Saturday, January 23, 2016

Taiwan’s New Leader Likely to Surprise on Cross-Strait Ties

With pragmatism, creativity and understanding from both sides, there is no reason why relations in the Taiwan Strait should sour under a DPP administration

After nearly eight years of relative tranquility in the Taiwan Strait, voters on January 16th handed Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) a potentially disruptive strong mandate. The island nation not only elected the country’s first female president, but also gave the pro-Taiwan DPP control of parliament for the first time ever. 

Occurring just two months after the historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s outgoing Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore, the landslide for Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP has prompted fears that relations between the two sides could quickly sour. However, early signs suggest that Taipei and Beijing may be willing to act pragmatically. 

My article, published today in the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, continues here.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Great Power That Can’t Help Itself

The public humiliation of a young Taiwanese entertainer in South Korea has sparked outrage among the Taiwanese, who retaliated with an even more powerful weapon — their votes 

Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) isn’t her usual bubbly self in the short video, which has spread like brushfire in social media over the past 24 hours. The Taiwan-born 16-year-old member of the South Korean pop band TWICE has been forced to apologize, on film, for holding a Nationalist flag (symbol for the Republic of China) during a recent filming, and, reading from a script, to “admit” that she is Chinese rather than Taiwanese. Visibly shaken, the young woman doesn’t exactly radiate pride in her avowed Chineseness. In fact, it is clear that the confession, which has drawn many comparisons with videos produced by the Islamic State, was made under duress and under threat by her South Korean agent and Chinese sponsors that her career as an entertainer would be jeopardized had she refused to humiliate herself on camera. 

What is most shocking about the incident (besides the idea that Chinese zealots would force a 16-year-old to go through this) is its timing. As the confession was beginning to spread on the Internet (more than 2.5 million views on YouTube since Jan. 15), millions of Taiwanese were readying to vote for their future president and parliament in the sixth free general election since their country democratized after decades of authoritarian rule. By depicting Chou as a “Taiwanese splittist” for displaying the ROC flag, those responsible for this incident confirmed once again why the majority of Taiwanese want nothing to do with becoming part of the People’s Republic of China. 

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Taiwan's election: Change is a good thing

Administrations tend to ossify over time. Peaceful transitions of power are a healthy way to rejuvenate a democracy 

Politics is a bit like sailing through rough seas without proper navigational instruments: there's a general idea as to the destination, but how to get there is very much an exercise of trial and error, triangulation, improvisation and adjustments. 

The benefits of adjustments – their indispensability, in fact – are often underappreciated, as the human tendency is to favor the status-quo and predictability. However, as long-serving governments and authoritarian regimes have demonstrated over centuries, state and party institutions tend to ossify over time. As 'group think' sets in, the government becomes less and less capable of generating new ideas or implementing new practices. Rejuvenation cannot be self-generated, and stasis sets in. 

Luckily for democratic countries like Taiwan, they have the advantage of having institutionalised the cyclical mechanisms by which citizens, as non-participants in the daily routine of governance, can judge that a regime has reached the limits of its utility and that the time has come for a course correction. 

And a course correction is exactly what's in order for Taiwan after nearly eight years of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule, just as it had become necessary after eight years of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rule from 2000-2008. As the 16 January elections approach, it is very clear that President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT has run out of steam and that it is no longer capable of generating the new ideas that will guide Taiwan toward a more prosperous future. 

My article, published today in the Lowy Interpreter, continues here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Taiwan’s 2016 Elections: An Exercise in Generational Change

Why the KMT will likely be severely defeated on Saturday 

More than ever before in Taiwan’s history, political contention is not defined by ethnicity. A clash of generations, rather, is shaping the positioning of the two leading parties in the 2016 elections. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has understood, and then embraced, this shift most effectively, becoming associated with “youth,” “change” and rejuvenation. 

The ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in contrast, has proved incapable of acknowledging generational pressures, and its ideology now has traction with an increasingly marginal segment of society. 

My article, published today on the University of British Columbia’s Asia Pacific Memo, continues here (photo by the author).

