Friday, March 29, 2013

The error of personalizing politics

President Ma Ying-jeou
It’s tempting to single out the head of state when things go bad. Doing so is wrong and prevents us from identifying and fixing the problems 

One is often bewildered by people’s tendency, in Taiwan and elsewhere, to personalize politics. Even in democracies, such as that in Taiwan, critics are often tempted to blame bad policies not on the government itself, but on the leader at the top, as if one were not in a democratic system, but rather in a totalitarian country. 

In Taiwan, every downturn, every policy blunder, is blamed on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as if he alone — the target recently of a sobriquet that, sadly, won’t go away — were responsible for both determining and implementing policy. Beyond being unfair to Ma, this proclivity elicits a fundamental flaw in people’s appreciation of how government works, a flaw that, in most instances, stems from the critics themselves never had the experience of working for government. 

Why, besides its invidious nature, this failure to understand how governments works is ultimately detrimental to democracy will be made clear in a moment. 

Let’s use an example from a recent article published on the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog, which discusses the state of the Ma administration one year into its second (and last) term. After listing a number of reasons why Ma’s approval ratings remain abysmally low, the author concludes:
It is no single politician’s fault that such inequalities exist, but it is inexcusable to lack the ability to appreciate their severity, fail to take the lead in shaming society for allowing them to exist, and bumble in proposing concrete solutions, particularly when a politician has already won reelection and will never have to run for office again. [my italics]  
While obvious, many critics in Taiwan would fail to see what’s wrong with this sentence, and I don’t mean the use of that unfortunate sobriquet. The author makes the mistake of personalizing government and presenting the case as if the president operated in a vacuum. Ma has already won reelection and will never run for office again. He therefore doesn’t care one iota about public approval or the welfare of the country’s 23 million. He can’t run for office. But Ma, whether one likes him or not, is not alone; he is part of a political party, and part of a government that is not only democratic, but is also made of public servants with various levels of competence and different party affiliations. 

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Development and social responsibility

Aerial view of the Huaguang community yesterday
A truly modern society should also make provisions to assist those who are unfortunate enough to stand in the way  of development

The ongoing destruction of the Huaguang (華光) community in Taipei is an excellent study of what happens when the rich and the powerful, aided by the government, join hands for the sake of what they call “modernity.”

However, “modern” shouldn’t be restricted to glitzy buildings, trendy shops and skyscrapers sprouting out of the rubble of demolished communities. At least in wealthy societies like Taiwan, modernity should also include the ability by society as a whole to deal with the nefarious impacts of development under the guiding principles of justice and compassion.

In the Huaguang case, where several households built “illegally” on government-owned land decades ago are in the process of being demolished, and their occupants evicted, the fundamental problem isn’t that human beings are being forced to leave the homes they have lived in for decades, but rather lies in the way in which the government, along with the land developers, have handled the manner. The core issue is that as this valuable plot of land is “returned” to the government for the future development of a Roppongi-style elite neighborhood, impoverished families and their offspring — none of whom, by force of circumstances, are exactly from the fortunate strata of society — along with humble vendors, the elderly and the ill, face an unknown future. Most cannot even afford the rent (from NT$2,500 to NT$14,000, as of 2011) for the social housing they have been promised.

The provision of social housing is itself uncertain, as the Ministry of the Interior has not responded to a proposal by the Taipei City Government that the residents be placed there. The city, furthermore, already faces a shortage of social housing, with demand far exceeding supply. Unless the residents of Huaguang are to receive preferential treatment and be allowed to cut in line ahead of the many, equally needful families that are awaiting their chance to gain access low-cost residences, one wonders where the former will live in the coming months.

To make matters worse, residents who have refused to leave have had their bank accounts frozen, one-third of their (often fixed) revenue grabbed by the government, are facing lawsuits, and will be charged NT$50,000 for the demolition of their house.

Moreover, some vendors have been accused of illegally profiting from years of selling their products to local residents, sums that they must now return to the government. In some cases, stall vendors have found new — and also illegal — squatter residences outside the city, which means they will have to commute every day to go to work and thus adds to their financial burden.

For almost every single person who is reading this, the catastrophic impact that forced eviction will have on the victims of Huaguang is hard to fathom. Most of us are young enough, resourceful enough, and wealthy enough that we would eventually get back on our feet, find a new place, and perhaps take up a second job to compensate for the immediate financial losses. But for the residents of Huaguang, the trauma of having their homes taken away from them is accentuated by such factors as old age, unemployment, and low education. Most are not healthy enough to work a second job, or to find something that pays better than what those who currently are employed make right now. Consequently, the finances of every single one of them will be hit severely. In many instances, the impact will simply be devastating.

In a truly modern (or have we now entered the post-modern?) era, the victims of this march of history would be taken care of, if not by the government, then by the wealthy conglomerates that stand to further benefit from the downfall of others. Surely, land developers that can afford to pay NT$1 million-plus per ping (about 3.2 sq. meters) of land, the winners in the ever-widening wealth gap, can also afford to create a fund to assist those who were evicted. Surely, a progressive government would offer to lend a hand as well, perhaps by sharing the burden with the private sector. Even officials, officially known as “executors,” in charge of overseeing the demolition of those illegal residences will admit they cannot understand why such help isn’t forthcoming, let alone being considered.

