Saturday, November 29, 2008

Picture = 1000 Words

Wild Lily Movement, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall,
May 1990

Wild Strawberry Movement, renamed Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, November 2008 (from Taipei Times)

Formosa Eight Trial, Taipei, March 1980

Streetcorner, Taipei, November 2008 (from Taipei Times)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The 18 Founding Members of the DPP

(The following appears on a plaque next to the photograph.)

Time: 1986.11.10
Venue: Taipei Branch of the Taiwan Provincial Assembly

Ideas often unexpectedly spin the wheel of history.

After fifty years’ stagnation, “Democracy” and “Progress” were thrown like pebbles into Taiwan’s still political waters with the 1986 founding of the Democratic Progressive Party. The growing ripples from these ideas would rebuild Taiwan.

Living though they were in a repressive era, this young band’s high expectations for their country made them willing to sacrifice their own lives for their ideas.

This picture was taken after a secret Nov. 10th meeting of 18 DPP founders, a meeting held before the First National Congress was convened. Their serene expressions reflect the recognition that they had started down the road of democracy and progress. There was no turning back. The founders were ready to sacrifice all.

Name list (from right to left):

Huang Erh-hsuan
Yen Ching-fu
Chou Ching-yu
Chen Chu
Hsu Jung-shu
Fu Cheng
Kang Ning-hsiang
Frank / Hsieh Chang-ting
Jiang Peng-jian
Hong Chi-chang

Chiou I-jen
Chou Tsang-yuan
Kou Chi-jen
Su Tseng-chang
Yu Ching
Fei Shi-ping
Chang Chun-hsiung
Yu Shyi-kun

Letter to Tsai Ing-wen

August 4, 2008

Dear Chairwoman Tsai,

I have been an intern this summer in the Dept. of International Affairs. I first came to the DPP shortly after President Chen’s victory in 2000 and continued to volunteer on school breaks.

However, I was increasingly turned off from politics by Chen’s performance during his two terms. After a long break, I came back to the DPP this time because I still wanted to believe in the Party despite the election loss.

In translating the Party’s press releases, I have become a big fan of your moderate and rational tone. In addition, your speeches have been a wonderful mix of substance and sentiment. I am confident that the DPP will rise again.

Finally, as this is my last week before I return to start my PhD, I would really appreciate having a picture taken with you (either on Tuesday or Thursday morning). If possible, I would like to use the photograph of the DPP’s 18 founding members as the background. I hope that you can accommodate my request.

Best Wishes,

(Yes, she did.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008


TAIPEI, Taiwan--I believe that the Chinese people know their country has problems. I also believe that they just want to put on a good show. But I have to wonder if the Chinese people, with the way their media filters information, really understand the severity of their government’s problems.

The Chinese had their feelings hurt by the protests during the Olympic torch relay. Indeed, having protesters jump the torch bearers, use fire extinguishers and climb the Golden Gate Bridge were all ugly acts of getting a message across. Finally, one of the IOC bigwigs Dick Pound has admitted that the torch relay was a “disaster”. They are also considering that future torch relays stay domestic.

For the Chinese to argue that politics shouldn’t be part of the Olympics is ridiculous. I would argue that more than any other host country in the past, China’s bid in the first place was for political gains as opposed to economic development. The torch relay protests were spinned into this conspiracy theory by the West against their country. I cannot agree with their reasoning that this was their torch relay, that this is their Olympics. That is a fundamental difference in how China and the rest of the world view these Beijing Games.

The symbolism of the Olympics should go beyond any one country. There are too many feel-good underdog stories. Consider this CNN spoof with a Barack Obama impersonator, tying the successes of 2 kinds of underdogs:

This presidential campaign has been like a marathon.
And you know who wins marathons?
Guys from Kenya!

Recently, the entire Iraqi Olympic Team was banned by the IOC after its government overthrew the national olympic committee. The IOC’s reasoning was that the Olympic Charter forbids political intervention. Hilarious, I know. Now, after some negotiations Iraq will be sending 4 athletes to Beijing. So, it’s a happy ending. Or is it?

There have been fewer reports that the 24 original members of the Iraqi Olympic Committee were kidnapped and that their whereabouts are still unknown. How many other articles out there appear happy on the surface but what lies underneath is more grave?

An article I came across on the website describes the ping-pong diplomacy that opened the door for US table tennis players to enter China in 1971, followed by President Richard Nixon the next year. His visit resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué, in which the US "acknowledged" that Taiwan was a part of China. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter officially switched diplomatic ties to China, leaving Taiwan in the dark. The article was entitled “Pleasant Politics”. For Taiwanese citizens, there was nothing pleasant about this chain of political events.

However, it did in some way foster the democracy movement in Taiwan, spilling over with the Formosa Incident at the end of 1979. A rally on December 10th for Human Rights Day was broken up by police. The “Formosa Eight”: Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介), Shih Ming-teh (施明德), Chang Chun-hung (張俊宏), Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文), Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Chen Chu (陳菊), and Lin Hung-hsuen (林弘宣) were indicted on sedition charges. Their 9-day trial, which was broadcast on network television, started on March 18, 1980. Exactly 20 years later, Annette Lu would become the Vice President of the country.

