Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Taiwan Plan for the Next U.S. President

How to shore up U.S. interests without sparking war 

Like the rest of the world, Taiwan’s twenty-three million people will look on with expectation—and perhaps some trepidation—on November 8 when Americans elect a new president. Whether Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican Donald J. Trump prevails in the race will, to some extent, determine how Taiwan’s principal security guarantor will deal with its democratic East Asian ally and the authoritarian giant that claims sovereignty over it. 

Notwithstanding the fundamental differences that have been highlighted during the long and bitter presidential campaign, it is unlikely that a President Clinton or Trump would be able to implement a drastic shift in the United States’ Asia policy. As with every incoming administration, the nature of the U.S. government system and the sprawling civil service militate against sudden shifts in direction and ensure continuity, regardless of the promises made by a presidential candidate. 

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

Should Mao Enter the Building?

Two scheduled concerts in Australia honoring Chairman Mao have sparked calls for boycotts. Let them sing and dance and spin all they want in his honor. Our job isn’t to silence them, as this would make us no better than the CCP 

Two concerts at the Melbourne and Sydney town halls honoring Mao Zedong (毛澤東) have sparked controversy among China watchers who argue that the event, scheduled for early next month, trivializes the deaths of tens of millions of people during Mao’s reign. The concerts, which have been widely promoted in the increasingly pro-Beijing Chinese-language media in Australia, will be held in Sydney on Sept. 6 and Melbourne on Sept. 9. 

Continues here, with response by Australian critics and some interesting information about one of the Chinese organizers...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tsai Administration Needs to Stop Stalling on Marriage Equality

For years the DPP blamed the KMT for stalled efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan. Now in control of both the executive and legislative branches of government, the DPP has no valid argument for further delays 

Following Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) victory in the Jan. 16 general elections, many human rights observers in Taiwan and abroad cherished the possibility that Taiwan could become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. To distinguish itself from the more conservative Kuomintang (KMT) in the lead-up to the elections, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) made this subject a component of its platform, and a large contingent of party members were instructed to take part in last year’s LGBT Pride Parade in Taipei. 

Continues here.

Hong Kong No Longer Has Autonomy on Immigration

In the current environment of uncertainty in Hong Kong, controls over who comes in and who goes out will be used more frequently as an instrument by which to deny individuals contact with Hong Kong’s society 

Beijing never fully intended the “one country, two systems” formula to be a permanent fixture in its relationship with Hong Kong, and as tensions rise between the central government and the former British colony, control over who is allowed to enter the territory has become a hot issue. 

Although Beijing never had a completely hands-off approach to immigration controls in Hong Kong, which had a certain degree of freedom to decide who could come in or not, its meddling in such decisions deepened markedly following Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement. Since then, several individuals have been denied entry into the territory. 

Continues here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rebuild the Dapu Pharmacy

As the Tsai administration mulls updating Taiwan’s antiquated laws on land expropriation, one demolished building serves as a powerful symbol 

Premier Lin Chuan (林全) on Monday said that a pharmacy and residence in Miaoli County’s Dapu Township, demolished to great controversy in 2013, could eventually be rebuilt if the law permits. 

Such a move would be welcomed, not only because it would be the just thing to do, but also because of the symbolic value of the act. Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did very well in the November 2014 local elections and January 2016 general elections in large part due to a widespread loss of confidence in the Kuomintang’s (KMT) ability to find a proper equilibrium between development and respect of society’s most vulnerable groups. 

Continues here.

Patience, Patience on UN Bid

Taiwan’s inability to join the U.N. under a proper name and as a full member is preposterous. But those are that cards that history has dealt it, and it must use them wisely. Impetuousness will gain it nothing 

Someone spoke out of turn this week and once again the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration found itself on the defensive, this time having to deny it intends to apply to re-enter the U.N. under the name “Taiwan.” 

