Showing posts with label tsai_yingwen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tsai_yingwen. 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. 

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. 


Sunday, May 26, 2019

I didn't need to yell at those bigots

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The future

I set out yesterday with two goals: to check out the inflatable 'tank man' (the iconic protester from the Tiananmen Square massacre) that has appeared in front of Murderous Dictator Memorial Hall as this is the 30th anniversary of those tragic events, and to get some reading done for my dissertation. My route took me through Freedom Square, where I encountered some anti-gay protesters near the arched Freedom Square gate.

They claimed to be against the new same-sex marriage law because it went against "the will of the people" as laid out in that messed-up referendum last November, but in truth, they were simply anti-gay. Here's how you can tell.

A woman shouting into a microphone made points like:

"We voted against gay marriage in the referendum. But they passed it anyway. I ask you - is this democracy?"

Of course, that's not what happened in the referendum. As black metal frontman and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim helpfully pointed out, the referendum didn't do that: it specifically (though unclearly) asked if people agreed with changing the civil code to allow same-sex couples to marry, or if that should be done by a separate law. The people voted not to change the civil code, but for 'the rights and interests of same-sex unions to be protected' (if I'm translating that right) through some other law. That is what the referendum questions said. Period, end of story, the end, buh-bye. They did not ask if we should not allow any kind of same-sex unions. 


When the government voted to allow same-sex couples to register their marriages (and make no mistake, they are marriages), they not only did so through a separate law just as the referendum asked them to, but even took out the word 'marriage' in one of the articles as a compromise in a bill that was already a compromise. The bill does say couples can register their "marriage" in another article, but...that is what they have, isn't it? What else would it even be called? What gives the anti-gay side the right to define that word?

In any case, a referendum does not supercede a decision by the highest court. When the legislators acted, they acted in keeping with the principles of democracy (as opposed to populism), in which all people are equal under the law, and no group can vote away the rights or equality of another group. I doubt those protesters were unaware of this.


So no, they're not angry about the referendum. That's an excuse, and not a very logical one. They're angry because they hate gays.

In any case, they were all over the age of 50 or so, and there were maybe 20 of them. So when that woman said "I ask you, is this democracy?" I shouted back "YES!" (all in Mandarin of course).

"Can the government do this?"

"THEY CAN!"

Her: "No they can't!"

Me: "You don't understand how referendums work!"

Her: "This isn't democracy!"

Me: "If you don't like equal rights, go to China!"


I may have also laughed loudly at them. (By "may have" I mean, I did.)



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So many more people than those angry folks at Freedom Square


Anyway, some very polite police officers came up asked me nicely not to do that, and recommended I go to Ketagalan Boulevard just down the road, where I hadn't realized there was a big, super fun, super gay banquet being prepared. I've been working on my dissertation, okay? I can't keep up with everything these days. Anyway, they were really nice about it, and didn't even take my name...probably because white privilege.

I said "but they just hate gays! They don't care about the referendum!"

Police officer: "Yeah, I know. But they registered their little protest." (translated but pretty direct quote, which I think was pretty cool.)

I did leave - the police were super chill about it and that's fine - but not because I thought it was wrong to shout at some anti-gay protesters. They have the right under freedom of speech and assembly to voice their (bigoted) views. They don't have the right not to face consequences for those views, like being told they're bigoted in public. I didn't force them to stop or take away their microphone, and I couldn't have ejected them if I'd wanted to as it's public space and that's what freedom of speech means. So, no regret there. 


I don't even regret doing it as a foreigner - they probably aren't going to be convinced that same-sex marriage is a local cause in Taiwan. They probably don't care that the anti-gay side is the one that turned to Western hate groups for funding and advice whereas pro-equality groups mostly kept their effort local (though I've heard that some foreign donations did come in late in the game). And I live here too - this is my home and what happens here affects me. As a resident, I also have the right to freedom of speech (really - look it up.)

But, I'd made my point and it was time to move on.

