Monday, December 30, 2013

Taiwan’s courts as fast-food joints, or tools of repression? (中文 link at bottom)

Facing growing public discontent and rising activism, the government is using the courts to silence the opposition. Now it won’t even give suspects the chance to explain themselves before a judge

Sun Chih-yu, a student at National Tsing Hua University, saw her chance on November 13 to express her anger at the government’s ill treatment of laid-off workers from Hualon Corp for the past sixteen years. Premier Jiang Yi-huah was in town, attending a screening of the documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above. As Jiang was exiting the theater after the showing, Sun lobbed a shoe at him … and missed. The shoe fell harmlessly next to the premier and Sun was taken away.

One month later, she received a notice informing her that she was guilty of violations to the Social Order Maintenance Act and had to pay a fine of NT$5,000. No day in court, no way to defend herself before a judge. Guilty. Sun has since decided to appeal.

In a bid to unclutter the courts, Taiwanese judges and prosecutors occasionally use an “expedited process” to deal with minor infractions — say, woman caught stealing bubble gum at a convenience store. The practice makes sense and can help alleviate the burden on the court system. Our imaginary thief is levied a fine, and perhaps there’s a note in her file, but court appearances, witnesses, judges, lawyers, are unnecessary.

But here’s where things get interesting. The court system has begun using the “expedited process” for less clear-cut cases involving (according to the indictment document) much more serious crimes and, presumably, heavier fines.

Sun’s case is one such instance. A much more worrying one involves the indictment on December 24 of twenty members, including six students, of the Yuanli Self-Help Organization against Wind Turbines, over an April 29 protest at a construction site.

To make a long story short: The villagers, the majority of them farmers, claim they were never properly consulted over the project and that the wind turbines, which are taller than the Statue of Liberty, are being built much too close to their homes. A total of 14 are to be built along the 2km coastline. German wind power firm InfraVest, along with government agencies including the Bureau of Energy and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, deny that this is the case and have forged ahead. Facing delays caused by the protests and bleeding money as it fails to meet its deadline, InfraVest has hired a private security firm, whose abuse of local residents, sometimes leading to injuries, has been largely ignored by the police, which itself has repeatedly brutalized members of the self-help organization, prompting the grilling of a senior National Police Administration (NPA) official at the Legislative Yuan earlier this year.

On April 29, the self-help organization held a sit-in protest on a road leading to the site of one of the wind turbines. As tensions rose, many were handcuffed and dragged away by police, including one student who was documenting the events. Unsurprisingly, InfraVest has filed a lawsuit against the protesters. More disturbing is the decision by the court on December 24 to use the “expedited process” in its indictment of the 20 protesters who were taken away on April 29. 

As with Sun, this means that the indicted will not have a chance to appear in court to defend themselves. And this time the crime is not disturbances to public order, but the much more serious (and ludicrous) charge of “false imprisonment,” which is akin to holding someone hostage. Prosecutors are still doing the math, and the nature of the fine has yet to be announced, though they will likely be much steeper. Furthermore, the implications for those who are held guilty could be much more far-reaching, as the offense will certainly appear in their criminal record. Chen Pin-an, one of the members of the self-help alliance, is herself a lawyer. Another one is still a law student at National Taiwan University (NTU). One can only imagine what the impact of a record of holding someone hostage will have on her ability to practice law in future.

Given the potentially disastrous consequences, it is inconceivable that those individuals would not be given a chance to defend their actions before a judge. This is certainly not as trivial an infraction as stealing a pack of gum.

Not that any of this should be surprising. The whole case transcends the pros and cons of wind power and speaks directly to the quality of Taiwan’s democracy. Which is why the largely ignored Yuanli controversy is a much bigger issue. The entire process has been a flawed one, from the gerrymandering of an initial environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the lack of (and fabricated) consultations with local villagers, bogus “experimental hearings” to the involvement of a private security firm whose staff, as I saw first-hand when I visited the site in June, have behaved like thugs high on betel nut and tobacco. 

So far, a total of 36 individuals have been indicted for their actions in Yuanli, including 18 students.

All of this means that this is not a clear-cut case, one that the courts can dispense with through an expedited process and fines. The decision to deny the so-called offenders the right to defend themselves in court (the organization’s lawyers are in the process of appealing) gives the impression that the court system is part of a larger effort to deter the villagers and their supporters by threatening financial pain, something that the soft authoritarian regime in Singapore has perfected to an art form. Perhaps it is also an attempt to silence the opponents, to deny them the voice that would draw more attention to what is already turning into a fiasco (InfraVest could very well sue the government, which granted approval, if it is unable to complete the project and goes under financially as a result).

The Sun and Yuanli cases raise serious questions, chief among them the seemingly arbitrary manner in which judges and prosecutors decide to expedite the process and impose fines. Where does one draw the line? Based on which understanding of the category of crimes? How is the fine calculated? And under what circumstances can suspects legitimately be denied the right to defend themselves in the courts? Given the growing number of protests that are occurring over a variety of controversial issues, such as the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement to the Taoyuan Aerotropolis megaproject, such precedents will make it very tempting for police, prosecutors, and the courts to resort to similar tactics, if only to deter future activism. This is a very serious matter, one that is directly related to the quality of Taiwan’s democracy and rule of law. Bypassing the court process or imposing summary judgments are not options.

As the protests intensify, the government could very well claim that the courts are overwhelmed, that it has no choice and must therefore “expedite” the process. But it has a choice — it can choose not to prosecute, as the great, great majority of acts committed by the protesters constitute nothing more than misdemeanor. Yet, more and more I’m hearing protesters say something like, “I was a student protester during the democratization years [late 1980s to early 1990s] and we never got charged for what we did. Today, we get indictments, court summons …”

(Photo by the author: Elderly resident of Yuanli during a protest in front of the Executive Yuan)

NEW! A Chinese-language version of this article was published in The News Lens on Jan. 3 and can be accessed here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

As China rides high, a downcast Taiwan becomes more vulnerable

China is convinced that history is on its side and that its political system is the best. What does this mean for Taiwan? 

