Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Great Game Was A Great Idea

The face of every analyst if China invades Taiwan

 By Thadtaniel McDorpington III

The world has changed. Over the past decade, we have witnessed a distinct shift toward a renewed competition between the great powers. The bipolar struggle between the U.S. and China is the new Great Game of the 21st century. In fact, when it comes to Taiwan, the only two countries which matter are the U.S. and China: Taiwan is merely the piece of land they are fighting over.

In my previous work, I noted that the best way to ensure peace between the U.S. and China was for the U.S. to appease China. Expanding on that notion, the best way forward for averting war in East Asia is to treat it the way colonizing powers treated Central Asia in the 19th century -- that is, the Great Game. As we can see from Central Asia today, nothing bad resulted from that. Thus, it is an excellent framework to use in 2024 when discussing Taiwan. 

As today's rivalry over Taiwan is exclusively a Great Powers issue, I am unaware of whether Taiwan has people living on it or not. It is a place on a map whose strategic position is of interest to the U.S. but close to China, which has created a flashpoint. They also produce semiconductor chips there, but it is unclear who produces them. The U.S. needs those chips, but China wants to control their production, and that is the biggest dispute driving the issue. 

Taiwan must belong to someone, but debate rages regarding who exactly that is. The U.S.? China? Some other power or group of people as yet to be identified? The world may never know. 

Thus, if we wish for peace in East Asia, the most obvious solution is to work with China. As they are surely sincere negotiation partners who are open to a variety of outcomes, not just the outcome they demand, we must provide them with assurances. Perhaps we might even convince them that Taiwan could someday choose to be oppressed by them -- wouldn't that be something! 

And you never know: some people like the taste of hard leather. We should simply encourage those elements who prefer boots to be spit-cleaned for an outcome that is...well, not
war exactly. Backing people whose end goal is dictatorship has never gone wrong.

All that really matters, after all, is avoiding war. Other concepts, like human rights and self-determination, are, shall we say, flexible. Besides, Taiwan is not a Great Power and therefore not inhabited by any humans worth speaking of, so who would even benefit from those human rights?

The best way to avoid war, of course, is to reassure Beijing that the U.S. will not fight one. As with Britain and Russia playing a rather violent chess game across Asia, China only wants Taiwan to spite the U.S. If the U.S. backs down, surely China will back down on Taiwan! Even if they don't, is it really in the U.S.'s interest to fight a war over some rocks? 

The logic is perfect: if China faces no opposition, from the U.S. or globally, on Taiwan, and is in fact assured that nobody outside Taiwan wishes to fight a war over it, China will realize that the path to conquering Taiwan is too easy, and thus not take it. 

If they do try to take it, then Taiwan, which may be a place where real people live, should defend itself. If it can't defend itself, then China should be allowed to annex it. What happens after that is nobody's business, and if there is a uprising in Taiwan that China has to put down violently through a series of genocides, we can register our shock by insisting we had no idea any of that would happen and how unfortunate it is, as we do nothing.

That's how international law and basic ethics are meant to work, and thus form the foundation of the Great Game. In some cases we even fund the genocides so they happen faster, but I do not specifically recommend it in this instance. Rather, inveighing against China after the fact while taking no specific action is sufficient for us to continue to believe we are good people with reasonable foresight.

Another option is to give Beijing everything else it wants in the hopes that it will be distracted from Taiwan. Surely they will not use our good-faith negotiation and offers of commodities and chip access to take more time building an ever-stronger military that they will use to conquer Taiwan regardless of all of the gifts we bestow upon them. There's certainly no precedent for that, nor any precedent of a country trying to control one of its smaller neighbors by interfering in its self-governance, calling resistance to that interference "separatism" and "color revolution", threatening to invade said neighbor, and then doing so. As that has never ever happened before, it definitely won't happen agai---I mean it won't happen.

It simply makes sense: tensions are raised over Taiwan. As nobody could possibly know who raised them, the U.S. must to everything in its power to keep China happy. Just as it is a well-known fact that respecting rules set by an abuser will undoubtedly cause the abuse to stop, we should respect all of China's red lines until we can figure out where these tensions come from. 

If the U.S. gives China everything it asks for and reassure them that we do not want a war, the situation over Taiwan may remain tense. That is acceptable, as I do not personally know anyone whom it would affect. In fact, I do not believe it would affect anyone at all, as it would not be a problem for the U.S. specifically. This is the normal way of things, and in the Great Game, Taiwan, which may not actually be inhabited, must accept that it will exist forever in a tense situation in which its neighbor threatens a violent annexation, and its possible allies equivocate on their support. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Summer Flowers Dining Room

I don't do restaurant reviews often these days. This is partly a natural evolution of the blog, and partly because as a diabetic, I can no longer enjoy food in the same way. Chef Joseph, however, is an exception. His erstwhile Joseph Bistro was a favorite; fine food, creatively prepared at prices entirely reasonable vis-à-vis quality. It was one of our go-to restaurants for special celebrations and the occasional birthday. 

Joseph Bistro closed several months back. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I was gutted: where else was I going to get my lamb scented with argan oil, my fish with lemon pickle or my stinky tofu curry? I'd also included it in a Taipei city guide I helped edit recently. I'd confirmed it was open, and then it closed. It'll be a long waiting game until I can rectify this, if I'm asked back for the next edition. 

