Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Taiwan: China's Finger is on the Pulse, Not the Trigger

Despite the balance of power having shifted in China's favour, Beijing's list of options to coerce Taiwan is rather limited 

With the prospects of victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan's January 16, 2016, elections becoming increasingly solid, several academics have been warning of the likelihood of renewed tensions in the Taiwan Strait as Beijing reacts angrily to the perceived abandonment of cross-strait detente. 

Writing in The Age on October 27, Hugh White issued such a warning, which in my opinion rests on twin false assumptions about decision-making in Beijing and the resilience of the Taiwanese. 

White and I have been debating the possible ramifications of a transition of power in Taiwan and how the international community might/should adjust. Through his Realist lens, White has been pessimistic about Taiwan's ability to resist China and has argued that the international community might not be inclined to risk its relationship with Beijing — let alone nuclear war — to defend the democratic island-nation. 

My article, published today in The Age, continues here (Photo: Chris Tzou)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Why We Must Push Back

Opponents of same-sex marriage have no compelling argument and must therefore resort to fear and senselessness. We should not remain silent when they do so 

There comes a time in a debate when one must decide whether responding to the absurdities of the other side might risk legitimizing one’s opponent rather than put the argument to rest once and for all. When it comes to the same-sex marriage issue, for example, I’ve often been encouraged to remain quiet lest my continued writing about the subject bring more attention to the small yet influential groups that have actively argued against it. However, when their rhetoric turns to hate speech and outright lies, as it often does, I believe we are compelled to push back. Each and every time. And since it is impossible to have an intelligent debate based on facts with those individuals, we must therefore ridicule them not by stooping to their level, but by pointing out how preposterous their arguments are. 

The main problem with the groups that have actively opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan is that they do not have a viable argument to start with. Their views on the issue tend to come from a narrow — and certainly not universal — interpretation (some would say misreading) of a holy book that is read by less than 10 percent of the people in Taiwan. Their argument is built on a highly restrictive definition of marriage — strictly between a man and a woman, and for the sole purpose of procreation — and, when that fails to sway the population, a biblical flood of fear-mongering with the recitation of various plagues that will come down on society should we allow homosexuals to get away with their “sins” — AIDS, bestiality, incest, polygamy, chaos, destruction of the “blood line,” rampant immorality, natural disasters, and so on. 

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

China needs to learn that the Taiwanese people can't be bought

The pursuit of an economic solution to the Taiwan 'issue' is an exercise in futility and one that can only cause more frustrations in Beijing 

After nearly eight years of rapprochement between Beijing and Taipei under the custodianship of President Ma Ying-jeou, a process that has given Chinese people an unprecedented opportunity to better understand Taiwan, many academics, journalists and officials in China persist in their belief that economics is the key to 'peaceful unification,' and that a better distribution of the wealth created by closer ties is all it will take to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese. 

But that line of argument will only result in greater consternation on the Chinese side as ingrate Taiwanese continue to reject all that 'goodwill' by persistently resisting unification. 

My article, published today in the Lowy Interpreter, continues here (photo: Reuters).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

KMT's Hung Hsiu-chu is Out, Eric Chu is In

The eleventh-hour move was made to prevent further hemorrhaging at the local level and to salvage the KMT’s chances in the legislative elections 

By a single show of hands, party representatives from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Saturday ended weeks of speculation by overwhelmingly deciding to drop their controversial presidential candidate for 2016 in favor of the party chairman, in a move that was widely seen as an attempt to prevent a further implosion of the party. 

At about 4 pm, 812 of the 891 representatives present at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei supported a motion to remove Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who almost three months earlier had seen her candidacy confirmed by party members in the same hall. Hung, who delivered a fiery speech early in the meeting, had already departed by the time of the vote. By 5 pm, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) was the new candidate. 

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Does Beijing Believe Its Own Official Line On Taiwan?

Maybe China does have a better understanding of the island-nation it claims as its own. But it just can’t admit it 

Hardly a meeting between officials from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait goes by without the Chinese side waxing grandiloquent about the “responsibility” of every Chinese to actively work toward “national rejuvenation.” In the context of cross-strait relations, “national rejuvenation” is about unification—or in Beijing’s view, the re-unification of Taiwan, which it regards as a “breakaway province,” with the “mainland.” Chinese officials, as well as many academics, invariably present the matter as a common goal, and maintain that only a small group of disgruntled individuals in Taiwan opposes the realization of this glorious Chinese dream. The problem with propaganda—especially propaganda broadcast by authoritarian regimes—is that it is often disconnected from reality, as is definitely the case here. 

As this is being written, Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), is meeting his Taiwanese counterpart, Andrew Hsia of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), in Guangzhou in the latest round of meetings between the two sides. Like a broken record, Zhang’s opening remarks once again were replete with references to both sides having adopted the “right path” toward the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”—a goal, he said, that was “closer than at any time in history.” 

My article, published today on the University of Nottingham’ China Policy Institute Blog, continues here (Photo: CC by Michael Chen/flickr).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Careful Not to Mistake Chinese Hawks for Doves

China is now sponsoring a number of conferences in the West. While we should always encourage dialogue, we should also be aware of who we are dealing with

In his Oct. 2 response to my latest article in The Diplomat, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and a flag bearer of “communitarianism,” demonstrated that even well intentioned and intelligent individuals can be duped by Chinese political warfare. [Note: I decided to publish my response on this blog rather than on Thinking Taiwan or at The Diplomat to avoid dragging those publications into the dispute. As always, the views expressed here are mine alone.]

