Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ma’s hedging strategy wants it all, sows confusion

President Ma Ying-jeou
The Ma administration had better improve its messaging soon, or the delicate balancing act, too rife with contradictions to be sustainable in the long run, will come crashing down 

As if Taiwan’s status and official designation were not confusing enough for those who are not familiar with its precarious situation, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) foreign policy in recent months has seen so many twists and turns as to stun even the most seasoned of policy wonks. 

The root of the confusion is not, as some of his detractors would have it, that Ma is bending to Beijing’s will, but rather that he wants it all. He wants to improve relations with China, the US, Japan and the rest of the international community, but at the same time his administration feels it must rock the boat to ensure that Taiwan is not ignored while elephants clash, and must prepare for a rainy day should the current detente in the Taiwan Strait shift in a different direction. 

As a result, while Ma has proposed the widely hailed East China Sea peace initiative, Taipei has also engaged in brinkmanship of a kind never seen before, sending militaristic signals and appealing to nationalistic sentiment, while relying on the Coast Guard Administration to flex some muscles at sea over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) dispute. 

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Coast Guard games off the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands

The CGA's 500-tonne Hualien coastal patrol ship
Despite approaching Japan-Taiwan talks on fisheries issues, some Taiwanese continue to apply pressure on the sovereignty angle  
Japanese media reported at the weekend that a Coast Guard Administration vessel was seen operating in waters near the Diaoyutais, coming within 39km off Uotsuri Island, the largest islet in the chain, known as the Senkakus by the Japanese.

The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, said the Taiwanese vessel entered the area at 7:10am. The Hualien 119, a 500-tonne medium coastal patrol ship, left the contiguous area at 8:25am. Around the same time, Chinese patrol vessels were observed sailing in the contiguous zone outside Japanese waters for the third day in a row. 

The Coast Guard Administration said the Hualien was on a routine maritime patrol mission. My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Diaoyutai backdrop?

The Diaoyutais belong to us, the patch reads
Nationalism expresses itself in different forms amid territorial disputes 

While the series of exercises held this week in Greater Kaohsiung and Hualien did not involve the territorial dispute with Japan and China over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, a number of members of the Military Journalists Association traveling with reporters had a new patch on their jackets that reads 釣魚台是我們的 ("the Diaoyutais belong to us"), with a depiction of a Taiwanese soldier planting a Republic of China flag on a rock. I was able to snap a picture of one while at Hualien AFB

Although probably not officially sanctioned — like a previous incident last year when a F-16 took off carrying a Mk82 bomb with the same inscription under its wing — one of the members said they were distributing the patches as a symbol of support for Taiwan's claims to the islets.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Visit to Hualien Air Force Base; F-16 basics

On day two of its pre-Lunar New Year series of exercises, the Ministry of National Defense took a group of reporters — this writer included — to Hualien AFB, home to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing of F-16A/Bs, one of two locations in Taiwan where the still impressive aircraft are based (the other is the 455th Tactical Fighter Wing at Chiayi AFB).

A F-16A landing
Although there wasn’t anything new to the exercises, this was a great opportunity to snap pictures and watch the aircraft in action. Ground crew demonstrated their ability to outfit and scramble the aircraft within six minutes of receiving an order for action, while pilots displayed their skills through a series of short landings and demanding maneuvers intended to test the aircraft’s capabilities to the limit.

F-16 in concrete hangar
Being able to get very close to the aircraft gave us the opportunity to take very good pictures of the aircraft and of ground crew as they wed various missiles to the aircraft. While there understandably were restrictions on our movements (one must be brought from point A to point B by bus), we were nevertheless able to take some pictures of infrastructure, including runways to hangars. Here are some of the highlights on the base and the main types of armaments carried by Taiwan’s F-16s. 

Seen above is a typical concrete hangar for the aircraft. As China’s ballistic missile arsenal has improved over the years, defense experts have called for new measures to ensure aircraft survival. One of the actions taken has been to build an underground base in a hollowed section of nearby Chiashan, which could withstand a missile barrage, with a series of exits allowing the F-16s to exit afterwards. The ROC Air Force has also invested in rapid runway repair kits, allowing for quick resumption of runway operations following a missile attack.

