Showing posts with label elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elections. Show all posts

Friday, August 16, 2019

In a move likely to anger China, Taiwan exists

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Taiwan, which is 100% there

The Trump administration is moving ahead with for an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan despite strong objections from China, a U.S. official and others familiar with the deal said Thursday.

The administration notified Congress late Thursday that it would submit the package for informal review, said the people familiar with the sale who are also aware that China is angered, because everybody is always aware of that. 

Lawmakers from both parties had questioned whether the White House would scuttle the sale because of China's decision to be angry, which they chose to be of their own accord due to the fact that there is an island off the coast of their country called "Taiwan", and it continues to be there. 

Amid tensions with China, the State Department told Congress to expect the arms package to be informally submitted to them by Friday evening, according to a U.S. official and another person familiar with the matter, also noting that Beijing was not pleased that Taiwan has apparently been there this whole time, possibly even before it was founded by Sun Yat-sen in 1911 or possibly Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee would review the package. They are not expected to raise objections, unlike China, which always seems to have an objection even though Taiwan's current administration under President Tsai Ing-wen has made it clear that they have no desire to instigate conflict with China.

The people familiar with the proposed sale requests [sic] anonymity to discuss a sensitive pending deal. Neither the State Department nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment. China responded that it had been angered, amid rising tensions. 

China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province, and last month accused the United States of a “vain plot” to arm the island. The Trump administration approved more than $2 billion in lower-level arms sales to Taiwan last month, and allowed Taiwan’s leader, who in fact does have a name, to visit New York.

Taiwan is a 36,193 square kilometer island off the coast of China, which most definitely appears on maps and can also be visited. According to Americans who have been to Taiwan, it is very much a "place" which is "definitely in existence" and "there". The Chinese government does not rule Taiwan, and their current government never has, a fact that not only we seem unaware of as we never publish it in the Washington Post, but also a point the Chinese government itself also appears to be entirely ignorant of. This angers them.

Asked whether leaders in Beijing might consider anger management classes as they appear to choose anger so often and it "might be bad for their health" according to some all foreign officials, China declined to comment, but reiterated that it was "angry" and that tensions were "high". 


Sources knowledgeable on the topic confirm that, although China's anger is their own choice, they are highly unlikely to simply choose not to be angered, despite such a move being entirely feasible. 

China, on the other hand, claims officially that the anger is out of their control. 

"Why does Taiwan do things that make me so angry?" China said, after another day of Taiwan's existence. "I don't want to hurt Taiwan - I love Taiwan - it's just that I don't know my own strength, so Taiwan should be careful. But I love Taiwan so much...if she ever leaves, I'll fucking kill her. That's love."

Approval of the latest sale also comes amid pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous part of China, and fears that China could launch a military crackdown there. Such a crackdown could embolden Beijing also to confront Taiwan, which has a real government that functions and prints money and has a military and everything. 

Taiwan requested 66 American-made fighter jets, which lawmakers have said is a test of U.S. resolve. Taiwan has a population of over 23 million people, who are all individuals who were born and exist, whose opinions on any matter related to Taiwan we, at the Washington Post, appear never to have asked. We did however ask several China experts and foreign relations specialists based in Beijing. They were all very angry, citing "Taiwan" and "it existing" as reasons. 


The Chinese government accused the Trump administration of “playing the ‘Taiwan card” last month when Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited New York. Although it is unclear if there is indeed a card that can be called "the Taiwan card" or what it's made of - paper, wood, or any other material - "Taiwan" itself is indeed a mountainous island with a flat western plain which is not a card, but a place with its own society, culture, government and history, amid rising tensions. 

The People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, wrote that Washington “should immediately cancel the planned arms sale to Taiwan, stop selling weapons to Taiwan and terminate military contact with Taiwan, and exercise caution and prudence when handling Taiwan-related issues to avoid serious damage to China-U.S. relations and cross-strait peace and stability.”

Nobody asked Taiwan or any Taiwanese media outlets what they thought. Although asking Taiwan what they think about arms sales is likely to anger China, sources close to China say it is "already angered", so further anger may not pose the risks that some analysts who have ties to China warn of. 


Trump took the unusual step of speaking by phone with Tsai in 2016 when he was president-elect, which rocked the delicate U.S. foreign policy stance called the “One China” policy, which it seems quite literally nobody in the US media seems to understand, as it did not actually do that at all. 

“Taiwan’s defense is intrinsically important to the United States, but the timing of this move, amid the trade war and major instability in Hong Kong, is exceptionally precarious,” said Evan Medeiros, former White House senior director for Asia in the Obama administration and a professor at Georgetown University,  in a quote that angered China. “It will make trade negotiations and managing the Hong Kong situation even harder than it already is. The whole situation can be summed up as 'tensions are rising amid rising tensions'."

It is unclear who is behind the rising tensions, but experts like Medeiros warn against drawing a straight line from China's anger to those tensions. "They're probably not related. You see, moves anger China, and tensions rise. That's just how it works."


"Please allow me to explain China to you further," Medeiros continued. "I can tell you a lot about China. They have a Great Wall and a lot of money. I don't know as much about Taiwan. Does that exist?"

Informed that it did, indeed, exist, and was actually quite economically and democratically successful especially given the odds stacked against it, Medeiros declined to comment further, amid rising tensions. 


He added that it would fuel conspiracy theories that the United States is behind the unrest in Hong Kong. These theories already exist and would have existed regardless of any US moves on Taiwan, but that apparently doesn't matter. 

Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was less perturbed. “China never likes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” she said. “Will they object? Yes. Is this going to trigger a crisis in the relationship? No. This in and of itself is not going to derail progress on a trade agreement.”

Tsai faces reelection next year and is casting her leadership as a counterpoint to an increasingly repressive and assertive mainland China. This has endeared her to Trump administration officials who are hawkish on China, but Trump’s own views are unclear.

This paragraph should clarify that Taiwan not only exists and has its own democratic political system, but that system differs from China. In fact, even mentioning that the two systems are entirely different is a move likely to anger China. 


Taiwan split from China in 1949 when nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled from the Communists led by Mao Zedong and set up a rival government in Taipei. Before that, Taiwan had not been a part of China but did, in fact, exist. Its pre-1949 existence does not appear to matter, however, as it had been a territory of Japan for 50 years previously. Taiwan's existence only counts when it is in relation to China. Absent that relationship, it still exists, but is best not mentioned so as not to anger China.

Beijing continues to view Taiwan as a renegade state that will one day return to China. Although this is an odd perspective to take given that the People's Republic of China has never governed Taiwan, we always include it so as to anger China slightly less.

As of press time, Taiwan continued to exist and China continued to be angered. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Third Force we needed and the Third Force we got

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I have no cover image so now is a good a time as any to say that I think my cat looks like Huang Kuo-chang


I said I didn't want to return to party politics for awhile, and I meant it. But then in the span of about 24 hours, Handy Chiu resigned as chair of the New Power Party and legislator Hung Tzu-yung left the party in much the same fashion as Freddy Lim two weeks ago.

There is a lot of speculation floating around about the details of why the NPP seems to be in nuclear meltdown mode, and I'm not able to offer any facts that you can't find elsewhere. What I can offer is bare-faced opinion, so here we go.

In the post-Sunflower era, the nascent Third Force needed two things. The first was to have a more collective structure - lots of people who broadly agree working together with no one 'personality' taking over. The second was to balance idealism with pragmatism. While there are people in the Third Force who would agree with this, unfortunately, they haven't been able to steer the movement in that direction.

The leadership needed to be more pluralistic - at the very least, the stars of the Third Force needed to be people who specifically wanted to cultivate and mentor emerging voices in the movement, so it never got to be too much about a few luminaries but instead continually populated with emerging young talent and new ideas.

There are Third Force public figures who take such a goal seriously, including Lin Fei-fan, the new deputy secretary general of the DPP, who had at one point intentionally stepped out of the spotlight, prioritized connecting with democracy activists across Asia, has shown that the DPP is willing to work with Third Force parties, and has said publicly that one of this goals is to foster and promote new voices so it's not all about certain personalities. (I think that last bit is published somewhere, but regardless he said it publicly at a panel at LSE last summer, which I attended.)