Thus, the manifestation of Taiwan’s democracy is incomparable to China’s lack of progress. Early on, Beijing Olympic organizers had thought of holding the beach volleyball competition in Tiananmen Square, where the country’s democracy movement exploded onto the scene. It’s hard to imagine that Mao Zedong (毛澤東) would be pleased to stare across and see bikini-clad athletes and cheerleaders. It’s also hard to imagine that on July 4th of this year, the vigil held in the Square was not for the victims of the student crackdowns 19 years ago but rather for the victims of the recent Szechuan earthquake.

The leaders of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations have moved on with their lives. Wang Dan (王丹) studied at Harvard and came to Taiwan to observe the presidential election. Chai Ling (柴玲) has gone into the private sector in the US. Wuer Kaixi (吾爾開希) has opened a bar in Taipei. What has happened to their legacy, and why has it been replaced by a nationalist fervor, more intense than ever before?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

TAIPEI, Taiwan--With the Beijing Olympics about a week away, there has been controversy over the use of “Chinese Taipei” or “Chinese Taipei”. Huh?

Rather, the fuss has been about “Chunghua Taipei”, which has been Taiwan’s official name at the Olympics and elsewhere, and “Chungguo Taipei”, which is the term being used by the Chinese media. Some think that the latter is more equivalent to Taipei, China. To me, both terms are translated the same way and are equally pathetic.

So why did the KMT rejoice when the Chinese media finally used Chunghua Taipei, despite the fact that there have been agreements with China and the International Olympic Committee all along? Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said that the Chinese government was extending its goodwill and won’t like it if Taiwan continues to complain, as if we should walk on eggshells to avoid antagonizing them. Is this why the KMT still hasn’t changed its official name as the Chinese Kuomingtang?

Had the Chinese media not agreed to the change, Sports Affairs Council Chairwoman Tai Hsia-ling (戴遐齡) and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) were going to propose a boycott of the Beijing Games. Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) also joined in, but it depends on when you ask him. Not too long ago, he had suggested that the Chinese and Taiwanese teams march together into Olympic Stadium, just as North and South Korea had done in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.

It’s obvious that the Olympics are a hotbed for political overtones. Protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games. The Soviets came right back to boycott the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Of course, the shadow of the Munich 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian rebels still hangs over the spirit of the Olympic Games.

There are more subtle instances. In Barcelona 1992, the gold medalist from Estonia saw her nation’s flag flown for the first time, except that it was upside down. In Lillehammer 1994, Oksana Baiul beat Nancy Kerrigan for the ladies figure skating title but had to wait for organizers to find a copy of the Ukrainian national anthem. These were all results of the fall of the former Soviet Union, which sent athletes to Albertville in 1992 to compete as the Unified Team under the Olympic flag with the 5 rings. Its gold medalists listened to the Olympic Hymn.

However, not using your country’s name, not seeing your country’s flag and not hearing your national anthem are permanent realities for Taiwanese athletes. The two gold medalists from Athens 2004, Chen Shih-hsin (陳詩欣) and Chu mu-yen (朱木炎), saw the flag of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee as it was raised but saluted it anyway out of habit. During the Atlanta 1996 Games, a Taiwanese spectator was kicked out of the stands for waving the country’s flag.

Starting with the Opening Ceremonies, we will get to see how Beijing treats Taiwan. A group of indigenous performers, led by legislator May Chin (高金素梅), will participate. Given that the ceremonies are a showcase of a country’s culture to the world and that China has many minority groups, I question the appropriateness. Chin has come out to say that they are not Han Chinese and will only go by the name of Taiwanese indigenous people. Another indigenous star from Taiwan, the singer Chang hui-mei (張惠妹), had already been tapped to record one of the Olympic theme songs. In 2000, she was banned from appearing in China for singing the national anthem at President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) inauguration. Apparently, all has been forgiven.

Just today, it has been reported that Taiwan will be #24 out of 205 delegations in the Parade of Nations. I had been confident that there would be no controversy because the host nation always enters last by tradition. The order is determined by the host’s language system, but a special compromise has always allowed Chinese Taipei to enter with the T’s. This time, Beijing organizers have decided to use the “Chinese” part of Chinese Taipei. Thus, it goes…Japan, Chinese Taipei, Central African Republic, and Hong Kong…

This is a dirty trick by the Chinese government, yet Spokesman Wang claims that it is another goodwill gesture. In a send-off event today for the Olympic Team, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) emphasized that all issues have been resolved. More eggshells, please!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Who needs the WHO?

TAIPEI, Taiwan--The country is in the midst of an outbreak of enterovirus 71 that is affecting young children. There is no need for a scientific definition of an outbreak. It is simply an increase in the number of cases compared to what is normally observed. In 2006 and 2007, enterovirus cases did not spike past 5 in any month for the entire year. For 2008, figures have already shot past 30 for the summer months. In the previous 2 years, no cases were reported until May, whereas cases started showing up this January. There have been 260 cases so far, and the death toll now stands at 9. The latest victim was a 4-month-old girl from Yunlin County, who died in just 5 days.

Ten years ago, there was widespread panic when many children started to develop skin rashes, with some of them dying quickly. It turned out to be the first outbreak of enterovirus 71, and the lag in knowing the causative agent was detrimental. Weeks went by before the US CDC arrived in Taiwan to help with prevention efforts and put pressure on the WHO to get involved. The 1998 outbreak resulted in 78 deaths, almost all of them under the age of 5. Among the survivors, there were 405 cases of serious complications involving neurological damage. Given that smaller outbreaks had occurred nearby in Singapore and Malaysia, being part of the larger public health community may have lessened the damage.

