Saturday, December 03, 2016

Trump calls Tsai, World Commentariat IQ drops 50 points

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It's long, and I'll be updating as I work through the evening....

As you can see from the pic above, I spent a lovely day out in Miaoli and the hills around Taichung with three dear friends on bikes. Went to a famous farm where they have integrated ducks into the farm's pest management system and talked about really important and useful things, like settlement ponds, and duck diets, and raids by local monkeys, and how the health of freshwater shrimp can be used to monitor the health of the water ecology on the farm. Then we all retired to the farmhouse for tea and rice wine. Ok, rice wine. I mean, I think tea might have been served, but don't quote me on that. Then we rode back to Taichung along the Da-an River under a brilliant blue sky, and stopped for a bowl of mango ice on the way home.

It doesn't get any better than that.

So you can imagine my totally mellow state of mind when I returned home in the afternoon to find that the international media had melted down and commentators were in an uproar because President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan had been on the phone with President-elect Trump of the United States. My inbox is filled with messages, Twitter is like a house on fire, and Facebook is the Kingdom of Attempted Snark. I immediately got myself a large cup of coffee to get properly caffeinated so I could cope with this shitstorm, then spent some quality time with my golden retriever so I could interact with a loving, sapient being before taking on the media.

All I can say is: I wish Trump would call Tsai every day, so we could witness again and again how irredeemably stupid the international media is. As my net-friend Eric Pickett noted:
it's amazing to see how well trained the international media is to carry Beijing's water. China doesn't even need to release as much as a press statement, and the media is mindlessly anticipating Beijing's talking points.
Yup. The Guardian says that Trump angers Beijing with provocative phone call. Note that nothing that China does ever angers anyone. Once again, the framing is that the US and Taiwan are being "provocative" -- poor put upon China! We're used to that, on this blog. As my man Michal Thim, one of the most quietly funny people I know, observed on Twitter:
Michal Thim (廷米賀) ‏@michalthim
Somewhere in Zhongnanhai, people are LMAO out of excitement that they managed to convince everyone that phone call is radical escalation
I and others have written on the way the international media serves Beijing by claiming actions are "provocative" and "sure to anger Beijing" ... I sure wish the media would simply report what happened without giving us the breathless analyses of ZOMG THE END IS NIGH. Apparently Rachel Maddow, who as a good progressive really ought to be celebrating this phone call to the head of democracy with no guns and a world-leading national health insurance program, said on national TV that "this is how wars start." On Twitter otherwise intelligent people who are sometimes treated as experts were actually speculating about how Beijing might blockade Taiwan. My friend Sean Su sighed on Facebook:
It's interesting that Obama seeks peace with Cuba and everyone goes "Awesome". But Trump takes a call of congratulations from a democratic nation that provides thousands of US jobs and the US media goes nuts.
Julia Famularo laffed from her perch in Honolulu, lucky lady:
‏@Julia_Famularo
So, when #China (Xi) and #Taiwan (Ma) meet, it's a "historic breakthrough," but when PEOTUS makes a cordial call to #Taiwan, it's a crisis?
Leta Hong Fincher, the author of Leftover Women and always a good source of insightful snark, snarked:
‏@LetaHong Leta Hong Fincher洪理达
All this trouble is because Tsai never married or had children, of course
...referring to the time the state media attacked Tsai.

Amidst all these warnings of the impending apocalypse, what did China actually say? Well, Beijing at first said it was another "trick" of Tsai's and reiterated its boilerplate stance (Quartz). In words, it said... nothing at all important. As I was writing this, it had made a "solemn representation" to the US, also boilerplate whenever something happens that might raise Taiwan's status (Beijing complains to US, Beijing blasts call). This is common -- I noted in August how the media notes that "X will anger China" but when nothing happens, the media never reports: nothing happened. Thus, readers in US, clueless about Taiwan relations, assume things have gone to hell, when in fact, they are as ok as they ever are.

Indeed, the media slant is not to ask: what does this mean for our relations with a fellow democracy? but ZOMG What is this going to do to our relations with Beijing?

