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. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Hou/Ko/(Ma) embroilment

The photo suits the post and you already know why

Two days ago, Donovan Smith wrote a fantastic column on Ma Ying-jeou's entrée into the weird "will they or won't they" situation between the KMT's Hou You-yih and the TPP's personality cult leader, Ko Wen-je. 

I'd actually missed this when it happened; I've been pulling odd hours at my many workplaces, because I've had a few career things (not bad things, as it turns out) shift in recent weeks. So, I've been a bad blogger and bad Taiwan politics follower. 

In fact, I'd thought the possibility of cooperation between Hou and Ko had long passed. I am fairly sure the DPP doesn't think there will be a joint Hou-Ko ticket, either. The two parties both keep dancing around the issue, and it sure seems like they've mostly wanted the attention the speculation is bringing -- as opposed to Lai's almost absurdly boring campaign -- more than they actually want to cooperate. Campaign ads have shown different deputies in the background for each, and it just didn't look very likely that one would subordinate himself to the other. 

Though, if I had to guess, I'd say Hou would be more willing to surrender to Ko than the other way around. He seems like that kind of person: not strong of character, certainly lacking an ethical compass, but generally willing to lie low and not say much. Not ruffle any feathers he doesn't need to (and even some he possibly does). Ko likes to...just sort of do what he wants, which may present a problem for cooperation and in the election generally.

That, however, is just my opinion.

As you might expect, both sides have put forth methods of determining who should lead the ticket that favor themselves. Ko's proposal makes it more likely that he'd get the presidential slot, Hou's obviously favors Hou. You can read more about it in Donovan's article; I don't need to repeat what he's already said. 

Then Ma Ying-jeou entered the fray, saying he supported "purely opinion based polling" to determine who might lead such a ticket. That was rightly described as a bombshell, because Ma is a KMT stalwart. Ko generally leads in the polls, not the KMT's own Hou. (Of course Ma would never come right out and say "I support Ko over Hou").

The KMT reaction to this has been...mixed.

Ma Ying-jeou's Enemy For Life Wang Jin-pyng -- a man I don't like, but I can admire that he doesn't lie supine for Ma -- has come out and said that he supports a joint ticket where Hou leads and Ko takes the vise presidential slot, but Hou, Ma and the KMT should "think twice" before using opinion polling to cantilever Ko to the top of the ticket. He cited the backlash in the south (where rural KMT supporters would probably go for Hou but not accept Ko), that it would split the KMT, and that KMT officials wouldn't necessarily know which authority figure to follow. And you know, KMT officials always need an authority figure to follow. 

Wang also pointed out that Ko is someone who does whatever he wants; he wouldn't necessarily accept sloppy seconds, but as a presidential nominee he wouldn't necessarily listen to others. (That's not an exact quote, it's an interpretation of comments he's made). 

On the other hand, Han Kuo-yu has expressed support for basically whatever Ma wants. My only surprise here is that what Han Kuo-yu thinks still matters. I kid -- a little. Yet, he does still have a support base.

KMT Chairman Eric Chu's response seems more ambivalent, but nobody really cares what Chu thinks, least of all the KMT. (Again, I'm joking...kinda. He actually does seem to have political chops, well-hidden behind an aggressively Milquetoast façade).  

Hou has said he "will not give up hope" in the face of such cooperation and he hopes the result will "meet everyone's expectations", which sounds like a very Hou, and very Taiwanese, thing to say. The two sides will talk tomorrow in a meeting that will be attended by Ma Ying-jeou, and take place at the (barf) Ma Ying-jeou Cultural and Educational Foundation. A place that sounds like my personal idea of hell...but anyway. 

Clearly, Ma is trying to force this union and seems to be willing to go to great lengths to do so. He's got his fingers all up in this thing.

I'm hardly an expert, but here you are reading this so please enjoy some wild speculation about why this might be. Why would a blue-from-birth KMTer like Ma pivot to Ko and get his weird bald minion to go along with it? 

First, I've said basically forever that KMT Chairman Eric Chu, along with Hou You-yih and honestly much of the KMT, are basically Ma Ying-jeou's puppets (傀儡). I'm not the only one who's said this, either. Friends have disagreed, pointing out that they come from different factions within the KMT. 

