Sunday, March 19, 2006

Washington Post Ma interview

Michael Turton over at The View From Taiwan says he'll "be watching this one[Ma Ying Jeou's US trip] closely, as it will be an important test of the fairness and accuracy of US media."

Rank will kick things off by a review of Edward Cody's interview with Ma in the Washington Post.

Here in Taiwan, a strong majority has consistently told poll-takers that maintenance of the status quo is the wisest course, expressing unwillingness to embrace reunification but uneasiness about the possibility that a passionate quest for independence could lead to war. A dip in the island's economic growth has added another argument, raising fears that Chen's independence drive is diverting official attention from economic concerns. In casual conversations last week, residents of the capital, Taipei, repeatedly emphasized worries that Chen's priorities were out of balance.
The problem here of course is that residents of Taipei City tend to be anti-Chen because of the high proportion of mainlanders in Taipei. Foreign journalists and others consistently make the mistake of conflating views they hear in Taipei with those of the rest of Taiwan. And then they wonder why the KMT doesn't always win.

In fact, there is a fierce debate going on over Taiwan's economy. The pro-China parties say that Chen is ignoring the economy while the pro-Taiwan parties and press say that the reason Taiwan's economy is growing slowly is because Taiwan's industrial base is being hollowed out investment in China.

In spite of that investment, Taiwan's economy has been making modest but consistent gains over the past 18 months. Taiwan is also undergoing a difficult transition from a manufacturing economy to an service-oriented knowledge economy. But whoever wins the next election will have difficulties meeting expectations of fast economic growth that were created during Taiwan's boom days as it industrialzed. Those days are not going to come back no matter who is president simply because Taiwan relatively mature economy is simply not going to grow at a rate of 10 percent.

Ma, the mayor of Taipei, has the movie-star looks and sleaze-free appeal to capitalize on the new political winds, Taiwanese analysts said, provided nothing blows him off course during the next two years. Women on both sides of the Taiwan Strait especially appreciate him. Hearing that a friend was about to interview Ma, Chen Hui-ting, a 24-year-old college student, said: "Wow, that's so cool to be meeting Ma. Say hi to him for me."

Ma's supposed appeal to women and this quote are both misleading. While Ma does appeal to some segments of Taiwan's newly-minted middle class, I have often heard working class Taiwanese women (especially down south) say that he is not manly enough and that he comes off as being weak. So his appeal may not be universal.

Taiwanese tend to get excited about meeting celebrities. So just because Ms. Chen thinks it would be cool to meet Ma, it does not necessarily follow that she will vote for him. You can see this if you follow two candidates from different parties as they canvas a traditional market. There will be shouts of Dongsuan (Elected!) for both candidates and gifts of turnips (sign of good luck and prosperity) for both candidates. In other words, the warmth of a reception is no guaruntee that votes will be delivered.

But he has left nothing to chance. To broaden his appeal among Taiwan's native population -- who provide Chen his base -- Ma has been studying Taiwanese dialect and renewing ties to the man he defeated to become Nationalist chairman, Wang Jin-pyng, the parliamentary speaker and a native Taiwanese.

Calling Taiwanese a dialect is a sure sign of bias. And Ma has hardly smoothed things over with Wang, who is still smarting from the thrashing Ma gave him. This is a good example of how the personal usually trumps political principle in Taiwan. Wang could well defect in 2008 or wait in the wings for the conclsuion of a disasterous first term for Ma and then run on some kind of pro-Taiwan ticket in 2008.

The son of a Nationalist general who came from the mainland with the defeated Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, Ma has been a party activist since his student days.
The KMT didn't have party activists when MA was cronying his way up the ranks and allegedly spying on Taiwanese activists at Harvard. But Ma's 'activist days' are worth looking at partly because of his involvement in the Diaoyutai Islands movement, a touchstone for Chinese nationalism in Taiwan. One of the more telling omissions in Cody's interview is his failure to address Ma's Chinese nationalism. What many foreigners believe they are getting in Ma is a western-educated English speaking politician they can deal with and who shares or understands US interests. While Ma is genuinely committed to democracy and rule of law, he is also a fairly hardcore Chinese nationalist who will almost certainly tilt Taiwan sharply toward China and away from the US.

Despite his promise to smooth relations with China, Ma is likely to face hostile questions in Washington about why his party's legislative majority has blocked an $18.2 billion arms sale proposed by the Bush administration five years ago and pushed without success by Chen.

Ma's position, as he repeated on TV, is that Taiwan does not need and cannot afford 'unreasonable' arms purchases. At the core of Ma position is the proposition that Taiwan does not need to buy weapons from the US because he is going to defuse tensions with China by not confronting China. This is not only dangerous since the one of the few things in the outside world that China's leadership seems to understand and respect is military power, but also unpersuasive since the US is concerned that Taiwan is effectively disarming itself while China is vastly expanding its military arsenal. The arms purchases are unreasonable for Ma because as a Chinese nationalist he does not see China as a threat to Taiwan.

Ma said the Bush administration was unwise to accept Chen's decision on the unification council with only a mild reaction. U.S. and Taiwanese officials had negotiated the language carefully, leading Chen to abandon his stated intention to "abolish" the council in favor of the "ceased to function" formulation. Largely on that basis, the administration accepted Chen's contention that the status quo was not changed by his decision.

But Ma, citing his training as a lawyer, said the Chinese word Chen used in fact means "terminate," which does imply a change in the status quo. In addition, he said, no matter what the language, Chen's decision to stand up and announce the end of an official symbol of willingness to get along with China amounted to provocation.

