Saturday, February 25, 2012

Taiwan’s surveillance radar could come online without ‘space tracking’

The powerful SRP, which is expected to come online later this year, could be blind to the stars above

The US$800 million early warning radar system that is being build at Leshan (樂山) in Hsinchu County, which some defense experts claim is the most powerful EWS on the face of the planet, could see a very sensitive capability — the ability to track satellites — switched off.

My exclusive for Jane’s Defence Weekly continues here (subscription required).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Taiwanese subs to be equipped with Harpoon missiles

After fire control systems and launch tubes are modified, the pair of Dutch-made subs will be capable of firing surface-to-surface missiles within a range of about 125km

Taiwan’s two combat-capable submarines will be equipped with anti-ship missiles next year, providing the nation’s undersea force with a long-distance strike capability it had previously lacked.

The Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Wednesday that more than 30 US-built surface-to-surface Harpoon cruise missiles would become operational on the two Hailung-class submarines sometime next year. The subsonic sea-skimming missiles, which have a range of about 125km, will bring targets along the Chinese coast within range.

The navy recently test-fired the weapons in the US in preparation for their installation on the Dutch-built submarines, the report said, citing unnamed navy sources.

A US$6.4 billion arms package notified to US Congress in October 2008 included 32 UGM-84L sub-launched Harpoon Block II missiles, plus two UTM-84L exercise missiles and two weapon control systems.

Integrating the Harpoon missiles requires substantial modifications to existing fire control systems and launch tubes and some defense analysts have been skeptical as to whether the Hailungs could accommodate them. But according to a former navy officer, this is the real deal.

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

Striving for a ‘united front’

Political differences will always remain, but shared values is a bond that can help people of various persuasions work toward a common goal

Thousands of years of Chinese history have taught us that one of the preferred strategies adopted by Chinese leaders is to divide their opponents to weaken resistance and conquer them when a large enough opening has been created.

The one country that is most threatened by Chinese expansionism — Taiwan — should be acutely aware of the grave risks that division poses to its future, and that consequently its people should do everything they can to maintain unity.

However, it is clear that unity is exactly what has long been lacking in Taiwan’s boisterous political environment. A deep ideological split between the pan-green and pan-blue camps makes a lasting consensus all but impossible.

Ironically, consensus was on everyone’s mind during the presidential elections last month, as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) promoted the so-called “1992 consensus,” while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) proposed an alternative, if somewhat ill-defined, “Taiwan consensus.”

After Tsai’s loss on Jan. 14, many on the pan-green side saw the outcome as proof that the pan-blue camp had rejected Tsai’s call for unity and seemed to validate the claim that the KMT was on a ruthless quest — echoes of its authoritarian past, perhaps — to undermine Taiwan’s democratic way of life.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Battle intensifies over radars for F-16 upgrade

Industry sources say it is fair to assume that Taiwan will echo South Korea in the type of AESA radar it chooses for its upgrade program

An imminent decision by the South Korean Air Force on the type of advanced radar system it will adopt for the upgrade of its 135 KF-16C/Ds will likely have a ripple effect in Taiwan as the latter mulls options for the upgrade of its 145 F-16A/Bs.

Up until recently, only one US defense firm, Raytheon Corp, had been cleared by the US government to export Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, one of the main components in the US$5.8 billion arms package for Taiwan notified to US Congress in September last year.

However, the US Department of State last month gave Northrop Grumman Corp a permanent export license (DSP-5) for its own version of the AESA radar — known as the Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) — for the South Korean and Taiwanese bids.

Raytheon had obtained a DSP-5 for its Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) in 2008, US-based Defense News reported earlier this month. The DSP-5 license is the first step in the foreign military sales process and allows for the release of unclassified technical information and data to a foreign country.

With this decision, Taipei will now be able to choose between the two manufacturers as it negotiates the acquisition of the 176 AESA radars included in the notification.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Taiwan Navy to embark on domestic submarine program

After several years of prevarication, the navy is to develop its own unique prototype, while US companies have been told to stay away from the program

After more than a decade of delays and reversals, the navy has confirmed that it will embark on a domestic submarine program next year, with a prototype to be delivered within three to four years.

Taiwanese and US sources told the Taipei Times earlier this month that officials from the Republic of China Navy had briefed a small group of legislators from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee during a classified meeting late last month. Legislators from the Democratic Progressive Party are also said to have attended the meeting.