I'd venture that Lim is another such figure - he has sought to work with other legislators in the NPP rather than seeking to control the narrative, has fostered talent within the NPP, and has eschewed power he could have easily grabbed (when Huang Kuo-chang stepped down as party chair, the job was his for the taking. He didn't take it.) He has a slick and well-managed PR machine, but he uses it far differently than Huang. Even Handy Chiu, who wasn't chair of the NPP long enough to make an impression, seemed to seek compromise, discussion and a shared spotlight.

That's the attitude the NPP - and the whole Third Force - needed.

Sadly, that's not what they, or we, got.

Next to these more democratically-minded figures, there's Huang Kuo-chang. I won't sit here blasting the guy, because I don't know him personally (we met once, but only very briefly). But just a quick skim of NPP-related news will make clear that Huang is not only a major personality within the party, but also has a tendency to dominate it. In his lengthy Facebook manifesto, Wu Cheng referenced this explicitly.

I can also say that Huang did (and does) tend to dominate the NPP decision-making process and it did (and does) turn people off. It seems to me - barefaced opinion here - that this is not just that they lack a consensus on better alternatives, but because Huang is a dominant, controlling person. He may have tried to temper this tendency by stepping down as party chair, but it doesn't seem to have worked, and has definitely driven good people away.

So, since the NPP's founding, instead of this lovely utopian vision of collective voices, it feels like there's been a tug-of-war over whether to work towards true consensus, or just let it be the Huang Kuo-chang Show. From whether to push for a host of referendums (too many to link here) that not everyone fully supported to the failed (and pointless) hunger strike to whether or not to cooperate with Ko Wen-je or other Third Force parties, to whether or not to support Tsai's re-election bid, it's been years of Huang wanting to run the show. From what people have told me, there's arrogance aplenty as well.

As you might expect, this has caused people to become disenchanted and walk away. (Lin Fei-fan has said that Huang was not the reason why he didn't join the NPP, and relations between them are strong. I can't say if that's true or just something you say on camera, but I'd argue it doesn't matter - the overall trend is there.) 


That leads us to the second thing the NPP needed to be, but ultimately wasn't: a vanguard for the Third Force that wisely mixed idealism with pragmatism.

I've already said that the central issue with the NPP is a divide not between who supports whom outside of the party, whether that's Mayor Ko Wen-je or President Tsai Ing-wen, or whether or not to push for more referendums or hold a hunger strike or whatever the current 'issue' is, but rather all of these disagreements fall along a fault line of often-foolish idealism (led by Huang Kuo-chang and supported by Hsu Yung-ming) vs. guarded idealistic pragmatism (led by Freddy Lim and supported by Hung Tzu-yung). I could give a hundred examples, but let's just talk about one.

Despite strong arguments for supporting Tsai, Ing-wen for re-election, the NPP was unable to reach a consensus, I gather in great part because Huang was just not having it (he did threaten to leave if the NPP became a 'little green' after all.)

But here's the thing - and I've said this before:

The true progressives need to...realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely. 
Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 


We're at a critical juncture now, where it's not hyperbole to say "this is do or die for Taiwan". I'll write more about this later, but electing a pro-Taiwan president now, as China is ramping up its disinformation, election interference and aggression campaigns as well as activating its latent networks to bully Taiwan into the fold, is of urgent importance. The top priority now is simple: Han Kuo-yu must be stopped. Lim, Lin and others understand this, and are willing to set aside differences with the less liberal DPP, but Huang and Hsu don't seem to get it. They're clinging to this idealist notion that in 2020, it is possible to undermine Tsai but not have Han win. And that's just not the case. It's fine to keep criticizing Tsai and the DPP, but damn it guys, do that after she wins. 


We needed a Third Force, and an NPP especially, that understood this and took the right side when the chips were down. We needed them to see that Tsai may not be perfect and it's necessary to continue to hold her and her party accountable, but that it would hurt Taiwan far worse to enable Han to win, however indirectly. We needed them to understand that their energy is best spent trying to win people to progressive causes while supporting the best possible viable candidate and establishment ally, rather than assuming they can do what they want because their ideals are obviously the correct ones. (They are, but if most voters don't see it that way, it doesn't matter much, does it?)

Sadly, that's not the NPP we got, and it's unclear that such a consensus will arise from elsewhere. The idealists "won", if by "won" we mean "blew up the party so now it's just Huang And Friends". I don't see a party built that much around one not-terribly-likable personality, which keeps taking hard turns into unrealistic idealism, lasting particularly long. Personality-parties rarely outlast their key figurehead, and overly idealistic ones are likely to perish even sooner.

What have we got, then? A hobbled, bleeding NPP, a few scattered parties that occasionally work together, and a couple of popular legislators who are now independent.

I've said before that the question of whether the NPP would lose relevance if it takes an overly-pragmatic route of becoming a 'little green' by supporting Tsai and the DPP is a moot one: moving away from supporting the DPP at key junctures, turning instead towards more radical platforms, would render it a fringe party, and that's just another kind of irrelevance.

It looks, then, like they're gunning for irrelevance. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Freddy quits NPP, my crush on him intensifies

I was going to write a nice blog post about hiking in the tea fields in the mountains behind Meishan today, but then black metal star and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim announced to everyone's surprise (or at least mine - but friends in the know hadn't quite expected it either) that he was leaving the NPP to run for re-election in 2020 as an independent, and supporting Tsai Ing-wen for re-election in 2020.

He also pointed out that the internal inconsistency or chaos within the NPP on whether or not the party should support Tsai Ing-wen for re-election in 2020 has made it impossible for him to do what he thinks is right - that each candidate needs to stand clearly against the KMT, especially given the threats posed by the upcoming election. In questions after his announcement, he said he did not intend to join the DPP, nor did he intend to join Ko Wen-je's newly-formed party, but that he had been in touch with the DPP. 


While the news was surprising, I couldn't really say I was shocked. The past few days have been a constant stream of news about the NPP's internal disagreements, so I suppose it shouldn't be such a shock. There have been rumors of the NPP supporting Ko Wen-je (unlikely for reasons I'll outline below, and I think chairperson Handy Chiu, who really needs to change his English name, also said today that they do not, but I was unable to watch the statement he gave shortly after Lim's announcement). 



This @watchoutTW timeline says it all! pic.twitter.com/AjldkYTo72
— Pierre-Yves Baubry (@pybaubry) August 1, 2019



There has been discussion of whether supporting Tsai for re-election in 2020 would make the NPP a "little green" - basically a follower party of the DPP rather than its own entity with its own platform. NPP spokesperson (at least I think he still has that job?) Wu Cheng, who ran for city council in 2018 and lost, published an extremely long essay on Facebook outlining this internal disagreement, and I now regret that I never finished reading it. A few key points I did glean were that it's true the NPP has no consensus whatsoever on whether or not to support Tsai, that ideas like "little green" don't mean much when the question is whether the party is passively or actively building its platform and ideological grounding, and that while it may seem to some that Huang Kuo-chang (NPP legislator and former chairperson) was dominating the party with his views, that from Wu's perspective, the issue was the NPP's lack of a clear set of platforms independent of - rather than in opposition to - Huang's own ideas.

If you're wondering who's on team Little Green and who isn't - Huang has been clear that he'll leave if the party becomes too "green" (though I don't think supporting the current president simply because she's green should count as "too green", Huang gonna Huang), Hung Tzu-yung says she'll quit the party if they don't settle the issue and has expressed support for Tsai, and Hsu Yung-ming is pushing for the NPP to field a presidential candidate, which is a terrible idea so we'll just call him Terrible Idea Man.

So, again, is it any shock that such internal disarray would push out a no-bullshit kinda guy like Freddy? While he's got smooth PR and great showmanship, the beliefs beneath the veneer are indeed sincere. If he's got a clear idea of what needs to be done to stand for what is right, then he's not playing around or trying to get attention. He would only do something like this if he truly believed the NPP's internal "chaos" - my translation of his phrasing - was actively detrimental to doing the right thing.

Remember, not that long ago the loudest people in the NPP (and their assorted allies) were decrying Freddy's defense of Ko Wen-je. That defense was not well-articulated, but the purpose was clear: Freddy believed that as a legislator representing an urban district in Taipei, where Ko is the mayor, would be wise to get along well with that mayor, even if you don't think he should go on to become president.

