Wednesday, December 27, 2023

A Thin Comfort

Taiwan's eternal light

When I'm extremely stressed, I engage in a practice that is likely very common: curling up on my bed and covering myself completely in a blanket. Phone nearby but not within perfect reach, lights off. In the US, that blanket would probably be a thick afghan or quilt. In Taiwan it's usually some thin linen drape. It doesn't matter; I just need to be covered. I don't even take away the throw pillows on the bed. Yes, I'm the sort of person who keeps throw pillows on her bed. 

I've found myself curling up this way more often in the past few months, as I've dealt with a fair bout of career anxiety. It's not just that I'd be making a lot more money if I lived in a number of other countries, but that I'd likely get to take my work in the direction I truly want it to go. 

Since 2011, I've been more or less consistently enrolled in some sort of teacher training program. First CELTA, then Delta, then a Master's program, plus a few short courses here and there. That first CELTA course changed the direction of my life; I didn't just go from someone who was teaching English "as a job" to someone who wanted to lead classrooms of adults as a career. I also became a full-throated convert to the power of good teacher training

Obviously, I wanted to be a better teacher myself. As good as I could possibly be -- which, as it turns out, is not perfect. I mess up too. But I also wanted to help other teachers develop their skills. I felt I could make a bigger impact on the world, or at least the education world, by doing so. I haven't loved every teacher training course I've led, but the direction, in general, has always felt right. 

And yet I've realized over the past year or so that there are limitations to this career path in Taiwan. There simply are not enough teacher training opportunities. Those that exist often get outsourced to international firms based in places like the UK. This is a direct result of people who have the power to decide whether to take a training contract choosing not to take one, and the organization needing the training looking elsewhere. 

This is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to avoid by taking the freelance route. I struggle a lot with the idea that decisions might be out of my hands. I can work with a team but I am not a natural follower. I wanted quite specifically to be in charge of what classes I take and when I'm free to take them. I never want to be told by anything other than my bank account that I can't take this or that trip.

Instead, I've found that I'm too far removed from those decision-makers to be heard, and it probably wouldn't matter if I was heard. After all, it's not as if they aren't aware that teacher training in Taiwan should be sourced as locally as possible, to people who know the local context. 

Please don't misunderstand: I'm grateful for every teacher training opportunity that comes my way. I find most of them meaningful, impactful, intellectually challenging to plan and execute and personally satisfying. As with a great deal of impactful work, whether it improves the world in some tiny way has become more important to me than whether or not I enjoyed leading it. And yet, I do generally enjoy them.

Friends have recommended I start my own local training business. I don't want to do that -- first, I'd be in direct competition with people who've been in the field longer, whom I like, respect and have perhaps even acted as mentors. Second, I want to be a teacher, not a business owner. Running a business is its own job and skill set; a job I don't want to do, and a skill set I lack and am not terribly interested in acquiring. Reading books about Taiwan or studying two unrelated languages at the same time -- one of them through Mandarin -- are more attractive than learning to balance books or engage in marketing. 

In other words, as a teacher (or teacher trainer) I have the time and energy to learn Armenian and Taiwanese. As a business owner, I'd spend that time figuring out how to make and keep my business profitable. No thanks! 

It is a thin comfort that I know I'm usually very good at my job, and I learn from whatever mistakes I make. It's not enough of a comfort, though, when I think about what I could be doing if I weren't committed to Taiwan.

I have found other career outlets that satisfy me. This is another thin comfort. I've been doing a lot of work in language learning content development and online materials design recently. It scratches the same itch of being meaningful, impactful (one hopes -- it's not live yet) and intellectually challenging. In my own training I found that leading other teachers and creating materials were two strengths. I've also been doing a lot more paid writing, some of which you'll hear about soon. 

These frustrations and their associated comforts have caused me to consider moving in a new direction, out of the classroom and into full time materials development. I haven't found the right job in Taiwan, and most jobs abroad are no longer fully remote, but it's an idea on the horizon if I can't make a full career of teacher training -- and it looks increasingly like I can't.

I had a choice: Taiwan or my career, and I chose Taiwan. Potentially leaving the classroom for something different feels like leaving a religion, but here we are. It bothers me quite a bit that my complaint isn't about pay exactly, or finding a specific full-time job, but about being able to explore a career direction at all. 

This leads me to my final thin comfort, which I alluded to in my last post about staying in Taiwan. It may seem tangential to this post, but in my mind, it isn't. To take that kind of personal and professional hit, there must be a damn good reason. It can't all be night markets and 711! 

As I explored in that last post, despite its problems, Taiwan's fundamentals are solid -- democracy, a push for equality and open-mindedness, crucial services like public transit and national health insurance. Society moves generally in the right direction, and that makes it worthwhile to stay. 

What I realized from writing that post, however, isn't just that Taiwan has a lot of great things going for it. It's that what Taiwan gets right are also benefits that Taiwanese citizens enjoy. They matter because they're not just good for me -- they impact everyone positively. 

So many of those "best countries for expats" type articles talk about superficial benefits that really only apply to white foreigners. You know, how much an expat can make relative to the cost of living, what great homes they can rent or buy on the cheap, job and life opportunities that locals mostly cannot access.

I hear the same from the occasional older foreigner in Taiwan, waxing nostalgic about the "good old days" when Taiwan was "exciting" or opportunities where "everywhere". Usually, they're talking about the late 1980s or perhaps early 1990s. 

Okay, but a lot of my Taiwanese friends were children or young teenagers then, and were still being told by their parents not to even have, let alone express, an opinion lest they end up in prison or worse. A student once told me he was warned by his family not to say too much or even speak Taiwanese outside the family, or a "white truck would come in the night." Yikes. 

Who gives a shit about excitement or opportunities for foreigners when that's the local situation?

Of course, many Taiwanese look back with maudlin candor on the Chiang Ching-kuo era. Taipei elected a whole mayor based on it, and that's bullshit. Such an opinion does not cancel out what my local friends have said they experienced.

That's what Taiwan offers -- a better society than the one it had. For everyone, not just expats. Would my life as a white American be "better" in these ways in most of Southeast Asia? Yes, absolutely. But it would be a superficial improvement; it would make only my life better. 

In Taiwan, perhaps I cannot always feel the impact of things like "democracy" and "same-sex marriage" directly on my own life. After all, I could probably have the career I want in, say, Vietnam -- but Vietnam is not a democracy and does not have marriage equality. I might make more as a corporate rat racer in the US, but much of the US no longer recognizes my bodily autonomy and in some states, it's straight-up illegal for some of my friends to exist. 

In fact, if I hear Westerners talking about a country that's great to live in because you can make so much money, or it's a lot of fun for them or they can score more women than they could back home, it's a good sign that I shouldn't live there -- I'm not interested in a fever dream for white people.

If long-term foreigners are talking about the problems they and the country face and how life isn't always perfect for them, then it likely means their lives are at least a bit more like those of locals. It will never fully be the same, but it means the advantages that country offers are probably accessible beyond expat enclaves.

The benefits Taiwan offers are good for society, and it's better for everyone if everyone benefits. Even if I can't vote, it's better for me, for society and for those I care about that my Taiwanese friends can. My opinion might not matter, but again, it's better for everyone that my Taiwanese friends can protest and not disappear.

That's not to say Taiwan is perfect, but again, the fundamentals are good. 

Is that worth what I consider a major career sacrifice thanks to one of Taiwan's many imperfections? Is that blanket sufficient to comfort one in times of distress? 

It has to be. It has to be.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Abusers lie: everything wrong with that horrid Foreign Affairs article


My two expressions while reading this tedious Foreign Affairs article

Note: this is far too long, and I know that already. I know I end up repeating myself. Frankly, you only need to read the first half or so to get the point, but I offer quotes from most of the article, until I too got too tired to continue. There's just so much to refute!

Stop wherever you like; I won't blame you. 


I want to respect Bonnie Glaser. You probably don't believe that, because I dunk on her more than I agree with her, but in fact it would be preferable for someone in a position as influential as hers to put out good ideas and thoughtful analysis. I want to admire women of her stature, as well, in a world (and a field) that is so painfully male-dominated. 

If anything, this is why I am so disappointed in what she actually has to say. She likely has access to all sorts of data and intelligence that most people do not. She has the ear of people whose decisions matter. This is her actual career; I'm just a blogger. I should really listen to her.

But I can't. I just can't. Almost everything she puts out makes me cringe so hard, I can barely write about it. For me, it's worse than with her co-authors on the Foreign Affairs piece that's stirring up so much commentary on Taiwan Twitter: I haven't followed the career of Thomas Christensen, and Jessica Chen-Weiss is already a known China sellout who doesn't have Taiwan's best interests in mind. Dunking on the latter is hardly worth it, because there is no dimensionality to her (bad) opinions and analysis. 

Glaser, on the other hand, claims and occasionally appears to actually care about Taiwan and isn't an active unificationist pretending to be unbiased. That makes it all the more tragic; she seems to really want to stand for something regarding Taiwan, while at the same time must fool herself into believing China is a rational actor that can be talked to and reassured rationally. This results in what can best be described as cognitive dissonance in her work. 

