the making

The modernization of China’s ballistic missile arsenal would easily offset the partial removal of short-range missiles that Beijing will likely offer as a means to help Ma Ying-jeou get re-elected

There is mounting speculation that Taipei and Beijing may have had backroom talks in the past six months over a partial withdrawal of the estimated 1,600 ballistic missiles China targets at Taiwan. However, such a move would provide fewer security deliverables to Taiwan than meets the eye.

The first public mention of a possible missile withdrawal by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery was made by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in New York City in September last year, comments that soon gave rise to rumors that Taiwanese and Chinese officials, possibly aided by a few Americans, had launched talks on the matter.

In the seven months since, Washington has sent occasional signals that it encouraged such a move and the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has made repeated, if half-hearted, calls on Beijing to “detarget” or “withdraw” ballistic missiles.

With presidential elections in Taiwan scheduled for March next year and Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) facing a tough challenge from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), analysts have posited that Beijing, which regards the KMT as a more amenable partner, could partly accede to Ma’s request as a mark of “goodwill” if such a move was expected to help the KMT retain power.

Recent developments in China’s ballistic missile forces could indicate preparations for such a grand missile bargain, or at least make it more feasible. Last month, National Security Bureau Director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) told the legislature that China had completed testing and was in the process of deploying a new type of missile known as the Dong Feng-16 (DF-16), which had an extended range of between 1,000km and 1,200km.

At present, the great bulk of the ballistic missiles targeted at Taiwan consist of short-range DF-11s and DF-15s.

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Taipower’s ‘dirty’ nuclear plants raise concerns

‘Most nuclear plants are more akin to a surgical center, very neat, regulated and clean. Taipower plants are more like the back room of a lousy auto parts store. If the Fukushima situation happened at the Guosheng plant, I am sure it would have been way worse, much faster’

As the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant continues to threaten the health of millions of Japanese, the safety of Taiwan’s three operational nuclear power plants and how well managed those plants are has come under greater scrutiny, especially in light of reports that leaks at the Japanese plant may have partly been the result of years of neglect and corruption.

On June 19 last year, the Taipei Times exposed problems at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli (萬里), New Taipei City (新北市), after a US diving company alleged that staff were treating the suppression pool as a “garbage dump.”

Robert Greenspan, president of South Dakota-based Midco Diving and Marine Services, told the Taipei Times that the pool, which would play a critical coolant role during a nuclear emergency (when the energy produced by the reactor core is greater than the energy removed), had contained inordinate amounts of silt and various foreign objects, such as cable spools, oxygen tanks and masks — all highly radioactive. According to foreign material exclusion rules, any object that is taken into a suppression pool must be taken out, as foreign objects can disturb the flow of water in the tank and cause jamming.

Contracted by Ming Tai (閩台), a Taiwanese firm, Midco conducted underwater maintenance in Unit 2 at the plant in November 2008 and Unit 1 in March 2009. However, Greenspan said there was so much foreign material in the Unit 1 pool that divers were unable to complete their work in the 10 days given them. An ensuing contractual dispute prevented Midco from returning to the site.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here with excerpts from a final report on maintenance at the No. 2 plant, shocking allegations by Greenspan, and responses from Taipower.

The transience of ‘friendship’ with the CCP

With every prominent dissident it arrests, Beijing shows us how those who are extraneous to the CCP can be dispensed with in the blink of an eye

Guiding China to what it sees as inevitable glorious heights, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not hesitate in recent years to tap into the Chinese artistic community to bolster the country’s image, turning to such luminaries as movie director Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) and artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未, pictured left), for example, to ensure the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

What recent events have shown us, however, is that as long as China’s artistic community toes the nationalistic line — and oftentimes amplifies it — artists will thrive and be left alone by the authorities. For the few who depart from that line, a far less elated fate awaits them, with outspoken critics like Ai, who created the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium for the Olympics, seeing themselves prevented from flying out of China and having their offices searched by state security officers.