Rank agrees with Ma analysis of the term 'zhongzhi' which means terminate and is a legal term of art. If a contract is terminated it means that it existed in the past but that it no longer exists now. By terminating the Council, Chen is admitting that the Council once existed, but it no longer exists now. In any event, it is clear that here in Taiwan, all shades of the political spectrum agree that the Council no longer exists, and Chen has pointedly refused to publicly affirm that the Council still exists as the US State Department has asked him to do.

Ma, by the way, is not admitted to the bar in Taiwan because he could not pass the notoriously difficult bar exam (less than 1 percent of candidates passed in 1970s and 1980s) although he did graduate from National Taiwan University with a degree in law. Chen, Frank Hsieh, and Su Chen-tsang, in contrast, are all admitted lawyers.

His last comment about the US's being gullible is one that I think he should have left unsaid. He tried a similar line with the obviously well-prepped interviewer in his recent BBC interview where he said that the interviewer didn't understand Taiwan's relations with China. Rather than engage in a serious discussion of ideas, Ma is showing a tendency to dismiss foreigners who disagree with him as being gullible or failing to understand the 'impenetrable' mysteries of the east. His English may be fluent, but his mind, Rank fears, is shut tight.

Pandas Protest

Green rallies in Taiwan are characterized by a carnival atmosphere and lots of creative signs and costumes. One of the best at yesterday's rally was the 'China Panda Brigade' at the front of the march. They demanded the right to decide their own future--a takeoff on China's proposed gift of two pandas to Taiwan.

In this photo from the Chinese-language China Times, members of the Panda Brigade are holding signs that say Freedom Of Press, Internet Freedom, We Want Democracy and Freedom.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A weekend of rallies

Not too many people are getting fired up about the rallies that we are to witness this weekend - one to "protect" Taiwan and one to protest the cessation (or termination, or abolishment - depending on your point of view) of the National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines.

A United Evening Express editorial a week or so ago basically said: "Enough already with all these political party-organized rallies!" I agree. Five years ago, I thought they were kind of fun, but they get tiresome. In any case, I wonder how many places there are in the world where political parties organize rallies. At least in Thailand, the protests against Thaksin are ostensibly organized by something called the People's Alliance for Democracy - even if political opponents are really behind it.

Cracks have appeared in the DPP over the latest rally ... and I think maybe they will organize fewer such rallies in the future. However the echoes of the "two bullets" fired on March 19, 2004 will no doubt continue reverberating for some time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Posted without comment

"Lu then said she was curious to know who had likened her to a 'deserted concubine left in the harem of despair,' since she had never called herself that."
VOA Correction

This is of interest. VOA has apologized for adding misinformation into the flap over the National Unification Guidelines and National Unification Council. Here is a report on the apology.

Actually, most international media were reporting that the NUG and NUC were "abolished" or "scrapped" even after the Presidential Office took extra pains to emphasize which wording they were using (NOT synonyms for abolish or scrap; see Feiren's post below). Will they be apologizing too?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Recall and Impeachment

The KMT and PFP are being their irrepressible selves!

I was wondering why I have been reading in English about impeachment (tanhe) but in Chinese about recall (bamian) initiatives planned by the opposition.

Turns out, they are pursuing both courses. I explained recall procecures somewhat in the post below.

To my understanding, for impeachment lawmakers propose an impeachment case (usually because of unconsitutional behavior on the part of officials) and the Council of Grand Justices makes a ruling. If it's in favor of impeachment, then the official has to step down. Doesn't sound like it would have much of a chance of succeeding.

However, I haven't looked up the legal basis of this, so I'm unsure if I've gotten it right ...

UPDATE (March 3): OK, I've looked it up. From the president's website.

According to the most recent constitutional amendments for August 2004. Half of all legislators can initiate impeachment (this is feasible, since the opposition has the legislative majority). Then 2/3 of all legislators must pass the resolution, which is then referred to the Council of Grand Justices for a ruling (shenli; unlikely that 2/3 of lawmakers would pass the resolution, since about 100 of 225 wouldn't play ball and even if they did pass it, the Grand Justices are unlikely to rule in favor of impeachment).

I'm still a bit uncertain about the grounds for impeachment, but a previous amendment says the reasons for impeachment are either causing civil strife (fan neiluan) or treason (waihuanzui). I guess the opposition is going for causing civil strife.

This really reminds me of how the pan blues took all possible judicial remedies to court after the 2004 election, instead of focusing their energy on the one remedy that stood the best chance of succeeding. Of course in this case, they've chosen two dead-end routes - all in the name of "expressing strong dissatisfaction." Spinning their wheels.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Refresher on Recall

I was in the newsroom yesterday translating the news about KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou saying the threshold to passing a recall vote is very high. I asked news colleagues what the threshold was and I got blank stares. I haven't seen any English papers this morning, but just in case this hasn't been explained, here goes:

As far as the KMT and whoever else signs on will get is making the motion (they need a quarter of lawmakers to "initiate" it). Of course, they need to get it into the general assembly of the Legislative Yuan, which won't be a problem with the pan blue advantage in numbers in the Procedure Committee.

If the pan green lawmakers cooperate, they can run a vote on the motion soon and lose, since the threshold is 2/3 (and the pan greens won 100 of 225 seats in the last election).

However, the pan greens will probably insist on cross-party negotiaions, which would delay the recall vote in the LY by probably 4 months.

Then it wouldn't pass because of the 2/3 threshold.

Even if it did pass, the Central Election Commission would than have to run a nationwide recall referendum, and the LY recall proposal would have to be accepted by 50% + 1 of voters.