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Sep 28, 2009

More peace agreement thoughts

Now I've thought a lot about the possibility of a China-Taiwan peace agreement and what it would mean for Taiwan's future.

My early ramblings focused on the challenges of getting anything of substance in the agreement, given the political realities between the two sides. However, The continued cooperation between the KMT and CCP on a number of ideological points reduces the chances a peace agreement would be devoid of substantial changes in the relationship.

Still, any peace agreement will be able to tackle only peripheral political issues -- military CBM, maybe exchange of press and private individuals, etc. Nothing in the peace agreement would be able to tackle the core sovereignty issue at this time, because this is still too difficult for Taiwan or China to handle in a mutually agreeable way.

Which led me to my first major shift in speculation, which was that any peace agreement would explicitly be an "interim agreement" with a time table and an understood final result of unification. Like a treaty with a doomsday clock attached.

As this "interim agreement" becomes central to international understanding, Japan and the US will lose interest in Taiwan's defense; the KMT will scale up promotion the Zhonghua Minzu identity instead of a Taiwan-centric identity, and the CCP will also bombard Taiwan with related propaganda; promotion of Taiwanese Independence or statements that Taiwan is already independent will become increasingly taboo again, if not outright illegal; and at the end of the time table laid out in the "interim agreement," Taiwan will have little choice but to be swallowed up.

Now, I've shifted opinion again. I've just finished reading a paper: Bridge over Troubled Water? Envisioning a China-Taiwan Peace Agreement by Phillip C. Saunders and Scott L. Kastner. The paper is very China-centric in its thinking, but it had at least one piece of info that was news to me:

In private conversations with Western academics, however, Chinese officials have indicated their opposition to an interim agreement with a specified duration. This opposition may be partially rooted in concerns that as an agreement neared its end, it might turn into a de facto timetable for unification that could place future Chinese leaders in a difficult position. PRC officials may also be reluctant to sign an agreement that, in essence, implies that unification is off the table for several decades.
I think this seems quite reasonable. China would not want to have its hand forced and does not want to give up on the unification issue either.

So now, I think the most likely result is a peace agreement that touches on those peripheral CBM/press/exchanges issues we've outlined above and officially ends the state of hostility between Taiwan and China; a KMT/CCP united front of propaganda about Taiwan's Chinese heritage; but, very importantly, no time table for unification or an end to the agreement.

That means the CCP will need to push for separate political negotiations for unification after the treaty comes into place, but that will be a completely separate set of issues and hard to get even the KMT moving on. It could also buy Taiwan the leverage and time it needs to wait out the CCP unification campaign and to more fully consolidate a Taiwanese identity (read: wait for the young people to grow up).

I remain skeptical of KMT-CCP intentions for the peace accord and post-accord development in relations. At the same time, I must reiterate that a peace treaty that reduces Chinese threats while indefinitely postponing any chances of unification/annexation talks might not be the worst possible result. In fact, depending on the details, it might be a pretty sweet deal.

Sugar-coated poison? Probably. But I increasingly suspect the pill would not be fatal. This weekend shows Taiwan is full of surprises.

Sep 25, 2009

I had missed this

Lien Chan, honorary chairman of the KMT, says that now is the time for Taiwan and China to begin considering political negotiations. While it's too early on the Taiwan side to sign a treaty due to domestic politics, both sides should begin considering the political talks, which "must be faced sooner or later."

Video of Lien's speech (in English) here.

He calls specifically for confidence building measures and a peace treaty. One goal was particularly striking to me:


...first, the foundation of a peace agreement is the 92 consensus, or the "one China" principle as outlined in the ROC constitution. The two sides should sign a interim agreement. And second, the peace agreement should clearly state that the state of hostility between the two sides of the strait is over.
I'm pulled in by the words interim agreement that "preserves the status quo," especially if that somehow involves an indirect admission that the ROC exists. I will withhold my judgment on the details until we see a document emerge. Most important of all is that any such agreement needs to go in front of people by referendum.

To be perfectly honest, there are scenarios I can foresee where such an agreement may be the best bet for Taiwan and most effective way to forestall any more moves toward political unification, even given the CCP and KMT understanding of the agreement as being a stepping stone to unification.

Sep 24, 2009

Why does this feel like a sales pitch?

If it looks like a duck...

Deputy Minister Mainland Affairs Council The Executive Yuan Chien-min Chao (趙建民) spoke today in his role as a Professor of political science at a conference titled, The establishment of Chinese Communist rule and sixty years of separate administration across the Taiwan strait.

(Just so you know, he'll also be at this upcoming conference [pdf] on Grassroots Democracy and Local Governance in China in early November if you want to see him).

