Friday, December 28, 2012

Taiwan to start oil exploration in South China Sea

Taiwan-administered Itu Aba, or Taiping Island
The move, which will no be welcome by the Philippines and Vietnam, is well beyond the paperwork stage and could begin as early as next month 

Taiwan will launch oil exploration efforts in waters off Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) next year, in a move that is likely to raise tensions with other claimants to a series of islets in the South China Sea. 

During a meeting at the legislature in Taipei yesterday, Bureau of Energy officials confirmed that the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Bureau of Mines, in cooperation with CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC, 台灣中油), would send ships to waters near Itu Aba to conduct exploration for potential oil resources next year. 

Bureau of Energy Director-General Jerry Ou (歐嘉瑞) told the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee that a monthly budget of NT$17 million (US$583,670) would be allocated to fund the efforts. 

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

Taipei tells China to note indignation over passport

Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi
Taipei’s efforts to explain its indignation with the passports were dismissed as invalid by Beijing, which said pro-independence activist were just making a fuss 

In unusually direct language, Taipei yesterday called on Beijing to pay more attention to Taiwan’s position on China’s controversial new passport, saying that China’s refusal to acknowledge its indignation had “hurt the feelings” of Taiwanese. 

At the heart of the controversy is a new passport that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began issuing in May, which features watermarks that include famous tourist attractions in Taiwan, such as Nantou’s Sun Moon Lake and Hualien’s Chingshui Cliffs; Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin — areas whose sovereignty Beijing disputes with India; and 90 percent of the South China Sea. Countries in the region, including Vietnam, India and the Philippines, reacted with indignation when the contents of the new passport were reported in news articles last month, making demarches to Beijing and issuing visas to Chinese visitors bearing imprints of their own rectified maps. 

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

CM-32 ‘Clouded Leopard’ delivery delayed until 2019

A CM-32 during a drill in Taichung last year
The ministry denies problems with cracking metal plates is the cause, but confirmed that delivery would be delayed by five years 

Taiwan’s problem-plagued CM-32 “Clouded Leopard” armored infantry fighting vehicle ran into more difficulties this week with the announcement that delivery would be delayed by another five years, but the military denied that this was linked to steel-plate cracking and other design issues. 

First unveiled in January 2005, the domestically produced eight-wheel-drive vehicle has encountered various problems from its inception and came close to being abandoned altogether in 2009 over design flaws and budgetary irregularities at the Ministry of National Defense, which resulted in the legislature’s decision to freeze two-thirds of the production budget. 

Earlier this week, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported that cracking in the vehicle’s steel plating — which first surfaced three years ago — as well as disagreements over what type of cannon to use on the mounted turret, had prompted a decision to delay delivery of the vehicle by five years to 2019. 

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

China to invest US$1.6bn in disputed South China Sea islands

Yongxing, where Sansha City was established
Through investments in infrastructure, China is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to its sovereignty claims 

In a move that risks increasing regional tensions, China yesterday announced it will invest more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) to build infrastructure on disputed islands in the South China Sea and to strengthen marine law enforcement in the region. 

Citing Hainan Province Governor Jiang Dingzhi (蔣定之), the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Herald reported that China would build an airport, piers and other important infrastructure on islands administered by Sansha (三沙), a prefecture-level city under Hainan’s jurisdiction that was created in July following approval by the State Council in June. 

Located on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島), the largest island in the Paracels (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and 350km southeast of Hainan, Sansha “administers” more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs and their surrounding waters in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands, 中沙群島) and the Paracel chains. 

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

Opportunities and responsibilities

Two generations meet at a protest in late November
The DPP needs to be led not by extraordinary individuals who did extraordinary things 30 years ago, but by young people 

With survey after survey showing abysmal numbers, it is by now pretty clear that the general sentiment regarding the performance of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his Cabinet is overwhelmingly negative. While the opposition sees such dissatisfaction as a tremendous opportunity to regain power, it would be a grave mistake to assume that the current situation will automatically translate into votes for them. 

Above all, the public feels it has been let down by Ma and his less-than-stellar group of Cabinet officials, and the willingness of Taiwanese to continue buying Ma’s promises about a brighter future is wearing thin. One can only wait so long for Godot.

As Ma’s popularity rating approaches the single-digit zone, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is naturally feeling elated, seeing this as a sign of possible major gains in the seven-in-one elections in 2014 and the more distant presidential election in 2016. However, while this indeed creates an opportunity for the DPP, it also adds new responsibilities, including the need for the pan-green camp to give Taiwanese hope about the future of their nation. 

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Russia, India sign air-launched BrahMos co-development plan

CGI of a Su-30MKI firing a BrahMos cruise missile
The BrahMos will give the IAF a long-range strike capability and the means to launch air attacks beyond the envelope of Pakistani air defenses 

Months of speculation about the possible development of an air-launched version of the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile finally came to a head, with India and Russia announcing they had signed a co-development deal, with plans for a test-fire within six months.

The deal was made public a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to arrive in New Delhi to attend a one-day summit on Monday, where he held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Prior to his departure, Putin pledged to strengthen defense ties with India. In an op-ed published in The Hindu, Putin emphasized that joint development of advanced weapons, rather than the traditional purchase by India of Russian technology, would be “key to future relations.” 