After decades of living in the shadow of superpowers, the Chinese leadership today seems to believe it has developed a political system that is superior to any other on the planet. Combine that with the emergence of what is probably the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping and a party apparatus that feels it can finally get things done, and China could be forgiven for regarding itself as the new “shining city upon a hill.” That new sense of superiority has already manifested itself in the form of risky behavior in the East and South China Sea, and could have a substantial impact on Beijing’s “reunification” strategy for Taiwan. 

Speaking in Taipei on December 26, long-time China watcher James McGregor argued that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary-General and President Xi Jinping is now the most powerful man in China since Deng Xiaoping. Unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, a somewhat out-of-date leader who never succeeded in getting the upper hand on the powerful Central Standing Committee, Xi has quickly seized control over the reform plan as well as the security apparatus, which the just-concluded Third Plenum made all the more evident, McGregor said. 

What are the implications for Taiwan, where the leadership is weak and whose democratic political system seems beset by many problems? 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The extremist Christian infiltration of Taiwan (中文 link at bottom)

Intensifying efforts to block same-sex marriage regulations and to promote chastity in Taiwan are led by a loose coalition of evangelical groups with worrying ties to extremist Christian organizations in the U.S.

One of the things we did when I was an intelligence officer was something called “link analysis,” which consisted of establishing a full picture of the ties that bound individuals, groups, organizations, and firms, to our targets. By doing this, we hoped to obtain a fuller understanding of where indoctrination, orders, and money were coming from, while enlarging the scope of our investigation if our targets met other suspect individuals. While we could never hope to have a complete picture of, say, a terrorist organization, it drove home the fact that contemporary terrorist groups tend to be complex and use many fronts to achieve their objectives.

Fast-forward more than a decade, and I find myself once again attempting to establish a picture of another entity that, in some but radically different ways, also threatens society. This time, my endeavors were prompted by the campaign against amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code, which would legalize same-sex unions in Taiwan, and the disgraceful actions of many participants at the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance rally on Nov. 30 against same-sex marriage.

What drove me to pursue the matter was the fact that the most sustained and strident opponents of homosexual unions in Taiwan were individuals who were closely associated with Christian churches here. The deeper I dug, the clearer it became that ordinary Taiwanese either didn’t care one way or another, or in fact supported the amendment (about 53%). Those who were vocal in their opposition overwhelmingly belonged to Christian churches, and their ideology sounded oddly similar to that which one encounters in the most conservatives of U.S. (southern) states. In other words, despite claims by the Alliance that homosexuality and same-sex marriage were “Western imports,” it was becoming increasingly evident that the real foreign imports were in fact their intolerant views and the arguments they used to “warn” society about the ills that would befall it should 972 be amended.

I have now spent weeks “link analyzing” the Alliance, and have made some of my findings public in previous articles on the subject. The more I delve into this, the more I am reminded of loose organizations like al-Qaeda (disclaimer: I do not intend to imply that the Alliance is a terrorist organization; the analogy refers strictly to structure). Those who have taken the lead in Taiwan opposing same-sex unions — and interestingly, in spearheading True Love efforts to promote chastity in high-schools — are all part of a loose network whose epicenter can be traced back to ultra-rightist evangelical Christian organizations in the U.S. Many of the leading religious individuals here received training in divinity with groups like the round-the-clock prayer International House of Prayer (IHOP) and the Wagner Institute — two recurrent standouts in my research — before returning to Taiwan to spread a rigidly theistic and zero-sum version of Christianity that involves a blend of magic, cultism, and let’s be frank, homophobia.* Theirs is a spiritual battle to Christianize the world by spreading the gospel in every corner of society, from schools to the workplace, our bedrooms to government (IHOP University’s mission statement is to “equip and send out believers who love Jesus and others wholeheartedly to preach the Word, heal the sick, serve the poor, plant churches, lead worship, start houses of prayer, and proclaim the return of Jesus [my italics]). The Kingdom Revival Times, a rather useful resource, is full of news articles about IHOP members, including Jerry Chow (周吉仁), being invited to address congregations in Taiwan.

This is where the al-Qaeda analogy becomes useful. It would be invidious to accuse, say, IHOP of directly involving itself in legislative decisions in Taiwan. It doesn’t need to, as it has indoctrinated foot soldiers to do so on behalf of its doctrinaire view of the world. This is very similar to many of the terrorist organizations that sprang up all over the world following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Although most of those offshoots subscribed to al-Qaeda ideology, and many of their leaders and foot soldiers had at some point received training in al-Qaeda camps, al-Qaeda central had little direct say over what those organizations did. Most of the time, their actions served al-Qaeda’s grand purpose, though admittedly they sometimes undermined the cause. Regardless, the loose structure of the “alliance” made establishing a full picture of the constellation a near impossibility. 

On a smaller scale, the same can be said of the overlapping evangelical Christian organizations across the U.S. that advocate hardline views on homosexuality, abortion, and “intelligent design” (creationism), which extend tentacles in government, courthouses, universities, and the media.

This structure is now being replicated in Taiwan, and I suspect, across Asia. And as in the U.S., they have been recruiting wealthy individuals and government officials in positions of influence to push policies that ill reflect the wishes of the moderate majority. There is now in Taiwan a cross-pollinating (no pun intended) constellation of Christian churches and bible study centers that recruit, train, and indoctrinate Taiwanese, who are then encouraged to spread the gospel. Conduct Google searches on almost any of them or their leaders — the Bread of Life Christian Church, Agape Christian Church, Top Church, New Life (yes, Ted Haggard), Impact Bible School, Asia for Jesus, “Workplace House of Prayer” — and you will eventually unearth connections to IHOP, Wagner, and other religious organizations that all share the characteristics of cults.

