Thursday, February 28, 2013

China’s Navy receives first Type 056 stealth corvette

The lead ship of the Type 056 fleet
The new vessel will conduct anti-submarine warfare, escort missions and defend China's claimed territorial waters 

In what it called a major step in the “systematic upgrade of its equipment and defense,” the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) on February 25th received the first of an expected 20 Type 056 Jiangdao-class stealth corvettes, a new type of ship that experts say will play a major role in defending China’s territorial waters.

The Bengbu (hull 582) was delivered to the PLAN during a commissioning ceremony in Shanghai attended by China’s top brass, including PLAN commander Wu Shengli, who is also a member of the powerful Central Military Commission; Liu Yi, deputy commander of the PLAN, Li Andong; deputy director of the General Armaments Department; and Su Zhiqian, commander of the East China Sea Fleet.

The Type 056 program was first unveiled in 2010. Nine other Type 056 corvettes have been launched since the launch of the Bengbu lead ship in May 2012 and are now being outfitted with weapons and electronics systems. Although Chinese media reported that the new corvette would be put into service “in large quantities,” the PLAN appears to have plans to acquire a total of 20 for the time being.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ang Lee and the pursuit of dreams

Taiwanese director Ang Lee receives his Oscar on Sunday
A nation is not built on lawyers, doctors and businesspeople alone; it needs thinkers, writers, philosophers, filmmakers, painters, architects and professional athletes 

Taiwanese film director Ang Lee’s (李安) award of best director at the Oscars on Sunday night for Life of Pi was a source of tremendous pride for Taiwan, especially after he thanked Taiwanese for their help in making the movie. 

The Oscar is a new benchmark in Lee’s illustrious career and one that he made little secret he coveted. However, the evidence of his greatness as a filmmaker manifested itself well before the 58-year-old native of Pingtung County stepped onto the podium to receive his Oscar. 

Over the years, Lee has transcended his identity as an Asian and tackled with great precision a surprisingly versatile list of genres, from Victorian Britain in Sense and Sensibility — a feat of civilizational displacement perhaps only equaled by Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro in his book The Remains of the Day — to the American West and male homosexuality in Brokeback Mountain. From less ambitious and more local efforts like his Father Knows Best trilogy (家庭三部曲) to the martial arts extravaganza Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍), Lee has constantly pushed the envelope of storytelling and proven himself as one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. 

However, there was nothing preordained in Lee’s rise to the top. My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

F-35 grounded due to engine issues

The Lockheed Martin F-35 during a trial
America's most expensive defense program, the F-35, suffers yet another setback 

Already hit by soaring costs, delays and second thoughts by potential customers, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ran into more problems last week when a crack was discovered during a routine inspection, prompting the grounding of all aircraft.

The more than half-inch crack on the low-pressure turbine blade of a conventional takeoff and landing F-35A was discovered on February 19th during a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Under strict protocol, ground inspections are held after every 50 hours of engine service. After these findings were corroborated by a different test, all 51 F-35s currently in service in the U.S. fleet were grounded as a precautionary measure, and all further tests and training flights were halted for the three variants of the radar-evasive aircraft. Soon afterwards, the British Ministry of Defense also announced its own suspension of all test flights.

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Zombies in Taiwan!

I am trying something new with this, and exploring novels ways to tell the story of Taiwan to the world

Thus began the terrifying struggle of the island’s 23 million people against the greatest challenge the nation has ever faced: zombies. In the weeks ahead, we will meet a large number of Taiwanese, some real, most fictional, first as they try to comprehend the nature of the catastrophe that has descended upon them, and then, after the initial shock has passed, as they battle the walking dead for their survival. Though satirical, this account uses a background that is anything but fictional, drawing from Taiwan’s idiosyncratic position within the international community, its diplomatic isolation, the perpetual threat from China, deeply divided domestic politics, greed, government incompetence, and the tyranny of its geography as a small island-nation.