India is the world’s largest arms importer, with Russian technology accounting for between 60 and 70 percent of total acquisitions. New Delhi intends to spend upwards of U.S.$100 billion over the next decade to upgrade its predominantly Soviet-era military. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

China ‘seriously concerned’ by US arms provisions for Taiwan

The US Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Beijing said it was strongly against provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that would push for the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan 

The Chinese government yesterday said it was “seriously concerned” about a US congressional resolution adopted on Friday that would encourage Washington to sell F-16 aircraft to Taiwan and acknowledges that Japan administers the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台). 

In comments posted on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Web site, spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said Beijing had expressed “serious concern” over and “strong opposition” to provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 that would pressure US President Barack Obama to sell F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan and reaffirm Washington’s support for Japan’s position on the Diaoyutais. The islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The bill, which will allocate a US$640.7 billion budget for, and authorize spending and programs for the Pentagon and other defense-related agencies, is pending Obama’s approval. 

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

MND remains vague on medium-range missile report

A cruise missile soars during an exercise
Despite US opposition and technological bottlenecks, Taiwan has been seeking to extend the range of its missiles 

Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) yesterday gave only vague answers when asked to comment on reports that the military’s top research institute had developed a 1,200km medium-range surface-to-surface missile capable of hitting central China. 

“The military normally does not comment on programs that are still in development,” Kao said of a report in the Chinese-language Next Magazine, adding that some of the article’s content was not factual. However, he added that “many things” were still in development and that there was much room for improvement, adding that the ministry would explain the matter to the public “when the time becomes opportune.” 

The article said that following a number of breakthroughs in engine technology and miniaturization, the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), the nation’s top military research institute, had developed — and tested twice this year — a new surface-to-surface missile with a range of 1,200km that is capable of hitting Shanghai, about 700km from Taiwan, and parts of the South China Sea. 

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

Taiwan eyes blimps for maritime surveillance

An aerostat is deployed in Afghanistan
The Navy is said to be interested in the Small Aerostat Surveillance System, which comes equipped with an APG-66SR radar 

Poor communication and surveillance capabilities have awakened interest in the military in blimps equipped with powerful sensors to conduct surveillance over disputed territory, possibly including the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), reports are saying. 

According to a recent report in Defense News, interest in acquiring such devices — known as aerostats — to increase the nation’s intelligence, surveillance and intelligence (ISR) capabilities increased in the wake of a Sept. 25 incident near the Diaoyutais, during which Japanese Coast Guard vessels engaged in primarily symbolic water cannon exchanges with the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and about 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels. 

Citing an unnamed military officer, the report said that the CGA and the navy had struggled to monitor developments during the clashes due largely to limited surveillance capabilities. 

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Russia and America’s New (Conventional) ICBM Race

A radar monitors Russian territory during a drill
Adding conventionally armed ICBMs could, under certain scenarios, increase, rather than diminish, the risks of nuclear escalation 

If reports in Russian state media last Friday are accurate, the world may be on the brink of seeing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) race, though of a conventional type rather than the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. 

According to a report by RIA Novosti, Moscow may be developing a heavy-liquid-fuel, non-nuclear, precision-guided payload capability for a new class of ICBMs, which would give Russia near-global coverage similar to that sought by the U.S. under the controversial “Prompt Global Strike” program. 

Using rhetoric that harkened back to the dark days of the Cold War, Russian Strategic Missile Forces Commander Colonel General Sergei Karakayev warned that Russia could develop its own strategic conventional ICBM force if the U.S. did not pull back from its efforts to create such a system, which gives the U.S. the ability to strike targets anywhere in the world within a matter of minutes. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Stop pretending that Taiwan is normal

The Taipei skyline on a muggy day
The sooner experts and officials abandon the illusion that cross-strait relations are normal, the faster Taiwan can fix its economy 

A great deal of talk that goes on about Taiwan involves a degree of self-deception, which, while being convenient, prevents decisionmakers from seeing reality and fleshing out policies to secure the nation’s future.

This was made all too clear at a conference in Taipei yesterday, where academics and officials from Taiwan, the US and Japan discussed the trilateral dialogue, with a strong emphasis on regional trade and integration. From the presentations given by several panelists, one would conclude that Taiwan’s participation in East Asian economic integration is almost a fait accompli, thanks in part to the more stable relations across the Taiwan Strait and the signing in June 2010 of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). 

National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General John Deng (鄧振中) conceded during a keynote speech that there had been political “bumps in the road” between Taipei and Beijing and he also vaunted the virtues of the ECFA and other agreements signed between the two sides under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), adding that economic relations remained strong. 

Clearly, under Deng’s interpretation of the relationship with China, economics and politics are two distinct phenomena, with the latter having no influence on the former. 

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Renowned China watcher Richard Baum dies at 72

Rick Baum
Baum was the driving force behing a global listserv that over the years has become an indispensable tool for China watchers

Noted China watcher Richard Baum, who inspired generations of China experts and harnessed the power of the Internet to bring them together, passed away on Friday after a four-and-a-half year battle with cancer. He was 72. 