No sooner had the denials been voiced on Wednesday than members from the deep-green camp began accusing Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of being “no better” than, or simply a new iteration of, the Kuomintang (KMT). Both the KMT and Tsai’s administration have chosen to seek constructive and meaningful participation at U.N. agencies, usually under a less-than-ideal designation, rather than aim for full membership under the name Taiwan. President Tsai’s reason for doing so is to avoid rocking the boat of the always tenuous cross-Strait relations and causing surprise, if not consternation, in Washington, D.C., and other capitals. 

Continues here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Conversation With National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman

‘Accountability means elections, an independent media that can watch over, a judiciary, and an active, mobilized civil society, which is what you had with the Sunflower Movement. That’s the price of democracy. That’s what makes democracy work’ 

The subject of various conspiracy theories among authoritarian regimes, the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is one of the most active agents promoting freedom around the world. 

Carl Gershman has been president of the NED since its founding in 1984 and was in Taiwan this week to take part in the third Asia Young Leaders Democracy Program organized by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), which this year brought together 19 international participants from 17 countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, as well as three Taiwanese. 

The News Lens International’s chief editor J. Michael Cole sat down with Gershman at TFD’s headquarters on Thursday to talk about the state of democracy. 

Q&A continues here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

China Uses Thousands of Chinese Teachers to Combat Uighur ‘Separatism’

Beijing appears to be accelerating education programs designed to dilute the ethno-linguistic bond that gives Uighurs and Tibetans their distinct identity 

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region authorities will dispatch a total of 2,939 Uighur-speaking Chinese teachers to schools across inland China as part of a two-year “aid program” designed to provide “anti-separatism” education and promote unity among students in the primarily Muslim territory. 

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xinjiang Party Chief Zhang Chunxian (張春賢) told a send-off meeting on Monday that teachers should encourage students to “promote unity” and fight “separatism” and religious extremism. 

Article continues here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Watchdog Accuses HK, Taiwan Media of Complicity in China’s Show Trials

Through ‘confessions’ and TV trials, the CCP is seeking to discredit human rights activists and lawyers. Sadly, some media outlets in Taiwan and Hong Kong have no compunction in spreading the message 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), an organization that defends and promotes freedom of expression worldwide, has accused Taiwanese and Hong Kong media of complicity in China’s campaign to discredit its critics. 

IFEX states that on Aug. 1, two Hong Kong outlets, the Oriental Daily and Phoenix Television, were granted exclusive rights by Chinese authorities to broadcast the “confession” of human rights lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), who had been in detention since July 2015 on allegations of subverting the state power. One hour later, the Shanghai-based online magazine The Paper also ran the “exclusive,” along with video footage of Wang’s “confession.” 

Article continues here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

There's a Vaccine Against China's United Front Tactics

As long as Taiwan’s democratic institutions remain healthy, China’s multifaceted propaganda efforts against it won’t find the oxygen they need to prosper 

Using a medical analogy, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Saturday spoke words of wisdom after he was asked to discuss the individual who will lead the Chinese delegation at an upcoming cross-Strait forum in Taiwan’s capital. Last Friday, the organizers of the Taipei-Shanghai twin city forum announced that Sha Hailin (沙海林), the head of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Shanghai Municipal Committee, will lead the delegation at the forum. 

Article continues here.

Ex-SEF Chairman Lin Join-sane’s Foundation Could Be Conduit for PRC Political Warfare

It seemed innocuous enough: a conference commemorating Sun Yat-sen’s 150th anniversary. But look at the sponsors from the Chinese side and things become a little more interesting 

The Foundation for the Development of the Chinese Nation (中華民族發展基金會), a non-profit registered in Taiwan on May 12, has recently drawn the attention of legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who fear it could act as a “shadow” Straits Exchange Foundation to undermine President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) cross-Strait policies. 

With approximately NT$30 million (US$958,000) in declared assets, the Foundation is chaired by former SEF chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) and has also recruited a number of officials who served during the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, including former SEF adviser Chu Ou (朱甌), former SEF vice chairman Chou Ji-shiang (周繼祥) and former minister without portfolio Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇). 