Unfortunately, Taiwan has had to rely on informal contacts with the WHO and US CDC since China took its UN seat in 1972. Efforts to become an official member of the WHO or even just an observer in the World Health Assembly (the decision-making body) have been blocked. Furthermore, the MOU signed in 2005 between the WHO and China limits the amount of contact Taiwan has with the organization. China filters all the information that is trickled down to us. Taiwanese citizens are restricted from joining expert panels. The Chinese decide which Taiwanese members are invited to meetings, and both sides must be present at all times. Essentially, the WHO has hired China as our booking agent.

Despite all this, Taiwan has chosen to be a responsible member of the global community by voluntarily complying with the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR) that went into effect last year. The IHR puts obligations on countries to reduce the threats of infectious diseases by participating in a worldwide system to disseminate information on outbreaks. In addition, Taiwan has been involved with medical humanitarian efforts to its allies in Africa and provided aid to Indonesia after the tsunami in 2004 and to Burma after the recent cyclone. In response to the Szechuan earthquake, Taiwan sent in a rescue team on its own. After the 9-21 earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people in central Taiwan, emergency rescue efforts were delayed because teams could not pass through Chinese airspace.

Aside from engaging in petty political maneuvers, the Chinese government has proven that it has a hard time caring for the health of its own citizens. The SARS pandemic 5 years ago was the direct result of a delay in Beijing's disclosures about the disease. Among its rural areas, unsafe practices of organ selling and blood selling are rampant. The number of AIDS cases is grossly underestimated, in part due to the detainment of many AIDS activists.

The current Director-General of the WHO is Dr. Margaret Chan, who hails from China and has served as head of Hong Kong’s Department of Health. Earlier this year for fear of a flu outbreak, Hong Kong closed its schools for 2 whole weeks. An infectious disease attack on the children in her home country would have been embarrassing. Likewise, Taiwan is unlikely to make any progress on its entry into the WHO before Chan’s term ends in 2012.

As the highest international health authority, the WHO’s role is based largely on controlling outbreaks. With the ease of global travel, everyone needs to be part of the public health system. This becomes an even bigger issue now that Chinese tourists are expected to come to Taiwan in large numbers. However, while outbreaks are sporadic and part of nature’s ebb and flow, the WHO has other responsibilities to negotiate prices for drugs and vaccines, commission research on the latest technologies and make health-related recommendations and policies. Unfortunately, all too often Taiwan’s status has become a political question, not a legal or even professional one.

In response to the recent outbreak of enterovirus, the new Minister of Health Lin Fang-yu (林芳郁) was heavily criticized and eventually apologized for saying that all we could do was pray. In its reasoning for rejecting Taiwan’s application yet again, the WHA cited that China was responsible for the health of the 23 million Taiwanese citizens. Now, THAT should give us religion.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ma and Tsai, let the games begin! (Part II)

TAIPEI, Taiwan--As expected, there was great anticipation over President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration speech, and I believe that it showed off his true colors. He spent the first part criticizing President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) performance during the past 8 years. That wasn’t all. Before making his speech at the Taipei Arena, he went to the Presidential Office for the transfer of power ceremony. Afterwards, staff members stood in line to shake hands with the outgoing Chen and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮). Before they could finish and had a chance to get out the door, Ma and incoming Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) followed right behind them. So you had one pair saying goodbye and another pair saying hello all at the same time. You shouldn’t rain on anyone’s (farewell) parade. What’s with all this talk about Ma being a gentleman?

As I saw images of the Presidential Office on TV, a certain memory came up. Every New Year’s Day, there is a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Office. I went to one during Chen’s first term and had a good view near the front of the crowd. I remember hearing noises (more like shrills), and upon looking over I saw Ma walking along and shaking hands with some of his fans. He was wearing a jogging shirt (the sleeveless kind) and shorts (the really short kind). This was just after the sun had come up, and even in Taiwan there was a chill in the air. He doesn’t live anywhere close to the Office, so this was not his regular jogging path. Needless to say, his showiness has always bothered me.

On the other hand, his wife Chow Mei-ching (周美青) is the complete opposite and makes having to watch the couple somewhat tolerable and even interesting. I respect that she worked 3 jobs to put her husband through Harvard Law School and that she has always taken the bus to get to work. I admire her cool demeanor and no non-sense style. In that way, she reminds me a bit of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

However, every time I see her on the news as the paparazzi (aka Taiwanese media) shows her going to work, she is always dressed in jeans and some plain-looking shirt. She holds a managerial position in the legal department of a major bank. Her outfits during the inauguration ceremonies prove that she is not incapable of dressing up. I could be wrong, but I just cannot imagine that this is the dress code at any financial institution in Taiwan or that she would put up with the hassle of changing at the office. Why is this working woman dressed in the same attire as when she goes to walk her dog? How is this not special treatment?

Going back to Ma’s inauguration speech, my ears must have perked up every time he said Republic of China. I had thought that he rarely used the term Taiwan, but I was wrong. The paparazzi did an actual count, and the ratio was 50:9 in favor of Taiwan. Still, I’m a person who prefers quality over quantity, and I was rather appalled that he also played on the importance of the ROC, which represents a hegemonic monster to many Taiwanese people.

He said that the ROC would celebrate its 100th anniversary during his term, having been established in China for 38 years before coming over to Taiwan. While he and the other “post-war immigrants” can make October 10, 2011, a really big deal, the majority of Taiwan will probably just sleep in on the day off.