Born in Los Angeles in 1940, Baum was an icon in the field of China watching. Over a period stemming more than four decades, he advised US officials, delivered important public lectures and inspired thousands of academics and journalists, budding and established alike, through his unflagging passion for the subject. 

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Want Want plans new publication with Fujian Daily Group

Lanterns at a temple near Taipei Int'l Airport (Songshan)
No one in the Taiwanese government seems to know which agency is in charge of monitoring Chinese investment in print media  

Amid growing fears of monopolization and Chinese influence on local media, the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) plans to launch a new magazine next month in cooperation with the Fujian Daily Group, which is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The first issue of Media Plus (兩岸傳媒), a magazine focusing on cross-strait media and cultural affairs, will be launched in Taiwan next month, with reporters and financing coming from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The magazine is to be published in traditional characters in Taiwan and simplified characters in China. 

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

Taiwan's Youth Fights for Democracy, Again

Student leader Chen Wei-ting addresses protesters on Nov. 29
Students concerned about the erosion of free speech take to the streets to halt a mogul's media buying spree

Don't call it a "Taiwanese Spring"—yet. But student protests against a major media merger contain echoes of an earlier era in Taiwan, when the nation struggled to bring down authoritarian rule and take its first steps as a young democracy. 

Those battles of the 1980s saw young lawyers, academics and students face off against the repressive Kuomintang (KMT) regime. Today, the targets of the youth movement are tycoons who, through a string of acquisitions, threaten to undermine free speech in Taiwan. 

In November, Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai surprised Taiwan by announcing that he planned to sell the Taiwanese branch of his Next Media empire, famed for its fearless criticism of Beijing. More shocking was the subsequent announcement that the coalition of buyers included a man whom Mr. Lai had vowed never to sell to: Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng. 

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

PRC steps up pressure on Taiwan for ‘peace agreement’

One of the 1,600 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan
Recent language by China seems to confirm predictions by Taiwanese officials that Beijing intends to push harder for the signing of a peace agreement 

With the completion of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th National Congress last month, Beijing is stepping up pressure on Taiwan to begin political talks and sign a cross-strait “peace agreement.” 

During a routine press conference in Beijing yesterday, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Fan Liqing (范麗青) said that China remained committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, adding that concerns on Taiwan’s side over the deployment by China of about 1,600 ballistic missiles would be best addressed through timely meetings on military issues. 

The best way to reduce military concerns would be for the two sides to discuss the establishment of a cross-strait mutual-trust security mechanism, during which issues of military deployments could be addressed, Fan said. 

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

Taiwan’s new early-warning radar tracks North Korea rocket

South Koreans watch the trajectory of the rocket
The Ministry of National Defense said the powerful EWR in Hsinchu came online on Tuesday, the first confirmation that the billion-dollar system is active 

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday for the first time publicly confirmed that its US$1.3 billion long-range early-warning radar (EWR) system in Hsinchu was operational and said it had tracked a highly controversial rocket launch shortly after it blasted off in North Korea.

In a statement, the ministry said it closely monitored the launch and that the rocket’s flight did not pose any threat to national security. 

The EWR at Leshan
“Our long-range early-warning radar system detected the North Korean rocket flying over waters about 200km east of Taiwan, and that the first and second stages of the rocket crashed into waters off South Korea and the Philippines respectively,” the ministry said in a statement.

Ministry spokesman Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said Chief of General Staff General Lin Chen-yi (林鎮夷) was charged with monitoring the situation at Hengshan Headquarters during the launch, adding that US-made Patriot missiles, domestically built Tien Kung air defense systems and Kidd-class destroyers equipped with surface-to-air missiles monitored the launch and were ready to respond. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. More of my coverage, with critics of the EWR’s vulnerabilities, in Jane’s Defence Weekly (subscription required).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Odd moves on media freedoms

Protests on Ketagalan Blvd on Human Rights Day
With a media monopoly and PRC influence looming, more than ever Taipei must reaffirm its dedication to a free press. The signs are not encouraging 

While everybody’s attention is focused on the emergence of a “media monster” and the threat to the nation’s democracy, other developments behind the scenes are raising equally troubling questions about the government’s commitment to freedom of information. 

The dangers of media monopolization and undue influence by China in local media are well-known, and need not be repeated. Rather, the focus should also be on recent moves by the government and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that reveal the role President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration sees itself playing is that of a regulator of information. 

Free-market advocates can say what they want about the virtues of an unchecked economy, but history shows that information — its uses and accessibility — is not a normal commodity, and therefore deserves special protections that can only be ensured through government supervision. It goes without saying that governments will on occasion be tempted to abuse that prerogative by censoring information or erecting barriers to critical information. What is needed is a healthy equilibrium between government regulators, the courts and the media to ensure that information is accessible and used responsibly. 

Based on recent moves, there is reason to believe that the government sees things differently. 

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A new game plan for China’s nuclear arsenal?

Xi is quickly consolidating his grip on the military
Xi Jinping seems more interested than his predecessors in the Second Artillery Corps. What are the implications for China’s future defense posture?  