One way to read the media brouhaha is to observe how incompetent the media is, and how it does Beijing's work for it in referring to tensions that don't exist. For all of us who watch Taiwan, that is standard. *sigh* For example, many of us had a good laff about this from Jia Lynn Yang, who is WaPo's Deputy National Security Editor:
Jia Lynn Yang ‏@jialynnyang 11h11 hours ago
Just got back from a week in Taiwan. Tensions with China are really high, so this is just extraordinary. http://wapo.st/2g28lTd 1/
Didn't you notice those high tensions? I was dodging falling bombs all day on the bicycle. Really sucked.

...But there's another way to think about it: the media are also signaling China about how it could/should react. If China doesn't react strongly, the media won't be validated (they will then say nothing about their failure). Consider Evan Madeiros' words in The Atlantic:
The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House National Security Council, told the FT. “Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations.”
Madeiros was Obama's Asia czar and would have had high position in the Clinton Administration. He rotated out of the Obama Administration to the Eurasia group, which does business in China, and there he is in FT and Atlantic quoted as if he never worked for a firm which does business with China (just like Henry Kissinger, you've made it when the media never mentions your business interests). Think he is signaling China about how it should react? Your guess is as good as mine, but a strong reaction would benefit Madeiros' friends and hurt Trump. No conflict of interest there!

In other words, congratulations, media, you just gave China permission to go to its limit.

Indeed, the Chinese initially said (WaPo):
Asked about Trump’s call during a conference on international affairs in Beijing early Saturday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, called it a “small action” that “cannot change China’s standing in international society.”

The breach of protocol will “not change the One China policy that the U.S. government has supported for many years,” he said. “The One China principle is the foundation for healthy development of ­Sino-U.S. relations. We don’t wish for anything to obstruct or ruin this foundation.”
It was only later after the media shitstorm that they apparently realized that they had support from US media and anti-Trump folks, and that they could really run with this. Now they are doing full on diplomatic press, with ambassador summoned, etc. Remember they actually summoned the US ambassador last year over the SCS FONOPs, and in 2014 over cybercrime accusations, and in 2010 over Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama. Summoning the ambassador is normal, almost an annual ritual, whenever China's dreams of expansion are challenged, and essentially meaningless. But it will probably make a great noise in the media.

China chooses actions that play the western media for publicity, but have little concrete effect. They've learned well from the international media...

...and now we will see whether the Trump Administration's China policy will be shaped by "China being angry" (Ruh-roh, better not do X because it will make China angry!). Right now it looks like Trump is going to be more focused on the Middle East. But China's response could change that... which is why it probably won't amount to much.

Notes:
The Atlantic piece also leaves the reader with the incorrect impression that the US position is that Taiwan is part of China -- the US position is that Taiwan's status is undetermined, and gives the usual incorrect presentation of the 1992C. The Atlantic was hardly alone in those errors. CNN several times stated that Taiwan was part of China, and of course Huffington Post erroneously claimed that "The United States and most of the international community acknowledge China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan." The US acknowledges, but does not recognize, China's desire to annex Taiwan.

Trump referred to the "President of Taiwan" in his tweet. Some people observed that Trump talked to 3 heads of state today but only tweeted about Tsai, signaling he knew its importance (yes, for the next four years, people will be checking Trump's tweets the way medieval doctors checked the King's urine). According to local papers, listening in were presidential office spokesman Alex Huang, NSC head Joseph Wu, and FM David Lee. Liberty Times claimed the call was facilitated by Steven Yates, who is a Taiwan expert, but he apparently denied this. It was Tsai who called, but both sides worked it out beforehand.

The KMT first blasted it. UDN, close to the KMT, said it was a bad idea. Then that article was taken down and the new line came down: the KMT thanked Trump for supporting the Republic of China. LOL.

What do I think? This makes me very happy. Very happy that the President elect of the United States put Taiwan on the radar, even for a moment, with something very positive. Very happy that we might see meaningful positive change in Taiwan policy from the new Administration, and hopefully, in Asia policy after the dilatory, conflicting, and timid policies of the Obama years.