The new bomb-resistant hangars
Another, more recent investment came in the form of a new type of hangar, seen here, whose surface forces a warhead to detonate prior to making contact with the hangar, thus greatly increasing survivability.

Ground crew prepare missiles
Here, ground crew prepares to fix AIM-9M “Sidewinder” and AIM-7M “Sparrow” air-to-air missiles onto the wings prior to takeoff. Four crew were needed to carry one AIM-9M. A motorized vehicle was used to carry the larger AIM-7M.

AGM-84L Harpoon missile
Aside from the AIM-9M short-range missile, the AIM-7M medium-range missile, and the AGM-84 “Harpoon” anti-ship missile, The F-16s can also be fitted with Mk-82 500-pound bombs. After they are upgraded as part of a US$5.2 billion package, the F-16s will be fitted with a variety of JDAM bombs.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Taiwanese Navy holds exercise; unveils new minesweepers

A number of vessels from the Tsuoying Naval Base, plus an aircraft and a helicopter, participated in an exercise off Greater Kaohsiung 

One of the two refurbished Osprey mine hunters
The navy yesterday unveiled two refurbished minesweepers acquired from the US last year during a demonstration in waters off Greater Kaohsiung simulating a submarine intrusion.

A Lafayette-class frigate with media onboard, accompanied by two Chengkung-class frigates, a German-made minesweeper and two Osprey-class mine hunters headed into the Taiwan Strait to seek out an intruder submarine.

A KH-6 fast-attack boat
Six Kuang Hua VI fast-attack missile boats, an S-2T Turbo Tracker anti-submarine aircraft and an S-70C helicopter, which dropped a sonobuoy to locate the enemy submarine, were also involved in the drill. The mine hunters — MHC 1310 and 1311 — were obtained in August.

A navy Hai Lung submarine surfaced after the S-70 dropped a Mk46 torpedo. It was the first time that the Osprey mine hunters had been on public display.

Chengkung-class frigate 1105. Note the HF-3 launchers
A number of vessels anchored at Tsuoying Naval Base, including some that participated in the exercise, showed that progress is being made in a NT$12 billion (US$406 million) program launched in May 2011 to outfit the Chengkung frigates, as well as the domestically made Ching Chiang-class patrol boats, with Hsiung Feng III supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles.

Four HF-3 launchers were seen on the two Chengkung-class frigates, PFG 1105 and PFG 1109. In all, 120 HF-3s are to be added to the navy’s arsenal under the program.

Lafayette-class frigate, viewed from our Lafayette
Taiwan’s submarine-chasing capabilities will be substantially enhanced after it receives 12 refurbished US P-3C Orion maritime aircraft to replace the aging S-2Ts it acquired in the 1980s. Navy officials said the exercise highlighted the nation’s military preparedness and combat readiness ahead of the Lunar New Year.

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

Recalls are a risky non-policy

Protesters express their anger at the president on Jan. 13
The DPP is perfectly justified in mobilizing against the Ma administration, but channeling that discontent is itself insufficient 

Concluding the large “Fury” (火大) protest in Taipei on Jan. 13, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced plans to seek the recall of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators who have “failed to listen to the voice of the people” and possibly President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). 

Such an effort, though deriving from justifiable anger at the Ma administration’s less-than-stellar performance on a variety of fronts, cannot serve as a stand-in for actual policy alternatives on the opposition’s part. In fact, the recall of officials, which the smaller Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) has since said it would support, is a non-policy that, if mishandled, could undermine the democratic foundations of this country and end up hurting the opposition’s image.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The war of words escalates in East Asia

Japanese protest over the Senkaku dispute
By allowing the situation to spiral downwards, politicians create an environment that becomes increasingly conducive to misinterpretation and accidents 

More and more, the dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea is starting to look like the train wreck that everybody sees coming but feels powerless to prevent. Unless cooler heads prevail, and do so soon, the escalation — now a weekly affair — could turn quite nasty indeed. 