I passed the mass wedding banquet as it was being set up - a friend noted that it was organized by TAPCPR (the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights) and again on my way home when it was in full swing. There were photo backdrops, musical performers, a huge 'flower car' stage and some vendors selling beer, water and promotional goodies. As the banquet was an official function, people who wanted to celebrate but weren't on the guest list came and pickicked on the perimeter. A large screen showing the events on stage was set up for them. The crowd was young, vibrant and enthusiastic. They'd finally grabbed a tiny corner of the privilege to be treated equally and humanely that society had denied them for so long. They were the future.



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Picknickers - the main banquet was closer to the Presidential Office


And let me tell you - it was huge. The crowd of thousands (including the banquet-goers) dwarfed the twenty or so oldsters across Jingfu Gate screaming falsehoods about the referendum. Though I didn't see it, I'm also told the oldsters had an audio recording of crying sounds and a hearse (!) at some point.

Which, LOL. Okay. I guess if you're that self-victimizing (seeing as same-sex marriage doesn't affect them at all) and imagine yourself downtrodden (despite being in the age and class that has held so much power and privilege in Taiwan for so long) you have to turn to histrionics.

So in the end, I went home thinking that I didn't really need to yell at them. Not because I was wrong to do so - I truly don't believe that I was, and don't think I actually broke any law - but because it simply wasn't necessary.

The huge crowd across the street, and all the happiness they exuded, made the same point far more effectively.

The aging protesters will look more and more ridiculous as marriage equality slowly becomes an accepted norm in Taiwan, and normal people realize that the sun is still in the sky and the Earth is still spinning and nothing has changed about their own lives, and that if they don't like same-sex unions they don't have to have one. They'll cry and weep and rend their garments, and we will ignore them. (Though let's not get complacent about 2020 - we will eventually win but they will certainly try to use this against Our Lady of Spice, Tsai Ing-wen).

The future held a much bigger party, a much younger party. They won, love won, and Taiwan won, and the angry oldsters with their hearses and black signs can die mad about it. 

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?


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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

Sunday, March 24, 2019

This time, it's Bloomberg choosing its words poorly when discussing Taiwan

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Bloomberg just ran a profile article of Han Kuo-yu, and the language choices are...not great. I have it on good authority that the Taipei bureau chief is a good dude, so I'm not sure why, but regardless the language and framing in this piece (which has some strong parts) merit some detailed discussion. Let's have a look. 




For officials in Beijing looking for a Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island’s fraught ties with the mainland, Han Kuo-yu is saying all the right things. The question is whether he runs.

"A Taiwanese presidential candidate who improves the island's fraught ties with the mainland" implies that it is somehow Taiwan's fault that ties with China (not "the mainland" - that's politically charged terminology) are tense.

But it's not. I'm sure Tsai Ing-wen would love better relations with China, if China would accept that Taiwan isn't interested in unification. That's not a position held only by Tsai - she was elected in part because of it, and is the general sentiment in Taiwan.

Tsai has extended olive branches, but they come with the clear indication that Taiwan's sovereignty is not up for debate. China has not accepted them.

It's Beijing's fault, not Taiwan's, that relations are "fraught". So it's not Taiwan's job to "improve" them - it's China's.

Also, why are you starting an article with what China wants and thinks, rather than what Taiwan wants and thinks, Ms. Wang?



"Such blunt talk contrasts with Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, a cautious critic of China who’s bracing for a tough re-election fight after bruising policy battles and an isolation campaign by Beijing."

So, why is she facing a difficult re-election campaign? Is it really because of her stance on China? Most people seem fine with her approach to China - not budging on Taiwanese sovereignty, but not instigating any tensions, either. Her approach ensures that it is clear to all who care to observe that it is Beijing doing the bullying (something that was true, but not always clear, under former pro-Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian).

The reasons why her approval ratings are flagging have to do with the economy (although it's actually not doing as badly as people think) and some displeasure over her 'cool' technocratic governing style, as well as domestic governance at a local level. It's actually not that closely related to issues regarding China.

The sense that it's all due to her views on China is further implied by Wang omitting what these "bruising policy battles" were over. Mostly, domestic issues: marriage equality, labor laws, pension reform, that sort of thing.