Hey, American progressives! The future President of the United States called the head of a state that directly elects its president, which has a world leading national health insurance program, no guns, and may soon legalize gay marriage. Check your values: which side are you on here?

I've put some comments from the Nelson Report below. Will add more stuff later tonight as it comes in, but I just want to add a final comment from someone on Facebook:
Yeah, isn't it great that President Obama, paragon of progressive values and the rule of law,... finally said "To hell with the Chinese, I'm picking up the phone and calling President Tsai!" Oh, sorry. That was Trump.
Yup.

ROUNDUP: WE ARE ALL TAIWAN POLICY EXPERTS NOW:
NELSON REPORT COMMENTS
SUMMARY: absolutely stunning event, as president-elect Trump personally conducted a phone call with Taiwan's president Tsai...the first such presidential level US-Taiwan direct communication since "normalization" in 1979.

While its true that both the Bush and Obama NSC's, and some St. Dept. level officials have met face-to-face with the DPP's Tsai and her predecessor, the KMT's Ma...but never a president-to-president event of any kind since Jimmy Carter signed the deal with Deng Xiaoping.

Taking such a step now, without careful thought and preparation for possible outcomes, including a dangerous over-reaction and/or miscalculation by China, basically leaves speechless Loyal Reader sources still around late on a Friday.

Once again we recall Newt Gingrich several months ago: "The problem with Trump is he doesn't know that he doesn't know..."

It's inconceivable that NSC and St. Dept. professionals would have let such a call be accepted, or placed, without a full brief to Trump on the potential for Chinese misunderstanding, miscalculation, and over-reaction.

Any such briefing would have noted the "missile diplomacy" crisis over the 1996 "visa" fight, and the enormous difficulties caused US-China relations under the Bush presidency by then-Pres. Chen.

Finally...even if the risks were deemed acceptable in US-China relations terms...a properly staffed discussion would have worked through the "message" intended by Trump, lest Beijing interpret the phone call as a signal that the US is about to challenge the fundamental basis of US-China diplomatic and stratgegic relations...

One expert we spoke with frankly doubted Trump was aware of much if any of the above, and speculated:

"He likely thought taking the call was just another form of his delight in not being 'politically correct'. If this kind of thing persists...god help us."

Here's the FT version, while we all wait on some facts over the weekend, and hope that Xi Jinping decides to chalk this one up as a rookie mistake, and not fighting words:

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Coming Home ain't all its cracked up to be

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A Taiwanese-American friend, longtime Taiwan activist, entrepreneur, and one of the coolest people I know, has this to say about "coming home" on Facebook...
I've been meaning to one day write a detailed essay and openly about how difficult it is to build closer relations between Taiwanese diaspora and local Taiwanese or even first generation Taiwanese diaspora. But if I write with specific examples, then it'll be calling people out which I'm not wishing to do at the moment so I'll just generalize.

In addition are my gripes about a new class of diaspora that have come back to try to dump on the whole thing for their own advantage. There's a lot of stereotypes that makes it so difficult in the first place to get along, that we really don't need more people to actively throw a wrench in it even though there are people that try so hard just to seem cool or to win quick brownie points. Its bad enough that Taiwanese diaspora do face racism in the new host nations, and with locals when they return, and now also Taiwanese diaspora that want to win quick points with locals by bashing Taiwanese diaspora.

For example, most locals just outright immediately assume I'm visiting, that I love to party, that I somehow avoided the draft instead of actually dealing with it, or that I must not care about Taiwanese politics or am unaware or inactive (in fact I'm far more active than the vast majority of people and even locals for good reason). There's also this assumption that I must be rich or whatever instead of having grown up in poverty. This on top of a failure to care to understand why we think the way we do that happens to be backed with good reasons and decades of experience. So you can imagine how terrible it is to have this small new class of Taiwanese diaspora that come back to Taiwan and can't wait to shit on themselves behind the scenes without any care about the damage they are doing just so they can be with their buddies more.

