MeiZhongTai

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Chabot on Arms Sale

Congressman Steve Chabot (R, OH) has impeccable pro-Taiwan credentials. Chabot was the co-founder of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus.

During a talk at the Heritage Foundation, Chabot joined the chorus of those inside and outside the US government calling on Taiwan to purchase the arms offered them in 2001.
I want to be very frank with you: I am very disappointed that this special budget has languished
The special arms budget currently consists of eight submarines and 12 sub-hunting aircraft, as the other elements of the sale (eg: Patriot missiles) have been relocated to the annual defense budget. (For more information on the sale and its importance, see this post)

Chabot continued:
If this doesn't move forward in the near future, there are many members of Congress here who may reevaluate their support, the extent of their support to Taiwan.

While I certainly understand Chabot's frustration, I don't think that such comments are helpful. It only reinforces the impression, that I discussed in a previous post on Richard Halloran's article, that America's friendship can be bought one arms contractor at a time. Chabot's speech was certainly the "American version" of the argument I discuss in the Halloran post, but it will certainly be interpretted in accordance with the "Taiwanese version."

I certainly agree with many of Chabot's points, such as:
If Taiwan is strong, it will probably never be militarily tested. If Taiwan is weak, the challenge may come sooner than you think.
Having said that, I don't think this speech is going to help and it will probably hurt America's image in Taiwan and elsewhere.


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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fighting Censorship

Econblogger Survived SARS reports that he appears to be blocked by the Great Firewall of China. If could very well be that Typepad has been blocked en masse, but I can't keep track of which blog service is blocked this week. Either way, what makes this especially noteworthy, in my opinion, is his response:
Some people try to circumvent the web censors (reverse engineered from Cisco technology, thanks guys) and web nannies by writing words like "democracy" as dem0cr@cy or something like that, and thereby evading the keyword-sensitive censors. I'm not going to do this.
Instead of such games, he decides to attack the problem head on.
I think a better solution is to try to overload the censors using paragraphs such as the following: China democracy Tibet Falun Gong Taiwan independence Anti-Japan demonstrations protests Chen Shui-bian DPP Taiping Rebellion Chen Yonglin Zhao Ziyang China exchange rate speculation Hu Yaobang Wei Jingsheng democracy Radio Free Asia Voice of America 6/4/89 4/6/76 4/6/89 6/4/76 Three Gorges cracks Fang Lizhi democracy freedom Falun Gong anti-Japan nationalism embassy bombing democracy

I can't really claim to be helping overload the sensors since Blogger is already banned. I guess a mass movement to post that text on every anti-censorship China blog wouldn't help because it would just help the censors find them all and block them more effectively.

A better solution is to download and read the latest report from Reporters Without Borders on how to circumvent censors. There is useful information in there for everyone from the definition of a blog to technical information on promoting your blog and using proxies.


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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Greatest Hits

In honor of this auspicious day, I have compiled a collection of MeiZhongTai's top ten greatest hits. If you have been reading since the early days, this is a good chance to reminisce. If, on the other hand, you are new to MeiZhongTai, then this is a chance to read some of the posts that you missed. (in chronological order)

  • Starting Point offers a mission statement of sorts for this blog.

  • USAF vs. Sukhoi's Best compares the American F-16 to the Sukhoi fighters currently in service in numerous Asian countries, including China.

  • ShaShouJian studies the Chinese concept often translated as "Assassin's Mace."

  • Killing a Carrier examines the People's Liberation Army Navy's efforts to be able to sink an American aircraft carrier in the event of a war.

  • Chinese AWACS discusses the origins of China's airborne early warning aircraft.

  • Can China Invade Taiwan? is a four-part debate with Michael Turton of The View from Taiwan on China's ability to invade Taiwan.

  • Taiwan's Silicon Shield examines the thesis that Taiwan's high-tech industry makes it too important for the major powers to abandon in the event of a war.

  • Protection Money? studies the arms offered by the United States for purchase by Taiwan in order to better understand the purpose behind the sale.

  • Exploring the Spratlys looks at recent Chinese exploration of the Spratly Islands and considers possible foreign policy implications.