Article continues here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

China's Permanent Conflict Strategy Is A Stroke of Genius

Permanent conflict in alternating areas, not war, best suits Beijing’s interests 

Tokyo lodged a series of protests over the weekend regarding renewed Chinese activity in the disputed East China Sea. Japan has claimed that China recently installed a radar on a Chinese offshore gas platform. 

Japan’s protests occurred after incursions by as many as 230 Chinese fishing vessels and six coast guard ships in contiguous zones surrounding the Senkakus on Saturday, and intrusions by two Chinese coast guard vessels into the territorial waters around the islets on Sunday. On Friday, eight Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels also reportedly entered territorial waters around the Senkakus. Tokyo, which administers and claims ownership over three of the Senkaku islets—Uotsuri, Kitakojima and Minamikojima—has been locked in a longstanding dispute with Beijing over the area, which is also claimed by Taiwan. 

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

Monday, August 08, 2016

Pokémon Go and the Death of Reality

When funeral homes start offering discounts for people who die because of a mobile game, we know there’s a problem with our society 

I spent the past weekend indoors not because the temperature was too hot outside but because after weeks of delay the game Pokémon Go had been released in Taiwan. I already knew that, come Monday, I would have to confront this new — dare I call it reality? — on my way to the office and wanted to delay that confrontation for as long as possible. 

Still, Pokémon succeeded in invading the peace of my home not because I was looking for the virtual critters inside my apartment (I didn’t and never will), but because the game craze had invaded the news. Every local channel had segments on players hunting the virtual critters in parks, streets, and famous landmarks around the nation. Some night footage of perambulating hordes of Pokémon addicts was oddly reminiscent of B-rated zombie movies.

My op-ed, published today in The News Lens International, continues here.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

‘One China’ or Air Safety?

Taiwan’s allies, formal and tacit, must come forward as they did with the WHA and support Taiwan’s effort to participate at ICAO, no matter how Beijing reacts 

Once again this week Beijing has demonstrated it would rather play politics than be a responsible stakeholder, this time by threatening to derail Taiwan’s efforts to participate at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) triennial assembly later this year because Taipei has refused to acknowledge the “one China” principle. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs applied earlier this year for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the assembly, which will be held at ICAO’s headquarters in Montreal from Sept. 27-Oct. 7. Due to its status, Taiwan is not a recognized member of ICAO. Several countries have lobbied on Taiwan’s behalf for it to be given at least observer status. 

My op-ed, published today in The News Lens International, continues here.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Hostess