While not mentioning the initial meeting with legislators, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported yesterday that the navy would brief senior government officials and legislators on the issue and seek budgets for the program within two months.

One US source, who has been actively involved in efforts to procure submarines for Taiwan over the years, told the Taipei Times in a meeting on Feb. 11 that an unspecified budget for the 2013 financial year has been set aside for a domestic diesel-electric submarine program, which would involve a unique design and assistance from one or a number of foreign countries.

The navy is reportedly aiming for a design with a relatively light displacement of between 1,000 tonnes and 1,500 tonnes.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday musings on journalism

The January 14 elections revealed both sides of the political spectrum in their true form, and what I saw wasn’t pretty

With the febrility of the Jan. 14 elections now behind us, I have arrived at a point where I feel confident I can take stock of what that period of heightened sensitivities, where months of frantic effort all converged on a single point, taught me about the profession of journalism. Given the stakes, it should not be surprising that the period would bring out the best, and at times the worst, in those directly involved or working from the peripheries. Exhausting though it may have been to be on the front line, those frenetic weeks were a true eye opener, giving me heretofore inaccessible insights into the personalities of “allies” and “opponents” alike.

If you will indulge me, let me start with an incident that, while occurring more than five months prior to the elections, was nevertheless directly related to them. That incident, as some will recall, was the reaction by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to an opinion piece I published in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 30, in which I argued, based on years of observation and interaction with the armed forces, that Taiwan’s national security apparatus had been penetrated by Chinese intelligence, a development that, though nothing new, could threaten future US arms sales to Taiwan.

The initial reaction came from the Ministry of National Defense, with an audibly ill-at-ease spokesman calling me on the day the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times, where I work as a reporter and deputy news chief) had published a front-page lead article based on the article I had written in the WSJ (in the process, the reporter omitted to mention the crucial fact that my article was an op-ed, as opposed to hard news). For the sake of my friendship with the ministry spokesman, who evidently was acting on orders, I will not provide the details of our conversation that morning. Suffice it to say that, because of what I had written, I had been “de-invited,” as it were, from an annual MND lunch with reporters two days from then. Reconciled to the fact that my arguments were unlikely to be warmly received by the armed forces, I didn’t make much of this, though I did make it a point to inform a fellow reporter and close friend of what had happened, if only to let him know that he should not look for me at the lunch.

About half an hour later, as I was having coffee and reading Martin van Creveld’s The Age of Airpower, the phone rang again. My reporter friend, ostensibly annoyed by the de-invitation, had called a very senior official at MND and told him what had happened. The latter’s reaction, he said, was to describe the whole thing as “unacceptable” and a “freedom of the press issue.”

“Expect to get a phone call soon,” said my friend, who has covered military affairs in Taiwan for well over a decade.

And get called back I did, with the same spokesman now informing me that I was welcome to attend the lunch, but that I should keep a low profile and promise not to discuss my article with other reporters there. Having made my vow of silence, I then headed out for lunch, receiving, along the way, a text message from the main MND spokesman, who “cordially” invited me to the lunch. So the matter is settled, I thought to myself as I sat at a table at a local Hong Kong restaurant. My stir-fried noodles and iced coffee arrived, and I went back to my reading, casting the occasional glance at the two flat-screen TVs mounted on separate walls, both of which were presenting news programs from different channels. At some point, about halfway into my meal, something playing on the television to my left caught my attention: A panel of individuals on a talk show was visibly animated about something, which was not all that unusual for Taiwan. One man, clearly angered, was engaging in a silent diatribe, as the volume had been turned off. His body language, arms flailing above his head for emphasis, left no doubt as to his state of excitement. Though I had no idea what the subject of the discussion was, something deep inside prepared me for what would come next: Leaving the panelists for a moment, the camera zoomed in on a newspaper article. It was in English. It was from the WSJ. And then I saw my byline underneath the headline, “Taiwan is Losing the Spying Game.” I knew, then, that I had struck a very sensitive chord.