What prompted Etzioni’s reaction was my Sept. 23 article, titled “Chinese Propaganda: Coming Soon to a Conference Near You,” which discusses the links between the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a “strategic think tank” which recently co-organized a conference in Washington, D.C., and the PLA’s General Political Department Liaison Department (GPD/LD). As one of the co-organizers of and main speakers at the “Beyond the Current Distrust” conference, held on Oct. 5, Etzioni doesn’t seem to have appreciated the fact that such uncomfortable information was exposed to the public a week prior to the event, or my pointing out that the panels were nakedly stacked in China’s favor.

Leaving aside his preposterous and factually wrong reference to my employer — which was based solely on unnamed “commentators” at the bottom of my initial article, something the 86-year-old professor of sociology should have known not to do — some of Etzioni’s remarks warrant a few words. I do thank the professor for his response, which allows me to clarify my position. (Oddly enough, Etzioni feels compelled to defend his own think tank, of which I make no mention whatsoever in my article. There is something to be said about individuals who have an urge to deflect accusations that were never made in the first place.)

The principal aim of my article was to alert readers, and possibly some individuals who intended to attend the conference, to the fact that the Chinese propaganda apparatus has extremely close connections to the CEFC. Given that China-organized academic conferences in the West are a relatively new phenomenon, it is crucial that society be aware of the origins, goals, and connections of such organizations. When a “strategic think tank” that is headed by a billionaire and former deputy secretary general of the GPD-LD-linked China Association for International Friendly Contacts (CAIFC) claims to be an impartial outlet, it’s important that we know who it is we’re dealing with — and such transparence isn’t exactly a strength of the Chinese.

Let me first state that propaganda isn’t merely “subjective.” In China’s case, as is often the case with Marxist-Leninist regimes, there are institutions, funded by the party/state and staffed with intelligence officers, whose sole remit is to engage in propaganda and information/political warfare, and whose efforts are normally accompanied by heavy censorship. GPD 311 Base (61716 Unit), to which I refer in my article, is an example. 

Using hyperlinks to various Chinese-language articles, I also supported my claims about the CEFC with plenty of evidence from my own research, articles by journalists Andrew Chubb and John Garnaut, and the landmark report on Chinese political warfare by Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao of the Project 2049 Institute.

My objective therefore wasn’t to say that such conferences should not be held, but solely to alert consumers to the likelihood that what they were about to hear presented a very pro-Beijing position on issues ranging from its territorial claims to its attempts to annex Taiwan. Mr. Etzioni may claim all he wants that the CECF didn’t “advocate for the presentation of any particular viewpoint at the conference [or] seek to influence our selection of speakers,” the fact remains that the panel titled “Time to Decide: Contain China or Accommodate It?” only comprised individuals who favor the latter option. And why not? After all, Etzioni himself has sided with the accommodationists and the intellectuals who have made the case for ending U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in the naïve belief that doing so would secure guarantees that Beijing would drop its annexationist designs on the democratic island-nation.

Etzioni seems to have concluded that I was aiming to silence the “doves” and, presumably, of siding with war-hungry militarists. This is the usual trope, which turns logic on its head: call for the defense of democracy or respect for international law, and you’re a “hawk.” And that is where I think we enter sensitive territory with individuals like him. Although I have no doubt that Mr. Etzioni, who says he has seen combat, has pure intentions and wants to encourage dialogue between the U.S. and China, I fear that his noble intentions are being exploited by wolves passing off as doves. With all due respect to the old sociologist, there is nothing “dovish” about an increasingly authoritarian regime that builds military airstrips in the South China Sea, holds a fascist-style military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific, threatens a democratic neighbor with military invasion, occupies two nations and ethnically cleanses them, and that oppresses its own people by locking up dissidents, lawyers, writers and a Nobel Prize winner, and censors its media. I’m not saying we should demonize the CCP, but let’s not kid ourselves: we’re not dealing with doves here.

The CCP has demonstrated a keen talent for identifying individuals — prominent academics, retired generals and so on — who can be manipulated to further the Chinese cause. Some are conscious that this is happening; others, customarily known as “useful idiots,” aren’t. I believe that Mr. Etzioni falls in the latter category, and that his indignant reaction to my article stems from the all-too-understandable resentment at being proven to have been duped by the CCP.  

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Taiwan’s Pan-Blue Camp is at War with Itself

The Chinese Nationalist Party is in crisis. And it has itself, not Hung Hsiu-chu, to blame 

Something rather extraordinary occurred outside the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) headquarters in Taipei on 7 October as hundreds of angry protesters gathered to vent their anger at the party. Unlike the usual protests by civic activists or pro-independence groups, this crowd was made entirely of pan-blue supporters—in other words, of people who traditionally vote for the KMT. Behind the unusual show of discontent were efforts by the party, unveiled earlier this week, to drop the unpopular Hung Hsiu-chu as its candidate in the 16 January 2016 presidential election and presumably replace her with party chairman Eric Chu. 

A defiant Hung, whose support lies in the low 20 percent against the almost 47 percent enjoyed by Tsai Ing-wen, her opponent from the Democratic Progressive Part (DPP), told a press conference on 6 October that despite the KMT shenanigans she intended to run and threatened to take the KMT to court for attempting to change the rules in order to cast her aside. Soon afterwards, a Facebook announcement called upon Hung’s followers to protest outside the KMT headquarters on 7 October. 

Despite the 2,000 or so Facebook users who indicated they would attend, about 300 did so, blocking parts of Bade Rd from around 1 pm. As dozens of police officers looked on behind the police fences and barbed wire, the enraged crowd exploded with shouts of “Hung Hsiu-chu go! go! go!” and “Eric Chu step down!” 

My article, published today on the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute Blog, continues here (photo by the author).