Enough with the vaguery -- why do I feel compelled to say all this now? Again, it's that awful Foreign Affairs article. Pretty much nobody I've seen liked it, and with good reason. To that end, let's break it down to better understand exactly where it goes wrong. I'm focusing on Glaser specifically because she's since taken to Twitter to defend the views expressed, insisting they were "taken out of context" by critics (they were not). 

The growing might of China’s military and its increasingly aggressive posture toward Taiwan have made deterrence in the Taiwan Strait a tougher challenge than ever before.

This is correct, but fundamentally the piece calls for doing exactly what Taiwan and the US have already been doing: working on improving defense while not, say, declaring the independence that everyone knows Taiwan already has.

Which is fine, but if China's military might is "growing" and Beijing is becoming "increasingly aggressive" toward Taiwan, doesn't that indicate that these measures are either insufficient or simply not working?

Washington can help Taiwan’s military stockpile and train with coastal defense and air defense weapons, field a robust civil defense force, and create strategic reserves of critical materials such as food and fuel to deter and, if necessary, defeat an invasion or blockade of the island. 
This and the rest of the paragraph are fine; indeed the US should continue to assist Taiwan in these regards, not only for Taiwan's security but its own interests. My only gripe is calling Taiwan an "island". It's multiple islands that together comprise a country
A threatened state has little incentive to avoid war if it fears the unacceptable consequences of not fighting. As the Nobel Prize–winning economist Thomas Schelling wrote years ago, “‘One more step and I shoot’ can be a deterrent threat only if accompanied by the implicit assurance, ‘And if you stop, I won’t.’”

Right, and this is the fundamental problem. To China, Taiwan not moving toward unification -- in fact, moving toward not wanting unification now or ever, which is already the consensus in the country -- is an "unacceptable consequence". China was never content with just the status quo; that's why they've always made Taiwan accepting that it is at least conceptually a part of China a prerequisite for any dialogue at all. 

This implies that there is a way to deal with China that does not reveal this very extant "unacceptable consequence", a way to convince China that there's still hope for achieving the only outcome Beijing deems acceptable (unification) without war. 

But there isn't, because Taiwan will never choose or accept peaceful unification, now or ever, and Beijing surely knows this. Glaser should, too. 

The quote she proffers ends: "And if you stop, I won't [shoot]".  But I have to ask -- stop what?

Was Taiwan about to declare formal independence? It doesn't seem so, as the KMT thinks Taiwan is China, the TPP is a laughingstock, and the DPP has made it clear they currently have no such plans. What exactly is Taiwan meant to stop doing in order to incentivize China to reduce its aggression?

From here it seems that no matter what Taiwan does, China gets ever more aggressive. And again, Glaser of all people should realize this. 

The three parties involved in the Taiwan Strait are not providing one another with sufficient assurances. For example, to enhance deterrence, Washington must make clear that it opposes any unilateral change to the status quo, not only an attempt by Beijing to compel unification but also a political move by Taipei to pursue independence.
That would be fine, if it were actually working. It's not -- the United States is already doing that. That's quite literally their position right now. So what exactly is supposed to change here? The implicit point of the article is that current assurances are insufficient or not credible, but what other assurance other than the ones already given can the US provide? Despite already doing exactly what Glaser is recommending, China continues its threats, military buildup and march to war. 

The assurance China actually wants from the United States is one that the US simply cannot give; it wants an indication that if it were to instigate war, the US would not intervene in any way, even if -- especially if -- things got violent. Which they absolutely would. 

The US cannot assure China in this way because they don't want to. They want China to realize that the threat of a US reaction is very real, and Glaser herself seems to agree this is wise. 

Combined with a conditional and credible threat of a military response by the United States and Taiwan to the use of force, such assurances will help prevent a war.

Will they? Because this is exactly what the United States and Taiwan are already doing, and it hasn't stopped Beijing from ramping up the aggression and threatening ever more imminent war. The three authors make it sound like this would be a helpful change in policy that can take everyone off the current path to bloodshed, but it's not a change, so what change do they expect from Beijing?

I also don't appreciate the phrasing of "help prevent a war", as though wars just sort of happen for no no reason, or have no agent. Worse, it implies that it's the United States and Taiwan that might "cause a war", when China is the one threatening it, and China is the only country that wants it. The entity that can prevent the war is the one threatening to start it in the first place!

The advised action for the US and China to not "cause a war" (scoff) is to, again, do exactly what they are currently doing...which has landed us on this path to the war we must somehow prevent? Can someone explain to me how this is anything other than hamster wheel logic?

Ill-advised statements made in the past by former and current U.S. officials suggesting that the United States should formally recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state or restore a clear alliance commitment to defend the island would, if adopted, undercut assurances and weaken deterrence as surely as would a lack of military readiness.
At what point has the US government seemed to entertain the notion that the opinions of any of these officials -- I assume she means Mike Pompeo, among others -- be enacted into policy?  The closest we ever came to that was Pompeo saying it; if I recall correctly, he was already out of office.

Maybe Glaser has some sort of intelligence indicating that Beijing actually cares about these statements, even though it's plain that the US is going to do no such thing. Okay, but that's not something the US government can do; it amounts to advice to individuals not to run their mouths. 

Here's how we know that the US isn't going to move toward a formal recognition of Taiwan: the ruling DPP doesn't actually want that, right now. I mean, philosophically they absolutely do, but practically they're aware it's not a good time to make such moves because Taiwan is already doing everything it can to avoid a war

Maybe if Glaser spent more time in Taiwan, she'd realize this, and see that it hasn't had much of an effect on China's warmongering threats. 

Yes, I do know this for a fact. An election cycle is upon us, and there is zero chance the other parties in the race want formal recognition for Taiwan, either. So why would the US extend the offer? The implication that it might makes no sense.

Although the DPP is not always a unified voice, generally speaking the US doesn't make big moves regarding Taiwan without unofficially checking in with Taipei. This is another mistake analysts like Glaser make (and in fact Glaser herself has made). They assume the US just sort of...decides to do favors for Taiwan, and never asks Taiwan if they want those favors. Presumably, offering formal diplomatic recognition would fall into that category, if it were a thing? (It is manifestly not a thing). 

U.S. military threats will lose their potency if Chinese leaders believe that the United States will take advantage of their restraint to promote Taiwan’s formal independence or to prevent unification under any circumstances, even if it were to result from peaceful, uncoerced negotiation. Beijing may determine that refraining from an attack would mean it would forever lose the possibility of unification...
This is the biggest farce in the entire article. Do the authors truly believe unification from "peaceful, uncoerced negotiation" is ever going to happen? It isn't, because Taiwan does not want this, and public opinion has been (steadily, with a few bumps) moving away from ever wanting it. It's safe to say that the Taiwanese public wants peace, doesn't want to make any big moves, is willing to put off the big domestic questions of the country's name and constitution until some future date, but does not want unification -- now or ever. 

Besides, can such negotiation ever be "uncoerced"? This disregards all the ways in which China tries to non-violently coerce Taiwan into accepting concepts of 'one China' that it never actually agreed to. From the attempts at an economic stranglehold to cutting Taiwan off from the global pandemic response, to disinformation campaigns, election interference, cybersecurity threats and attempts to denigrate Taiwan to any and all international entities, China is already trying to coerce Taiwan to "non-violently" negotiate! 

This is as offensive as looking at an abusive relationship -- except it's not even a relationship as Taiwan and China aren't together -- and seeing a controlling narcissist try to control their partner's finances and movements, as well as isolating them from their friends. Then, the couple announces to everyone they know that they "agreed" to marry...everyone knows the controlling partner bullied their victim into "agreeing", and perhaps it was not "violent", but it would absolutely be "coerced". 

China is already doing this to Taiwan, so it is not possible -- let me make myself absolutely clear, it is not fucking possible -- for such negotations to be "uncoerced". 

And fuck you, you abuse-excusing shitbag, if you think this is acceptable. 

(If you're thinking "did Lao Ren Cha just call three 'eminent' China scholars 'shitbags'...well, not directly, and they're probably very nice people to have coffee with I guess, but if this is actually what they believe, then look at their beliefs and judge for yourselves.) 

One more thing before we move on: it is also not possible to provide this assurance. The authors say it more plainly than I expected: Beijing needs to believe that peaceful unification is possible in order to not start a war.

They openly admit to the possibility, implying to some degree that it might be preferable, as at least it would be peaceful (yeah, and an emotional abuse victim who obeys because it's easier than having a lamp thrown at their head is also technically living in a 'peaceful' house). 

But it isn't, in any sense -- it isn't possible, and it isn't preferable. The Chinese government, as it exists today, but hopefully not forever, will never allow Taiwan to continue to have all of the things the people hold dear. Things like free and fair elections, freedom of expression, a free press and...not gulags. Wouldn't ya know, Taiwanese people remember what it was like to get disappeared and shot for having a contrary opinion and they're not fans. 

