Monday, June 30, 2014

Setting the Terms of Rationality

In the wars for hearts and minds, governments often set the parameters of legitimacy by effectively masking the arbitrariness of their arguments. The Ma Ying-jeou government has turned this into an art 

The term has been used with such abandon in recent years that it has virtually lost all meaning. Whether it’s the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), their opponents are all too often described as “irrational.” Tibetans who refuse cultural subjugation, Chinese human rights activists, residents of Hong Kong who are running out of patience on universal suffrage, Taiwanese who refuse to be forced out of their homes or Sunflower activists who take action to defend their democracy — all have been relegated to a category of people who, according to the authorities, belong in a mental asylum. 

The terms “irrational” and its healthier counterpart “rational” are, to put it simply, rather subjective. It is easy to see that in any hierarchical system, accusations of irrationality by those in power are a tempting and effective means to discredit their opponents. But who sets the parameters, and under what circumstances, are key to understanding what the term means, or whether it means anything at all. Whenever the stigma of “irrationality” is affixed onto an individual or group of people, especially when done repeatedly by a government, one should think of what French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu described as the mechanism of “recognition of legitimacy through the misrecognition of arbitrariness.” In other words, subject A frames the argument, sets the norm, and everything that departs from that norm is therefore illegitimate or, to put it in KMT/CCP terms, “irrational.” We all do this, often unconsciously. Evidently, this kind of linguistic hegemony can be highly problematic when it is wielded by autocratic regimes. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sunflower Leaders Denied Entry into Hong Kong

Lin Fei-fan, Chen Wei-ting and Huang Kuo-chang have seen their applications to visit Hong Kong to support activists there denied by the authorities 

As the crisis in Hong Kong intensifies amid Occupy Central and Beijing’s release of its White Paper on “One Country, Two Systems” — which in many eyes was more a warning to the territory than a mere academic exercise — an increasing number of people are finding that they are not welcome to enter the Special Administrative Region. Earlier this week, three architects of the Sunflower Movement’s occupation fell victim to that growing trend. 

The decision by Hong Kong authorities to turn back Republic of China citizens is not without precedent. In November 2013, Wu’er Kaixi, one of the Tiananmen student leaders in 1989, was denied entry as he was attempting to enter China to be reunited with his parents, whom he had not seen in more than twenty years. After a brief detention, the Uighur, one of the “most wanted” men in China, was sent back to Taiwan. Other individuals have also received similar treatment over the years as the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre approached. Most recently, Tseng Chien-yuan (曾建元), an associate professor of public administration at Chung Hua University in Hsinchu, was informed in late May that his Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents had been cancelled and was sent back to Taiwan. He was told so upon arriving in Hong Kong. (Since 2009, Hong Kong has granted holders of a Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents 30-day entry; individuals who do not own such a document must apply for an entry permit prior to their visit.) 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Neutralizing Contention: A New Policy for Taiping Island and the South China Sea

To create space between its maritime claims and Beijing’s, Taiwan should neutralize Taiping Island 

Rising tensions in the South China Sea between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and other claimants, and the militarization of those disputes, are making Taiwan’s continued sovereignty claim over the nine-dash line untenable. More than ever, as Beijing intensifies its propaganda campaign to encourage the perception that Taiwan and China are cooperating in the defense of “shared” territory and interests in the region, Taipei must present policies that clearly distinguish its aims and means from those adopted by Beijing. 

So what is to be done? The unclear or mixed signals, lack of direction, and self-contradictions that have become a staple of Taiwanese statements in recent years are no longer sufficient. Ambiguity has failed. Taipei must therefore embark on a new path by proposing concrete measures to de-conflict its relationship with other regional claimants and provide alternatives to the ongoing escalations and litigation that can only lead to catastrophe. 

Although it will be some time before Taiwan can fully abandon its claims under the nine-dash line — a legacy of the 1947 Republic of China (ROC) constitution with which it is stuck — it can nevertheless take immediate measures to show its desire to resolve ongoing disputes. One first step would be to neutralize Taiping Island (Itu Aba, 太平島). 