When it comes to Ma, however, I'm truly not sure that matters: he just wants to control everyone regardless of faction. Certainly Ma doesn't seem to like Hou very much, but beyond that I don't think being in different factions changes Ma's desire for continued influence. He'll control whomever he has to control to push through his pro-China, pro-unification agenda, no matter how unpopular it is with the public. Hou doesn't seem particularly able to push back, which is why the KMT campaign honestly feels like some sort of Ma-era zombie awakening -- part II of a particularly bad horror movie. 

Thus, the simple explanation would be that Ma wants two things: power for himself, and to defeat the DPP. Okay, three things: he's also a dirty unificationist.

It's been widely reported that Liou Chao-hsuan -- I don't think that's the romanization he prefers but let's go with it -- Ma's former premier, is the "driving force" behind the whole idea. I don't buy this for even a second: it reeks of Ma's dirty fingers. Liou is a feint. A ruse. A decoy. 

And if Ko on top is the ticket most likely to defeat the DPP, Ma might just decide he loves power more than he loves party loyalty.

Ma's own chances of having a say over national policy, and of Taiwan moving in a more pro-China direction, are better if the DPP loses by any means necessary. Quite possibly, he would have preferred to control Hou at the top. Sensing that might not be possible, he's just as willing to do Ko a favor, get him to the top, and thus be 'owed'. 

This is probably not the entire explanation, but I doubt it's entirely untrue, either. 

There is likely some factional infighting going on. There always is, with the KMT. (The DPP seems to have somewhat beaten back their own factional struggles, for now). Perhaps Ma thinks he can supercede all of the squabbling factions by using his power and influence to crown Ko, a man entirely outside such factional struggles. Certainly the deep blues who follow Ma don't care for the more 'local' Hou, and I doubt Hou cares much for them, either. 

I suspect that if this is the case, Ma doesn't know what he's getting into with Ko, a man who is happy to take the support given to him but never pay it back. 

You know, like he did with the Sunflower zeitgeist that helped him get elected in Taipei. 

Considering the way he's treated the Sunflowers since, it surprises me that he seems to be the 'youth candidate'. Quite literally, but why tho? He's not young and doesn't represent their interests. All he has to offer is that he's not from one of the stodgy older parties; being "not those other guys" with no clear notion of why he's better shouldn't be enough. 

Regardless, I am not entirely sure that Ko will feel obligated to submit to Ma even if Ma does propel him to the top of the ticket. I'm also not sure Ma understands that, because he doesn't seem to realize there are people he can't control. Certainly he wants to shove unification down the throats of a Taiwanese public that does not want it. 


I'm sure Donovan will cover the factional angle in more depth; I'll leave him to it. It's not my area of expertise. 

I also can't help but think there's a China angle here. I know it's kind of lazy to take every little thing that happens in Taiwanese politics and say "yeah that's China's meddling", but sometimes it really is China's meddling! 

The biggest potential winners in a Ko-Hou ticket (as opposed to a Hou-Ko ticket) are Ko, Ma, and possibly Han Kuo-yu. Why Han? Because Wang Jin-pyng is probably right that the rural south isn't going to take kindly to such a ticket, and they'll need to bring out all the Han stans to win back that vote. That will help Han tidy up the reputation he marred a bit when he lost the 2020 election by such a humiliating margin.

You'd think Han's reputation would have been marred by the time he literally killed a guy well before losing an election, then losing the election he'd previously won, but whatever. Ma will certainly give his weird little minion some kind of treat for it. 

When I think of those three men, I think of Chinese backing. Do I even need to cite the notion that Ma is cooperating with the CCP? I mean, he doesn't try to hide it. If there's one thing Ma likely wants more than his own power and influence, it's for the CCP to get its tentacles into the brains of Taiwanese youth. 

It's been speculated quite a bit that Han Kuo-yu's weird (I'm sorry, that guy is weird, everything about him is weird, I will never stop saying this) return to power was due in great part to Chinese funding. I mean, is it even really 'speculated' anymore? Perhaps there was also a factional angle -- there always seems to be -- but more likely than not it came down mostly to a CCP-backed effort. They saw in him a pro-China, Trump-like dullard whom they'd barely have to control because he was already in bed with them.

As for Ko, it's been speculated that he's long since switched from green to light blue to (potentially) red. He was recently seen campaigning with New Party (and dirty unificationist) Chiu Yi, a man Ko once called "like a CCP nominee". Chiu Yi is almost too red for the KMT, but here he is actively supporting Ko, hosting "fan meetings", the works. 