In a system where order and sequences have a highly symbolic value, Xi Jinping’s first promotion of a military officer to generalship, added to a high-profile visit last week, can tells us a few things about his priorities for the military and what to look out for in the future. More than any other branch of the People’s Liberation Army, the Second Artillery Corps — which controls the country’s conventional and nuclear ballistic missile arsenal — appears to be where Xi’s interest lies. 

Xi’s first act as the newly appointed chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) was to promote Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe, the 58-year-old commander-in-chief of the Second Artillery and a CMC member, to full general on November 23. Aside from increasing defense spending, the promotion of senior officers is regarded as the best way for Chinese leaders to consolidate their power over the armed forces. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tibetan hunger strike, Ma dodges a shoe and other sundries on human rights day

Ten Tibetans in Taiwan launched a hunger strike on Saturday to honor those who self-immolated to oppose Chinese occupation 

The tent stands a mere 100 meters from busloads of tourists — most of them Chinese — who are actively taking pictures of themselves amid dozens of fluttering pigeons. Right behind them stands the ornate gate leading to Liberty Square, and behind it, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Grim reading about Tibetans' final, desperate act
Inside the tent, the atmosphere is much more sober as a handful of Tibetans exiled in Taiwan near the completion of a 49-hour hunger strike launched on Saturday night to honor the 94 Tibetans who, since 2009, have committed self-immolation to oppose Chinese occupation of their land (a 95th Tibetan, a 16-year-old, died after setting herself on fire in Qinghai today). Outside the tent hang large banners with images of some of the individuals who self-immolated, along with their age, social position, and the circumstances under which they committed their unimaginable act. Some of the pictures are not for the faint-hearted, such as that showing a man fully ablaze and yet keeps walking on a city street as passers-by look on. 

Today is International Human Rights Day, and various groups in Taiwan are holding events and press conferences to argue their position. The Democratic Progressive Party, as expected, held an “international” press conference to unveil the results of a poll showing dissatisfaction with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) record on human rights. Almost simultaneously, Ma was addressing a rather angry crowd at another press conference in the morning, droning on about his commitment to human rights (he, along with former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao [溫家寶] and former US president George W. Bush, now have something in common, as all three have had a shoe thrown at them in anger). Meanwhile, in front of the Presidential Office, a group of 150 to 200 elderly Taiwanese gathered to protest against the government and Chinese encroachment on Taiwan, as a few dozen policemen look on, evidently bored. Behind them on a stage stood what presumably serves as a replica of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) cell. His son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), was among the speakers, his strident voice echoing all the way to the Presidential Office. Earlier, a dozen protesters unfurled small banners in front of the Control Yuan, while a young policeman looked on. As I walked by the Presidential Office, a guard told me it was forbidden to aim my camera at the main entrance of the building; as I came upon a side exit, a police van zipped by, carrying a handful of protesters with yellow lanyards tied round their foreheads.

One of the participants in the 49-hour hunger strike
But the main reason for my visit were the Tibetans. As the buffeting wind quieted down momentarily, I talked with one of the organizers, a soft-spoken man who explained why they were there. I asked him if many Chinese tourists had come over to the tent, as we were right at the heart of a favorite spot with Chinese tourists. A handful of people milled around as we chatted, some of them Chinese. Yes, he told me, a few did come over to look at the pictures of the Dalai Lama, or the 94 individuals who committed the ultimate sacrifice. They’re curious. We can’t blame them for not knowing what’s going on in Tibet, he continued. A few would reluctantly take pamphlets, he said, only to be berated by others once they rejoined their group, something I have observed before with Chinese tourists interacting with Falun Gong members distributing information about repression of their group by the Chinese government. I do wonder, however, whether this ignorance stems from the fact that Chinese control of information within China is really that successful, or if this might not be the result of self-censorship, from the fear of getting into trouble if one looks too closely into the subject. 

The hunger strike ends at 7 tonight, but Tibetans’ fight for their people’s freedom continues.

Taiwanese F-16 pilots came close to participating in multinational Red Flag exercise

F-16s from the 421st Fighter Squadron at Red Flag 12-4
While fears of Beijing’s reaction scuttled the plan, insiders believe that Taiwanese pilots will be able to eventually participate in the large-scale military exercise 

Taiwanese air force pilots came very close this year to participating for the first time in a highly realistic and high-intensity combat training exercise in the US, but a last-minute decision by Washington prevented them from doing so over fears of Beijing’s reaction, a defense magazine reports in its current issue. 

According to the Chinese-language Asia-Pacific Defense Magazine, Taiwanese F-16 pilots were invited to participate in the RED FLAG 12-4 combat exercise held in July, but after a “careful assessment” by senior White House officials, the US side canceled the invitation over fears of China’s reaction and a potential impact on bilateral ties. 

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

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Vietnam to deploy 'specialised force' in South China Sea

Vietnamese fishing boats in the South China Sea
Vietnam responds to new rules announced by Hainan by launching its own efforts to safeguard its disputed waters 

Vietnam has announced that from 25 January 2013 a 'specialised force' under its new Fishery Bureau will be activated to conduct patrol and surveillance duties in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea. 

Under a decree signed by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on 29 November, the new bureau will fall under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Aquatic Products Department and is to be equipped with civilian patrol ships, supported by marine police and border forces. 

