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"Taiwan is not a province of China. The PRC flag has never flown over Taiwan."

Stick that in your clipboards and paste it, you so-called "lazy journalists"!

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Monday, April 30, 2007

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WHO Rejects, US Accepts

Amazingly, the WHO rejected Taiwan's bid to enter it. After all, it had only been ten years in a row....

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) lodged a protest yesterday with the World Health Organization Secretariat over its rejection of Taiwan's application for WTO membership this year.

Taiwan's bid to join the WHO is not an issue that can be decided or rejected by the secretariat or any individual working for the organization, Chen argued while addressing a workshop held in Taipei yesterday to explore Taiwan's bid to join the WHO under the name of "Taiwan."

The president said he filed the formal complaint with the WHO on behalf of the government and the 23 million people in Taiwan.

Taiwan is a sovereign state, whose 23 million people are empowered to apply to join in the WHO's activities based on their collective human rights, Chen contended.

Taiwan is focusing too many resources on high profile campaigns that ultimately are losers, and not enough on building broad support and interacting with the populations of the member nations whose good opinions it needs. What it really needs is stuff in the media in the US and elsewhere every week, written by those canny and perceptive foreigners working in MOFA and TECRO, who understand the audience at home and know which emotional buttons to push.

On the good news front, Taiwan actually did something amazing: it briefed the US in advance of its torch decision. Clearly someone in the local Administration has discovered that while the US can tolerate disagreement, it hates surprises....

The Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's top policymaking agency on cross-strait affairs, slammed the route arrangement as“unacceptable” on grounds Beijing explicitly painted the torch's passage in Taiwan as part of the“domestic" leg.

The government meanwhile conveyed its discontent to the White House through the American Institute in Taiwan's Taipei office and its representative office in the US, according to the CNA.

The unnamed US official agreed that the torch route smacked of politicking and indicated the administration would not comment on the issue when asked to, the CNA added.


It is good to see Taiwan for once acting sensibly and cautiously in the context of its most important international relationship.



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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

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Referendums Redux

In 2004 one of the ways the DPP stoked its base and powered its way to victory was the use of referendums held during the election. One purpose may have been to demonstrate a popular basis for DPP policies; another, to establish the use of popular referendum, thus taking another step toward independence of government, but mainly, the referendums were intended to get out the DPP base. The China Post described them yesterday:

Taiwan held its first referendum alongside the presidential election of 2004. President Chen Shui-bian initiated the referendum on a dialogue between Taipei and Beijing and the purchase of defense missiles from the United States.

The DPP is currently proposing adding two referendums to the '08 poll.

Trong Chai, acting chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party, pledged yesterday no effort will be spared to have two referendums held alongside the presidential race of 2008.

He told a press conference the party and the government have decided to push for the referendums on "ill-gotten" assets of the Kuomintang and the accession to the United Nations under the name of Taiwan.

"We'll be doing whatever we can to have both held at the same time with the presidential election," Chai declared.

The referendums (Note how the pro-KMT China Post puts the term ill-gotten in quotes) are aimed at popular topics -- support for entry into the UN is strong, and the stolen assets of the KMT are a major issue for Greens. This formula was successful in 2004, but it remains to be seen whether the DPP is fighting this war with the weapons of the last one. Last time around the KMT countered with a program of fei piao, urging Taiwanese to cast invalid ballots as a way to express disapproval of the system, through the "One Million Invalid Vote" alliance. Its success was demonstrated by a near-tripling of invalid ballots from 122,000 in 2000 to 330,000 in 2004 (due also in part to more stringent rules about what constituted a valid ballot). No doubt a similar 'grass-roots' movement will appear in 2008 as well.

One key factor here is the Central Election Commission (CEC). The CEC will vet and approve the referendum process, and the KMT is out to gain control of that institution.

Lawmaker Tseng Yung-chuan, Kuomintang legislative caucus whip, said yesterday it's unfair to let the Central Election Commission decide on whether to hold two referendums alongside the presidential election of 2008.

At a press conference at the Legislative Yuan, Tseng characterized the CEC, founded in 1982 under the Executive Yuan to hold and supervise elections, as an "illegal institution."

"It's unfair to let the illegal institution make a decision on such an important issue as referendums," Tseng pointed out.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party has control over the CEC, which the opposition Kuomintang has tried in vain to reorganize.

A Kuomintang-sponsored bill to amend the appointment of commissioners according to the proportional representation in the Legislative Yuan has been stalled by the ruling party.