Tsai was elected because of her pro-Taiwan views, not in spite of them.

So why is Bloomberg implying that Taiwanese people are angry with Tsai over this, and not domestic governance issues?

Besides, what exactly are we saying here? That in order to "reduce tensions", Taiwanese people might want to consider voting for a Beijing-approved candidate? Are we not aware that that is exactly what China wants, but might not turn out well for Taiwan?



Han’s shock defeat in November of a candidate from Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party in the ruling bloc’s stronghold catapulted him to the top of the list of possible presidential hopefuls from the China-friendly Kuomintang.

Putting this in the same paragraph as the quote above implies that this victory was due to China policies. It wasn't. There were a number of odd convergences here, between Han's populist appeal and some very weird and questionable sources of funding and support (when people talk about possible Chinese interference in the last election, well...I don't know about Han specifically but it wouldn't surprise me). There was anger over local governance.

But your average Kaohsiunger does not agree with Han's pro-China tendencies. Unlike Tsai, he was elected despite, not because of, these views. Look at any data about the political leanings of Kaohsiung residents, and this will be clear (Wang alludes to this later but treats it as an inconvenient aside that contradicts the "China!" narrative.)



On Friday, he begins a week-long trip to Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland cities of Shenzhen and Xiamen.

How lazy does journalism have to be to point this out but not interrogate it at all? It's presented almost like a good thing - no questioning at all of how and why Han was invited to Hong Kong and Macau, and who could have set that up and authorized it...and why? And how his insistence that this trip is "all business" is at odds with what we actually know about it?

No interrogation of whether the candidate China prefers may pose potential risks to Taiwan, and that "improving fraught tensions" is not necessarily the best outcome?

Why - after a few paragraphs implying that Taiwanese want a more pro-China leader (even though that's not necessarily the case) - is none of this considered?


Chinese President Xi Jinping, who held a historic meeting with Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou weeks before the vote, has cut off communications with Tsai’s government and led a campaign isolate her island diplomatically.

The meeting was not particularly historic and didn't have much effect at all on how Taiwanese voted in the 2016 election. It was literally a non-event, a stunt to try to convince Taiwanese to vote for the KMT, and it failed. Most Taiwanese do want a strong economy and can accept economic ties with China if they deliver one. But seeing how Ma's push for closer ties did not result in definitive economic growth, and that Beijing showed its hand in terms of quietly tethering 'economic ties' to an agenda of political integration, Wang is making way too much of China's reaction leading up to and post-2016. 



Tsai now looks vulnerable, receiving the support of less than 20 percent in recent polls, as she grapples with both voters concerned about deteriorating ties with China and those who want a cleaner break. 

Though I don't know the exact numbers, Ma didn't have great approval ratings before his re-election campaign either, and won. It's sort of a thing in Taiwan. A smarter write-up would have compared Tsai's current approval ratings to what they tend to be at this point in their administration for any given Taiwanese president.

And it again places too much emphasis on Tsai's China policy, and not enough on domestic-level grievances (some of which, like air pollution and low wages, are merited - but which are results of decades of poor governance and can't be fixed in 3.5 years).

Even if the issue were Tsai vs. China, again, no questioning of what it would mean for Taiwan to choose a Beijing-approved candidate simply because China wished it so? No delving into alleged Chinese interference in the 2018 election? Nothing?


Tsai has sought to push back against Han’s pro-China remarks, saying there can’t be an arranged marriage with China because Taiwan is sovereign and its people have the freedom to choose. Taiwan’s official Mainland Affairs Council also took a shot at him [emphasis mine], arguing the island “must resolutely refuse China’s terrorizing affection.”  

Great way to use language to cast a negative connotation on the rhetoric of one side! "Took a shot at him"? How about "spoke frankly" or "pointed out" or any other neutral choice?

Besides, Tsai is right. Unification is impossible because Taiwan is sovereign and the people have the right to choose...and aren't interested in dictatorship and loss of rights. They can see the ways in which Hong Kong has failed and know not to go down that road.