If you think the support of one guy doesn't say much, I disagree. The support of this one particular guy says a lot. This is the dude who said that Taiwan independence activists deserve to be "beheaded"! Ko has also been seen associating with Terry Gou. You know, the Foxconn founder, rich asshole and presidential nominee nobody really cares about. Terry Gou, who is so relentlessly pro-China that it's almost comical. 

There's a lot more I could say here. There are still questions about Ko's comments regarding China ("we're all one family"), his family's investments in China, and his actions while attending events in China. He's even come out and said China wants him to run for president

If we take for granted that China is interfering in this election because they try to interfere in every Taiwanese election, and we note that the people (and one weird minion) at the forefront of this push for a Ko-topped ticket are all either suspected or outright known to be in China's pocket, then it's not a big leap to think this whole rigmarole is a China-backed push to get someone it can control in power. 

That Ma wants power too is almost secondary, in this case. He's happy to be the CCP's slimy bootlicker regardless. 

I'm not convinced these three options exist independently of each other. Ma wanting power and a defeat of Lai, factional struggles within the KMT and funding, disinformation and other election manhandling by China all seem to co-exist in every other election. Why not this one?

Potentially, the only difference regarding the 2024 election is that Ko has turned from a potential 'youth candidate' who could take the light blue/don't like Hou and light green/don't like Lai votes into a straight-up CCP agent, with known CCP agent Ma Ying-jeou at his back. And perhaps the incentives -- power, money, the usual -- from China are getting sweeter. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Book review: "The Butcher's Wife" is a brutal read

Content note: this book is about sexual assault and domestic violence. I don't know what else to say. Don't read this book (or this post) if you aren't in a place where you can engage with such topics. 

* * * 

Years ago in a used bookstore in downtown Singapore, I came across a lonely copy of The Butcher's Wife, by Li Ang

Li cemented herself as one of my favorite Taiwanese authors with The Lost Garden, only recently available in English translation despite not being a new novel. The Butcher's Wife, however, is probably her most famous work. You're unlikely to find the translated edition in a library or bookshop, but Amazon seems to offer it. 

To be honest, it's barely a novel. I'd call it a novella. A very long short story. It's straightforward, and brutal. 

The brevity of the story renders it highly engaging. Longer works of Taiwanese fiction tend toward narrative structures that can be a little hard to follow. Stories branch out or coil around in a spiral, glancing at the main plot -- perhaps sideswiping it now and again -- until zeroing in at the last moment. (The Lost Garden certainly did this). The Butcher's Wife, in contrast, opens with an arresting scene. I mean that literally: Lin Shi spies her mother having sex with (or rather, being haved sex with) a soldier, whom we later learn has promised the malnourished woman two rice balls in exchange. 

It's not consensual, as even "willing" sex work in desperate circumstances -- when you wouldn't have agreed if you didn't need the money, food or housing -- generally isn't. But, according to the family members who hog-tie her to a pillar in the ancestral hall, that's not good enough: she didn't put up a fight, her dress was still intact and freshly pressed, so the act of a hungry woman is considered adultery, not desperation. 

This sets the story in motion, leading Lin Shi herself to be banished from her family and married off to a pig butcher. 

It's also the first time the story shows us that the status of women in Taiwanese society, or any patriarchal society (which is to say, just about all of them), isn't due to some sort of natural difference between the sexes or any notion of fairness. It's a horrific triad of economics, violent misogyny, and silence. 

Later on, Lin Shi herself remarks that she is not entirely unhappy married to "Pig Butcher Chen". She has food and shelter, which isn't exactly nothing in 1950s rural Taiwan, for a woman with a so-called questionable past. Chen Jiangshui, the butcher, spends his mornings slaughtering pigs, comes home and rapes Lin Shi almost daily, and then gambles and drinks for the rest of the day. Lin Shi almost begins to endure it, thinking her life isn't terrible. 

In short, she's starting to come around to the idea that men are terrible, but it's possible to grit your teeth through their abuse if the rest of your life is going well enough. 

But then we learn that Chen specifically enjoys the screaming of a trapped woman. Before marriage, he paid prostitutes generously to scream like a stuck pig; it's implied that he enjoys butchery for the same reason. His butcher's knife is implicitly compared to his penis, and the squeals of pigs trapped in the "V-shaped" butcher's table (hm) contrasted with the screams of his abused wife. 