So why would Taiwan want to enter into "peaceful negotiations" when it knows that would be the result? It wouldn't, and we can see that from poll results showing Taiwanese don't. 

Hence, it's not only not preferable, it's not possible. This is not an assurance that the US and Taiwan could ever credibly give Beijing, because Taiwan will never choose "peaceful unification" of its own volition. 

What's more, Beijing certainly already knows this. So they know such assurances are hollow. 

If you don't think Beijing realizes this, either you think CCP officials are unimaginably stupid, or you yourself are. 

We all know Chen-Weiss is already a bootlicker, but Glaser -- who claims to care about Taiwan -- should know this. Is she grappling with cognitive dissonance, or just atrocious at her job?

Perhaps she has some inside information that we don't, indicating that Beijing would be willing to accept an obviously false "assurance". But I doubt this, because again, everything she is advising is something the US and Taiwan are already doing and it doesn't seem to have 'assured' Beijing at all. 

Besides, assuming Beijing is not stupid -- which Glaser et al. don't seem to believe -- we can be quite sure that the 'intel' and 'red lines' they are signaling to the US and its coterie of analysts who don't spend nearly enough time in Taiwan, are probably lies. Beijing lies about everything else; feeding bad intel to all those pesky experts far away in the US so they'll jabber on about irrelevant crap while they build up their capacity to subjugate Taiwan would be very on-brand for the CCP. 

And if China comes to that conclusion [that peaceful unification is not possible], then Washington’s focus on beefing up military power in the region may still fail to prevent a war.
If you think Beijing has not already come to that conclusion, you're either extraordinarily deluded, you have head trauma, or you are grappling with cognitive dissonance so profound that the best therapists probably can't help you. 

For effective deterrence, both threats and assurances must be credible. As the scholars Matthew Cebul, Allan Dafoe, and Nuno Monteiro have noted, “Power boosts the credibility of threats but undermines that of assurances.” This dynamic is what political scientists have long described as the security dilemma. 

Except, again, it is not possible for those assurances to be credible, because the only thing Beijing wants is the one thing it already knows it will never have.  

To issue credible threats and assurances simultaneously, leaders must cultivate “a reputation for restraint in the face of compliance” rather than simply a reputation for unconditionally inflicting punishment.

Since when has the US unconditionally inflicted punishment on China? If anything, the US has been restrained in the face of an ever more aggressive China. And what compliance are we talking about? With the ramping up of threats and active campaigns to undermine Taiwan's government and sovereignty, China is already not compliant. 

So the key question -- the one these three brain trusters never bother to ask -- is how can we provide an assurance that is actually credible, not an obvious lie like "Taiwan might choose peaceful unification", so as to render an uncompliant Beijing more willing to back off? 

It's not even clear that will work. The other question these geniuses don't ask is what China will do, nay, what China is already doing, to undermine Taiwan that is not exactly military in nature. 

Do they believe that assuring Beijing will stop the cybersecurity threats? The attempts to rig Taiwan's elections? The arbitrary detainment of Taiwanese in China? The absolute flood of disinformation corrupting Taiwanese grandparents the same way Fox News corrupted most of mine? 

Continue to "assure" China all you want with "credible assurances" that aren't remotely credible. Why not? It's what we're already doing. Just see if it stems Beijing's attempts to undermine Taiwan's sovereignty at every turn. It won't, because this is exactly what's happening now. 

So, again, what restraint? We're already restrained. What compliance? China is already not complaint!  

Beijing hopes to prevent Taiwan from further consolidating its separation from the mainland...

Taiwan doesn't have a mainland.  

Taipei and Washington hope to deter Beijing from attacking Taiwan to force unification.

Sure, but this implies that unforced unification is possible or even preferable. It is neither. Such an assertion cannot exist without the assumption that uncoerced unification is a possibility, because without that, no credible assurance is possible. 

But it is not a possibility, because Taiwanese people already know that it would be a disaster. They know this by looking at China's words and actions. Only Glaser and the other authors don't seem to have figured this out.

Yet all three parties have neglected corresponding efforts to signal to one another that these military preparations are not meant to alter the status quo or to preclude the prospect of an eventual peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences. 
This is false. I don't mean I disagree, I mean they are factually incorrect. The Tsai administration has said repeatedly that they have no intention to "alter the status quo". All they have done is note that the status quo means Taiwan is sovereign, because it is. The DPP has shown admirable restraint in not seeking a formal declaration of the independence Taiwan already has. It has faced down critics who think provoking a war would be worth such a declaration (for the record, I don't think it would be). It has been called "not actually pro-independence" for pursuing sovereignty alongside peace, yet it has stood firm. 

Where exactly is the failure here? 

President Tsai has said on multiple occasions that she welcomes discussions with Beijing. She is rejected every time, as Taiwan does not accept the concept that it is part of China. Beijing is the one stalling the peace process. This is a failure on the part of China, not Taiwan. 

As for the US, the same is true. Biden has said a few times that the US would stand with Taiwan were China to attack, but he has never said that he intends for the US to alter the status quo or stand in the way of the peace process. 

Where, again, is the failure? 

Only Beijing has failed. It has failed in being a partner in peace, in coming to the negotiating table with no prerequisites, in truly seeking a solution between equals without concurrent attempts to undermine Taiwan. 

The authors utterly fail to examine how unequal such a peace process would be, given China's current actions. At every turn, China tries to coerce Taiwan. Why would they assume that negotiations would be any different? 

I understand that it's not helpful for them to issue quite as many recommendations to Beijing, as Beijing simply won't take them. Taipei and Washington, on the other hand, actually listen to these three people. (Perhaps they shouldn't, but they do.) I get it -- you give advice to the one who might actually heed it. 

But in doing so, they imply unification would not be a bad thing, and place the blame on Washington and Taipei for a situation that is created entirely by Beijing. They refuse to assign Beijing as the originator of the threats of war, instead opting for a tired, outdated framing where Beijing has no agency, but is merely "provoked" by the actions of others. 

What is their advice to end these "provocations" (in this case, a lack of assurances?) For Beijing and Taipei to continue to do more or less exactly what they are already doing -- and yet somehow, call these actions a "failure"! 

Senior Biden administration officials have reaffirmed that the United States does not support Taiwan’s independence...
Here's where they give away their bias. Taiwan already is independent and anyone with two brain cells to rub together realizes this. They don't phrase it as "formal", "recognized" or "de jure" independence (though there is an argument to be made that Taiwan actually has de jure independence). They call it "independence", as though Taiwan is not currently sovereign. 

The only fair thing I can say here is that the Biden administration phrases it this way, too. They're wrong, too. Taiwan is independent; the only thing to 'not support' is formal recognition at this time. 
Unfortunately, officials in all three capitals have also expanded the scope of what they believe are legitimate measures to signal resolve in response to perceived threats, fueling a potentially dangerous spiral of actions and reactions.
Wrong. Only China has done this. The US has basically stayed the course, not entering into a formal defense pact but doing exactly what it has always done under the maze of policies created in the late 1970s. Taiwan has actually shown remarkable resolve not to rock the boat, although it has every moral justification for doing so.
Beijing, Taipei, and Washington have not reiterated key statements that once made an eventual peaceful resolution at least conceivable.
The only "peaceful resolution" Beijing will ever accept is to annex Taiwan, and everybody else knows this, so either the authors actually think it would be acceptable for Taiwan to be non-violently coerced into this, or they need to see a neurologist. 

Such assurances were never meant to promote a near-term resolution or to specify the details of any eventual resolution; they were meant to convey that there still might be peaceful ways of settling cross-strait differences.

The fundamental problem is that there probably aren't any peaceful ways to settle this.

Not while China can accept no peaceful resolution other than unification. Taiwan will never accept any peaceful resolution other than sovereignty (with admirable restraint, they have not demanded international recognition so as to prevent a war, so I'm not sure what Glaser et al. think they are doing wrong). 

I hate to say this. I don't want there to be no roads to peaceful resolution. But unless and until China recognizes that it cannot have Taiwan and will never have Taiwan, I don't see what those roads might be.

Glaser, Chen-Weiss and Christensen try here to play the 'unbiased' card, insisting that they aren't outlining details of such a potential resolution. But that they seem to think that the government of China, as it exists now, might be 'assured' into good-faith negotiation with Taiwan as equals -- and that right there is where they show their asses. 

To not even ponder the notion that Beijing deliberately pretends to act in good faith while doing everything it can to undermine the other party is astounding to me. It is not serious. So how can we take these three seriously?

For instance, Beijing’s proposals regarding the governance of a future Taiwan unified with the mainland have grown less generous over time. The “one country, two systems” offer that Beijing made in a 1993 white paper included allowing the island to “have its own administrative and legislative powers, an independent judiciary, and the right of adjudication” as well as “its own party, political, military, economic, and financial affairs,” and a pledge that Beijing would not send troops or administrative personnel to be stationed in Taiwan. 
Uh huh, and if you think this offer was in good faith, and would not be walked back the second Beijing felt like it, I present to you Hong Kong's Fate. 