Fortunately, Joseph isn't gone from the Taipei culinary scene. He's now heading up Summer Flowers Dining Room, a restaurant with fare so delicious I'm breaking my "I don't really do restaurant reviews anymore" rule to talk about it. (And perhaps I should revisit that stance in general. I get sick of politics sometimes.) 

Summer Flowers has also moved; it's in the Shinkong Mitsukoshi Diamond Towers near Zhongxiao Fuxing -- specifically, the one still under comstruction next to the green Sogo. To be honest, I prefer establishments with their own street entrance; in general I'll avoid going into most department stores if at all possible. This location is fine, however -- the elevator brings you to a floor with only restaurants. There are no noisy floors packed with slow-moving shoppers and terrible music. 

(As you can see, I may have been traumatized a few times by ATT4Fun. Now, I'd rather not go to a restaurant there than brave that hellhole. Diamond Towers isn't so instinctively horrible to me.) 

There is more than one chef at Summer Flowers, and the menu is a little different from Joseph Bistro. The appetizers include more traditional Indian fare -- they even have samosas and dahi puchka! A few staples remain; Joseph Bistro always backed up its more adventurous dishes with beautifully-made curries in the more traditional sense, including unusual choices with a stronger emphasis on southern Indian food than most Taipei restaurants with a connection to India.

It took us awhile to check out Summer Flowers due to both holiday obligations and illness, but then Brendan finished (and passed) his Master's program and we booked a table to celebrate. The vibe of Summer Flowers is a lot more modern, with lots of mood lighting accentuating reds and grays. A gallery of ornate mirrors adorns the long wall. Most tables are for two, and there's bar seating as well as at least one table for larger groups. 

We started with the chorizo-stuffed squid and fish polichatu -- grouper steamed in a leaf with coconut milk and spices in a Kerala style. Both were delicious; the flavors of the fish were more delicate, whereas the chorizo inside the perfectly-cooked squid was an absolute flavor explosion. I found myself rolling it around on my tongue to get as much flavor as possible before actually consuming it. 

Fish polichatu

Chorizo-stuffed squid

The portions are smaller (but the price accordingly a bit lower) than Joseph Bistro; instead of choosing two appetizers and two curries, we were recommended to choose three and left comfortably full. We went with the Sikkim Pork Ribs -- pork being a fairly rare meat to actually find in India. In fact, because my longest stretch of time there was living with a Tamil family who happened to be vegetarian, I didn't eat much meat at all. Occasionally I'd grab a plate of Chicken 65 for lunch when they weren't around, though. The ribs were exceptional; I can see why they're one of the most popular items. I've never been to Sikkim, which is in the extreme northeast; Calcutta is as close as I've gotten to that region, as well as the northern edge of Bangladesh. (Oh yeah, I've been to Bangladesh. There's not really a story there -- I had the opportunity to go and took it, and it was a memorable travel experience.) 

We paired all of this with half a bottle of Chablis chosen by Joseph himself. It was a perfect pairing; Indian food works well with light, slightly sweet whites. Nothing too dry, but also nothing too syrupy. Summer Flowers also offers beer and cocktails, the cocktails being India-inspired and a new venture for them (I don't recall any on the menu at the old bistro). I want to go back just for the lamb rack and a drink! 

The pork ribs are served with pickled bamboo and carrot, which set off the flavors perfectly. The meat falls right off the bone so it's easy to split between two people. 

Sikkim Pork Ribs

I'd be lying if I said we didn't eye the NT$1,800 "Nawab's Table" lamb rack. Joseph Bistro's argan oil-infused lamb is one of my greatest culinary memories, after all. But this was Brendan's celebratory dinner and he was leaning toward the pork. I did not regret this at all. 

We also ordered two curries with garlic naan: Rajasthan red lamb mas, which is the spiciest dish on the menu, and Udupi temple sambar, which is not. The lamb mas bills itself as cooked in whole garam masala, smoked red chili powder and shallot yoghurt curd, and did not disappoint. In fact, every dish on the menu had a good level of heat, without ever being overpowering or underwhelming. 

Rajasthan red lamb mas and Udupi temple sambar with garlic naan

The sambar took what is usually a side dish in southern India -- it's not a soup, you're meant to pour it over tiffin like idli, dosa and vadai -- and turned it into a dish in its own right. Big chunks of lamb, eggplant, potato and pumpkin bulk up what is usually a thin, spicy-sour breakfast accompaniment. (Or where I lived, all-day accompaniment. In Madurai, idli is not just for breakfast). I'm very picky about food from places in India I've actually been. If you serve me regular chicken curry and call it Chettinad chicken, I will hold a grudge (this is a real thing that happened. The blasphemy). I've been to Chettinad, don't play me. 

Well, I've also been to Udupi and the sambar did not disappoint. Was it exactly like what you'd get in Udupi? No, but it wasn't supposed to be! The final result of this creation was still a fantastic vegetarian option. 

Gulab jamun with kheer

I don't get to eat a lot of dessert these days, but my blood sugar has been stable and even in normal range recently, so I figured one treat night couldn't hurt. We chose the gulab jamun, which is like two desserts in one as it's served in a kheer (rice pudding) with casheews and pistachio powder. I love both kheer and gulab jamun, but let Brendan eat most of this. 

