Thursday, October 27, 2005

Double Take

Go read this headline and see if you get it straight the first time.

Myself, I expected the article to involve recurring patterns of anger...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

NCC - Built for Deadlock


The Pan Blues have done it again. They’ve passed an incoherent bill that will create more problems that it solves. This China Post article seems itself to be a paradigm of incoherence, but the process it describes matches the descriptions in Chinese media. Parties will nominate a total of 15 people to the National Communications Commission. The Cabinet will nominate an additional three for a total of 18 nominees. An 11-member legislative panel will confirm 13 nominees through a vote. The interesting wrinkle is that a nominee needs at least 60 percent of panel votes to be appointed. Given the current legislature’s record on cross-party cooperation, this virtually guarantees the NCC legislative panel will be deadlocked: based on the current legislature, five members would be pan green and six would be pan blue. Do the math. The pan blues won’t be able to push through nominees unless at least one pan green panel member is absent during a vote. How likely is that?

There are all kinds of “what if” scenarios right now. For example, what if the panel actually decided to confirm all the nominees by the same vote count (say 11-0)? What would happen to the five excess appointees? However, the biggest question is what kinds of obstacles the administration and pan greens will put up. There are several options, beginning with recalling the bill and asking for a constitutional interpretation (with a strong argument that the bill that has been passed goes against the principle of the NCC being an independent commission). The only good thing about yesterday’s legislative antics is there was no blood on the floor.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lee Speech
Lee Teng-hui gave a hell of a speech in LA Friday evening. Here's the full text in English. Lee gave the speech in Taiwanese.

Usually when Taiwanese politicians give speeches, they try to say as little as possible while pushing the correct buttons. This speech worked in reverse: Lee said a lot, but his rhetoric was pitched in a cold war register that will make tough for US Democrats and other people on the left to hear what he is actually saying. That's unfortunate because Taiwan would attract more sympathy and support from a wider slice of the American political spectrum if would stop pandering to its supposed friends in the Neocon movement.

I also wish he would stop calling the Chinese government 'communist' when they have obviously abandoned Marxism and replaced it with a form of nationalist authoritarianism. Despite its extensive labor camps, China is also not a 'slave state', as Lee claims, any more than Taiwan was in the 1960s and 1970s when Taiwan developed without paying much attention to labor conditions. Lee is trying to say that China is a new Soviet Union just as baby boomers in the US keep insisting that Iraq is another Vietnam.

While his comparison to the Soviet Union is misguided, Lee is absolutely correct in his central theme which he states forcefully: China is a major threat to freedom. He also makes some excellent points about why people don't see this. Lee argues that the West applies a double standard to China when it is assumed that China is not 'ready' for democracy or human rights. He also right about the way China presents two faces to the world rather than the simple face of intimidation that the Soviet Union showed.

I think perhaps he might have also added the war against terrorism to this list. People in the US don't see China as a problem because they are so worried about terrorism. It's hard to worry about two problems at once, but because China is a state commited to modernity (unlike the Islamic mullahs who are resisting modernity), we tend to overlook its threat to freedom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Price to Pay for Rice Bombing

Chaos at the Taipei District Court today after Taiwan’s rice bomber was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison after planting several “rice bombs” to warn Taiwanese away from imported rice. Friends and relatives of Yang Ru-men gathered for a noisy protest, saying the sentence was too harsh. Yang’s lawyer said the convict was expecting five years and that he’ll appeal the sentence. I wonder whether there’s broad public sentiment here that a self-confessed bomber should get off relatively lightly. The bombs were not powerful – and most of them were found intact – but my sense is the person who planned and executed these acts should expect to be punished. Maybe I’m just getting intolerant in my middle age.

UPDATE (10/20): Here’s an article on the sentencing from the Taiwan News to augment the scant details I provided on the rice bomber.


UPDATE (10/26): Here's an opinion piece from the Taipei Times that discusses some of the issues surrounding popular support for the rice bomber.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lily Livered KMT Chairman

One has to wonder about Ma Ying-jeou’s willingness to push the envelope to any extent at all. Today, he criticized the Presidential Office for selecting LY President Wang Jin-ping to represent Chen Shui-bian at an APEC summit. In this Chinese-language article, Ma is quoted as saying that you need to do a backroom deal first; then you make the announcement. This comes just a day after Ma and the KMT gave their blessing to Wang’s trip (Shortly afterward, Beijing said they opposed Wang's appearance at the APEC summit; Ma found out through KMT-CPC channels that the PO knew Beijing's position before announcing Wang would go to Busan).