The former assurance disappeared in China’s 2000 white paper on the topic, and the latter was removed in its 2022 iteration. “One country, two systems” was never a popular concept in Taiwan, and it has become even less so now that Beijing has tightened its hold on Hong Kong, where it had pioneered the approach. Combined with increasingly aggressive and frequent Chinese military operations near Taiwan, the failure to offer more attractive options for Taiwan’s future only makes Beijing seem both more threatening and less trustworthy.
If you mention Hong Kong you have to admit that what was offered in the 1990s was a promise that Beijing was never intending to keep. 

Regardless, in 1993 Taiwan was not a democracy, and two dictatorships uniting is perhaps less impactful and problematic than a democracy uniting with a dictatorship. Are the authors unaware that Taiwan has changed a lot since 1993, as well?

Besides, this implies that Beijing possibly could make an offer that Taiwanese would find attractive. It cannot, because Taiwanese -- unlike Glaser, Chen-Weiss and Christensen -- are smart enough to see that Beijing only knows how to lie. 

It implies that there is a form of unification between a (comparatively small) democracy and a (large) dictatorship in which the democracy might come out ahead, or even get to keep its democracy. There never was, not in 1993, not after democratization, and not now. Not ever. 

Let me repeat, because some people clearly need to hear it more than once: the fundamental problem is that China has never made Taiwan a tempting, credible offer, because no such offer exists. There is no iteration of unification that would be good for Taiwan and Taiwanese know this. 

The only assurance China will accept is that unification without war is possible (they never intended to drop the coercion). That assurance is not possible to give, because Taiwanese do not want it and never will. Therefore, it is not credible. 

Tell me again, what "credible assurances" are we meant to offer Beijing, when all the truly credible ones have been rejected?
And although she has resisted pressure from radicals in her own party to pursue measures that would likely be interpreted in Beijing as moves in the direction of independence—such as ceasing to use the Republic of China national anthem or insisting on the use of the moniker “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei” at international sporting events—Tsai has allowed the teaching of Taiwan’s history separate from the history of China in high schools.
Everything they say before this is fine; it's simply a summary of how the Tsai administration has handled China. Nothing in it deviates from their advice, despite their saying that Taipei is one of the actors that has "failed" to "assure" the other side. 

This, however, is actively offensive. The implication that it is somehow bad to teach Taiwanese history in Taiwan is deeply troubling. 

What's more, Tsai can't allow or not allow this; the president doesn't set the educational standards. This isn't a totalitarian state where a person or a party can unilaterally decide what may or may not be taught in schools, and it is deeply, overtly offensive to Taiwan to imply they can.

What is the alternative? Teaching history as though Taiwan is a part of China? Unless you're a dirty unificationist, how is teaching your own country's history a problem, but teaching a history that mostly has nothing to do with Taiwan correct?

If you didn't think the authors had a pro-China bias before, this should seal it. This whole thing reads like their plan for Taiwan is to first, teach Taiwanese kids that they are Chinese, second, look the other way as Beijing undermines Taiwan during negotiations (pretending that non-violent coercion is not coercion), and three, accept unification and call it "peace".

It's nonsense. Dirty unificationist nonsense.

I don't know how else to say it. Anyone who thinks Taiwan should placate China by not teaching its own history to its own citizens can. get. fucked. 
And questions remain about the sustainability of Taiwan’s restraint in the future. The current DPP vice president and front-runner in the presidential election scheduled for January 13, 2024, Lai Ching-te, has in the past advocated for independence more stridently than Tsai, describing himself in 2017 as a “political worker for Taiwan independence.”
It is true that he had this reputation and retains some vestige of it, but he has said and done no such thing in the current campaign. So what's the problem? Do you think the DPP should only run candidates who aren't "political workers for independence" or "strident" independence supporters? 

Almost all of them are! Would the authors prefer that the only candidates in Taiwan's elections be pro-China? You know -- exactly what China wants?

This reads not just like a China sellout screed, but like some Y2K era nonsense where DPP candidates were "troublemakers" simply for existing and not thinking Taiwan is part of China. 
More recently in July 2023, Lai told supporters at a campaign event that his party’s ambition is to have a sitting president of Taiwan “enter the White House,” which implies his goal is to upgrade Taiwan’s relationship with the United States, raising alarm in Beijing and prompting a request for clarification from Washington.
Is there currently an actual law or rule that says this can't happen? Or is it just precedent? Can a president not visit another president without a formal or official change in relationship? 

Besides, what is wrong with this as a future ambition? Did he say he wants to do this now, or even soon? I don't think so.
But the credibility of those statements [that the US doesn't support Taiwan independence] has been called into question by Biden’s repeated insistence that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked because it made a commitment to do so, even though the United States has not had a formal obligation to defend Taiwan since it abrogated the alliance with Taipei in 1979 as a precondition to normalizing diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Ah, so you agree that what Beijing really wants is not an assurance that the status quo will continue, but an assurance that it can attack Taiwan and the US will let it happen? 

Thanks for admitting it so overtly. 

Biden administration officials have also noticeably failed to confirm that the United States would accept any peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences achieved through negotiations and without coercion. The Biden administration’s omission of this assurance has increased Beijing’s suspicions that Washington would never accept any form of cross-strait integration, even if achieved through nonviolent means.
Isn't this exactly what US policy currently says? It's as if you're admitting that Beijing can't have what it wants and everybody already knows this. 

And again, how exactly do we achieve the "without coercion" aspect, when Beijing only knows coercion? 

To do what the authors suggest would be to signal to Beijing that they can do everything but start a war to twist Taiwan's arm, and as long as there are no shots fired, it's all good. 

I've known abusers who never laid a finger on their victims, and this makes me sick. 

I cannot express this strongly enough: I have seen this dynamic in real life. The "it's not force, I never touched them" controlling abuse. I've seen the people who believe the abusers when they say this because no shots were fired, no hands were thrown. I am not talking metaphorically. I mean I have seen this. As with people, so with countries. Beijing is a government that knows only abuse.

It is no exaggeration to say that, in pretending Beijing wouldn't do this, Glaser, Chen-Weiss and Christensen make me want to vomit. It's disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves. 
But U.S. actions, paired with the rhetoric of American officials, have also raised fears in Beijing that the United States seeks to “use Taiwan to contain China,” as China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi charged at a press conference in August 2022, and to restore something akin to the alliance that existed with Taipei before 1979. 
Has it not occurred to the authors that the reason nonviolent integration is not possible has nothing to do with what the US wants, but rests entirely with the fact that Taiwanese people do not want it? And they do not want it not because China has not made a good enough offer, but because they see (as the authors don't) that no author from an abuser could ever be credible? 

I'm used to Chen-Weiss not thinking Taiwanese people have agency. She's a well-trained bootlicker. But Glaser? Come on. 

Besides, if you quote Wang Yi even remotely uncritically, you are not serious. 

I'm skipping a lot here, but let's move to the authors' recommendations for Taiwan (China isn't going to do what they advise, anyway). 
For its part, Taiwan must accompany needed measures to bolster its defense with credible assurances to Beijing that as long as the Chinese military refrains from attacking Taiwan, Taipei will not pursue independence or permanent separation. Taiwan should refrain from potentially provocative actions, such as holding a referendum to change its official name, the Republic of China, or revising its territorial claims to exclude mainland China—changes that would indicate a declaration of formal independence.
So...exactly what Taiwan is currently doing? What exactly is the problem? What is the failure? 

Do you secretly want Taiwan to marry her abuser?

Regardless of who is elected Taiwan’s next president, Taipei will need to convincingly reassure Beijing that it has no intention of fundamentally altering the status quo.
The problem is that while Taiwan has no intention of doing so currently, in fact, they do not want to move toward peaceful unification -- only you three, and Beijing seem to want that -- and they actually do want to keep the independence they currently enjoy. If it were formalized, all the better, but the authors repeatedly conflate "independence" (which is a current reality) and "formal independence" (which even Taiwanese aren't asking for right now). Their bias is showing.

But the need for such guarantees will grow in the event of the victory of Lai, the DPP candidate; Chinese officials deeply mistrust him since he has endorsed the pursuit of formal independence for Taiwan in the past. 
CCP officials distrust any candidate they did not personally help elect, and deeply distrust any DPP official. Either we accept this, or we advocate that China should get to choose who gets elected in Taiwan. Is that what we want?

The pledge that Lai made, in an October 2023 speech in Taipei at a dinner attended by nearly 100 foreign dignitaries and guests, to maintain Tsai’s cross-strait policy, with its emphasis on refusing both to bow to Chinese pressure and to provoke Beijing, is a good start. If elected, Lai could use his inaugural address to reaffirm the commitments Tsai made in her inaugural speech in 2016 to conduct cross-strait affairs in accordance with the Republic of China’s constitution and the 1992 act governing relations between the two sides of the strait, Taipei’s law on how the island should manage relations with Beijing.
Right, so, exactly what he has been doing and has indicated he will do? What's the problem? Why did you say earlier that Taipei had "failed" to assure Beijing, when they are "assuring" them in exactly the way you suggest?

