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.

A Bump in the Road for Taiwan and Japan, but Little More

Taiwanese fishing vessels head for the Diaoyutais
Historical ties with Japan and disinterest among Taiwanese in the Diaoyutai issue will make it difficult for Ma to take action that can truly harm the relationship 

Although its voice is often ignored in the escalating spat over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, Taiwan reacted with uncharacteristic bombast to the Japanese government’s purchase of three islets in the disputed island chain in September. The response reached unprecedented levels with a high-profile “sea protest” involving dozens of Taiwanese fishing vessels, accompanied by several Coast Guard Administration ships, during which CGA officers engaged in a water cannon battle with their Japanese counterparts. The sequence of events, combined with the hardened rhetoric in Taipei, has raised fears of souring relations between Taiwan and Japan, and attracted speculation about possible co-operation between Taipei and Beijing in “defending” territory they both claim as their own. 

A closer look at Taiwan’s idiosyncratic role in the triumvirate, however, shows that, rather than clearly taking sides, Taipei is playing a difficult, and perhaps perilous, balancing act. 

My article, published in the current issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief, continues here. The full issue can be accessed here.

Court cuts fine in follow-up to Lafayette frigate scandal

A Lafayette- (or Kang Ding) class frigate, hull 1202
An agreement stipulated that Taiwan would receive a 15 percent discount if French agents were caught paying commissions to middlemen

Less than two years after winning a landmark 630 million euro (US$875 million) lawsuit against a French defense contractor over the scandal-plagued sale of Lafayette-class frigates to Taiwan in the 1990s, an arbitration court last week shot down Taipei’s hopes for a second win in a related case, citing a lack of evidence. 

In its follow-up claim, Taipei had filed claims of 45.5 million euros, including interests and prosecution fees, against DCNS, the maker of the frigates, over a 1996 spares supply contract for the six multi-role stealth frigates. 

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

DPP makes wise choice in Joseph Wu, Washington office

The well-spoken Joseph Wu has a heavy task ahead of him
The challenges will be formidable, but it’s hard to imagine a man better placed to meet them 

The announcement on Monday that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had tapped former representative to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) to reopen and head the party’s office in Washington is an important development for the future of Taiwan’s relations with its principal ally.

Although, as some critics have already pointed out, it is unusual for the opposition party of a democratic ally to have an office in the US capital, Taiwan’s idiosyncratic — and at times precarious — position makes this essential. The disparity in power and resources between the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) alone is such that any counterweight to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) must be physically present in Washington to be heard. 

Since the DPP closed its Washington office in 2000 when it entered the Presidential Office, the party has relied on a one-man liaison office to negotiate the vagaries of the always complex relationship between Taiwan, the US and China. That man, Mike Fonte, has done a wonderful job and earned the respect of many officials, but the immensity of the task, along with Taiwan’s uncertain future as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) accelerates the pace of cross-strait exchanges, requires more resources. 

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

US-Japan to revise defense guidelines

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addresses soldiers
The planned revisions to longstanding defense guidelines leave no doubt as to the identity of the principal antagonist 

Much has been said in recent months about the so-called U.S. “pivot” to Asia, a rebalancing that, though often discussed, remains surprisingly hard to define. However, one key component of Washington’s strategy seems to be taking shape and could gain sharper focus in coming weeks: a new, expanded and more flexible role for Japan’s military. 

With U.S. and Japanese armed forces currently conducting a major joint exercise across Japan and in the Pacific, the two governments announced this weekend that they had agreed to consider revisions to the defense cooperation guidelines that, since 1978, have served as a basis for how the two countries address defense matters of common interest. 

Since the guidelines were adopted, Japan’s security situation — in fact the entire region — has undergone a dramatic transformation. 

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

Taiwan test-fires variant of HF-3 ‘carrier killer’ missile

CSIST's HF-3 on display at a military parade
Reports claim the variant of the Hsiung Feng III has a range of 400km and can reach a maximum speed of Mach 3.0 

Taiwan’s top military research institute last month test-fired a powerful new anti-ship missile that could send a strong signal to China as it launches its first aircraft carrier, a reports said yesterday.

According to the Chinese-language United Daily News, the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology completed a series of tests of the missile, which has been referred to as a variant of the Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) anti-ship missile. 