He also mentioned the so-called “1992 Consensus”, which doesn’t even fit the definition of consensus when China’s stance is “one China” period, while the KMT prefers “one China, different interpretations”. The DPP and a few others, such as former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), think of the entire 1992 Consensus notion as an urban legend.

To end his speech, Ma chanted “Long live Taiwan’s democracy!” followed by “Long live the Republic of China!” He really should have ended it after the first phrase, but can you blame him for not trying hard to please everyone?

However, it’s no secret that this is a man who once opposed the direct election of the presidency. In a not-so-recent interview, he had said that electing members of the National Assembly (who eventually vote for a President) was the same as having citizens vote directly, just that the result doesn’t come in for weeks or months.


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ma and Tsai, let the games begin! (Part I)

TAIPEI, Taiwan--President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) won 58% of the vote. Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won 57% of the vote. On May 18th, she became the 12th-term Chairperson of the DPP. On May 20th, he was inaugurated as the 12th-term President of Taiwan. Two peas in a pod? Hardly.

Let me start with the one I prefer out of the pair. A couple days before the DPP chair election, I attended a press conference for Tsai held by some young members of the DPP. I was happy to support her for the simple reason that her opponent was Koo Kwan-min (辜寬敏). I was indifferent to him until he made some rather offensive comments.

He said that the job of turning the DPP around should not be left up to unmarried woman, an insult to Tsai on 2 fronts. This was not the first time that he has made such remarks. In a reference to former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), he had said that running the country was not for people in skirts. Sure, he comes from a different era, as the man is in his 80s. But if he really feels that way, then he should be running to lead a democratic party, not the Democratic Progressive Party.

This was my 2nd time seeing Tsai in person. The 1st was during my college days when she made a trip to the US as Chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council. She spoke on cross-strait relations, first in English and then in Chinese. At the very beginning, she apologized for not being able to speak in Taiwanese, saying that she grew up in Taipei. It is a symbolic step as the DPP embarks on taking the middle road and widening its appeal that she is really the first chairperson who does not use Taiwanese at all.

This time, I made notes during her speech at the press conference (she even borrowed notebook paper from me). She was able to summarize just exactly why politics in Taiwan is so important to so many people. She mentioned that we live in a unique political environment due to our international status and that the nation’s future is a complicated one that requires constantly thinking and reacting strategically. It is also the responsibility of all Taiwanese people, and the youth in particular cannot afford to be ambivalent to Taiwan’s future. She also said that 20 years ago, people were protesting in the streets. Others were scared of politics. Now, members of the younger generation are sitting here and unafraid. Tsai ended by saying that while she is comforted by young people’s involvement, she also feels the pressure from those of us sitting one row behind her.

During the Q&A session, one reporter asked: now that young people have endorsed you, what are you going to give them in return? Tsai responded by saying that she would consider appointing a young deputy chairperson (she has yet to do so). She went on: What kind of party will I give them? I will give them a clean party, one that is cooperative and welcoming, one that includes women and rational debate, one that is aggressive on Taiwan’s democracy, and a party that respects all groups of people.

She won the chair election by a large margin, but it wasn’t always supposed to be that way. Acting chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) had first proposed to hold negotiations for the position. His reasoning was that bitter campaigning would cause further damage to the party after its defeat in the presidential election. I just could not understand this. The party that took to the streets to ask for direct elections of the presidency should, naturally, hold one for its own leader. In the end, though it wasn’t pretty at times, the DPP contest was fair and square.

Only a few days after President Ma’s victory, the notoriously-speculative media predicted that Tsai could run against Ma when he is up for re-election in 2012. It’s obviously too early to tell, but she may well have to win the Taipei mayorship in 2010. As if it were an unwritten stepping-stone, all of the directly-elected Presidents (Lee, Chen and Ma) have once served as mayor of the capital.

But first, Tsai will have to deal with mayoral elections in several counties and townships at the end of 2009, which will serve as a big test during her 2-year term. While she has already said that she can’t promise a home run, she has promised at least a single. If the DPP doesn’t do well in those elections, by tradition Tsai will very likely have to step down. And we’ll have to endure another bowing session by party leaders. Unfortunately, we’ve seen enough of those during the past 8 years.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keep your pants on, people.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--The talk of the town last week was a 9-member delegation of Chinese real estate developers coming to Taiwan. They made their way from the North to the South, and the media circus followed them every step of the way. The group was very gracious, even answering their stupid questions and smiling for the cameras. They were fairly good-natured. I’m sure that they’ve never seen a media like this before.

The DPP, of course, did not welcome the group and refused to meet with them. They accused the group of coming to play up the property market. But these people were not only housing developers but also looking into tourist spots, resorts, etc. Businessmen are political chameleons, and the victory by Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) certainly came as a welcome sign for them. I have no problems with them coming to check out the scene. Don’t we want people, Chinese or not, to invest in Taiwan?

But I do have a problem with our reaction--we’re almost begging them to come save us. Why does having 9 rich people from China give us so much hope? People in the tourism industry seem overly optimistic about closer relations with China. I’ve seen reports of travel agencies translating everything into simplified Chinese. Restaurants are printing menus with prices in RMB. Hotels are changing their bed sheets and bathrobes to welcome the anticipated Chinese tourists (what does that change really?). People are salivating at the thought of striking it rich when we open the flood gates, when we’re really just giving the Chinese government more reasons to swallow us up and more maneuvering room to screw us over.