Why the fearmongering that he's going to suddenly veer off-course? 

Regardless, this is what Taiwan has indeed been doing since 2016. China has not responded in kind. It has escalated, not scaled back. It has shown aggression, not restraint. What good are these assurances you call for, if we already know they don't work?

Also, it's not an island. It's a group of islands that together form a country.

As the third party to this dispute, the United States must also think carefully about its mix of threats and assurances. Its priority is to prevent the Chinese military from attacking Taiwan, but deterrence will not work if Beijing does not believe U.S. assurances. For instance, it is in the United States’ interest for China to remain hopeful that sometime in the future it might be able to resolve its differences with Taiwan without resorting to violence. 
The problem is that Beijing probably should not believe these assurances, as they are false. If they have hope for nonviolent resolution, fine, but as of right now there is, indeed, no way for China to peacefully get what it wants. 

The biggest issue here, which the authors do not seem to understand, is that Beijing probably already knows this. This is why assurances to the contrary cannot truly be 'credible', and why Beijing cannot be trusted to act in good faith. 
China would have to persuade Taiwan’s public of the merits of some form of peaceful integration—a hard sell, but not impossible given China’s economic clout...
Yeah no, sorry, Taiwanese aren't that stupid. Maybe you are, but they're not. Promises from abusers are worthless. All they know is abuse. 

If you spent more time in Taiwan, you'd know this as most Taiwanese do. 
...and the possibility that a more attractive government may someday emerge in Beijing. 
Do you honestly think that "maybe you can have Taiwan if your government totally changes and the CCP basically loses power" is something Beijing can be sold on?

Besides, I'm not sure Taiwan would want to "integrate" -- to use the authors' silly euphemism -- even if the Chinese government underwent radical reform. 

It doesn't matter, though. You know the old adage that one should only be friends with an ex after they no longer care as much if they're friends with that ex? 

Any government in Beijing that might tempt Taiwan toward unification would be such a good government, that it would no longer demand unification, and respect Taiwan's right to self-determination! 

But hey, if Bonnie Glaser, Jessica Chen-Weiss and Tom Christensen are actually advocating for the overthrow of the CCP, on that I agree. The CCP should be overthrown and Xi Jinping should spend the rest of his life in prison. Better yet, he should get the Ceaucescu treatment. 

To the extent that Washington can influence Chinese President Xi Jinping’s thinking on this crucial issue, it should do so; the United States should avoid making statements or taking actions that could lead Beijing to conclude that unification can only be achieved through force.
I don't know how many times I can say this. There is no possibility for unification without force now or in the near future...and probably ever. So how are we meant to 'assure' Beijing or 'give them hope' for something they know as well as I do, and most Taiwanese do, that such a possibility simply does not exist?

I am asking you, Glaser, Chen-Weiss and Christensen. How exactly do you recommend that we lie to Beijing? What words should we use to make a lie seem potentially true?
Consistent with its “one China” policy of not supporting an independent Taiwan or seeking to restore a formal alliance with Taipei, the U.S. government should not use in its official communications symbols of Taiwan’s sovereignty, such as the flag of the Republic of China, or refer to Taiwan as either a country or an ally, as the Trump administration did in a 2019 Defense Department report. If U.S. officials do so inadvertently, such as when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Taiwan as a country on two occasions in 2021, a correction should be swiftly issued.
So, you do want the US to lie? Taiwan is a country, it is sovereign, and it has symbols of sovereignty. You want the US to pretend these things are not true. You want your country to overtly, transparently lie.

Glad we cleared that up. 

And since Beijing fears that Taiwan may merely be a pawn in a wider American game of containment, U.S. officials should not imply that Taiwan is a strategic asset essential to U.S. national security.
Beijing probably realizes more than it will admit that Taiwan isn't interested in unification because Taiwanese people don't want it, not because the US won't allow it. 

In fact, it's really weird that the authors are implying that the US is some staunch supporter of independence or is actively pursuing this goal, when that's simply not true. 

But let's say Beijing does fear that Taiwan is a 'pawn' even though it's not, and pro-Taiwan sentiment stems entirely from Taiwan. Okay...the problem is that Taiwan actually is a strategic asset. (A country can be an asset without being a pawn). 

So, again, you want the US to transparently lie?

In the most egregious misstatement of U.S. policy on Taiwan to date, Biden told reporters in November 2021 that Taiwan “is independent” and “makes its own decisions,” a description that contravenes long-standing U.S. policy that does not recognize Taiwan as an independent, sovereign state.
The problem here is that Taiwan actually is independent and actually does make its own decisions, so again, you want Biden and the US government to lie. 

Sure, yeah, policy, whatever. But these things are true, policy or not, and to deny them is to lie. 

A more complete statement, such as a speech by the national security adviser or the secretary of state, should restate the positions that Biden has reportedly made clear to Xi, including that the United States does not support Taiwan’s independence, opposes any unilateral change to the status quo by either side, does not pursue a “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” policy, and does not seek to use Taiwan as part of a strategy to contain China or embolden Taipei to push for independence. Such a statement should include the assurance provided by prior administrations that the United States will accept any outcome reached peacefully by both sides and that has the assent of the people of Taiwan.
I do understand that "does not support independence" and "does not pursue a 'two Chinas' or a 'one China, one Taiwan' policy" does not necessarily mean the US opposes an outcome where Taiwan's current independence is formalized. They are, very technically, different things. Not pursuing a policy doesn't mean one won't accept an outcome.

But, this could easily be misread as pushing for unification because it seems on the surface as the most "peaceful" outcome. It's not well-worded and, I think, reveals a pro-China bias on the part of the authors. There's a lot of talk about potential unification. Where is the discussion of what an outcome of independence could mean?

I would still love to see a framework by which we could be assured that any agreement truly has the assent of the Taiwanese people. With China trying to interfere in Taiwan's elections, and throwing a baby hissy fit every time Taiwan does even the smallest thing -- like, oh, teach its own history to its own people -- I don't see currently how that is possible. 
Until recently, no Biden administration official had publicly called for the resumption of cross-strait dialogue to reduce misunderstandings and manage problems, a position that was central to U.S. policy before the Trump administration.
Perhaps they have realized that Xi and his minions are not capable of dialogue in good faith -- something Taiwanese realized years ago?

Even though Beijing is responsible for the breakdown of cross-strait dialogue, the failure of the United States to encourage a return to talks has been interpreted by Beijing as further evidence that Washington does not want the two sides of the strait to settle their disputes.
I believe that is what Beijing has led the authors to believe. This is exactly the sort of lie they tell, which analysts believe as Beijing's true, good-faith position. 

In truth, Beijing has no intention of resuming dialogue unless Taiwan accepts the concept that it is part of China. Beijing has made this clear to Taiwan. Perhaps if these analysts spent more time in Taiwan, they'd realize it too. Abusers lie, and Beijing is a government of abusers.

At least they recognize that Beijing is entirely to blame for the breakdown. Frankly, that's more than I expected of them. In this, they are correct. 


Alright, I'm tired and this article is long. There is not much else to say that isn't a further repetition of what I've already said. There's more to this piece, but I don't have it in me to keep refuting the same nonsense in the same way.

This article is mostly nonsense, undercuts Taiwan's sovereignty and agency, ignores an atmosphere of abuse perpetuated by Beijing, and both advises Taipei and Washington to do exactly what they have been doing, while implying somehow that they are not doing things correctly. It offers solutions to 'assure' Beijing that have been tried -- that are currently implemented -- and have not worked. It pushes unification as a real possibility far more than independence, conflates independence with international recognition, and criticizes Taiwan for even the tiniest steps toward taking pride in itself and its achievements. 

The fundamental disconnect here is that the three authors -- not all of whom I'd taken for China sellouts and CCP bootlickers until I read this tripe -- assume that good-faith negotiation with China is possible, and therefore an "uncoerced" solution is therefore, well...possible. It is not, because the situation is already not uncoerced. China is trying to coerce Taiwan right now. Assuming that free and fair negotations can even happen with a government like China's is like assuming a controlling narcissist might be a good relationship partner. They can't; it is not possible.

How, then, do we convince Beijing that peaceful unification is possible when it fundamentally is not?

It's nonsense, and that nonsense was never taken out of context. 

Friday, November 24, 2023

TLC announces new reality show spin-off "90 Day Fiancé: Opposition Parties"


Presidential candidate Lai Ching-te and running mate Hsiao Bi-khim take a photo with the extended cast of TLC's new reality show hit, "90-Day Fiancé: Opposition Parties"

Warning: this article contains spoilers

Following on the success of spin-offs such as 90-Day Fiancé: The Other Way, Darcey and Stacey and The Family Chantel where ill-suited couples bicker on TV, TLC has just dropped a half-season of Taiwan-based reality drama 90-Day Fiancé: Opposition Parties.

In the new series, we follow unlikely pairing Hou You-yih and Ko Wen-je, as they try to work out their differences and present a united front to the public. This new show adds an additional layer of drama to the obstacles the couple must overcome: they're both running for office, and trying to form a joint ticket! 