A note here that most Taiwanese do, in fact, support the status quo (not unification), that the status quo is sovereignty (because it is), do not support unification or "One Country Two Systems", and that Taiwanese identity remains strong would be apropos, but we get nothing.


Others observing from Beijing argue Han’s candidacy could lead to a breakthrough between the long-time rivals. He supports the idea both sides are part of “one-China” -- a negotiating framework Tsai has refused to endorse.

More poor language choices.

First, why is this still being framed in terms of what Beijing wants, not what Taiwan thinks?

Second, when the intentions of one "rival" is to annex the other "rival", and they will not accept any offer of negotiation that doesn't put this potential outcome on the table (which is, to them, the only acceptable outcome), when there is a "breakthrough" that's not necessarily a good thing.

Third, Taiwanese who identify as Taiwanese don't see their goals as part of a "rivalry". Rivalries are for "two Chinas" - the ROC and the PRC. But those who just want Taiwan to be Taiwan aren't a part of that. There's no rival claim to China coming from pro-independence types. It's not a rivalry - it's a bully and a target who refuses to succumb. It's just the wrong word, period.

So on one hand we have this inaccurate, undeservedly positive phrase "breakthrough between rivals", and on the other we have a subtle denigration of Tsai/pro-independence views with "refused to endorse", as though this makes her the instigator or the intransigent side who won't negotiate - as though negotiations could ever be fair in this situation.

Tsai doesn't endorse "one China" because Taiwanese by and large do not want to be a part of China. Why not say that? Why make it seem so negative? Why leave out important facts like this?


“If he wins in 2020, it is likely that he will reverse Tsai’s cross-strait policies,” said Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University and secretary general of the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based research group. “The mainland, of course, would have much more trust in him.”

What's up with the implication that it would be a good thing for China to trust and like a Taiwanese politician? No delving at all into what that could mean for Taiwan, when China's goal is to annex Taiwan?

This is a Taiwanese candidate, not a Chinese one. China's bullying does matter, but Taiwan's views matter more.

The question isn't "will China trust him?" (seriously, quit it with "mainland"), but "should Taiwanese voters trust him?"

Why aren't you asking that question, Ms. Wang? 



Kaohsiung city spokeswoman Anne Wang said Thursday that Han was focused on promoting the local economy and “will not think about other plans for the time being.” This week’s trip was intended to promote economic and cultural exchanges and not touch on politics, she said.

You're just going to take her at her word and not actually question this? Do you honestly think China would allow this trip if there were no political motivations?



The trip will test Han’s ability to navigate sticky issues on the mainland and in the fractious former British colony of Hong Kong. His past forays into the public eye have been rocky.

Again with the "mainland". Ugh.

Anyway, again, you should be questioning whether China cooperating with a Taiwanese politician is actually a good thing for Taiwan, but that's either ignored, or you take it as a given. I'm truly not sure which.


When he was a legislator in 1993, Han punched future DPP President Chen Shui-bian, putting him in the hospital. As president of the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co. in 2016, he dared a city councilor to swallow a hockey puck during a dispute. 
During his run for mayor, he told a gathering of female supporters that anyone who created 1,000 jobs in Kaohsiung would get a kiss. Earlier this month, he was forced to apologize after dismissing the idea of attracting white-collar workers from the Philippines since it was hard to believe maids could become English teachers.

Lest you think I just want to hate on this article, I am quoting this here to point out that it's pretty good coverage of his past controversies. Nice work. 



Han successfully cast himself as the “CEO mayor” during the campaign, propelled in part by a social media campaign led by his Canadian-educated daughter, Coco Han. His focus on economics on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook helped garner robust support from younger voters looking for higher wages. 
One of his slogans was: “With goods sold and talent flowing in, Kaohsiung’s people will make a fortune.”

Sure, okay. Not untrue. But it would be smart to question whether his outlandish and oversize promises had a chance of holding up. If you actually look at his focus on the economy, you'll see that he's unlikely to actually be able to deliver on his promises. Kaohsiung will never be Shanghai. It will probably never even be Taipei. We do need to improve the economy across Taiwan, including in industrial centers like Kaohsiung. But...this seems a bit vague and impossible to deliver on.