Recently the KMT has been holding the national budget hostage by demanding that the DPP accede to its demands on the CEC. The CEC will determine whether the referendums get on the ballot. It also oversees the fairness of elections, and validates, and reports on, results. It triggers investigations of vote buying, crucial tactics of the KMT and its allies.

Speculation: why is the KMT so concerned about the CEC? Cynical remarks about the KMT objecting to fair elections aside, there are repeated rumors that Shih Ming-teh, leader of the anti-Chen campaign, is getting Chinese money. Shih actually met with Chen Yu-hao, the accused embezzler who fled to China years ago, in Thailand, held to be a favored meeting ground of the CCP and the KMT. I'm wondering whether the KMT wants electoral law oversight to be lax because it is expecting an influx of Chinese money for use in the 2007 legislative elections and 2008 presidential elections. It sure is interesting that the first thing Wu Po-hsiung did after announcing his ascension to the Chairmanship of the KMT is to run to Beijing to hobnob with the CPP leadership.....

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

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The End of History: Taiwan and China

Francis Fukuyama has some interesting propositions about the desire for modernity, market economies, and liberal democracies on Project Syndicate. He's mainly concerned about the mess in Iraq, but let's see how they would work with Taiwan and China.

Fifteen years ago in my book The End of History and the Last Man I argued that, if a society wanted to be modern, there was no alternative to a market economy and a democratic political system. Not everyone wanted to be modern, of course, and not everyone could put in place the institutions and policies necessary to make democracy and capitalism work, but no alternative system would yield better results.
Unlike the Arab world where the project of modernity is still questioned, both Taiwan and China want to be modern. But let's turn Fukuyama's propositions around in the second sentence and consider them one by one.

There is a broad intellectual consensus among Taiwan's elites that democracy and capitalism yield the best results in the pursuit of modernity. Now I think it is possible to argue that one can find a substantial number of voters among Taiwan's increasingly disaffected traditional middle class (teachers, civil servants, and soldiers) who long for the good old days under Chiang Ching-kuo when Taiwan had (statist) capitalism but not democracy. But I submit that the KMT leadership, and even the PFP leadership, however reluctantly, accepts the efficacy of democracy and capitalism even when they pander to undemocratic sentiments among some members of the middle class.

But the situation in China is very different. While a brand of state-directed capitalism that would look familiar to Chiang Ching-kuo is accepted as being more efficient than socialism, outside of a few intellectuals, few accept that democracy has a role to play in China's rise to modernity. Indeed many argue that democracy would in fact hinder that rise by unleashing political instability.

Perhaps the more significant question is whether Taiwan and China are capable of putting the policies and institutions in place that underpin democracy and capitalism. In Taiwan, of course, the answer is broadly yes. Taiwan has a functioning private property system, free elections, an independent judiciary, and securities markets that work as they should to raise capital for private enterprise.

China, however, is engaged in an epic struggle. It does not have secure private property rights, not does it have functioning securities markets. Much as the kleptocrats who govern China see democracy as a hindrance to modernity, they correctly see private property as a potential obstacle to the orgy of development that is probably the main force driving China's incredible boom. Securities markets, which barely functioned until recently, are mainly just a method by which the Chinese people are divested of their savings by the state. An independent judiciary--the linchpin of both democracy and capitalism--is in its infancy. As for democratic institutions, there is not much point discussing them since there is no agreement in China that they are necessary or desirable.


To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so. This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education that they lack at home.
And it has been demonstrated in Taiwan by the democracy movement, and by immigration from and within China. Both the Taiwanese and the Chinese want live in modern societies and be free of tyranny.

But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society – that is, a political order characterized by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law. The desire to live in a liberal democracy is, indeed, something acquired over time, often as a byproduct of successful modernization.

Here Fukuyama hits the heart of the matter. The Chinese do not want to live in a liberal society (yet) while the Taiwanese increasingly do. And as Fukuyama argues, the increasing Taiwanese desire to live in a liberal democracy is something that the Taiwanese have acquired over time as a byproduct of successful modernization.

It is a truism in discussions of Taiwanese politics to say that other than identity there is little that divides the greens and the blues. While this is certainly true in terms of say, economic policy, there is also a real divide in terms of commitment to living in a liberal democracy. The DPP is unquestionable committed to liberal democracy while the KMT is a bizarre hybrid between those who espouse a version of Chinese nationalism that is incompatible with liberal democracy and an illiberal wing of the Taiwanese elite (think Wang Jin-pyng) who want to live in a state committed to full scale development, not a liberal democracy.