In the process of sustaining its power, the regime has no compunction in making martyrs of former heroes, provided the exercise succeeds in dissuading others from continuing the fight. In other words, except for a very close circle of CCP officials, no one is beyond the vindictive hand of the party. By virtue of its ruthlessness and randomness, Beijing’s retributive apparatus is tightening its grip on every sector of society, ensuring that but for the most daring, the majority will keep silent and refrain from criticizing the party or calling for political reform.

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

Monday, April 04, 2011

Taiwan faces prospect of non-credible fighter capability within decade

No new fighter aircraft on the way, upgrades on new ones delayed, and hesitancy on the part of the US government to include more advanced radar in the package. This is the state of affairs

Taiwan’s airpower situation is deteriorating and replacement of its tactical aircraft is necessary, justified and not provocative, US Senator Richard Lugar told US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton in a letter dated April 1.

“Given the decrepit state of Taiwan’s F-5s, the service life issues associated with its IDF [Indigenous Defense Fighter] and a growing problem … obtaining affordable and sustainable access to spare parts for Mirages, I am very concerned that if the Administration does not act favorably on Taiwan’s outstanding Letter of Request (LOR) for sales of F-16C/D aircraft, Taiwan will be forced to retire all of its existing F-16A/B aircraft in the next decade, leaving it with no credible air-to-air capability,” wrote Lugar, a ranking member of the Committee on Foreign relations.

The Republican also expressed concern over what he characterized as the tenuous nature of Taiwan’s current fleet of fighter aircraft and the urgent requirement to retire obsolete F-5 and Mirage airframes, upgrade F-16A/Bs and IDFs and procure new F-16C/Ds to replace retiring aircraft.

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

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Former president Lee Teng-hui had ‘secret’ message for Richard Armitage

The outspoken former president had a few things he wanted to share with Richard Armitage, but he felt uncomfortable doing so in the presence of government officials

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had information he wanted to share with a visiting former US official earlier last week, but he did not feel comfortable doing so in the presence of Taiwanese government officials, the Taipei Times has learned.

Lee on Monday met with Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state during former US president George W. Bush’s first term in office, during the latter’s visit to Taiwan.

Prior to the meeting, Lee allegedly said that as some Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials would be present during their meeting, he would pass on a message to Armitage in the form of a letter. He allegedly said he could not trust some of the ministry officials and that his discussion would center on general topics like Japan.

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

Friday, April 01, 2011

US arms sales creating ‘vicious circle’

Political considerations associated with US arms sales to Taiwan are forcing Washington, Taipei and Beijing to make bad policy decisions, a new report says

A report co-authored by a former commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command is calling on Washington to re-examine its relationship with Taiwan, especially on what it calls the “vicious circle” of arms sales.

The product of a three-day roundtable at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Public Affairs in January, A Way Ahead with China: Steering the right course with the Middle Kingdom explores how the US could improve relations with China and portrays Taiwan as the principal irritant in the evolving bilateral relationship.

“Today, the changing and evolving US/China relationship demands a practical strategy,” the introductory letter by center director Gerald Baliles says. “There must be careful consideration of what both nations seek to gain from this relationship, and of how the relationship itself affects the balance of nations worldwide.”

Part of that practical strategy, the report says, involves rethinking longstanding US security commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act.

“The United States takes a somewhat protectionist stance with Taiwan historically,” the report says. “However, Taiwan is now an economically successful democratic institution that is slowly tending towards greater alignment with the Mainland [China]. Our involvement with Taiwan is a frequent point of contention with the Chinese, particularly in respect to arms sales, and one that should be re-examined. The complex relationship is political and should be re-examined outside of a military context.”

Among the authors of the report are admiral Joseph Prueher, former ambassador to the People’s Republic of China under former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and former commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), former Pacific Command commander admiral Timothy Keating, as well as James Shinn, National Intelligence Officer for East Asia at the CIA. Two specialists on China, Charles Freeman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and David Lampton of Johns Hopkins University, also took part, as did representatives from FedEx Express.

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