Our second dessert -- such decadence from someone who on a typical day stops herself at four squares of a chocolate bar if she has any dessert at all! -- was a Joseph Bistro classic back in the day: crusty spiced red wine apple with cinnamon cream. It's exactly what you want a very fancy apple tart to be. The apples are steamed in red wine and layered on crispy French pastry. Generous dollops of cinnamon cream melt into it for a truly perfect cold-weather dessert. 

Crusty red wine apple with cinnamon cream

The thing is, the red wine apple isn't some tiny fleck of dessert you might get at most fine dining establishments; it's a big honkin' dessert for two that we easily could have split without a second option. I'm happy we got to try the gulab jamun and kheer, but considering my blood sugar, we probably should have stuck with one choice. I'm not too bothered about it, though; we skipped cocktails and tea (masala chai truly has to be sweet). You know, for health. 

The bill came to an entirely reasonable NT$5000 (or very close to it). For a meal like that, to celebrate something special, it was money well spent. In fact, I cannot imagine getting a meal of this caliber in the US or any Western country for anything close to that price. 

All in all, don't wait. If you miss Joseph Bistro or even if you've never heard of it, don't sleep on this new restaurant. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Five great things to read after the election

I spend so much time critiquing the media that sometimes, I like to point out pieces that are worth reading. The well-written (or spoken), thoughtful stuff that either makes you think, teaches you something, or elevates Taiwanese voices above the general din of foreign commentators. 

Not all of these are about the election specifically. Some are, but some are more about critical points and interesting ideas being made more accessible to international audiences, simply because more Taiwanese voices are slowly starting to be heard. 

A survey of Taiwanese history

First up is one I've already linked: Kathrin Hille's survey of Taiwan's history in the Financial Times. This is the article to give someone who doesn't know much about Taiwanese history, but would like to learn more. It gets a lot of little, often-overlooked details right without being overly long. For example, it's one of the only historical surveys clarifying both that the Qing, for most of their colonial reign, did not control all of Taiwan, and explores in some detail how 'not Chinese' Taiwan really became under Japanese colonial rule -- including in the minds of most Chinese leaders.

These crucial details are often overlooked in historical summaries of Taiwan, which tend to make it seem more tied to China than it ever really has been. It's engaging, readable and accurate. I honestly can't think of anything I'd fix. 

Why Taiwan's election matters -- for Taiwan, and for the ideals of democracy

Next, Michelle Kuo's excellent piece in The Guardian is well worth a read. I love this one because it centers everything Taiwan has gotten right. Essentially, that Taiwan may have its issues but the fundamentals are good. It also correctly positions Taiwanese democracy as something that grew out of the resistance movement to KMT dictatorship. That is, it came from the Tangwai, the fighters, the Taiwanese insisting on something better. 

Certainly, KMT supporters want to believe that they are the party of democratization, because it's easier to take comfort in that than to think about all the ways their party attempted to stop it from happening, and the leaders they take as role models were objectively bad people. (The one KMT leader who is actually owed some respect, Lee Teng-hui, is the one they kicked out of the party.)

Moving back to Taiwan

Next up is a fascinating listen-and-read from NPR on Taiwanese Americans who have chosen to move back to Taiwan. It addresses all sorts of topics, from how their families might feel about their choices, to the relative feeling of safety in Taiwan despite the geopolitical threats.

There's a lot here that expats who do not have Taiwanese heritage, like me, might not necessarily realize when it comes to Taiwanese Americans who make the move, and topics we probably wouldn't think to investigate on our own. 

Emily Y. Wu on CNN

After the election, Christiane Amanpour interviewed Emily Y. Wu on the election results and what they mean for Taiwan. I want to see more of this -- getting Taiwanese voices in the international media rather than bringing on some rando white guy commentator. Wu's answers were articulate and thoughtful, providing perspective on the results and why China's threats have not deterred Taiwanese voters. She does especially well in describing why, exactly, Taiwan is already an independent nation. 

I get so tired of "should Taiwan be independent" or "will Taiwan get independence" or "can we support Taiwan independence" as though Taiwan is not currently independent. If it isn't, who governs it? Someone other than the people of Taiwan? 

I was a little taken aback by Amanpour's seeming lack of preparation. She says Lai referred to Taiwan as "Republic of Taiwan, China", and then double-confirmed it. Of course, he did no such thing. He calls it exactly what President Tsai has always called it -- either Republic of China, Taiwan or Taiwan, Republic of China. Could you even imagine what would happen if a president of Taiwan switched the two names?

Amanpour also seemed to brain fart on President Tsai's name, but hey, we all have bad days. Regardless, Emily was insightful and worth listening to.

An election scholar's take on the results

Finally, there's Frozen Garlic's take on the election results. There's little here that I didn't already know, but Batto lays out a clear narrative of what happened, and what it might mean for the parties, the government and the nation going forward. He spends a lot of time discussing who might be speaker, what it could mean, and how much power the TPP now wields in the legislature (as well as what would happen if there were a battle over Lai's premier pick, and how that would affect the various parties -- especially the TPP). 

The only thing I'd add is that it would be interesting to see the DPP back the TPP's Huang Shan-shan as speaker. I'm not sure they will, and it would be unusual for the speaker to come from a party that holds only eight seats, but it might be a way to get the TPP to consider the DPP's agenda more favorably, rather than simply trying to convince the TPP to support the DPP pick for speaker. 