  • How Invisible is Stealth? examines China's efforts to counter America's stealth advantage.


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A Deeper Look at China Watching

Today is a special day at MeiZhongTai. In honor of this day, we will take a look at China watching and some of the pitfalls that we face, and try to avoid. But first, an anecdote:

Journalist Roy Rowan, in his travels in China during the Chinese Civil War, came in contact with Sir John Keswick, who headed Jardine Matheson and the Sino-British Trade Council. Keswick gave Rowan a book entitled What I Know About China, which he had published at his own expense. Upon opening the book, Rowan found all of its pages to be blank.

Many of us in the English-language China blogosphere like to think of ourselves as 'China Watchers,' China analysts, or something akin to the 'China Hands' of yesteryear, but few of us would claim to know any more about China than Sir Keswick. We tend to avoid the title 'China expert,' not just out of humility but because no mere mortal could truly claim to understand so much.

Being China analysts, we must be wary of falling prey to the same mistakes and biases as other regional specialists. I recently stumbled across an interesting article from the CIA's Studies in Intelligence entitled "Thinking Straight: Cognitive Bias in the US Debate about China." It is a quite interesting look at the pitfalls that analysts make in trying to understand and predict the actions of another country and their foreign policy implications, using China watching as a case study.

One quote I found to be particularly enlightening:
[T]he more blurred and multifaceted our perceptions of China become, the closer we may be to that most elusive thing: the truth.
-Jonathan Spence


The author, Josh Kerbel, encourages us to "stop trying to think straight." I'll do my best.


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Third of a Year Anniversary

Today marks four months of blogging here at MeiZhongTai. This blog has had well over 4,500 hits from over fifty different countries in that time.

I would like to thank all of the bloggers in my blogroll for their help in making MeiZhongTai a success. Special thanks goes to David at One Whole Jujuflop Situation for being the first blogger to blogroll me and to Michael at The View from Taiwan for sending me the most traffic. Of course I must also thank all my readers, especially regular commenters Aaron, Mad Minerva, and the bloggers already mentioned. Every comment is appreciated, so those of you I didn't mention by name... thank you too!

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome a couple new bloggers. Taiwan's Other Side and Sun Bin have both recently been added to my blogroll and are both up-and-coming blogs. (Sun Bin appears to have been around as long as I have, but I just recently found him, so he is still a recent addition.)

In addition to these thank yous and links, I am celebrating MeiZhongTai's third-of-a-year anniversary by adding Technorati tags to all my posts (a work in progress). I hope I am doing this right because in spite of all my effort, I haven't seen a single post of mine show up on Technorati.


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Friday, September 23, 2005

Li Ao Said What?

Depending on which report you read, Taiwanese author and politician Li Ao said any number of seemingly conflicting things on his visit to China. For just a flavor of the possibilities, I'll offer some headlines:So what did Li Ao actually say? Instead of spending all day trying to form a composite from reading those very different articles, just read the transcripts. EastSouthWestNorth has been kind enough to offer English translations of his speeches at both Beijing University and Tsinghua University. For anyone interested in China-Taiwan issues, these make quite an interesting read.


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Thursday, September 22, 2005

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Greens


Sun Bin, one of the newest additions to my blogroll, has previously posted on why Taiwan should not take actions toward independence. (My reply is here.) Now, he offers a quote from Lao Zi to further explain his point:
There was once a saying among those who wielded armies: 'I'd rather be a guest than a host, much rather retreat a foot than advance an inch.' This is called 'marching without marching, rolling up sleeves without baring arms, raising swords without brandishing weapons, entering battle without facing an enemy.' There's no greater calamity than dishonoring an enemy.

This seems to me to smell a lot like advocating appeasement. For clarification, one might look to the policy recommendations that he is supporting with this quote:
If Taiwan does nothing, after a few decades, its threat may disappear and the problem [is] resolved by itself (as mainland China changes)

He is simply advocating that the status quo be maintained. That couldn't be appeasement, could it? Yes, I would argue, it is. Appeasement is defined by Merriam Webster as
pacifiy, conciliate; especially : to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles

To not move toward independence in order to avoid a confrontation is to appease an enemy.* It matters not whether the enemy has compelled you to take action in accordance with its wishes (compellance) or convinced you not to take an action of which it doesn't approve (deterrence), giving in to such threats is appeasement.

