Thursday, December 08, 2016

THE CALL Take 3: Linkfest and Short Shorts: Carpal Tunnel Edition

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Stopped at this kiln in Miaoli, but the tix were a whopping $250. Lovely place, though.

Well, this week has had some interesting health effects for me. On the one hand, my right elbow tendons are screaming so this will be my last post for a few days. On the other, my stress levels have really socked my appetite. I figure if Trump and Tsai could just talk two more times, I'd meet my weight loss goals for this year.

One thing: after the initial hysteria cooler heads began to prevail. Veteran China reporter John Pomfret warned in WaPo, as I did in my opening post on The Call, that the media response was part of the problem.
This criticism has elements of truth, but the overblown nature of the reaction to Trump’s call also is unhelpful. Together, Trump’s shenanigans and the hyperventilation by the media could end up adding more unwarranted pressure on democratic Taiwan and could contribute to the continued narrowing of its international space.
Michael Green pointed out in Foreign Policy that this was not an unprecedented breach of protocol.

In the initial rush, Taiwan was basically ignored and no one in Taiwan was asked anything. But that began to change as the massive improvement in the media environment over the last few years re-asserted itself. Jenny Hsu was first in with a piece in WSJ on Taiwan's reaction. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian wrote two solid pieces on the Taiwanese side in which actual Taiwanese were asked, one in Foreign Policy (the article is much less stupid than the subtitle) and one in the NYTimes...
Even so, Taiwan has developed its own democratic traditions right under China’s nose. Taiwanese are fiercely proud of their democracy. Many here crave recognition for this accomplishment. In our interview, Ms. Tsai alluded to the kinship that Taiwanese felt with liberal democracies like the United States as one reason for the contact with Mr. Trump. “The phone call was a way for us to express our respect for the U.S. election,” she said.
And Emily Rahaula and two other WaPo writers got almost everything right in a backgrounder...
In the process, the United States has shaped and abided by its own “one China” policy (not to be confused with China's “one China” principle), in which Taiwan's status remains neither settled nor challenged. (The official language in a joint 1972 communique states that “the United States acknowledges that Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States does not challenge that position.")
...except the 1992 Consensus, which they asserted was negotiated in 1992. History is literally being made, I mean, manufactured, right in front of us: no consensus was reached in 1992, yet that claim is now universal in the media (Max Fisher doing it in the NYTimes in another otherwise sturdy explainer). I suppose I should be happy that the only media problem is the 1992 Consensus. More on that fake news later.

Chris Horton, whose work shines, had another strong piece in the NYTimes on the Taiwan response. There's a quote in there from Chen Hui-ling, who is one of my favorite people, and one of the smartest. Nick Frisch in the New Yorker writes on what Tsai sees in Trump. CNN interviews only people from pan-Green parties in Taiwan in its piece. When I started this blog, most media interviewed only Blues...

The Sunflowers were given a piece in the Washington Post.
Sharing these values, we are puzzled why many commentators have treated Trump’s move as an “affront” to authoritarian China rather than consider the possibility of normalizing relations with a democratic nation of 23 million people, many of whom share deep affinities with the United States. When it comes to human rights in Tibet, freedom of speech in Hong Kong or maintaining strong relations with Japan or the Philippines, U.S. pundits rarely skirt controversy for fear of “provoking” China. Why should the rhetoric change when it comes to Taiwan — a vibrant young democracy led by a female head of state which boasts universal health care and is poised to become the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage?
Yes, liberals, don't let your contempt for Trump undermine support for Taiwan. The Boston Globe forthrightly asserted that there is one China and one Taiwan. Tiananmen dissident-turned-Taiwan politician Wuerkaixi had a piece in IBTimes on The Call and Taiwan's status. And Medium.com hosts a great piece calling for people to stop marginalizing Taiwan.

Other good news. J Michael Cole, contending that Tsai and Taiwan will pay the price for the phone call, sent word around to expect a new media project much like the old Thinking Taiwan. Looking forward to details and a raft of new articles to promote.

But it should be said that China always locates a pretext for the moves it has planned, so that it can claim plausibly it is responding to some issue. No doubt at some point Beijing will do something and hint that The Call is the reason, and we'll get another round of media scolding.