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

Taiwan confident US military ties are strong

Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang
Taiwan’s deputy minister of national defense sees no reason to fear US abandonment of Taiwan and points to sustained cooperation 

Taiwan is very much on the US’ radar and remains an important component of Washington’s strategy in the West Pacific, a top defense official said in an interview published yesterday. 

Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖), who recently returned from one of his frequent visits to the US, told Defense News in an interview conducted late last month that while Taiwan does not figure prominently in the US rebalance — commonly referred to as the “pivot” — to Asia, Taipei and Washington have “widely” cooperated over the past two years or so. 

My writeup of Defense News’ interview with Andrew Yang, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Japan, US launch ‘Keen Sword’ exercises amid regional tensions

US and Japanese vessels take part in Keen Sword
China said it was paying close attention to the exercises and said it ‘sternly opposes’ moves by Japan to bring outsiders to the region

Approximately 47,000 Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and US Forces on 5 November launched joint-bilateral exercises in a time of heightened tensions due to an ongoing territorial dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea.

Keen Sword 2013, which runs through 16 November, is part of a series of regular field training exercises meant to enable US and JSDF armed forces to hone co-ordination procedures and improve operational interoperability to ensure that Japan can meet various security contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.

My article, published today in Jane’s International Defence Review, continues here (subscription required).

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Not a good year for Taiwan’s economy

Taipei 101 as seen from near Taipei International Airport
Prospects for Taiwan’s economy in 2013 have been the object of concern among investors and financial watchers 

As economists predicted late last year, 2012 has been a tough year for Asian exporters, and Taiwan, its economy increasingly dependent on the Chinese engine, has been no exception to the downturn.

From forecasts in mid-2011 of 4.51 percent GDP growth for 2012, government indicators in August predicted annual growth would settle at just 1.66 percent (the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research has since cut its forecast to a mere 1.16 percent). It was the lowest in a long series of downward revisions through the year — primarily the result of a slowing Chinese economy and the struggles of Eurozone economies. Taiwan’s economy shrank 0.18 percent year-on-year in the three months to June, the first quarterly contraction since the third quarter of 2009 — mostly the result of poor exports performance.

Despite the difficulties, the Ma administration’s plan to revive the economy does not seem to imagine anything beyond further expansion of economic ties with China.

My article, published in the October/November 2012 issue of Asia Today International, can be accessed here (subscription required).

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Blue and green skies above Taiwan

A statue on the site of the Jingmei detention center
The DPP must apply the lessons learned from an unrivaled master of Taiwanese politics, former president Lee Teng-hui 

Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) came in for some heavy criticism during her trip to the US over remarks she made that Taiwanese should give more “space” to the idea that the Republic of China (ROC) is Taiwan, and Taiwan the ROC. However, if the past is any indication, she might be onto something. 

For good reasons, the initial reaction among many Taiwanese and human rights defenders to equating their homeland with the ROC — a regime that was forced upon them after the conclusion of World War II — will be to bristle. Such reactions might even be more pronounced when a Taiwanese, who once headed the DPP and ran for high office, utters such words. Indeed Tsai became the object of rather scathing personal attacks, with some accusing her of giving up on Taiwanese independence and siding with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). 

However, anyone who knows Tsai will agree that selling out is the last thing on her mind. Rather, her comments, which it must be said she has made before, reflect an understanding of the parameters within which the DPP must operate if it is ever to have any hope of returning to power. 

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Clarifications on Taiwan’s early-warning radar: Will Taiwan share with the US?

Major-General Liu Shi-lay
One cannot accuse Taiwan’s military of leaking like a sieve and complain that it isn’t being completely transparent when describing sensitive programs in unclassified settings

Critics of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration may have believed they had found new ammunition when on Monday Lieutenant-General Liu Shi-lay (劉溪烈) told the legislature that the Ministry of National Defense would not “offer” to the US data collected by the early-warning system that is being built on Leshan (樂山), Hsinchu County, after it comes online later this year. In their view, this could be final proof that the administration has decided to abandon Taiwan’s longstanding defense relationship with the US and to side with Beijing instead.