This is a work of fiction, but beyond that, it is also an attempt to tell the island’s complex story in a different, and perhaps more entertaining, way. The serialized narrative, launched today, can be accessed here at The Zombie Emergency: Taiwan. Hope you like it!

A new definition of military success

A Ching Kuo IDF in flight
Once we reassess what Taiwan can accomplish militarily and combine this with domestic factors in China that mitigate against massive military campaigns, Taiwan’s defense prospects no longer seem so bleak 

 Nobody’s sure exactly when the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait shifted in China’s favor, but in recent years it has become increasingly clear that in the unlikely event that the two countries decided to slug it out, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would have a definite, if not overwhelming, advantage.

That reality — China spends at least 10 times more on defense than Taiwan — has had a tangible impact on troop morale in Taiwan, leading many to conclude that the nation would surrender the moment the first Chinese combat aircraft screamed above their heads. This, in turn, has encouraged a small number of academics and government officials abroad to conclude that since it has already “lost,” Taipei ought to strike the best deal it can before Beijing loses patience on “reunification” and decides to use force to settle the matter once and for all.

Related to such perceptions is the argument, again made by some experts, that the US, Taiwan’s principal guarantor of security and the source of its modern weapons, should cease arms sales to Taipei, as their impact on Taiwan’s ability to change the outcome of a war would likely be marginal at best, while causing damage to relations between Washington and Beijing (some of the major forces behind efforts to end US arms sales to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act are members of the so-called “Sanya Initiative,” which serves as a platform for exchanges between retired US and Chinese military officers).

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

North Korea’s Daily Double

Real or fake? A KN-08 IRBM TEL in April 2012
North Korea may have been signaling to the U.S. and its allies that it would test a missile if additional sanctions were put in place following its nuclear test 

Less than a week after Pyongyang defied the international community with a third nuclear blast South Korean sources allege that one day prior to the blast and despite increased scrutiny, North Korea tested a long-range missile engine. 

Quoting unnamed South Korean officials, Yonhap News Agency reported on February 17th that Pyongyang had carried out a combustion testing of the engines for the intermediate-range KN-08 missile at the Dongchang-ri launch site on February 11th, with the aim of extending the range of the missile beyond 5,000 km. Military sources said the engines were intended for a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 

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

The scars of Typhoon Morakot

The single house that was spared in the Siaolin landslide
More than three years on, areas devastated by Typhoon Morakot see little sign or rehabilitation 

As millions of Taiwanese hit the road, took the high-speed rail or flew home to celebrate the Lunar New Year last week, one area of Taiwan had nothing festive about it: Three years on, many parts of Greater Kaohsiung devastated by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009 continue to bear the scars of nature’s fury and government inattention. 

Traveling the area, one is struck by how little has changed since Morakot, the most damaging Typhoon to hit Taiwan in decades, swept through southern parts of the nation, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing as many as 700 people.

Most roads around Siaolin Village (小林) and Namasiya Township (那瑪夏) remain unpaved, making it very difficult for vehicles to drive around and subjecting visitors to unbearable dust clouds. In Siaolin, a single, forlorn house that by pure luck was spared in a landslide that killed hundreds, remains defiantly. Underneath the heavy canopy of rocks lie the remains of bodies never uncovered, a reminder of our powerlessness against the forces of nature. The area is filled with dry rivers filled with rocks, crushed roads and tunnels, and the sundry remnants of man-made objects pulverized by a much greater force. 

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

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Retired air force Lt. Col. gets 12 life terms in China spy case

China continues to seek access to classified military information through recruiting retired officers who remain in close contact with active forces 

The High Court on Tuesday gave retired air force Lieutenant Colonel Yuan Hsiao-feng (袁曉風) 12 life sentences for passing classified military information to China over a period of six years, adding to a list of spy cases to hit the nation in recent years. A court official said yesterday that Yuan passed unspecified military secrets to China between 2001 and 2007 through Chen Wen-jen (陳文仁), a former colleague in the air force.