Moreover, the desire to live in a modern liberal democracy does not translate necessarily into an ability to actually do so.
I see this as the last hurdle for the Taiwanese to get over before they can finally reach their ultimate goal of becoming a modern liberal democracy--that is, if China doesn't rain missiles down on Taiwan first. I am certainly not saying that the Taiwanese innately lack this ability, just that not everyone in Taiwan has learned these skills and become habituated to this culture.

Outside powers like the US can often help in this process by the example they set as politically and economically successful societies. They can also provide funding, advice, technical assistance, and yes, occasionally military force to help the process along.
One example of using military force legitimately 'to help the process along' would be to defend to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

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Another tycoon runs

Here we go again. The major financial new services are reporting that Inventec Appliances has been raided for alleged insider trading.

The China Times is reporting that Inventec's Chairman Zhang Jing-song (張景嵩) mysteriously left Taiwan at 2:00 am last night while the raid was still going on. Inventec's CEO is also missing.

The insider trading charges reportedly stem from charges that company management sold shares in the firm before releasing news that iPod orders from Apple had decreased by 40%.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

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BBC on Ma: No Context

It's BBC reporting on the trial Ma Ying-jeou, once mayor of Taipei, once Chairman of the KMT, now an accused embezzler, which opened today. So we need not belabor the point that everything important to the context will be left out. The BBC reports:

Taiwan opposition leader and presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou has gone on trial in a corruption case which could hit his 2008 hopes.

He is accused of misappropriating T$11.2 million ($339,000) of funds while mayor of the capital, Taipei.

Mr Ma resigned from his position as head of the Kuomintang party shortly after the charges were announced, but said he would clear his name. He has denied graft charges, and is a frontrunner in the presidential race.

So far, so good. Just a short summary. So what does the report go on to say?

Mr Ma, a US-educated lawyer who is expected to defend himself, was in confident mood as he arrived at court.

Ma is not a lawyer. He has never passed the bar either in Taiwan or the US. Where did this claim come from? Everyone says it, for example, AP.

"I am confident of my innocence and I trust in the justice of the court," he said, as a crowd of Kuomintang (KMT) supporters cheered.

Mr Ma was charged with improper use of government funds in February - and resigned as KMT chairman, protested his innocence and pledged to stand for president all at once.

He is facing four rivals from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who are seeking nomination from their party.

The candidates are Vice President Annette Lu, Premier Su Tseng-chang, former premier Frank Hsieh, and former party chairman Yu Hsyi-kun.

More summary.

The investigation into his finances began in mid-November after allegations that he had shifted money from a special fund into a personal account during his time as mayor, from 1998 to 2006.

Note how the article does not inform the reader that the money is definitely in the account -- Both Ma and his lawyer have admitted it. Their defense is that Ma never had any intention to steal the money even though he downloaded into his personal accounts and kept it. Vitally important context omitted, and the omission favors Ma. Can you imagine if the BBC report had mentioned what anyone can find on Wiki?

In addition to those incidents that give rise to public doubt on his competency, Ma has also been criticized for his involvement in several alleged scandals. His filings for the compulsory financial disclosure shows that his household net worth increased by more than NT$43 million (US$1.3 million)between 1993 and 2004, at a rate irreconcilable with his living standards, his two daughters in Ivy League schools and his identified income sources. Ma dismissed the criticism with a quotable line: “I spend less than US$10 a day and I only have an old patched suit.”

The BBC then goes on to say:

If convicted, he would face at least seven years in prison. However, prosecutors have already asked for leniency because of his co-operation with the investigation.

Here's what I said the last time that the BBC used this exact set of sentences to describe Ma's indictment. "Context is often impaired in the international media due to the exigencies of time and space, but the BBC's accounts make a special habit of eliminating key context (here's why!)." That applies here too. To understand why the prosecutor might ask for leniency, in addition to Ma's cooperation, the reader would also have to know that the prosecutor who conducted the investigation had Ma for a witness at his wedding, that the prosecutor's offices in Taiwan are largely pro-Blue, and that Ma has publicly threatened the bureaucrats who don't come up with answers he wants. Not one iota of this context appears here -- because it would spoil the nice clean narrative that the BBC wants to project. Sadly, this very human urge to create narrative rather than report reality in all its messiness too often favors the KMT.



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