In the weeks prior to the publication of my article in the WSJ I had written a handful of front-page “hard news” articles and one editorial on the espionage situation for the Taipei Times, pretty much making the same points I was making in the WSJ. In them, I touched on high-profile spy scandals, such as the case of General Lo Hsien-che (羅賢哲), who is now serving a life sentence for conducting espionage on behalf of China. I’d also written extensively, again in the Times, about Ko-suen “Bill” Moo (慕可舜), a former international sales consultant for Lockheed Martin Corp in Taiwan who, after moving to the US to become a businessman, had been arrested by federal agents for attempting to sell air-to-air missile technology and a F-16 engine to China, among other items. After serving his sentence, Moo had been sent back to Taiwan, where he’d disappeared. To me, and to several defense experts I’d spoken to, the fact that immigration officials at the airport, who’d been alerted by the US of Moo’s imminent return, had lost track of him, or that foreign affairs and defense officials didn’t seem to know who he was or were unaware that he had returned to Taiwan, was alarming. At the very least, this sent the wrong signals to Washington, just as Taipei was awaiting a decision on US arms sales to Taiwan. But MND seemed unworried, and spokespersons approached for comment did not give me anything.

Only after I’d walked into the office in Neihu around 3:30pm did I become aware of the extent of the reaction to my article. Then-KMT caucus whip Chao Li-yun (趙麗雲), flanked by other legislators and someone from MND, had held a press conference in which she threatened to have my immigration status investigated, and to have me expelled and rendered persona non grata if I failed to provide my sources and apologize for “trying to humiliate” the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration at such a crucial time. Never mind that I had made it clear in my article that Chinese intelligence penetration of Taiwan was a longstanding problem and not one concerning the Ma administration alone, or that I would have written the exact same article had Ma’s opponents been in power. I did argue, though, that Ma should “clean house” lest inaction create undue apprehensions in Washington over possible technology transfers or intelligence leaks. I focused on Ma because, well, he was president at the time of writing, and an announcement on the US arms sales package was imminent. For Chao and others within the KMT, my article was nothing more than a gratuitous attack on Ma. Not only that, but the fact that I worked for the Taipei Times, a publication that is often perceived as supporting the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was proof that I had ulterior motives, that what I had written was perhaps being dictated by my superiors at the Taipei Times or the Liberty Times. Based on this perception of the world, reporters don’t have free will and are nothing more than pawns in the games politicians pay, something that I would encounter again a few months later, and from unexpected quarters at that. Not only had I not been instructed by anyone to write what I’d written, I hadn’t even informed the newspaper I work for that I’d published in the WSJ. I had, however, tried for weeks to alert the Liberty Times to the significance of the Bill Moo case, as my articles in the Taipei Times had had exactly zero impact and elicited no reaction from the authorities. Only after my WSJ article appeared did the Liberty Times, followed by other Chinese-language media in Taiwan, start paying attention, by which time the threats against my person, as opposed to Bill Moo and Chinese espionage, had become the news.

That night, as I tried to do my job in my cubicle, surrounded by books and piles of newspapers and MND paraphernalia, the phone started ringing, and my inbox filled up with requests for interview on TV and radio. Deciding I had better keep a low profile so as to avoid making matters worse for myself, I turned down all but one interview request, hoping silence would allow things to blow over. (By sheer, though by no means less disturbing, coincidence, that very same night the lights in my living room decided to give out. One can only imagine what went through my head when, flicking the light switch, the entire living room remained pitch black.)

That decision appears to have borne fruit, as a few days later the media soon shifted its focus to the next crisis — the announcement that James Soong (宋楚瑜) of the People First Party would likely enter the presidential race. I did attend the MND lunch, and though I was swarmed by journalists and photographers as I walked into the main hall, lunch went well, and a good number of reporters, as well as MND brass, came over to congratulate me for a job well done. Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) also made a point to engage in chit chat with me and exchanged business cards as photographers clicked away, which in my view sent a signal that the ministry could deal with criticism and that I would not be ostracized. To this day, I am convinced that deputy minister Yang was the principal actor behind my “rehabilitation” with MND, and that his intervention was key to making the KMT realize that acting on its threat to expel me would hurt their image with the US and the international community (the last time a foreign journalist was expelled from Taiwan was in 1981, under Martial Law, when, by ironical coincidence, the very James Song who shifted attention from my case was director-general of the Government Information Office).

It should nevertheless be noted that since that incident, not once have I been invited to the occasional MND trips to military bases or exercises (though I did get invited to a lunch earlier this month), nor was I invited to attend the annual dinner for reporters at the Presidential Office. Meanwhile, MND, which following the WSJ crisis had told me I should consult them more in future (as if I hadn’t when I sought comment on the Bill Moo case), remains as uncooperative as ever whenever I seek information from them, usually limiting itself to “no comment” or “we cannot confirm nor deny” platitudes. On a couple of occasions, references to my WSJ article have been made.