Lt.-Col. (Ret.) Yuan Hsiao-feng
Using flash drives, Yuan and Chen are alleged to have provided classified information to China on 12 separate occasions. Yuan, who was deployed at an air force ground control unit, was found guilty on 12 counts of leaking secrets, each of which carries a mandatory life term, the court official said. Yuan, who retired in 2007, was reportedly paid a total of NT$7.8 million (US$269,000) by China for his efforts, though the High Court would not confirm the figure. Chen received a lighter sentence of 20 years imprisonment, as he had already retired from the military at the time the crimes were committed. 

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

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Want Want media group is a cancer

Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng
The Want Want China Times Group does not need China’s assistance to behave like an authoritarian bully. It already is one 

The controversy that has surrounded the involvement of US professors in a campaign opposing media monopolization in the past week served as a reminder — inadvertently so for the principal target of the campaign — that while Chinese influence in the nation’s media is of major concern, reprehensible behavior at home is equally problematic. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Noam Chomsky probably never knew that when he accepted an invitation by a young Taiwanese to have his picture taken with a placard opposing media monopolization in Taiwan, he would get sucked into the vortex of cross-strait politics.

Whether, as he claims, he was unaware of the China angle, is secondary. What matters is that the reaction by the Want Want China Times Group once again showed how vicious and totalitarian its outlets can get when the group or its chairman, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), face criticism. 

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

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Military confirms admiral questioned in espionage case

The admiral was commander of the 146th Attack Squadron in Magong, Penghu

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday confirmed that an admiral has been questioned over his alleged involvement in what could be one of the nation’s most serious espionage cases.

Ministry spokesman Major-General David Lo (羅紹和) confirmed reports that Admiral Hsu Chung-hua (徐中華) has come under investigation, but would not provide further details. Media reported that Hsu, commander of the 146th Attack Squadron based in Magong, Penghu, has been transferred from his position. Chengkung-class frigates, which are in the process of being armed with the Hsiung Feng III supersonic “carrier killer” anti-ship missile, are among the vessels comprising the 146th, which would play a primary role countering the Chinese navy in the event of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait [...]

The CMS Haijian 8002
In related developments, the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) under the State Oceanic Administration on Saturday commissioned the Haijian 8002, China’s first kiloton-class civilian surveillance ship, which will join the CMS fleet in charge of patrolling and enforcing China’s sovereignty rights in the East China Sea, which includes the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan.

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

CtiTV apologizes over its Chomsky ‘mistranslations’

Activists were quick to show what was wrong
Although the media outlet claims the errors were the result of negligence, Taiwanese critics believe this was a deliberate attempt to mislead viewers

CtiTV yesterday apologized for what it described as a “negligent” translation of its interview with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Noam Chomsky about the ongoing controversy over the movement against media monopolization in Taiwan. 

The interview, conducted last week by CtiTV Washington bureau chief John Zang (臧國華), came in the wake of a series of articles in the Chinese-language China Times — part of the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) — alleging that Taiwanese graduate student Lin Ting-an (林庭安) had deceived Chomsky by failing to explain the slogan on a placard the professor was photographed holding that denounced “China’s black hands” interfering in local media. 

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

China’s Navy Aims for Transparency

A PLAN fleet heads for the West Pacific
As the PLA Navy launches a new series of drills in the Pacific, China seems to be striving for clearer signalling 

As it becomes more mature and self-confident, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in recent years has held exercises at sea with increased frequency, and further out in the West Pacific. In 2012 alone, it held seven such drills beyond the first island chain, with surface ships and submarines often passing through channels that lie close to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islets, its warships have held various drills in waters in Taiwan’s rear. While China seeks to position itself as an ocean-going navy to protect its maritime interests and territorial integrity, its efforts continue for the most part to be marred by a lack of transparency, which only serves to aliment fears with its neighbors. That might be about to change. 

Last week, China embarked on its first naval exercises of 2013, amid rising tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over an island row in the East China Sea. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced on January 30 that despite the tensions, it would proceed with a scheduled deep-water series of navy drills in the West Pacific in early February. 

