Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chinese Surveillance Aircraft Enter Taiwan's ADIZ

On August 25, two separate Chinese surveillance aircraft passed through Taiwan’s ADIZ on their way to the South China Sea 

The Taiwanese Air Force scrambled combat aircraft to pursue Chinese surveillance aircraft that made four separate intrusions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) within less than 12 hours, a senior Taiwanese military official confirmed on August 26, one day after the standoff. 

According to information provided by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, the first intrusion occurred at 8:33 a.m., when a single Y-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that had taken off from Chenghai, Guangdong Province, passed through the southwestern margin of Taiwan’s ADIZ. The aircraft cruised through the zone for approximately 10 minutes at an altitude of about 22,000 feet before exiting the zone and heading for the Philippines, one of China’s principal adversaries in escalating territorial disputes over areas of the South China Sea (Taiwan is also a claimant). The Y-8 passed through the same area at 10:56 am on its return journey to China, again spending about 10 minutes in the zone. 

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

Embedded With the Sunflowers

Hsiengo Huang’s ‘The 318 Mob Exhibit’ is an up-close and personal journey into the drama, the humor, and the artistry of an unprecedented event in Taiwan’s history 

I first met Hsiengo Huang (黃謙賢) on the streets of Taipei, during a protest outside the Legislative Yuan organized by the Alliance Against Media Monster, a movement that opposed the acquisition of Next Media’s Taiwan operations by a Beijing-friendly media mogul. This was sometime in the fall of 2012. Over time, we came to recognize each other; between shots of protesters, we’d say hello, shake hands briefly, and promise each other that we’d eventually grab a coffee. Hsiengo, who years earlier had studied in Toronto, Canada, was never without his “newsboy hat” — besides his great photography, that was his signature. 

The following year, what with the series of protests, large and small, that hit the capital, gave us plenty of opportunities to get to know one another. From an after-midnight protest in front of the Presidential Office, where activists were dragged away and shoved onto police buses, to a farewell ceremony for the now-demolished Huaguang Community, we constantly ran into each other. For Hsiengo, who ran a small photo studio, this was a side activity. He, like many others, was documenting the events out of a sense of duty. 

My book review, published Aug. 26 on Thinking Taiwan, continues here. (Photo by the author; Huang is on the left.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

War in the Taiwan Strait: Would China (Still Try to) Invade Taiwan?

Carrier-killer missiles, anti-ship weapons, amphibious assaults. Asia's greatest fear—and the possibility of a great power war over Taiwan's future—is all still very possible

Beyond doubt, relations across the Taiwan Strait have improved substantially since 2008—so much so that some analysts have concluded that the course of the Taiwan “issue” will continue unimpeded and inexorably towards even greater stability, if not “reunification.” But this is all wishful thinking. 

Rapprochement has probably gone as far as it can, and whatever comes next will likely be hounded by complications, slow progress and growing opposition in Taiwan. Unable or unwilling to make any proposal for unification that has any chance of appealing to democratic Taiwan’s 23 million people, wrong footed by the rise of Taiwan’s combative civil society, and haunted by recent developments in Hong Kong, where “one country, two systems” is all but dead, China will have two options: give up on Taiwan, or use force to complete the job. Under the decisive President Xi Jinping, in the context of rising ultranationalism across China, and given the cost of “losing” Taiwan to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) credibility (at least according to Beijing’s rhetoric), it is difficult to imagine that Beijing would choose the former option. Use of force, therefore, would be the likely response, and hubristic China might well be tempted to try its luck.

The widening power imbalance in the Taiwan Strait, added to (mistaken) perceptions that Taiwanese have no will to fight, has led some Chinese officials and many members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conclude that the military option, which Beijing never abandoned even as relations improved, is not only a viable one, but one that could quickly resolve the issue. Granted, the ratio of annual defense expenditures reached about 12:1 in China’s favor this year (and that is only using China’s declared budget).

My article, published today in The National Interest, continues here.