What is wrong with appeasement, you might ask. Instead of the obvious response (see e.g. Munich, 1938), I'll reply with a recommended read: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. For those of you who don't have a large number of children's books at your disposal, I'll provide cliff notes. If you give a mouse a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk. If you give a mouse a glass of milk, he will ask for...

It could be alternately worded as 'give someone an inch and they will take a mile.' In international relations it is the principle that appeasing agressors is a bad idea. No offense to the ancient Chinese authors but I think Numeroff and her mouse have Lao Zi and Sun Zi both on this one.

Now, it is entirely possible that Sun Bin advocates the status quo for other reasons. He could be ideologically opposed to independence and thus not guilty of appeasement at all, because he is advocating a policy in line with his own beliefs that just happens to concur with that of the threatening power. That is not the argument he is making, however. Advocating that Taiwan maintain the status quo simply out of pragmatism or fear is appeasement, in my opinion. Am I wrong?

*To not move toward independence because you don't want Taiwan to be an independent nation is not, of course, appeasement. Those who support reunification or the status quo because of their ideology are appeasing no one. Those who advocate a policy simply to avoid conflict with an opponent, however, could be charged with appeasement.


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Zoellick on China's Rise

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick bluntly warned China last night that it must begin to take concrete steps to address what he called a 'a cauldron of anxiety' in the United States and other parts of the world about Chinese intentions.
So begins the article from today's Washington Post that I predict will cause Thomas Barnett's head to explode. I have previously blogged on Dr. Barnett's tendency to go apoplectic anytime someone describes China as anything resembling a threat (and his tendency to use foul language to do so). In one of the posts of his that I cited (available here), Barnett had this to say about Zoellick:
I've said it before and I say it again: Zoellick is by far the smartest man in the Bush Administration. Honest to God, I'd name him president tomorrow.
I could be misreading this all as I have been unable to find a full transcript of his speech, but it seems to me that Zoellick is now taking a harder line on China, something that will undoubtedly upset Dr. Barnett. I report, you decide. Zoellick continued:
Uncertainties about how China will use its power will lead the United States -- and others as well -- to hedge relations with China... Many countries hope China will pursue a 'peaceful rise,' but none will bet their future on it.

Update: Did the quotes in the WaPo article linked accurately represent the entirety of Zoellick's speech? Decide for yourself. The transcript is now available at the State Department website.


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Monday, September 19, 2005

Respect the ROC

I recently stumbled across an informative article entitled "Don't Belittle Taiwan's Effort to Defend Itself," which was originally published in Wall Street Journal Asia about two weeks ago. (Hat Tip: TaiwanMilitary.org)
Time and again, in meeting after meeting, one hears the following refrain from American policy experts when talking about Taiwan: "If they aren't serious about defending themselves, why should we risk our blood and treasure to help them fend off a Chinese attack?" The proximate cause for this and similar remarks is that Taiwan has not yet purchased a major package of military systems offered in 2001 by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. That package includes eight diesel submarines, 12 P-3 submarine-hunting planes, and several batteries of PAC-3 anti-missile missiles. The delay is all too often used to convey the impression that Taiwan is free riding, counting on U.S. carriers and jets (and of course American sailors and airmen) to deter China rather than relying on its own efforts.

There has been so much attention paid to this one weapons package, at this blog and elsewhere, that many sinologists are accusing the ROC of free-riding--a charge which is clearly not the case. The ROC military is a potent fighting force that the people of Taiwan can be proud of.
While there is plenty of blame to go around, the least guilty party in finalizing the purchase has been the Chen administration. Although the Bush team should be lauded for approving the sale of systems that had been denied by the Clinton administration, it was always unrealistic to think Taiwan could absorb $30 billion worth of new weapon systems in a short period when its procurement and acquisition budget has historically averaged $400-500 million a year.