This could be read narrowly as the story of one sadistic man who gets off on violence. But Lin Shi was put in this position because all of society seems to enjoy watching women suffer. If they didn't, why would they have created abusive structures like the ones Lin Shi and her mother are both forced to endure? 

I'm not an expert in the symbolism of nomenclature in Mandarin-language literature, but it seems significant to me that Lin Shi's name (林市) means "forest and city" -- so, everywhere, really. Chen Jiangshui's name (陳江水) means "river water", implying an ever-flowing river. Chen lives, of course, in Chencuo (陳厝), which is a village name for an ancestral clan who dominates the area. In other words, violence against women is everywhere. It never stops. It's not one shitty guy, it's every shitty person who lets it happen and patriarchy throughout history that has rendered it acceptable. 

You'd think my least favorite character in The Butcher's Wife would be Chen, but it's actually elderly neighbor Auntie Ah-wang. She's the elderly archetype of every gossipy bint I've ever known or read about, and I've known a few real-life versions of her. She's endured violence at the hands of patriarchy as well; her feet had at one point been bound, which has disabled her for life. However, they were unbound early (we aren't told why, but my educated guess is that the family couldn't afford to keep her sedentary at home; perhaps they needed her to work). She gets into an argument with her daughter-in-law, who attempts to stand up to her. Through drastic means, she wins. 

Auntie Ah-wang hides behind a nearby wall listening to Chen rape and abuse Lin Shi. She knows it is rape, because at first she offers the young bride a soothing ointment. Later, she tells all the women of the village that Lin's cries are of sexual ecstasy and that the girl is a slut just like her mother. }

This is where society is complicit in Chen's treatment of Lin: he wouldn't be able to treat her as he does if her neighbors objected. Not only do they condone his behavior, but praise him -- and his upholding of patriarchal structures, which include some respect for much older women -- while victim-blaming Lin Shi. Even in attempting to create some small measure of economic freedom when her husband stops bringing her food, she's mocked by other women and further abused by him.

It's not just men. It's certainly not just a few violent men. It's all of society, women included, and the economic structures that uphold patriarchy. Which, to be clear, are just about all economic structures. (Yes, even communism. Sorry tankies.) 

This sets the characters on a path to annihilation. The Butcher's Wife was written in the 1980s so it's hardly a spoiler, but I won't divulge the ending here in case you're unaware. 

The Butcher's Wife was difficult and disturbing to read. The characters reminded me so much of patriarchal violence I've seen and heard about in real life, from shades of Auntie Ah-wang in the pink-vested women who would hand out anti-gay literature during the referendum to the stories of domestic abuse and societal complicity that I heard about living in China. One woman I know married the only make foreigner in town, even though he too was pretty awful, because the entire town blamed her for divorcing her husband. "A man never beats a good wife, so she must have done something to deserve it," they apparently said. 

I am sadly reminded of a friend who took her life. Her boyfriend was not abusive, but her father kicked her out of the family, her mental health problems prevented her from holding down a job, her former boss was petty and vindictive, suing her for something I am quite certain he knew she never did, and she didn't receive nearly enough social support. Her friends tried to help, but ultimately we failed. I'll never fully forgive myself for this, and I'll always struggle more than I otherwise would to read stories like this of society failing women. I suspect most women have experienced a trauma that affects them in some way, as well. 

Lin Shi doesn't even get that much acknowledgement. She takes her fate into her own hands, and for it, she is condemned by the village for being the only one at fault. Leading the pack, of course, is Auntie Ah-Wang. 

I have one final observation to make. It's a fairly obvious one. Sometimes I come across foreigners in Taiwan who think this is a gentle society of school-obsessed nerds who, I dunno, study engineering and drink tea in fine porcelain cups and never do crime. This is simply not true. Taiwan has higher domestic violence statistics than you might think, though they are lower than in Australia, which has a comparable population. Cases have been rising, not falling. Spousal abuse was only outlawed in 1998 (!), meaning it was still legal when The Butcher's Wife was written. Marital rape was outlawed at roughly the same time. There was no law against stalking until 2021, which is terrifying.