And at no point do you question this, or ask whether or not it's prudent to run a guy for president who hasn't even proven he can run Kaohsiung, whose promises seem so pie-in-the-sky that any rational person can see that they just aren't credible, and what it means that the KMT is willing to run him anyway, and China is on board.

Why not, Bloomberg? Why not, Cindy Wang?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Some guy says Taiwanese "separatists" are "deeply worried" by...whatever

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You Taiwan separatists!


Look, don't even bother clicking this link.

The guy who said this is "the head of a semi-official body" - ARATS - that literally nobody in Taiwan takes seriously and exists to promote the exact opposite of what Taiwan wants (and disseminate the exact opposite opinion that Taiwan, as a whole, actually has). He's not important.

I'll summarize it for you: blah blah blah "reunification" blah blah "one country two systems is successful" blah blah blah blah "historic trend" blah blah "degeneration of the great Chinese nation" blah blah blah probably a small wee-wee blah blah "historic trend" blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, how's Taiwan feeling?

According to journalist and more-important-than-that-jade-cabbage national treasure, Chris Horton: 






 So, anyway, here's a point I've made before but want to highlight here.

When people like...this guy go on about "Taiwan separatists", they are implying that these "Taiwan separatists" are a small, loud minority of annoying activists that most people don't support. Or they try to frame it as wayward politicians spouting on about some sort of political nonsense that most people don't actually agree with.

That's just not the case. As a friend put it, "if you define 'Taiwan separatist' as 'someone who believes Taiwan should not be a part of China', then 80%+ of Taiwanese are 'Taiwan separatists'."

They (all those separatists!) elected those particular politicians at the national level in 2016  in part out of a desire to express that will. Some want a specific kind of independence (de jure, or sans Republic of China), but most find sovereignty to be their baseline. If Taiwan is truly sovereign - no, not like Hong Kong, which isn't even all that autonomous, let alone sovereign - they'll take that over a war. Threaten even that sovereignty, though, and you can go to hell


In other words, Taiwan already has "independence" in that it is sovereign, and the vast majority of Taiwanese would like to keep it that way.

In that sense, almost all Taiwanese are "Taiwan separatists". It's not a minority, and it's not limited to people in government.

Does Grandpa here really think that almost all Taiwanese are "deeply worried" - which is what his statement implies? Do his buddies in government really think it's possible to consider somewhere between 11 and 23 million Taiwanese "war criminals"?

Do they really that the CCP has a lot of influence over the Taiwanese people?

No, of course not.

This is just what they have to say to maintain the illusion that "Taiwan separatism" is a niche belief held by a few annoying activists, not the general will of the Taiwanese electorate. They can't let the rest of the world (or their own people) catch on to the notion that Taiwan is a "renegade province" (ahem) not because political forces are keeping it that way against the will of the people, but because most Taiwanese want it that way.

So my message isn't for him - who cares about him. My message is for you, the readers. Don't buy what he's selling. "Separatism" in Taiwan isn't a matter of a few crazy extremists, who can be sidelined, rooted out, prosecuted and (I assume) executed. It's matter of public will. Taiwan is evolving toward it, not away from it, and it's not going away. 


Monday, February 25, 2019

"If it's Taiwan today, people should ask 'who's next'?": full video of Tsai Ing-wen's CNN interview and comments

So, if you're like and don't have a TV, so can't necessarily watch something when it's on TV, you may be disappointed in the 4 minutes or so of footage across two videos of President Tsai's CNN interview on CNN's official feed.

The good news is that an awesome guy I don't know is here to help! You can watch the full video here.


Apparently two well-known analysts in Taiwan went in on ICRT about the interview (one thinking positively of it, the other negatively), though I haven't listened to the whole thing yet. 