Despite the relatively small number of its members, this loose alliance tends to punch above its weight, perhaps because of the tendency of society and governments to bend over backwards to make sure we show no disrespect to religion (in fact I suspect that this may be one of the reasons why police officers stood by on Nov. 30 as Alliance members blocked and surrounded proponents of same-sex marriage in a public space). Those groups have infiltrated the halls of government and our schools, encouraging high-school children to sign a pledge to chastity until marriage (science demonstrates that such efforts have failed miserably) or forcing upon them literature on the alleged dangers of homosexual unions. Such efforts will only intensify as the groups further consolidate their presence in Taiwan.

Scary stuff.

* I doubt that organizations like IHOP would be able to indoctrinate Taiwanese minds to the same extent as, say, in Uganda, where their rhetoric has reached levels of encouraging people to kill homosexuals. Among other things, their reach in Taiwan is hampered by socio-economic conditions, not to mention education levels, that differ markedly from those seen in countries like Uganda, where missionary and humanitarian work serve as the entry point to proselytizing. It is difficult to imagine Taiwanese, even those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, being receptive to calls to kill homosexuals or imprison them for life. Limitations notwithstanding, cultish groups like IHOP can do severe harm to modern societies like Taiwan by spreading intolerance and irrationalism. 

NEW! A Chinese version of this article is available here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Can a China-Russia axis bankrupt the US?

Russia and China have studied the end of the Cold War and how the US ultimately defeated the USSR by bankrupting it. They may now seek to repay the US in kind 

According to Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev, 2013 was “a year of harvest” for Sino-Russian relations. It was also a year of new lows for the countries’ relations with the West — and from the look of it, things could get worse in 2014. 

Much has been said in recent years about how two difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a sagging economy cut the U.S. at the knees and created space for China. During this same period, China was enjoying double-digit economic growth and a relatively stable security environment, emerging as a hegemon in Asia. As the U.S. was struggling to extricate itself from, and was pouring billions of dollars into, unwinnable wars, Beijing was reaping the benefits of its “peaceful rise” by building its economy, resolving longstanding territorial disputes with neighbors, consolidating ties with smaller powers within the region, and neutralizing Taiwan as a potential source of armed conflict. 

Thus, when China began flexing its muscles in the East and South China Seas, Beijing was not cowed by the U.S. “pivot,” or “rebalancing,” to Asia. 

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The perpetrator as victim (中文 link at bottom)

A new era of White Terror and Martial Law has descended upon Taiwan, which is preventing Christian organizations from saying what they want. Think again

Now that the follies of the predominantly Christian right-led efforts to block same-sex unions in Taiwan have been exposed, and as proponents to Article 972 of the Civil Code push back against such fundamentalism, extremist preachers and their followers are doing the predictable thing — they claim they are the victims.

After months of efforts to block the amendment, supported by speeches at the Legislative Yuan, commercials, sermons, and rallies, the constellation of religious groups that argued that same-sex marriage (a “foreign export”) would undermine the moral fabric of society, destroy families, spread AIDS, confuse children, encourage orgies, condone bestiality, facilitate incest and what not, the same organizations are now whining that their religious freedoms and freedom of expression are under attack. In fact, in the past week, some leading figures in the “anti” camp have decried the emergence of a new “White Terror” and Martial Law targeted specifically at them.

I need not even go into explaining how insulting such claims are to the thousands of Taiwanese who were killed, disappeared, and jailed during the KMT’s White Terror and Martial Law era, real crimes for which there is ample documentation. What I do intend to address is the tendency among fundamentalist religious groups to play victim whenever religious moderates and secular members of society tell them they’ve gone too far.

If claims that Christians in Taiwan are facing Martial Law were true, the state apparatus would terrorize and imprison them for their religious beliefs. It would shut down their churches, prevent the distribution of religious propaganda, and preachers would be forced underground. That is clearly not what is happening in Taiwan. Quite the contrary: a religious minority in a largely Buddhist/Taoist society has succeeded in taking the lead on matters of personal sexual freedoms and the legalization of same-sex unions. Such has been their freedom that the Churches that are spearheading efforts to kill the 972 amendment have been able to strike alliances with the most radical of Evangelical Christian cults in the U.S., such as the International House of Prayer, which eagerly awaits the apocalypse. (For more on IHOP's deranged ideology, watch this video.)

IHOP, which now has a presence in Taoyuan, is just one example; the Bread of Life Christian Church in Taipei (a magachurch with more than 4,000 followers), which recently attracted a lot of attention after sermons by Kuo Mei-jiang (郭美江), formerly of the Agape Christian Church in East Bay, California, were made public on the Internet, is another one. I am only beginning to piece together the ties between Bread of Life and the ultra-rightist Christian sects in the U.S. that have served as a breeding ground for such advocates in Taiwan. Pastor Hsu Hsin-min (徐心敏), a member of the faculty at the Agape Taoyuan Leadership Institute, to which Kuo is attached, is linked to IHOP in Kansas City. Pastor Lee Tian-hui (李天惠), another faculty at the institute, received training at the Wagner Institute, as did Hsu. (Peter Wagner of the Wagner Institute wholeheartedly recommends IHOP. Among other things, Wagner offers courses in spiritual warfare, strategy and protocol for dominion, and divine healing.) And as I reported earlier, a foundation run by HTC Chairperson Cher Wang (王雪紅), a regular at the Bread of Life Church, sponsored a visit to Taiwan by a IHOP leader in October this year, and is believed to have sponsored training sessions for Taiwanese at IHOP in the U.S. (Interestingly, both IHOP and the Agape Institute are located in Jhongli.)

One thing that Bread of Life, Agape, and IHOP all have in common is their abhorrence of homosexuality, which they regard as a sin, and the unscientific — in fact libelous — rhetoric they have used to make their case against same-sex marriage.

Those organizations crossed a line when they left the confines of their churches and sought to impose their religious views on Taiwan’s 23 million people, including the approximately 2.3 million citizens who are homosexual. Taiwanese and this author have nothing against what Christians do in their churches during Sunday mass; they can speak in tongues and ululate, they can believe that diamondsfall from the sky, or perform exorcisms all they want, and people will let them do that, however disturbing this all is (if you ask me, such displays of mass hysteria worry me a whole lot more than gay men and women who one day a year parade down the streets of Taipei wearing little more than a thong). But when those people turn to “magic” and “clouds” and imaginary swords to “heal” homosexuals, and especially when they use hate language and repression to tell other people how they should lead their lives and who they should love, and when those groups pressure the government to adopt legislation that mirrors their extremist religious values, then they’ve gone too far and should expect a backlash.