Extended cast members include party spokespeople, party chair Eric Chu, wealthy sideshow Terry Gou, and former leader and Hou's well-known Svengali Ma Ying-jeou. It also features the comeback of two stars once considered 'washed-up'. These are Huang Kuo-chang, a former idealist who's betrayed everything he once stood for, and Han Kuo-yu, whose career wasn't seen as promising even before he killed a guy that one time. This is Han's second attempt at a comeback. He must have some powerful backers in showbiz!

We've binge-watched the entire half-season while eating sambal-flavored potato chips from the nearby Indonesian grocery, and here's what you're missing if you don't stream it right now. 

The first few episodes start off slow, with Hou and Ko dropping hints that they might be interested in a partnership. Things speed up about halfway through when their tentative dance turns into a definitive coupling. Or does it? 

Despite Ma's best efforts to hold them together, the mid-season finale is a live broadcast that culminates in a massive public brawl where insults fly and anything goes. 
Who knew arguing over statistics could bring in ratings like this?

Reviews haven't been entirely positive, however. Despite memes proliferating across Taiwanese social media last night, DPP political activist Lin Fei-fan asked fans to simply "vote for normal people."


We'll end with some spoilers for those who've already streamed the show. If you haven't, you might not want to read ahead. 

In the mid-season finale, Ko and Gou arrive late after intentionally sowing confusion about where to meet. Hou then reads out text messages from Ko insinuating that Gou wants to quit, but is looking for an excuse. 

"Oh no that bitch did not," Gou is reported as responding.

At one point, Gou passive-aggressively insults Ma, "apologizing" for booking too small a hotel room. Ma and Chu are clearly trying to hand Ko a smackdown as the fighting continues. Chu attempts to call everyone's attention to the fact that they're being 'embarrassing' -- on live television no less! 

Hou then tried to calm everyone down by insisting they are "one team" over and over again, and it's not about this person or that, but working together. I don't know about you, but it sounded to us like he was just trying to convince himself. 

Ma, looking like he wanted to pull Ko's weave, stewed angrily before the entire KMT family tottered out on six-inch heels. 

Ko and Hou tried to insist their union was still very much alive, but viewers knew better.

We'll have to wait for the second half-season to drop to know what happens next, but word on the street is that Ko and Hou are both shacking up with new partners in a desperate attempt to keep up their social media followings.

Ko seems to be punching above his weight with beautiful, wealthy heiress Wu Hsin-ying, whereas Hou clearly got his new mate, Jaw Shaw-kong, from the grocery store after all the high street shops had closed. 

Word on the street is that Ko is trying to appeal to Gen Z male voters who will be attracted by Wu's looks and money, whereas Hou thinks he can keep his influencer status by appealing to the KMT family's base: reactionary boomers. 

We're just grateful that none of the cast members appear to have any leaked sex tapes! 

Stay tuned for updates on 90-Day Fiancé: Opposition Parties, streaming now on all major Taiwanese news networks!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Humble Pie, and Ko's Hypocrisy


Some people have fantastic housing!

This is a bit of a frankenpost, but we've had a frankenweek in Taiwanese politics.

First, yes, I was wrong about the KMT/TPP dalliance. There's no way Ko was promised the top spot on the ticket if negotiations could fall apart that quickly. Before it turned into a massive clownshow, my  Taiwanese teacher's pet theory was that the CCP gave Ma dirt on Ko: there's a reasonably popular notion that Ko was involved in organ harvesting in China. I thought this was unlikely because it has the ring of disinformation, but thought, it doesn't have to be that to still be dirt. 

Anyway, I was wrong, and the blackmail theory is probably wrong too. If one of us had been correct, Ko wouldn't have reneged like this.

Frozen Garlic has a fantastic post discussing how it all went down. He's absolutely right, of course. I'm still hung up, however, on why it went down. I don't have good answers, but it might be helpful to explore that thought for a bit. 

I didn't necessarily expect the KMT and TPP to form a formidable alliance; at best, I thought they'd dominate the polls for a time, but eventually it would all turn into a clownshow. How could it not, between the guy who does whatever he wants, the guy who expects everyone to do as he says, and Hou You-yih?

So really, the clownshow just happened earlier than I'd predicted! Yet something still  For the initial agreement to happen, I expected either a carrot or a stick -- to either entice or threaten Ko into agreeing to this obviously bad deal. And yet, there appears to have been none.

Neither Ma Ying-jeou nor Ko Wen-je strike me as particularly smart in the way statesmen should be. Eric Chu is smarter than he lets on, but hardly brain trust material. I've already explored this in some detail, so I won't repeat myself. Yet, how could three men who are maybe not the brightest but also not acutely wanting in the brains department, plus Hou You-yih, all be so incredibly, astoundingly, clownishly dumb?

I have trouble buying the idea that the lot of 'em simply blundered into this clown show. Certainly, I tend not to be impressed by men who have power, and men who want power. But this? This is on another level. Perhaps Ma really was done in by his own 'thou shalt obey' arrogance, and Ko was done in by his own 'I do what I want!" version of the same. Also, Hou You-yih was there.

Maybe the CCP threw a lot of resources into forcing this alliance, and it blew up in their faces, too. In which case, ha ha!  Or maybe I'm overthinking it. 

I'd say that at least I'm not one of the chumps who thought Ko and Hou would make a formidable, hard-to-beat alliance, treating them as de facto the presumed future leaders of Taiwan. I always assumed they'd fall apart, I was just surprised that it took a few days, not a month. And yet, I was wrong too. I'm also kind of a chump. It's okay. 

But why does Ko have support at all?

As Ko might well cease to be relevant given the way he's just embarrassed himself, I wanted to take a brief and admittedly tad superficial look at why exactly he has (had?) a strong youth support base. I had trouble finding anything; a general sense of the KMT and DPP have both failed us, why not try this new guy who isn't afraid to say what he thinks? was about as deep as it seemed to get. 

Because I don't want this to turn into a 10,000 word rant, I'm going to end up talking about just one thing -- housing.

Ko is big on housing as a policy area, so there's a lot to analyze there. In fact, the housing issue might be all we need to discuss: the measure of him as a candidate can be taken from the way he talks about it. He's not better in any other area. His other big platforms on education and industry contain similar levels of flim-flam.

It can be hard to find real positions held by Ko. The media certainly doesn't have a lot to say. There's a lot of what in this article, for example, but no real why beyond, again, a dissatisfaction with 8 years of DPP administration, as well as an antipathy to the KMT's views on China. 

"All the DPP has to offer is resist China and protect Taiwan", it says, but then what does Ko have to offer that's any better? They decline to elaborate.

To be clear, I don't actually agree that the DPP has nothing else to offer. They're hardly perfect, but they've raised the minimum wage more than their opponents, passed a (likely ineffective) housing subsidy and a rental subsidy which many renters are unable to access, as their landlords often terminate rental agreements when they try -- the reasons why are a bit complex to get into here. They tend not to clarify these policies well, and it often comes down to the government making something available, but a person in power -- your boss or landlord -- blocking access. For that, they haven't offered a reasonable solution. Lai Ching-te was even critically quoted as saying renters should "talk to their landlords" in order to access the subsidy. Ha. Fat chance. 

And yet, again, it's not nothing, and this will be important in a moment.

Another piece from deep-green media SETN (三立) breaks down three reasons for Ko's support, but none of them are any more substantive than this. They offer three reasons, but two of them boil down to not liking the establishment parties, thinking Ko 'resists the system'  and a lack of ability to evaluate political discourse, which they also point out as an issue among voters working in tech. Only the middle one offers something new -- "appealingly packaged" ideas -- but what are these ideas?

Ko does talk a lot about housing prices. He's not wrong when he agrees with young voters regarding their "four nos": they can't find a good job, can't afford a home, which means they can't get married and can't have children. These lead to the final "no" -- no hope. He points to his record in Taipei of "promoting social housing" and his support of rental subsidies to help solve this issue. 

Rent subsidies? Isn't that exactly the policy that the DPP has been trying to expand and promote, however poorly they package it?

Social housing is affordable housing units built or otherwise made available so that young and economically disadvantaged people can meet their housing needs. Over on Bluesky, there was a discussion about his purported 'success' with social housing in Taipei. I'm not sure I see that success, as the rental market in Taipei is absolutely in the crapper, but that's not the most important point. 

Rather, while housing is indeed the purview of mayors, social housing receives a great deal of assistance and funding from the central government. Here's an old MOI press release about it, and here's a discussion of how little social housing Ko and Hou have actually built during their respective tenures as Taipei and New Taipei mayors, respectively. It clarifies that cities do receive subsidies for social housing, and that it's an initiative at the national level as well. 

That second article points out that Ko wasn't always a big supporter of social housing, considering social welfare projects a 'bottomless pit' and insisting that housing should be paid for entirely by residents (that is, at one point he had an anti-rent subsidy position). He certainly hasn't built as much social housing as he implies.

Because he's a flip-flopper, however, let's assume he's actually changed his views on this.