Three vessels from the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet — the Type 052 guided-missile destroyer Qingdao, and two Type 054A missile frigates, the Yantai and Yancheng, left the port of Qingdao on January 29th on their way to conduct exercises in the Pacific. State-run Xinhua news agency said the vessels would conduct as many as 20 drills simulating maritime confrontation, open-sea mobile combat, law enforcement missions and open-sea naval commanding, in a large body of international water including the Yellow, East and South China seas, the Miyako Strait, the Bashi Channel, as well as areas north, south and east of Taiwan. 

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

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Chomsky denies being deceived in media dispute

Noam Chomsky, no stranger to controversy
The MIT professor said that he was not ‘misled’ by student Lin Ting-an, as the Want Want China Times Group has alleged 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky yesterday sought to clarify matters regarding allegations by media owned by the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) this week that he had said he was “misled” by a Taiwanese student who asked him to have his picture taken with a placard opposing media monopolization in Taiwan. 

In a series of articles on Thursday, the Chinese-language China Times, one of the many publications owned by the group, claimed that Chomsky, along with New York University (NYU) professor Ned Block, were “misled” by not having the full content of the Chinese message on the placard explained to them. The controversy centered on the part of the text that read in Mandarin: “Say no to China’s black hands,” a reference to Chinese influence in Taiwanese media. 

Several articles and commentaries on talk shows run on TV stations controlled by Want Want vilified Lin Ting-an (林庭安), a graduate student at National Yang Ming University’s Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition, who approached Chomsky for his support. The reports accused her of misrepresenting the facts to the 84-year-old professor. 

Chomsky, who said he had been deluged with letters about the controversy from individuals and the media, clarified his stance in an e-mail yesterday, which he said also stood for Block. 

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

Friday, February 01, 2013

Retired generals seek cross-strait cooperation on island disputes

Admiral Fei Hung-po (Ret.)
A former Taiwanese admiral told a forum in Hong Kong that Taiwan and China must issue a joint declaration on the disputed Diaoyutai Islands 

Retired senior military officers from both sides of the Taiwan Strait are pressuring President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to allow greater cooperation with China, telling a forum earlier this week that the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) controversy provides the perfect context in which to do so. 

The comments, which called for the creation of a cross-strait military cooperation mechanism, were made on the sidelines of a workshop organized by the Chinese Century Communicating Association (中華世紀交流協會) in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Saying that military exchanges between retired Taiwanese and Chinese generals in recent years were “single-faceted” and “meaningless friendship-building activities,” admiral Fei Hung-po (費鴻波), a former deputy chief of general staff, added that current regulations prevented more constructive dialogue between the two sides from taking place. 

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

Chomsky’s volte-face? Want Want goes after another student

Maybe Want Want will go after him/her next
In what has become a predictable pattern, the group’s various outlets launched another series of attacks against a detractor 

Media outlets operated by the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) yesterday intensified their campaign against a movement by a young Taiwanese student that invited two well-known US professors — who now claim they were “misled” — to be photographed holding a placard opposing media monopolization in Taiwan. 

In a series of articles occupying a full page, the Chinese-language China Times, one of several print media owned by the group, provided what it claimed were exchanges with Noam Chomsky, a famous linguist from the US’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a controversial figure on the intellectual left, as well as Ned Block, a New York-based philosopher, in which both said they were unaware that the placard contained language opposing Chinese manipulation of Taiwanese media.
Noam Chomsky holds the placard
Chomsky, 84, said he did not know that the message on the placard, which was written in Chinese and read “Anti-Media Monopoly. Say no to China’s black hands, defend press freedom. I am safeguarding Taiwan here in MIT,” had anything to do with China or Taiwan. 

Lin Ting-an (林庭安), a Taiwanese graduate student at the Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition at National Yang Ming University, who wrote to Chomsky asking for his support prior to visiting him at MIT, says she clearly explained the matter to him and translated the Chinese content before the photograph was taken. 

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