And they should not be surprised when society responds unkindly to claims that are entirely based on fantasy and hatred. As Michelle Goldberg writes in Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, “Evidence doesn’t mean the same for the Christian nationalists as it does for others. After all, they’ve already rejected materialistic naturalism — they’ve already rejected science — as the basis for knowledge. The kind of results they’re after can’t be quantified.”   

Nevertheless, when moderates and the secular make countervailing claims, extremist Christians claim their freedom of expression, their religious views, are under assault.  Those who used hate language and who spread fear among the public are the victims; those whose rights to form a family are being denied, or whose existence is tarnished by slander, are the perpetrators.

Perhaps Richard Dawkins put it best in his book The God Delusion when he wrote that “in criticism of religion even clarity ceases to be a virtue and sounds like aggressive hostility.” Somehow when criticizing claims made in the name of religion, however wild and disconnected from reality, people should be polite and self-censor.

There is one perpetrator in this conflict, and it is the constellation of fundamentalist Christian churches and their followers in government who subscribe to the entirely unscientific poppycock that allowing same-sex marriage would destroy society. They are the ones who would deny others certain rights that they, the perpetrators, already enjoy. Nobody is trying to take anything from them. (Photo by the author)

NEW! A Chinese version of this article is available here.

Joining TheNewsLens, and a few clarifications about the role of the KMT in anti-same-sex-marriage movement

Soon after “retiring” from the Taipei Times last month, I was approached by TheNewsLens, an online news startup based here in Taiwan, and asked if I would be willing to provide occasional articles for them. My first contribution, 下一代幸福聯盟」背後的藏鏡人是誰?— a Chinese-language translation of “Who is behind the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance?” — is available here. I sat down with the co-founders of the site last week, and the guys have a lot of good ideas for a product that shows great promise. I encourage you to visit it.

This gives me an occasion to provide a few needed clarifications about some of my claims in “Who is behind the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance?” Since its publication last week, a few critics have come forth and accused me of playing politics by singling out the KMT. It should be pretty clear from my years of writing about politics in Taiwan that I categorically refuse to regard the KMT, and the government, as monoliths. Consequently, a close reading of my piece should demonstrate that the individuals I mention who are associated with the KMT and the anti-same-sex movement, which itself appears to be led by the Christian right, do not stand for the KMT as a whole. Rather, as the factor of Christian nationalism in U.S. politics has made very clear (see Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg), if they are to have any impact on policy, religious groups from the right must recruit, or strike alliances with, legislators and officials in the ruling party, or with the party whose ideology is closest and most amenable to theirs. It goes without saying that not everybody in the KMT agrees with what the rightist Christian organizations are advocating. There are countervailing forces, and in fact there are many KMT members who support same-sex marriages, as there are members of the DPP who oppose amending regulations that would permit such unions.

I am well past launching parochial attacks on a single political party. But we must also be clear-eyed when it comes to rightist — and in this case alien — Christian organizations’ efforts to impact policies on matters pertaining to homosexuality, abstinence, abortion, and contraception. With the DPP a less than effective political force at the moment, it’s only normal that politicized Christian groups would seek influential allies within the ruling party.

Now on to TheNewsLens’ press release:

TAIPEI (Dec. 10, 2013)—, Taiwan’s fastest growing news website, is creating an international advisory board that will draw on some of the journalism world’s best-known figures. Joey Chung, co-founder and chief executive of, said the advisory board will provide counsel and advice to the editorial and business teams that have over the last six months helped the site to grow to almost one and a half million monthly unique visitors. The first two members of the advisory board are Marcus Brauchli, the former executive editor of The Washington Post and a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, and Sasa Vucinic, the founder and former chief executive of the Media Development Loan Fund (now known as the Media Development Investment Fund) that was started with the cooperation of George Soros’s Open Society Institute. “Marcus and Sasa have agreed to help me and our editor in chief and co-founder, Mario Yang, think about some of the challenges of managing a fast-growing, independent news product,” Chung said. “Not only that’s ambition to become the leading independent news source in Taiwan, both through aggregation and original content, makes a great deal of sense,” said Vucinic, who as head of MDLF was involved in backing more than 80 news projects in 20-plus countries over the last 20 years, "it is also executed in impressively innovative way". “As a longtime visitor to Taiwan, I’m pleased to have the chance to work with the entrepreneurial team at in building out what promises to be a genuinely ambitious and innovative new platform for news,” said Brauchli, who was a correspondent in Asia for nearly 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s. Brauchli and Vucinic also will become’s first outside strategic investors. Both Brauchli and Vucinic already have visited with the team at, and they will be back regularly, Chung said. He said he plans to invite others onto the board soon.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cyber attacks enter fray in Taiwan same-sex marriage battle

Once again, people who purport to stand for ‘love’ and ‘morality’ are resorting to undemocratic tactics to silence their opponents

Rather than encourage debate about the pros and cons of legalizing same-sex marriage, recent efforts in Taiwan to amend Article 972 of the Civil Code, which would open the door for such unions, have led one side — its opponents — to adopt scorched-earth policies that leave little doubt as to the possibility of rational discussions on the subject.

Spearheaded by what appears to be the fundamentalist religious Christian right, opponents of same-sex marriage showed their true colors on November 30 with a mass rally in Taipei, during which supporters of same-sex unions were blocked, hounded, pursued, surrounded and encircled by members of the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance. Despite its claims of being a civic organization, it was evident to anyone who attended the rally that the whole affair was orchestrated and financed by a constellation of Christian organizations, possibly, as I highlighted in a previous article, with the assistance of wealthy individuals and well-placed government officials of the conservative slant.