It was the small silver chain, hidden amid various sundries, that brought back the memories of an incident I had long ago erased from my memory. I had forgotten even keeping the delicate bracelet, made of two little interlocking snakes. After nearly a decade working at a large firm in Taipei, the company was expanding and needed someone it could trust to run its new office in New Delhi. So there I was, packing my belongings by a late Sunday afternoon, when the glitter caught my eye from between the multidenominational coins, paid phone bills, and old receipts that had accrued, sediment like, at the bottom of a storage plastic box.
       As I held the chain between my fingers, the memories came rushing in with a vividness that caught me by surprise. Her name, which like the incident itself I had relegated to the dustbin of my memory, came back like an echo through time: Akiho.  
       I had met her—or to be more precise, I think I met her—in Okinawa several years ago. As a representative of the aforesaid company, I had been dispatched to Naha to explore business opportunities related, if memory serves, to a port facility expansion project.
I knew nobody on the southern Japanese island, and this was my first time visiting. The firm had put me up for my three nights’ stay at the City Court, a hotel which has left no mark whatsoever in my memory other than its concrete interior that made me feel like I was incarcerated in a large, multi-story prison.
       I didn’t go out on my first evening in Naha, choosing instead to grab a lunch box and a couple of Asahi beer cans at a nearby konbini and to spend the night watching Japanese TV programs in which, to the merriment of a studio audience, ordinary people eager to collect prize money tended to get physically injured. I admit myself taking a guilty pleasure in their misfortune.
       On the second night I ventured out to discover the city. I’d had a full day of meetings, followed by a rather alcoholic seafood dinner with officials from the city government and representatives from a number of prospective clients. After saying goodbye to my hosts I went back to my hotel room, where I peeled off my business suit, showered, and slipped into something more comfortable before heading out. My intention was to find a quiet bar somewhere near the hotel where I could grab a drink or two while reading a book, as is my wont when I travel abroad.
        It was 10 p.m. or so when I left the hotel. The night air was warm and laden with with the dampness and electricity of an approaching tropical storm. The city was bathed in the sepia of the incandescent lights along the river facing the hotel. I walked along the bank for a while until I reached a narrow bridge and crossed it. On the other side I came upon what looked like an entertainment area: three, four-story white stucco buildings with neon signs on the upper floors. I forget the name of the establishment I eventually selected, or the reason why I chose that particular one. It was named the Tropicana, or something along those lines.
        Stairs led to the bar, which was located on the fourth and uppermost floor of the building, but I chose to take the narrow elevator at the bottom instead. Judging from the advertisements downstairs, it seemed that every floor was occupied by a bar. In fact the entire neighborhood appeared to be comprised of such establishments, yet there was hardly anyone about.
        The small elevator, which couldn’t have accommodated more than three adults, slowly carried me upstairs. The doors parted and I walked through a curtain made of seashells tied along strings; the rattling somehow made me think of little Haitian percussion items made with animal bones.
         It was a cozy establishment, with a handful of tables, red sofas, and a narrow bar at the back. Blue and red lampshades created a tenebrous atmosphere. Eighties rock music was playing in the background. As all the tables were occupied, I headed for the bar. Only one stool was taken, by an elderly Japanese man who was in deep conversation with a middle-aged woman behind the bar. On his lap was a samisen, a traditional three-chorded instrument. I sat down and, stealing the woman’s attention for a second, ordered a beer. She absentmindedly poured me an Orion, the local brew, and immediately plunged back into her conversation with the man. Behind her, the shelves were filled with bottles of whisky and other liqueurs. I pulled my paperback out of my rucksack and began reading, occasionally taking a sip from my beer.
        A few minutes later a different woman appeared and leaned over the bar right across from me, exposing her ample breasts.
        “You’re from out of town?” she asked in passable English.
        “Yes,” I replied. “Taiwan.”
        Seeing her surprise, I explained that I was originally from — but that I worked in Taiwan. Exile plays tricks on one’s personality, and after years of living abroad, where I was from had become a rather elastic concept.
        She was a slightly large built with a stunningly beautiful face, a smile that drew you in, and eyes that mesmerized. Her low-cut décolletage also made it impossible to avoid looking her breasts, which beckoned like mermaids. Despite all these attributes, it was her fragrance that I remember the most, a concoction of exotic flowers and some other scent I just couldn’t place that seemed to fill the universe around me.
        Her name was Akiho. Originally from Osaka, she had migrated southwards looking for work. She had been studying English for a few months, which made our conversation easier, and her dream, she said, was to move to the United States one day.
        It became clear that I wasn’t meant to read my book. Akiho paid no attention to the other customers and concentrated on me alone. I ordered a second drink and she asked if I would treat her to one as well, which I did. She eventually joined me on my side of the bar and sat next to me on a stool, swiveling to face me. I remember she had a peculiar way of moving around, as if her feet weren’t exactly touching the ground. We spoke for what felt like hours, pouring out our life stories, how I had abandoned a job in government back home and taken my chances in Asia, how work had taken over my life, her mother’s suicide, her abusive father, her deep depression and her dreams of a new life abroad. We were only interrupted once when the locals clamored for me to join in karaoke, which Akiho’s insistence made impossible for me to refuse. I sang some song I forget by a British band and was accompanied on the samisen by the elderly man at the bar, who, as Akiho told me, was a legendary player across Okinawa. 