Still, the media continues to amaze. AP put out a completely erroneous and subtly slanted "timeline" of Taiwan-China relations which it may well have sourced from Xinhua. It asserted the 1992C occurred in 1992C, utter nonsense...
November 1992: Semi-official negotiating bodies from China and Taiwan reach the 1992 Consensus. It obligates both sides to hold any talks as parts of a single China, but allows each to interpret "China" in its own way according to political pressures at home.
But check out this section:
January 2001: Despite enmity, the two sides introduce postal, transportation and trade links between southeastern China and Taiwan's outlying islands.

___

April 2005: Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan visits China and meets Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao in Beijing. The visit marked the first meeting between the heads of the rival parties in 60 years.

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May 2008: Nationalist Party-backed President Ma Ying-jeou takes office and sets aside political disputes with China to discuss deals on tourism and commercial flights.
I used this in my current events class as an example of how the media is slanted pro-China. What's missing? Look carefully at the 2001-2008 period: yeah, Chen Shui-bian. They just removed him. Because he had no effect on Taiwan-China relations, right?

The comedy show fails were particularly painful. The Daily Show mocked Trump for his lack of knowledge and then explained that since Nixon, all presidents have regarded Taiwan as part of China, when as everyone knows, the US position is that Taiwan's status is undecided. ComedyFail. Colbert's lumping of Tsai with Robert Mugabe was simply an obscenity.

And CNN made us see how the Cold War continues to shape today's writing:
"The formula, enshrined in the documents that eventually led to the establishment of US relations with China, permits Beijing to regard Taiwan as a part of China and the United States to sell the nationalist island arms to defend itself against the mainland, and has headed off a major US-China clash over the issue." 
Taiwan is not a Nationalist island. It doesn't even belong to the ROC under US policy. Why not just say "island"? The Cold War, dead now these thirty years, continues to shape media production...

But on the whole, the rebound and Taiwan-centered pushback was amazing. It was really heartening to see.

Speaking of fake news...
I noted on day 1 the Atlantic screwed up the 1992 Consensus. This was followed by an interview with a PRC state agent, Shen Dingli, who of course spewed a ton of PRC propaganda. The interview followed a pattern which will be familiar to readers, in which the PRC spokesman is permitted to speak unchallenged and uncaveated by the interviewer on the grounds -- later given by the interviewer when he was challenged on this move -- that "My goal with the interview was to offer readers a sense of what Trump’s Taiwan call, along with his campaign and post-campaign rhetoric about China, look like from China and particularly among Chinese who spend their time thinking about how to manage the country’s high-stakes relationship with the United States." As if the man is speaking unscripted and as if this hasn't happened 1000x before! Puh-lease -- that's what they have Xinhua for.

Compare that interview of Shen Dingli to how Tsai and other Taiwan speakers are frequently challenged and patronized by interviewers. Remember this uninformed, threatening, patronizing WaPo interview with Tsai earlier this year? PRC speakers never get treated like that.

A variant of this is to include the opinions of "netizens" as this Singapore paper did. No evidence is ever offered that the netizens so quoted are not paid wumao out there to generate just such quotes.

Everyone in Washington was shocked to learn that Bob Dole was getting money from Taiwan: "What? Only 20K a month?" Of course Dole answered that, yes, his firm may have had some influence. What was he going to say? "No, we took that 20K and did nothing"? It's good advertising for him. But was Bob Dole's work really that important? The people around Trump have been writing and talking about making changes for years. The Call or something similar was already prophesied in their writing. I doubt Dole had any great effect on anything. But more power to him...

Really we should just make a list of all the people not involved in The Call. It would be shorter... as I noted on Twitter:
Bob Dole too? If failure = orphan but success has many fathers, than surely The Call must be the most successful phone call in human history
What was the function of Dole? Oh yeah, Dole is the media patsy. With Dole you can watch the media filter work in realtime to determine which side the media is playing on. People speaking about China have their extensive, deep, often multigenerational links to the PRC which result in money flows, power, influence, and status concealed or downplayed in the media. But let Dole get a pathetic $20K a month from Taiwan (ZOMG), which everyone in DC knew Dole must have been getting (since DC gossip on who is getting what from whom is legendary and in any case lobbyists for foreign governments must publicly file that information), and it is a major media hoo-ha. Like the vapor story about Trump's Taoyuan Hotels, it is SQUIRREL! designed to distract readers from the real issues. It is... fake news.