But what else could we expect from the KMT and the Ma administration, detractors will say. After all, the party has an authoritarian heritage and the China-friendly Ma will do everything in his power to please his masters in Beijing and ultimately engineer the delivery of Taiwan into China’s embrace, critics will argue, adding, without any attempt at nuance, that the KMT is on a mission to “destroy” democracy in Taiwan.

Sadly, as I would discover during and after the elections, the other side of the political spectrum was hardly any better. Though the means were far less coarse than those the KMT had resorted to, the objective — censorship, control of the narrative — remained the same.

I had my first taste of this less than a month about the WSJ crisis, following the publication of an op-ed titled “More expatriate humility, please” in the Taipei Times. In it, I had made the apparent mistake of arguing that non-Taiwanese, even those who live in Taiwan, should perhaps show a little more understanding toward Taiwanese over their voting decisions and sense of identity. Rather, as some misinterpreted my message, than argue that foreigners should “shut up” and not comment on Taiwanese politics, what I proposed was an acknowledgement that Taiwanese alone, as a result of the extraordinary situation they face as citizens of an officially non-state claimed by a giant with some cultural and linguistic similarities and which threatens force while promising great riches, could decide their destiny, and that how they weighed the pros and cons of their decisions might differ from that of individuals who were not born here.

The attacks were almost immediate, and the Taipei Times published some of the letters disparaging me. I was using the Times as a pulpit from which to beat down others, one would-be academic averred, while others surmised that I’d been brainwashed or “turned” by the KMT following the WSJ crisis. Once again, people were assuming that I had no free will, that I was trying to make amends with the KMT by publishing an apology of some sort. In reality, that article was nothing more than part of the debate any critical individual should be having on a constant basis. Not only that, but in my view, it is the responsibility of a journalist to revisit his or her paradigms and to admit past failures, while striving for a more flexible and understanding approach to reality. At no point did it cross my mind that writing such an article would earn be points with the KMT or “make up” for what I’d published in the WSJ (not to mention the fact that I strongly doubt senior KMT officials, or ordinary Taiwanese, for that matter, pay much attention to the opinion pieces in the Taipei Times).

This nonetheless resulted in my being ostracized in some circles, including by some supposed “allies” both in Taipei and back in Washington. But this was nothing compared with what would happen next, this time during the elections.

Amid fears that Ma and the KMT could resort to “dirty tricks” in the lead-up to, during and after the elections, a group of individuals created the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan (ICFET). While I’d be the first to argue that the KMT, sometimes with help from Washington and Beijing, did rely on questionable practices to gain an advantage over its opponent, it soon became apparent to me that there was a serious problem with the ICFET. Looking around as I attended a number of its press conferences, I realized that the very composition of its members put its impartiality into doubt. Not only did the top committee members include a former DPP presidential candidate, it also included a very vocal former DPP legislator as well as a number of academics and retired officials who were so openly “green” — the color associated with the DPP — as to make the Amazon look yellowish by comparison. Although I have no doubt that the majority of the international observers, including personal friends, truly intended to conduct an impartial evaluation of the elections, the presence of a number of individuals on the committee or in a supporting role tainted the whole affair from the onset. I used an unsigned editorial, again in the Taipei Times, to argue that this was undermining the credibility of the ICFET, and that should the body unearth problematic behavior during the election, the very presence of those individuals would make it very difficult for the body to be taken seriously. (Another troubling incident, which was recounted to me by more than one credible source who was present when this happened, occurred while ICFET observers were visiting a local KMT campaign office. At one point, some of the observers practically put a poor local KMT official on trial over the party’s stolen assets. The problem here is not whether the KMT has illegal assets — we all known it does — but rather that someone felt the need to raise this unrelated issue at such an inopportune time, which again raised all kinds of questions over the biases and lack of neutrality of supposedly neutral observers.)

About 30 minutes after my editorial appeared, I received an e-mail from one member of the committee, a US-based lobbyist who was in Taiwan at the time as an observer (also a good friend for whom I have great respect), expressing great disappointment with what I had written, adding that my editorial was damaging to the cause and would make their efforts more difficult.