The signs were not encouraging at the third Sino-U.S. Colloquium in Hong Kong on Sunday, where Takujiro Hamada, a former Japanese deputy foreign minister, read a speech written by Yachi Shotaro, the top foreign policy adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While there was initial cause for hope, as this was the first time the Japanese sent delegates to the forum, which also counted two retired four-star U.S. generals, the speech sparked a strong response from the Chinese. 

While effort should be made to encourage the Japanese and Chinese to engage in dialogue to defuse tensions, relations between the two countries have deteriorated to a point where the two sides often talk past one another. Consequently, rather than foster cooperation, meetings can have the opposite effect by exacerbating the situation. This is exactly what transpired at the forum this weekend. 

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Taiwanese cannot afford (or, A second manifesto)

A student unfurls a banner at a Jan. 1 vigil
The perpetuation of the ‘inherited’ system of face and conformity must stop, as the downward spiral it engenders is the surest way to defeat 

A wise man once told a wise woman that because of their precarious international situation, Taiwanese cannot afford to give up, to abandon hope. Those were wise words indeed, to which I would add the following: Because of their situation, Taiwanese cannot afford to countenance mediocrity. 

Unfortunately, as a Taiwanese friend wrote me today, Taiwan “inherited,” and never shed itself of, a system that encourages just that. That system draws from the worst elements of Confucianism, greed and self-interest, and permeates every sector, from government to the private sector. And be warned: it also casts a long shadow over the camp that sides with the angels — the “green” camp, a motley crew of legislators, campaigners, publishers, writers and the likes. 

At its core, that system is rigidly hierarchical, with each player confined to a specific role. Leaving that box (through, say, initiative) steps on others’ feet and inevitably results in loss of face for the higher ups, as it creates additional work for them, or demonstrates how overly comfortable, as chiefs of their little fiefdoms, they have become with the underwhelming “status quo” (we might be onto something here; after all, the majority of Taiwanese support the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait). 

Consequently, normalcy and conformity become the norm, and over time that critter ossifies, leading down the inevitable road to mediocrity. As long as one doesn’t challenge that status quo and does the bare minimum, those up the chain of command will be satisfied and will not seek change. Those who cannot brook stasis, meanwhile, are immediately treated with contempt and pushed aside, and action is taken to cut whatever access they have that has given rise to those “polluted” ideas. It’s OK to be mediocre, to regurgitate the past or directives from above; just don’t rock the boat. 

The ultimate goal of this system is self-perpetuation, which allows those at the top to remain there, while new entrants slave away, to little financial, let alone spiritual, benefit to themselves. That system is very paramilitary, a top-down mechanism that strikes immense psychological violence upon its victims, while engendering huge wealth gaps. There are several Tsai Eng-mengs out there, and not just in the blue camp.

Now, this problem isn’t Taiwan’s alone. In fact, it reminds me of the conditions that prevailed at an equally paramilitary-style government agency I used to work at back in Canada — and that is the principal reason why I left. But Canada doesn’t face the threat of invasion (American culture and fast food excepted), nor does its identity face extinction at the hands of a large authoritarian neighbor. Taiwan does. As such, it cannot afford the system to continue this way. The perpetuation of that “inherited” meme must stop, as the downward spiral it engenders is the surest way to defeat. China doesn’t play by so-called Confucian rules when it comes to seizing Taiwan, but the Confucian traditions of face and hierarchy that serve as the foundations of Taiwanese society do weaken its ability to organize against China. 

This calls, urgently, for rejuvenation, for the rise of a new voice that challenges the establishment. And we’ve seen its emergence in recent months, with the mobilization of young Taiwanese of all stripes in their opposition to corporate deals that threaten to undermine the foundations, hard fought but perpetually fragile, of a free society. Not only has their campaign been sustained, the leaders have not shied from breaking the stultifying cold grip of Confucianism by being “rude” to their elders, whether they be ministers or educators. Theirs is a refreshing battle for ideals, not one’s little turf, book sales, or a few extra votes come the next local elections. Through their refusal to play by the established rules, they are breaking old patterns that can only continue to exist if they aren’t challenged and exposed as ridiculous leftovers of a bygone era. Yes, Taiwan democratized, but in many ways — essential ways — its institutions remain very much authoritarian. The only difference now is that those who are on the “good” side, our side, on Taiwan’s side, can also carry the punishing stick. 