For Millions of Taiwanese Voters, Not All Roads Go Through China

Rule #1 in electoral politics: know what your voters want 

Recent developments in Taiwan, from the boisterous campaign leading up to this weekend's presidential election to last November's Singapore meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan, have resulted in unusual amounts of coverage for a nation that is otherwise far too often ignored by the international community. 

Much of this attention, however, has suffered from a tendency among international media and analysts to look at Taiwan almost exclusively through the lens of its challenging relationship with China and from the assumption that China is unremittingly on the minds of the Taiwanese. This fixation on China is not only misleading, but it also denies us the ability to truly comprehend what lies behind the decisions that the island nation's 23 million people will make when they head for the polling stations on Jan. 16. 

My article, published today in the Huffington Post, continues here (photo: Sam Yeh, AFP)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Taiwanese Election Candidate Denied Entry Into Hong Kong

New Power Party candidate Huang Kuo-chang was invited to appear on a CNN talk show. But the territory’s immigration authorities won’t let him in 

Amid mounting speculation surrounding the mysterious disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers, another development this week suggests a further erosion of freedoms in the Special Administrative Region as Beijing turns the screws on the former British colony. 

In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), a candidate of the small New Power Party in Taiwan’s Jan. 16 legislative elections, revealed that Hong Kong authorities had refused to issue him an entry visa. An associate research fellow at the prestigious Academia Sinica in Taipei and a former leader of the Sunflower Movement, Huang was invited by CNN to appear on a special program on Taiwan’s elections, to be filmed in the news network’s Hong Kong studios after the Jan. 16 vote. 

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

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Mind Your Language: Why Taiwan Isn’t the Provocateur in the Taiwan Strait

On how language often unfairly frames the discussion on Taiwan and China

British author George Orwell, one of the greatest polemicists ever to have put ink to paper, once wrote that “Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” In that same essay (“Politics and the English Language”), Orwell also observed that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought,” adding that “bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.” Much of the standard reporting about Taiwan nowadays is affected by “bad usage” that has spread “by tradition” and “imitation” — and China, which denies Taiwan’s sovereign status, has made large contributions toward the continuation of that practice. The corruption that has affected the language used when academics and journalists discuss Taiwan originates with Beijing’s framing of the argument for political ends.

Many writers today uncritically regurgitate Chinese propaganda such as “Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times,” a claim, similarly made about East Turkestan/Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibet, that can only be substantiated through the routine distortion of verifiable history. The endless references to the “re-unification” of Taiwan with China or “the Mainland” that are encountered in newspaper copy, books and documentaries is a perfect example of bad usage spread by tradition and imitation. While any intelligent person would admit that, logically, that which was never united cannot be re-united, the same mistake continues to pop up on a daily basis.

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute blog, continues here (photo by the author).

Monday, January 04, 2016

A Fire That Shall Not Be Extinguished

Fire Ex lead singer Yang Ta-cheng shows us what love (and the new Taiwan) is all about 

Greatly needing a break from electoral politics, last weekend I began reading Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers, a monster of a book that, among its many plot lines, explores the theme of homosexuality through its main character, the octogenarian novelist Kenneth Toomey. Earthly Powers is a challenging book, filled with wonderful punning, references and uses of the English language that one can only hope was still in vogue today. Beyond its artistic appeal, the novel delves into the devastating socio-religious pressures on homosexuals to conform, to un-choose, if you will, that which wasn’t — isn’t — a choice to begin with. 

Burgess’ novel is filled with linguistic assaults on homosexuality, the most disastrous by far coming from family members. The narrator, whose reliability is often in doubt, doesn’t always tell us how painful the arrows are and it is left to the reader to imagine the agony. As I read the book I couldn’t help but think about my personal experience, that of my mother’s coming out several years ago, a development in my family that allowed me to experience first-hand both the healing powers of tolerance and the devastating blows of intolerance. Luckily, the reaction in my immediate family fell in the former category, which greatly mitigated the potentially dislocating effects of that new reality. 

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