In Iraq, ISIS is Not the United States’ Only Enemy

The U.S. intervention in Iraq is justified, but U.S. policy elsewhere in the region makes matters difficult  

“[T]he removal of Saddam Hussein was the beginning, not the culmination, of a long a very uncertain process of reform,” academic Toby Dodge wrote in his 2003 book Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied. Presciently, Dodge continued: “It was also the continuation of a failed effort to create a modern liberal state on the part of the world’s leading hegemon as part of a new world order.” 11 years on, that effort has again failed. 

For a while it looked like the second “mission accomplished” — this one not Bush’s but Obama’s — had a certain ring of truth to it. Delivering on his promise to pull U.S. soldiers from Iraq and facing an American public that was exhausted after a decade of two foreign wars, President Obama and his White House declared victory in Iraq, having installed an essentially functional government and trained Iraqi police and soldiers, at the cost of more than $15 billion, to ensure future stability. 

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Time to Bring the Orphan In From the Cold

The US should acknowledge Taiwan’s right to say no to China when saying no is in its national interest. Boxing it in is a recipe for disaster 

“We hope the Americans will continue supporting us, not just selling us … defense articles.” Thus spoke Shen Lyu-shun, Taiwan’s top envoy to the U.S., during a recent interview with the Washington Times. After nearly six years or relative calm in the Taiwan Strait, and with the specter of more contentious relations between Taipei and Beijing looming large, unflinching U.S. support for the democratic nation will be needed more than ever. But the conditions that Washington is imposing for that support are not only unfair to the island’s 23 million people—they risk causing serious trouble down the road. 

Shen’s candidness was refreshing, and there was little in what he said that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to disagree with. Rhetoric notwithstanding, in recent years the Ma Ying-jeou administration has tended to treat the U.S. as a partner of secondary importance as Taipei endeavored to ameliorate relations with Beijing. Since 2008, more than twenty agreements have been signed between Taiwan and China. Progress has been steady, which shouldn’t be surprising, as the majority of the issues that were resolved during that period touched on relatively “easy” matters such as trade, tourism, and joint crime fighting. 

Now, as Shen rightly points out, with all that “easy” stuff behind them, future negotiations with Beijing will likely address much more controversial issues: politics, and the future of Taiwan. As this new phase in cross-strait relations approaches, U.S. backing for Taiwan will be crucial to ensure that it can continue to engage China with confidence. But as it does so—and there is no reason to believe that it won’t—Washington officials will have to avoid the temptation to force Taiwan to make choices that go against its core interests. 

My article, published today on the CPI Blog at the University of Nottingham, continues here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Who’s Waving Those CCP Flags (and Beating People Up) at Taipei 101?

They’re a pain in the rear end and Communist stooges. But police and city authorities won’t touch them

In a post published elsewhere earlier this year, I discussed the small group of pro-unification activists that materializes, on an almost daily basis, in front of the Xinyi entrance of the Taipei 101 skyscraper. Rain or shine, come 2pm the handful of people, armed with large Chinese Communist Party (CCP) flags, speakers, and pamphlets, impose their agitprop on whomever happens to be walking by, which includes the large number of Chinese tourists who are more than happy to participate in the whole affair and to have their picture taken with the flag. Needless to say, those activities, which began sometime in late 2013, have been much of an annoyance to the residents and workers in the area.

Nearly half a year later, the troublemakers are still there, mixing with tourists and vying for space with Falun Gong practitioners who have been just as persistent in occupying the square in front of the tower. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to realize that this is a potentially explosive mix, and in fact several incidents have occurred. One Falun Gong member was repeatedly punched by a female member of the pro-unification group, and the (much) older gentlemen who wave the flags have occasionally used their flagpoles and placards to hit people who disagree with their ideology. There have also been skirmishes, especially when pro-Taiwan independence activists have turned up at the site, as they did earlier today. 

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Don’t Let Taiwan Fall Behind, But at What Cost?

