Saturday, 26 February 2011

From the annals of hyperbolae: "Taiwan also needs a Jasmine Revolution"

It's been a while since I last read the Taipei Times. Though I was once a regular reader, since leaving Taiwan I've more and more found its editorial line on Taiwan politics to be increasingly bizarre in its criticism of the KMT, and this has been particularly so since Ma Yingjiu's victory in the 2008 elections.

Now don't get me wrong, Ma has been deserving of criticism from his time as Mayor of Taipei onwards, but the accusations thrown against him and his government from the pages of the Taipei Times have been excessive to say the least. The Taipei Times and its Chinese-language cousin, the Liberty Times, have even gone as far as suggesting that Ma "might even secretly sign a capitulation agreement with Beijing".

However, the latest editorial, comparing Taiwan, a democratic society since at least 1996, and one in which both the KMT and the DPP have won and lost power via elections, to the dictatorships of the Arab world, truly takes the cake. In an editorial written by Chang Yeh-shen, vice chairman of the Northern Taiwan Society, entitled "Taiwan also needs a Jasmine Revolution", Chang opens with a bleak portrait of the Taiwanese economic situation:

Prices have skyrocketed, putting pressure on the public, while the unemployment rate has seen a sharp increase. With a government that only cares about big conglomerates, Taiwanese live in hardship with no hope in sight, and the lower class passes their poverty on to the next generation.

There's only one problem with this description: it's total baloney. Unemployment has not "seen a sharp increase", in fact unemployment in Taiwan is now lower than it was at the time of the 2004 election, and Taiwan actually experienced deflation last year [Edit: Some doubts about the Indexmundi figures, see comments]. The picture Chang draws of Taiwan somehow suffering crisis-level poverty is rubbish, plain and simple.

Chang then goes on to accuse the Ma government of failing to defend Taiwan, with government officials being accused of allying "themselves with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against Taiwan". One wonders which government official Chang could possible be talking about, since Ma's government did (after years of KMT-led blocking) finally succeed in passing an all-important arms-procurement bill directed specifically against an attack across the strait.

It seems that in Chang's world no level of engagement with the Mainland can be allowed, with even the recent moves to allow mainland students to study in Taiwan being condemned as ". . . threatening to limit Taiwanese students’ educational and job opportunities". Even the visits of Mainland officials to Taiwan are described, in a mind-blowing exaggeration, as allowing "Chinese colonial rule in Taiwan".

Let me be clear on this: Mainland students visiting Taiwan cause little or no harm, will bring money into the Taiwanese economy, will create jobs in Taiwan, and may just allow some Mainland students to see that they have been lied to about Taiwan by the government-controlled media on the Mainland. Visits by PRC officials to Taiwan, far from being a harbinger of colonialism, are 100% necessary if relations between the two sides of the straits are ever to be normalised. Whilst the Taiwanese should certainly be careful to ensure that no compromises are made that might threaten Taiwan's democratic institutions and self-determination, there is no solid evidence that any such compromise has been made or is even being considered.

Having got this far, you might wonder if any further hyperbolae were even possible, but the kicker is in the last paragraph:

"Taiwan’s situation today is not much better than that of the Arabic countries in the throes of the Jasmine Revolution. We must use our votes to oust Ma to save Taiwan and rebuild the country, perhaps through a “lily revolution.”"

Let's keep this simple: Taiwan is a democratic society with levels of freedom of speech, judicial independence, and economic development and equality comparable to any country in either Western Europe or North America. As an example, in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, Taiwan has a higher per-capita income than 15 of the 50 US states and 15 of the 27 EU member-states. To compare the situation in Taiwan to that of even the richest of the Middle-Eastern countries which have experienced unrest in the last month is an immense distortion. You wonder what possibly could have been going through the minds of the editors at the Taipei Times when they okayed this piece.


justrecently said...

The most obvious answer to such editorial delirium is that Taiwan is a democracy, and that there will be presidential and legislative elections next year.