The professor argued that the old label of party-state system (黨國體制) is an inaccurate description of China, and was not even accurate under Mao, when it was more of a one-man authoritarian dictatorship. Chao also said while some scholars think "post-party-state system" (
後黨國體制) is a good label, the label ignores the role of the social and political changes in China. Today, Chao argues, now that the market economy is the driving factor in political decision making, China is seeing many of the kind of incidents like Taiwan's "Formosa Incident" and an increase in social movements. Why then can't we label China as a country in the early stages of democratic development?

I'm going to put aside for the moment that Chao seems to be selling me something. I'll just address his arguments. I agree that China shows some of the same symptoms of a society crying out for greater democracy, but there are no signs that CCP leadership intends to ever allow a multi-party system or a truly democratic society, and the weak civil society in China means there are no signs that a collapsed CCP would be replaced with anything but the PLA;. In contrast, while the KMT leadership was reluctant to allow democratic changes, it was always committed to that transition in principle.

You may want to know how I reach this conclusion. First, as has been well-documented within The First Chinese Democracy: Political Life in the Republic of China on Taiwan (Chao and Myers), by the time of the Formosa Incident, the KMT was regularly losing elections at multiple levels to independents. To the KMT's credit, it had for years allowed somewhat free local elections -- plenty of vote buying on all sides, but ballot box stuffing was not as serious a problem, and local rivals were more likely to be co-opted than threatened -- and so although an organized opposition party was still completely out of the question for the KMT leadership, and although there was constant cracking down on political dissidents, the momentum for reform had been building for sometime (it took Lee Teng-hui's determination to drag the rest of the KMT elite into ending one party rule).

Similarly, as Chao and Myers document, while the KMT leadership was not willing to tolerate an opposition party at that time, it remained rhetorically committed to an eventual Western-style, multi-party democracy. Though the KMT claimed that Taiwan was not ready for such a transition yet, eventually, it would be. And as David blogged, the Wild Lily protest movement was able to push the country significantly in that directly in 1990.

That's a bit of an overview on Taiwan; what about China? While China has made some breakthroughs at creating real competition at the village chief level (He 2003 [PDF]), though these officials have little control beyond the village and the party remains strictly authoritarian at the national level. Unlike the Wild Lily movement, the Tiananmen Square protests ended in tragedy.

Further, the CCP has no rhetorical commitments to any multi-party system; instead, the party promotes "Intra-party democracy," basically a 'harmonious' consultative process that hopes to bring in innovative ideas and heed local demands, but without the risk of a transition of power. Chinese scholars remain committed to the one-party state. And the party continues to promote its one-party democracy on its own news sites.

If there is to be real hope that China will experience a democratic transition, a few pre-conditions must be met: a stronger civil society to help form the skeleton outline of a capable opposition, a relaxation on crushing censorship rules, perhaps greater autonomy in the autonomous zones (to relax tensions there and fears that democracy will lead to the break-up of the country), and most importantly of all, willingness at the CCP leadership center to accept the prospect of losing power.

So far, the CCP shows no signs of relaxing its control over China, nor in fact of wanting anything but greater power -- over Taiwan, the Spratly Islands, Aranchul Pradesh, the Senkaku Islands... and who knows what would be next.

Deputy Minister Chao, I wish you were right. I hope I'm delusional and you're right. But I think we both know better. China shows no signs of heading toward a Taiwan-inspired path to a democratic transition.

Sep 21, 2009

I guess this is the middle of the end, then?

The Rebiya Kadeer documentary is being spun as "on" for the KaohsiungFilm Festival, despite pressure from China. But that is not really the truth of the situation, as much as the Liberty Times will try to spin it otherwise.

The showing has been scheduled for a Tues. or Wed. way before the official festival starts, and you can't watch that film as part of the package ticket either. In otherwords, Kaohsiung will show it, but not at the film festival. Wuss out. Bam.

So, if the Kaohsiung city government will be willing to do this just to keep Chinese tourists coming in, I conclude we are now fully and irreversibly in China's orbit. Get ready for soft unification, friends!

Sep 16, 2009

Final round of Holo Taiwanese characters


Besides knowing the roman orthography for Holo Taiwanese (explained in this handbook:臺灣閩南語羅馬字拼音方案使用手冊), knowing how to read Taiwanese in characters is key for Taiwanese language study in Taiwan. And at long last, the third batch of standardized Holo Taiwanese characters has been announced by the Ministry of Education's National Languages Committee. You can find it here: 臺灣閩南語推薦用字(第3批)

This document contains the newest 300 characters from the 3rd round of standardization, but also remember the 100 characters adopted May 1, 2008 and 300 characters adopted in May 2007.