And what about the rest of the world? Does the entire planet revolve around the Taiwan Strait? Is a minority of China’s population, the small percentage who can afford to travel, going to save our economy? Stanley Yen (嚴長壽), President of the Landis Hotels, said that we need to find some way to touch them beyond Taichung sun cakes and Alishan tea so that they would want to come back. Can we really compete with China in tourism? They certainly have more scenic spots due to their sheer size. There is another report of a wealthy group of Chinese women coming soon to Taiwan to have plastic surgery, breast implants, etc. Medical tourism? Now, that’s interesting!

Just as the KMT continues to revel in their Chinese party, Ma puts a screeching halt to the celebrations by tapping Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) from the Taiwan Solidarity Union as incoming Chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). She has single-handedly ruled the airwaves this week. If you had just stepped off the plane in Taiwan, you would think that the KMT just lost another election. After the press conference in which Premier Liu Chao-hsuan (劉兆玄) announced the 2nd wave of Cabinet appointments (including Lai), a woman comes running up to him as he is about to get into his car, leaving only the car door between this high-ranking official and the angry women. Apparently, someone has encroached on the KMT entitlement to the entire government of Taiwan. Supporters are calling KMT headquarters either in tears or in outrage that they’ve been betrayed by Ma. KMT legislators are already asking Lai to step down (before she even starts), concerned about how China will react.

I give Ma credit for thinking outside of the blue box. I think it was more a butt-kissing gesture to former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), since Lai is his protege. It’s also a consolation prize for those who didn’t vote for him. She may just be a puppet, as President Ma made it clear shortly after her appointment that he is still in charge of cross-strait policies. Premier Liu mentioned during his press conference that Lai agrees with Ma’s China policy. What is Ma’s China Policy? If it’s just the 3 No’s (no unification, no independence and no war), then it’s not all that revolutionary from President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) 4 No’s.

The 4 No’s were part of Chen’s inauguration speech in 2000. His first premier (1 of 5) was Tang Fei (唐飛), a military man and former head of the Ministry of Defense. I’ve always wondered why him, when rumors back then had Chen considering someone like Lee Yuan-tse (李遠哲). It may well have been to prevent a military uprising. The green picked a blue then, and now the blue has picked a green-ish. Eight years ago, Chen chose Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for the MAC Chair. She was the scholar who worked for former President Lee and was credited for the “state to state” relations theory. Tsai’s performance as head of the MAC catapulted her to stardom. Will Lai follow in her footsteps, or will she share Tang’s fate? He lasted 5 months.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ma's plans for the economy?

CHIAYI,Taiwan--Even though Ma hasn't officially taken office yet, there's already been several changes (or talk of changes). So keeping in mind Ma's platform of improving the economy, let's take a look at what's been reported so far (in chronological order):

Plans to change "Taiwan" on stamps back to "ROC"

This is hardly surprising, considering his vow to change it back, but it is ironic since he kept saying he was "Taiwanese" before the election. It also has nothing to do with the economy.

I guess when he said "immediately", he meant "after I attempt to eradicate Taiwanese identity/nationalism".

Raise gas prices

Previously, gas prices were frozen (an act the KMT promoted before the election). However post-election, KMT officials claimed, "oil companies are losing money and will go bankrupt within a month".

It's been a month since this was reported and there's no sign of bankruptcy.

According to one source, they have more to gain by selling it to other countries. Basically they'd make more money by exporting it than selling it to people in Taiwan.

Build a new White House in a new location

This is proposed by Ma himself -- apparently the old one has too much history because it was built by the Japanese. The new location is pretty far and remote from the other governmental offices, so it will be inconvenient unless you move all of those buildings too.

How does this affect the economy? Let's see -- first buy up massive chunks of land (NT: 1.5mil-1.8mil/acre), then spend several years planning/building.

Where is the money coming from? I can only assume it will be from taxpayers.

I'm sure the project will benefit big construction companies though.

i-Taiwan 12 projects

Here's a link to the poster he made. First of all, it's interesting to note that he includes figures for 8 years. Second thing I noted is that of the 12 projects, only 1 does not involve construction in some way.

That one project (8) is for farmers, and outlines money allocated to farmers as well as an organizational system to determine which lands are "not useful", so that they can be given up to the government for other purposes.

Unfortunately the poster does not include implementation methods, and I was unable to find separate explanations. It seems that it's mostly a plan to beautify Taiwan by building stuff and making them tourist spots.

All these building projects lead me to wonder how all of this will be financed. I found one article where Ma vows not to raise taxes (aside from 3 categories: tourism, health, and finance).

From my impression of the projects, most of them can fit under tourism, health, or finance in some way.

So instead of lying outright, he says he won't raise taxes except for x,y,z, where {x,y,z} = {set of all possible categories which need money}. Very clever.

Maybe I need to buy Ma's dictionary because his definition of working on the economy seems to mean, get rid of Taiwanese nationalism, raise costs on necessities (such as gas/oil), start multiple construction projects, take land from farmers, and raise taxes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who needs national security?

CHIAYI, Taiwan--A few days ago, there was a news report on tv describing the conditions of a hallway in Taipei International Airport.

The report noted the number and types of rooms along this hallway, as well as the width and how long it takes to walk from end to end. From the number above the door of entry to who frequents it the most -- even down to the color of the carpet, not one detail was spared.

I was shocked to find out that this was actually the National Security Secret Hallway (國安密道) used by the president and his family.