In a few months of campaigning, holding meetings, and using the forces of the electronic age with unprecedented wit, today’s youth is sending a strong message to the graying forces above them that enough is enough. Taiwan is their country, it’s their future, and the mold no longer fits. Mediocrity, self-interest, politicians’ facade of fighting the good fight, behind which lies the terrible ugliness of sloth and greed and egomania; publishers’ claims to support liberty and Taiwan while breaking every rule in the book when it comes to treatment of its employees — out with all that! Down the self-promoting minions, down the egos that suffer when glory isn’t theirs, what for the hard work of others. Down with those who stay the course not because the course is the right one, but rather because it is the path of least resistance. Down with the pressure groups that purport to serve Taiwan’s best interest when, at heart, what matters most is their own glory. Down with those who countenance and encourage mediocrity through self-interest or resistance to change. And out with politeness and proper form and blind respect for authority, seniority, or social standing. Take the initiative. Encourage initiative. Respect experience and knowledge, but always question hierarchical systems. The mold isn’t strength, it’s weakness. A dreadful, fatal weakness. 

Taiwanese cannot afford.

When China killed Hollywood magic

On the set of the Iron Man 3 movie in China
Chinese censors and Western compliance are combining to kill the very essence of the moviemaking spirit 

Imagine for a second what literary classics such as George Orwell’s 1984, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago or Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate would have been like had the authors consulted with state censors and bureaucrats before launching their creative efforts.

This, increasingly, is what is happening with the movie industry, with Hollywood and other, smaller bastions of the silver screen bowing to pressure from China as the price to pay for access to what is now the world’s second-largest movie market after the US. 

As the New York Times reported on Monday, moviemakers seeking access to China’s market have two choices: either they avoid subjects that are bound to hurt Beijing’s sensibilities, and submit a final product for Beijing’s “approval,” or they co-produce with a Chinese company and, to increase appeal with Chinese, do some shooting in China. 

In both instances, censorship becomes an inevitable component of the final product. So much so, that insofar as silence from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) can be construed as an answer, it’s become unacceptable for US fighter aircraft to engage in a dogfight with MiGs. Such was Paramount Pictures’ experience with its new, 3D version of the classic Top Gun. The remake of Red Dawn is another example. 

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lasers: Asia’s coming 'sci-fi' arms race

Rheinmetall Defence's laser system
It might be a few years still before laser beams become fully operational, but after decades of research, the day when science fiction becomes reality is approaching 

True to Newton’s Third Law on Motion, weapons development is a constant battle of adaptation with one side unveiling new technology only for the other to respond with countermeasures. Very few platforms in recent years have been as influential or attracted as much publicity as have unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which have greatly enhanced surveillance capability while giving their owners the ability to target enemies thousands of miles away at relatively little cost. 

But just as ballistic missiles are being tested with the development of more sophisticated air-defense systems, so too will UAVs in the not-so-distant future, as arms manufacturers are hard at work — and are indeed testing — laser devices to zap them down. 

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

China to issue new official map of ‘full’ territory

Chinese protesters rip a Japanese flag at a protest
The chief editor says the new map will be very significant in enhancing Chinese people’s awareness of national territory and enhance Chinese interests

A new map to be released later this month by China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation increases from 29 to 130 the number of disputed areas marked as officially part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) claimed by Taiwan and Japan. 

Previous editions of the “Wall Map Series of National Territory,” which presented China’s claimed territory in horizontal format, only included the larger contested islands in the South China Sea in a separate box at the bottom right of the map, Xinhua news agency said at the weekend. The territories included in the box were half scale and not clearly detailed. The new map is vertical and is to be distributed by Sinomaps Press on behalf of the Chinese authorities starting next month. It will for the first time display the entirety of the PRC’s claimed territory on the same scale as continental China. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here (the article provides a sample of the new map).