A good number of the Huaguang residents said they do not, in principle, oppose their eviction. Most will even admit that they are there illegally. The reason for their recalcitrance is that the powerful forces of “modernity” that are now expelling them have failed to provide the safety net that is necessary for them to rebuild their lives — in many instances, simply to survive.

Modernity requires compassion: The Huaguang case

Demolition proceeds at the Huaguang community
Urban renewal must be carried out in the spirit of compassion, something the current government is direly lacking 

The old man offers a cigarette to the elderly lady who sits next to him outside the red temple. She refuses. The man is unwell, his face bloated. Around his neck hangs a small device that appears to be connected to a pacemaker. On his head sits an old, olive-green Nationalist soldier’s hat. Behind them, the bulldozers are at work, devouring a community and the lives of its inhabitants. 

“I don’t have a home anymore,” the old man says. 

Welcome to Huaguang (華光) community in Taipei, the latest target in a series of attacks by the wealthy class against the “have-nots.” The destruction is random, with the Taipei City Government’s “executioner” beginning by tearing down the shabby houses of those who have given their consent. 

More areas set for demolition
However, many other residents, whom the Ministry of the Interior says have for decades been illegally occupying land that belongs to the government, are refusing to move away. Many — the elderly, poor and those with failing health — cannot afford to move elsewhere. To make matters worse, the government has slapped some of the recalcitrant residents with lawsuits in the millions of NT dollars, is seizing one-third of the salary of a man whose wife makes her living selling buns for NT$25 apiece, and is suing a local restaurant owner for “illegally” profiting from the local residents over the years. 

The ROC and CCP flags won't help
Pink court summonses have been affixed to the doors, next to other official documents informing the occupants of the date and time by which they must vacate their residence before it is demolished. Some, hoping against hope, have hoisted Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) flags in front of their dilapidated houses, to no avail. Amid the graffiti accusing the government of lying — 馬扁, a pun on the current president’s surname and the former president’s nickname — or of worse things, surrounded by heaps of bricks and the accumulated accoutrements of decades of living, one cannot help but shiver. 

Just outside this microcosm of injustice, seen through the hundred-year-old trees that also stand to be razed, the tall ornate gates of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall stand proudly, a symbol of government indifference to ordinary lives. The area in question is to be razed to make room for a glitzy neighborhood inspired by the upmarket Roppongi community in Tokyo. One can already see the land developers rubbing their hands in expectation, having finally succeeded in forcing the government to resolve the issue after years of inaction (it began when the Democratic Progressive Party was in office). After all, this is prime real estate. 

The old man at the temple
The issue here is not so much whether the houses should be torn down or whether cities should rejuvenate themselves. The entire community is a fire hazard and is falling apart. Many of its inhabitants are ill and it is obvious they are not receiving proper medical care (much of the unopened mail scattered outside the houses were claims from the Bureau of National Health Insurance, others were from church organizations providing social support). 

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Cold War in the East China Sea?

A Kawasaki P-1 during a test flight
The Senkaku dispute goes back several years, but only now, through ambiguity, alliances and gradual militarization, is it taking a form that increasingly looks like a Cold War 

Tensions in the East China Sea over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands seem to have plateaued off in recent weeks, with approaches by Chinese fishing boats and maritime patrol vessels turning into routine, if not banal, events. However, as high-level talks between U.S. and Japanese defense officials were held on March 21-22, Beijing said it was “extremely concerned” by reports that the talks included contingency planning for joint efforts if China were to invade the disputed territory. 

Described as “regularly scheduled consultations,” the talks in Hawaii were held between Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and General Shigeru Iwasaki, joint chief of the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF). Prior to the meeting, Kyodo News reported that the talks would touch on joint operations planning for any contingency involving the islets, and added that Locklear and Iwasaki were expected to agree to accelerate the drafting of operational plans to that effect. 

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Youth and the future — revisited

Young protesters against the destruction of Losheng
Public protests are symptoms of systemic disease, but they can also contain the elements necessary to formulate the best treatment 

One of my, shall I say, persistent critics a few days ago predictably launched another of his ungentlemanly diatribes against me over my observations on what seems to be the emergence of a more politicized youth movement across Taiwan. While I have chosen no longer to engage that individual, I have nevertheless decided to expand upon some of the points that I made in my original piece, if only to add clarity to my argument.

First and foremost, I must make it clear that protests alone, however sustained, original, large, and colorful they may be, are in and of themselves insufficient. While they may serve to empower individuals and attract attention to causes that deserve more public scrutiny, they are only one of the many elements that comprise a healthy democracy.

In other words, the discontent that gives rise to mobilization cannot work in isolation, and must translate into something that is more far-reaching and permanent. Protests are like symptoms of illness in that they tell us there is something wrong with the system and that treatment is necessary, or that another form of treatment is required. Symptoms alert us that something isn’t right, and in a democratic system, the way to fix that is to use one’s vote to effect change.

Nowhere in my op-ed did I argue, my critic’s claims notwithstanding, that protests are enough, nor would I ever encourage people to regard public rallies as an end in itself. However, while protesting isn’t sufficient — and this applies to other forms of mobilization we have seen in recent months, from worldwide picture campaigns to cross-country information sessions — they can become powerful instruments for education that, over time, will have an impact on people’s voting decisions.