When I first moved here I felt like Taiwan was a crime-free society! Of course this is ridiculous, but just the ability to safely walk around alone at all hours of the night was astounding to me. I've been sexually harassed and assaulted in India, nearly mugged twice in Washington DC, followed and catcalled in countless other cities. 

But no, patriarchy is everywhere. Even seemingly 'safe' Taiwan. The Butcher's Wife may have been written in the 1980s, about what I presume was the 1950s (given the presence of the soldier in the beginning of the story). But it tells a tale as old as time: it's not just men who are beasts. It's all of us. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Why stay in Taiwan?


It's the little things...or is it?

You probably don’t care about my life, but here’s the deal. I’ve had a somewhat tumultuous week professionally, although nothing that ended up being terribly deleterious. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’ve been feeling frustrated about the limitations of teacher training opportunities in Taiwan for residents like me, despite how much we can help in the face of Taiwan’s push for internationalization.

I have no desire to discuss the details behind this; it’s insider beef that you really don’t need, and might be wrong of me (or at least harmful to me) to divulge. 

I've also been feeling more frustrated than usual about Taiwan's naturalization laws. Nothing has changed since the 2007 reforms, opening up a pathway for magical stardusted special and senior foreign professionals, basically saying most foreigners who call Taiwan home -- whether they're white collar like me or blue collar like most immigrants here -- are garbage. Not worth caring about. 

Yes, the road to dual nationality may be narrow now, but there's room for it to expand. But I fear it will happen when I'm too old for it to matter. I'm not sure exactly how I will grow old in Taiwan as planned, because I can't get a mortgage and don't have local family, but landlords don't like to rent to the elderly. What am I supposed to do when I'm 80? If the law changes when I'm 60, that's a little too late to fix the problem. 

There's something to be said for fighting for something so that the next generation can enjoy fairer access. And yet, recently I've been wondering if this is enough. Wondering why I bother. 

With all this in the background, I’ve been trying to blog about politics to get my mind off it. Nothing comes out right, though. I have a few half-finished posts that I might wrap up and publish anyway, or perhaps not. We’ll see. Maybe I just need to not with the politics right now. 

Instead, I thought I'd examine something else. I know perfectly well that I'm not actually going to leave Taiwan (which, to be honest, is part of the problem. Maybe I should be more open to doing so). So rather than stewing in my own angry juices over this, perhaps I should talk a bit about why I stay. 

People love to ask why I moved to Taiwan. That story isn't very interesting. Studying in India made me want to learn more about Asia in general. I spent a year in China and didn't love it. And yet, I still felt there was a lot for me to learn, and I like the general feel and pace of life in large Asian cities. So, I came to Taipei mostly out of curiosity. I certainly didn't know much about it. 

Why I stay, though? Maybe that's worth discussing. I've been here for 18 years now. The pay isn't that good. Career opportunities are middling at best. I do have a fantastic local network, but most of my close family live on the other side of the world. Nobody loves Taipei's weather. My apartment is nice, but apartments in Taiwan generally aren't. There's the ever-looming China threat (though I imitate local residents in living my life as though that's not a thing). 

And yet here I am. Still. I've been thinking about this for awhile -- it's easy to rattle off reasons to leave. Any article about the "ghost island" can do that. The more fruitful area to examine is why I stay.

I've identified five very generalized reasons why, despite its faults, Taiwan is the country I chose to call home. These are five things that I think are important for any country I might live in long-term, and Taiwan happens to excel at them.

For my own reflection as much as yours, here they are: 

1.) Generally good infrastructure, including (most especially) public transit

Not all of Taiwan has good public transportation, but Taipei does, and it's fairly easy to get to any other town you might want to visit. Getting around that town might be a challenge, but you can always get there. I live in Taipei, though, and this city has some of the best public transit in the world. In general, I appreciate infrastructure that works. That includes buses that run on time, a clean metro system, convenient trains.

Compare that to the US, where the only city that has public transit that comes close to meeting my standards is New York. That also happens to be a city where I couldn't possibly afford to live. I tried living in Washington DC for seven years without a car. People say transit there is good. I say it's a nightmare. 

Still, assuming I'd never move back to the US, I could enjoy good public transit in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore. If we're talking inter-city, even Vietnam. Europe, too, but there aren't really good jobs for me there. China, generally, has reasonable public transit. What could knock some of those countries off the list?