What struck me then was the fact that people seem to expect that the role of journalists is to take sides, when in fact on should, within reason, always strive for impartiality. In my response to that individual, I said that my role was not to facilitate someone’s job; in fact, in speaking truth to power, journalists should always try to make everybody’s life more difficult, to keep them honest. Only propagandists choose sides and use words and images to help a certain faction, even when doing so defies reality or conveniently ignores unseemly blemishes.

Needless to say, I was now ostracized by members of the other side — not the KMT, but the DPP — for writing things that displeased them, and later for arguing against the risible claims that Ma’s re-election spelled the death of democracy, or that Taiwanese voters were not “intelligent” or “mature” enough to vote “the proper way” (a case usually made by people who haven’t lived in Taiwan for several years). Since then, not a single article I’ve written has appeared on a Web site run by the said lobby organization, while several — some written by members of the ICFET — were provided links to. A coincidence? Front-page lead articles about the Taiwanese Air Force being on the brink of suing the French government for more than 1 billion euros over the sale of Mirage 2000 aircraft in the early 90s, or threatening maneuvers by the Chinese Navy in Taiwan’s rear, again on the front page, are hard to miss. All the while, ample room was made for links to articles making wild claims about Ma’s intentions, some by authors who cannot refer to the president without underhanded references to “phony ponies” and “Ma Ying-joke.”

How ironic that purported defenders of Taiwan, its democracy and freedoms, would replicate the very thing they oftentimes condemn the Chinese Communist Party for doing — manufacturing a pliant, subservient media that acts as propagandist, while punishing anyone who dares publish something that doesn’t make them look good. So I’ve done it, and managed in the past six months to alienate both sides of the political spectrum. In my book, and while this makes my life more difficult, this is a sign that I have done my job, or at least that I’ve stuck to the principles that I believe are at the very core of the profession. And I would rather get a new job than deviate from that guiding light.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Regional arms race is heating up

Japan has revised regulations barring the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from engaging in non-peaceful activity, allowing JAXA to work on defense-related projects

Beijing might not like it, but its growing military power has sparked a new arms race in Asia, a development that could have devastating effects if cool heads do not prevail.

Try as it might to convince its neighbors and the international community that its “rise” is peaceful, the emergence of a new regional power that threatens to shake up the “status quo” inevitably creates diplomatic tensions. The fact that, for the first time in decades, a regional power could compete for influence with the US, whose navy has played a stabilizing role in the region since World War II, is creating a new paradigm that, in turn, is forcing the region to prepare for the unknown, if not the worst.

Natural fears of the unknown notwithstanding, Beijing has also exacerbated apprehensions with occasional rhetoric on its territorial claims in the South China Sea and to islets in the East China Sea — not to mention Taiwan. Making matters worse is the continued lack of transparency regarding the actual budget for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has led to wild speculation as to the actual figures. Just this week, research group IHS Jane’s was claiming that China’s military budget could double from its current level to US$238.2 billion by 2015.

Whether that figure is on the mark or inflated, as some China watchers have already said, is of little consequence as it reflects the sense of unease that is descending upon the region.

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

Picture: A H-IIA rocket carrying an information gathering payload for surveillance launched into space from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Senators call on Obama to be tough with Xi Jinping

A letter urged the president to make it clear that the US has an unwavering commitment to provide Taiwan with the tools necessary for its self-defense

US President Barack Obama must show strong support for the vital security interests of Taiwan, a key strategic partner, when he meets Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) at the White House, US senators said in a letter to Obama.

The letter, signed by US senators John Cornyn, Robert Menendez and 10 other members of the upper house on Capitol Hill, said that as the rapid modernization and lack of transparency of China’s military troubled its neighbors, Obama should reinforce with Xi the US’ commitment to support the “robust democracy” and Washington’s “steadfast commitment” to Taiwan and its security.

The US Department of Defense reports that China’s large-scale military modernization has “a focus on Taiwan contingencies,” the letter said, with an offensive buildup of more than 1,000 ballistic missiles and an air force that remains primarily focused on “building the capabilities required to pose a credible military threat to Taiwan and US forces in East Asia.”

To this end, the signatories called on Obama to announce the next defensive arms package to Taiwan prior to Xi’s visit to the US.

Obama, who met Xi at the White House on Tuesday, made no such announcement. Although the letter, which was dated Feb. 10, did not specify the type of arms they were hoping Obama would announce prior to Xi’s arrival, this was presumably a reference to the 66 F-16C/D aircraft that Taiwan has been requesting for years.