Not to mention, Taiwanese diaspora are easy targets for Taiwanese. After all we left while they had to deal with the issues, but no consideration that some of us were forced to leave and how difficult that is. No consideration that being unable to return brings its own set of challenges and suffering. No consideration that trying to be successful in a foreign nation is very tough. Very little time is spent on understanding.

A small example: I can't even get on a taxi without the driver asking how my vacation is going or whether or not I'm a foreigner. Because I ride the taxi very often, I've been forced into this conversation multiple times a week for years.
The constant Othering by locals, who are not even aware they are Othering you. It's draining sometimes.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

China Seizes Singapore Military Equipment on the way home from Taiwan

This image shows a growing yet largely unrecognized problem in Taiwan. Where newer buildings are built, they control all the space around them in an attempt to look clean and modern -- a telling signal of the way power and control underlie our conception of what is modern -- the sidewalks are blocked for scooter parking and street vendors, and the streets are redlined so there is no legal parking. If you attempt to park a scooter there, a security guard will soon appear to tell you to move it, perhaps to the sidewalks across the street, under the eaves of the traditional three story buildings. The old anarchy of Taiwan, which had a profoundly human and humane chaos, is slowly being eroded by cold, sterile, inhuman expressions of power over space like this.

Taiwan has long maintained military relations with Singapore (if you've been on vacation in Kenting you've been within a stone's throw of where Singapore troops stay in Taiwan). This week China struck at this relationship, seizing nine vehicles in transit through Hong Kong... (SCMP)
An armed forces team from Singapore was due in Hong Kong last night on a mission to establish why nine of their brand new military vehicles were seized and impounded by customs during their return from Taiwan.

Singapore’s top diplomat in Hong Kong has also become involved in what one military expert said could be a “strategic calculation’’ by Beijing which yesterday reaffirmed its opposition to any sovereign state having official or military ties what it regards as a renegade province.
Indeed, the intertubes are rife with speculation that this is aimed at SE Asia states that might be thinking of upgrading their bilateral or multilateral relations with Taipei. Recall that under the Ma Administration little was done about SE Asia, while the Tsai Administration has made the new Southbound Policy a cornerstone of the Administration's foreign policy. China is also said to be unhappy with Singapore over recent political disagreements.

A posting to a discussion group I am added something further (reposted with permission of author):

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There is the angle of Taiwan-Singapore relations too, which China seems eager to further limit. Then there is the matter of whether this incident will restrict the Tsai administration’s efforts to reach out to Southeast Asia.

A little bit more background from what [the writer] have heard but am unable to independently verify at this point:

The shipper, APL, bought over the commercial shipping business of Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) earlier this year. NOL was a commercial shipping firm owned by the Singapore government via Temasek Holdings. Underperformance and a tough market forced the sell. NOL also previously handled the shipping of equipment for the Singapore Armed Forces to places like Taiwan and also Australia. APL currently runs the following route--Kaohsiung - Xiamen- HK - Shenzhen- Port Klang- Singapore- Kaohsiung. It appears that APL cut the Kaohsiung-Singapore route to streamline its business. However, the Singapore Armed Forces or Singapore Ministry of Defence may not have updated its shipping contract to ensure direct shipping.

Then there is the issue of the APCs themselves. The vehicle involves proprietary technologies from the US and Europe, in particular the armor, which may be subject to export control regulations. These vehicles being in Chinese ports including Hong Kong, may be in violation of these regulations. Then there is the battlefield management system. It is unclear if the battlefield management system was shipped with the vehicles in the accompanying containers. There is a good chance this is the case. The battlefield management system enables the Terrex to coordinate fires and exchange tactical information with other platforms like the AH-64D Apaches, F-15s, F-16s, and naval vessels. There is a good chance that this means it is compatible with the US/NATO LINK digital datalink system. A system that not only US forces and NATO use, but also Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. An upgraded version of the Terrex is under consideration as a finalist for the US Marine Corps ACV program.