2.) An open and democratic government

Well, there goes Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong. China is an obvious no-go. I once considered moving to IstanbuI, but I can't get past the importance of a reasonable system of government. I might not have the right to vote, but it's important to me that my local friends do; I would find it very hard to exist as an admittedly privileged American in a country where I could send my ballot back every few years, but locals I knew wouldn't have access to human rights that I consider fundamental. 

For myself, well, I like to opinionate. It's important to me to live in a country where I can do so without fear of government retribution.

Beyond that, there's just something depressing about living in an unfree society. You may or may not have access to good journalism. Random bullshit things may be banned. Your friends can't say what they really think; you may not even know what they really think, depending on how severe the repression is. 

Being in Taiwan for two -- soon to be three -- presidential handovers, countless protests, a legislative occupation, and all manner of public debates? That may seem unimportant or ineffable to some, but it matters to me. Taiwan's democratic society is a big draw. 

South Korea and Japan are democracies too, though. Why not move to one of those?

3.) An acceptable level of gender equality

I'm not saying Taiwan doesn't have sexism and misogyny. Of course it does. The gender pay gap is still above 15%. But, compared to the rest of Asia, I daresay it's doing fairly well. 

Brendan has told me stories about Korea, where he would see job ads that openly offered men and women disparate pay for the same work. 

I know someone in Japan who once detailed many little ways in which women face discrimination; she once saw a pregnant woman stand up on the train for a salaryman! Discussing why that would happen, locals told her that the pregnant woman has an easier, more restful life while the salaryman is tired from hard work, so of course he should get the seat. I don't know that this happens frequently in Japan, but that it happened at all tells me that it may be a fine country to visit, but it's not a place where I think I'd be very happy living. 

Everything from work culture to beauty standards feels so much harsher in those countries. The fact that women make up such a small percentage of the workforce in Japan and are deeply underrepresented in politics are other strikes against it. I'll take the country that elected a woman twice, thanks. 

Korea is similar; the gender wage gap there is astounding (Japan is almost as bad). I've enjoyed visiting both countries. As a woman, I want to live somewhere with more equality. 

That brings me to my next point. 

4.) A high level of public safety

It's not just pay, work, politics and beauty standards. All three countries have very high levels of public safety, including for women. As an American, this matters to me. It wasn't fun growing up in a country where it wasn't safe to be outside alone at night. But Taiwan manages the high public safety with a whole lot less of the ridiculous discrimination.

This matters not just for me, but for my LGBTQ+ friends. South Korea, for instance, is not a very safe place for many people dear to me. Public safety isn't just about whether or not you're likely to get mugged or pick-pocketed. It is also deeply related to who you are. I wouldn't want to live in a country where I might be targeted because I'm a woman, or where my friends might be targeted for being gay, nonbinary or trans. 

This, of course, knocks many countries off the list -- including the United States. 

I considered adding "a high level of overall development" to this list, because so many of my points are oriented around that. Advanced economies are more likely to have good public transit and safety, higher levels of gender equality and functional democratic governments. 

But not always -- the United States fails on most of these counts. Plenty of countries that aren't rich do have democratic governments. Besides, I don't think anyone wants a middle class white lady to prattle on about how she wants to live in an advanced economy. In fact, it's not actually one of the key criteria.

Instead, my fifth point is more specific but is still related to overall development markers. 

5.) National! Health! Insurance!

As an American, I cannot express how much this matters to me. I spent the first half of my twenties kinda miserable because I needed to see some doctors, but couldn't afford any of them. My lack of access to affordable health care in the US is directly responsible for the back surgery I needed during my first year in Taiwan. 

This really matters! Health insurance alone is enough to make me forsake the US forever. 

That said, this point has been bugging me recently, because I'm in the middle of a tooth implant that isn't covered by Taiwan's NHI. All told, it will cost me about NT$87,000. The dentist has been clear that for me, it's a necessity (another one of my crowns is in danger if I don't get a tooth put in next to it). And yet, it's entirely out of pocket. 

I think NHI should cover it. After all, it's an absolute necessity for me unless I want to literally be toothless in a few years. 

But, all of that aside, I'm grateful that the many times I've needed to see a doctor in this country, that I could actually afford to do so. 

I'm still not feeling entirely all right about the state of my life in Taiwan these days. It hurts to want to commit to a place, without seeing a clear future there, especially in old age.