I have a few thoughts myself. Tsai herself, in my opinion, performed admirably. To a Western audience - the people this is actually aimed at - she came across as reasonable, pragmatic, even-keeled and intelligent (all things she truly is). She made a very strong case for Taiwan as a beacon of democracy and freedom, and was very clear on the threat from China and why it should matter to the world, without any 'troublemaking' rhetoric. More time could have been spent on marriage equality  - as far as I can tell, it wasn't mentioned  - though I may have just missed it - to really hammer home the idea of Taiwan as 'liberal beacon in Asia' (it's not that liberal by Western standards but by Asian standards, it kind of is). She also makes a strong case for closer communication and stronger relations with Taiwan, without seeming desperate or begging.

She makes it clear that Taiwan does have its own military capability and can withstand a first wave of attacks. This is essential - we need to show the world that Taiwan does take its defense seriously and would not simply beg the world to defend it as it stood by, helpless and unwilling to stand up for itself.

"If it's Taiwan today, people should ask, 'who's next'?" - I truly don't think one can make a stronger case, and it was delivered succinctly and clearly.

Her point that Taiwan is the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, and it produced a female leader, so we need to quit it with thinking women are limited in what they can do is a strong one. By going meta with the 'questions about being a female leader of a country' trope and acknowledging it, with her basically saying 'what I think about such questions don't matter, I have an obligation to answer them until female leaders are totally normalized' (paraphrased), she shows that she always considers her role carefully as a leader rather than giving in to her personal feelings. To Americans who may be sick of seeing the puerile, vengeful, personal spewings of their own president, this is likely to play well.

She showed that she does speak fluent English, but wisely moved back to Mandarin for the more complex questions. This will also play well to a Western audience.

Tsai is quite good at this kind of interview, where she almost certainly prepares careful responses to known topics in advance, and where a questioner prompts her on various topics so she doesn't get too bogged down in technocratic wonkery.

I'll admit that by giving careful answers that kind of evade the meat of the questions asked - on whether Taiwan counts on US support in the face of a Chinese invasion, on whether Trump is an unreliable ally - she does come across as just another 'politician' to some extent. She doesn't really answer these questions, and I would have liked a stronger stance on Taiwanese not favoring unification, now or ever. That said, I think any half-intelligent viewer will understand that her country is in a precarious position. In a situation where a single misplaced word can infuriate China, her 'careful' approach is simply necessary.

All that said, the average Westerner interested enough to watch this interview would, in my estimation, be persuaded that Taiwan is worth taking seriously and its leader is not an 'extremist', an 'ethnic nationalist/separatist' or a hotheaded despot, but the pragmatic, serious, hard-headed and slightly nerdy (okay, very nerdy - that karaoke comment about reading while her friends sang...wow) democratically elected leader of a proud, free society.

That doesn't mean I feel so positive about the whole interview. While I am very pleased with how Tsai presents herself, I'm less of a fan of the historical interludes about the Taiwan-China situation, and some of the language that the interviewer used (namely the terms "reunification" and "mainland").

No one thing the presenter said was wrong, regarding what happened in 1949, the change in diplomatic ties, that Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China, or who the US recognizes as 'the sole China' now and why. No one fact was off-base.

But taken together, it presents an image of Taiwanese history that I can't endorse as accurate: there are several lies of omission that seem like minor details but are in fact pivotal to an accurate telling of Taiwan's story. If included, such details would change the overall narrative of Taiwanese history to such a great degree that leaving them out feels false.

Imagine if, instead of the usual "1949", "two Chinas", "the Republic of China still claims" narrative without any key details, the presenter had said something like this:

"Taiwan had been a Japanese colony until the end of World War II, when the Allied Powers allowed the Republic of China to accept Japan's surrender on their behalf and govern Taiwan, amid some controversy. The Nationalists and their leader, Chiang Kai-shek, who controlled Republic of China, were then defeated by the Communists under Mao Zedong, who founded the People's Republic of China. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan, claiming to be the 'sole' government of the 'true' China. Both leaders of these "two Chinas" were military dictatorships marked by oppression and mass murder. The United States recognized the Republic of China on Taiwan, under Chiang Kai-shek, until the late 1970s, when it switched recognition to the PRC in Beijing. Since then, China has continued on a trajectory of dictatorship while Taiwan has democratized and liberalized, with many Taiwanese no longer identifying as 'Chinese'. Polls in Taiwan show consistent support for a separate Taiwanese national and cultural identity. Some in Washington say that in light of this, it's time to re-assess US policy in the region, which..."