Information on the Terrex below (all open source).
https://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/press_room/official_releases/nr/2012/oct/10oct12_nr2/10oct12_fs6.html
https://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/mindef_websites/topics/dtp/dtp2010/winners/abt_terrex1.html
http://www.stengg.com/products-solutions/products/terrex-8x8-armoured-personnel-carrier
http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/made-in-spore-terrex-a-key-addition-to-saf
http://www.saic.com/about/about-saic/feature-stories/terrex2
http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/st-kinetics-wins-us1215-million-us-marine-corps-contract-deliver-amphibious-combat-vehicle
http://www.stengg.com/press-centre/press-releases/st-kinetics-terrex-2-progresses-into-us-marine-corps-amphibious-combat-vehicle-programme
https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/tech/2016/01/04/inside-amphibious-vehicles-won-marines-225m-contracts/77380728/
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China sure killed a lot of birds with this one stone....
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A note from the writer: Google has screwed up the Commenting Function. *sigh*

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Dear readers, Google has once again "updated" one of its products. As always with a Google update, Blogger is now uglier, less functional, has a less useful and more crowded interface, and requires more clicks to get anything done.

The result for you is this: in old Blogger, when I opened up the page for my blog, unpublished comments were right there for me to moderate. Now when I open Blogger, I have to make additional clicks to get to the unpublished comments. This means I might forget I should even be looking for comments. I am quite absent-minded and keep forgetfulness at bay only with constant vigilant effort. So apologies in advance if your comments take extra time to go up.
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Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday shorts and links....

Gay marriage a big issue in Taiwan, with just over 50% supporting...
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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Way cool: There's a map app!!!!

This map app gives historical map overlays for Taiwan. It was developed by the Academia Sinica. Peter Dunstan of Taichung AmCham informed everyone on Facebook that if you don't have Taiwan Google, you can still get the map to work via this APK (with instructions on how to install)...
You'll need to enable installations from unknown sources, download the apk and install. Worked a treat for me. Install from unknown sources is under Security settings.
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Friday, November 25, 2016

In Taiwan News....

As news that Beijing has seized troop carriers from Singapore en route from Taiwan, because it wants to punish Singapore, I'd like to announce my new weekly commentary at Taiwan News. The first piece is now live. Many thanks to Keoni Everington and the whole Taiwan News team for giving me this opportunity!
Last week a neighbor comes over to give my wife some greens, and remarks on how bad the new train stations in Taichung are. After complaining about the Tanzih and Fengyuan stations, she turns to Taichung station: “It’s all Lin Chia-lung’s fault. He had the stations redesigned.” Although the claim is absurd, the underlying perception is not: Taiwanese voters tend to assign responsibility for events to whoever is in charge. If the DPP is not perceived to be working for the people, then discontented workers across the nation may well switch parties come 2018, or refuse to vote.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Go South Policy is already going...

Entrance to an aboriginal community in Taitung.

From:
"Tai-shang (Taiwan Business) in Southeast Asia: Profile and Issues". Alan Hao Yang and Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao. (In Y.-C. Kim (ed.), Chinese Global Production Networks in ASEAN, Understanding China. Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2016)...
"The year of 2000 witnessed domestic regime change in Taiwan as KMT government was replaced by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As President Chen Shui-bian came into power, strategic focus of “Go South Policy” had been directed to tackle with challenges of Taiwanese investment in Southeast Asia with special focus on ICT and textile mill industries. DPP government re-announced Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam as key countries for Taiwan’s investment. Clearly, the new waves of “Go South Policy” was designed to counterbalance Taiwanese increasing investment in China. By pushing China Steel, Formosa Plastics Group, Uni-President and Pou Chen Group to Vietnam, Taiwanese government desired to constructively engage Southeast Asian markets and governments. While KMT reclaimed power in 2008, Southeast Asia was still of strategic interest to Taiwan, with more focus on promoting ECA with regional counterparts. Since 2000, Tai-shang significantly modified its investment strategies; Vietnam became the most favored investment destination of Taiwan business, followed by Singapore and Thailand. Also, there are increasing investment projects in Indochinese countries, especially Myanmar."