My encouragement, therefore, is far more strategic and complex than the one-dimensional and simplistic fixation of my accuser, in that it regards the empowerment that I have observed among Taiwan’s youth as a crucial link in the process of forming politically and socially aware minds that are capable of making the right decisions, and by right decisions I do not mean those that conform to the rigid biases of my critic. As I wrote in my original article, the fact that many of the young (and older) people who have participated in recent protests span the entire political spectrum in itself points to the possibility of a transformation in voting behavior. For example, a good number of "Mainlanders" (a majority of whom we can assume are KMT voters) present at the Losheng (樂生), Huaguang (華光) and anti-nuclear protests, among others, have hinted at the possibility that come the next elections, they might think twice about re-electing the KMT (and the same may have been true, in the reverse, with protesters who mobilized over the same issues when the DPP was in power). Surely this does not count for nothing!

Electing the right individuals who can meet the demands and expectations of the polity, or using one’s vote as retribution if such expectations are not met, is the penultimate weapon. But for that weapon to be used responsibly, those who wield it must be well informed of the issues—and this is exactly what the thousands of young people who have mobilized against a plethora of issues in the past year have been doing.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A new force, the key to Taiwan’s future

Participants at the Losheng 316 rally in Taipei
Through a fledging amalgam of people and organizations, Taiwanese may be leading their nation into a new phase of national consciousness 

I’ve been attending, covering and writing about protests in Taiwan for about seven years now, not only for the entertainment value (though they do tend to be colorful and original), but also because I genuinely believe that they serve as an indicator of social and political stability.

I have noticed in the past 12 months or so an interesting shift in the composition of those who participate in the protests and the frequency with which those protests are held. As I wrote in an editorial last week, not a week goes by nowadays without a protest of some sort being organized, a sign, in my opinion, that the government is failing to address issues that are important to the polity.

Far more important, in my opinion, is the fact that more and more young people are turning out to protest. In fact, in the past year or so, several protest campaigns have been organized by young Taiwanese who mobilized using the most modern social platforms, coordinated with law enforcement agencies, ensured order and security at the events, and led the events. Some have faced arrest, opprobrium by the media, government officials and older people, though they did not allow such reactions to discourage them. Many have done so while writing exams or applying for graduate school.

If we put all the causes together, several thousands of young Taiwanese have rallied on weekends and weekdays, sometimes even spending all-nighters at a time when the rest of the nation was celebrating some holiday or another.

Baby girl at anti-nuclear protest
I always make sure to bring my camera when I go to protests, which hapless me, usually take place on my days off. Using a 45-200mm lens rather than the standard wide lens, I tend to focus more on single individuals than on large numbers of protesters, which allows me to better capture people’s expressions. Eyes are a window to a person’s soul, the saying goes, and to me having the ability to observe people’s eyes reveals a lot about their state of mind and how seriously they take the cause. Anyone who accuses young Taiwanese of political apathy, or of not caring about “real” and “serious” issues, should observe close-up pictures of the participant at the rallies that were held recently in Taiwan. I challenge anyone who looks at those — the protests against media monopolization, against nuclear energy, the destruction of people’s residences at Losheng or on “stolen land” near National Taiwan University — to argue that the young people there aren’t determined, that they are only present to snap pictures and have fun with their friends. The light in their eyes, the steadfastness of their ways, gives me great hope.

As I’ve argued many times before, young Taiwanese will become involved when the issues speak to their own lives and their perceived interests. As such, the composition of the crowd at rallies organized by the green camp targeting “the government,” “the Chinese Nationalist Party” or “China” is usually homogenous — people in their sixties or seventies whose voting behavior is already known (green). Based on my own observations, the ratio of young people to old at those rallies is about 1:10.

Opponent of media monopoly
However, social causes, issues of justice or matters that are seen as having a real, direct and immediate impact on people’s lives, tend to attract people from across the spectrum: university students, young professionals, newly formed families, individuals who have voted for various parties, green and blue, as well as “Taiwanese” and “Mainlanders” (the latter to terms that, in my view, have become meaningless, as all are inhabitants and citizens of Taiwan). For those, the ratio of young-to-old protesters is probably 8:1. The only aberration I’ve seen since 2008 were the protests surrounding the first visit by Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), the then-chairman Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, which though it attracted mostly people from the green camp, also involved a larger mobilization of younger Taiwanese.

Beyond the protests, symposiums and academic gatherings have also reflected this generational divide. Contrast, say, last Friday’s World Taiwanese Congress (WTC) in Taipei, with the various focus groups and lectures organized to address a variety of issues, from the destruction of private property by the government to the risks posed by the monopolization of the media environment. Truth be told, I skipped this year’s WTC, well remembering the slumber fest that it was last time I went two years ago. It’s little wonder that older Taiwanese believe the younger generations cannot be bothered to become involved in political issues: if the only yardstick used is attendance at lectures (mostly in Taiwanese) in dark conference halls by people who have been regurgitating the same old message for decades, then yes, one could conclude that young Taiwanese couldn’t care less.

