Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015, And What Have You in Store for Us, 2016?

Another year comes to a close, and once again this man-made transition reminds me of the truth behind what my parents told me, years ago, when I was a small child, and which sounded utterly preposterous at the time: That as one gets older, the passage of time — our perception of it, that is — accelerates. Every year that passes makes me more hurried, more afraid that I will not have enough time to accomplish all the goals that I’ve set for myself, to try to make the world a better place through my work, my actions.

The year that is about to expire was once again a very generous one to me. The highest of many high points was the publication in late March of my book Black Island, a project that was very close to my heart and represented the culmination of three years of hard work covering Taiwan’s social movements. The publication of 《黑色島嶼:一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調性報導》, the Chinese version of Black Island, in early December was also a new high, as this was my first book to appear in that language. There will be a second book in Chinese in early February, and this one will be another new achievement as it will be my first book to be published in Chinese first, with the English edition to come later in 2016. Needless to say, having my work translated into Chinese has truly been a great honor, and something that I’d never imagined would happen when I relocated to Taiwan in 2005.

The year that’s about to begin will also be one of transition, as Taiwan will elect a new leader in January. With that comes some uncertainty, no doubt, but also the promise of rejuvenation. Change is a positive thing, as the recent election of Justin Trudeau made perfectly clear in my home country, ending nine long years of Conservative rule that often took the country in a direction that I would argue didn’t always reflect Canadian values. After eight years of KMT rule under President Ma Ying-jeou, irrespective of his accomplishments and failures, it’s time for change here, too.

My wish for Taiwan in 2016 is for its people to transcend the political divide that, in the current election cycle, has become more pronounced (at times vitriolic), and to genuinely work together to improve their home. As I strive to explain in my upcoming book, the things that the people of Taiwan have in common greatly outweigh that which separates them. And yet, the tendency among politicians and in the media is to focus almost exclusively on the political preferences, ethnic background, and social status that set them apart from one another.

One thing that I have discovered during my nearly ten years working as a journalist here, and especially in the past three years that I have spent documenting civil society, is that the overlapping values and interests of the people in Taiwan, the liberal democratic way of life that they enjoy, are far more defining of their identity than the politicians they vote for or the political parties that they support. Though generally not acknowledged, that characteristic is not only Taiwan’s strength and resilience; it is what defines it and what sets it apart from the authoritarian neighbor that claims ownership over it. My fondest hope is that in the wake of January 16, regardless of the outcome, people from both sides of the “divide” will have the wisdom to see in the “other” that which is equally precious to themselves, and the ability to work together to strengthen the precious — and fragile — nation that is Taiwan.

I promise to continue to work to the best of my abilities, and with utmost sincerity, to serve this beautiful land and its extraordinary people.

Wishing all a happy, prosperous, peaceful, and healthy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Taiwan-China Talks Won’t Collapse…Unless Beijing Lets Them

Forget the 1992 Consensus. What matters is substance, and Tsai Ing-wen has promised it 

With Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) well ahead in the polls and a sustained negative campaign by the incumbent Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) failing to influence the numbers, Taiwan’s ruling party has shifted gear in the past week by fanning the flames of fear. From the unsubstantiated claim that Taiwan stands to lose as many as 18 diplomatic allies if the DPP were elected on Jan. 16 to warnings that tensions could return to the Taiwan Strait after eight years of relative stability, the message is clear: If the DPP wins, the sky’s going to fall. And today Beijing joined the chorus of fear-mongers by threatening the total collapse of bilateral talks if Ms. Tsai doesn’t recognize a “consensus” that may or may not exist. 

China’s intervention was ostensibly sparked by remarks by Ms. Tsai during a televised debate between Taiwan’s three presidential candidates on Sunday to the effect that the “1992 consensus,” the framework under which Taipei and Beijing have held negotiations since 2008, was only one of many options. Beijing has long insisted that adhering to the “1992 consensus” was a precondition for talks, and the KMT under President Ma Ying-jeou, who will be stepping down in May next year after serving two four-year terms, was happy to oblige, if only because doing so presumably gave it an edge over the DPP, which refuses to recognize the consensus due in large part to the “one China” clause at its core — not to mention the fact that the very existence of the “consensus” is under question. 