        Little by little, I felt I was being drawn into Akiho’s spider’s web, and I was aware that the alcohol was playing tricks with my judgment. Around midnight, remembering that I had early meetings in the morning, I asked for the bill. The sum was extravagant and I barely had enough yen in my wallet to cover for my evening. It suddenly dawned on me that I was also paying for Akiho’s time, that she hadn’t simply joined me because she liked me. She and the manager, the older woman, sensed my discomfiture as I counted the bills and nearly emptied my wallet. I paid, got up, and walked out.
        Akiho followed me outside.
        “Are you OK?” she asked, clearly concerned.
        “Yes, I am,” I replied meekly. “I have an early start tomorrow and should go get some sleep.”
        “Do you have anywhere to stay?”
        Whether this was an invitation to take our encounter to the next step or stemmed from genuine concern after I’d evidently spent all my money, I did not know. I also didn’t know if she really liked me or simply wanted more of my yen, which made me uncomfortable. I had nothing against prostitutes, but something in me has always made it impossible for me to pay for sex. Never overly popular with women, I’d often sought confirmation through their having genuine attraction for me; to pay to go to bed with a woman seemed like an admission of defeat, proof of my shortcomings.
        “Yes,” I said. “I’m staying at a hotel nearby.” I hesitated, fighting an urge to invite her over. I decided against it, telling myself that she probably couldn’t walk away from her work anyway.
        She must have sensed my hesitation. She came closer and kissed me on the cheek, her perfume threatening to steal my soul. Around us, the night was still bathed in amber, the air moist and the night eerily silent.
        “I had a great time tonight,” she whispered in my ear. “Thank you.” Akiho grabbed my hand and deposited a little chain in it. She looked me straight in the eyes. “Something to remember me by,” she said. With that, she turned around and went back inside. I stood there for a while, fighting an urge to go back in, but then I remembered I had no money left. The angels of my nature prevailed over my demons and I desultorily tottered down the stairs, feeling lonelier than I had felt in a long time. I walked, a forlorn figure along the river, and went back to my hotel, all my senses still charged with my recent encounter.
        I barely slept all night. Try as I might, Akiho kept haunting me, the smell of her perfume mockingly radiating from my cheek.
        The following day—my last in Okinawa—was again full of meetings, which I attended in a daze. I couldn’t stop thinking about Akiho. By dinner time, I’d decided I would return to the bar, and this time I would take her home and claim her as mine, of her own free will or as part of a transaction, I didn’t care. Some fever had overtaken me and for once in my life I was willing to break my rule.
        Once again I had to attend an interminable dinner with various businessmen, but my mind was elsewhere and I extricated myself from the painful affair at the first opportunity. I ran back to the hotel, cleaned up, changed clothes, grabbed more money and retraced my steps along the river, across the bridge, and to the bar. By the time I arrived, it was 9 p.m. or thereabouts. I went up the elevator, through the seashell curtains, my heart pounding with feverish expectation.
        I looked around the bar but couldn’t find her. The samisen master occupied the same stool, and the mama-san was once again behind the bar, occasionally serving drinks but otherwise busy talking with the musician. There was no sign of Akiho. Thinking that maybe I was too early and that her shift had not begun, I grabbed a seat, greeted the old man, and ordered a beer.
        “Nice to see you again, young man,” the musician said.
        More than an hour passed by and still there was no sign of Akiho. It suddenly dawned on me that she might not be working that night, or that maybe she had taken ill. Had I missed my chance? Would I see her again? A strange panic overtook me and I waved the manager over.
        “Excuse me,” I said. “Could you tell me if the young woman who was with me last evening is working tonight?”
        The woman frowned.
        “Young woman?”
        “Yes, the young woman—Akiho?”
        The mention of her name brought a reaction I certainly had not expected. Her face gripped with fright, the mama-san took a step backwards and bumped against the bottles behind her, noisily tipping a few over. The musician was now paying attention to our conversation and immediately shuffled to the stool next to me.
        “There is nobody by that name here,” the mama-san said, her voice trembling as she rearranged the bottles.
        “But surely…”
        The musician cut me off. He, too, was visibly shaken. “Young man, I have been a customer here for several years, and I can assure you that no person by the name of Akiho works here nowadays.”
        “What about the woman I was with last night?”
        “You weren’t with anybody last night,” the man said. “You spent the entire evening reading that book of yours.”
  “Now cut it out. This isn’t funny,” he said with finality before returning to his stool and downing his whisky.
        Surely they were jesting. The previous night hadn’t been the product of my imagination or drunkenness. I had proof of my encounter, of Akiho’s existence. It was right there, in my pocket.
  I took the bracelet out and dangled it before their eyes.
        “Akiho gave me this,” I said.
       The woman screamed, and the musician rushed to her side of the bar just in time to catch her before she swooned. It was a wail filled with such horror that I dropped all my money on the bar, quickly fled the place and ran back to my hotel. The following morning I flew back to Taiwan and locked this peculiar experience away in the cabinet of my memory.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