Woman at Losheng 316 protest
But that’s not the case; their lack of participation at those events stems from the fact that the issues addressed there are seen as irrelevant to young people’s lives. In many ways, young Taiwanese have moved on and no longer understand political participation as meaning opposition to KMT authoritarianism. Rather than look to the past, they look to the future, harping not on issues that, in their mind, have already been resolved (democracy, identity), but focusing instead on matters of justice, on issues that will directly impact their lives: jobs, salaries, one’s ability to own (and keep) a house, etc. One could even argue that young Taiwanese are applying Nelson Mandela’s message of forgiveness (of past wrongs perpetrated by the Apartheid regime) and inclusiveness (a new South Africa for all its inhabitants, white and black). There is true hope for this nation and its ability to heal from the wounds of the 228 Massacre and the White Terror when young Taiwanese turn out in large numbers to protest at the injustice perpetrated by a KMT government that seeks to demolish houses that have served as homes to “Mainlanders” for decades. Issues of “Taiwanese” versus “Mainlander” are unimportant to them: what matters is the injustice caused by those who wield power against those who do not. And more often than not, those issues of injustice span several years and involve both KMT and DPP administrations.

Kneeling over 3km at Losheng rally
Old arguments about who is a “true” Taiwanese and who isn’t, or how “evil” a supposedly monolithic KMT is, are divisive, and do not build solid foundations for a nation. Solidarity does. And that sense of solidarity appears to be snowballing, with more and more organizations showing support for, and participating alongside, other groups. This cross-pollination of causes has become all the more apparent in recent protests, with young individuals one day rallying against the unfair treatment of laid-off workers, only to show up again a few weeks later leading a group of protesters on a 3km six-step-and-kneel walk to Ketagalan Blvd to oppose the destruction of the Losheng Sanatorium (a perfect example of both DPP and KMT administrations going against the wishes of the people, though to be fair I should point out that the issue of land-grabbing appears to have worsened under the current KMT administration).

Rather than single-issue groups, several organizations, which share similar values, now work together to raise awareness of important issues, and rarely do so through the lens of one’s political preference. In many cases, the organizers would rather that political parties not turn out at their events, or will at least keep them at arms’ length.

Protester at a pro-Tibet rally
Through this fledging, still somewhat rough amalgam of people and organizations — “little platoons,” the 18th-century political thinker Edmund Burke called them — Taiwanese may be leading their nation into a new phase of national consciousness, one that at long last manages to transcend the age-old blue-green, Taiwanese/Mainlander political divide that continues to undermine progress. Little by little, as the causes they espouse attract academics and officials, this emerging movement could coalesce into a third force — a transformative and healing force, one that once and for all could liberate all of Taiwan’s 23 million people from a stultifying status quo that stems directly from an unresolved past, from a past that some people, for various reasons, would rather remained unresolved.

This op-ed was published today in the Taipei Times.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

China’s version of the (now failing) diplomatic truce: Prevent Taiwan from joining regional security forum

UN Sec.-Gen Ban Ki-moon speaks at last year's JIDD
Taiwanese delegates at a security forum in Jakarta had their invitations ‘withdrawn’ after Chinese officials filed a complaint 

It’s probably too soon to tell whether this is a sudden shift in policy under the new leadership of President Xi Jinping (習近平) or the result of mounting frustration in Beijing over Taipei’s continued refusal to engage in political talks, but in the past week alone, China has twice reneged on its commitments under the so-called “diplomatic truce” implemented after Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) became president in 2008 by continuing to limit Taiwan’s international space.

First, one day after Pope Francis was installed in the Vatican, Beijing called on the Holy Church to sever its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a move that directly contravenes the tacit agreement between Taipei and Beijing that, under the truce, they would not attempt to steal each other’s allies. The Vatican is Taiwan’s sole diplomatic ally in Europe. Ma’s attendance at the investiture — the first time a Taiwanese president was invited to attend the ceremony — added to the full diplomatic treatment of Ma’s delegation by Italian authorities, surely had something to do with Beijing’s discontent.

Now, as the Financial Times reports today, also this week, two Taiwanese academics and two officials at Taiwan’s representative office in Jakarta, Indonesia, were at the last minute prevented from attending the two-day Jakarta International Defense Dialogue (JIDD) after the Chinese embassy became aware of their presence and complained to the Indonesian defense ministry, the organizer of the event. Jakarta caved in, and the invitations for the event beginning on Wednesday were, in effect, withdrawn, thus barring Taiwanese from engaging in dialogue with other regional partners on security issues. Coincidentally, and I believe this is just that, a coincidence, former Democratic Progressive Party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) happens to be in Indonoesia these days.

Among other things, the Taiwanese reportedly hoped to discuss security issues in the hotly contested South China Sea with American and Philippine delegates. Taiwan was able to participate at last year’s JIDD, with no complaints from Beijing. However, the organizer said that as the event is organized by the government, Jakarta must take objections by other countries into consideration.

So much for improving cross-strait ties.

SM-3: The Future of Missile Defense in Asia?

A SM-3 is fired at sea
European countries are mulling a plan to pool SM-3 missiles and to share radar-tracking. Could Asia do it too?

Raytheon Corp on March 5th reached a new milestone by successfully testing a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) ballistic missile interceptor using a non-Aegis data link, an important step in efforts to equip more naval vessels to employ the full range of missiles in the Standard Missile family. 

The SM-3 Block IA interceptor uses an S-band data link that can “handshake” with the AN/SPY-1 used on Aegis-equipped warships to provide guidance toward medium-range airborne targets in the exo-atmosphere. The SM-3 Block IB, currently under development and expected to enter service in 2015, also uses the S-band as a data link baseline. 

However, aware of the limitations that reliance on S-band-compatible data links posed for SM-3 sales and regional cooperation in “upper tier” air defense, in 2010, Raytheon began developing a prototype dual-band data link that would enable warships to use both the S-band and X-band radar to communicate with SM-3 missiles.