Lee Teng-hui and then Chen Shui-bian have been strategically pushing the envelope in various kinds of announcements. The result has been that Beijing no longer reacts strongly to certain kinds of statements and Taiwan has more international leeway. Sure, Wang may never have had a chance to represent Chen, but if you don’t try to advance your position, you certainly won’t get anywhere. I hope that when Ma is elected president, he won’t take such a spineless approach as he seems to be advocating now.

Panda diplomacy

A gesture of goodwill indeed. Panda spies, I say! According to this article, a nine-person team has whittled down the field of eligible pandas to 11. They plan to match the pandas to their destination based on “physiology, psychology, behavior, appearance, genetics and age.” Right. It’s clear to me they’re choosing pandas that are likely to make good operatives. Note that a couple of the males are described as having big mouths. Fat chance they’ll be finalists. They’d spill the bamboo shoots before Taiwanese interrogators even pulled out their instruments of panda torture.

According to the Chinese source, 70 percent of Taiwanese are in favor of accepting the pandas. I’m not saying I’m against it, but let’s remain vigilant and not give away any state secrets while within earshot of these enemies at the gates (of their enclosures)!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A historic American visit

Nat Bellochi’s reminiscence of Lee Teng-hui’s famous 1995 visit to Cornell in the Taipei Times today takes me back. At that time, I was living in Kunming and immersing myself in socialism with Chinese characteristics. Every once in a while, I would pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune that some running dog left behind at the Journey to the East coffee shop. But for the most part, my news of the world came from the cankao xiaoxi, a Chinese-language compendium of wire stories that the CPC felt told the truth about the world. Mostly, the stories were critical of Western governments at the time - as one could imagine. There wasn’t really a whole lot about Lee Teng-hui’s visit to Cornell that I recall, but all of us in China were regaled with glorious footage of the military exercises that are now known as the Taiwan Missile Crisis.

Bellochi says he was the one who suggested the “elongated transit” for Lee that still serves as a model for unofficial visits in the United States by Taiwanese leaders. IMHO, in his honor we should start calling them Bellochi transits. In any case, it’s notable that these transits are no longer a big deal. In fact, President Chen placed so much importance in his last scheduled San Francisco transit stop that he went to the United Arab Emirates instead. As Bellochi notes, it will be interesting to hear what Lee has to say this time around on his visit. It will be even more interesting to see whether Taiwanese leaders will be officially welcomed in Washington a decade hence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I hereby retire

from blogging about the weapons purchase, except to offer occasional political snark. The comments to my posts below have confirmed that other bloggers know more about the subject than I do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

History 101

Sigh!

Keith Bradsher from the New York Times writes:

The history of tea itself reaches back to ancient times in China. The earliest known literary references date back nearly 5,000 years, when Emperor Shen Nung is said to have discovered the infusion when leaves dropped into his hot water by chance.

Nonsense. China's oldest book, the Book of Songs (Shijing), may have sections that are 3,000 years old. And Shen Nung doesn't appear in Chinese literature until the late Warring States period (c. 475 BCE to 221 BCE). There's just no way that "[t]he earliest known literary references date back nearly 5,000 years."
Civics 101

This comment to the Asia Times by Chin-Hao Huang contains the following glaring error.

Chen has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ability to dissolve the diet and in turn win a snap election. Chen appears tempted to make a similar call as a way out of the current political deadlock in Taiwan's legislative yuan. However, doing so would further polarize domestic politics and cause more unrest in Taiwan's unconsolidated democracy. Chen ought to be mindful not to sacrifice the long-term goal of political stability for short-term political gain.

Chen can't make a similar call. The Constitution doesn't allow it. For this to happen, the legislature would have to pass a motion of no confidence against the cabinet. Only then could Chen dissolve the legislature. In effect, this means that the legislature would have to dissolve itself and risk new elections, something the pan-blue coalition would never dare do given their behavior over the past year.
Here's a weapons-purchase article

that seems to undermine the thesis of my post immediately below. It reports that senior US military officials are encouraging Taiwan to forgo purchases of all "offensive" weapons and concentrate instead on strengthening the country's defenses. I'm not sure how any weapon in Taiwan's arsenal can really be considered offensive, but whatever.

In any case, the article linked above is organized purely around blind quotes, and it's from the Washington Times, so goodness knows what it actually means. I stand by my uninformed opinion!
Arms purchase insight? You tell me.

There are bloggers out there who understand the arms-purchase controversy far better than I do, but I just came to a bit of an insight that I'd like to test out; comments are welcome.