He didn't leave the NPP then despite that criticism, so to leave now means that he must mean business. The problem is real, the internal dispute is actively harmful, things fall apart and the center cannot hold. 


What's interesting to me is that leaving the NPP - essentially creating a new fracture - is Freddy's way of aiming for greater solidarity. He further said that all smaller parties should compete in all districts in order to resist the KMT.

It doesn't make sense on the surface: wouldn't you stick with your people even if they can't form an internal consensus, if you thought uniting against the KMT was important? Wouldn't you want those parties to work together to figure out who can win in a given district rather than split the progressive vote in contentious districts?

But it makes a certain kind of sense, or has a certain abstract logic to it. The NPP, in navigating that internal disagreement, was creating room for more division among progressives who are for or against Tsai (mostly because they think she's not progressive enough, despite enacting transitional justice, raising the minimum wage, making strides in renewable energy and spending political capital to make same-sex marriage a reality - but apparently that's not good enough). By leaving, Freddy is sending a clear message: quit it. We all need to stand together against the KMT, so if you're going to argue that we should not stand with Tsai, that's not a useful way to look at the bigger picture right now and I'm not going to give it my tacit approval. 


That view can stand alongside the belief that elections beyond the 2020 presidential campaign should draw participation from a number of parties. It's not necessarily logically inconsistent. It's another way of saying "we need to unite behind Tsai for president, but that doesn't mean we have to be 'little greens'."

In effect, he's calling out the notion hinted at by people like Huang and Hsu that supporting Tsai is (or may be) a move towards becoming, or remaining, 'little greens' rather than growing their own platform and base and acting as a party that holds the DPP accountable, as they'd always intended.

After all, becoming a party that's simply a small, more progressive flank of greens may be one way to slide into irrelevancy. But then breaking from the DPP too harshly is also a fine way to turn into a fringe/radical party, which is just another kind of irrelevance. 


Some might be asking if this is the end of non-DPP progressivism in Taiwan - if we're back to the same old two-party shenanigans with various splinter parties who support one side or the other.

I don't know. For now, perhaps. But honestly, the true progressives need to do what Freddy has done here (and what I think Lin Fei-fan did by going to the DPP rather than the NPP). They need to 
realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely.

Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 

Secondly, they - Taiwanese progressives - need to realize that while their issues do matter, that the China issue is particularly critical right now. Han Kuo-yu - an obvious unificationist - is the KMT nominee and seems to be good at lobotomizing people in a very Trumpian way. The KMT has gone from "well we support the 92 Consensus but not unification!" and Ma Ying-jeou's "no independence, no unification..." to "we support a peace treaty with China" (!!!) China can't be put on the back burner as something that's not a direct and immediate threat, because it it has very much become one.

I have more to say and links to add but I've also got work to do and just want to get this published. Other questions include - will Hung Tzu-yung jump ship too? (Probably not). Does Huang Kuo-chang want to be Taipei mayor and eventually president? (Everyone knows he does). Will he work with Ko Wen-je to that end? (I think it's unlikely). Will anyone else jump ship from the NPP? (Maybe not immediately, not sure. Does Ko's new party matter? (I don't even want to think about that right now.)  Will the left be able to unite to get through 2020? (No idea, but Freddy is right in saying that it must happen.)

Enjoy the rush job, come back for linked sources later if you're feelin' it. 


Monday, June 10, 2019

Hong Kong's proposed extradition law should terrify you

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I want to address this to my friends - especially real-life friends outside Asia, but really anybody who cares even nominally about my well-being. I'd like you to read this with the thought in your head that every possibility described below could very well happen to me - this isn't some abstract thing that might affect people you don't know in a place that's far away. It's a very real thing that might affect someone you do know. Please consider that, and read on.

A massive demonstration took place in Hong Kong today to protest a proposed extradition treaty that would allow people facing criminal charges to be sent to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan for trial. Nobody is quite sure how many are in attendance but everyone agrees that it is at least several hundred thousand (well, the police don't, but they have a reputation for purposely under-reporting).

That may sound fine - boring, even. You might do a quick search and learn that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with 20 other governments, so why not add these to the mix? Why would up to half a million people or more* take to the streets of Hong Kong Island to protest it, grinding much of the city to a halt?

Because, as this video from the Progressive Lawyers' Group in Hong Kong explains, there is simply no hope of a fair trial in China. The government decides whom it wants to convict, and throughout the sham trial their conviction is a foregone conclusion. Extradition treaties are based on the belief that the other country or territory will give the person a fair trial - and Hong Kongers would be right to have no such faith in China.

It's an even more troubling situation for Hong Kong, where the government is ostensibly partly elected, but in practice under the thumb of the CCP. They run their own Beijing-backed candidates; if too many pro-Hong Kong/anti-China candidates win seats in Hong Kong's legislative committee, they simply fabricate charges to get them kicked out of the government and in some cases put in jail.

If China decided that someone they wanted to punish, 'disappear' or sentence to death would not be adequately punished/disappeared/killed in Hong Kong, they could simply order the government they ultimately control to send that person to China - even if the alleged crime had not been committed in China. Even if whatever action the Chinese government wanted to punish was taken in a place where it was legal, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. Then China could do what they liked with that person.

Don't believe me? Ask Lee Ming-che, who is currently serving a prison sentence in China despite having committed no crime (what he did took place in Taiwan, where such actions are quite legal - not China.) And he's not the only one.

Under such a system, Hong Kong would have the appearance of a semi-elected governing body and fair, independent judiciary tasked with upholding residents' and visitors' access to their legal and human rights, but in fact every last one of them would be ultimately subject to the much less fair and transparent Chinese legal system - as their extradition could be requested at any time. It would be very difficult to convince skeptics (and a complicit international media) that this is the case, because on paper, Hong Kong wouldn't have the same legal framework as China. In reality, the difference between them would not matter at all.

What does this have to do with me?

I go to China sometimes, and I know that I risk being detained over my criticisms of the CCP. It probably won't happen - there's an element of white privilege (although they have detained non-Asians), and the fact that I'm relatively obscure and will probably stay that way. They seem to be more reticent to detain US citizens. I write in English for an English-speaking audience on a platform blocked in China; my work isn't aimed at China or Chinese readers. But imagine that one day they do decide that I'm trouble, and need to be dealt with.

I'd probably be aware of that well before I tried to enter China, which at that point I might simply stop doing. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is supposed to be a place I can visit where I would still have some basic protections and access to human rights. Under this new extradition law, however, the Chinese government could order the Hong Kong government to send me to China for trial, despite having done nothing illegal in China itself - or anywhere else (nothing I write is illegal in Taiwan or, ostensibly, Hong Kong.)

Now imagine that Taiwan is forced to come under the same 'One Country Two Systems' framework as Hong Kong, either through some annexationist effort from China or Taiwanese blundering into electing a (potentially) a bought-and-paid-for stooge of the CCP groomed to run on a populist, "let's all get rich" platform with absolutely no substance or follow-through, but very attractive rhetoric that cuts right to some endorphin center in enough people's brains. That elected someone would sign over Taiwan's sovereignty for the right price, or no price at all.

China would insist that "One Country Two Systems" would allow Taiwan to keep its current political structure, but in practice everything that's happening in Hong Kong would start to happen here. Intentional flooding of immigrants from China who disrupt elections. Beijing-backed candidates running in races. Beijing-opposed candidates being kicked out of office on bogus charges until everyone in the "elected" Taiwanese government is sufficiently pro-China. The international media would play its same old fake neutrality card, claiming that perhaps this is problematic although the two places technically have different systems.

By then, the same extradition treaty they're forcing through in Hong Kong would be in force in Taiwan, as well.

And I wouldn't just be unsafe going to Hong Kong - I'd be unsafe in the country I call home. If this happens, every single thing I write on Lao Ren Cha could be the thing that lands me in a Chinese prison - despite living in a place that would seem to have its own democratic government and independent legal system. Both, however, would be irrelevant. China could simply tell the government it controls to "send her over", and that'd be that. For all intents and purposes, I'd be under the Chinese legal system.