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NASA-linked Chinese scientist arrested

A SAR orbiter over the earth
The 32-year-old Bo Jiang, a native of Chengdu, may have tried to leak source code for high-tech imaging technology 

A Chinese research scientist employed as a contractor for a Virginia-based firm doing contract work on space defense technology for NASA was nabbed by the FBI last week as he attempted to flee the U.S. to China, possibly with classified information in his possession. 

Frank Wolf (R-VA), Chairman of a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that oversees the NASA budgets, said Bo Jiang worked at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia, and had access to high-value information. He also alleged that Jiang had brought with him “voluminous sensitive” NASA documents during a trip to China in 2012. 

Bo Jiang
Reports said Jiang had “virtually unlimited, unescorted access to the NASA Langley facility,” which conducts space defense-related projects for NASA. During a subcommittee hearing last week, Wolf said that Jiang may have been hired by the NIA to “circumvent” regulations on the hiring of foreign nationals by the space agency. 

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

Taiwan is hostage to a blatant lie

A banner is displayed during a rally on Feb. 28
Everybody knows that Beijing is the aggressor in the Taiwan Strait, yet experts all over the world continue to pretend that it is otherwise 

As a famous US professor once told an up-and-coming Taiwanese academic, there is something about Taiwan that makes even the best and the brightest of minds stop thinking. 

Time and again, otherwise intelligent academics, journalists, writers and government officials have managed to get it all wrong when it comes to Taiwan. The fact that a country whose 23 million people would make it the ninth-largest country in Europe by population size, and whose economy is among the 20 largest economies globally, is so regularly misunderstood is predominantly the result of Chinese propaganda and the willingness of other countries to allow Beijing to get away with its lies.

Not only is Taiwan misrepresented, but the biases that are stacked against it prevent its 23 million people from deciding their own future. So entrenched has this handicap become that Taiwan, not China, is often regarded as the troublemaker, even though it is Beijing, not Taipei, that threatens war — against Taiwan, Japan and the US — over the question of its sovereignty. It is as if Czechoslovakia or Poland, not Nazi Germany, were the true instigators of World War II in Europe. 

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sorry Beijing, You probably won’t get much more from Ma Ying-jeou

President Ma chairs a KMT meeting earler this month
Democracy and of the electoral cycle will preclude any dramatic policy shift on the KMT’s China policy 

The breadth and scope of the liberalization that has occurred in the Taiwan Strait since the election of Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in 2008 has been nothing short of extraordinary, at least if this progress is contrasted with what came before. For Ma critics, the KMT has gone too far, too fast, and in the process it may have undermined the sovereignty of Taiwan. However, with presidential elections less than three years away, Ma will probably be unable to deliver much more than what has already been offered to Beijing, which means that political dialogue on Taiwan’s status will remain off the table. 

Paradoxically, the reason why the cross-Strait honeymoon may be over stems from the very policies that permitted Ma to make short shrift of former premier Frank Hsieh, his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) opponent in 2008, and to be re-elected in 2012 against a formidable challenger, the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen. 

More than any other party, Ma’s KMT understood back in 2008 that in order to regain, and retain, power, it needed to clearly articulate what it meant by maintaining the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, while simultaneously providing reassurances to both Beijing and Washington. What it did better than other contenders, and why it won, was to understand the maneuvering space within which it could operate and how to balance the expectations, often at odds with one another, of China, the U.S., and Taiwan’s 23 million people. 

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute Blog at the University of Nottingham, continues here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A CCP candidate in Taiwan's 2016 elections?

Banners fly on Feb. 28 at Liberty Square in Taipei
What if ... a Chinese Communist Party candidate were able to take part in the presidential election in 2016? How well would he or she do? 

The refrain has been heard time and again: Only a small minority of pro-independence “splittists” oppose the eventual “reunification” of Taiwan and China to reinvigorate the Great Chinese Race. If that were indeed the case, then politicians in Beijing should be unhesitant to take up the following challenge: to field the best possible candidate they can come up with to run for president — OK, let us be fair to them, as “governor,” or “leader” — of Taiwan in the 2016 election. 

Of course, this scenario would be contingent on a number of variables. Chief among them would be for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to abandon its opposition to universal suffrage and elections (loosely defined here) at more than just the village level. Another would be for the vote to be restricted to people of voting age on all the territories controlled by Taiwan. After all, the object of this exercise is to determine the willingness of Taiwanese to join China, and not the desire among Chinese (ostensibly high) to unify with Taiwan. 

For the sake of this little experiment, let us assume that Beijing chooses to play along and also agrees not to threaten military action should the elections fail to yield its desired outcome — a CCP win. “Free” and “fair” elections, inasmuch as those are possible in Taiwan. 

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Taiwan issues 2013 Quadrennial Defense Review

Cross-strait ties may have improved, but  the new report makes it clear that China remains Taiwan’s top security threat 

Despite the “institutionalization of cross-Strait rapprochement” launched by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), China has not renounced the use of force against Taiwan and remains the nations primary military threat, the Ministry of National Defense says in the 2013 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) released yesterday.

Under the National Defense Act (國防法), the ministry is required to produce a QDR — a collaborative effort between defense officials, other government agencies and academics to provide the “uppermost” defense policy guidance for the next four years — within 10 months of a president’s inauguration. The last QDR was issued in March 2009.