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

After Palestine, could it be Taiwan?

Palestinians in Hebron await news of the UN bid
While the Palestine issue is not a perfect analogy for Taiwan, the recent success of Palestinians at the UN can serve as an inspiration 

Last week’s vote at the UN General Assembly to make Palestine a “non-member observer state” was a rare bit of good news from a region that often provides more than its share of misery. Besides breathing new life into the possibility of a two-state solution, the decision could also create a precedent for another seemingly intractable conflict of equal duration, that of Taiwan’s status vis-a-vis China. 

Palestine’s journey from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state” was not easy, nor was it uncontroversial. Furthermore, this new status, which is now equal to that of the Vatican, does not resolve a number of substantive issues, such as Israeli settlements or Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. 

Nevertheless, the development shows that even with staunch opposition within the UN system — including from the US, a permanent Security Council member, and Israel — weaker polities can make progress toward having their voices heard at the international level. 

The question, then, is if Palestine can score such a victory, why can’t Taiwan? 

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

New leadership in China: New attitude?

The Chinese Music Charts Awards shows its true colors
Analysts had long assumed that Xi Jinping wouldn’t initially venture far from the cautious policies of his predecessor. Maybe we were wrong 

In the lead-up to the once-in-a-decade Chinese leadership transition in November, most experts on China agreed that new party chairman Xi Jinping was unlikely to institute any drastic changes in Beijing’s foreign policy — at least initially — as the dust settled and Beijing ensured a smooth transition. However, contrary to predictions of continuity, the past three weeks have instead shown signs of a rapid hardening of China’s positions on a number of issues, a worrying development for stability in the Asia Pacific. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here, with the strange case of the announcement last week that the 20th edition of the Chinese Music Charts Award will be held at the Taipei Arena ... without the prior approval of the Taipei City Government or the Taiwanese authorities.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

China in Iraq: After the Carter Doctrine, the Xi Doctrine?

Expect more of this in the coming years
While Chinas oil dealings with countries like Iran and Sudan receive global attention, its budding relationship with Iraq may turn out to be the most important 

A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to energy-hungry China’s billion-dollar bids on oil fields in Canada and the Asian giant’s reliance on oil from countries like Iran and Sudan to fuel its growing economy. But its growing interest in another major oil producer has gone largely unnoticed, and if current trends continue, that Middle Eastern country could become the world’s next “oil superpower,” with China, not the West, acting as both Iraq’s main partner and top beneficiary of its rich resources in what some now call the B&B trade axis (Beijing and Baghdad). 

In the past decade or so, China waited patiently on the sidelines while the U.S. and its allies coped with Iraq’s new, and often times messy internal dynamics that followed the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein by a U.S.-led coalition. China reemerged in 2008, however, to sign post-Saddam Iraq’s first major oil deal with a foreign country. While the majority of Iraqi oil deals in the post-Saddam era were awarded to Western firms, the Western shift to a more amenable and independent oil-rich Kurdish region in the north amid disenchantment with southern Iraq is creating a vacuum that China has found hard to resist. 

My feature, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hundreds of students gather in Taipei to protest Next Media deal

Fearing for the future of the media in Taiwan, students from around the country are heading a sustained campaign of protests 

Hundreds of young Taiwanese from around the nation yesterday continued to put pressure on the government to act against media monopolization and reject the sale of the Next Media Group’s (壹傳媒集團) Taiwanese businesses to two consortiums with a six-hour protest outside the Joint Government Office Building, where officials from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) and academics were holding a public hearing on the sale.

Students protest in front of the FTC
Next Media Group signed an agreement on Tuesday to sell its four Taiwanese businesses — the Chinese-language Apple Daily, Next Magazine, Sharp Daily and Next TV — for NT$17.5 billion (US$600 million) to two consortiums comprised of Chinatrust Charity Foundation (中信慈善基金會) chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒), Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵), Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), Lung Yen Life Service Corp (龍巖集團) chairman David Lee (李世聰) and Taiwan Fire & Marine Insurance Co (台灣產物保險) chairman Steve Lee (李泰宏). The sale has raised fears of a media monopoly and undue influence from China on Taiwan’s media, in light of the investors’ major business operations across the Taiwan Strait. Critics of Tsai, Taiwan’s wealthiest person, who made his fortune in China, have accused him of interfering with editorial matters at his other media outlets.

One of the student leaders gives a speech
For some of the protesters, the journey to Taipei began as early as 3:30am yesterday, as they boarded buses and headed for the capital to express their concerns about the deal. A large delegation from the south was welcomed by loud cheers as it joined other participants outside the building, which was locked down under heavy security and barbed wire. Police officers asked for the ID of anyone seeking to enter the building. In all, about 500 people, mostly university students, braved the damp weather as the meeting began at 9am. According to the organizers, the participants came from 36 universities nationwide.

Various groups and universities were represented
Some had already taken part in two protests in front of the Executive Yuan earlier this week organized by the student group Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, which also helped organize a much larger protest on Sept. 1 against the planned acquisition by Tsai of the cable TV services operated by China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路). In a display of fraternity, representatives from each academic institution were invited up on stage to display banners or placards with the name of their school inscribed on them and they were greeted by huge applause.