What was also made clear during the rally was that members of the Alliance weren’t there to engage in discussion. Those who didn’t “fit,” or anyone who overtly supported same-sex marriage, were either refused access to the venue, or were met by creepy stares and silence, something that I witnessed on multiple occasions.

Following the Nov. 30 event, the Alliance and Christian Churches launched a propaganda campaign to downplay the incidents and discredit their critics, while continuing to rely on mystical formulations and downright lies to back their claim that legalizing same-sex marriage would harm families, undermine social stability, bring disease, and encourage a multiplicity of sexual deviancies.

As if this weren’t enough, a series of cyber attack have been launched against sites where people can sign an online petition calling on the government to pass the amendments to Article 972. We have every reason to believe that the Alliance — which prior to Nov. 30 had launched its own petition (at this writing, 625,115 people have signed it, or 375,000 short of its goal of 1 million) — was behind those acts of electronic warfare.

According to sources who are in charge of the petitions, the attacks started on Dec. 10 with action that paralyzed the petition system on the Academics in Support of Marriage Equality (學界支持婚姻平權) Web site. After intervention by the organizers, the site resumed operations in the evening. The site was the object of renewed attacks the next day, once again forcing suspension of the petition.

Later on Dec, 11, the Students Behind Gay Marriage (力挺同性婚姻學生) and the Teachers’ Support for Marriage Equality (基層教師支持婚姻平權) Web sites were also attacked, paralyzing the petition systems. The petitions on all three sites were then temporarily closed from December 11 and were reactivated on Dec. 13. Organizers of the petition have since implemented anti-hacking security measures and are using a countersigning mechanism to authenticate the backed up signatures.   

Much as during the shameful incidents that I and other observers documented on Nov. 30, the cyber attacks are another indication that the largely Christian groups that are spearheading the campaign against legalizing same-sex unions are not interested in rational debate. In fact, they will do everything they can to deny their opponents the voice that is guaranteed them in a democratic society, all of this in the name of “love” and “morality.” (Photo by the author) 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Taiwan showcases AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters

Taiwan received the first six of 30 Boeing AH-64E Apache “Guardian” attack helicopters ordered from the U.S.

Military enthusiasts in Taiwan had reason to rejoice on December 13. The Republic of China Army (ROCA) held an official ceremony at an Army base in Greater Tainan, Southern Taiwan, for the delivery of the first six of 30 Boeing AH-64E Apache “Guardian” attack helicopters ordered from the U.S.

For those who follow military developments on this side of the Taiwan Strait, the introduction of a new combat platform was a welcome change after years of seeing the same weapons systems operate during military exercises, a stark contrast with all the action that has been observed within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the Chinese side.

Pilots pose for photos in Tainan
The six AH-64Es, delivered on November 4, were part of a $6.4 billion arms package notified to U.S. Congress in 2008. The second delivery is expected in early 2014, with all 30 set to enter service in the Army by the end of 2014. The Apache helicopters accounted for $2.53 billion of the total arms package (the notification also included 1,000 AGM-114L Hellfire missiles and 66 M299 Hellfire Longbow missile launchers).

Taiwan, which had initially ordered the AH-64D Block III under the Tian Ying, or “Sky Eagle” program, was the first international client for the Guardian model, which attained initial operating capability (IOC) in the U.S. Army in November 2013.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photos by the author)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who is behind the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance? (中文 link at bottom)*

Big money is, along with KMT members who all have a Christian sect in common

Not long after two Chinese-language translations of my article “A feast of hatred” began circulating in Taiwan, opponents of legal amendments that would legalize same-sex unions came out guns blazing, claiming that I had been critical of a large “save the family” event on November 30 because I was — and always had been — “against religion.” 

As is usually the case when it comes to debate on the social and moral impact of allowing marriage between individuals of the same sex, its opponents had very little to offer in terms of pithy argument, hence the claims about my alleged abhorrence of organized religion. This was an interesting admission on the part of my detractors, as the Nov. 30 mass rally on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei was supposedly a non-religious affair, an expression of civil society.

Now, here’s where I stand on religion. I’m baptized, have received first communion, and as a child I went to church every Sunday. I became an agnostic in my teens, and by adult age I had become a convinced atheist. None of this by any means implies that I am against religion, only that based on my understanding of science, philosophy and history, I see no evidence for the necessity of a Creator. Nor do I need an organized religion to teach me about love, good values, or how to lead my life. I am therefore perfectly fine with other people making different choices as to how they regard the origins, meaning, and future of life, and I have nothing against people willingly spending their free time in houses of worship.

However, I have problems when religious organizations seek to impose their views on others, and when they use their wealth and power to influence legislation in a way that will impinge upon the rights of others. And what I saw in the lead-up to and on Nov. 30 was exactly that, which I described in two articles available here and here.

And since my accuser brought up the subject of religion, let me jump in and shed a little more light on the role that organized religion played in the matter.

First of all, one needn’t look very far to see the hands of Christian organizations all over the protest. Although organizers had asked participants to minimize the religious symbols, the hundreds of buses that had spirited the protesters to the site were all clearly identified by congregation (followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church did not heed the call and wore their blazons. Moon refers to homosexuals as "dung-eating dogs"). Moreover, most of the 100,000 to 300,000 people who took part in the rally knew the songs that were being blasted on stage, and those were songs of a religious nature. Others downright broke into prayer, sometimes over homosexuals in ostensible need of “healing.”

Even more incriminating were the Web sites of prominent Christian congregations in Taiwan, such as the Bread of Life Church, which prominently displayed propaganda, videos, sermons, and links supporting a signature drive against same-sex unions and encouraged people to come out on Nov. 30. In effect, they made little secret of where they stood on the issue, and in fact were very much involved in mobilizing their members against amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code. All of them led to the Taiwan Family organization that spearheaded the campaign against the legalization of same-sex unions and which bought half-front-page ads in Taiwan’s four top newspapers, for a total sum of about NT$5 million (US$170,000), days ahead of the protest.