Building on the principles of establishing a “hard ROC” laid out in the previous report, the 2013 QDR “strives for innovative development by guiding the ROC Armed Forces to maximize available defense resources and to meet security challenges in an effective manner.”

Divided into four sections, the first part, “Security Environment and National Defense Challenges,” lists the principal traditional security challenges facing the nation. With regards to China, the report says its rise is the “primary factor” for change in the Asia-Pacific security environment, adding that Beijing’s “core objective” is to “sustain economic development and enhance comprehensive national power.”

“In the foreseeable future, Mainland China’s political and military power will continue to grow, gradually changing the Asia-Pacific balance of power, geo-strategic situation and regional security,” the report says. “Mainland China’s military modernization has progressed rapidly. Its force projection capabilities have extended over the First Island Chain into the Pacific.”

“China has never renounced the use of force and continues to carry out military preparations against Taiwan and a third party that might intervene into the Strait,” it says, adding that China’s active development of “anti-access/area denial (A2/AD)” capabilities will “threaten the U.S. force projection in the Western Pacific and freedom of action in East Asia,” which could possibly include intervention in a Taiwan Strait contingency.

Besides China, “sovereignty claims over disputed islands and maritime rights and interests continue to escalate,” it says. Other challenges include the unstable situation in the Korean Peninsula and the US “rebalancing” strategy.

A low birth rate and “weakening public awareness of security threats” also pose non-traditional security challenges, it says.

To address those, the military must “actively engage force readiness, establish multiple capabilities, closely cooperate with neighboring countries, appropriately allocate and utilize defense resources, and encourage public engagement in defense affairs … to ensure our national security, maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait, and contribute to the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”

Section two, “National Defense Policy and Strategic Guidance,” says that current defense policy gravitates around seven principles, namely: building credible capabilities; demonstrating defense resolution; safeguarding regional stability; strengthening intangible combat capabilities; enhancing disaster prevention and relief preparedness; promoting voluntarism; and improving welfare for military personnel.

Taiwan will continue to seek war prevention, homeland defense, contingency response, conflict avoidance and regional stability through the concept of “resolute defense, credible deterrence,” the report says.

While striving for such objectives, the military will renounce producing, developing, acquiring, storing or using nuclear weapons and will continue to abide by its responsibilities under the Missile Technology Control Regime.

As it prepares for possible armed conflict, the armed forces will continue to focus on joint warfighting capabilities and preparedness, the topic of section three of the report. Given the various security threats and limited resources, the military will adopt “innovative and asymmetric” concepts, including joint counter air, sea control and ground defense capabilities, the report says, adding that it will continue to develop command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, integrate logistics capabilities, and strengthen reserve mobilization and joint disaster relief capacities.

The last section of the report, “Defense Organization and Transformation,” turns to defense reform and says the military will strive to “strike a balance between military modernization and force streamlining” and to build a “‘small but superb, small but strong, small but smart’ elite force capable of handling all manner of defense challenges.” To do so, the military will replace “balanced force buildup” with “prioritized force buildup” and adjust its organizational structure in accordance with the principle of “accountability and specialization,” it says. Amid effort to create an all-volunteer force, the military will streamline active duty personnel and expand its reserve force, with the goal of reducing force levels to 215,000 by the end of next year, it says.

The full report can be accessed here.

Beijing is still stalling on North Korea

Kim Jong-un and the top brass pose for a picture
As long as instability on the Korean Peninsula continues to serve Beijing’s interests, China will not be a partner we can count on to rein in the crazies in Pyongyang 

Analysts and diplomats last week were hinting at a possible attitudinal shift in Beijing on the North Korea issue after China, Pyongyang’s longtime ally, voted for UN Security Council Resolution 2094, which imposes additional sanctions on North Korea to punish it for conducting its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. However, despite signaling displeasure with Pyongyang’s brinkmanship, Beijing does not yet seem willing to do what is required to stop its neighbor from flirting with weapons of Armageddon.

The signs on Thursday last week were promising: Beijing had signed on to the latest round of sanctions, while some influential figures, such as retired People’s Liberation Army major general Luo Yuan (羅援), a prominent foreign policy hawk, were warning North Korea that although both nations had been “comrade[s] and brothers-in-arms in the past,” if Pyongyang harmed China’s national interests, “we’ll get even with you.”

However, if the reports that emerged on Monday are any indication, the optimism may have been a little premature. Beijing’s apparent change of heart might be nothing more than cosmetic.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tensions build as North Korea scraps armistice

North Korean soldiers perform drills
Pyongyang has suspended an agreement that has maintained the status quo for almost 60 years 

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula Monday reached their highest level since the November 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, with Pyongyang announcing it had scrapped the armistice that put an end to active fighting in the Korean War in 1953, as well as apparently shutting down a Red Cross communications hotline.

The moves coincided with South Korea and the U.S. launching a large-scale military exercise. The excessively strident rhetoric out of Pyongyang, which also included a threat to launch a nuclear strike against the U.S. and to cancel its nonaggression pact with the South, follows the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094 that imposed additional sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

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

Discontent rising among Taiwanese

Anti-nuclear protesters in Taipei on Saturday
So far Taiwanese have been uncannily peaceful, and almost unnaturally patient with government officials, in their protests. That could change 

From the general mood on Saturday, it was hard to imagine that the 100,000 people who protested in downtown Taipei were mobilizing against a policy that, as they interpret it, is a matter of life and death for themselves and — judging by the large number of babies and children — their descendants.