AmCham noted in an April 2016 piece on Taiwan bank expansion into SE Asia...
Taiwan is now the number-four investor in Vietnam, after South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. In 2015, Taiwanese businesses invested US$674 million in Vietnam, an increase of 43.7% over the previous year. With that surge in investment came opportunity for Taiwanese banks, which last year opened 11 new branches in Vietnam. The country is now home to 31 branches of Taiwanese banks. Globally, only China has more with 43...

In February, a total of 13 banks, eight of them Taiwanese, applied for licenses to operate in Burma. Among the Taiwanese banks, only E. Sun Commercial Bank has received approval thus far. The new round of bank licensing began late last year with the objective of boosting foreign investment in the Southeast Asian country. Burma’s Central Bank has yet to say how many licenses will be granted....
TEEMA, the Taiwan electrical and electronic manufacturer's association, has invested in a large industrial park in Myanmar, which many savvy local friends have identified as the Next Big Thing.
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Wed lazy links...

Alishan Tea farms...

Yeah, links...

Daily Links:
Sent around my networks, this image asks: if Taiwanese can marry ghosts, why can't people of the same sex marry each other?
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Monday, November 21, 2016

China Still Not Getting It

Traditional washing stones, in use...

A delegation from China is arriving Monday and will visit only to Blue counties and ignored Green ones.... (Taiwan News)
The delegation, authorized by the Chinese government, came after the chiefs of the eight “blue” Taiwanese counties and cities visited China in September. According to media reports, the delegation plans to spend eight days and seven nights to complete the tour, viewing agricultural products and specialties of these selected areas and paving the way for a planned promotional tour organized by the KMT-ruled counties and cities to promote their agriculture as well as tourism in China, slated to take place at the end of December.
This is simply a variant of the tourism strategy: to use politically-motivated subsidies to create pockets of support for China and the KMT. The problems ought to be obvious. Even the recipients of the largesse know it is dependent on China's political needs and has nothing to do with economic and social conditions. Moreover, most Blue-held areas are underdeveloped and have small populations, with the exception of New Taipei City.

A smart policy would shower the heavily populated Green areas with benefits. But this strategy bypasses the population at large, and will have the same results as the group tourism strategy: increasing resentment without forming permanent links. Such policies will be perceived as insults.

This looks like a move aimed at domestic audiences in China, who want to see that their government is doing something. It shows how unimaginative China's Taiwan policies are, how China simply lacks a robust and coherent Taiwan policy, as well as a sophisticated understanding of Taiwan.

It may also augur ill for the future. The purpose of such policies, stupid though they appear to be, may well be so that China's leaders can at some point say to their people: "Well, we did all we could... so now we must fight..."
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Daily Links:
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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coast sanity break

Why haven't I been posting? Had midterms to give and grade, and then took two days off to visit a friend in Chenggong. Love that ahhhh feeling when you head south out of Hualien and you know it is going to be a good day. A special bonus was the vast decline in tour buses. Saw them, but not in the insane numbers of before.

Interestingly, the wind was in my face the whole way. Usually it is at my back this time of year. El Nino?

More photos below...

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nelson Report on Trump Advisors

The Nelson Report has some good observations. The good news is that the Asia team is composed of China warriors, not China accommodationists, and it is likely that whatever the final mix, tough on China types will predominate, at least as far as I can see. The bad news is Trump himself....

....but at present, it's all speculation. NaCl, etc.

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SUMMARY: we'll leave interpretation of the Senior Gods to others, except to note that it's a measure of all the uncertainties the world now faces that it's seen as good news that Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, a dedicated deal-maker and ally of Speaker Ryan, will be Chief of Staff...and that the Freedom Caucus campaign to oust Ryan apparently has been called off in lieu of Trump's victory.

And unalloyed bad news that the "chief messenger" will be Campaign Manager Steve Bannon, who certainly gives the impression that 400 years ago, he'd be standing next to the stake laughing, while you shrieked your life away in the flames.

Trump Transition Asia foreign policy and defense players (and we assume other regional staff) officially start work today, and are making appointments around town in a concerted "reassurance tour"...some embassies have already confirmed the outreach.