However, appearances notwithstanding, the situation might not be as troubling as it would seem — in fact, there’s probably very little to worry about, at least when it comes to the US$1 billion-plus EWR being built by US-based Raytheon Corp. The reason is simple: US-Taiwan defense ties have long been characterized by ambiguity. In other words, the scope of cooperation between the two armed forces is a secret matter, with Taipei and Washington often publicly downplaying the extent of the relationship. This is done for both political reasons, as Beijing tends to be sensitive to any sign of defense cooperation between the two countries, and to ensure that some secrets remain, well, secret. Viewed from this perspective, it makes perfect sense for a Taiwanese military officer not to confirm whether Taipei will share signals collected by the EWR with the US, and if so, under what circumstances, and to what extent. The US itself may not want Taiwan to provide such confirmation.

One should nevertheless add that not even the closest allies share everything with one another — in fact, even agencies within the same government often keep secrets from one another, as I discovered during my time as an intelligence officer.

One thing is pretty clear: The US would not have agreed to install what has been described as the world’s most powerful EWR on the face of the planet without the expectation of something in return. Furthermore, military-to-military ties between Taiwan and the US remain healthy, with training and exchange programs occurring on a continual basis. As such, even if political signaling from the Presidential Office or in the Legislative Yuan gives impressions to the contrary, military cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces goes on.

Another reason why Liu said what he did has to do with the need to protect sensitive collection sources. After all, the LY session was not classified, so there was every expectation that whatever was said during the meeting would be made public. And it was. This is normal practice, especially when it comes to electronic means of intelligence collection. Back when I served as an IO, I often had to prepare classified briefings for other government agencies, both domestic and foreign, as well as federal courts for the renewal of affidavits and warrants. Practitioners of intelligence will agree that what, above all, needs to be protected are sources, including means of collection. When writing documents for judges who had a security clearance and had been “indoctrinated,” or other agencies, the names of sources were never disclosed, and the same applied to electronic devices (e.g., wiretaps) and allied agencies. The same holds for military and exchanges of information, especially when that information includes every air-breathing target down to the size of a golf ball operating 3,000km inside China. One cannot accuse Taiwan’s military of leaking like a sieve and simultaneously complain that it isn’t being completely transparent when describing sensitive programs in a public session at the LY.

Lastly, while the US military would undoubtedly benefit from whatever data came out of the EWR, the Taiwanese military does not need that information to be passed on to US networks for it to be useful. The EWR is part of Taiwan’s Surveillance Radar Program architecture, which provides Taiwan’s air defense systems with tracking and cueing information on incoming objects, from ballistic and cruise missiles to aircraft. Simply out, there is no need for radar data to be shared with the US for Taiwan’s PAC-3s and Tien Kung IIs to do what they’re supposed to do. And under circumstances such as a Chinese attack, there’s no way the Taiwanese military would not share its intelligence with the US, including that collected by the EWR at Leshan. (A slightly different version of this op-ed was published in the Taipei Times on Nov. 10.)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Japan developing ballistic missile-tracking drone

Visitors at a rocket launch site in North Korea
Targeting ballistic missiles during the boost phase has several advantages, and unmanned aerial vehicles could be well-suited to accomplish that task 

When back in April North Korea launched what the international community claimed was a ballistic missile, the country that had the most to fear from the launch — Japan — failed to track it, raising anxiety in Tokyo that its defenses against a missile attack by Pyongyang were insufficient

Ironically, the reason why Japan’s ground radars and Aegis destroyers, backed by U.S. early-warning surveillance satellites, were unable to track the launch is because the launch was a failure: the object, which Pyongyang all along maintained was an orbiter, never reached high enough an altitude to allow for its detection.

What came as an embarrassing failure for the North Korean regime served as a reminder to Tokyo that more was needed to ensure it had the ability to detect low-altitude objects as well as missile launches in their early phase. To address this shortcoming, the Japanese Defense Ministry has reportedly embarked on a multibillion-Yen program to develop unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with ultrasensitive infrared sensors to track ballistic (and possibly cruise) missiles as well as other low-altitude objects. 

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

Thursday, November 01, 2012

PLA reshuffle signals factional balancing, continuity

With an average age of above 60 and all with about 40 years’ experience in the PLA, the new appointments reflect a desire for continuity 

The Chinese Ministry of Defense’s announcement last week of a series of top personnel reshuffles left out some of the more extreme elements within the armed forces, showed interest in continuity, and reflected a delicate balancing act between the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC) two main factions.

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