There is another reason I stay, but it's intensely personal: I truly believe in what Taiwan stands for. To me, Taiwan means standing up to a dictatorship that landed on your soil and tried to force you to submit, turning the country instead into a functioning and peaceful democracy. It means refusing to shatter under the constant threats from yet another dictatorship that wants to annex you by any means necessary. It means building one of the more advanced and liberal societies in Asia -- if not the most liberal -- on the back of a tragic and bitter history of colonialism and oppression.

That, to me, is worth fighting for. It's worth staying for. It's not on the list because it's not a specific thing Taiwan has, it's more of a narrative that Taiwan embodies.

It does help, however, to think through the reasons why I've stayed, and run through the possibilities of other countries where I might relocate. None quite hit the five criteria -- gender equality, health insurance, democracy, public transit and public safety -- that Taiwan does. Most countries can be exciting, interesting, historically noteworthy, or absolutely lovely. 

But I can't think of another one that actually meets these five benchmarks, all of which are crucial to me. Can you?

Friday, November 3, 2023

Which Taiwanese party offers the best chance for peace? (Not the KMT)


Here's a random picture from Hyderabad because I have somewhere to be and haven't got time to be messing around with photos

Lord forgive me, but I'm gonna pull a Tom Friedman and start with a taxi anecdote. 

If I have work at 9am, I usually take a taxi because I simply cannot with the morning rush hour. Sometimes, we talk politics, and I've heard all sorts of opinions, from the standard-issue to the positively bizarre. This morning, my driver was a middle-aged woman from Tainan with big hair and a bright green skirt who insisted that Taiwan was indeed independent, but there was no need to keep "saying we're independent" because it "upsets the mainland."  She insisted that she wants "peace" and that Taiwan is very small so “there's nothing we can do." 

Crucially, she seemed to think that people calling for Taiwan independence simply should not do so. Not because Taiwan isn't independent, but because it puts Taiwan in danger. 

We didn't exchange views on specific political parties, but her views are fairly consistent with the KMT's current campaign platform: that they're the party of no war, not declaring independence and improved dialogue with China. The only real difference between her views and the KMT platform is that the KMT fundamentally does not believe that Taiwan is independent of China. 

As she talked -- and mostly, I just let her talk -- it occurred to me that a lot of people are still judging presidential candidates based not on their actual platforms, but on some weird fantasy of what they believe those platforms to be.

For example, I've heard people still say they fear that DPP candidate Lai Ching-te will "go for independence" or that the DPP is dangerous because they will "declare independence" if they win again.

Others believe that the KMT only favor "improved dialogue" with China for the purposes of averting war; they'll insist that the party won't sell out Taiwan's sovereignty despite the fact that China's preconditions for dialogue -- that Taiwan recognize that there is "one China" and that this China includes Taiwan" -- do exactly that. 

The first is based on a semi-reasonable deduction from DPP party philosophy. They do, indeed, favor an independent Taiwan. The second is based on zero evidence. Such people are taking the KMT at their word that all they want is "dialogue", without considering their fundamental orientation to unification. 

But why take the KMT at their word, while insisting the DPP has some sort of ulterior motive or secret plan to pivot toward a formal declaration of independence when they've been quite clear that they don't intend to do so?

It not only feels a bit unfair to deduce that Lai is being dishonest about the DPP's intentions if they win the presidency again but to take Hou's word as bond, it also assumes that there is a bigger difference between what the two parties are saying than I suspect actually exists.

No, really. Hear me out.

And yes, I'm leaving out Ko Wen-je and Terry Gou because I don't want to talk about Ko, and Gou isn't worth my time. 

If we take Lai and Hou's platforms as they are presented, here is what they say they want: 

The DPP has consistently said it does, in fact, want dialogue with China, and they do not intend to declare independence. 

The KMT also says it wants dialogue with China, and does not intend to declare independence. 

I have no reason to doubt either party is lying, so whether you vote for Lai or Hou, you're getting a party that welcomes discussions with China, and won't declare independence. (I happen to know for a fact that while the DPP does, of course, envision a future of globally-recognized sovereignty as an entity independent of the PRC, there is no current intention to 'declare independence'. There's no ruse, no secret agenda). 

That, in my opinion, is where the similarities end. The DPP's reasoning is that they'd be happy to speak with envoys from another country, as long as Taiwan isn't forced to abrogate its sovereignty to do so. There's no need to declare independence, as Taiwan is already independent. No other country feels the need to put out such a statement. Why should Taiwan?