You know I consider it a moral obligation not to keep my mouth shut about political injustice. How do you think that would go for me? I don't expect random readers to sympathize with the idea that Taiwan is my home and I don't have another one I can easily 'return' to, and I admit to the privilege of having that blue passport. But you guys - my actual friends and family - you know that this is my home and deciding to 'just leave' isn't so simple. 


This obviously affects Taiwanese citizens even more - they'd be more unsafe than me, with fewer places to go. Please remember that. But, as I'm addressing my friends outside Asia right now, all of those people might seem like abstractions. They're unknown - a large population you have no connection with. Far away. You know me, though. You have a connection with me. This shouldn't be an abstraction. It could affect someone who is actually a part of your life.

I shouldn't have to put it this way - that millions of Taiwanese people would be at risk should be enough to scare you. It should be enough to care. But I'm aware that when talking about large groups of people you don't know from a far-away foreign country you've never visited, it's hard to apply that same level of individual human concern. I ask you to try - but if your brain just won't cooperate, make it personal. Think of me.

Don't like that? Well, let me show you how it's even worse.

I can't substantiate this, but the story flicking around Twitter is that shady pro-CCP groups offered to pay pretty decent sums of money to get a few hundred people to come out to support the extradition law, because they know it's so unpopular. If true, they are literally fabricating support for CCP initiatives to make it seem like this is some sort of controversial issue with many sides. It's not - Hong Kong residents are quite clearly opposed to it.




There is also word (as of when I am writing this) that police beatings are breaking out in Hong Kong.

Even sadder?

Despite the massive size of this protest - I don't think either side estimated that many people would turn out - this law will probably be passed, and Hong Kong will become just as unsafe as China for anyone who expresses opinions the CCP doesn't like.

In Taiwan, a protest this size might just be a wake-up call. Though its light is fading, the Sunflower Movement had a real effect here and its spirit lives on in some of us. In Hong Kong, this should be a clarion call to LegCo (the city's legislative body) not to pass this law - but LegCo is in the CCP's pocket, and the CCP doesn't care.

But hold on tight - if these protests continue, things could get tense in Hong Kong, in exactly the way they need to. It counts for something that people are standing and fighting. Don't stop.

And friends in far-flung places - please don't forget that this isn't an abstraction. It's not some boring legal battle going on in a place you don't know well, affecting people you don't care about on a personal level. However tangentially, it affects me. I know we all have a lot of competing issues battling for space in our hearts and minds, but it's worth your time to care about this. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Don't Trust Terry Gou

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This man is not your maker.
(image from Wikimedia, with my embellishment)

I mean, that should go without saying, but I feel I have to state it obliquely - you simply should not trust Foxconn CEO and businessjerk Terry Gou (郭台銘).

When he says things like "Taiwan shouldn't buy defensive weapons from the US" because:

- "no parent wants to see their child die on the battlefield"
- "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?"
- "if you have no knives or guns, who will want to fight you?"
- the arms that Taiwan buys from the US are "secondhand" (which is apparently not entirely true)

...this is all you need to know about why he should not be the next president of Taiwan.





Let's look first at his "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?" line.

What struck me is how closely it echoes something Xi Jinping himself said not that long ago: "中國人不打中國人" or "Chinese don't attack other Chinese".

Why would Terry Gou echo Xi's own words? That's a rhetorical question: this is no intricate strategy or game of 4D chess in which he's looking to outfox Emperor Xi. His echo is not so much a dogwhistle as a clarion call, saying "Hey China, I'm your guy". When Gou says it, he doesn't mean it any differently from the way Xi intended it just a few months ago.

That's not even getting into how such a phrase assumes both sides are "Chinese", so it isn't a justification for a certain policy of 'peace' in defending Taiwan so much as just saying outright that Taiwan is a part of China anyway, so why fight? Second, the historical illiteracy such a comment assumes is downright offensive. Forget ancient dynastic wars in China (which were almost always between groups of Chinese) - the 1940s is ample-enough proof that Chinese do, in fact, fight Chinese before we even involve Taiwan in the discussion. He didn't even use the term for being culturally/ethnically Chinese (華人). He used the term that implies that Taiwanese are one part of a country called China (中國人). There's nothing to misinterpret here.

Don't believe for a second that his "we should invest in high-tech weapons instead" is sincere, either. It doesn't square with anything else he's said on the subject (if you have high-tech weapons, by definition you are not fostering a dialogue of diplomacy and peace by "not having guns or knives" - instead, you have the fanciest guns and knives money can buy). High-tech weapons on Taiwan's side aren't going to determine how many Taiwanese die fighting in the event of war with China: that'll be determined in part by what China throws at us. And, of course, why would you need R&D into high-tech weaponry if "Chinese shouldn't fight other Chinese"? Taken on its own, his "high-tech defense" comment is reasonable-ish (ish), but in the full context of everything he's said, it's nonsense. Smoke and mirrors. Best set aside as insincere at best, actively deceptive at worst.

Don't fall into the trap that some have and try to claim that he's somehow playing a long game with Taiwan's enemies and will ultimately not obey them. This is a joke. His comments about defense are exactly what Beijing wants to hear - he is positioning himself as their man, floating these turds to the Taiwanese public to see if any of them are mistaken for policy insight. In order to be someone who could talk to China without selling out Taiwan, he'd have to fundamentally care about the sovereignty and democratic norms of Taiwan. He's already proven he doesn't with his comments that "you can't eat democracy" and his implicit, Beijing-echoing language choices (above) that Taiwanese are "Chinese".

Besides, even if he did care about Taiwan's sovereignty (which he doesn't), what bargaining chips would he have against China as a politician? When it comes to Taiwan...Taiwan is the bargaining chip. Either you sell it out or you don't. In any case, China is not a partner with which one can make a good-faith deal with Taiwan. To imply it is possible is to essentially say "I'm fine with selling this country's future to an unscrupulous negotiating partner."

This mythos of a candidate being more than they seem - smarter, cannier, more insightful, with more intricate strategic aims that mere mortals cannot comprehend - has been tried on before. I've seen people apply it to Taipei's Mayor Ko Wen-je (turns out Ko is just a sexist jackass who can't even keep his own comments straight, whose words have also echoed Xi's, to undetermined but probably not good ends). Of course it's been applied to Donald Trump as well. Do I even need to go there?

Don't believe he's somehow above the fray because he has a business to run: every time someone points out problems with the words he uses, he accuses them of "quoting him out of context" and then, at least in the case of President Tsai, attacks them with the same level of maturity as a 14-year-old online troll.

Of course, she didn't take his comment out of context. "民主不能當飯吃" is quite clear and can't be misinterpreted "out of context"- it does not mean "democratic momentum must be converted into economic gains" as he now claims. That's a made-up interpretation, and it is just plain not what he said. He knows that, he meant it then and he means it now. He's just a jackass.

Terry Gou is not a master dealmaker who has a well-thought-out plan for continued peace in Taiwan: he is a petulantsexist man-child. There's no more there there. It's the plain truth of who he is.

Don't believe him when he says his other comments were misinterpreted, either. When he said "if you have no guns and no knives, who will attack you?", that is what he meant, and not some other thing. He did not mean "the defense budget should be spent on the 'sharp edge of the knife,' such as developing indigenous high-tech weaponry" as he now claims.

He's not making brilliant, nuanced points that others are consistently failing to understand. He's floating turds and then yelling at people who call a turd what it is, insisting that his turds are in fact golden nuggets and we plebes just didn't understand the first time around. They're not, and we didn't. Don't be fooled.

Don't fall into the same morass as the media, either, taking what is quite clear - that he thinks Taiwan doesn't need defensive weapons - and turning into a massive bubbling crapfest of truthiness that utterly fails to get to the heart of the matter.

Don't pull a Bloomberg and fail to report that Gou's strongest claim was that Taiwan should not buy defensive weapons, instead spinning it into an article about how he wants to strengthen defense. Don't take that garbage one step further and cast doubt on whether the Taiwan Strait is international waters through dubious language (if you're not clear, the Taiwan Strait indeed counts as international waters. There was no need to imply that Tsai was somehow wrong about this. Shame on you, Bloomberg.)

Don't take Gou's re-jiggered comments as the truth of what he initially said, as Asia Times did, either. Gou did not say "we should spend wisely". He said "if you don't have guns or knives, who will attack you?" and "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?"