Your best bet is to just download one of the cheat sheets provided by the government here.

You can also see a list of some of the suggested revisions and how they would affect Holo Taiwanese songs frequently heard at karaoke:

臺灣閩南語卡拉ok正字字表 (pdf)

For the time being, this is the final batch and these three lists of 700 characters total more or less finish the process of standardizing those previously "hard to pin down" Holo Taiwanese characters. Amendments will be made as required in the future.

I got advance word on August 27 of this impending announcement, mostly due to my relentless stalking of the National Languages Committee (國語會).


In addition, the MOE's Taiwanese Southern Min Dictionary of Frequently Used Phrases (臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典) which fully integrates the now standardized orthography, is online and functional. The print version will be published in October.

There is also a similar dictionary for Hakka (臺灣客家語常用詞辭典), an initial list of standardized characters (臺灣客家語書寫推薦用字 (第1批)) and a standardization of romanization as well (臺灣客家語拼音方案).

The online version allows you to search in characters or romanization, with tone marks/numbers or without tones, using either the official standard Taiwanese Roman Orthography (台語羅馬字,簡稱台羅拼音) or its predecessor and main inspiration, Church Romanization (教會羅馬字,亦稱白話字).

The dictionary also includes notes on literary or colloquial readings and example sentences. One thing to note: one thing missing from the dictionary are some very common nouns and phrases; the scope of this dictionary is not yet that ambitious. You won't find Tâi-uân (台灣), kok-ka (國家), Tiong-kok (中國) or kok-tiong (國中) in this dictionary, though you will find the characters listed separately or in phrases such as Kok-li̍p Tâi-uân Gē-su̍t Kàu-io̍k-kuán (國立台灣藝術教育館).

The standardized romanization system used in that dictionary, Taiwanese Roman Orthography , is outlined in the orthography handbook mentioned above (臺灣閩南語羅馬字拼音方案使用手冊). The handbook should allow any competent Southern Min speaker to master the basics of the romanization and tone system within a couple of hours.

The dictionary draws on and is also complemented by two earlier Southern Min character databases, both of which have been updated to reflect orthography standardization and are available in print for about NT$300.

閩南語字彙(一)修訂版 & 閩南語字彙(二)修訂版

Input method

The MOE also offers a multi-platform input method that gives only romanization output, built on Open Vanilla, downloadable here (these links are to version 1.2, which may be be updated soon to reflect any additions. You can find the download at the dictionary main page, linked to above):


For character output using romanization input, which is what most people will want, there are a number of sources; I recommend FHL Taigi IME (信望愛台語文輸入法).

Remaining problems

Unfortunately, there is little public interest in using the new standardized Holo Taiwanese orthography, either in romanization or character form. So don't expect to see written Holo Taiwanese popping up on your TV subtitles, Karaoke lyrics, cereal box, street signs or story books any time soon.

In fact, I expect the vast majority of Taiwanese people, even those younger ones that are educated with the standardized characters and romanization, to remain unable to effectively read or write their mother tongue. But this is certainly a huge step forward.

Sep 15, 2009

HS! Standardizing Hakka characters

The big upcoming news for me is the impending release of the final set of standardized characters for written Holo Taiwanese. But today when checking up, I found some equally exciting news -- the first set of standardized Hakka characters for written Hakka!


The 305 characters listed include pronunciations in all major Taiwanese Hakka dialects. If you are interested in the romanization system chosen for Hakka, see this link: 臺灣客家語拼音方案.

One thing I notice right away is that for certain characters (毋, 啉) we see continuity between the choices for Hakka and Holo. I find that encouraging in that there was some systematic thought involved.

P.S. Calling to get some more info, but Hakka group is having their meeting. They'll call me back later. Mainly, I want to ask what percentage of total characters that will be standardized these 305 represent; what the time line is for further standardization; whether it will affect textbooks on a mandatory basis; whether they'll push music companies to publish Karaoke lyrics in the new characters; etc.

I've also alerted Liberty Times and Apple Daily to the news.

I wonder what's on their mind...

As the 60th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese Communist Party and the establishing of the P.R.C. edges ever-nearer, I am rather struck to see the CCP putting it's best foot forward via Xinhua and publishing an article about how the increasing use of "one party democracy." The article says the next party congress is expected to undertake reforms that will facilitate the establishment of a better frame work for operating in a one party democratic system and outlines what steps have been taken in that direction already.

This other article talks about elections within the party for provincial level party jobs, and their high satisfaction and participation rates.