As a bonus, if you're interested in how the tiny parties did, there's Donovan Smith's take to read, as well. He spends less time on the speaker and premiership and more on how various parties' fortunes have risen and fallen. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Dear International Journalism on Taiwan: I fixed all your bullshit headlines for you

I woke up this morning elated for Taiwan, and annoyed at the headlines dominating international news coverage. Editors around the world were clamoring over each other to choose the most asinine angle to introduce the results of the Taiwanese elections. 

If these editors festering behind news desks are to be believed, Taiwan is a recalcitrant teen -- a very naughty boy -- defying the will of stern parental figure China. Taiwanese don't care at all about the threat of looming war and are basically taking a "fuck you, Dad, I do what I want!" approach to international diplomacy. As Taiwan slams the door to its room and blasts goth rock while smoking out the window, all the neighbors tut tut because they're "concerned about that kid's future" -- seemingly not noticing that the parental figures are abusive and cruel. It's a lot harder to help get someone out of an abusive situation than it is to worry that they're provoking their abuser.


Obviously, this is stupid. China isn't Taiwan's parent, and has no say in what Taiwan does. At worst, you might consider Taiwan an adult that's gone low-contact with abusive stepparents and is fully capable of managing their own affairs.

In other words, if Taiwanese voters, who have front-row seats to the Beijing hissy fit and have the missiles pointed at them (dear editors: do you have missiles pointed at you?) understand that appeasing Beijing simply will not work, why can't these major news outlets see it?

Taiwanese voters showed that they, unlike most of the world, correctly gauge the threat posed by China, and understand that accepting the terms of a country that wants to subjugate them simply does not work. They, unlike these editors, consider their own election to be about their polity, their country and their future -- not one dictated by China. 

They understand that a temporary "peace" attained through telling Beijing what it wants to hear -- essentially, we accept the concept that Taiwan is part of China -- won't work. First of all, it's a lie, and Beijing probably surmises as much. Second, it won't be possible to keep up that charade for long. What do all of these "oh my god, it's so provocative" types think is going to happen when China starts pushing for meaningful steps to integration which the Taiwanese public does not want? 

Because whatever it is, it won't be peace. If Beijing doesn't realize that Taiwanese don't think they're Chinese now, they eventually will. And then what?

The only solution, therefore, is to run their country as they see fit and hold the line with China. There simply isn't another way.

Yes, it's a shame that the opposition is either incoherent (the TPP) or are run by filthy unificationists. I would love to see a healthy opposition to the DPP that wasn't a fully bought and paid-for subsidiary of the CPP, and who also had a cohesive ideology, vision and set of policy proposals. 

It would be fantastic if this were a wake-up call to the KMT that they might continue to dominate locally, but they will struggle to win national elections if they continue to push the narrative that Taiwan is China culturally, historically and/or politically (whether through ROC patriotism or bare-faced unificationism). 

I doubt it though. Their internal philosophy is still heavily dominated by Ma Ying-jeou, and that guy lives in another world. Someone needs to buy him a watercolor set and a nice cardigan. Sit him down in a rocking chair and be like "okay grandpa, yes I know, uh huh, Taiwan bad, okay so why don't you paint a nice picture about it, hmmm? There you go. No no, you sit and relax. Let me get you your pills.

If the TPP could step up and be a true "beyond blue and green" or "beyond cross-strait tensions" opposition, well, I'd love to see what would happen there. But I doubt it, as long as they're a one-man party run by a misogynist third-rate manfluencer whose only coherent ideology is "ME!" 

Anyway, I'm just ranting now.

Truly, the international media has taken great strides in how it reports on Taiwan. With some fumbles, the Taiwan-based reporters are improving on the work of their predecessors who used to parachute in, write garbage and leave. I don't see "split in 1949" nonsense that often anymore, and I haven't spotted a "renegade province" in some time.

Some pieces are genuinely good, like this one in the Financial Times (as usual, ignore the headline). It's nice to read an article and have no notes.

I'm still disappointed in the majority of think-tank analysis, but I suspect it will always be thus. 

The editors who write these headlines, though? 

They didn't just fumble. They took a Lalique vase, filled it with moonshine, drank the moonshine, barfed the moonshine back up into the vase, then threw the vase against the wall so that the barf and shards spattered everywhere, including on them. Then they shat themselves for good measure. 

Anyway, their work is trash and I hope the good reporters who also get hit with flecks of their barf shards will tell them so. 

Or maybe the gods can give them hangnails for every shitty headline they write. Nothing worse than that, I'm not a monster. Won't kill them but maybe will help them re-think their poor life choices. 

Truly, this is a reverse vision board of terrible ways to lead an article about Taiwan.


Friday, January 12, 2024

Chillin with 120,000 of my people at the big DPP rally


I usually only go to one big rally per election season, because the big ones are exhausting. It can be hard to leave depending on where you are, so attending may be a real commitment. If I get the chance I might seek out some local rallies for legislative candidates, because I can bail at any time. The presidential ones, though? I know people who rally-hop, but I don't have the energy for it. 

You can see more live commentary and pictures on my Twitter thread. I updated it until the crowd got too big and I lost connectivity.