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

Friday, February 10, 2012

Taipei cuts budget for F-16 upgrades

Most likely, the air force will either abandon some items included in the US package, or it will only upgrade a number of aircraft, with potential for a second round in future

The Executive Yuan is only giving the Ministry of National Defense US$3.7 billion for the upgrade of the nation’s ageing F-16 aircraft, a decision that could have serious implications for the air force’s ability to ensure air superiority in the Taiwan Strait, the Taipei Times has learned.

As a result of that decision, the ministry has told the air force that it cannot afford to spend US$5.1 billion on the upgrade package, notified to US Congress in September last year, for its 145 F-16A/Bs.

The Times was also informed that a decision has been made not to replace the aircraft’s F-100-PW-220 engines with F-100-PW-229, work that would have cost an estimated US$1.35 billion.

The air force is currently negotiating with US contractors and trying to determine whether to upgrade fewer aircraft or to limit the items included in the upgrades. Consensus on the best possible plan has yet to be reached.

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

Ministry denies reports of PLA spy ship at Kaohsiung Port

Officials confirmed the vessel was registered with the People’s Republic of China, but said it entered Kaohsiung Harbor because of bad weather, as per international laws of the sea

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday said that it monitored all maritime activity in the Taiwan Strait and dismissed a news report that the armed forces had failed to recognize a Chinese “spy” vessel that sought shelter at Kaohsiung Harbor during bad weather.

“The military fully monitors all ships and vessels passing through the Taiwan Strait, regardless of their nationality,” the ministry said in a press release.

Earlier the same day, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported that a Panama-flagged ship, the Sui Jiu 201 (穗救201), had sailed from China to Kaohsiung Harbor on Feb. 2 and left the following day.

Other reports said the ship, which operates in the South China Sea, had departed from Qingdao in Shandong Province and passed by the Sea of Japan on its way to waters off Kaohsiung. The Apple Daily claimed the vessel was in close contact with the People’s Liberation Army Navy and was used to collect intelligence.

Online information shows that the Sui Jiu 201 is a salvage ship operated by the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau, under the Chinese Ministry of Transport.

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

Diplomacy the Chinese way

There is nothing wrong with conducting business with China. However, this doesn’t mean that in the process of engagement we should lose the courage to stand up for what we believe in

Just days before Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to embark on an official state visit to China, Beijing announced that one reporter who was to be part of the delegation would not be allowed to enter the country and denied him a visa.

China and Canada signed various agreements on Wednesday covering the energy, investment and other sectors, as relations between Ottawa and Beijing continue to improve following a decision by the Harper government to soften its rhetoric on China’s human rights situation.

Looking on as a delegation led by Harper brushed elbows with Chinese officials during the three-day visit were oil and business executives, as well as a retinue of reporters. However, one figure was missing: Matthew Little of the Epoch Times, an accredited member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Beijing’s decision was hardly surprising, given that the paper has a long tradition of criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its treatment of activists, religious groups and ethnic minorities in China.

Predictable though this was, the denial of Little’s entry visa is yet another example of the manner in which, little by little, China uses its influence to warp liberal democracies by imposing a series of conditions for conducting business.

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

Thursday, February 09, 2012

PLA sorties into Pacific threaten encirclement of Taiwan

The PLAN presence in the Pacific enhances its ability to fight all around Taiwan and not just along the west coast, the traditional direction from which a Chinese attack would come

Sorties by the Chinese navy into the Pacific Ocean are becoming more commonplace and provide it with the means to familiarize itself with the environment surrounding Taiwan, while creating a new front from which to attack in case of conflict, an analyst said.

Four frigates from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) were spotted in waters between Miyako Island and Okinawa Island on Friday, the Japanese Ministry of Defense said last week. All four ships, which were tracked by a P-3C patrol aircraft deployed by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces, were traveling from the direction of the East China Sea toward the Pacific Ocean, where they conducted exercises.

The ships — the Type 054A Jiangkai II-class missile frigate Changzhou (pictured), the Jiangwei II-class Jiangxing and Lianyungang and the Jiangwei I-class Tongling — stayed in international waters and did not enter Japanese territorial waters, the ministry said.

All the ships, which are part of China’s East Sea Fleet, are equipped with anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles.

The 300km-wide channel between Okinawa and Miyako, known as the Miyako Strait, is regarded as one of the most convenient routes for Chinese vessels heading for the Pacific. Chinese vessels went through it in June 2010 and twice last year as they headed for exercises in the Pacific.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. My take on the same subject for Jane's Defence Weekly is available here (subscription required).