My article, published today in the China Policy Institute blog, continues here (photo Xinhua).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Some Young Taiwanese Might Not Be Able to Vote

Abolishing the hukou system and adopting absentee voting would make a lot of sense, but doing so is more complex than you think 

It was a problem during the 2012 elections, and it’s going to be a problem again less than three weeks from now: Because of the timing of their final exams set by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and inflexibility on the part of the Ministry of Education (MOE), a number of Taiwanese students probably won’t be able to cast their vote on Jan 16. 

At the heart of the problem is the hukou, or household registration, system, which when it comes to elections stipulates that citizens of voting age (currently 20 years old) can only cast their vote where they are registered, and must do so in person. In short, Taiwan has no absentee voting system. Consequently, a number of university students whose last day of finals is Friday Jan. 15 will have a difficult time getting home in time to vote the next day, on the 16th. They might get there late, or could simply be unable to purchase high-speed rail, train, or bus tickets during those two days, when demand for public transportation will be inordinately high, it being the weekend and a nationwide Election Day. 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (composite photo: nownews)

Monday, December 21, 2015

That ‘One China’ Policy Thing

By convincing us that our Taiwan policy is the same as Beijing’s, the Chinese government has succeeded in imposing limitations on our ability to engage the island-nation that simply do not exist 

It’s actually a pretty straightforward matter, but with major elections approaching and more people than usual paying attention to and writing about politics in Taiwan, it is one that is worth revisiting. Despite what Beijing, government officials worldwide, journalists and academics often argue, most countries around the world do not have a “one China” policy regarding Taiwan — Beijing does, of course, but for most countries, their policy vis-à-vis Taiwan and China is one of ambiguity. And that ambiguity makes all the difference. 

The “one China” mantra isn’t the result of bad intentions toward Taiwan or special disdain for its claims to sovereign status. It is, rather, the child of institutional ignorance, intellectual laziness, over-cautiousness, and an all-too-human tendency to uncritically repeat a gospel. It goes without saying that all this is also a direct result of Beijing’s constantly “reminding” the international community about their purported “one China” policy, a nakedly Marxist-Leninist strategy whereby, by dint of repetition, a falsehood comes to incarnate reality. 

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

《黑色島嶼:一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調查性報導》is now available!

《黑色島嶼: 一個外籍資深記者對台灣公民運動的調查性報導》, the Chinese-language version of Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan, was published by Business Weekly Publications (商周出版) on Dec. 3, 2015, and is now available in bookstores across Taiwan (e.g., Eslite, Sanmin, Kingstone, and at select bookstores in Hong Kong. An e-book version was also released on Dec. 9. The translated version includes a new introduction for the Chinese edition and a foreword by Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人) of Academia Sinica.

Taiwanese publisher site (Chinese):
E-book version (Chinese) available here
Original English version (paperback) available on Amazon
Original English version available on Kindle

作者:寇謐將(J. Michael Cole) 譯者:李明、陳雅馨、劉燕玉 出版社:商周出版 書系:Discourse 出版日期:2015-12-03 ISBN:9789862729335 城邦書號:BK7065 規格:平裝 / 單色 / 544頁 / 15cm×21cm

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Revealed: Washington’s Latest Lethal Arms Sale to Taiwan

"Taipei had to wait through nearly the entire second term of the Obama administration before it could secure a new arms package from Washington" 

Washington on December 16 authorized a new and long-awaited arms package for Taiwan, ending an over four year hiatus in U.S. weapons sales to the island-nation—the longest such hiatus since the late 1980s. Although the approximately $1.83 billion arms package does not include any defense article that is remotely close to a “game changer,” notifications to Congress nevertheless send an important signal of continued political support for Taipei—perhaps even more so this time around, as it occurs one month prior to presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan in which the “pro independence” opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely expected to prevail. 