This year, I picked the big DPP rally on Ketagalan Boulevard, just two days before the election. Ko Wen-je's TPP rally will be held there tomorrow, I believe -- I'm not sure if they just happened to snag that date, or if the ruling party is being sporting in letting someone else (who is unlikely to win) have the big downtown venue the night before the race. 

Speakers at the rally estimated the crowd at around 120,000, and that seemed accurate. It was impossible to reach Ketagalan Boulevard itself by 6:30pm; I was somewhere on the circle around Jingfu Gate. It was a pleasure being around people with similar politics; I live in a very dark blue area and while I appreciate being confronted with other perspectives, it can also be tiring. 


It had all the bells and whistles one can expect from a rally...literally. Candidates speak and then the crowd is led in a chant for their election ("凍蒜!"). The music is carefully orchestrated to follow the tone of whatever's being said; I'm not sure if it's all carefully timed beforehand, or if they have a DJ who switches up the generic cinematic orchestral background depending on whether the audience is meant to be energized, touched, furious or elated.

I did notice they used the same sequence of villainous chords whenever a speaker mentioned Chiang Kai-shek, Ma Ying-jeou, Xi Jinping or Han Kuo-yu. Each one of them, I suppose, is just a different version of Darth Vader.

Actual presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih was barely mentioned, if he came up at all. I'm not sure if the thought process was to (mostly) refrain from attacking direct opponents to focus on the DPP's achievements over the past 8 years, if they don't see Hou personally as much of a threat, or if people like Ma have made themselves easier bait from dumbass comments they've made recently. Ma, famously, gave an English-language interview in which he said that Taiwanese should "trust" Xi Jinping. The "trust" comment has been setting the news cycle on fire, but I found his comments that "unification...is acceptable to Taiwan" because it's what "the constitution says", and that Taiwanese people "might be interested" in peaceful, democratic unification (they are not, but perhaps Ma has been unwisely reading too much Bonnie Glaser). 



The idea that because the Republic of China constitution can be interpreted that way -- an interpretation I happen to think is inaccurate -- that unification is therefore "acceptable" to Taiwan is a total dismissal of what Taiwanese people actually want. No wonder just about everyone on stage Thursday night used Ma as a rhetorical punching bag. Even KMT candidates don't seem too pleased about Ma running his big stupid mouth

Giving Ma a thorough thrashing constituted most of the 'negative' talk, with the exception of former premier Su Chen-chang 蘇貞昌, who played the role of attack dog for the night. He's very good at it. 


The rally began with a full slate of Taipei city legislative candidates, including Hsieh Pei-fen 謝佩芬, Kao Chia-yu 高嘉瑜, Wang Shih-chien 王世堅 and my personal favorite, Miao Po-ya 苗博雅. A quick run-down: Hsieh has impressive academic chops, ran a losing race in Da'an against Lin Yi-hua, and is now running in Zhongshan/North Songshan. Kao was the youngest sitting member of the National Assembly back in the early 2000s and served on the Taipei City Council. She's known for being frequently in the media (or a target of the media), and is running in Nangang/Neihu. Wang gave a bombastic speech in Taiwanese; he's a former legislator turned city councilor, running in Datong (where he is also from; his grandfather and father were killed in 228 and arrested during the White Terror, respectively). Wang is famous for making weird bets that he always makes good on, and for apparently looking like Chucky. 

Miao got the biggest response from the crowd: they absolutely went nuts for her. I'm not surprised: she helped turn the unwinnable Da'an/Wenshan legislative seat into a fiercely competitive race. I've stanned her since before most people had heard of her, and now I stan her even more. I'm hoping to talk more about Miao tomorrow, before the moratorium on election talk, but suffice it to say, she's fantastic.


The DPP focused on its successes, with both former vice president Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁 and health minister Chen Shi-chung 陳時中, who lost the Taipei mayoral race, talk about Taiwan's world-class pandemic response. Gender and marriage equality also featured, with lots of rainbow flags among the pink and green campaign flags. Party list legislative candidate Chen Jun-han 陳俊翰, who is both a lawyer and disabled, gave a touching speech about how his disability has helped him see the value of life, and that he chose to accept the call from the DPP because he believes Lai Ching-te will build a "just" and "warm" Taiwan. 

Much of the rest of the rally was about linking Lai to Tsai -- essentially, a vote for Lai is a vote for four more years of Tsai, or at least Diet Tsai (my words, not theirs). Fire EX performed Child of Taiwan (Tai-oân Kin-á), which has a direct musical link to their hit Island Sunrise 島嶼天光 and Stand Up Like A Taiwanese, which I believe references a line from Chthonic's Supreme Pain for the Tyrant. Speakers emphasized Taiwan's comparatively progressive society in Asia, how it leads Asia and even the world in freedom and democracy, and is not an "orphan of Asia". 


The idea? It's not so much about beating the other guy, but that a vote for the DPP is a vote for Taiwan. That said, the content of a commercial showing all of Taiwan's progress regressing under a KMT presidency, complete with a scary campaign poster reminscent of Han Kuo-yu, was referenced frequently. If a vote for the DPP is a step forward, the logic goes, a vote for the KMT is a step back. Protesters back on the street, Sunflowers back in our hands. (I can't find a video of the commercial in question, but if I do I'll link it). 