After Taiwanese Artists, South Koreans Are Now the Targets of China’s Wrath

Little by little, Beijing is creating a Reich Culture Chamber with Chinese characteristics 

Forget the Chinese military’s new aircraft, long-range missiles and combat ships: Beijing’s new weapon as it rattles the region is culture — or the denial of it, to be more precise. China’s targeting of performance arts is not a recent phenomenon. It has used them both as instruments of propaganda to reinforce Chinese identity and as a lure for artists wishing to make fortunes in the market of 1.3 billion people. 

My article, published today in The News Lens International, continues here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Video Accuses Joshua Wong, Sunflower Movement, Chinese Rights Activists of Being Foreign Agents

Shared by the Supreme People’s Court and the Communist Youth League, a video accuses pro-democracy activists of being in the pay of foreign agents and trying to spark a 'color revolution' in China 

The Chinese Supreme People’s Court yesterday released a video on its official weibo micro blogging site calling for a nationwide alert against a foreign-backed “color revolution” that seeks to undermine state stability in China. 

Using a collage of images of devastation, dead bodies and refugees in Iraq and Syria, the video, which was also circulated by the ultranationalist Chinese Communist Youth League, argues that the former U.S.S.R., Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Syria and Libya all serve as “painful lessons” to the Chinese. “Do you want a stable China to turn into this?” it asks. 

My article, published today in The News Lens International, continues here.

China Opens Large Fishing Port to 'Safeguard' South China Sea Claims

A new port facility in Hainan could serve as a base for China’s ‘maritime militias’ in the disputed South China Sea 

China on Monday officially opened a new fishing port at Yazhou, Hainan Province, to host fishing vessels operating in the disputed South China Sea. Located approximately 50 km West of Sanya, the Yazhou Bay Central Fishing Port — the largest in Hainan and the closest to the Nansha Islands (Spratlys) — commenced limited operations in April 2015. The port spans a length of 1,063 meters and counts 11 functional berths that can currently accommodate a fleet of 800 fishing boats. Local officials say they hope to expand capacity to as many as 2,000. Construction was completed in June this year. 

My article, published today in The News Lens International, continues here.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Tsai Gets Passing Grade for Apology to Taiwan’s Aborigines

President Tsai’s apology to the nation’s Aborigines went better than expected. But that was the easy part: now the real work begins 

It was a move that many saw as unnecessary — and an unnecessarily risky. In a highly publicized event at the Presidential Office in Taipei earlier today, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) formally apologized to the nation’s Aborigines for the unfair treatment they received over the past 400 years. 

In the weeks leading to today’s event, a number of activists and members of Aboriginal communities across Taiwan had wondered why President Tsai felt compelled to apologize to the land’s first inhabitants. For many of them, the ceremony would be simply that — a grandiose, well publicized exercise in public relations which, in the end, would not yield the morsel that’s always been missing: substance. 

My article, published today in The News Lens International, continues here.