From the slick videos, newspaper ads, and the rental of top-notch video and sound equipment for the event on Nov. 30, it become evident that another factor is at play in the campaign against the legalization of same-sex unions: money.

One sect that warrants close scrutiny is the aforementioned Bread of Life Church, which openly opposes same-sex marriage. The Bread of Life Christian Church in Taipei Web site more specifically contains a substantial amount of propaganda against same-sex unions. And money? Well, it doesn’t hurt when some of your followers happen to be among the wealthiest individuals in Taiwan.

Among them is HTC chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅) — the wealthiest woman in Taiwan — who according to a testimony published in the Gospel Herald, is a very devout Christian who found God and attributes her immense success to His will. A few years ago, Wang and her husband Chen Wen-chi (陳文琦), CEO of the Taipei-based VIA Technologies Inc and a born-again Christian, founded the Faith, Hope and Love Foundation. The foundation, which has done a lot of good work supporting retirement homes, also aims to promote the gospel. According to EDN Network, Wang and Chen decided to donate “any profits from their shares to [the] organization.” Based on an entry on the VIA Technologies Web site, the foundation started with capital of NT$30 million.

Now none of this proves that Ms. Wang or Mr. Chen, who converted to the Faith at Wang’s prodding, had anything to do with the protest on Nov. 30, or the media campaign that preceded it, or that the Foundation provided money to finance the front-page ads, videos, or rally. What is known, however — and this is where things get interesting — is that the foundation sponsored a four-day event at the International House of Prayer in Jhongli, Taoyuan County, Oct. 9-12, during which David Sliker, a Senior Leader at the International House of Prayer, Kansas City, was invited to speak. IHOP is well known in the U.S. for the extremism of its religious views and the vitriol of its claims, which have sometimes been likened to those espoused by the Westborough Baptist Church. And when it comes to homosexuality, IHOP founder Mike Bickle has gone on record saying that all forms of sexual activity outside the Covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful.

In a May 2, 2013, blog entry, Sliker turned to gay marriage and had several interesting things to say. Among them: “Here’s the problem with gay marriage: there is no such thing. It doesn’t exist.” Or, “marriage is not a man-made institution; thus man has no right to define, redefine, or transform what God has ordained and established sovereignly. Marriage is from God, belongs to God, and is a prophetic declaration that He wants to make to the human race about His relationship with us.” And, “Marriage, however, falls outside of the boundaries of debate and human ‘rights.’ No one has a [sic] intrinsic ‘right’ to redraw boundaries that God Himself has drawn and defined.”

It doesn’t take long to realize the irony in the claim by the organizers of the Nov. 30 protest that homosexuality and same-sex marriage was a foreign export, an attempt to meddle in the affairs of Taiwanese society. Taiwanese with substantial financial means are paying big money to bring outside homophobic preachers into Taiwan to “enlighten” people here (more on this here).

Let me reiterate that none of this proves Wang’s involvement in any of this. For now, all of this is circumstantial. Nevertheless, the nexus of religious intolerance and big money is a worrying factor and can be detrimental to democracy. That a Christian minority could hold a predominantly Buddhist society hostage on the issue of same-sex unions through intimidation, money, power and access to politicians (through political and campaign donations) is something that Taiwan’s 23 million people should ponder carefully. Incidentally, Wang publicly announced her support for the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) during the 2012 elections. 

Among key KMT figures who have come out opposing same-sex marriage or who participated in the Nov. 30 rally are Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien (王建煊), a Christian, and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who while he isn’t a Christian himself, has frequently brushed elbows with Bread of Life ministers in recent years, from prayer session when he was running for mayor to the opening of a daycare center at the Xihu MRT station operated … yes, by the Bread of Life Church. Unsurprisingly, Hau came out in late November arguing in an editorial that Taiwanese were not ready for “for such diverse family formations.”

Oh, and who has been giving sermons at the Shilin branch of the Bread of Life Christian Church? You guessed it: the same Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien.

Ms. Wang has not made her views public on the matter. But as someone who has made a fortune selling cell phones to Taiwanese (approximately 10 percent of her customers are homosexuals), as a member of the Bread of Life Church, and as the head of a foundation that brought to Taiwan a preacher from an extremist Christian organization that militates against homosexuality, it would be very interesting to hear what she has to say about the proposed legislation and the unfortunate actions of the Alliance on Nov. 30. 

At this writing, an e-mail request for comment from Ms. Wang has gone unanswered. (Photo by the author)

NEW! A Chinese-language version of this article is available here.

* A few clarifications about some of my claims. Since its publication, a few critics have come forth and accused me of playing politics by singling out the KMT. It should be pretty clear from my years of writing about politics in Taiwan that I categorically refuse to regard the KMT, and the government, as monoliths. Consequently, a close reading of my piece should demonstrate that the individuals I mention who are associated with the KMT and the anti-same-sex movement, which itself appears to be led by the Christian right, do not stand for the KMT as a whole. Rather, as the factor of Christian nationalism in U.S. politics has made very clear (see Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg), if they are to have any impact on policy, religious groups from the right must recruit, or strike alliances with, legislators and officials in the ruling party, or with the party whose ideology is closest and most amenable to theirs. It goes without saying that not everybody in the KMT agrees with what the rightist Christian organizations are advocating. There are countervailing forces, and in fact there are many KMT members who support same-sex marriages, as there are members of the DPP who oppose amending regulations that would permit such unions.

I am well past launching parochial attacks on a single political party. But we must also be clear-eyed when it comes to rightist — and in this case alien — Christian organizations’ efforts to impact policies on matters pertaining to homosexuality, abstinence, abortion, and contraception. With the DPP a less than effective political force at the moment, it’s only normal that politicized Christian groups would seek influential allies within the ruling party.

So much for Human Rights Day

Perhaps the Ma administration should spend a few NT dollars re-educating its officials on Democracy and Human Rights 101

By a chilly Dec. 10 day, the skies over Taipei covered in a thick pall of particulates from China, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) once again waxed philosophical about the benefits of peace and human rights in a speech held to coincide with international human rights day. Outside in the real world, his administration would once again remind us that action, not mere rhetoric, will ensure that everybody’s human rights are respected.