Basically, if the KMT is trying to appeal to its own base by running people like Jaw Shao-kang 趙少康(honestly don't even ask me what his preferred spelling is) and Han Kuo-yu to turn out the reactionaries, the DPP is leaning into the "progressive" part of the party's name, or at least the promise of it. 

One could say that they're the more positive and optimistic party, as the KMT seems to mostly be in attack mode. That might not be entirely fair, however. It's a lot easier for incumbents to highlight their successes, if indeed they had successes (and the DPP has). 

The fact that Lai is essentially running on Tsai's record shows not only that even though Tsai Ing-wen may no longer be at the height of her popularity, she's still more popular than previous outgoing presidents Ma and Chen. The DPP feels public faith in their tenure is strong enough to run on; maybe it will work, maybe it won't, but it's telling that they don't have to distance themselves from that record.

A combination of Lai Ching-te and Hsiao Bi-khim's names (美德, which means 'virtue') was frequently referenced, along with campaign slogans "choose the right people, take the right path" (選對的人,走對的路) and Team Taiwan (挺台灣), which comes with a whole sports theme.

President Tsai spoke toward the end, saying she realized that many young people felt she didn't do enough. She acknowledged that but pointed out that every step was a step forward. Hsiao Bi-khim re-iterated many of the previous points, adding that she was appreciative of all the female voices in the DPP and among its supporters, calling herself a "proud Taiwanese girl" (echoing the Fire EX song). Hsiao noted that despite Taiwan's difficult history, the world can now see that Taiwanese people don't give up. 



She also mentioned a minister in Pingtung? I'm not really sure, but it was the first time I've actually heard a word from my Taiwanese class (bok-su, or minister) used in the real world. So, that's cool. 

To be honest, I had a metal screw drilled into my jaw on Monday and hadn't had painkillers since lunch, so I started to lose the plot by the time the big candidates took the stage. 

I'm beginning to lose the plot again now, so I'll leave it there. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2024

International reporting on Taiwan: getting better, but still not quite there

The road to democracy is bumpy. So is the road to good media coverage of Taiwanese elections.

I don't have a lot of time today, but I want to take a quick dive into a pre-election piece from the BBC on Taiwanese identity. The BBC is a good news outlet through which to look at what reporting on Taiwan looks like now. It used to be absolutely awful -- I mean, really so stinking bad that it wasn't even worth reading for years. Things have improved slowly as the quality of correspondents improved. Now, I might just cringe once or twice while perusing a BBC article on Taiwan. 

The article in question includes an (unintentionally?) appropriate photo of a woman in an ROC-themed clown wig. It starts out with pull quotes from a KMT rally. I can't get too mad that the piece never actually clarifies the truth in light of those quotes. For example, the implication that the DPP doesn't want peace, or plans to declare independence -- neither are true. There's also the implication that the DPP doesn't want peace, or that Hou Yu-ih is an "honest" man. He aided in the cover-up of a sexual assault case in New Taipei during his mayoral administration. "Honest" is not a word I'd use to describe him. Finally, the notion that "independence means war." Uh huh. So does unification. So what?

In fact, if China tried to force the issue of unification, war would be inevitable. Though difficult, I can imagine a distant future in which Taiwan gains de jure, recognized independence without war, although it probably entails the PRC's collapse from internal factors. I do not envision a future in which Taiwanese people ever want to become part of China.

Regardless, which major party is actually intending to declare independence at any point in the near future? Neither. 

But these are real perspectives from real voters; what everyman would give a quote to a news outlet if they knew the reporter would likely tear it apart?

In general, the piece is better than the usual BBC tripe, including many Taiwanese voices across the political spectrum. It describes what life in Taiwan is actually like, though perhaps with too much focus on Taipei. Writer Rupert Wingfield-Hayes clearly went to great effort to look at a variety of local perspectives rather than just spout the usual "split in 1949 tripe" and collect a paycheck. I commend that. 

I appreciate the activists chosen to discuss the pro-Taiwan perspective; in fact, I know two people who refuse to speak Mandarin unless they absolutely have to. Although Mandarin is one of their native languages, they'd rather use English if Taiwanese is not possible. Only if their interlocutor speaks neither will they speak Mandarin. It's an uncommon but worthwhile perspective.

There are a few criticisms to be made, however. First, this blatant untruth: 

The mainland became the People's Republic of China, and Taiwan has remained the Republic of China. Both claimed the other's territory. Neither Chiang, nor Mao, conceived of Taiwan as a separate place with a separate people. But that is what it has become.

This is false. Chiang never considered Taiwan independent, but Mao actually did (and, for the record, so did "father of the nation" Sun Yat-sen, a belief he never changed as he died long before Taiwan left Japanese control. The quote is in the link above but I'll include part of it here as well: 

A year later, Mao and P'eng Teh-huai manifestly dissociated Taiwan's political movement from China by incorporating it into the anti-imperialist revolution led by the Japanese Communist Party. According to the "Resolution on the Current Political Situation and the Party's Responsibility," passed at a meeting of the CCP Central Political Bureau on 25 December, 1935, and signed by P'eng and Mao: 

Under the powerful leadership of the Japanese Communist Party, the Japanese workers and peasants and the oppressed nationalities (Korea, Taiwan) are preparing great efforts in struggling to defeat Japanese Imperialism and to establish a Soviet Japan. This is to unite the Chinese revolution and Japanese revolution on the basis of the common targets of "defeating Japanese imperialism." The Japanese revolutionary people are a powerful helper of the Chinese revolutionary people." 