What with the laughter, gaudy costumes, soap bubbles, incessant picture-taking and lively songs, one would think one had chanced upon a festival of some sort, not a rally against an ill-understood form of energy that, in the wake of the nuclear incident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan in March 2011, fuels people’s fears of the terrible consequences should a catastrophe occur at one of the nation’s three operational plants. The same could be said about other, large protests held in recent months, such as those targeting the risks of monopolization of the nation’s media.

Festive mood notwithstanding, the issues that have catalyzed protesters are no laughing matter. If we factor in the several, smaller protests held over the past four years, it becomes clear that the general mood that has descended upon Taiwanese is far more somber.

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

Friday, March 08, 2013

Eyes on Target: Taiwan’s EWR comes online

President Ma visits officers at Leshan
Given Ma Ying-jeou’s efforts to improve ties with Beijing, Taipei is understandably playing down the importance of the EWR. But the system’s impact will be felt 

After nearly a decade and US$1.37 billion, Taiwan’s long-range early-warning radar (EWR) system on Leshan, Hsinchu County, officially began operations this month (February). Although the system’s capabilities substantially enhance Taiwan’s situational awareness, another — and perhaps more significant — benefit is the role it can play securing Taiwan’s position as part of the US strategic defense network in the Asia-Pacific region.

My article, published in the current issue of National Defense University/NCCU’s Strategic Vision for Taiwan Security, can be read in full here (pdf format here).

Bring them over, let them experience Taiwan

President Ma at the workshop
It’s easy to ignore Taiwan or to regard it as a mere extension of China. Visit the place, experience its people, however, and it leaves an impression that stays with you forever 

I had arrived about half an hour early on Tuesday morning before I, along with professors Alexander Huang (黃介正) of Tamkang University and Lin Cheng-yi (林正義) of Academia Sinica, were to address the about 75 students who were taking part in this year’s Fulbright Research Workshop at the beautiful Zhongshan Hall in Taipei.

Flipping through the program booklet and short bios of the participants, I was struck by how few of the students came from sponsoring universities in Taiwan. The great majority of them, more than 80 percent, were affiliated with universities in China, with only a handful from Hong Kong and Macau (as this is a Fulbright program for students studying abroad, all must have US citizenship). My first reaction was to think to myself that, once again, academic and government institutions were putting too much emphasis on China at the expense of other countries, Taiwan included.

I shelved that thought, expecting that my presentation, Taiwan-centric as it was, would, if I was lucky, be met with cold stares or, if I ruffled too many feathers, shaking fists. (It went very well, and I think both Mr Huang and I succeeded in highlighting the many reasons why Taiwan is not China, starting with its freedoms, mores, and values system.)

Just before we began the 75-minute panel, one of the staffers told the students that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who they were scheduled to meet for a full hour on Thursday, was interested in knowing how many of them had been to Taiwan before. A quick show of hands settled the matter: about one third had done so; for the rest, this was their first time on the island.

Chatting with some of the organizers after the panel, I realized that the overrepresentation of Chinese universities wasn’t, as some would be quick to conclude, a shadowy plot by agencies to saturate Taiwan with Chinese students, but rather something much more subtle. What point would there be in having large numbers of Fulbright students from Taiwanese universities attend a workshop in Taiwan? one asked. Instead, the plan was to bring as many students as possible from Chinese universities for them to experience Taiwan first-hand and to see just how different it is from China. I later was told that while the workshop spanned three days, Fulbright provided accommodation for five nights and encouraged students to spend the weekend before or after the program traveling round the country and interacting with the people. Not a bad idea at all.

From my discussions with some of the students during lunch — the dining room was about 30 meters from the balcony from which president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) used to address (one can press a button to hear recordings of his tinny voice) the crowd down below — it became evident that many of them, including a fellow Canadian from Montreal (with dual US citizenship) who now studies in Beijing, were quite taken with the place. The friendliness, politeness and orderliness of Taiwanese, the much better air quality in the cities, the absence of this indescribable sense of oppressiveness that weighs upon the individual in China, all were clear signs that they were in a very different place — perhaps a very different country, in fact, even if some were unwilling yet to articulate their first impressions to such an extent.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Taiwan’s regional security profile grows

M60A3s maneuver at Huadong Defense Command
Amid growing regional apprehensions with China, Taipei is silently carving out a greater role for itself 

The public acknowledgement may have been accidental, but the revelation on March 4 that Singaporean soldiers in Taiwan would participate in joint live-fire exercises with their Taiwanese counterparts according to reports shouldn’t come as a surprise. As worries increase over China’s recent assertiveness, Taiwan is silently carving out a role for itself as a possible component within the region's growing security architecture.

Given its precarious situation, the island nation’s emerging role necessitates a delicate balancing act, the result of both President Ma Ying-jeou’s efforts to improve relations with Beijing and of other countries’ fear of angering China by being seen as cooperating too closely with Taipei.

The subtle shift in Taiwan’s situation occurred about two years ago. Not entirely by coincidence, this took place around the same time the U.S. was announcing its “strategic shift,” or “pivot,” to Asia as a counterweight to China. As China flexes its diplomatic and military muscles, threatening its neighbors over disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, capitals in the Asia-Pacific have begun revisiting their assumptions of China’s so-called “peaceful rise.” The process, which among many decisions includes Australia’s move to allow the basing of U.S. Marines in Darwin and the eventual basing of four U.S. littoral combat ships on a rotational basis in Singapore, has also forced regional countries to take a second look at Taiwan’s role within the region and how they can cooperate with it on security matters.