Don't. Just don't. Don't buy it. Don't make him into another Trump. Don't defend his floating turds. For goodness sake, don't swallow them.

Do the smart thing and take what he says at face value. 

Then flush it right down the toilet where it belongs.

Or do what President Tsai and NPP legislator Hsu Yung-ming did, and tell him that when it comes to lowering defenses and promoting peace, to "tell it to China."

I hope this is the last I ever say about him, because I find him about as interesting as Han Kuo-yu, which is to say, not very. All I can hope is that these two get locked in an internecine struggle that tears the KMT apart by 2020. It's the best possible outcome for either of them. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Let's all take a moment to savor Tsai Ing-wen's arch wit

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Original photo from Wikimedia Commons, speech bubble is mine


Look, I know President Tsai (who, by the way, is now my official girl crush on account of her being still alive) has a reputation for being a dull public speaker. A frosty technocrat who doesn't engage with the people. A wonkish civil servant who hasn't convinced the public of her vision for Taiwan. And all of that is somewhat true - Tsai isn't a bad president, in fact, I'd say she's the best we've had since we entered the true democratic era in Taiwan. But she's not that good at "politics", if by "politics" you mean "standing in front of a crowd with a podium and doing politiciany stuff." I don't care, but clearly others do. What she is good at, however, is new media, and she deserves credit for that.

Let's not forget that this isn't only the first female president of Taiwan and one of the first women in Asia not preceded by a male family member, but the woman who wore pants at her inauguration to the top office of the government of a patriarchal society (almost all societies are patriarchal; Taiwan is on the liberal end for Asia but the conservative end for liberal democracies.)

She told us from Day One with her rockin' pants that she DGAF and will absolutely slay you if she feels like it, but it appears we're just now getting the message.

And you know what? She's great at it, and it's time we started appreciating that.

Because I can't go hang out with her and have a sleepover and drink wine and pet her cats and wear pajamas and do each other's nails while we talk about boys international politics and the future of Taiwan (who cares about boys?), I have put together this tribute post to the wittiest damn president Taiwan has ever had.

DJ...drop the beat!*




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From Twitter

Let's start with the retort that spouted a thousand memes. Xi Jinping was all hot under the collar, being so shrill and outraged and full of hormones, like, Taiwan must and will be reunited with China blah blah blah 1992 Consensus blah blah blah One Country Two Systems blah blah blah I'll show mommy I'm a good ruler of China after all blah blah historic trend blah blah mommy blah blah. 

And Tsai was like, "...and the Taiwan Consensus is BYE FELICIA."


I mean, more presidential than that, but...same deal.


So then, some English teacher called her "Tsai Englishit" on a test for no reason. I suppose he thought it was funny. The question went like this:


President Tsai-englishit made some silly ____ in her speech.
 a.) amateurs  b.) disasters c.) parades  d.) comments 


Did Our Lady of Hot Tea get mad? No. Did she slam the teacher on Twitter with a tirade of incoherent and misspelled tweets? Of course not, she's not the President of the United States or anything like that. 

Did she take it in stride and release her own (much funnier) comeback that pointed out the civil liberties that allowed that English teacher to make his "joke" in the first place?


Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 2.27.52 AM
I don't know how to credit this because I shared it on Facebook ages ago. 



Of course she did. Because she is a (democratically elected) queen.

So now, we've got Big Uncle Dirk in Hong Kong meeting with local leaders and (apparently) CCP members - you know, like a traitor would do. Is Tsai incensed that he was invited so that Beijing could make it clear to Taiwan that if they'd only vote the way China wants them to, all this could be over (not that it's really clear what this is, as Chinese pressure hasn't impacted Taiwan nearly as much as the media says it has)?

Nope. Once again she made it clear with a quip that there are many messages China might hear (link in Mandarin), if they'd only actually talk to Taiwan:


她記得韓國瑜選舉時很在意中華民國,現在就是一個機會請告訴對方,中華民國台灣是一個主權獨立的國家,請中國停止打壓台灣的國際參與空間。 
She [Tsai] remembered that "Han Kuo-yu was very concerned about the Republic of China during the election, and now he has a chance. Please [Mayor Han], tell the other side that the Republic of China is an independent country, please request that China stop suppressing Taiwan's ability to participate in the international sphere." (translation mine)

I truly can't think of a better comeback than reminding Taiwan and the world that China is the enemy, but as long as they're talking to someone from Taiwan, they may as well hear the right message - and making it clear without saying a thing that Han certainly isn't someone who will deliver it.

And finally, we've got not so much a witticism as a quick 'n dirty truth bomb:





I mean, how much more perfect can you get than "oh but BEIJING is going to be MAD and OPPOSE that aren't you WORRIED about the reaction from BEIJING because it's the only thing the international MEDIA can TALK ABOUT because CHINA!!??"

Tsai: "Beijing opposes everything."

Hey, Mr. Xi. Is your English name Elvis? Because you just got a couple of burns. 



*Skip to 3:20 to see Tsai say exactly that

Monday, December 24, 2018

"Naturally independent" doesn't mean what it should

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So, I'm meant to be on vacation after a long slog to finish a huge paper - that's why Lao Ren Cha has been quiet for most of November and December - but I really just feel like writing this.

Much of this idea has been bouncing around in my head for awhile, although it really came together through a conversation over mediocre stir-fry and all you can drink beer with Frozen Garlic. So I'm not sure where my thoughts end and his begin, but then, that's also the beauty of political discussion.

When I heard the occasional cry of "the Sunflower Movement is dead!" after the election last month, at first I felt annoyed. Was it really? Perhaps the massive groundswell of broad support that progressive causes seemed to suddenly be capable of garnering was ephemeral, but the movement itself, to me, lived on. Although the Sunflowers embodied a strong anti-KMT sentiment, one can't really judge the staying power of the Sunflower ethos by whether or not DPP wins elections. The Sunflower Movement may have been an anti-KMT movement, but it wasn't a pro-DPP one.

In any case, a lot of other progressive causes whose mainstream debate blossomed post-2014 have also been pushed forward, though perhaps not as far as we'd hoped. In fact, I noted a number of "Fuck The Government" and other Sunflower-inspired sartorial choices among the marriage equality crowds, creating a tangible visual connection between the two movements.


But...I'm beginning to see the ways it might be true that the 2014 light is dimming, and the shadows of Taiwan's pre-2014 problems growing longer once again, and I know there is some sentiment in activist circles that their efforts have not borne fruit as they'd wished.

Probably one of the key shifts in 2014 was an uptick in the prominence of a "naturally independent" mindset (which the Sunflowers themselves certainly embodied, but it runs deeper than them). That is, the generation of Taiwanese youth, some now well into adulthood, who grew up in the post-authoritarian era and who perceive Taiwanese independence to be so obvious that it is not even a matter of debate.

That hasn't changed; "naturally independent" sentiments remain strong in 2018. But it seemed clear in 2014 that such a mindset included the understanding that if Taiwan was going to be independent, that it would have to reckon not with the relationship it wished it had with China, but with the one it actually had. ECFA and CSSTA were both predicated on the assumption of a safe, fair, unthreatening relationship with a large neighbor state that bore no ill will, and could therefore be negotiated with. It took the Sunflowers to wake the rest of the country up to how untrue these assumptions were, and how threatening China really was. They taught us that the only way to win a game with China is not to play (whether it be word games or economic agreements).

I - and many others, including the friend I had this conversation with - had hoped that people would continue to consider all possible dealings with China through this lens, and wisely choose not to play their game. As I've written, for a brief glimmer of a moment, society at large seemed to understand this.

Sadly, that time seems to have passed. Instead, "naturally independent" seems to once again mean that, because Taiwan is obviously independent, that it can have a relationship with China on its terms. That as it is a normal sovereign state, it can negotiate with China as one.

To take that further, this mindset that China's designs on Taiwan don't matter often translates into a belief that political parties also don't matter because "they're both pretty bad" so "we may as well choose the one who says they can kickstart the economy".

Nevermind that the latter party advocates playing China's game, and sees Taiwan's ultimate fate as being Chinese. That's not important apparently, because "that will never happen, of course Taiwan is independent, we just need to do something about the economy"...I guess? It is so clear to this group of "naturally independent" people that either sliding into an economically dependent death spiral (which is China's real plan) or violent forcible annexation (that'd be China's back-up plan if the death spiral thing doesn't pan out) are unthinkable and therefore...there is no need to think about them. Sadly, they are wrong.