Wingfield-Hayes is simply not correct in making the assertion that Mao never saw Taiwan as independent, and I hope it is corrected. 

It's worth pointing out, as well, that notions of Taiwanese identity and the Taiwan home rule movement were well underway when Mao and Chiang were both still in China, and Taiwan wasn't in any way a part of China. What the Taiwanese thought of their own land and identity is surely just as important as what Mao or Chiang thought, if we're discussing identity at all. If mid-twentieth century history must be brought into it, then we need more than what two dictators who were not from Taiwan thought, even if one of them forced his ideas on Taiwan in an extremely bloody way. 

I have two more bones to pick with this article, though neither are quite as severe as the falsehood above. 

The first is the disparity in coverage and quotes. I counted approximately five quotes from KMT supporters (more, if you count repeated quotes from one person). 

Quoted people from the green camp top out at two, though each person is given multiple quotes. The article offers a robust middle section devoted to pan-green voices, but begins and ends at the KMT rally. 

Although I commend Wingfield-Hayes for seeking out thoughtful voices from the pro-DPP side, at no point does he actually seem to have attended a DPP rally. 

I'm not inclined to treat this too harshly, however -- the activists interviewed offer substantive and thoughtful points. The spectators at the KMT rally are soundbites without a lot to them. I'm not sure I would have begun and ended such a piece at the rally, but it's not the worst thing a BBC writer has ever done.

My second point of contention is how polls and identity sentiment are discussed. This issue is quite a bit more serious. Here's the only mention of them:

Not everyone feels Taiwanese, or exclusively Taiwanese, but more and more young people seem to lean this way, polls suggest.

To give the issue proper perspective, it would have been wise to include actual poll numbers. I'm truly not sure why that didn't happen -- it suggests that the split is either quite even, or that Taiwanese identity is some up-and-coming thing and not the majority consensus. 

As a review, here are the numbers

As of June 2023, 62.8% of respondents claimed purely Taiwanese identity. 30.5% claimed both Taiwanese and Chinese. Those who claim to be only Chinese are lower than non-respondents and probably lower than the margin of error. 

That's not even getting into polls suggesting that the vast majority of that 30.5% who identify as both Taiwanese and Chinese still prioritize Taiwanese identity (though I haven't seen recent numbers, the difference was pretty stark). 

In other words, it's not actually a both-sides issue, although the article is right to examine other factors at play in this election. Identity alone won't win it for the DPP, but the point stands that when it comes to identity, the DPP actually does reflect the majority consensus. The KMT does not. 

And nowhere in this poll does it say that this is entirely a youth phenomenon, though I grant that Taiwanese identity is indeed more popular among younger voters. 

What's more, the article implies that Taiwanese identity is a fairly new thing, but you can see clearly from the graph that it took over as the majority opinion in the early 2000s, right around the time Ma Ying-jeou was elected (in fact, if anything this proves that identity alone doesn't win elections and the DPP doesn't win simply because it pushes Taiwanese identity). 

I'd also like to point out that people want the status quo and don't want to "declare independence" because most say the status quo is "sufficient qualification" to consider Taiwan independent. This is from 2022, but still: 

It would have been nice to see a bit more representation of the actual, poll-tested beliefs that are most common in Taiwan. I don't expect the BBC to interview only those who claim Taiwanese identity, but I do think this article shortchanges the perspective somewhat. It's the majority opinion. Perhaps we should treat it as such. 

Readers of the BBC piece who don't know Taiwan might well come away from it thinking Taiwanese identity is a 'new' concept, that not being part of China is one perspective but perhaps not the majority, or that strong pro-China sentiment is common or even just as strong as pro-Taiwan sentiment when it manifestly, by the poll numbers, is not. This is the narrative I hope the BBC can render more accurately going forward. 

Monday, January 8, 2024

Lai Ching-te has Taiwan, not the ROC, to thank

I've been avoiding election commentary to keep my anxiety levels in check. Plus, I had a piece of metal drilled into my jaw today, and I'm working six days a week. Suffice it to say, I've had to let blogging take a backseat again. 

But now that I have two days to recover from the whole metal-in-jaw thing where I get to lounge around in my LL Bean hoodie and sushi pajama pants, and I wanted to make a quick point about some stupid thing Han Kuo-yu said on the campaign trail. 

I don't want to care about anything Han has to say, but as the KMT is putting him at the top of the legislative party list candidates, unfortunately, we're probably going to have to hear his stupid voice for awhile yet. (It also shows that the  KMT pivot back to reactionary rhetoric and policy isn't shallow, it's a full, tire-screeching turn). 

The clip is 8 minutes long, but only the first minute or so grabbed my attention. Han says, "how can a miner's son become the vice president? How can they run for president?" This is a jab at Lai Ching-te, who made good as a doctor and then political figure, and is also the son of a Wanli miner. 

Taken alone, this could be seen as pure classism, but it's not really what Han meant. He went on, "this is eating the Republic of China's rice, smashing the Republic of China's bowl, cutting the roots of the Republic of China."

(Regarding that last phrase, 斷根 is an interesting choice to me. If you change the object being cut off at the root, you can use it to mean something more like excising an illness). 