You wouldn't think they would try to remind people democracy at this particular moment. My uneducated guess is this indicates the Party's increasing determination to appropriate the term democracy in order to "take" the term from potential reformists as the anniversary approaches, and probably for long term use. Controlling the language of the debate is important.

But further, it made me wonder: has Ma every said that by his definition, Chinese democracy would need to be a multi-party democracy? I don't think anyone's ever even thought to ask him that, because it normally goes without saying. But what if a future KMT administration's condition for unification talks, "democracy," could be met within a one party framework? I don't see that flying with the Taiwanese public, but you might expect some degree of push for the mainstreaming of that opinion within the next few years.

Sep 14, 2009

Wu's trip to Hong Kong

New premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) may have have bitten off a bit more than he can chew today, as today's lead in the Taipei Times points out.

Wu made a public trip to Hong Kong recently, apparently to research how to combat mudslides. So the trip wasn't the news.

The part that leaked Sunday night wasn't so much of the trip, but of the only by the Hong Kong pol and likely future Special Administrative Region head, Leung Chun-ying (梁振英). That ignited speculation that Wu was going there for an interview or discussion with Beijing before his taking up the post. Some read this as an atempt by Ma to "get permission" for Wu's appointment.
Wu’s trip to Hong Kong on Sept. 5 was first reported on Wednesday, with Wu saying he had gone to learn from Hong Kong’s experience dealing with mudslides.

A report in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), cited Wu’s secretary as saying that Wu had visited Hong Kong with his wife, newly wedded son and daughter-in-law for a “family gathering.”

His secretary said Wu had also taken the opportunity to learn about measures Hong Kong had taken to combat mudslides.

Paul Lin (林保華), a commentator on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) history, told the Taipei Times yesterday that Leung is an “underground member” of the CCP and well-trusted by Beijing.
So you can see the main problem here: the Executive Yuan clearly kept the most important factor of Wu's trip off the iternerary, put up a rather shady excuse (Wu visited the Civil Engineering and Development Department on a Saturday in Hong Kong to get mudslide information? Really?). Then Wu got busted, still hasn't released a complete itenerary, and would now like to blow off the trip as no big deal.

Leung might not be a CCP heavyweight, but his very close relationship with the party is well described further in the article. This was not an innocent mudslide adventure.

I smell a rat. And Wu may be in for more scrutiny than he can stand up to.

Chiang Ching-kuo on the NT$10 coin?

That's what the now-premier, then-legislator Wu Dun-yi (吳敦義) proposed with several other legislators last April. The idea is to memorialize Ching-kuo's 100th birthday. The Executive Yuan would decide if it would be a memorial coin, sold apart from circulating currency, or a design that would be in circulation but probably only minted for one year. Still, a permanent redesign is apparently being considered if you believe the well-hyped media reports.

Now clearly, this smacks of KMT propaganda efforts to remind people of how great that party worked back in the "good old days" of KMT reign under Chiang Ching-kuo, which still had lingering white terror and regular political persecution -- but never mind that, there was also Taiwan's massive economic expansion and huge improvements in quality of life. So....

The DPP finds itself in a tight spot criticizing such a proposal. Key to remember is that Chiang Ching-kuo is widely popular across the political spectrum. He had a very positive media image when he was alive. Further, having special coins in circulation is pretty normal (though never before with a new political figure). So while the proposal is itself in a way groundbreaking (or a bit too reminiscent of days gone by, depending on your view), it is still tough to oppose without looking petty.

The right approach, probably, is to reject idolization of politicians -- period -- and oppose the coin on these grounds with little further elaboration.

However, some DPP legislators have responded otherwise, either saying "If we can do Chiang Ching-kuo, why not Lee Teng-hui?" (I would note that Lee being alive doesn't make him a great candidate for a memorial coin yet. Sort of like wishing the old man to an early grave).

There will also be the temptation for some DPP politicians to endorse just such a change, because they could potentially tie the plan to a call for replacing Chiang Kai-shek permanently from all monies. Moving CKS would, in fact, be perfectly reasonable and appropriate, but it will be bashed relentlessly anyway even if you're tactically endorsing Chiang Ching-kuo's better image. And frankly, you don't want to wade into this debate on the "which politicans we like" level, but talk about everything only in the most abstract ways.

Hence, "reject idolization of politicians." Leave it at that. No more statues, no more figures on coins.

Update: It seems I am on the same page as the DPP after all. Their note about Lee Teng-hui was just used as an illustration of the controversey the idea would raise, and as to why they oppose putting political figures on coins in the first place.

Surprise, surprise.

KMT proposes ‘decriminalizing’ fund

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus yesterday again proposed “decriminalizing” the use of the special allowance fund by government chiefs.