Same basic facts, but with pertinent details centered in the narrative, it tells quite a different story, doesn't it?

But, hey.

We can't get everything we want, so I can only hope that during the 'historical' interludes, American viewers went to the kitchen to get more chips. 


In the end, it doesn't matter as much as Tsai comporting herself well, which she clearly did. Taiwan needs to present a clear case to the world that it is worth taking seriously and aiding if necessary. I never thought I'd say Tsai Ing-wen was the public speaker who could accomplish much of anything (she's not a great speaker), but...I could be wrong. She's exactly the face Taiwan needs to show to the West. 

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.

Monday, April 30, 2018

One Nation Under Smog: or, how I became disillusioned with the Taiwanese left

Today was disgusting. So was yesterday. I don't mean I had a bad day. I mean the air was literally disgusting - it made my throat scratchy, my nose inflamed, my eyes sting and my stomach a little upset.

I felt annoyed, ill - literally sick, disgusted and nauseated - but something else too. I felt a deep-seated, wide-ranging anger. 

Years ago, I was hanging out with my (adult) students and nuclear power came up. I said that while I agreed nuclear power was a bad idea in Taiwan for a number of reasons, I didn't actually support phasing it out immediately, while Taiwan's energy policies in other areas were so short-sighted. Of course I was aware of the problems with nuclear power: nowhere to store spent fuel rods, "dirty plants" where safety standards were alleged to not be met, especially around cooling/recirculation tanks (despite assurances that they conformed to a high standard of safety), and of course the fears that Taiwan's vulnerability to natural disasters. These include earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis - could result in a Fukushima-style disaster in Taiwan, where such an event would be even more disastrous given the country's size.


But, what was the alternative? Fossil fuels? That would not only be bad for the environment as a whole, but for Taiwan's air quality in particular. Alternative energy would be best, and we probably have the technology to make that a reality for most of our energy needs, but nobody seemed interested in actually developing it. There has been some investment into wind power, but not enough. Besides, even though I don't think wind is the answer, the same activists who campaigned to shut down the nuclear plants also campaigned against wind farms (sometimes for good reasons, I should add.)

Solar comes with its own set of government cock-ups that are only now being rectified: the government is only now tackling harmful and outdated regulations regarding energy generated through home solar panels (in the past, you had to sell the power you generated to Taipower first at a crummy rate, and have it sold back to you. Hence, nobody bothered to explore solar power for their homes.)

The push to explore solar and geothermal generally was limited and insufficient (given how geothermically active Taiwan is, geothermal is probably our best bet - but not a lot of money being poured into it). Taiwan's buildings would need to be restructured in a huge way, or at least, any new buildings would have to take the country's climate into account, building in cross-breezes, overhangs and using the right materials to reduce how much air conditioning was necessary in the summer. No more stifling concrete boxes.

And I just could not support gunking up Taiwan's air by going back to fossil fuels.

Even when trying to clean up fossil fuel-powered plants, it's a hash. As my friend and Central Taiwan news guru Donovan Smith noted:


In fact, Taipower recently announced they are adding two new gas-fired units to the Taichung Power Plant, bringing the total units up to 12. Many or most people had thought they were going to use those two to replace two of the coal-fired units, but nope. A general rule of thumb is gas-fired units are about half as polluting as coal. That means cumulatively that is effectively adding one more coal-fired unit.


Fast-forward to today. And yesterday. And so many days before.

The left won: the nuclear plants are shutting down. The chances that the fourth plant at Gongliao will be finished and activated are essentially zero - and frankly, bringing it online is a bad idea anyway.

And now the air is filthy. In much of Taiwan it has been for awhile - Taipei folks just didn't notice it because it rarely impacted us. All of those power plants and other industrial waste-producing hellscapes were far enough from us that our air was still relatively clean. Now we're getting a taste of what the rest of the country has been saying for awhile.