Book review: Bruce Jacobs’ Democratizing Taiwan

Taiwanese students hold an all-night protest on Jan. 1
An important and accessible addition to a relatively small body of literature that looks at the unique experiment of Taiwan’s emergence as a democracy 

Longtime Taiwan watcher Bruce Jacobs is back with a book that looks at the minutiae of Taiwan’s long journey from colonial property, authoritarian subject to imperfect democracy, in a work that makes a solid contribution to the field of Taiwan studies.

It is important to establish from the outset what Democratizing Taiwan is and what it isn’t. What it isn’t is a scholarly volume on how Taiwan democratized, or to what extent the various conditions that are essential to the emergence of democracy interacted to allow the country’s 23 million people to transition peacefully from authoritarian rule to democracy. While Chapter One, How Taiwan Became Democratic, briefly addresses the matter and endeavors to distinguish between democratization and liberalization and does highlight some of the-then factors that led to democratization, readers who seek in-depth research into democratic development in Taiwan will have to look elsewhere.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Japan, China Scramble Military Jets in East China Sea

A Japanese F-15 on the tarmac
Things are getting from bad to worse in the East China Sea. Military aircraft are getting involved, and the war of words is heating up 

Tensions continued to escalate between Japan and China over disputed islets in the East China Sea on Thursday, with Japan reportedly sending two F-15s from Naha, Okinawa, after several Chinese military aircraft crossed into its Air defense identification zone (ADIZ). China responded by scrambling two J-10s of its own. 

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force spotted the Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ over the East China Sea at about 12pm on Thursday, Kyodo quoted a senior Defense Ministry official as saying, adding that the Chinese aircraft never entered Japanese airspace. Kyodo said the Chinese aircraft penetrated Japan’s ADIZ on three occasions. 

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

Interview: Su Tseng-chang casts light on DPP’s perspective ahead of Jan. 13 ‘Fury’ protest [updated]

DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang on Thursday
In a wide-ranging interview, we talked about Taiwanese identity, engaging China, sovereignty disputes and Su’s plans for 2013 

As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) prepares to hold its ‘Fury’ mass rally against the government tomorrow, many people in Taiwan and abroad are anxious to learn more about the alternatives the DPP can propose to the President Ma Ying-jeou administration’s policies. Taipei Times staff reporters Chris Wang and J. Michael Cole discussed those issues with DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang on Thursday.

Our 55-minute Q&A, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. Part two of the interview, during which Su talks about the sovereignty disputes in the East and South China Sea, as well as regional trade, can be accessed here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Japan Explores War Scenarios with China

Japanese and US warships perform maneuvers at sea
A third scenario involving war with China projects a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2021, on the 100th anniversary of the CCP 

As Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party national defense task force announced on Jan. 8 that it would increase the nation’s defense budget by more than 100 billion yen ($1.15 billion), three of five scenarios explored by the defense ministry recently involve the Self-Defense Forces squaring off against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

While contingencies involving North Korea’s ballistic missiles and Russia were among the scenarios the defense ministry explored, the top three all involved a crisis in the East China Sea. The first scenario examined a war between China and Japan over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Earlier on Tuesday Japan summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo for the first time since Shinzo Abe was sworn in as prime minister to protest the continued presence of official Chinese ships in waters around the islets, which are claimed by Japan, Taiwan and China. 

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

MIB told to stop sending agents to China

Taiwanese soldiers stand on guard
The National Security Bureau has also reportedly been instructed to draw down operations abroad

Officers from the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) will no longer be sent “behind enemy lines” in China to collect intelligence, sources are saying, which, if true, could undermine Taiwan’s ability to understand developments in China.

Citing unnamed sources in intelligence circles, the Chinese-language China Times reported last week that under new directives issued to the military spy agency, the bureau would no longer be allowed to send its agents to China or direct Taiwanese businesspeople based there to collect classified information or develop spy networks. 