Where to begin...? Just as Ma was delivering his speech, a 37-year-old Vietnamese woman who had married to a Taiwanese in Keelung was seeing her Republic of China (ROC) citizenship revoked after it was revealed that she had had an extramarital affair. Citing Article 19 of the Nationality Act, the Ministry of the Interior determined that her actions constituted a failure to demonstrate her “good character.”  (Working in a hostess bar and engaging in criminal activity are other types of misbehavior that can lead to the cancellation of a naturalized citizen’s citizenship in Taiwan.) Under the current law, which legislators have been dragging their feet trying to revise, foreigners who obtain ROC citizenship must demonstrate their “good morals” over the subsequent five years, or risk seeing their citizenship revoked.

Of course, Taiwan’s race-based concept of citizenship means that the requirements for “good morals” do not apply to ROC citizens. After all, the philandering — pardon, “good morals” — of Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源), the man who heads the very ministry that is threatening to strip the woman of her citizenship, is very well known to the public.

As she had forsaken her Vietnamese citizenship, the woman, who arrived in Taiwan eight years ago, now finds herself stateless. As do her two young daughters.

But more clouds hung over Taiwan on that fateful day. Later in the afternoon, a small group of individuals from the Black Island Youth Alliance, along with academics, activists and friends, gathered in front of the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office to show their support for Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Wei Yang (魏揚). The pair had recently been indicted for violations to the (antiquated) Assembly and Parade Act during a July 31 protest against the controversial cross-strait services trade agreement outside the Legislative Yuan, a protest organized after members of the organization were barred from attending public hearings for the agreement.

Wei being hospitalized following a motorcycle accident in late November — which he blamed on fatigue after following ARATS Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) around — his mother, Yang Cui (楊翠), filled in for him.

A mother speaks out
In a brief speech prior to going into the prosecutors office, Yang, a professor at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, pointed out the irony of serving as emcee for President Ma during human rights day just last year (her grandfather, a famous writer, was a victim of 228 and the white terror). One year later, here she was, standing in the cold outside the prosecutors’ office, defending her son’s actions.

Besides her, legal experts and activists held placards detailing how Article 29 of the Assembly and Parade Act (“where an assembly or a parade is not dispersed after an order to disperse by the competent authority is given, and is still in progress in disobedience of an order to stop, the chief violator shall be subject to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years”) violated the two U.N. covenants signed by Taiwan, a fact that the Ma administration has itself acknowledged but refuses to amend or strike out altogether.

Ma having requested that all hearings about the services trade agreement be completed by the end of this year, we should expect more “violations” to the Law over the coming weeks as activists continue to pressure the government. Need more irony? Criminals like Chang An-le (張安樂) walk freely, but student activists like Lin and Wei (and many others) are indicted and must fight in the courts…

As if this wasn’t enough, an official from the Water Resources Agency sent out to meet protesters in the morning who were calling on the WRA to prevent a foreign wind turbine firm (InfraVest) from continuing construction along coastal areas in Miaoli County showed nothing but contempt for people’s right to protest and to assemble. After grabbing the microphone (this from the account of someone who was present at the scene) the official all but said that the demonstrators were able to hold their protest because the government had allowed it. As if protests were not a democratic right, but government charity. Perhaps the Ma administration should spend a few NT dollars re-educating its officials on Democracy and Human Rights 101.

Human rights are everyday matters, not just vague concepts and words thrown about by state leaders on human rights day. While Taiwan’s human rights situation is far, far better than in many other places within the region, there is reason to worry. There are ample signs of regression, and if nobody does anything about it, it will get worse. (Photos by the author)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Militarization of the Arctic heats up, Russia takes the lead

Arctic states have begun rebuilding their military forces and capabilities in order to operate in the region

As the world’s attention is focused on a swath of territory in the East China Sea that now falls under Beijing’s surprise Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), other countries are making preparations to raise the stakes in a much larger region where the stakes could be even higher — the Arctic.

Leading the race in bolstering its presence in the area, where the world’s largest reserves of untapped hydrocarbon resources are believed to lie, is Russia. Moscow announced on December 2 that its navy would make the arctic a priority region in 2014.
According to Vadim Serga, a spokesman for the Northern Fleet’s Western Military District, a new series of ice-class patrol ships will be developed to boost the Russian Navy’s ability to protect its interests in the region. This followed news in early November that the Russian military was planning to form a squadron of ice-breaking warships by 2014 and that infantry forces would be provided with new equipment to increase their ability to conduct combat operations in the region.
My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Law-enforcement matters: the 972 protest incidents

Saturday’s protest should have been strictly about the debate over the legalization of same-sex unions. But the repeated infractions by the Alliance, and the inability of law enforcement to step in, have made it a much wider issue

I’ve already described what happened during the large protest against same-sex marriage organized on Saturday by the contradictorily named “Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance,” and will not do so again here. However, one aspect of the protest that warrants further exploration is the behavior of the Alliance’s “security” detail and the inaction of police at the scene.

It is evident that the organizers of the protest, which attracted anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people from mostly Christian groups, were hoping that media would focus their coverage on the main event, a flashy affair involving talks — monologues, as there was no room for dialogue — as well as dances, and songs. Based on foreign coverage, they were successful, as their reports and accompanying photos centered almost exclusively on that aspect of the event.

Civilians block civilians
However, some of us witnessed acts on the peripheries that rose serious questions about the organizers and the state’s ability to safeguard the rights of all of its citizens. While the Alliance has since accused reporters like me of unduly magnifying the “isolated” incidents, the frequency with which they occurred, along with signs of careful orchestration and premeditation, point to something more worrisome.

The so-called “isolated” incidents took place early on outside the National Library, at the main site of the protest, and on Zhongshan Road near National Taiwan University Hospital. In every one of them, civilian members of the Alliance bearing a special red armband (糾察隊), chased, blocked and surrounded dozens of supporters of same-sex unions, locking arms and forming lines or circles around them to prevent their movement. In many instances, several men surrounded a single female protester.