I think the best presidential candidate for the DPP would be Tsai Ing-wen - my only reservation is that she may be too sane to make it, without substantial splits from the DPP, i. e. "independent" candidates competing against her. The latest such competitor from Taiwan's tunnel of horror would be former Vice President Anette Lu.
Taiwan deserves better than either Chen Shui-bian, or Ma Ying-jeou. But that does also mean that the public must be realistic in what they expect from their politicians, who are, after all, acting on a very narrow and uncanny stage.

Gilman Grundy said...

@JR - Lu's too old to run - she'd be 70 before her first term was even up, and she wasn't that stellar in her role as Vice Pres in the first place.

The situation seems a bit similar to that in Italy a while back - before Berlusconi had so obviously imploded. One party is not exactly popular, but in control and is at least organised. The other is perhaps a more natural fit with the people, but is totally disorganised. A lot of people seem to think that the KMT is too unpopular to succeed, but I am not so sure.

The one thing I think should definitely be deprecated is this bizarre rhetoric wherein people continually attempt to smear the KMT as being "traitors" planning a "sell-out". It is uncalled for, unneccesary, and unconvincing. There is also the risk that some hothead, acting on these accusations, may attempt to take things into their own hands.

justrecently said...

The KMT has done more in the past four years to modernize the armed forces, than the DPP has in eight. So I believe "treason" is an unjustified accusation indeed. Before accusing Ma of making "re-unification" appear to be a cakewalk for China, they should understand that independence is no cakewalk either. There's this misunderstanding that all that independence takes is to "march" under colorful banners and shout slogans.

The presidential elections are for the DPP to lose - or so I believe -, but they have the capacity of messing everything up. Besides, I believe they should try to avoid losses within the pan-Green camp by coordinating candidacies for the legislative Yuan. It makes no sense to have one TSU and one DPP candidate in the same constituency. The next DPP president should have a majority in the LY.

I won't say a word about Italy. Don't get me started!

Michael Turton said...

FOARP, the link in which you say the TT said MA might sign a secret agreement to capitulate only discusses the "secret" WHO memorandum. There's nothing like ""might even secretly sign a capitulation agreement with Beijing". Do you have the right link? This is the one it links to:

Michael Turton said...

There is also the risk that some hothead, acting on these accusations, may attempt to take things into their own hands.

Yes, it would really suck if Green supporters starting mimicking the violence of the pan-Blue side, taking potshots at sitting presidents and engaging in gang violence during elections, and rioting when they lose the election.

Michael Turton said...

Here is the right link, FOARP:

Michael Turton said...

Taiwan did not experience deflation last year. Even the government had 2010 inflation pegged at 0.9%....

...with prices in non-food consumer goods rising 5% even by DGBAS standards.

The rises in prices were experienced here in the real world were of course much higher.


Gilman Grundy said...

@Mike - The indexmundi stats seem out of whack - maybe they added a minus where it should have been a plus? It should be said though, that the IMF statistics also show -0.9% deflation for the 2009-2010 period see here:

So if there's a problem with the stats, it may have started there.

However, even if the IMF figures are wrong, given that the economy also grew by 8% last year, you would expect some degree of inflation as well, and 0.9%-1.3%, or even 5% is not high by world standards, or compared to 2007-8 (4.2%). I believe the point stands, there's no evidence of a vast rise in prices.

I've fixed the link as well - too many windows open at once.

As to whether the 3-19 shooting was pan-Blue inspired, I think that's going to take a bit of proving. Whilst I certainly agree that the KMT and their allies have their own history of local gangsterism and violence, this is hardly something that the DPP should seek to imitate.

Finally, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter - do you think that Cheng's piece is justified?

Bonko's said...

That piece is of course exaggerated and not justified, but that's politics. Look at what people say in America... no difference. Politics is same everywhere. 2012 will be the most important year in Taiwan's history. It will show in which direction the nation wants to sail. That's why I think both sides are already starting to heat up the debate. I would not get upset over this.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Bonko - Coming from the UK I am used to robust debate, but this piece is a bizarre distortion. It is the equivalent of the New York times running a piece on how the US economy is already collapsing under the deficit, suggesting that Obama may be a Muslim and the Democrats are planning to impose socialism on the country, and that as such the US needs to have a Jasmine revolution in 2012.

justrecently said...

Some of your questions appear to be hard to answer, FOARP... ;-)