There is a wonderful irony in these news agencies inventing history out of whole cloth (there was no 1992 Consensus and Beijing does not accept two interpretations), routinely concealing the China financial links of China-explainers in the media, permitting PRC agents to speak unmolested, quoting possible wumao as if they were random netizens, or according Bob Dole a mighty role in The Call, or claiming that the US says Taiwan is part of China, or etc etc etc, and then whining about the problem of fake news.

Because dudz, you are the fake news.
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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Take 2: Tsai calls Trump (And you won't believe what happens next!)

A long legged spider rests on a leaf

Steve Yates, whose most recent piece explains why The Call was the right move, noted on Facebook about my blog post yesterday:
Reminder, China-Taiwan stuff is not really a partisan issue in the US. Michael Turton is a D and I am an R.
He also said that I am a delightful person to talk to, which is only true if you've had a few whiskies. But more importantly, he put his finger on the real issue, which is that this should not be seen (or become) a left-right ideological battle. Nope, this is another kind of split, identified by the sagacious Chris Horton (@heguisen), a Taiwan-based journalist who has been putting out solid work in the NYTimes of late (and who really is a delightful person to talk to). He tweeted yesterday:
Interesting coincidence that of the China journos/commentators that aren't freaking out about the phone call, large % have lived in Taiwan.
Yup -- the conversation between China and Taiwan types sounds like this:
CHINA PEOPLES: [Background: Orff's Carmina Burana] ZOMG Tsai and Trump talked by phone. The apocalypse is nigh!

TAIWAN PEOPLES: [Background:Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville ] Dudz, chill out. This is great! Have a margarita. Nothing is going to happen. And give me another one of those mojitos, they're excellent.

CHINA PEOPLES: [Background: Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead](howls of anguish at lost gatekeeping possibilities) But this changes everything. It's radical!

TAIWAN PEOPLES: [Background: Poppy's Money] Dudz, there are some good English teaching jobs in Dubai, I hear.

CHINA PEOPLES: [Background: Dvorak's Requiem, Dies Irae] But we spent 40 years building these protocols!

TAIWAN PEOPLES: [Background: Queen's We are the Champions] Yeah, well while you were building protocols, China was building... islands.
Yesterday Evan Osnos had a widely circulated response in the New Yorker, which several people sent to me with various negative comments. Note the way pro-China language is normalized in his presentation:
Taiwan broke away from mainland China in 1949,
I've complained about the reflexive use of "Mainland" as an act of pro-China discourse many times on this blog. It should simply be banished. The history is also wrong. Actually, Taiwan had been part of Japan since 1895, and would continue to be under Japanese sovereignty until 1952, at which point its status became undetermined under international law, a position it has held ever since. The ROC government moved to Taiwan in 1949. It was the KMT and the CCP which split in 1949, not Taiwan and "China". Taiwan had never been part of any Chinese empire.

One also has to love the use of abusive language in passages like this:
Though expert reaction to the Taiwan call was generally negative, the move was applauded by a subset of conservative Asia specialists who have long pushed for the U.S. to draw closer to Taiwan as a check on China’s expanding power.
Experts reacted negatively, specialists supported it, an opposition which occurs in several places in the piece. Dan Blumenthal is described as a "specialist" not an expert. Especially delightful, that formulation. Never mind that the assertion is wrong, as I can make up a long list of lefty Taiwan "specialists" who loved The Call and hold many of the same positions as the conservative Asia experts. But Osnos is so reflexively focused on China he never thinks of Taiwan as a thing in itself with its own group of specialists who might be worth listening to. This attitude is more fallout from the common move among commentators of seeing Taiwan only in terms of China...

Osnos then goes on with the SOP China Explainer response in which China's future reaction is presented even before China reacts:
Whether it says it or not, China will regard this as a deeply destabilizing event not because the call materially changes U.S. support for Taiwan—it does not—but because it reveals the incoming Presidency to be volatile and unpredictable.
Osnos, like virtually every commenter with a China-centric orientation, doesn't ask what China could be doing to please the US (The China Explainers never task China with the responsibility of responding to US needs, except in vague and ideologically-approved ways as in his commentary on how to avoid the enemy trap from last year). Nor does he stop to consider the effect on relations with Taipei or Tokyo (upgraded US relations with Taiwan are good for Tokyo, Manila, and every other nation facing Chinese territorial expansionism). The reflexive, obsessive focus on What Does It Mean For Our China of this crowd is every bit as ideological and narrow-minded as the people they criticize.