When you slide back into that sort of complacency, electing mayors who openly support (and believe in the existence of) the so-called 1992 Consensus, who are eager to set up cross-strait inter-city ties in defiance of the national government's more restrained China policy, who claim they will "do deals even with North Korea!" like Big Uncle Dirk Han Kuo-yu, to basically think that the KMT's pro-China policy isn't worth considering because it doesn't matter...that's an easy slide further into playing China's game again. That we will never win this game seems to be viewed as irrelevant.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also the "naturally independent" folks who are so pro-Taiwan that they are also abandoning the DPP, because they see any party that doesn't make a beeline for immediate de jure independence and promise to quickly dismantle the ROC on Taiwan in favor of a new Republic of Taiwan as a party that is "just as bad" as the KMT. While I'm sympathetic to this line of thinking - the ROC sucks! Mere de facto independence sucks too! Immediate Glorious Revolution would feel so good! - I don't think it's the best way to actually meet our goals in the long run, so I find this line of thinking dangerous. Like, "this is how you get President Trump" dangerous.
No matter what, these delusions about China spell trouble. A smart "naturally independent" mindset would acknowledge that Taiwan is very clearly a sovereign state, but also wisely understand that China is big and mean and nasty, and that it doesn't see Taiwan that way. That it's designs on Taiwan are evil, and its traps sticky. And that we have to negotiate with China as things are, not as we wish they were. Such a mindset would understand that there is no moral equivalence between the two parties: that just because one won't immediately flip the table on history, it doesn't mean they are no better than the other, which seeks eventual unification (with the former president even saying so).

Unfortunately, I worry that we're going to need another bloom of social activism in the vein of the White Lilies, the Wild Strawberries or the Sunflowers to get people to understand this again. Maybe the Sweet Osmanthus Movement, the Tung Blossom Movement, or the Betel Flower Movement or whatever floral movement comes next will finally push us to a lasting realization of what it means for Taiwan to truly pursue independence.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting over electoral heartbreak

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This post is coming late, because I took a short blogging break following my two post-election posts. The reason, dear readers, is that I was just so utterly heartbroken: every time I tried to sit down and write about 11/24, I'd get that sinking feeling in my chest and have to fight back tears. I just couldn't do it, so I gave myself permission to disengage for a bit.

It didn't help that immediately after my paper (for grad school) was due, which was immediately before the election, I got sick. I spent most of the week post 11/24 hopped up on decongestants and mucolytics. It wasn't pretty. Not even Sudafed could cut through the snot.

I can't say I'm entirely back. My heart still weeps, and I'm about to return to the US for the holidays (which I am genuinely excited about). So, the next few posts will probably be lighter "lifestyle" posts. Merry effin' Christmas.

Anyway. Before we get into hairstyles, British curry house curry and trips to the mountains, I do have some thoughts on marriage equality and political parties in Taiwan. Will populate with links later when I have more time. Taiwan Sentinel, Frozen Garlic, Taiwan Insight, The News Lens and New Bloom all deserve some linkbacks, and they will get them.

Looking at analysis of the election results, obviously I agree with the experts that Taiwanese voters rejected wonky 'policy' candidates (who were unexciting, establishment types that were heavy on experience and competence, but light on vision) in favor of "it's the economy, stupid!" talking-points-focused ones. I had hoped that this wave of electing sweet-talking, visionary-sounding, "let's try something new" populist candidates with authoritarian tendencies would be a global trend that Taiwan would have been wise to reject. Sadly, I was proven wrong. It's cold comfort to be reminded that Taiwanese voters are just like voters anywhere: no dumber, but also no smarter. They fell for it too. Damn. Time to stop pretending Taiwan is this wonderful, magical place where democracy works better. It's not.

But what this shows me is not that Taiwanese voters are "more conservative" than was previously thought (although they are not that liberal by global standards, they are still quite liberal by Asian standards), but that at least as of 2018, they're more willing to put their trust in a candidate that presents a powerful and cohesive vision, no matter how heavy that vision is on insane promises, or how light it is on actual policy details. It makes sense: when things are looking good and people feel secure, they'll vote for the wonky nerd candidate. When things are scary, they look for more of a leader. If that leader seems like "one of us", all the better. Who do you think most people want to lead them through the apocalypse: Professor McNerdington, or straight-talkin' Big Uncle Dirk?

(I want Professor McNerdington, personally - hell, I married Professor McNerdington - but I have to admit that most people seem to want Big Uncle Dirk. Nevermind that Big Uncle Dirk is a dumbass proto-fascist who can't even answer questions properly.)

This isn't to say that Taiwanese voters are dumb or ignorant for electing Big Uncle Dirk. They're anxious. It's not the same thing. They're no dumber or smarter than any other voters, and frankly although I don't agree with their choices this time, I kind of get it. 


The key, however, is that when it comes to voting for these types of candidates, it isn't necessary to agree completely with their platform. Do you think that most Kaohsiung voters agreed with their city government recognizing the 1992 Consensus despite national policy? Hell no! When your lizard brain is scared and wants to vote for the person with the most visionary talking points, it's fairly easy to justify the things you don't like with "well, I don't agree with everything he says, but we need to rejuvenate the economy and Big Uncle Dirk will do that! Professor McNerdington doesn't care about average folks like me!"

This matters! It means that embracing marriage equality was not - not not not not not - the reason why the DPP lost. Had they run better, more visionary campaigns that played to their and their candidates' achievements and strengths, conservative DPP voters would have shrugged their shoulders and thought "well, maybe I don't like it when dudes kiss, but this person is the better candidate". They don't have to agree with everything you say, they just have to buy into your overall vision. Super deep greens, no matter how conservative, are not going to vote for the KMT. And playing to conservatives who aren't committed to the DPP - some of whom would never vote DPP, including all those members of deep-blue anti-gay churches - was never a winning strategy. What they needed was a vision strong enough to allow voters predisposed to choose them to shrug their shoulders at marriage equality (which most Taiwanese seem to do, with the majority not expressing a strong opinion for or against) but vote for the overall idea of Taiwan's (or Kaohsiung's, or Taichung's) future.

Even better, if they'd enshrined marriage equality in the civil code back when the Council of Grand Justices issued their ruling, it would have been normalized by now, and they wouldn't have felt the need to present the conflicting message of a new, internationalized, outward-looking Taiwan, but...oh no, we're not sure what to do about the gays, um, uh...maybe we could...uh...duh...vote for us!

Then the deep-green conservatives and DPP Christians would have shrugged, figured the civil code change was a done deal, and voted for them anyway. They could have even spun it as "look at all the international publicity Taiwan is getting for this! Look at how we've differentiated ourselves from China! Taiwan stands for human rights, and that means equal rights for all!" The progressives would have had more faith in the DPP in that case, and turned out for them, too. That this was allowed to become the issue it did shows not how badly the DPP misunderstood conservative voters, but how badly the DPP got played. It became a problem because they let it become one.

And I do believe that marriage equality having been a done deal, or a part of a stronger overall vision, would have allowed the progressive column of DPP supporters to make up for whatever conservative votes they lost. But I doubt they would have lost as many as some believe, for two reasons: first, the NPP came pretty close to achieving its electoral goals (the News Lens calls their gains "modest", but many didn't even think they'd win what they did. I call it a victory). That shows that voters both want fresh faces and will vote for a cohesive platform, whether it's a liberal or conservative one. Dark blue Da'an voted for two openly gay Third Force city councilors. I realize that Da'an, heart of wealthy 天龍 Taipei, can't speak for all of Taiwan, but it does tell me that the marriage equality "issue" did not have to be the issue it was. Second, aside from the fact that the only reason the anti-gay referendums passed was because the benchmark for passing is far too low (and therefore it is not actually a particularly strong indicator of sustained public consensus), the only way the anti-gay groups were able to get their referendums passed was to change their language from "homsexuality is evil and brings disease!" to "let's have a separate law to protect 'their rights and interests'!"