The KMT is staking their presidential bid on that dialogue with China. The key difference, of course, is that they're perfectly willing to denigrate Taiwan's sovereignty in order to do so. They'll agree to just about anything -- that there is one China as per the (fabricated) 1992 Consensus, that Taiwan's a part of it, whatever the CCP want them to say about "brothers" (兄弟) or "one family" (一家人).

Their reasoning is less overt; they won't come out and say that they consider Taiwan a part of China, but their stances don't make any sense unless you take it as a given. If any party has a secret or poorly-clarified agenda, it's the KMT. They know perfectly well that their pro-unification orientation is not popular with the public. 

In other words, when greens point out that the KMT is willing to sell out Taiwan, they're not wrong. When blues say the DPP are secretly gunning for formal independence even if it means war, they're full of crap. 

Yes, I'm biased. But come on...I'm also not wrong.

Perhaps my dislike for the KMT is causing me to notice it more, but it feels like, as usual, there's a double standard at play with the two parties. The KMT can screw up royally but "well, you know, they've always been that way." They don't even need to make meaningful changes! Their fundamental philosophy regarding Taiwan's status is laughably out of touch with the public but "but Taiwanese like to change out the ruling party" (true enough, I just wish one of the two biggest options wasn't so awful). The KMT can slaughter the defense budget, but the DPP gets blamed for Taiwan's lack of military preparedness.

The KMT can all but say they'd sell out Taiwan, but people will still believe they only want "dialogue". The KMT can have a barely-concealed desire to make Taiwan as 'Chinese' as possible, but somehow people think the DPP are the ones who are hiding their true intentions. 

Frankly, I'm sick of it. 

Okay, you might say, but which party will actually prevent war?

Honestly? The KMT may be running on a "no war" platform, but it's most likely the DPP. 

What do you think is more likely to dissuade China from attacking? A party that will kowtow to the CCP's every demand but perhaps not agree to true unification with the PRC (because the public would never accept it)? Or the party that will do what they can for Taiwan's defensive capabilities and court support from other countries, making the country less of an appealing target? 

Let's say the KMT wins, Hou lets Xi give him a good old-fashioned rawdog, but crucially doesn't actually set a timetable for unification because he knows it would result in mass riots and essentially ruin the KMT's chances for future electoral wins, if not their very existence as a party. China realizes they're not going to actually get a peacefully-unified Taiwan out of the KMT, at least not anytime soon. 

In fact, I suspect China already knows this, unless they've believed their own lies that Taiwan's desire for sovereignty is some top-down DPP invention and not the general public consensus. 

Let's say that the KMT pivoting Taiwan toward China alienates those who might have previously supported its cause -- if you're going to vote in the party that wants unification, why should we support your fight for de jure independence? Domestically, Taiwan's defensive readiness is in shambles because the KMT doesn't actually think Taiwan should need to defend itself. 

What do you think China is going to do? Say "oh well, we tried, good luck in your future endeavors, Taiwan?" 

No, they're going to attack. Not because they have to, but because the KMT will have made it easy.

On the other hand, what do you think will happen when Lai steers the same course as Tsai: cultivating a sense of existing independence for Taiwan, growing global support, rendering the question of a declaration moot as there is no need to declare what is obviously true? 

China will refuse to meet with him for sure. It will look like a more dangerous path, and China will see to that with increase war games and military exercises, various economic coercions, perhaps some financial or cybersecurity sabotage, you know...blah blah blah, the usual. Insist that the 'troublesome' DPP is bringing it on Taiwan, when in fact China is deciding to engage in this. 

They won't do that to Hou. At first, Hou will seem like the candidate for peace, because the random sanctions, military drills and fighter jet excursions will stop. For a time, at least. 

But you know what else is more likely to happen? CCP top brass will look at the costs to a bloody war that Taiwan has purposely built up, from its own defenses to international support, and decide that continuing to rattle the saber is smarter, for the time being, than actually attacking. 

That's not ideal, but it's also not war exactly. 

So if you want peace, don't support the guy that will make it easy for China to start a war when it doesn't get what it wants. 

Because it won't get what it wants -- not ever, because the Taiwanese public is unlikely to pivot toward desiring unification or any kind of strong Chinese identity -- so Taiwan's only option is to make it a bad decision to grab.