According to the article, the MIB will be barred from breaking laws and regulations in China and will limit itself to using networks that are already in place to collect information from open sources such as journals, books, newspapers and academic papers. 

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

Old tactics on Chinese media failing

Copies of the Southern Weekly at a newsstand in China
Traditional ways of liberalizing the Chinese media are clearly failing. Reciprocity does not work

Ongoing controversies in Taiwan and China surrounding the media are once again highlighting the delicate balance that must be struck in cross-strait cooperation in all matters pertaining to journalism. 

As the editorial staff at Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly defied censors this week over government intervention in the newspaper’s editorial last Thursday, several Taiwanese who in recent months have launched protests against the monopolization of the media and the risks of increasing Chinese influence, received just what they needed to confirm that their actions were justified.

Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to power in 2008, Taiwan has made a series of moves to encourage cross-strait journalistic exchanges, with government agencies calling for more cooperation in news and entertainment media. One of the premises under which such liberalization was launched, we are told, is that the more Chinese journalists are exposed to operating in a democratic society, the likelier they are to pollinate China with liberal thoughts once returning. 

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Chinese protest over news censorship, Taiwanese follow developments closely

Taiwanese student leader Lin Fei-fan on Nov. 29
As a crisis over censorship at a liberal daily leads to unprecedented protests in China, Taiwan’s youth are paying close attention 

Protesters yesterday gathered at the Guangzhou headquarters of a Chinese newspaper at the center of a censorship row, in a rare demonstration of public support for media freedom in the country, with both the Taiwanese government and the leaders of a student movement against Chinese influence in local media closely watching the developments.

Hundreds of people, including students and white-collar workers, gathered outside the Southern Weekly’s office, holding signs and shouting slogans calling for freedom of speech, political reform, constitutional governance and democracy […] 

According to posts on microblogging site Sina Weibo, organizers have invited supporters to gather at Guangzhou Parkway at noon tomorrow to show their support by singing the song Beautiful Island (美麗島), one of the key inspirational songs used by the pro-democracy movement in Taiwan during authoritarian rule. The Chinese authorities prohibited the song in 1980. 

I had a chance today to discuss developments in Guangzhou with Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), one of the student leaders in Taiwan behind the protests against media monopoly, growing Chinese influence, and the acquisition of Next Media by a conglomerate that includes the China-friendly Want Want China Times Group. Lin raised the very important point that Chinese have a stake in ensuring that media remains free in Taiwan, if only for their own future liberties. From my article in the Taipei Times:

Taiwanese youths were also paying attention to what was happening in Guangzhou. Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), one of the student leaders in the recent wave of Taiwanese protests against the monopolization of and growing Chinese influence in local media, told the Taipei Times that the movement was closely watching developments surrounding the Southern Weekly incident. 

Lin said that although there was no direct link between the student those who signed the petition at the Chinese universities on Sunday, he hoped that both sides could inspire and learn from each other. “No matter what, the movements from both sides will serve as an inspiration for one another,” he said. 

Lin also said the Chinese had an interest in ensuring that freedoms in Taiwan were not undermined by Beijing’s influence. “Although Taiwan enjoys freedom of the press and democracy, they are weakening at the moment. As they fight for their own freedom, Chinese students should seek to prevent this from occurring in Taiwan,” he said. 

“Chinese students are very brave in fighting despite being under very strict government control,” he said, adding that state control over the media and limits to freedom were much more stringent in China. Lin said he hoped that Chinese would continue to fight for their rights and that people who desire freedom would unite. “Taiwanese students will support them, always,” he said. 

The full article can be accessed here.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

China’s maritime surveillance fleet adds muscle, receives decommissioned destroyers

A CMS ship is shadowed by the Japanese Coast Guard
The addition of refurbished warships to China’s civilian maritime patrol agencies risks exacerbating tensions in the region 

As China continues to harden its stance on territorial disputes, a recent report notes that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has transferred 11 decommissioned warships, including two destroyers, to the country’s maritime surveillance agency. 