'Security' lines up outside the National Library
There were hundreds of them, with leaders using electronic communication to liaise with other “security” staff and, when necessary, to call for reinforcement. The process by which the personnel were selected remains a mystery, so there is no way for us to know whether all staff was qualified for the job. Moreover, the great majority of the “security” personnel wore baseball caps as well as surgical masks, which made it nearly impossible to identify them. When challenged, all of them would remain silent.

I’ve been to several dozen protests in the past 18 months, and most of them had personnel who bore clear identification and whose responsibility it was to ensure orderly protests and prevent their members from getting into trouble with police, get hit by traffic, or littering. In other words, their sole responsibility was to contain their own people.

A civilian is prevented access on Zhongshan Road
The Alliance’s “security” staff, however, went well beyond that remit and assumed the role of police officers by going after people who did not belong in their group. Faced with criticism, organizers have argued that the Alliance had secured the right to protest in the area and that its “security” staff were merely ensuring that outsiders didn’t crash their party. In fact, according to the Alliance, they had received information prior to November 30 that “some people” were planning to cause disturbances during the protest. Of course, where that information came from, whether it was credible, and the identity of the would-be troublemakers, have not been made public. Given the lies and fabrications to which the Alliance has resorted to make its case against same-sex unions in past weeks, it is difficult to take its claims about the alleged disturbances seriously.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that as groups of Alliance “security” guards hounded, blocked, and surrounded people in a public space, dozens of police officers looked on and did absolutely nothing. Early in the protest, however, Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officers were seen filming a small gathering of supporters of same-sex unions on the steps of the National Library with their hand-held cameras. Their failure to intervene when, on dozens of occasions, a minority was denied its freedom of movement on a public road by civilians who were breaking the law was an abdication of responsibility for which the National Police Administration must be made accountable.

Only law-enforcement officers, who are accountable to government agencies and ultimately to the public, have the right — and training — to block people from accessing certain areas. Granted, there are abuses, but at least when they occur we know whom to turn to with our complaints. But no: they stood by, looked on, and allowed civilians from a religious organization to target people from a minority. Surely, if the problem was one of numbers, police at the scene could have called for backup. After all, the action was taking place in a part of town where several government agencies, including the Presidential Office, are located.

Cop looks on, does nothing
A greater irony was the fact that several of the police officers present had, in earlier protests, not hesitated to remove civilians or to deny them access to certain areas. In fact, as a dozen men pushed down and surrounded a scrawny boy in the middle of the crowd, one senior cop was standing nearby and did nothing. On July 18, that very same cop had pushed this writer with force during a protest in front of the Presidential Office against forced demolitions in Dapu, Miaoli County, and screamed at him that he should leave the scene because “this is not your country.” It was okay for him, in a moment of anger, surely, to issue such xenophobic comments, but when it came to protecting civilians from his own country against groups of individuals who infringed upon his freedom of movement, he did absolutely nothing.

One overarching principle in democratic systems is that law-enforcement agencies act under clear and predictable rules of engagement. Lines are clearly drawn, and whenever those lines are crossed, transgressors know what to expect. When enforcement becomes unpredictable, instability ensues. (Interestingly, randomness is also an instrument used by law enforcement agencies in authoritarian systems to keep opponents guessing.) Selective intervention, furthermore, invites speculation about the politicization of law enforcement. Was the state siding with the Alliance? Was it discriminating against homosexuals? Probably not; but Saturday’s victims need answers.

Saturday’s protest should have been strictly about the debate over the legalization of same-sex unions. But the repeated infractions by the Alliance, and the inability of law enforcement to step in, have made it a much wider issue. (Photos by the author)

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Taiwan Rural Front spokeswoman Frida Tsai hit by car in Miaoli

The outspoken critic of government-sanctioned evictions and home demolitions around the nation is the latest victim in a part of the country where odd coincidences are rife

TRF spokeswoman Frida Tsai (蔡培慧) yesterday was hit by a car after attending the reopening of a coffee shop in Miaoli County and remains under close observation at hospital.

Tsai, who spearheaded a campaign of protests in recent months against nation-wide forced evictions and the impact of a controversial cross-strait services trade agreement, was hit head-on by a minivan at about 6pm on Saturday as she was crossing at an intersection. She had just attended the reopening of the Zhunan Café, the site of organizing activities by activists opposing home demolitions in Dapu which had been closed after its windows were twice broken by unidentified individuals.

Tsai at a protest in early October
Tsai sustained a cranial fracture and had brain hemorrhage, and is now in the intensive care unit at Cheng Gong Hospital in Linkou (林口), where she has been in and out of consciousness. According to a statement on the TRF Facebook page, Tsai underwent an emergency operation overnight and her condition was stable.

Miaoli police have detained the driver of the vehicle, and the TRF is calling for witnesses. Police and prosecutors in the central county have a rather deplorable reputation when it comes to resolving crime. The authorities have yet to establish whether this was an accident or something more troubling.

Of course, all of this can be mere coincidence. But this is Miaoli, known for the mysterious “suicides” of Mr. Chang Sen-wen (張森文) in September, exactly two months after his home and pharmacy were demolished, and that of four local government officials since County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hong (劉政鴻) assumed the position in 2006. Three of the four men were involved with environmental impact and land issues, also a coincidence, especially amid efforts by Liu and his family to attract large investment with science parks and other projects, from which they could make substantial benefits (the other was a driver for Liu). In some cases, the families of the victims were unable to see the autopsy reports.

It’s also probably a complete coincidence that the Chang family, which for years resisted the demolition plans, was often threatened by individuals who visited their pharmacy to flash their firearms. Or that Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), one of the lead student protesters and the author of the direct “shoe hit” against Liu on September 18, was “warned” a few months ago to be “careful” as gangsters were watching him. 

All the more reason for law-enforcement authorities to take a close look into Saturday's incident.

Let us all hope that Tsai, the latest victim in a land of coincidences, makes a full and speedy recovery. (Photos by the author)