So...that's both necessary and good, obviously, since the Donald Trump who "presented" during the campaign, and especially the debates, was often contradictory and thus confusing, a situation which contributed to the several "stop Trump" campaigns which may deprive the next Administration of a lot of otherwise logical, solid Asia staffing choices.

So...."names"..."inside word" today is that while Newt Gingrich is saying he doesn't want State, "you can't count him out", and that for Defense, we should think Steve Hadley and Sen. Jim Talent, "in that order". Not sure where Sen. Corker or Sen. Sessions fit into that speculation...stay tuned.

The irrepressible Loyal Reader and long-time China hand Mike Pillsbury is telling whomever asks that he is now leading the Asia policy transition team. Earlier in the year Mike said that the principal Asia advisors to the Campaign, channeling through Sen. Sessions, were, in order, Peter Navarro, UC Irvine, Bill Triplett, former Jesse Helms staff, and Mike himself.

You may recall we reported this a couple of months ago...

Naming names at this point can be the kiss of death, experiences teaches, so we will forbear mentioning non-principal names just in case, but from what we do know so far...it's encouraging, so stiff upper lip please.

Same reaction seems justified by Trump's personal outreach to S. Korean Pres. Park, as the president-elect wants to walk-back interpretations of his earlier statements questioning Asia regional alliances, and Trump has also tried to say he never actually said that nukes for Seoul and Tokyo might be OK as part of a "do your part to support the alliance".

Hummm....well...maybe reading back a transcript of what he did say and what he's saying now isn't important except for one critical factor, noted in an email this morning by Loyal Reader DM:

I guess we really have to view every statement from DJT as the opening gambit in a negotiation and never take anything literally, as we learned from the 60 Minutes interview last evening. Of course [the risk is] what happens to declaratory policy and other times when we need real strategic reassurance and strategic resolve in international affairs? Not everything can be a negotiation - especially if the other side is going to make moves based on interpretation of the Commander In Chief's intent by what he says. Seems like a recipe for misunderstanding and miscalculation.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Map of all the historical sites in Taiwan that have been burned down

What's this a map of? Historical sites in Taiwan that have burned down. The fire icon represents a fire, the laughing ghost total destruction, the ghost facing you, arson (the Wiki site it is based on is here).

The latest in mysterious fires to historical sites in Taiwan occurred last week when a 1920s era Japanese government building in Taichung burned. LTN documents.

In 2013, after yet another mysterious fire, this time at a historical site at NTU, the Taipei Times observed:
Despite a denial from NTU secretary-general Chang Pei-jen (張培仁), the blaze, reported at 12:24am, has raised some eyebrows amid rumors that developers have been eyeing the plot for a development project.

While police, who have not ruled out arson, investigate the cause of the fire, relevant government agencies should take a more active role to better preserve and care for the nation’s many old buildings and landmarks that are rich in Taiwanese culture and history.

The public has good reason to be worried, considering the slew of news reports that suggest cultural and historical sites are being pushed aside to make way for development.

Last month, New Taipei City’s (新北市) Yingge District (鶯歌) — known as the birthplace of the nation’s pottery and ceramics industry — saw a 90-year-old oval-shaped kiln and its smokestack knocked down by a construction company, which owns the site, as well as another square-shaped kiln and its brick-built chimney that had stood for more than 50 years. The area, once dotted with more than 300 high-rise kiln smokestacks, is now left with fewer than a score of them.

Reports of similar demolitions of buildings and houses with historical value have also shocked and saddened many local residents, historians and cultural preservationists, as in the case of demolitions of Japanese colonial era kilns carried out by the Miaoli County Government for urban development projects and in Taichung, where a 114-year-old house was torn down by excavators in the middle of the night.