The KMT caucus first suggested an amendment to the Audit Law (審計法) in April 2007 that would decriminalize government chiefs’ personal use of special allowance funds....

Now that Chen has been found guilty in the first trial, we can now discuss [decriminalization] of [how the government chiefs use their] special allowance fund,” [KMT caucus secretary-general ] Lu [Hsueh-chang (呂學樟)] said, referring to the verdict handed out by the Taipei District Court on Friday sentencing Chen and his wife Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) to life in prison in the first trial of Chen’s state affairs fund case.

Lu told reporters that it was necessary for the legislature to pass the legislation given that some 200 government chiefs are still being investigated for how they spent their special affairs funds.
I am speechless, though the term "shameless" (袂見笑) comes to mind.

Sep 12, 2009

What's chaotic about it?

One line from the FT article featured on Michael Turton's latest post:

“One person’s greed has caused chaos throughout the whole country,” Judge Tsai said.
This line I find so interesting because it is nearly identical to one of the best indicatorsof Blue-leaning voter preference in Taiwan.

(Green-voter preferences are normally recognized immediately by campaign clothing or hats, strong preference for underground radio or tirades that begins with "The Kuomintang....")

Blue voters in Taiwan will often ask foreigners, "Do you think Taiwan is really chaotic?" or say to each other, "Taiwan is too chaotic." If one talks about a few law-and-order or political issues for long enough, you might hear the best indicator of being deep-Blue, which is invariably, "Taiwan is too free."

Not sure if this sounds like silly hyperbole, but I have been consistantly surprised at this glimpse into the Pan-blue mind. For one, it's correlation to those preferences is solid. For another, It is entirely opposite of my impression of Taiwan. This is one of the safest countries on the face of the earth. There is virtually no violent crime, not much non-violent crime, a very free and open society, and only the rarest instances of public unrest.

And the judge's view of Taiwan as a chaotic place (the "chaotic" but very well organized contests being caused entirely by Chen, of course,) tells me we can now be relatively sure the judge has a very strong political bias after all.

Sep 11, 2009

Regardless of the Chen verdict...

... one thing is certain. Whatever verdict Chen Shui-bian gets in his politically-tinged trial, he will continue to hang around the DPP's neck like an albatross for the foreseeable future.

A lenient sentence that puts him out of jail in no time, however unlikely, also puts him square in the middle of the DPP again soon in a time of relatively weak leadership. Chen remains popular with the DPP base if extremely unpopular outside of it, and the factional loyalties his return would reignite do not bode well for the party.

A more likely heavy sentence will complete the process of making a martyr out of Chen, permanently grafting the DPP onto his cause, and make him the poster boy for victims of modern KMT nonsense.

Either way, Chen's case and the DPP's symbolic struggle against injustice will remain nearly synonymous within the party and without, and this will only bring the DPP more headaches.

Sep 1, 2009

Dalai Lama

The political bickering over the Dalai Lama's visit is something I find quite distressing. While the Dalai Lama's visits here will always carry a political tinge from the Chinese perspective because of fear of the Tibetan and Taiwanese independence movements joining forces, I just can't believe the KMT's relative willingness to jump on board with the idea that the Dalai's visit will somehow destabilize relations.

As Michael Turton has been documenting this week, all cross-strait relations plans are going full speed ahead; the Chinese Communist Party certainly got some notice and gave some tactic approval to the KMT for the Dalai Lama's visit; so the on screen attacks by the CCP against the DL's visit are for nothing but international media attention.

Given all of that, you can understand why Ma Ying-jeou might be eager to stay away. But I cannot fathom how that would motivate KMT legislators to fall over themselves to use CCP talking points, or act like the Dalai Lama is responsible for the Chinese delegation's boycott of the Taipei Deaf Olympics' opening ceremony this year -- instead of Ma's presence, which was what prompted the boycott during the World Games, and what is doubtlessly still responsible for the boycott now.

Further, the Dalai Lama's appearance in Kaohsiung today was devoid of any comments on politics, democracy, or anything but the dharma and blessing the victims. He said nothing to and did not shake the hands of Tsai Ing-wen and Chen Chu, who were both seated in the front row. None of the other monks in the delegations had anything to do with the politicians present. The press won't be allowed in the room where he's giving another speech this afternoon at his hotel. I think he's really doing his part here to avoid sending any "splittist" signals. And you would think that would be enough to keep the KMT happy.

It's depressing to know this is likely to be the last time the Dalai Lama visits. While Lien Chan, Ma Ying-jeou and James Soong could all meet with the Dalai Lama in 2001, I don't think the KMT will ever welcome him with open arms again. :(