This article, co-written with Chris Wang, was published today in the Taipei Times and continues here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dark clouds over Taiwan’s media

Young Taiwanese protest in front of the EY yesterday
The real threat from media monopoly run by large corporations is not brainwashing, but self-censorship for the sake of the business interest

How quickly the proverbial frog is being cooked. Less than three months ago, thousands of young Taiwanese and representatives of media organizations gathered to protest against the acquisition by Want Want China Times Group of cable TV services run by China Network Systems, fearing that such a purchase — since then conditionally approved — would create a “media monster.” 

This week, Want Want Group is not only appealing the conditions set by the government, but is on the brink, along with two other corporate giants, of acquiring Next Media Group’s outlets in Taiwan, including the staunchly independent Apple Daily and Next Magazine, sparking a new round of protests over the past two days. 

With a decision expected later this week, one of the few remaining neutral media organizations in Taiwan could be swallowed up by a triumvirate composed of the China-friendly Want Want China Times Group, Formosa Plastics Group and the Chinatrust Charity Foundation. All three have important business operations in authoritarian China. 

The main danger of media monopolization is not that Taiwanese will be “brainwashed,” but that journalists and editorialists will feel compelled to avoid certain controversial subjects for the financial benefit of their employers. 

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

China’s undiplomatic passport gamble

A Chinese official shows the new PRC passport
Taipei finds itself in an especially difficult position to retaliate against Beijing’s latest escalation in regional disputes 

Several Asian countries last week reacted with unusual fury over the new design of the Chinese passport, which features watermarks that include 90 percent of the South China Sea, Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin, as well as famous tourist attractions in Taiwan. Although Beijing’s move was mostly symbolic, it constitutes yet another escalatory step in China’s many territorial disputes and could, depending on how other countries respond, make already complex issues even more difficult to resolve. 

So far, the reactions to the new passport have been uniformly negative, with Hanoi and Manila issuing official protests over the inclusion of the so-called nine-dash lines in the South China Sea and island groups such as the Paracels and Spratlys. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry went as far as to request that Beijing remove the “wrong” content from the passport, and Hanoi is now reportedly refusing to stamp the passport, and will instead stamp a separate piece of paper. 

Even Taipei, the current government of which has engaged in a multifaceted effort to improve relations with China, called the passport “unacceptable” and warned it could negatively impact upon the ongoing rapprochement. 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Chen Shui-bian case and foreign meddling

Former president Chen receives a medical checkup
Unless Taiwanese themselves mobilize to secure medical parole for the former president, lecturing by foreign visitors will fall on deaf ears 

The issue of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) detention and mounting health problems is not going away, not because the majority of Taiwanese are concerned about the welfare of the former president, but because it is being kept alive by a small group of (no doubt well intentioned) individuals who are trying to internationalize the matter. Sadly, for both those people and for Chen, their efforts have proven counterproductive.

Every day, as I scan various database for pictures to put in the next day’s newspaper, I come upon a handful of shots from outside Taipei Prison, where Chen is serving an 18.5-year prison sentence for corruption, or hospital where he receives examinations and treatment. Every day, the pictures involve no more than 10 or 15 individuals aged between 50 and 70, which sometimes includes Chen’s mother. It’s always the same people. As such, claims by US-based organizations that there is a “wide consensus” in Taiwan that Chen should be granted medical parole are bogus. For the great majority of Taiwanese, it’s evident that Chen’s case is of little concern to them.

It also doesn’t help Chen that a good number of the invariably Caucasian foreigners who passed through Taipei to visit him and to pressure the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration in recent months were already discredited by past deeds. I fail to see how a former Republican congressman who, for all intents and purposes, had been kicked out of his party, and who is known for his xenophobic and racist views, can show up in Taiwan and purport to defend Chen’s human rights. Or for a former US attorney general, known for defending genocidal maniacs who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own, can visit Taipei and still pretend to have enough moral authority to lecture Taipei on human decency.

The support in Taiwan for Chen’s medical parole is so small that it’s easy for the Ma administration to ignore it and to further harden its views, especially when “white” meddlers and would-be saviors of the poor little innocent Taiwanese butt in. Taiwanese are not idiots, and they don’t need external intervention to be able to tell right from wrong. Nor is their compassion limitless. When Chen’s son, the rather politically naïve Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), admitted on TV last week that his family had used political donations to purchase condos in the US — one for him to live in, the other as “investment” — it’s difficult to imagine that Taiwanese, even Chen supporters, didn’t feel betrayed or did not conclude that Chen and his family deserved their sentences.

Unless large enough a number of Taiwanese in Taiwan start mobilizing for Chen’s release on medical parole and provide conclusive evidence that he, unlike other prisoners in Taiwan, is being held in sub-standard conditions, the Ma administration will not feel compelled to shift its views. Adding to the list of discredited foreign visitors who usually know little, if anything, about Taiwan will not help. In fact, it risks producing the opposite results. Absent such conditions, time, resources and money — and good people’s good intentions — will be wasted fueling an exercise in futility. And Chen, if his medical condition truly requires his removal from prison, will continue to waste away.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Russia to sell 24 Su-35 aircraft to China

A Su-35 prototype conducts tests in Russia
Delivery of the multirole aircraft could begin from 2015, and Beijing is reportedly still committed to purchasing a total of 48 

In a reversal of a decision made earlier this year, Moscow has agreed to sell 24 Sukhoi Su-35BM fighter aircraft to China for an estimated US$1.5 billion, a sale that will further shift the balance of power in the air over the Taiwan Strait. 