Included in the package—which is not a commitment on Taipei’s part but rather a list of articles authorized for sale—are two decommissioned FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates (of four that were authorized for transfer to Taiwan in 2014) plus refurbishment and upgrades; 36 AAV-7 Assault Amphibious Vehicles; 13 MK 15 Phalanx Block 1B ship defense Close-In Weapon Systems, upgrade kits, ammunition, and support; 208 Javelin guided missiles; 769 BGM-71F-series TOW 2B Aero Radio Frequency anti-armor missiles; 250 Block I-92F MANPAD Stinger missiles; Taiwan Advanced Tactical Data Link System (TATDLS) and Link 11 communication systems integration; as well as follow-on support for Taiwan’s previously procured MIDS/LVT-1 and JTIDS. 

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Wang Controversy is a Symptom of KMT Sclerosis

In the post-Sunflower context, it was downright foolish of the KMT to think that it could pick a running mate who had abused some of society’s most vulnerable elements and get away with it 

After the disaster that was Hung Hsiu-chu, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) initial pick for presidential candidate, it was expected that Taiwan’s ruling party—a political survivor if ever there was one—would somehow get back on an even keel. With Eric Chu replacing the unpopular Hung in October, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that the KMT would narrow the immense gap that had developed between it and frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And then the KMT blundered again, this time by picking a vice presidential candidate whose checkered past has succeeded in alienating pretty much every segment of society, including traditional KMT voters. 

At first glance, the decision to make Jennifer Wang Chu’s running mate looked like a wise move. A former human rights lawyer, Wang could have helped repair the KMT’s image after a bruising three years, during which Taiwan’s media and civil society exposed a series of human rights violations stemming from urban renewal projects to deaths in the military. 

My article, published on Dec. 9 on the China Policy Institute Blog at University of Nottingham, continues here.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Xinjiang, Terror, and China’s Contempt for Freedom of the Press

The assault on a French journalist occurs at a time when Beijing authorities are tightening their grip on the media and the Internet, which has further narrowed the space available for those who seek solutions to the formidable challenges facing China 

There’s a reason why China ranks No. 176 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index, only better than Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Syria. Its contempt for journalists, both domestic and foreign, who refuse to toe Beijing’s stridently nationalistic and increasingly paranoid line is boundless. A recent incident involving a French journalist highlights why China fully deserves the dishonor of being in the bottom five. 

The controversy started with an article, published on Nov. 18, by Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for the French news magazine L’Obs (formerly known as Le Nouvel Observateur). Titled “Après les attentats, la solidarité de la Chine n’est pas sans arrière-pensées” (“after the attacks, China has ulterior motives”), Gauthier’s article made the mistake — in Beijing’s eyes, that is — of pointing out the fundamental differences between the type of nihilistic international terrorism by the Islamic State that struck Paris last month and the local retributive violence that has flared occasionally in Xinjiang. 

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The ‘Spy Swap’ That Wasn’t

Those who were hoping that a recent prisoner exchange between Taiwan and China was a sign of warmer ties are deceiving themselves 

Two jailed spies for Taiwan’s Military Intelligence Bureau were returned to Taiwan in October after Taipei granted early parole to a Chinese spy in what some foreign media outlets described this week as a “spy swap” and a sign of further détente between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. As with the “historic” Nov. 7 summit between presidents Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore, international media are reading too much into this development and seeing connections that simply do not exist. 

The release and return to Taiwan on Oct. 13 of convicted spies Chu Kung-hsun (朱恭訓) and Hsu Chang-kuo (徐章國), after each had served more than nine years of a life sentence in Chinese prison, was indeed a first, as was the parole granted to Chinese spy Li Zhihao (李志豪). 

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