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

‘Quiet diplomacy’ doesn’t work with China [UPDATED]

Quiet diplomacy is predicated on the now discredited assumption that economic development in China will inexorably lead to political liberalization and eventually democratization

On Tuesday Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper begins an official visit to Beijing, his first since 2009, where we can expect he will go by the script to show that his government is committed to promoting the so-called “strategic partnership” between the two countries.

In recent years the Conservative government, once seen as unfriendly to Beijing, has made a volte-face on China, which is now Canada’s second most important merchandise trading partner, with bilateral merchandise trade reaching $57 billion in 2010.

Harper’s change of mind was not so much ideological as predicated on very pragmatic matters, such as increasing business ties with the world’s second-largest economy, a move that, we must not forget, was initiated by the Liberals. Consequently, bilateral trade between the two countries more than tripled between 2001 and 2010.

Last year, even before Canadian voters installed the Conservatives as a majority government, the Harper administration was making the case for increased ties with China, brushing aside criticism that such rapprochement would come at the cost of Ottawa’s effectiveness in pressuring China on its abysmal human rights record. While embarking on a “pragmatic” approach to China, which doubtlessly has benefited certain sectors of Canada’s economy, Harper said his government would engage in constructive dialogue, or “quiet diplomacy” to express its concerns regarding Beijing’s treatment of its people.

Such a face-to-face approach among “friends,” Foreign Minister John Baird said last year, was more efficient than “sitting at home and griping,” which was ostensibly a reference to a more vocal approach to Beijing’s human rights violations.

Unfortunately for Harper and Baird, the silent, behind-the-scenes approach doesn’t seem to be bearing fruit.

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

UPDATE: The Ottawa Citizen Web site appears to have been the target of an access denial attack, as my article has been down for nearly half a day now. Given past experience, this would not be the first time Chinese ultranationalists target publications in the free world for publishing material that did not agree with Beijing. Will keep readers posted as the Citizen staff investigates.

Tsai Eng-meng claims he was ‘misquoted’ on Tiananmen Square comments

Who should we believe, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, or a billionaire whose fortunes depend largely on Beijing’s goodwill?

Want Want Group (旺旺集團) chairman and chief executive Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) caused a bit of a stir earlier this year when, during an interview with veteran reporter Andrew Higgins of the Washington Post, he argued that the events at Tiananmen Square in June 1989 did not constitute a “massacre.”

Tsai’s comments prompted angry reactions among people in Taiwan, including Wang Dan (王丹), a student leader during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing who now lives in Taiwan. Since then, online boycotts of Want Want products and of the China Times newspaper, which Tsai acquired in 2008, have emerged. This also led a group of more than 60 academics and intellectuals in Taiwan today to call for a boycott.

Perhaps not by coincidence, in an open letter posted on Wang’s Facebook page, Tsai now claims that his comment were “distorted” and taken “out of context” by the Washington Post and Higgins. “Do you think I would ever make such a thoughtless ‘simple’ remark during an interview with international media?” Tsai opines.

The business tycoon — Taiwan’s third-wealthiest individual, according to Forbes magazine — asked that Higgins release “a full recording of the interview” and said he would apologize if anything he said in the recording was disrespectful to “mainland compatriots who suffered during the Tiananmen Incident” or hurt his Taiwanese compatriots.

According to CNA, a spokesman for the China Times urged Higgins to disclose the tape of his interview with Tsai and said the Post had yet to respond to four such requests.

Taipei eyes complaint over Mirage 2000 deal

If the International Court of Arbitration decides that Taiwan's case is valid, France could be forced to pay back as much as 1 billion Euros for illegal commissions and kickbacks in the 1992 deal

Taiwan could soon file a complaint against France over alleged illegal commissions and kickbacks surrounding the 1992 sale of 60 Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft, reports said yesterday.

Taiwanese authorities said the documents supporting claims that illegal commissions and kickbacks were paid to arms brokers in the Mirage sale were classified and in the possession of the Ministry of National Defense, adding that their content could not currently be made public.

The news comes a little more than six months after defense company Thales wired US$875 million into a Taiwanese government bank account following a decade-long legal battle over kickbacks and illegal commissions for the US$2.5 billion sale by Thomson-CSF (which became Thales in 2000) of six Lafayette-class frigates to the Taiwanese navy in 1991.