Searching online for related articles, I found one whose title was: "First Exculsive! Taipei International Airport 'National Security Secret Hallway' Exposed! Chen Hsin-yu has the highest rate of usage!".

Really?! I cannot understand how giving away the exact location and dimensions of a top secret hallway could be a good thing, much less elicit so much excitement. I felt like I was watching a segment out of Entertainment Tonight.

After reading several articles on the subject, I learned that five KMT congressmen arrived at the airport in order to "make sure it was really a national security hallway" and to "investigate misuse of the hallway".

I can't help but wonder why it takes 5 grown men to do such an investigation. Or why they felt it appropriate to invite crews of press into the hallway on a tour. I'm not making this up -- the video I saw showed people crammed neck to neck into at least half of the hallway.

That kind of breach of security seems akin to inviting press into the White House, showing them the exact location of the entry into a secret escape tunnel, giving them a tour, then letting them wander around as they liked so that they could measure how long it took to get from end to end. Is any investigation worth exposing top secret facilities and putting the leader of the country at risk?!

I've heard conjectures that it's a deliberate attempt to blow national security so that China can take over whenever they want. Obviously that's a bit extreme, but the only explanations I can think of is that these men are either particularly stupid, or that none of them care about national security.

None of these options give me any comfort whatsoever.

Friday, April 11, 2008

When is it time to be pragmatic?

TAIPEI, Taiwan--Last week, I caught an episode of “Sisy’s World News”, hosted by the one and only Sisy Chen (陳文茜). I have already lamented on the lack of international news coverage in Taiwan. After all, we are (literally) just a dot on the world map. The show was simple and classy. It was just her and the camera. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My opinions of her have not been all that favorable. In the past, I’ve seen her hosting with her dog on the table in front of her. She’s been linked (romantically or not) with the likes of Shih Ming-teh (施明德), Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) and Li Ao (李敖). Like those men, she has also moved all over the political color wheel. But without a doubt, she is an intelligent woman. Maybe shrewd too.

She mentions the story of Zaha Hadid, an award-winning female architect from Iraq. She submitted a design for an international contest to build the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House and came in 2nd place. The winner was Toyo Ito from Japan. At the end of the story, Sisy mentions that the only government-commissioned, internationally-designed buildings in Taiwan are the Taichung Opera House and the Kaohsiung stadium for the World Games in 2009. I decided to look up who designed the latter, and guess what?

Toyo Ito was also hired to design the stadium. While Ito may have won the Taichung contest fair and square on his own merits, did we really need to give him such a monopoly? We could’ve had another masterpiece by a woman with revolutionary ideas who has proven herself at a big boy’s game. Not to mention that she was born in Baghdad. That is the kind of story that grabs the world’s attention (she certainly caught mine). Having her design a building in Taiwan would have allowed us to share in some of it. Sisy claims that it would be near impossible to hire her since she’s a bigshot architect. She’s probably right.

Speaking of attention, if China were to invade Taiwan, would the international community speak out on our behalf? It would be nowhere close to the extent of the Olympic torch relay protests we’re seeing now. Tibet has someone like the Dalai Lama, whose fluent English skills, hearty laugh and celebrity friends have allowed him to reach out to the world.

Right now, Taiwan has Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has recently proposed that the country use Chinese Taipei in its bid to enter the WHO. What kind of stupid name is that? But he says that it’s the only name that has worked so far, and he may have a bit of a point. While Taiwan is a member of the WTO under the name “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu”, unofficially it gets shortened to Chinese Taipei (even on the WTO website). This is also the name that Taiwan uses at the Olympics. I don’t think people thought it mattered until Chen Shih-hsin (陳詩欣) and Chu Mu-yen (朱木炎) won gold in 2004, only to see that the champions couldn’t salute their country’s flag or hear their national anthem. When it comes to health issues, it will definitely matter in this age of air travel. Being out of the loop is a timebomb. Given an ultimatum, either enter the WHO as Chinese Taipei or be out of the loop forever, I really have to scratch my head on that one.

This was the scene at a professor’s house. After dinner, we went around the room announcing our summer internships.

Me: I’m going to Taiwan to intern at the Ministry of Health.
Classmate #1: I’m going to work for the US CDC at their office in Thailand.
Classmate #2: Wow, that’s great! You and Daphne can have lunch together.
Me: OK, Taiwan and Thailand are 2 different countries!


Oooh, this is too good of an opportunity, I thought.

Me again: Taiwan and China are also 2 different countries!

(more laughter)

I’m proud to be Taiwanese, but it’s also hard being Taiwanese. I am in favor of anything that increases Taiwan’s fame, competitiveness and leverage on the international playing field. Respect may be a limiting factor, but if we want to make any progress does it also have to be the deciding factor?

[My thanks to Sam for permission to use his photograph]

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What is the ultimate sacrifice?

TAIPEI, Taiwan--I’ve been thinking about the Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮). As she nears the end of her term, now what? I know that she has purchased a place close to where I’m living now, and it’s a lot of space for just one person. At the end of the day, are there really no regrets that she spent the prime of her life fighting for Taiwan? I’ve seen her shed tears talking about not being able to attend her mother’s funeral because she was imprisoned. She has certainly paid her dues in other ways for a noble cause. At the least, she was rewarded with the vice presidency for 8 years.

I can’t help but notice that the DPP is much more sympathetic towards women (and other marginalized groups for that matter) than the KMT. You could tell that there were far fewer women involved in the higher-ups of Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign (not talking about his fans here). Yet, somehow this was all overlooked when just one woman, Ma’s wife Chow Mei-ching (周美青), finally came out of hiding.