Instead, he scolds the US for being potentially volatile and unpredictable. As I have noted many times on this blog, "anger" for China is a policy choice which it deploys to manage and manipulate other nations and individuals who comment on foreign policy. One of the tragedies of the China Explainers is that they treat this anger as everything but what it actually is, a deliberate policy choice, and the constant flow explanations that the commentariat offers, like the bullshit "century of humiliation", are often little more than repackaged CCP propaganda and function as a kind of apologetics. Again and again we are told China is basically the Jessica Rabbit of countries: it's not bad, it's just drawn that way. Consider how Osnos' commentary on how to fix US-China relations last year softens China's territorial expansion in the South China Sea:
The U.S. must differentiate between controversial assertions of power, like those in the South China Sea, and fair reflections of China’s growing contribution to the world, such as the new banks. Likewise, China cannot afford to pretend that the world is unruffled by the profound, if inevitable, change it has introduced in the international order. For both parties, a willful focus on the strengths risks underplaying the weaknesses in their respective positions.
China's moves in the South China Sea are naked territorial expansion, not "controversial assertions of power". Yet Osnos would never describe Trump's phone call as a "controversial communication between two presidents of democracies".

Thus, Osnos' complaint about unpredictability is simply a variant of the old game of China managing US foreign policy via anger and sensitivity. It replaces "We mustn't do X because it could anger China!" with "We mustn't do X because China will think we are unpredictable." In every case, the onus is on the US to cede its freedom of action because poor China is so especially sensitive and must be coddled.

China, of course, will do whatever it wants no matter how the US behaves. We're so lucky that our current policy has totally prevented China from suppressing Taiwan's international space, from launching missiles around Taiwan, deploying paramilitary and military forces to Japanese territory in the Senkakus, Philipines waters, and the South China Sea, constructing islands in the South China Sea, suddenly announcing an ADIZ over the Senkakus, turning Laos and Cambodia into protectorates, quietly deploying coast guard ships to Laconia Shoals off Borneo to expand its territorial claims, kidnapping booksellers from third countries, ramping up its military presence on the Indian border, and playing territorial expansion games in Himalayan meadows owned by Bhutan. Damn Trump's advisers for disturbing that peacefulness!

But the whole claim that Trump is unpredictable is both incorrect and nakedly ideological. In reality, it was easy to see what the new policy would be because of who Trump picked to advise him. I wrote about it on this blog, and if a cheeto-eating, panjama-wearing, basement-inhabiting blogger whose only brilliance is the sheen of alcohol evaporating off his skin could see that, surely awesome China Explainers like Osnos should have been able to. If China was unable to predict something like this, it was ill-served by both its intelligence services and by its American brokers. Like Evan Osnos, for example.

Oh yeah -- Who did China have monitoring the media in Taipei which announced The Call hours before it occurred? Obviously nobody. Hello, intel failure.

If you didn't know this was going to happen, you haven't been listening to Trump's advisers talk and write for the last decade. Which, come to think of it, is probably true. Having dismissed them as irrelevant fringers, many commentators simply had no clue what Trump's advisers would do.

In other words, it isn't that "Trump is unpredictable". It's that everyone failed to see this would happen (except those of us lefties in regular contact with Trump people who we disagree with but regard as humans like ourselves, except much better shaved and dressed). But rather than humbly admit that the China Explainers did not properly evaluate things, they withhold humanity from Trump's advisers and claim that the China Explainers couldn't have screwed up, the only explanation is that Trump must be unpredictable. Which is a Bad Thing.

Osnos writes:
Trump has also shown himself to be highly exploitable on subjects that he does not grasp. He is surrounding himself with ideologically committed advisers who will seek to use those opportunities when they can.
Obama and presidents before were so lucky to have enjoyed the services of ideology-free advisers. Poor Donald, alone in a room with those ideological wolves. You can almost smell the Establishment class bias here: if only the right people were in charge of Trump's policy instead of those scruffy and disagreeable neocons. Do those guys even shower?