That the left managed to push the issue that far shows not only that Asia is not a monolithically conservative place, but also that (and I'm quoting a friend here), the values being discussed are not "Asian values". That implies they are static and somehow inextricably tied to being "Asian" - that to change them means to change what it means to be "Asian". This is not true: these values are traditional. Values do change, in all societies. If you don't believe me, consider that 100 years ago in Taiwan, marriages were arranged and often involved actual sales ("I'll sell you my daughter as a maid and when she's 15 she can marry your son!") or multiple wives/concubines. That doesn't happen anymore. Cultures change. 100 years ago, many Western societies were not that different from Asian ones. My great aunt had an arranged marriage...in the United States. My great-grandfather asked to marry my great-grandmother when she was, like, 10 (in a stunning show of liberalism for the time and place - around 1900 in southern Turkey - my great-great grandfather told him that she'd have to agree to the match, which she eventually did.)

We can and are changing the script on marriage equality in Taiwan and the DPP needed to take control of that narrative, and maybe wrap up the pill in some bacon so the conservatives would swallow it. They didn't. They backed away from it in trying to please conservatives and thereby let the other side control the narrative. That freaked out both conservatives and liberals. None of it was necessary.

Further to that point, for once I agree with Shelley Rigger (I've disagreed with her in the past): this election wasn't a referendum on the DPP's cross-strait policies, which I think most Taiwanese actually support. What the voters want is to stand our ground on China without instigating anything, but also to rejuvenate what is seen as a stagnant economy (I don't know how stagnant it actually is, but wages sure aren't doing well.) That's a difficult story to spin, as in many cases voters want conflicting things. We can't have warmer relations with China and stand our ground. China makes that impossible.

On that note, the fact that voters want conflicting things - nuclear-free with reduced pollution, for example - is a key reason why referendums are a bad idea. 
But the KMT somehow convinced voters in this election cycle that they could do it, so the DPP could have, as well.

And frankly, that's just it. The DPP - to quote a friend - needed to step up and take control of the story. To render marriage equality a non-issue. To advertise their achievements better (to put a better spin on pension reform, remind the working class of the gains in minimum wage, remind their core supporters of the ill-gotten assets committee and their no-confrontation-no-backing-down stance on China, their inroads into renewable energy vis-a-vis the KMT's complacency in that area) and have strong talking points on the economy, and to campaign on their candidates' strengths. To do less talking about their policy positions and more talking to the people: Tsai recently said she was going to talk to the youth about their disappointment with the DPP (will post the link once I find it). I have to ask: why didn't she do that before the election? People are saying rural Kaohsiungers are sick of feeling as though the DPP ignores them. Why didn't the party address that earlier?

Instead, they let the KMT and their anti-gay buddies control the narrative. They let Kaohsiungers be convinced that Kaohsiung - which is a much better city to live in than it was before the DPP ran it for so long - is horrible. It's not. Or that marriage equality is some sort of horrible assault on Taiwanese values (or that traditional values shouldn't change). It isn't, and they should. Or that pollution in Taichung is entirely the DPP's fault. It's not. Or that the need to shore up denuclearization with fossil fuels is the DPP's fault. Again, it's not. Or that it is acceptable to recognize the 1992 Consensus if it "rejuvenates the economy". It isn't.

Now we live in a Taiwan that is being called "post-Sunflower". In some cases yes - I am sure some activists think that everything they've tried to do has come to nothing - but this assumes that "voting for the DPP" is the same as "supporting the ideals of the Sunflowers". This is not the case, and never was. The Sunflowers were not a DPP-affiliated movement - the DPP has always been quite a bit more conservative - and while the DPP was able to coast in on their vision for awhile, I doubt they would have been able to maintain it even in the mildest of adversity. In fact, the increasing power of independent/unaffiliated voters and candidates is very much a legacy of the Sunflowers. The electoral success of the NPP is, too. The KMT was able to co-opt the Sunflower 'we need a change' image much to the actual Sunflowers' chagrin, but I doubt they'll be able to sustain it, either. 


I know it's hard to have that kind of vision - to control that story - when you are in power and therefore all problems can be pointed to as your fault by the opposition (nevermind that the opposition, in this case, created many of those problems). I know it's difficult to market achievements when voters seem to want instant results and are more likely to vote for Big Uncle Dirk if he promises them the world, even if he's light on substance.

But it is possible, and progressive forces in Taiwan (not just the DPP) have to do it, because we've already just taken one big step backward. We can't afford to take another: China is ramping up its threat, at least rhetorically. LGBT Taiwanese are committing suicide as a result of their perceived rejection by society. This is urgent. We can fight to counteract the surge in so-called 'conservatism', but will we?

Monday, November 26, 2018

All hail the new kings, same as the old kings (or, the KMT double standard)

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You all are getting taken for a ride.
You've taken this ride before, and you don't even remember that it made you puke. 


So everyone's going on about why the DPP lost so badly. It's a "rebuke" to the Tsai administration. Some are saying they weren't listening to their base (many of whom are center-right social conservative small-business owners and working-class people, generally Taiwan independence supporters). Others are saying they didn't deliver on progressive promises, so their other column of support - young Taiwanese liberals - abandoned them. Someone I know is saying that Taiwanese want a center-right society and will accept it being pro-China or pro-Taiwan. Another is saying Taiwanese vote with their wallets, and the KMT could offer more economic perks.


All of these things are true at once (though I'm not quite so sure about progressive deserters - some of them went for the NPP, true, but who else would they have voted for? The KMT? They know the KMT is even less progressive than the DPP, and voter turnout wasn't too low so they didn't stay home.)

But there's another issue which bothers the hell out of me. It's been said before, just not about this election, and yet it holds now too.

How is it that the KMT can screw up so spectacularly every time - like, every single time - and still get "a second chance" or "time for their ideas to show results", but if the DPP isn't immediately Jesus Who Descendeth From Heaven To Save Us All, they're angrily voted out before we can even see what the effects of their policies are?

Let's start with China.

ECFA was a joke - it didn't really do much for the economy except hollow out the job market as everything was moved to China (which was exactly China's intent). Exports grew more under Chen - whom China hated - than they did under Ma. Chinese tourism was a joke - it had little-to-no effect on the Taiwanese economy. It was one massive scam that made the country a noticeably worse place to live while offering no real benefit (unless cheap, tacky hotels spurting up like whiteheads across scenic areas or caravans of tour buses and the low-wage jobs they bring - but not more than that as most of the companies that own those hotels and tour/bus companies are based in China - can be called a "benefit". Which they can not.) Although it was great if you enjoyed getting locked out of purchasing train tickets.

And yet Ma got "four more years" to "give him a chance", the KMT remained strong, and didn't suffer any real wipeouts until halfway through Ma's second term when his "chance" came to fruition and it was shown to be a stinking heap of garbage, because a bunch of plucky activists drew back the curtain.

For a short while, it was clear to everyone that China's strategy was to parlay increased economic dependence into increased political integration. China didn't even try to hide this. For the briefest glimmer of a moment, people realized that the 1992 Consensus was a massive made-up turd bomb and they didn't have to agree that there was "one China" or that they were a part of it. They voted in a government to try something new.

So the DPP goes ahead and does exactly what we elected them to do, which was decrease Taiwan's economic dependence on China and pursue other strategies, while refusing to acknowledge a fabricated "consensus".

The effects were not immediate, and we always knew there would be drawbacks (Chinese money sure does look nice and smell like profit, but underneath that there's a whiff of political oppression that cannot be Febreezed away.)

And yet, because the exact drawbacks we knew would manifest did, Taiwan got mad and voted a bunch of DPPers out. We don't even know yet what the long term effect of the DPP's policies will be, because it's only been two years, and yet they didn't completely transform Taiwan into a perfect wonderland where everyone is rich. No matter that the KMT couldn't do in eight years what the DPP could not possibly have done in two. Let's have those guys back!

Now, newly-elected KMT mayors are talking about recognizing the 1992 Consensus. They will get an influx of Chinese capital for their obedience, and it will certainly smell like profit. These cities will become increasingly economically dependent on China, but will seem as though they are doing better than municipalities not governed by the KMT.

Never mind that this sets up a perfect system of economic blackmail. Do what we say, or we turn off the spigot. This isn't hyperbole or speculation. They did this with Chinese tourists to Taiwan and then spread fake news about what an economic disaster it was (it wasn't). They are doing it to Palau. They are likely to try it with Chinese students in Taiwan. They'll do it with everything from the Olympics (fuck those guys, by the way) to the Golden Horse awards. 