What Han really meant here is that he's ungrateful for everything he became thanks to the ROC. The implication is that the great Republic of China government lifted people from humble beginnings like Lai so that a miner's son might hope to run for president. 

That sounds a bit better than just "how can a miner's son run for president?" but I think, in some ways, it's actually worse. The first part of his statement, taken alone, is shallow classism. It would be readily and rightly attacked. In fact, I can't imagine anyone would dare to say such a thing on the campaign trail; it could only hurt their party and candidate. This doesn't mean the KMT doesn't think it -- I believe many of them do -- only that they wouldn't say it. 

On the other hand, spinning a story that the miner's son is ungrateful that he is able to run for president of the country because he supports Taiwanese sovereignty, not ROC ideology, is likely to strike a chord with many supporters. Watch the video -- Han was met with cheers. It doesn't surprise me that attendees at this rally believe this nonsense, and it's what makes that nonsense so much more dangerous. 

It's all claptrap, of course. 

From an economic standpoint, when Lai was born, the ROC on Taiwan was concerned primarily with re-taking China. They didn't even really want to be here -- to live here, build lives here -- besides some vague claim to the land. The ROC was spending over 90% of its budget on the military. They also kept tight controls on the economy: that's where all those poorly-run national enterprises stuffed with nepo babies came from. Their economic development goals were, kindly put, unachievable. 

Aid from the US helped stabilize this situation, not anything the ROC specifically did. They used ineffective measures to curb inflation and talked a big game about local development while spending nothing on it. It took a great deal of pressure from the US, along with aid, to convince the ROC to actually prioritize economic stability and development. 

Even then, it took decades for Taiwan to regain the level of economic development and stability it had under Japanese colonial rule. Considering Taiwan's level of development and infrastructure before the war, it simply should not have taken this long. To the extent that the ROC government 'developed' Taiwan, they were only fixing the two generations of bad economic policy that led it to need 'developing' in the first place. 

In other words, Lai Ching-te did not grow up in a Taiwan where the ROC was doing everything it could to ensure people like him had the opportunity to go from a miners' sons to leaders. Quite the opposite. If we can give the ROC credit for developing Taiwan to the point that a miner's son could get an education that would help him become a doctor and public official, then we can frankly give just as much credit to US aid and US pressure on that government. 

As someone who strongly dislikes most US foreign policy, it pains me to say this, but the numbers don't lie. If you'd like to see the numbers, I recommend Samuel Ho's Economic Development of Taiwan 1860-1970, especially the chapter on post-war Taiwan.

From a political standpoint, the ROC government wasn't all that interested in people like Lai succeeding, either. Obviously, they didn't want someone like Lai running for president at all, seeing as they did not have presidential elections. That eventually changed, thanks not to the efforts of the old dictatorship, but the Tangwai who opposed them and never gave up fighting for democratization, along with Lee Teng-hui, without whom it might not have happened as it did (or, perhaps, at all). If Lai can be grateful to anyone for the opportunities he's had in public life, it's them. The democracy movement originated in Taiwan, so that would be gratitude to Taiwan, not the Republic of China. 

Beyond that, Lai's formative years were spent under an ROC government that blatantly discriminated against local Taiwanese. They didn't want miners' sons to succeed; they wanted government and national enterprise sinecures for the 1949 diaspora elite. They wanted people like Lai -- children from humble local backgrounds -- to know their place and not question the dictatorship that ruled over them, even when said dictatorship couldn't even properly get the economy on track without an influx of US cash. They wanted to rip their own history and language from them, teaching them that they were not only 'Chinese' but inferior Chinese at that because they came from a backwater and were corrupted by life as Japanese imperial subjects.

From school admission to government jobs to merely speaking the right language, the ROC if anything placed barriers on people like Lai. It was Taiwan -- that is, those who pushed for reform -- that helped him overcome them. 

And that's not even taking into account that people of Lai's political persuasion were arrested, disappeared, tortured and killed throughout Lai's formative and early adult years. It absolutely horrifies me that someone stumping for the party that conducted the White Terror could possibly say that Lai is not "grateful enough" to the government they forced down Taiwan's throat. 

And yet, people will believe it. Some people genuinely think the ROC was a net good for Taiwan, and gave people like Lai opportunities they should be "grateful" for. They conveniently ignore the ROC's poor governance in its early years of colonizing Taiwan. They forget the White Terror repression, fear and massacres. They forget that Taiwan has elections today despite, not because of, the way the ROC has governed Taiwan for most of its occupation of Taiwanese territory. And they forget that the KMT has deep-rooted prejudices against local Taiwanese which were far stronger, and resulted in far fewer opportunities, during Lai's formative years.

But this sure is a great way to whitewash history to suit a bullshit narrative that the ROC Lai grew up under uplifted, rather than oppressed, Taiwan.

That's what the KMT really wants: to once again force a narrative that not only is the ROC a right and just government for Taiwan, but that it always has been. They want you to believe the ROC has done mostly good, and that Taiwanese people should be grateful for it rather than angry at the brutality and oppression they actually experienced. 

Like any stable person would with an abusive parent or ex-partner who thinks you should be "grateful" for all they did for you and ignore all the suffering they caused, I think it's time we collectively go no-contact with the KMT so we no longer have to tolerate their narcissistic, gaslighting horseshit.