The Taiwanese left was unforgivably myopic: they yelled and screamed to shut down nuclear power, but didn't present any sort of push for consistent renewable energy policy. "I guess pushing for renewables isn't as sexy as pushing against nuclear," people who understood my point said. "They're just not going to win the zeitgeist talking about that."

Okay, but if you don't, and you only shout about what is "sexy" enough to get attention, then your push to change society can have unintended consequences. You're nothing but gadflies, not serious policymakers searching for real solutions.

If all you do is push to shut one thing down without thinking ahead to how things will be handled in the future, frankly, that's no more visionary than the KMT building a bunch of crap-ass buildings in the 20th century that are all now falling apart and are so energy-inefficient it's a joke because they couldn't be bothered to spend real money creating sustainable architecture for a subtropical climate, and building most cities in Taiwan without viable public transit which creates vehicular pollution. All you're doing is creating another problem.

Real change means tackling the unsexy things. It means actually writing and pushing policy proposals that solve issues and take future consequences into account. It means thinking through your own freakin' beliefs to see what the outcomes might be, and addressing them. I don't see that that has been done by anti-nuclear activists or the people they've put in power.

Yet, even now, I see few from the anti-nuclear activist camp going to bat over renewable energy. Some of them are protesting air pollution: great - but ultimately ineffective. I'm sick of protests that don't offer solutions.

So what we will have is a ghost island: not just in terms of talent leaving, but also the ghostly pallor of the grey air. The ghosts of good intentions, the ghost of what Taiwan could have been if the right people just thought through what really needs to change and pushed for it in the right ways.

So we have the activists/Third Force/Taiwanese left putting on a great show of wanting to change Taiwan - and I do believe they are sincere. But they're just not thinking their ideas through and it's infuriating.

Then there is the KMT. In the words of New Bloom:


In truth, if there is any one to blame for issues regarding nuclear energy or air pollution in Taiwan, it is the KMT, which ruled over Taiwan’s developmentalist state unchallenged for decades during the authoritarian period and built up both the coal-fired power plants that contribute to Taiwanese air pollution and the nuclear power plants which many see as dangerous to Taiwan in the event of environmental catastrophes. There is no political party in Taiwan more beholden to the nuclear lobby than the KMT. Yet the KMT leverages on these issues anyway against the DPP, illustrating not only hypocrisy, but how the KMT truly stands for little else besides rote opposition to the DPP at this point.

However, I disagree with the overly-tidy (and easy) conclusion that we can brush our hands, blame the KMT and move on. As the party who has historically held power, they do deserve most of the blame. However, the left's lack of initiative in finding real energy solutions to make their anti-nuclear rhetoric sustainable also deserves criticism.

Then there's the DPP, who are mostly concerned with staying in power and don't seem to be interested in addressing any of the real issues. Caving to the anti-nuclear activists, leaning more heavily on fossil fuels, and just not doing what needs to be done to make renewable energy a reality.


Amidst this circus, the electorate acknowledges it's a problem but only ever blame the party in charge, or the party they don't like. I'm sure many do look more deeply at the bigger problem of nobody in charge having the faintest idea what they are doing or when they do,  using it for their own gain, but I don't see it. I have to hope their are better people working behind the scenes, but I don't see that, either.

I don't know what else to say. I'm mad and disappointed, and I can't breathe. Those in power don't seem interested or able to really fix the problem. The opposition is, if anything, worse. The Third Force activists don't think through what they fight for nearly as often as they should. Taiwan has smarter people than this. We can do better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a leftie liberal bleeding heart bastard. But, I support doing the difficult, unsexy work that I feel the Taiwanese left is not doing - the stuff that's not always so wonderfully idealistic. I'm still pro-independence and pro-Taiwan. I still think this country is worth fighting for. I just can't support half-baked activism anymore. We can't trust the KMT or DPP to get us out of this mess, which means we have to look to the left, but the left needs to be smarter. It needs to start tackling unsexy issues.