Nevermind that we figured this out in 2014 - it's like nobody remembered the lesson. Yeah, let's vote exactly those dudes we occupied a legislature to stop back in power to do the exact thing we all went downtown to make them stop doing again, because after giving them eight years to sell out Taiwan, we couldn't completely fix it in two years.

And we won't even know how well we might have fixed it, because for all this "we gave the DPP a chance in 2016", no my dudes, you did not. Not the way you keep handing Taiwan to the KMT like they're holding the magic key when really they're holding something far more flaccid. 


And there's the air pollution and the nuclear issue.

The KMT completely screwed us on air pollution, not giving a damn about it until they could hand the problem over to the DPP. Yes, we should have known under Chen Shui-bian that we needed to start investing in renewable energy technology, but it was still early then: most other nations hadn't fully begun to realize that yet, either. But it was glaringly clear that this was the direction we needed to take under Ma Ying-jeou, who promptly stuck his thumb up his ass and did jack-all about it for 8 years as the situation grew worse.

And yet the DPP gets voted out because they didn't fix air pollution in 2 years.

Everyone was willing to go ahead with the anti-nuclear activists (whom I still sort of blame for not concurrently pushing for a serious green energy policy, and who seemed happy to return to coal as long as Taiwan denuclearized) until they realized that would make air pollution worse, because again the KMT spent eight years doing jack-all about it so we had no better alternatives, and voted nuclear back in. Not that it matters: whether we denuclearize or not, air pollution here won't get better until the government takes it seriously, and neither party has taken it seriously. The only difference is the KMT gets eight years to not take it seriously, but the DPP is expected to make it all better in two.


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This sucks, and not all of it is from China (some of it is).
But to blame the DPP for this after two years when it got this way under the KMT to begin with?


Even so, the DPP has both screwed up and shown glimmers of awareness. On one hand, pollution has gotten worse. In places like Taichung where it is especially noticeable, the government preferred to massage the air quality numbers rather than do anything, and they have been quietly reopening coal-fired plants. 

On the other, I recall that until fairly recently, power generated from green energy companies could not be sold directly to consumers. So, of course, nobody was producing it because there was no money to be made (if I remember correctly, the power generated had to be first sold to Taipower). That changed not long ago under Tsai, not the KMT.

Then there's wages. Sure. Wages have been stagnating and Taiwan's minimum wage is "unjustifiable" (to quote the News Lens above).

But again, the KMT let the minimum wage stagnate for four years, then got re-elected so it could stagnate for another four. Give them a chance! We don't know how well their ideas are working! people said. Nevermind that it was blatantly obvious that they didn't give a damn, because big bosses were doing alright and if they weren't they could just go to China.

The DPP raises the minimum wage more than it has risen in decades, and yet Tsai gets a "rebuke" for low wages. Do they really think wages will rise more under the KMT, when they didn't for eight goddamn years?



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A screenshot from a Lu Shiow-yen campaign ad.

Seriously, you guys. Lin Chia-lung was imperfect and didn't fix the problems he inherited from Jason Hu.
But he took his job seriously and ran a positive campaign, and yet you elected someone who won't even hire interns who can spell "center" correctly?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME



And I could say something similar about labor laws. I'm not a fan of the 2nd round of labor law amendments, and the first round weren't great either. But, they were a substantial improvement over KMT policy, and yet workers immediately cried out that it wasn't enough, while bosses immediately cried out that they'd no longer be able to treat workers like slaves, and that will make us less competitive! WE NEED SLAVES!

The KMT knew this issue was a hornet's nest, so they basically threw workers under the bus for eight years because the Boss Class was enough to get them elected. The DPP made a mediocre attempt at addressing the problem, and suddenly they're the devil fucking incarnate.

And finally there's marriage equality.

Yes, the DPP wimped out on this one. Yes, they failed to grow a spine, and they lacked moral courage. They backed away from campaign rhetoric and disillusioned their progressive voters, thinking that their bigot voters could carry them through.

And yet, among them there are supporters of equality. Some DPP legislators have been trying to get it on the docket for quite a long time, before it was a mainstream topic. At least they were willing to try out the rhetoric, and I do believe their goal was to wait out the clock so the civil code would automatically be re-interpreted, knowing full well that a.) if this ever came to a vote, conservative Taiwanese would be mobilized by well-organized hatemongers and vote against it (and lo, that is exactly what happened), and b.) passing a 'separate law' would not satisfy progressive voters.

What did the KMT do? Eight years of not giving a shit about marriage equality, that's what (to be fair, twelve ago the mainstream wasn't about marriage equality, so this isn't just an issue of an uncaring KMT. Society at large didn't care, either). Sure, since then, a few pro-equality KMT legislators have made themselves known (though offhand I can only recall the name of one), but all-in-all it was clear in this election cycle that anti-equality campaigners and the KMT are hand-in-hand (and, again, I suspect this might be the result of a quiet alliance, not a coincidental convergence of interests).

So progressives, fine, you're mad at the DPP for being such cop-outs. I get it. But you know the KMT is going to be worse, and yet you let the DPP get slammed because they couldn't convince the more conservative elements of society to go along. Yes, they could have tried harder, but the KMT was and is never even going to try.

You blame the DPP for every single thing - even things that weren't their fault, from the nuclear/coal conundrum to the Taipei Dome. You voted Hau out because of the Taipei Dome, after giving him eight years to sit there jacking it in his office. Ko (not DPP but the point is, he's not KMT) just barely gets re-elected because he couldn't fix Hau's corrupt mess in four years, despite marked improvements in the city, from real bike lanes to an improved North Gate (though to be clear, I'm not a fan of Ko and absolutely do not want him to be president.) Yet you give credit to the KMT for things they didn't even do (the KMT routinely takes credit for improving MRT access in New Taipei, but as a friend pointed out, those plans were laid in the Chen administration) and keep re-electing them.

This has a basis in history too. The KMT stole from Taiwan for two generations, and then got a second chance in 2008 because they've "changed" (HOW DID THEY CHANGE EXACTLY?) Chen Shui-bian - admittedly not the greatest guy - steals a fraction of that and suddenly the DPP is evil and untouchable for more than half a decade.

I get that expectations are higher  - I keep hearing "well we expect that from the KMT but we wanted better from the DPP", but then give them a chance to do better just like you do with the KMT! 


Mark my words. The KMT is going to do a terrible job, because they always do. And yet they will get "a second chance", because they always do. They won't be able to fix pollution or wages - they won't even try to fix wages - they'll just tell you all to go to China for work. Same country anyway, har har har. Even if they could fix pollution, they won't try to do that either, because the only punishment for being lazy moneygrubbing China-fluffing wankstains the first time around was two years in the wilderness.

Oh but they will make Taiwan economically dependent on China, bring back attempts to force Taiwanese to say publicly that they are Chinese (that is what the 1992 Consensus is, after all), and work with Christian hate groups to ensure that the constitution can never be interpreted to allow marriage equality.

There will be a big battle for the presidency, and a peace agreement with China because we never learn our lesson, and we will become Hong Kong with no freedom or autonomy. People will start to believe - because the KMT will tell them to - that Chinese money is helping Taiwan, even if it isn't. They'll start to believe peace can be negotiated with the power that seeks to annex them. They'll give them "another chance".


And unless some new Sunflowers come 'round to teach us all a lesson again, we'll become Hong Kong. And then, when we don't comply, Xinjiang. The world will do nothing, because that's what it always does. Some people will even believe this is better for you or that it's a step in the right direction toward "peaceful reunification". The KMT won't even try to stop this disinformation leaking into international political discourse, because it serves their purposes for the rest of the world to be misinformed about Taiwan.

After a brief, imperfect but also glorious window when the world seemed to be finally waking up to the reality of democratic Taiwan, they will be yet again hypnotized into believing that the Taiwanese want the 1992 Consensus or "Chinese Taipei". Doesn't matter that that's not true, and it's a hack interpretation to believe that it is (voting out of fear of IOC retribution is not the same as embracing "Chinese Taipei".)


And then we'll be dead and Taiwan will be gone.