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal gets it wrong, but provides much-needed help for President Ma 

The unsigned editorial in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Taiwan Leaves Itself Behind,” could have been written by an official in the Ma Ying-jeou administration. That it wasn’t does not matter: Since its publication on Aug. 5, the Ma government—and the president himself—have repeatedly pointed to its content as “evidence,” wisdom from high up, that Taiwan must hurriedly sign trade agreements with China lest it be “left behind.” 

There is little that is striking, or even fresh, to the Journal’s position. It regurgitates the same old “doom and gloom” that supposedly awaits Taiwan should it fail to enact the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), signed in June last year, and a subsequent trade-in-goods agreement with Beijing: South Korea and China “plan to finalize a free-trade agreement that will give most South Korean products zero-tariff entry into the mainland.” As a result, Taiwan, we are told, will be elbowed out: “roughly 2% to 5% of all of Taiwan’s exports to China could be replaced by South Korean products,” the article says, citing the hardly disinterested Ministry of Economic Affairs. 

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Even in Misery, This House is Divided

As long as officials and lawmakers see catastrophes as an opportunity to score points against their opponents, they will fail to earn our trust, and preventable accidents will continue to occur 

The series of gas explosions in Kaohsiung on July 31, which killed 30 people and injured ten times as many, turned parts of the nation’s second-largest city into scenes that would be all too common in, say, Gaza following the latest incursion by the Israeli military. Sadness abounded. Heroes disappeared. The economy, which is hugely reliant on the petrochemical industry, could be seriously undermined. As is almost always the case when disaster strikes, Taiwanese across the nation and overseas donated generously to help the victims rebuild their lives. 

But while ordinary Taiwanese came together, politicians and pundits once again failed to behave like they are members of the same community and instead exploited the crisis to score political points. The battle lines were the same: north versus south; central versus local government; and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) versus Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). 

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

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Taiwan’s Aboriginal Culture Threatened by China

Rising number of Chinese tourists and ensuing pressure from local governments puts heavy pressure on Taiwan’s Aborigines 

For a relatively small country, Taiwan is blessed with no less than 14 recognized Aboriginal tribes, whose existence greatly enriches the ethnic and cultural fabric of its society. According to recent scientific research, it is now believed that Taiwan was the birthplace of all Polynesian Aborigines, thus placing its indigenous population at the center of peoples who have spread out to every corner of Asia. Though by no means perfect, the Taiwan model nevertheless provides the world with several lessons on how to make the center and the peripheries, where most of its Aborigines live, work. 

Now that precarious balance is under threat, and the growing influence of China within Taiwan is to blame. More and more, as Chinese tourists, investors, and officials penetrate Taiwanese society following the thawing of ties across the Taiwan Strait initiated in 2008, the island’s most vulnerable societies have had to adjust to an influx of people, money, and influence, a challenge of “modernity” the likes of which they had not encountered since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan in 1949, or perhaps even since the arrival of the Japanese toward the end of the 19th century. 

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Rationality Hasn’t Stopped; It’s Alive and Well

Several misconceptions surround Taiwan and cloud the judgment of experts on the complex subject of the island’s future. A recent article contains almost all of them

Every once in a while an article is written about Taiwan that manages to be so wrong about so many things that one might feel disinclined to grace it with a rebuttal, lest doing so give the offensive piece more attention than it deserves. One such article, written by a Taiwan “expert,” appeared recently in the pages of the Taipei Times. Despite the counsel of wise individuals not to bother countering with a piece of my own, the compulsion to respond was too strong. Perhaps this stemmed from my fear that some elements of this compendium of falsities might find a second life elsewhere, or because a few months ago the same author succeeded in being equally off the mark — this time in an op-ed about the motivations of the Sunflower Movement, a subject about which I care very much (the author proposed four theories, all of which were wrong).

Before we proceed, let’s get something out of the way: Ideology and facts are not one and the same. The good professor whose articles now impel me to respond has every right to his own ideology, as do I. However, facts, or their more elusive form, the “truth,” should not be molded to fit one’s ideology, something that academics, above all, should know.

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