I can understand that housing is a key pain point for young voters. Buying a home anywhere you'd want to actually live in Taiwan, especially in Greater Taipei, is an anxiety-inducing, eye-watering joke. Taipei is famed for its excellent transportation network, but good luck affording a mortgage anywhere near that network. People are complaining that suburb (exurb?) Linkou is too expensive. And Linkou sucks! 

Even renting in Taipei is torturous. I'm terrified of what will happen when the inevitable day comes that we have to move. I check the Taipei rental market every few months just to see what it's like, and there's nothing in my initial searches that clears the threshold of acceptability. 

So, I can understand thinking that the guy who sounds innovative and talks up social housing in a way the major parties don't might be a good bet. He'll even tell you how much effort he put into social housing and rent subsidies as mayor of Taipei! 

But, again, who funded those subsidies? Who assisted with social housing projects? Where did the social housing and rent subsidy policies of the last 8 years even come from? Where did assistance in acquiring land to build social housing come from? The national government, which has been run by the DPP for the past 8 years. 

I can't say the DPP has done an amazing job at this. "Talk to your landlord about getting rent subsidies" is a terrible thing to say on the campaign trail. Housing costs continue to skyrocket, and every year even the once-reasonable Taipei rental market constricts a little more, leaving mostly overpriced garbage on offer. 

So, I suppose it's understandable that some young voters would decide that housing is their key issue, and of the three (oh wait, four) candidates, Ko appears to talk the most sense. He is able to package it in a more appealing, "straight-talking" way that makes "discuss it with your landlord" Lai Ching-te look like a fumbling old git. 

Underneath that, however, he's concealing quite a bit -- from his early anti-welfare stances to his use of central government funds that he then took credit for obtaining. He got all of that money and help because the DPP helped him, and how he's acting like they don't care about housing issues, but he does. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Who's on top in the Ko/Hou/Ma throuple?

All eyes on one thing

There are two more things I want to say about the flappy flappy mating dance happening over in the blue/white camp. One of them is a discussion of why on earth Ko has a large youth following. I'll save that for sometime in the next few days. Unfortunately, he's not going anywhere; I can take my time. 

Today, I'd like to offer a few parting thoughts on the "blue and white cooperation" (藍白合) between Ko Wen-je and Hou You-yih, pushed through by Ma Ying-jeou. There's a lot of speculation about who will top the presidential ticket and why, and who might have gotten a bad deal. 

Let's skip past the obvious. Ma did this for four clear reasons, all of which likely influenced his decision:

1.) He wants the youth vote to defeat the DPP by any means necessary
2.) He wants to subsume the TPP into the KMT, essentially neutering it as a rival
3.) He wants to grow his own already considerable power and influence in the blue camp
4.) Beijing is telling him to (does anyone think he's not cooperating with them?)

There may be a fifth contributing factor as well: despite Hou turning himself over to Ma more or less body and soul, I suspect Ma simply doesn't like Hou. Hou is not universally liked within the KMT, partly for being 'too local', partly for not publicly adhering to a pro-China stance (at least until fairly recently), and partly because he's simply not seen as a true KMTer by some. After all, at one point he was seen as changeable enough that the DPP tried to recruit him

Being weak of character and with sagging polls, fighting for survival in the biggest race in which he'll ever run, of course he was always going to bow to a KMT elder like Ma. 

What is interesting to me -- and what I think tells us the most about who will be chosen to lead the ticket -- is why Ko agreed to it. Some people think Ko's 'been had', or that Ma has wrapped them all up as his pawns. Perhaps he has. Certainly, Ma thinks he's got one over on Ko and is now in total control (well, near-total. He still has to simp for the CCP, his ultimate master.) 

But why would a guy who's leading the KMT in the polls decide to team up with the KMT, potentially accepting the vice presidency rather than the presidency? A man with an ego the size of Ko's? It seems unlikely, but he did. 

This is why I think he's going to be the presidential nominee, and he probably already knows it, too. Certainly he knows that the real decider here is Ma, not "polls" (lol). 

I could be wrong -- maybe he thinks this is how the TPP survives, or that a vice presidential win is better than a presidential loss to the DPP. But the KMT had to offer him something worthwhile, and his name at the top of the ticket is the incentive that makes sense.

As I mentioned in my last post, the throuple pre-nup states at the end that cabinet appointments and committees will be determined by percentage of legislative seats. The KMT will almost certainly win, so they'll dominate. In terms of governance, the TPP is in charge of "supervision and checks and balances", which doesn't mean much. The KMT gets to do the actual governing -- "construction and development". 

Ko himself certainly realizes this. He's smart enough to know a deal that turns you into an ineffectual figurehead when he sees one.

So if your party won't dominate the government, and won't be leading the most important aspects of actual governance, what's left? What makes that worthwhile? 

Ko is fundamentally ego-driven, so the presidential slot is what will appeal to him. I'm not convinced he actually wants to govern, though I could be wrong. 

Plus, the KMT must know that if it truly wants that youth vote, a VP slot for Ko won't cut it. KMT brass probably think they can push their base out for Ko well enough -- though not everyone agrees -- so the real key is getting the votes they don't know how to campaign for. 

Hou on top means the KMT remains dominant, but probably won't get what they want from Ko. Ko on top means they do get what they want from him -- or at least, that's what they think -- and endure a little loss of face for four years. The reward is huge: some percentage of Ko's youth vote in 2024 (it won't likely last beyond that) and a gutted TPP with a figurehead president. Hou might feel safer for the KMT, but there isn't much reward, and no sweetener at all for Ko. 

This is all aside from the possibility -- I daresay likelihood -- that Beijing will simply tell their yes-man to pick Ko, and everybody in that negotiating room already knew that when they began.

Hence, my money's on Ko. 

That might not be the only reason why Ko agreed, however. More on that below. 

First, why would Ma choose Ko? I mean, aside from the fact that Ma will pick whomever the CCP wants, I think he thinks he's getting the better deal. The KMT loses a little face and doesn't run for the top spot in one election cycle, but in return they get some of the youth vote (some will certainly abandon them), but they get to actually govern for four years. What's more, if they do a bad job, they get to blame it on their figurehead, Ko! 

Ma is used to syncophants. Even his enemies are starting to get behind him, at least superficially. Wang Jin-ping, for example, is now calling on central and southern KMT supporters who might have been leaning towards Terry Gou to "return to the fold" and support the blue/white ticket. To Ma, this looks like a massive win. Maybe it is. After all, Ma isn't all that smart, but perhaps he's a little bit smart.

It makes sense that he'd think of Ko as just another person he can bend. After all, if Ko is as co-opted by the CCP, then he is co-optable, is he not? Ko, however, has a tendency to go off-script on just about anything. He's no stranger to backstabbing, and will turn on people who once helped him gain power. 

Ko might have agreed because, as much as Ma thinks he's got his man, Ko might just do whatever he wants anyway. I suspect he knows this too. I don't care for Ko, but he is actually cannier than Ma. 

This is what worries me. If what Ma wants is an alliance that can last 4-8 years, and is willing to let his own party lose face in order to neuter the TPP and get the KMT back into national government, then he's probably betting that he can also force through unification in 4-8 years, or put Taiwan on an inexorable path toward it. 

What will happen on Saturday when the choice is announced is almost secondary to this. I'm not biting my nails over that. To me, it's asking if the main course should be bitter melon or chicken feet -- they both suck anyway. One tastes like shit and the other lacks substance (you decide who is who in that analogy). 

What scares me is that there is absolutely some sort of cooperation afoot to ensure that Taiwan cannot escape China's snare, and that plenty of young Taiwanese voters, who should be smarter than this, seem poised to fall for it. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Lai Ching-te vs. the Frankenticket

Yeah yeah yeah I know this is literary or whatever, but the Ko-Hou Frankenticket really does feel like a monkey riding a lobster

I didn't want to say it yesterday, but I knew -- I knew -- the moment Emperor Ma Ying-jeou stuck his sticky dirty fingers into the Taiwanese election, that the Ko/Hou team-up was more likely than not. That's how it always goes. The KMT halfheartedly tries to be a party for the 2020s, kind of, but then Ma asserts his kingship and things just typically go his way. 

I don't know what it is. Perhaps it's something particularly enigmatic about him that makes the KMT want to fawn all over him like he is their ancient god-king? After all, he is exactly the sort of mottled old authority figure they love to bow to and he's spent years consolidating his power.

Maybe it's nostalgia for a time when the KMT was the ruling party. Ma was exactly the sort of stiff-suited guy who looked and acted like Authority, embodying everything the KMT wishes it could consistently be. (If that sounds awful to you, well, what the KMT wants to be -- the eternally ruling party of The Real China -- is actually awful. So that tracks.) 

Quite possibly, what the KMT miss is a time when they had a presidential candidate who could actually win. They do seem to have had such bad buyer's remorse over the past two out of three races that they replaced one candidate and are on their way to replacing another. I'm not convinced they didn't have buyer's remorse over Han, too, considering how badly he lost, but at least they didn't kick him down or off the ticket. 