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

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Exposing the secrets of the 228 Massacre

A protester at the 228 march last week
Making all the case files public, and changing prevailing regulations on access, is the only way to uncover the truth about an incident that continues to divide Taiwanese society  

As Taiwanese readied to observe the 66th anniversary of the 228 Massacre last week, many were angered when it emerged that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), at the behest of a descendant of a perpetrator, had sent a letter to Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History asking it to uncover the “real facts” behind the incident. 

For critics, Ma’s request was regarded as an attempt to rewrite, possibly with the intent of whitewashing the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) responsibility, a dark, albeit defining, chapter in the nation’s history. 

While further studying of the causes, impact and future consequences of the massacre and the decades of the equally murderous White Terror that ensued, should be encouraged, it is shocking that, 66 years on, people in Taiwan, including Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), can still question who bears ultimate responsibility — Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), governor Chen Yi (陳儀), unruly KMT soldiers, corrupt government officials or Taiwanese “thugs” — or how many people were slain, which is proof that the story is incomplete. 

There are two main reasons why a full understanding of the massacre, or incident, depending on one’s point of view, remains elusive to this day. 

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

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Fulbright Workshop – Global Engagement: International Affairs: notes

The beautiful Zhongshan Hall in Taipei, our venue
I had the honor on Tuesday to be part of a panel, alongside profs Alexander Huang of Tamkang University and Lin Cheng-yi of Academia Sinica, on Taiwan’s international affairs at the Fulbright Taiwan Research Workshop

Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has launched efforts to improve relations with China. Those efforts have paid dividends in economics, trade, and cultural exchanges, but areas of concern remain. After all, absence of war does not mean absence of conflict. The following are issues of concern:
  • Growing military threat from China, whose Second Artillery Corps has increased the number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles it targets at Taiwan even as relations improved, plus ongoing modernization of all services;
  • Taiwan’s continued isolation from the international community, and participation contingent on Beijing’s “approval”;
  • Trends favoring “status quo” and Taiwanese identification, which could lead to China running out of patience and deciding to use force; 
  • Uncertain outcome to the 2016 presidential election in Taiwan; 
  • Question marks remain over Chinese Communist Party Secretary-General and incoming President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) ability to retain control over more extreme elements within the People’s Liberation Army. 
The U.S. “re-balancing,” or “pivot” to Asia amid growing regional apprehensions vis-a-vis China’s assertiveness, can create a greater role for Taiwan as a security partner:
  • Continued U.S.-Taiwan military exchanges (arms sales as a measure of bilateral ties and continuation of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979);
  • Despite recent op-eds in U.S. media, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. will “abandon” Taiwan;
  • The launch in early February of the Raytheon Corp-built long-range early-warning radar (EWR) at Leshan in Hsinchu County plugs Taiwan into the emerging security architecture in the Asia-Pacific. The EWR also creates opportunities for cooperation on non-military matters, such as the tracking of debris in space;
  • Signs of growing willingness within the region to cooperate with Taiwan on security, even if this has to be carried out in an unofficial guise;
  • Signs of governments losing patience with China and diminishing returns on Beijing’s threats of “nefarious consequences”;
  • While the rest of the world does not wake up in the middle of the night worrying about Taiwan’s fate, the island-nation of 23 million people remains a key player in the global supply chain, one of the 20 largest economies in the world, and a liberal democracy with a value system similar to that in the West. 
Despite its need to create more international space for itself, Taiwan continues to have a poor public relations strategy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and other agencies seem incapable of fully explaining their policy on the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands, Ma’s East China Sea Peace Initiative, or of countering claims that Taiwan and China might cooperate against Japan in the East China Sea. Taiwan is too inwards looking and does not pay enough attention to international perspectives and foreign media, which compounds its isolation (true for both the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Democratic Progressive Party as well). As one foreign diplomat based in Taiwan told me recently, ask six MOFA officials for comment and you’re bound to get eight answers. I would add: Ask six Ministry of National Defense (MND) officials for comment, and you’re lucky if you get two answers. MND’s difficulty in explaining its efforts to Taiwanese and to the international community fuels speculation that it is obsolete and unwilling (or unable) to fight.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Military passes off HF-2E missile launchers as delivery vehicles

A Google Earth view of a HF-2E missile site
Residents in Taoyuan County say they have seen gray cargo trucks bearing the Chinese characters for 'express delivery' 

After years of development, the military has deployed the ultra-secret Hsiung Feng IIE (HF-2E) land-attack cruise missile (LACM) and appears to be disguising the road-mobile launchers as a fleet of medium-sized express delivery vehicles, Internet reports have said.

The HF-2E LACM, developed by the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), entered mass production under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration and is now deployed in northern parts of the country. Three squadrons, under Missile Command’s 601 Group, are deployed in Taishan (泰山) and Sansia (三峽) in New Taipei City (新北市), and Yangmei (楊梅) in Taoyuan County, Defense News reported. 

With a range of about 650km, the subsonic HF-2E is at the heart of the national counterforce strategy and would be used to launch retaliatory strikes against military targets along China’s southeastern coast. Reports last year said the deployment was part of a NT$30 billion (US$1.02 billion) program codenamed Chichun, or “Lance Hawk.” 

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