I don't know that the cost is the problem. While the weapons are certainly expensive, recent KMT hijinks leads me to believe the KMT takes their opposition role more seriously than their legislating one.
[T]he idea that the Chen administration is not serious about defending Taiwan is largely a tale told by sinologists and American government officials who would like an excuse for the problem of Taiwan to just go away.

Don't get caught in this delusion. Recognize the commitment of the government and the military to defense of the island (and the KMT determination to ensure that doesn't happen).


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Friday, September 16, 2005

Only Greens Need Arms?

There seems to be a new argument making the rounds about the arms purchase proposed by the Ministry of National Defense and supported by the Pan-Greens. The general thesis is that Taiwan only needs a potent military force if it is planning on declaring independence. Were it true, this would go a long way toward explaining why the Pan-Blues have been blocking the arms purchase.

Sun Bin's post on "Taiwan's Defense Options" offers two alternatives:
Taiwan has 2 defense options:
  1. Plan on declaring independence, and prepare for a war. In this case perhaps $15bn of weapon will not be enough, not even $150bn

  2. Quietly maintain the status quo, do whatever it like of self rule, even preach democracy to the mainland, just don't declare independence. There will not be a war, and hence no need to get into an arms race. From CCP's perspective, their focus is on economic development. The last thing they want to see is a war, or even an arms race.
Sun Bin offered similar comments to a previous MeiZhongTai blogpost.

The underlying assumption seems to be that Taiwan doesn't need a strong military unless it is planning to declare independence. While James Soong would seem to agree, I'm not as trusting. First of all, independence is only one of many tripwires that China has laid. China has also promised to 'intervene' if:
Taiwan makes a military alliance with a foreign power, there is internal turmoil in Taiwan, Taiwan gains weapons of mass destruction, or Taiwan refuses to negotiate on the basis of "one China". (Recently, the PRC warned that if the situation in Taiwan becomes worse and spirals out of control, they will not look on "indifferently.") [source]

While a few of those reasons are entirely within Taiwan's control, Beijing is reserving the right to attack the island if it doesn't like what happens on the island (internal turmoil) or it gets bored (no movement on 'one China'). So it seems that even if one could trust a prospective enemy saying there won't be a war (you can't), it still isn't time to scream "Peace in our Time" from the rooftops.

Even if the PRC and ROC were at peace and could be assured that the peace would continue for the foreseeable future, Taiwan would still want a formidable military force to allow diplomatic negotiations with foreign powers from a position of strength. Taiwan has recently used its navy in a show of support for Taiwanese fishermen in disputed waters--something that did not involve China in any way. If Taiwan and China were to negotiate on any issue, be it independence or fruit exports, the relative hard and soft power of the two nations would come into play.

It is only natural that a state keep as potent a military force as it can reasonably afford. Taiwan needs these weapons. The Greens don't need them. The Blues don't need them. Taiwan needs them. To deny the country the weapons it needs to defend itself and bargain, in order to further your party's political bickering is petty and dangerous.


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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Internet: The Great Democratizer

An article from The Guardian entitled 'Thanks to corporations, instead of democracy we get Baywatch" shows how the internet has the potential to be a democratizing force, but one that can be and is manipulated by the Chinese government. (Hat Tip: Peking Duck)

Many have claimed that thanks to the internet, all walls will come down and the people of the world are now on the fast track to freedom. Thomas Friedman, an admitted technological determinist, has written:
Thanks to satellite dishes, the internet and television... we can now see through, hear through and look through almost every conceivable wall... no one owns the internet, it is totally decentralised, no one can turn it off... China's going to have a free press... Oh, China's leaders don't know it yet, but they are being pushed straight in that direction.

This Guardian article stacks up all the evidence countering Friedman and is certainly worth a read for anyone who doesn't actively follow the news on Chinese censorship of the internet.