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ or ‘One System’

A white paper on the successes of the ‘one country, two systems’ model for Hong Kong contains the usual propaganda and a few serious warnings

China on June 10 issued its first-ever white paper on “one country, two systems” and the current state of things in Hong Kong, the former British colony that was re-unified with the Mainland in 1997. While the document contains little that is unexpected in terms of rhetoric that expounds the virtues of the system or calls for patriotism, the timing of its release — this summer promises to be eventful as activists prepare for a series of sit-ins, “unofficial” referenda and other escalatory measures in defiance of Beijing and its allies in the territory — is very telling. The unintended message of the white paper is that Beijing is worried, and that further restrictions are to be expected. There are a few lessons and warnings in there for Taiwan.

Prepared by the State Council Information Office, “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” (full text in English here and Chinese here), argues that “one country, two systems” is “not only the best solution to the Hong Kong question left over from history but also the best institutional arrangement for the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong after its return to the motherland.” First articulated by Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), the formula maintains that there is only one China — the People’s Republic of China — which operates under a socialist system (with Chinese characteristics, inevitably), while the “Chinese” territories of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan would, once “re-unified,” be able to retain their capitalist systems “over a long time to come” — not indefinitely (italics added).

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Monday, June 09, 2014

MOFA Clarifies its Stance on Joining US Missile Defense Alliance

A top foreign affairs official denies saying that there is strong ‘domestic pressure’ against Taiwan joining a regional missile defense program 

Ever since the Obama administration announced its “pivot” to Asia in the fall of 2011, the one-million-dollar-question in Taiwan has been what role, if any, the country would play in the U.S.-led multilateral effort. Within defense circles particularly, there was hope that Washington include Taiwan in its rebalancing, a move that, military considerations aside, would do much to assuage the fears of abandonment that have crept up in recent years. A role for Taiwan is therefore almost unanimously seen as desirable. 

Little wonder, then, that many Taiwan watchers were puzzled when a U.S. newspaper quoted a top Ministry of Foreign Affairs Official (MOFA) official telling his interlocutors during a visit to Washington, D.C., recently that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was facing mounting public opposition to a proposed missile defense program that could ensure a key function for Taiwan in the “pivot.” 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Why June 4 Should Matter to Taiwan

Twenty-five years of maturing as a distinct nation has made Taiwanese seemingly uninterested about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, but they ignore the lessons at their own risk 

Every year on June 4th, it is hard not to feel slightly disappointed by the small turnout at the commemoration events here in Taiwan for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) brutally cracked down on students in Beijing, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands. With this year marking the quarter-century anniversary of the Massacre, and given the political awakening sparked by the Sunflower revolution, there was reason to be optimistic and to expect a better turnout — nothing like the 180,000 who participated in the vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, mind you, but better than previous years. 

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. At most, about a thousand people gathered at Liberty Square in Taipei to commemorate the event. This year, the theme of the ceremony was “Tank Man,” a nod to the lone hero who, shopping bags in hand, faced off against a column of Type 59 tanks on Chang’an Avenue during the massacre. As I looked around on that excruciatingly hot night, I kept wondering where the Sunflowers, Taiwan’s own little Tank Men and Women, were. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

PRC-Taiwan Negotiations at a Dead-End

China continues to reject any proposal for reunification outside the 'one country, two systems' framework 

The Taiwanese referred to them as the “Seven Dwarfs.” The group, led by a former defense minister, an ex-secretary-general of the National Security Council and a former chairman of the main opposition party, proposed a new “Greater One China” framework last week that, though not uncontroversial on the island, should have appealed to Beijing. And yet, within 24 hours China had shot it down, a reminder that in the Taiwan Strait, negotiations on Taiwan’s future status are more process than substance — and may be entirely futile. 

At first glance, it looked like the effort would have some traction in Beijing as well as among those in Taiwan who favor ever-closer ties with China. After all, its chief architects included Su Chi, a former head of the National Security Council and a close confidant to President Ma Ying-jeou (who enjoys cordial ties with Beijing), as well as Hau Pei-tsun, a Kuomintang (KMT) stalwart, former premier and defense minister who has often sounded impatient about the “reunification” of Taiwan with China. 

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