I also can’t help but notice that in addition to Lu, there are several other female DPP politicians who are single. After Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected in 2000, I read a book entitled “不一樣的女人”, which roughly translates to A Different Type of Woman. In it were the stories of the 10 or so female members of the new Cabinet. It was inspiring in a professional career kind of way but not too optimistic for personal development.

Of course, marriage is by no means the magic key to having it all. Just look at the President’s daughter Chen Hsin-yu (陳幸妤). Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘) was a handsome, orthopedic surgeon from the nation’s best medical school and from Tainan, the same city as her parents. At first, she seemed content with her new life. Who could’ve known that he would turn out to be such a thug?

There must have been warning bells. His father Chao Yu-chu (趙玉柱) was an elementary school principal who already had a reputation for having sub-par character. Could she really not have known? Or did she want to escape the life of being a politician’s daughter that badly?

Who can blame her?

As a young girl, her mother Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) was run over in a KMT-motivated accident, paralyzing her from the waist down. To add to the trauma, her father was sent to jail shortly after. He certainly wasn’t the only one. The history of Taiwan’s democratic movement is like an episode of “Where have all the fathers gone?”

I went to middle school with a girl whose father was sent to prison. Years later, I was flipping through one of his books. In the section with all the photographs, I was rather touched by this one drawing he made. It was a depiction of his cell, and it was also her birthday present. Growing up, you’re taught to be good and that it’s the bad people who get sent to jail. Only now can we say that it’s a bad government that sends the good people to jail.

In 1989, Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), the husband of Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), committed suicide rather than be arrested, leaving behind an infant daughter. February 28 is a sore spot in Taiwan’s history. In 1947, thousands of Taiwanese people were killed by the KMT regime. On the same day 33 years later, the emotional toll for former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) family would become much greater. How could he have imagined that while he was imprisoned, his mother and twin daughters would be brutally murdered inside their own home?

On the day before the 2008 election, Judy Linton (林奐均), Lin’s sole surviving daughter, wrote this letter to Ma supporters: (in Chinese and English)

The sacrifices made by the previous generation of activists, whether it was with part of their life or all of it, have allowed us to be the nation that we are today. I’ve only mentioned the well-known stories. There are too many other unsung heroes…

Saturday, April 5, 2008

It’s the economy, stupid.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--This is the platform that led Bill Clinton to the Oval Office in 1992. It is also the reason for Ma Ying-jieu’s (馬英九) convincing win in 2008.

Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) campaign focused on just a handful of issues. He beat them like a dead horse, but in the end he still couldn’t bring down the horse. It was a contest with Hsieh going on the offensive with negative attacks, while Ma played defense the entire time. His strategy was simply not to blow the big lead and just wait for the final buzzer to sound.

Hsieh camp: Ma still has a valid green card.
Ma camp: It became invalid after he applied for a US visa.

It’s a gray area. Ma couldn’t produce evidence that he formally renounced the green card (because he didn’t), but the unwritten rule goes that if you don’t set foot on US soil for a year it automatically becomes invalid. Why else do people go to Guam?

Hsieh camp: Taiwan will become the next Tibet.
Ma: Taiwan is not China. Neither is it Hong Kong.

While the Tibet crackdowns may have been good timing, Taiwanese people tend not to focus on international news. Rarely do big stories elsewhere get substantial airtime. Unlike Ju Rong-ji’s (朱鎔基) finger-wagging in 2000, this was not a direct threat. Double endorsements from Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Lee Yuan-tse (李遠哲) didn’t have much of an effect either. The Nobel Laureate’s credibility had gone down the drain after endorsing Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) the past 2 times.

Hsieh camp: One-party rule will be just like the old KMT days.
Ma camp: We will exercise restraint.

Hsieh faced an uphill battle. President Chen was elected on a platform of ruling out the “black-gold” corruption of the KMT, and he messed up. He should take much of the heat for this election loss, and kudos to Duan Yi-kang (段宜康) for finally coming out and saying so. It’s hard to have any sympathy for Chen and his family when you see them enjoying the good life. Not only was Chao Chien-ming’s (趙建銘) bank account getting bigger and bigger but so was his waistline.

Hsieh camp: A common market will be destructive.
Ma camp: It will improve the economy.

The Trojan Horse at the DPP’s 316 rally was a brilliant attempt at warning people of the dangers of a common market. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I’m no NAFTA expert, but I do know that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama want to touch that issue again with a 10-foot pole. In the 1990s, Americans sure found those nice, cheap Japanese cars hard to resist, leading to a huge trade imbalance. Though I’m sure parents will be less tempted to buy Made in China dolls, you know, those stuffed with used (but bleached) maxi pads.

President Chen asked the South to carry the DPP to victory again, but they actually lost the vote there. Free rides on the brand-new Kaohsiung subway didn’t help. Kaohsiung voters ditched their former mayor in favor of hopes of prosperity. That had to hurt. When you see the incredible leverage that China has in the world, it’s hard not to get jealous. Closer ties with China may be good for Taiwan’s lagging economy, but these are delicate issues that are beyond Ma’s abilities without selling us out. I can only hope that Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) is a brighter bulb.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Don’t cry for me, Taiwan

Now thanks to her, 42% of the Taiwanese population will no longer make the “yay!” gesture when having their picture taken, which is really for the better.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--This take on the most famous song from Evita (sung as part of a victory celebration) may have become the most famous part of Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) concession speech. He took full responsibility for the loss and blamed no one.