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Friday, September 09, 2005

Interpreting China's Rise

The last day or so has offered up many different interpretations of China's rise. Among those opining were former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew, Journalist Howard French, China scholar Michael Pillsbury, and the potty-mouthed panda hugger Thomas Barnett.*

  • Lee Kwan Yew, possibly best known for his controversial advocacy of "Asian Values," gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel. He deals with a wide variety of issues facing Asia, including the rise of China. The interview has been translated into English and is available in its entirety here. Excerpt:
    In 50 years I see China, Korea and Japan at the high-tech end of the value chain. Look at the numbers and quality of the engineers and scientists they produce and you know that this is where the R&D will be done. The Chinese have a space programme, they're going to put a man on the Moon and nobody sold them that technology. We have to face that. But you should not be afraid of that.

  • Howard French, reporting from Singapore, brings us a wonderful summary of different views on China's "peaceful rise." Excerpt:
    Recent Chinese statements on its critical relationship with the United States have tried to deflect perceptions of a brewing confrontation by projecting China as a 'force for peace.' Such statements highlight the carefully woven rhetoric that has accompanied China's emergence as a global superpower. Although it is often dismissed as shallow propaganda, silver-tongued diplomats in Beijing have skillfully used this diplomatic lexicon to create the illusion that China is the polar opposite of a superpower that acts unilaterally and uses military power to achieve its goals.

  • Michael Pillsbury, long time China hand who currently advises the Pentagon, has been featured in a front-page story by the unlinkable Wall Street Journal ("Inside Pentagon, A Scholar Shapes Views of China," 8SEP05, A1). He is described as an influential China hawk who listens to what the Chinese defense and political leaders are saying and takes what they say at face value.

  • Last, and most certainly least, is the vitriolic Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map and blogger. Barnett posts on the WSJ's profile of Pillsbury and accuses Pillsbury of confusing Chinese aspirations and capabilities as was previously seen in analyses of the Soviet Union.

*Note: I refer to Barnett as potty-mouthed because of his tendency to lose his cool and spew forth a stream of expletives whenever anyone, be they Michael Pillsbury or Robert Kaplan (PDF), imply that China might be a threat. He often accuses anyone who sees China's rise as worrying as being a hack in the service of the U.S. Navy, who tries to play up the China threat to gain more funding "[b]ecause Al Qaeda has no submarines." (PNM, 362)


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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Blues Trust China, Reject Arms

The heads of the two main Pan Blue parties, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang and James Soong of the People First Party, have agreed to oppose the special arms budget requested by the Ministry of National Defense. The ministry recently reduced the size of the arms budget by shifting some weapons to the general military budget in hope of gaining Pan Blue support. According to the China Post, the weapons were rejected because they are
still too expensive, unnecessary and against the people's wishes.

Most amazing about this whole ordeal is a quote from James Soong explaining the decision:
In May, when I went to China, (Chinese President) Hu Jintao clearly said if Taiwan doesn't pursue independence, there won't be any military threat in the Taiwan Strait.
Mr. Soong is taking the word of President Hu that Taiwan needn't fear China and thus doesn't need to buy more sophisticated weaponry. This is baffling to say the least.

For a look at why this weaponry is necessary, see here, even though all of my arguments are apparently negated by a promise or two from Hu Jintao.

Update: I was left so speechless by Soong's comment that I couldn't think of a relevant comparison, but now I am leaning toward Neville Chamberlain saying he could trust Hitler. (Note: I'm comparing Soong to Chamberlain, NOT Hu to Hitler. I despise Hitler comparisons as much as the next guy.)


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Monday, September 05, 2005

D3m0cr@cy

A recent speech by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has left both Asiapundit and Peking Duck wondering if we will soon be able to write the word democracy without the need to use trick letters to get around the firewall.

Premier Wen:
China will press ahead with its development of democratic politics, that is reconstruction, in an unswerving way, including direct elections,

HK Dave over at Simon World, on the other hand, sees this as:
Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China, has made official what we've all suspected; that democracy in China is just a matter of time.

I wouldn't consider this a done-deal just yet. For one thing, Wen was addressing a foreign audience. I wonder how widely this will be reported back in China and how it will be spun.