Similarly The Call shows the massive confirmation bias in the Commentariat. Media: We didn't know this was going to happen, we are never fooled, therefore it could only be that Trump was impulsive. LOL.

It was easy to see there were going to be changes, as I noted above. This one is perfect: it's a phone call, not rebasing of soldiers to Taiwan or a dramatic weapons sale or diplomatic recognition or formal support for Taiwan independence or anything concrete and interesting. This was a small and measured rejection of previous policy, not an IED tossed into Xi Jin-ping's privy. It was the media response that made it huge, not the call itself.

Osnos, like many, refers to the possibility that Trump might build luxury hotels in Taoyuan having some effect on the decision to take a call from President Tsai. Changing the rules of the game is something that Trump's China advisers have been saying they would do if they got power for years and would have occurred whether or not luxury hotels were flying out of the ground in Taoyuan (Osnos even links to a Jan 2016 piece to that effect by John Bolton, which was written long before alleged hotel plans occurred). This phone call is about their dreams of redirecting US China policy, not about Trump's dreams of unlimited wealth. The currently circulating hotel story is presently an unevidenced smear.

This leads to another point, I've also made countless times on this blog, a fact which Osnos hides from our view. The people who comment on China and rotate in and out of the government in China-related positions frequently do business with China. They get junkets and conference invitations and access to officials on and off the record. The anguish and vitriol expressed by that crowd hides the sudden recognition triggered by The Call: we're not in charge any more! What is this going to do with our (financially remunerative) gatekeeping and commenting positions? What is going to happen to our (lucrative) consultancy positions? There's a lot of money at stake (Ref: Silverstein, The Mandarins). But everyone look over here! That Trump, he's putting hotels in Taoyuan... SQUIRREL!

Oh, btw, smear is a game two can play. Word has it that Chinese capital is trying to invest in that airport project too. If I wrote that Osnos is just trying to divert attention from his Chinese buddies investing in the Aerotropolis, that would definitely be a smear, because Osnos is so uninformed about Taiwan I doubt he even knew that. But so many don't give Trump's team the same benefit of the doubt nor try to understand where they are coming from. That's because they are objective truth-telling reporters speaking truth to power, while the other side is clearly a collection of ideological robots.

NOTES:
As of this writing, despite many complaints, Huffpost still has not corrected its erroneous claim that the US is one with many other countries in acknowledging that Taiwan is part of China.

Thanks to @wilfredchan, who observed as I did yesterday, in greater detail:
For years I've criticized leftists of all stripes on this blog for their bizarre Taiwan positions. And in this The Call thing, they've responded exactly as I have expected.

Nelson Report comments are at the bottom of this post....

For Amusement Purposes OnlyCharles Krauthammer spoke from his deep well of Taiwan expertise
“The Chinese are extremely sensitive about these nuances in diplomacy,” said Krauthammer. “They've been at it for four thousand years, and the rules were laid down by Kissinger and Nixon when they made the opening, and it was that we'd be allies of Taiwan, but we would have to observe certain rules… that Taiwan is part of China.”
Too bad we don't agree that Taiwan is part of China... as for the rest, Orientalizing the Chinese is a 19th century game. Let's stop with the "they've been at it for four thousand years..."
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Taiwan News #2: Of course Tsai's approval ratings are dropping....

Cleaning rice by hand

In the hullabaloo over the Trump-Tsai phone call and my own current overworked state, I forgot to post my latest for Taiwan News: The View from Taichung: The Fuss over Tsai's Ratings
In recent weeks the media has sizzled with the news of President's slumping satisfaction ratings and rising dissatisfaction ratings. Experts opine that they are a warning to the Administration, while the opposition papers gleefully report on the latest dip in approval ratings, and commentators scour political news and public surveys....
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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!

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Tsai calls Trump, 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" the way Obama's was (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.

ADDED: The widespread media bias against Trump was evident in the reporting and comments: everyone assumed Trump had wildly and randomly made this call. Actually it was negotiated and agreed on and discussed among his advisers and the Taiwan side for some time beforehand. But so many observers assumed it was a spur of the moment, unconsidered thing....

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 Stephen 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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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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