Sporadic cases of historical houses consumed by fire have also occurred, the causes of which remain unsolved to this day.
These fires appear to be linked to developers, who either want to force the site to go up for sale, or to force occupants out. This paper notes:
According to the statistics of fire occurrence, 52 fire events happened in Taiwan’s cultural heritages and historical buildings from the 1970s to 2014. Among them, the highest proportion of fire causes is arson (33%) and the second largest is electrical fire (27%), as shown in Figure 1.
Another source puts the arson count at 41%. Recall that it is not difficult for a skilled arsonist to make a fire seem like an electrical fire. Not all arson cases are developer-related, some are simply madmen or personal. In a few cases it is not the fire that destroys the buildings, but the firemen -- many older wooden structures can't take the force of water from fire hoses. Such fires not only destroy the historical sites, but in Taipei's cramped residential areas, they often take nearby buildings as well. Indeed, the tiny winding lanes surrounding them make it nearly impossible to save smaller historic sites in case of fire.

One such case was the Aug 4, 2005 arson attack on a temple site in Taipei, the Xi Ben Yuan. After the site burned down for the first time in 1975 (also thought to be arson), it was occupied by squatters and the usual collection of shops and vendors, quickly becoming a living community. The Taipei city government offered the site for sale but no one wanted it, then they rezoned it under "urban renewal" laws and tried again, to no avail. Finally they decided to treat it as a park and plaza and began removing the squatters. During this process, it was discovered that parts of the old temple had survived, and preservationists moved in. The site quickly became the topic of urban legends -- it had been an execution ground in 2-28 rumored some, and in another, it was the home of a Japanese treasure stash. Neither was true, but a mining company applied for a permit to excavate the site.

It was eventually designated a historical site. As scholars and preservationists worked to reconstruct the site, on Aug 4, 2005, it was struck by arson. The fire burned the lecture hall. At that point, it was -- probably not coincidentally -- mooted that the historical site designation be removed. Fortunately, the lecture hall had a solid brick structure and could be rebuilt. Incredibly, when the building burnt in 1975, someone had carried off the old bell from the bell tower to preserve it, and 30 years later, it was returned.

Many of these fires never make the news....
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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Geopolitically, you can relax... for a while

As local indigenous villages discover the power of tourism, they are putting in colorful gates

The speculation over Taiwan and the new Trump Administration has included some very strange assertions, especially from the KMT, that Taiwan might well become some kind of bargaining chip.

Nope. Not gonna happen. In fact, Taiwan's position vis-a-vis* the US is almost certainly going to improve. For starters, the new Sec of the Navy might well be Randy Forbes. Forbes is a longtime supporter of Taiwan. Forbes' staffer Alexander Gray will be on the Asia team -- also likes Taiwan. Other names mentioned include Randy Schriver, very pro-Taiwan, and perhaps the very gracious Steve Yates (a quiet inspiration for this blogger), very pro-Taiwan. Richard Armitage, who has long worked on Taiwan issues, has also been mentioned.

Most of those names will be familiar, but others might not be. Just in Taiwan very recently was Ed Feulner (note this 2011 piece), obvious where his sympathies are. And then there is Peter Navarro, in the news here with strong statements: Trump Advisor indicates Taiwan stance? "China is behaving like a bullying thug against Taiwan" (video). John Bolton, a longtime Taiwan supporter, has been rumored to be a possibility for Sec of State. Most of these people worked in the Bush Administration as well.

All of these people, and any eventual Trump Administration, will likely take a much harder line than the Clinton Administration on China, or so some insiders have already declared. The Trump Administration is not going to have any of those "We will achieve a breakthrough!" delusions that afflicted the Clinton Administration, nor do any of its people come out of consulting firms doing business with China. And in the geopolitical calculus that governs the Strait, when the US moves away from China, it moves towards Taiwan. Indeed, suggestions that the Trump Administration represents a fresh start for US-Taiwan relations are already flying into mags where such pieces appear.

But for those of you making mental calculations about when war is going to break out here in Asia, you should probably advance your timetables. Xi is not going to become less hardline, and the US is becoming even more hardline. Just last week Chinese "coast guard" vessels once again tested the Senkaku waters. And David Feith argued in WSJ that Trump will increase the Nuke Crisis in Asia

Interesting times...

*It is important if you are going to be a political commentator that you use this phrase.
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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump and Taiwan Commentary Roundup

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I am entering on the history of a period rich in disasters, frightful in its wars, torn by civil strife, and even in peace full of horrors. Tacitus, The Histories, Book I
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