Additionally, Wen explained that democracy will rise out of local elections, something that many China watchers have been predicting. My understanding of Chinese village elections, which is far from authoritative, is that they work more as a means of validating the party choice or of trying to encourage the party's representative to keep in touch with the people. The people are either denied choices, or the people's choice, upon taking office, slips on the straightjacket of party dictates.

Update: Imagethief asks:
[H]ow many repressive governments have been "in transition to democracy" since roughly the last ice age?


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Taiwan No Longer a Temporary Home

Late Presidents Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo will be laid to rest next March or April, according to the Taipei Times. It is understandable if some readers are confused by this fact. After all, CKS died in 1975 and CCK died in 1988.

Upon CKS's death, he was temporarily entombed in Taoyuan. I say temporarily because his body was just 'awaiting proper burial in China.' Likewise, his son was temporarily buried nearby upon his death. The state funeral at Wuchih Mountain in Taipei County is being conducted in accordance with requests by CCK's widow (who has since passed) and other members of the Chiang family.

This burial is interesting because of the symbolism of permanently burying Mr. "Retake the Mainland" himself on the island of Taiwan (as opposed to the Zhejiang Province of China, where he wanted to be buried).

This could be viewed simply as satisficing and being pragmatic. As the Italian Asia News put it:
With the likelihood of Taiwanese forces conquering the mainland non-existent, the family finally decided to bury the two former presidents in Taiwan.

On the other hand, in Taiwan everything has political ramifications. The former presidents were being temporarily interred as a reminder to the people of their history and their mission to retake the mainland. That reminder will now end and hopefully the counterproductive notion among the KMT diehards that Taiwan is but a temporary foothold will end as well.


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Saturday, September 03, 2005

David and The Five Yuans

Taiwan's government has five administrative branches (yuan): the Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Control Yuan, Judicial Yuan, and Examination Yuan. Most of us understand the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial because they are similar to the structures in various Western countries, but are kind of puzzled about the role of the Examination and Control Yuans.

The Examination Yuan presides over civil servants.
Specifically, the Examination Yuan oversees examination; qualification screening; security of tenure; pecuniary aid in case of death; retirement of civil servants; and all legal matters relating to the employment, discharge, performance evaluation, scale of salaries, promotion, transfer, commendation, and award of civil servants... Under the Examination Yuan are the Ministry of Examination, the Ministry of Civil Service, the Civil Service Protection and Training Commission, and the Supervisory Board of the Public Service Pension Fund. [source]

The Control Yuan is in charge of 'corrective measures' against government organizations and officials, including the powers to audit, censure, and impeach. In 2000, the Control Yuan lost its authority to impeach the President or VP but still lists it as one of its powers.

Why explain all of this? David at Jujuflop blogged on a problem back in April:
The Legislative, Executive, Judical and Examination bodies are functioning as you would expect, but the Control Yuan has been stuck in limbo since the previous incumbents left office at the end of January. The problem is that the members of the Control Yuan are proposed by the President, and this is then ratified by the Legislature... unfortunately when (pan-Green) President Chen proposed a list of members to the (pan-Blue controlled) Legislature, they refused to ratify it. Until agreement is reached, the government will continue to operate without one of its core bodies.
So the body in charge of auditing and impeaching government officials is in limbo. I guess it could be worse, they could be renegade. Limbo is better than renegade, right?

A little over a week ago, David linked to an article from the China Post:
In its press release, the Control Yuan stressed that although the new-term members of the yuan have yet to be sworn in, the yuan has been dealing with petition cases from the public in accordance with a set of provisional guidelines on how to settle the petition cases before the new members take office.
Maybe renegade is the word for it after all, but these mysterious 'provisional' workers wouldn't leave scary enough alone. Yesterday, David noted:
As noted before, the Control Yuan doesn't exist. This hasn't stopped it auditing charities and government bodies. It also hasn't stopped it being proposed for a hefty 12% increase in its budget.
This is certainly an issue worthy of continuing attention. If you don't already read One Whole Jujuflop Situation on a regular basis for its top-notch political commentary, you should certainly start, because he is the place to go for this issue and many more.


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