In 2000, KMT supporters, shocked by the victory of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), rioted outside their own headquarters asking for the resignation of then chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Ma Ying-jieu (馬英九) was right there with them. In 2004, having lost for the 2nd straight time, Lien Chan (連戰) demanded that the results be invalidated because he felt the assassination attempt on Chen and Lu the day before was a DPP-concocted conspiracy. Right…

The KMT’s actions in those 2 elections can only suggest that they believe their party is entitled to the highest office in the land for the next 5000 years. The DPP has been spoiled by miraculous comebacks the past 2 times. How are their supporters reacting to this tough blow? They’re consoling each other. They’re looking inward and going forward. They’re writing blogs.

I doubt that the KMT and their supporters truly understand or respect the democratic process. I was particularly annoyed at the media attention given to a bunch of has-been celebrities living overseas who returned to vote, as if they were still important (or famous) enough to have any sway at all. One of them was the actress Brigitte Lin (林青霞). One reporter even interviewed her inside her hotel suite, and she started to show off her LV bags and Chanel suits, pondering what to wear for election day. Why in hell is this news?

Of course, cameras followed her to the polling station. It took her 2 full minutes to come out of the booth. The next day, there’s a report that she cast an invalid ballot because she stamped her name on it. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time that she’s messed up. 4 years ago, she came out of the booth blowing on the ballot (to let the ink dry) like it was hot oatmeal about to go into a baby’s mouth and flashed it before the cameras.

Perhaps it’s forgivable that she failed to appreciate one of the most basic tenets of democracy--the anonymous ballot. But this is not: while DPP officials cast a ballot for both UN referendums, Lien Chan did not. Ma only voted for the one sponsored by his own party. Former President Lee pulled his wife away from the referendum table entirely. These people are supposed to be leaders of the country?

There was another fundamental problem with the voting procedure that was adopted by the central government. It was not truly a one-step process. Your choice of whether or not to take the referendum ballots at all labeled you. When I took those few extra steps to the referendum table, I already felt like an outcast. No words were spoken, but you could understand through people’s eyes.

When Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote his song, Argentina was in the midst of civil unrest. When Hsieh addressed the crowd with his words, he ensured that Taiwan would not follow the same path.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Taiwan opposition triumphs in elections

TAIPEI, Taiwan--This CNN headline from March 23 is technically correct. However, it is off the mark symbolically. In fact, I had to do a double-take to make sure that they got the right winner.

The DPP (somewhat miraculously) has held onto the presidency over the past 8 years, but the KMT has been anything but cooperative or conducive to progress. This is a party that imposed themselves on the island more than 50 years ago. What followed was the 228 Incident, the White Terror era and martial law, one-party rule. The Nationalists and their 2nd-generation offspring may insist that they are Taiwanese, but does a gradient exist? The native Taiwanese and indigenous people have been here for centuries, and their ties to China (or elsewhere) have already been broken.

While Taiwanese identity was a non-factor in the election results and the issue does get kind of old, it is still divisive because not enough generations have passed. James Soong (宋楚瑜) outlawed the use of Taiwanese while he was director of the Government Information Office, but on the campaign trail it comes rolling off his tongue (and Ma’s although not as steadily). President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is a product of the old KMT system. Now that his party is in power, will the same faces be more of the same old, same old?

After the election, I watched a short biography on Ma. During his time as a student in the US, he would write articles for a propaganda magazine. In one of them, he tells the story of an American asking him if he considered himself Chinese or Taiwanese. Ma said that he wanted to ask back, by analogy, whether the man was American or Californian. Maybe it was youthful naïveté, or perhaps that is still what he believes deep down.

I don’t trust the Chinese government and question the KMT’s allegiances. Months ago, I read Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, his treatise on globalization. I am not big on economics and thought the book was okay. The take-home message was that in our world today, countries want the Lexus (representing money) as well as the olive tree (representing a nation’s identity, culture, language, etc). It’s possible that in the near future, national status won’t matter as we’ll all be inter-connected into one big globalized entity. Still, everyone is entitled to a sense of respect. I am afraid that if we give the Chinese government an olive branch, we will end up losing all of our olive tree.

The truth is that I’ve been disappointed in President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) performance over the past 8 years. But there is a reason for my renewed interest in Taiwanese politics. Over the Lunar New Year (when most people are wining and dining), a small group of young people, led by former National Youth Commission chairwoman and student activist Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), walked from the southern-most tip of the island to Taipei, a 510-km journey that took 22 days. For them, it was a way of showing their strong ties to the island. For Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃), the former premier and DPP chairman, it was a show of repentance. He was the biggest figure of the walk (and the oldest), but he maintained a quiet presence. The story goes that when he had to go to Taipei to take care of other matters, he made up the distance at night and thus completed the entire journey. Their display of love was reciprocated, as people joined them, high-fived them and fed them along the way. Could the KMT have come up with this?

Only time will tell how President-elect Ma responds to the high expectations. Who knows, I may be pleasantly surprised. I’m certain that we will not let him or the KMT get away with its old ways. Too much progress has been made, not just in Taiwan but in the rest of the world. For the DPP, having lost the presidency and the legislature, it returns to its old status for the next 4 years. The DPP may be at its best as the real opposition party, but the bigger question remains whether it takes this bitter defeat as a learning experience and can ever return to Kategelan Boulevard.