Russia’s Rosoboronexport and the Chinese Ministry of National Defense are said to have reached a preliminary agreement, with details discussed during a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday between Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Hu was accompanied by General Xu Qiliang (許其亮), who was appointed one of the two vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission during the 17th session of the seventh plenary conference earlier this month. 

The 24 aircraft will come equipped with the 117S engine designed by Russian firm NPO Saturn, the Russian business daily Vedomosti reported. 

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Taking Asia by surprise: a response

A ROCAF Hercules C-130 prepares for landing
Taiwan’s predicament calls for ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking. But outlandish fantasy won’t help its cause 

There was indeed an element of surprise in Scott Bates’ op-ed “A new plan to take Asia by surprise,” especially among those among us who have studied the politics of the Taiwan Strait over the years. 

Given Taiwan’s predicament, innovative ways of thinking about how it can secure its democratic future are always welcome. However, Bates’ “Taiwan 21” proposal (the 21 either stands for 21st century or Taiwan’s total population minus 2 million, we don’t know), while ostensibly striving for such a lofty goal, comes well short of providing viable alternatives for Taiwan. The weaknesses of his argument are manifold; let’s walk through them one by one. 

First, Bates recommends that Taiwan “make a solemn pledge that in the event of hostilities, [it] will never conduct any military action on the shores of China. Even if attacked by the Chinese, Taiwan would only defend itself.” To this end, he contends that Taiwan should eliminate all the surface-to-surface missiles in its arsenal. 

From this, we can understand that Taiwan should forsake all means to ensure that the aggressor, China, cannot fire more ballistic and cruise missiles at the island. The main reason why Taiwan has been developing surface-to-surface cruise missiles — mainly the Hsiung Feng family — is for them to be used as a counterforce. In other words, Taiwan’s cruise missiles would serve to strike back at missile bases, radar sites, and the command-and-control nodes of the Second Artillery Corps to paralyze its warfighting capabilities. It’s already been made very clear that Taiwan will never initiate hostilities or attack non-military targets in China (those who argued otherwise were discredited long ago). Taiwan’s best deterrent option isn’t to turn the other cheek when attacked; it’s to promise enough pain to make the Chinese leadership think twice before deciding to use force against a non-belligerent. 

The author’s second recommendation is for the Taiwanese Army to be cut in half, reducing its numbers from 130,000 to 65,000, and for it to be recast as a “self-defense force.” The mission of this force, Bates writes, would “shift from trying to resist a land invasion to providing rescue, reconstruction and stabilization assistance in disaster situations.” This “repurposed force,” he tells us, could become Asia’s “premier disaster response team, replacing its tanks with airlift capability and logistical support able to move people and supplies to save lives.” 

As a country with a long history of natural catastrophes, from massive earthquakes to powerful typhoons, Taiwan has ample experience dealing with humanitarian emergencies, which gives it the ability to develop first-rate search-and-rescue (SAR) capabilities. Reconfiguring warfighting capabilities so they can meet humanitarian contingencies and committing to serve as a major player in the region are laudable goals, but there’s a problem, and it’s one that anyone who has followed developments in the Taiwan Strait should be aware of: Beijing won’t allow it. Unless Bates’ “Taiwan 21” makes the Chinese leadership magically change its stance on Taiwan, Beijing will continue to prevent Taiwan from being a regional actor or joining multilateral organizations, especially when doing so would emphasize its independence and sovereignty — Bates’ purported ultimate goals. 

This leads directly to his third recommendation, which calls for Taiwan to “shift from seeking diplomatic acknowledgment and recognition to developing solutions to the sovereignty questions in the South China Sea.” Taiwan should therefore be a generous provider of humanitarian assistance (which it can only do by joining multilateral organizations), but should not seek recognition. Bates then says Taiwan should launch more track-II initiatives on regional disputes, something it is doing already, but it can only do so much without recognition of its own sovereign rights, which again Beijing does not recognize. 

Taipei should then launch a “‘democracy offensive’ aimed at nations in Asia where governments systematically deny their citizens fundamental human rights” and should do so by pledging of US$1 billion over 10 years (why US$1 billion is never explained) to engage people and build civil societies across Asia. So Taiwan should spent about one tenth of its current annual defense budget helping others, but should not seek recognition in return, nor should it ask that the systematic violation of its 23 million people by China be resolved. Altruism indeed requires selflessness, but certainly not to the extent of self-abnegation. 