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

Peace Prize for Ma? Let’s be serious

Unless the Nobel prize has lost all meaning, it’s hard to imagine that the architects of a 'peace' plan in the Taiwan Strait deserve to be recognized. Not under current conditions

Although the Nobel Peace Prize may have recently lost some of its luster after it was awarded to a man not for his accomplishments, but for what he was expected to do after assuming office, it nevertheless remains a symbol of the good that people of all walks of life can aspire to, and as such, its potential conferral should not be mentioned in vain.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what some people, including renowned academics, have been doing by raising the possibility that in the not-so-distant future, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) could jointly be awarded the prize for resolving decades of conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

What would cheapen the coveted prize is not so much the fact that peace in the Taiwan Strait is undesirable — it is — but that by definition, “peace” between Taiwan and China would, under current conditions, inevitably involve decisions made against the will of the 23 million people of Taiwan.

Jerome Cohen, Ma’s former mentor at Harvard University and a well-known academic, was the latest to hint at the possibility of Ma being nominated for the prize if, during his second term, he managed to “work out unsolved issues between China and Taiwan.”

The devil, however, is in the details and in this case the details stem from the incompatibility of the two political systems that “peace” would bring together.

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

Friday, February 03, 2012

Fear not, a peace accord isn’t near

Both sides of the Taiwan Strait face too many constraints to be able to rush into a peace accord, even if they wanted to

With his re-election on Jan. 14 to a second four-year mandate, rumors have begun circulating in pan-green circles that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) could be tempted to broach the issue of a peace accord with China before the end of his second term — or even within a year.

Even if the executive here and in Beijing had such intentions, the chances of a peace accord are very slim, as too many variables will act as brakes on any such move.

Ma first raised the issue of a peace accord in October, saying it would be feasible for Taiwan to sign such an agreement with China within a decade. Those remarks, ostensibly the result of pressure from Beijing and Washington rather than Ma’s initiative — given the awkward timing of the announcement, three months before the election — immediately alarmed Taiwanese and forced Ma to add conditions for the signing of such an accord, including a referendum.

Beijing would be expected to seek to include in the accord such conditions as the framing of Taiwan as a province of China rather than as a sovereign state, the cessation of US arms sales to Taiwan and perhaps the abrogation of the US’ Taiwan Relations Act. For Beijing, the ultimate objective of the accord would be the unification of the two countries.

Such fundamental changes in Taiwan’s relationship with the US, its one longstanding security guarantor, cannot be accomplished overnight, even if some elements within the White House appear intent on neutralizing the “Taiwan question.”

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

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Taiwan places US$921m order for PAC-3 missiles

Lockheed Martin Corp has confirmed the third annual purchase of PAC-3 missiles by Taiwan, though it would not specify the number of missiles included in the deal

Taiwan has placed a US$921 million order for Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles as part of its military program to strengthen its air defense capabilities, a contract notification said on Monday.

In a press statement, Lockheed Martin Corp said the contract included missile and command launch system production and a follow-on sale of the PAC-3 Missile Segment to Taiwan.

The contract includes the -production of “hit-to-kill” PAC-3 missiles, launcher modification kits, spares and other equipment, as well as program management and services, Lockheed said, with delivery beginning in the first half of next year. Richard McDaniel, Lockheed vice president for the PAC-3 missile program, told Bloomberg the missiles would be delivered in 17 months, though he declined to disclose how many missiles were included in the order.

Contacted by the Taipei Times, David Wei (魏陵瑋), executive vice president for Lockheed Martin Global, Taiwan, would not confirm the number of missiles included in the deal, saying it was common practice to keep such numbers confidential.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. See also Sale of additional PAC-3 units to Taiwan proceeds.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Balancing act: Elections spell continuity in China-Taiwan relations

President Ma, elected to a second term last month, risks being caught between a more balanced legislature and great expectations from Beijing. Let the headaches begin ...

President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) re-election on Jan. 14 should not be read as desire by Taiwanese for political negotiations with China on Taiwan's future. Despite his victory, Ma will face many more constraints during his second term, which could test Beijing's patience, as the latter expects political negotiations to begin. Domestic issues, more than cross-strait relations, will remain the key factor in Taiwanese politics during Ma's next term.

My article, published today in Jane's Intelligence Review, can be accessed here (subscription required).