After undergoing renovation, the vessels—which include the two Type 051 (Luda I-class) guided-missile destroyers (DDG) Nanning and Nanjing, as well as surveillance ships, tugs and icebreakers—were transferred to the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) agency to “alleviate the insufficiency of vessels used to protect maritime interests.” The two 3,250-tonne destroyers, which can travel at a maximum speed of 32 knots, are to split their time between the East China Sea, the scene of a mounting dispute with Japan and Taiwan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, and the South China Sea, where China has overlapping territorial claims with a number of countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Prior to their decommissioning last year, the two 30-plus-year-old DDGs were armed with 130mm guns with a range of 29km, as well as anti-ship missiles. 

China’s Ministry of National Defense and the CMS have yet to comment on the transfer. 

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

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Freedom calls for persistence

The Liberty Square main gate on Jan. 1, 2013
How quickly people forget that the freedoms they enjoy in Taiwan today are the direct result of young, idealistic individuals who defied the authorities not so long ago 

While tens of thousands of people rejoiced at various venues around the nation on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the arrival of 2013, a few hundred people, the majority of them students, huddled at Liberty Square in Taipei and later in front of the Presidential Office, to show their concern for the future of their country. 

Braving cold temperatures, the young Taiwanese held their fourth protest in little more than a month, and the fifth since September, against the threat of media monopolization and growing Chinese influence within the industry. 

As Taipei 101 and other landmarks lit up with colorful fireworks at the strike of midnight, those young Taiwanese were discussing media freedoms and listening to speeches by academics and other influential figures under the watchful eye of police officers. 

After nine hours at Liberty Square, the protesters adjourned to a spot in front of the Presidential Office, where they launched a second sit-in, as rows of police officers bearing riot shields looked on. Behind the centurions, thousands of people who had trickled in since midnight in preparation for yesterday’s flag-raising ceremony and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) New Year address, assembled before the Presidential Office. 

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

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A PR strategy for Taiwan’s military

A Ministry of National Defense recruiting campaign
Wars can be won without a single bullet being fired. China is already on the offensive in that aspect of the conflict. It’s high time Taiwan came up with a counter-strategy 

When it comes to defense, there is no doubt that Taiwan generally does a poor job advertising itself, especially to a foreign audience.

Part of the reason is the not unreasonable need to maintain a level of secrecy so as not to telegraph its defenses to China. This is further compounded by two additional factors: First, the ongoing efforts of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to improve relations with Beijing, which discourages overly militaristic signaling, and Taiwan’s inward-looking nature — which it often adopts at the expense of its relations with the rest of the world, including its few allies, who need to be assured of its commitment to self-defense (“Why should US soldiers risk their lives defending Taiwan if Taiwanese are not serious about defending their nation?” the argument goes).

 The second factor is especially prevalent in matters of national security, with the Ministry of National Defense only fitfully engaging foreign reporters, while often refusing to comment on matters such as operations, exercises and weapons development.

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

Book review: The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949

Japanese troops invade Manchuria
An unsparing, surprisingly even and altogether enjoyable effort that sheds much-needed light on the origins of the region’s troubles — past, present and future 

In times of rising tensions and uncertainty in the Asia Pacific, it is essential that we look back into the region’s complex past to understand why history, to a degree perhaps unseen anywhere else, is so alive as to threaten the very foundations laid by the economic success of the past two decades.

A new book on the wars that defined the first half of the twentieth century — and that reverberate through time to create a mosaic of seemingly intractable conflicts — sheds much-needed light on the origins of the region’s troubles, past, present and future.

In The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949, S.C.M. Paine, a professor of strategy and policy at the US Naval War College, picks up where she left off in The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy (2005), which did a wonderful job analyzing China’s humiliating defeat in a short war with Japan that ended with the Treaty of Shimonoseki under which, among other things, Taiwan was handed over to Japan. In that defeat, the seeds of China’s “century of humiliation” were sown, which half a century later would reap a new — and this time much more devastating — round of hostilities before, during and after World War II.

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