Finally, now that its Army has been cut in half and redesigned to serve humanitarian purposes, Bates argues that Taiwan should adopt a “hornet’s nest” strategy, which, among other things, includes “dramatically upgrading its air defenses and modernizing its navy for the purposes of denying any regional power the ability to gain air or naval superiority over Taiwan without suffering huge losses.” How it could achieve this, given the size of China's Navy and Air Force, is a mystery. And there’s more to the grocery list: Taiwan, the author says, should “build or acquire the latest land-based air and missile defense systems, signals intelligence, aircraft, attack and minesweeper helicopters, upgraded Lafayette-class frigates, F-16s and Sea Dragon submarines” and also upgrade its F-16s (twice now) while deploying “a force of hundreds of armed drone aircraft.” The contradictions are enough to make a general spin like a top. Taiwan’s Army would be cut by half, and the main focus of its operations would now be humanitarian rescue (involves a major investment in airlift capabilities that Bates doesn't even begin to describe), but then, with half it the number of land army, it should embark on a major arms modernization program that would make Saudi Arabia and Israel look like Monday shoppers at the discount store. Taiwan cannot have it both ways. 

Furthermore, its counterforce capabilities having been dismantled, which would give China free rain to fire as many missiles as it wants, Taiwan would have to acquire or develop huge numbers of extraordinarily expensive air defense systems. Sure, with an infinite budget, it would be great if every Taiwanese had a PAC-3 in his backyard, but that’s not going to happen. The six PAC-3 units it has purchased in the past decade have already put a severe strain on Taiwan’s defense budget. His fantasy calls for way more than that. 

With the dozen or so modernization programs Bates recommends, plus the acquisition of “hundreds of attack drones,” Taiwan would be in financial debt for decades to come. Where Taiwan would find such money, Bates doesn’t say, nor does he shed light on how Washington would respond to its acquisition of offensive drones, who Taiwan would get them from, and at what cost (ironically, the cheapest attack drones are made in China). Equally unconvincing is how a military whose main purpose is now to save lives through humanitarian intervention would be able to man and use the weapons systems he recommends be modernized or added to Taiwan’s arsenal. Any military officer who has served on a humanitarian mission (and Bates’ bio shows he has seen more than his share of those) will tell you that the training required to be able to accomplish such tasks differs markedly from that which is needed to prepare for war. And yet, Taiwanese soldiers are expected to do both, as humanitarian workers and soldiers capable of withstanding an unrestricted assault by China. (Bates’ proposal is oddly reminiscent of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) redirecting of the armed forces toward relief operations, but surely this is nothing more than a coincidence.) Taiwan needs the Army to defend itself against a Chinese invasion; conversely, both the Air Force and Navy would play major roles in any humanitarian mission abroad. With its finite capabilities, it can't do both. 

Taiwan already has the moral high ground in the Taiwan Strait, and its inability to provide humanitarian assistance within the reason hasn’t been the result of lack of resolution or intent. In almost every instance, Chinese obstruction has prevented it from providing its expertise to countries in need. Taiwan’s role as a promoter of human rights has faced the exact same obstructionism from Beijing. Pulverizing the ability of the Taiwanese military to defend the nation — the ultimate outcome of Bates’ series of outlandish recommendations — will not convince China to abandon its claims on Taiwan. In fact, it will likely produce the opposite results and embolden it in its efforts to annex The island, by force if necessary. (An edited version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times on Nov. 28.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From ‘bumblers’ to real leaders

Beset by corruption scandals and a sagging economy, the KMT will need to prove it can turn things around before 2016, or will run out of ammunition. Japan, not China, could be key 

Okay, let us end the silly name-calling and focus on what needs to be done to prevent further erosion of the economy. Solutions for the future, not “I told you so” or hollow promises and calls for patience, are what the situation calls for. 

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration officials have had more than four years to demonstrate that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is better for Taiwan’s economy than was the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — claims that, along with the vow of clean governance, were major factors in Ma’s 2008 election. So far, his administration has failed to provide any convincing evidence that this is the case. 

Defending his poor performance to date, Ma has argued that Taiwan’s poor economic showing is the result of the global financial downturn of 2008 and the eurozone crisis. While there is no doubting the impact that the global economic downturn has had on Taiwan’s performance, Ma conveniently omits that soon after he came into office, the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) faced a similarly difficult situation amid the recession sparked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. While Chen could — and should — have done more for the economy, it simply shows that external factors cannot be cherry-picked for the sake of convenience. 

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

From Zhuhai, with love

A promotional video shows carnage at Hualien AFB
A promotional video at last week’s air show in China showed Taiwanese F-16 being blown to bits by Chinese weapons systems 

Here’s a lesson on how not to win an opponent’s hearts and minds, courtesy of the Chinese. While showcasing a ground strike package during the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Guangdong (better known as the Zhuhai Air Show) last week, the Chinese sought to win over foreign clients with a promotional video showing aircraft being blown to bits at an airbase in a country with which Beijing hopes to “reunify.”

The F-16, before the attack
For a country that prides itself on cultivating skilled diplomats for 5,000 years, China has an uncanny ability to shoot itself in the foot, which makes one wonder whether its dreaded “united front” tactics should not instead be called “disunited.” There’s probably no better example of this than Beijing’s approach to Taiwan, the country of 23 million “brothers” and “sisters” it regards as a breakaway province that must be reunited with the Motherland, by force if necessary

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.