Regardless, once the Ko/Hou dance became a ménage à trois, it was clear that Ma would end up on top. 

I didn't always think the Ko/Hou match-up was inevitable. If you'd asked me a week ago (and a few people did), I would've said that it was unlikely. The train had left the station, as the Taiwanese press has loved saying. 

But now here we are. Ko and Hou are officially an item, with Ma as matchmaker. A throuple, really. 

It's still unclear who will lead the ticket, but the decision will be made in the most transparently absurd method I can imagine. By poll, but not really. Ko and the TPP will choose a poll, and Hou and the KMT will do the same. A third poll will be chosen by the (barf) Ma Ying-jeou Foundation. Which is to say, Ma Ying-jeou himself.

Here's the wrinkled A4 printout they all signed to that effect: 


I don't know the precise calculus that will determine how the polls are combined, but the ruse is so obvious that I doubt I need to. Ko will pick a poll that favors himself. Hou will do the same. Ma will pick whomever the hell he wants, and being the tie-breaker, that guy will get the presidential slot. 

In other words, the opposition "unity ticket" presidential candidate will be chosen by Ma Ying-jeou, a move that he's clearly planned all along. The man is a snake, and not even a particularly deceptive one, though I imagine he believes himself to be cunning and deft. 

Ma Ying-jeou really is the human embodiment of a glass wastebin. Full of trash, and I see right through him. 

Since Hou lacks backbone, the rest of the KMT mostly simps for Ma (maybe not all of them, but enough) and Ko and Ma are both either CCP assets or CCP asset-adjacent, the real winner today isn't whoever leads the ticket. I think the winner is China.

Yes, I know I'm echoing Lai Ching-te himself. He called the "blue-white alliance" the CCP's "most hoped-for" outcome. But you know what? Lai is likely correct.

Even Ma has only somewhat won, because it won't be a straight KMT ticket. And if I had to put my money on Ma's pick, it would be Ko. Ko seems to mostly be leading Hou, and I think their CCP masters want the guy who is more likely to win. Ma will do whatever his Chinese handlers tell him, so if they say it's Ko, it's Ko. 

I could be wrong. As of yesterday, there were indications that a Hou-led ticket was more likely to win. This is just what my gut says.

Update: here's a solid reason why Ma might not necessarily think having Ko lead the ticket is a bad thing. I saw this on the timeline of Taipei city councilor and all-around awesome person Miao Poya. Miao is amazing (I've met her, and she made a lasting impression), and you should listen to everything she has to say.

Look closely at the last few lines of that document. This is the arrangement: 

部會原則上依立委席次分配 = ministries and committees will be allocated according to the number of seats (each party has) in the legislature. 

The KMT will certainly win more seats than the TPP, so the government will be run by the KMT, no matter who leads the ticket. Ko might not be the pawn Ma thinks he will, but it also might not matter. 

民眾黨主責監督制衡,國民黨主責建設發展 = the TPP will be in charge of "supervision and checks and balances", and the KMT will be in charge of "construction and development."

"Supervision and checks and balances" are vague responsibilities. They can mean whatever you want them to mean. Miao says this basically means that the TPP will be in charge of checking Ko, whereas the KMT gets to do the concrete work (pun intended). That is, the KMT gets to actually govern. 

Miao rightly asks if this is really what the youth want. After all, pan-greens (not all of them are DPP) have begun their own youth campaign of candidates, called 這個時代 or "This Generation", who are actually young, and who were actually Sunflowers or allied with that cause. They include Huang Jie, Miao herself, Wu Zhen, Lin Liang-chun and more. 

Why vote for Ko when you can vote for voices that actually represent the youth, and aren't necessarily from the DPP?

Ugh. Anyway.

Yes, this would make 2024 the first election since democratization in which the KMT has not run a presidential candidate. I guess that's interesting, but I won't be particularly surprised. They desperately want China's favor, and the CCP has been tiring of their lack of popularity for awhile and would rather back whomever they can cultivate as an asset, who might defeat the DPP nationally. 

Because previous polls showed a Ko/Hou unity ticket could beat Lai, plenty of commentators are going to treat these two turds as the probable winners of the 2024 election. And you know what? Maybe they will be. It's certainly possible, and polls do indicate as much. 

I'm more optimistic, however. 

First, the polls that say they can beat Lai together seem to approximately equal their total combined support. This indicates that most people who intended to vote for one or the other have said they'd vote for both. I suspect these respondents assume their preferred candidate will be at the top of the ticket, and might be unpleasantly surprised to find their guy now taking the vice presidential slot. The vice president doesn't have many specific duties, and both sides might be unhappy with sloppy seconds. 

There's also a fair chance that supporters of one simply haven't heard enough of what the other has to say. Will KMT voters who hadn't previously paid much attention to Ko be surprised when he says something outright rude or misogynist? (Not that there aren't misogynists in the KMT, but they never quite say it the way Ko does). 

Will tried-and-true "the ROC will rise again" types be put off by how easily Ko let himself be co-opted by China? Will Ko fans be bored by Hou's pointless, establishment rambling? Will they find he lacks dynamism, or perhaps feel isn't enough of a Chinese asset? Will they be annoyed that he doesn't openly hate women as much as their Favorite Guy? 

Ko's head-scratching youth support (I'm still looking for an issue where he actually represents their interests beyond simply not being KMT or DPP) will likely vanish if he's Hou's vice presidential running mate, and some Ko youth might abandon him simply for working with the KMT. Although they mostly seem to be men I'd never want to be friends with (and would tell my female friends to break up with), how many of these annoying young men want Ma Ying-jeou to pick their candidate? 

I didn't cover this in the last post, so you might be wondering why I said that Ko "screwed the Sunflowers". Well, apparently he apologized for his initial stance toward the Sunflowers, whose political wave helped propel him to the Taipei mayoralty, to former legislator and man generally hated by the Sunflower generation Alex Tsai (蔡正元). I really don't understand why he's the "youth candidate" after something like that.

Even if one doesn't care about what the Sunflowers stood for, how is an old sexist who turned into a CCP stooge someone who represents the youth?

And that's not even getting into Ko support among unificationists and one guy convicted for election bribery

Hou fans -- all 19 of them -- might feel betrayed by their Grand Old KMT gutting itself, letting an outsider top their man. A Ko ticket might keep some of the youth vote, but it might not keep the oldsters. Even '49er descended dark blues who are lukewarm on Hou because he's a local might run away in disgust, once they've seen what this ticket actually looks like.

I can only hope that voters see that the real backer of this unity ticket is the CCP, and run away fast. I hope they'll realize this isn't a chance to knock out the KMT as the main opposition so much as it's voting for stooges. But, as my Taiwanese teacher pointed out, democracy means stupid votes are worth the same as smart ones, so we'll see. 

On that topic, I don't actually think the KMT is willingly ending its reign as the main opposition to the DPP. I've never been impressed with Ma's brainpower, but he's not stupid. He wouldn't do this if he thought it would be letting the TPP co-opt the KMT, and not the other way around (as Donovan noted in Taiwan News, the KMT has a history of co-opting third parties). 

In other words, this frankenticket looks good now. The polls say it's good. The polls might even continue to say it's good for awhile. I can only hope I'm right, and that it will eventually blow up in their faces. 

There's also the question of the Lai campaign's response. I haven't even checked yet to see if they've officially nominated Hsiao Bi-khim as his running mate. We all know it's going to happen -- it's hardly even a prediction at this point -- but if they do, it might help.  She's popular, competent and international. 

Otherwise, Lai has been running an almost comically boring campaign. His domestic policies haven't impressed me so far, and on foreign policy he seems to be trying to project an image of staid continuity, a Tsai Ing-wen 2.0 who won't say anything rash, but also won't give in to China. This is probably wise, as his critics' biggest accusation is that he's a pro-independence firebrand.

Make no mistake, he is pro-independence. So is Tsai, in her way. Most of the DPP are (a few of the older ones have gone off the rails and started working against those ends...don't get me started). But he's got a reputation for hot-bloodedness that Tsai, who is more of an even-tempered professor type, does not. It makes sense to downplay that. When it looked like victory would be easy, I can understand running a boring, understated campaign. You know, don't give your enemies too much to say about you. 

The problem is, Lai also hasn't given his allies much to say about him. While I'm not as green as you'd think -- I just hate the KMT and CCP and consider Taiwan independent, period -- I suppose you could call me Lai-supporter-adjacent. And I just don't have a lot to say about him! 

(And what I could say, I won't, for various personal reasons.) 

The K'Hou Frankenticket will certainly force the Lai campaign to kick into a higher gear, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm now more worried about the election being won by CCP assets than I was a week ago, but also have to hope that the DPP has a response strategy prepared and ready to go. It's unclear that this development will drive DPP supporters to the voting booth in greater numbers, but I certainly hope the Lai campaign realizes this and has some ideas. 

I'm not entirely confident that the DPP's response will astound. They've been caught flat-footed before.  But it doesn't have to astound -- all it has to do is win.