What has belatedly caught my attention is that, when the Executive Yuan decided to remove some of the proposed purchases from the special appropriations budget and, at least in theory, finance those purchases at some later date from the regular defense budget, it was the Patriot anti-missile batteries that the EY decided to offload -- leaving in place the appropriation request for diesel-electric submarines and anti-sub aircraft.

This tells me -- or at least I think it tells me -- that military planners (both Taiwanese and US) are far more concerned about a Chinese naval blockade than the PRC's "700 missiles aimed at Taiwan." And if this is true, I wonder why it's so. Speaking for myself, I'd rather read about Kaohsiung Harbor being sealed off than look out my window and see a missile hurtling toward me.

My guess is that Taiwanese and US military planners would truly hate to deal with a naval blockade because, though a blockade is an act of war, it doesn't quite seem like an act of war in the way that a missile attack does. In the event of a blockade, then, it would be harder to rally international opinion in support of military action against China than would be the case in the event of a missile attack. So all concerned would much prefer that China not be tempted to try a blockade. What's left of the arms appropriation is designed to make a blockade so difficult to establish and maintain that the PRC would never dare try it. And whether the anti-missile batteries are ever purchased, or whether they're just quietly forgotten, well... China will probably never launch missiles anyway, because that would make US involvement inevitable.

As I say, comments are welcome.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bonus Quote of the Day -- Unintentional Irony Category

"When you go to Taichung, you don't want to go to the biggest karaoke parlor. You want to go to the museum and see the cultural side of the city."

Ho Chuan-kun, director of the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung, who's trying to get the government to fund an archeological dig in the city.
Quote of the Day

"She will be punished if she is inseminated with Sun's sperm in another country."

Department of Health official Hou Mou-sheng, discussing attempts by Li Hsin-yu to become impregnated with the sperm of Sun Chi-hsiang, her deceased fiance.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

As they say, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good

Wang went 6 2/3 innings, giving up only one earned run on six hits and zero walks. That's a line in the box score that any pitcher would be pleased with. His strikes-to-balls ratio was excellent and he got lots of ground balls. But multiple errors led to four runs scoring on Wang's watch. Angels 5, Yankees 3. Tough luck.
In continuance of

my lonely obsession with baseball, I'll just note that Tainan's own Wang Chien-ming is, as I write, pitching for the New York Yankees in their playoff game against the Los Angeles Angels. Through four innings, he's allowed no runs on two hits. Good show so far, Mr. Wang. He's also hit Vladimir Guerrero with a pitch, not necessarily a bad strategy.

I'm a Yankee-hater through and through, but today I must put aside my disgust with all things pinstriped and pull for the Taiwanese kid to do good.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Baseball player found dead

"Taiwan's pro baseball league suffered a tragic loss yesterday when the popular Mario Encarnacion of the Macoto Cobras was found dead yesterday morning in his room at the team's housing unit in Danshuei," the Taiwan News tells us.

Encarnacion is said to have suffered badly from gastroenteritis. He'd also tested positive for a banned substance this year, though he'd claimed the positive result was due to his use of cold medicine. A league official asked the press not to speculate about whether his death was caused by steroid use. But a more disturbing possibility is that Encarnacion had gotten in trouble with gangsters.

So far there's no indication that he had. But given the way that news stories in this country flip and flop from one day to the next, with first-day stories often being entirely contradicted by second-day stories, I'm afraid I can't help speculating that tomorrow's news, or the next day's, might be unwelcome.

Blogging Taiwanese baseball in English: now there's a real niche.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Et tu, Google?

The China Times is reporting that Google Maps calls Taiwan "Taiwan, Province of China." You can see for yourself by typing 'Taiwan' in the search field at http://maps.google.com/. Seems that Google's "Don't be evil" code of conduct excludes the aspirations of the Taiwanese people to remain free.
Thinking ahead

"The 908 Taiwan Nation Movement, a local pro-independence group, announced yesterday that it will mobilize 3 million people to form a human chain around Taiwan on Feb. 28, 2008 to push for passage of a new "Taiwan Nation Constitution."

Wow. This is the first demonstration I've ever heard of that was planned two and a half years in advance.

What will you be doing on Feb. 28, 2008? You'd better figure it out fast, because time's a-wastin'.
Look, Ma! I got my picture taken with that hot-headed trouble-making splittist!

"Chen also found time to stroll on the beach and in a Bali park, where he ran into a group of mainland (sic) Chinese tourists. He posed to have his picture taken with one of them."

Has anyone seen a photo of this photo-taking incident? Rank would dearly love to see it.