Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why China and Taiwan are really different (My latest for Ketagalan Media)

(photo credit: asianews.it)


The topic of ethnicity and nationality can be a sensitive topic.  Today I discussed how the Chinese Communist Party perceives them  in both their current social policies within China, as well as how it applies said issues towards Taiwan.  (Special thanks to Ketagalan Media's co-founder Chieh-Ting Yeh for adding some great edits and insight into the article as well).

Full article access can be found here, at Ketagalan Media's excellent site. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Golf and Lightning-The Odd Realm of Sports in North Korea

(Photo from Wiki Stock)


(A brief sample of my article from today's Diplomat): 


Among the adjectives that can be used to describe The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), “dull” is not one that can be easily applied. Many stories that come from the DPRK’s state media are cloaked in mythical overtones (take for instance 
this official DPRK account of the events surrounding the death of former leader Kim Jong-il), while others seek legitimacy in the form of “official studies” done by its government. In 2011, for example, the DPRK released the results of a study that revealed its citizens were residing in the second happiest nation on earth, with China taking the top spot (one guess as to which country placed dead last, in 203rd slot).


(The complete article can be accessed here at The Diplomat. 


Bonus Link!------ Did you know that North Korea recently claimed to have developed a new sports drink? From mushrooms? Somehow I doubt Gatorade is worried about its market share. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the Vault.....

(Photo from Politico)


(I came across this piece that I forgot to publish a few months back, so here you are...) 


 Professor J.M. Norton of China's Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), penned an article for The Diplomat in which he gave his theories as to the sources of US-China strategic mistrust   Within the piece Norton lays out not only what he perceives to be Beijing's perspective on the distrust within the relationship (as well appearing to espouse his own views on the issue as well).  While Norton makes the argument that the dynamics of  American relationships with both Taiwan and Japan are the primary causes of distrust, he does so while misinterpreting American positions on a number of issues, as well as  ignoring actions taken by Beijing that  play a large role in forging distrust between the two nations. 

     Norton states that while "The 1972, 1979 and 1982 joint communiques serve as the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations", they also "paradoxically undermine bilateral ties in two vital areas:  Taiwan and Japan."   Norton, like the PRC, appear to grant documents such as joint communiques and declarations a much higher status than is warranted. As far back as 1982 Assistant Secretary of State John H. Holdridge in his testimony
 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that:

"We should keep in mind that what we have here is not a treaty or agreement but a statement of future U.S. policy.  We fully intend to implement this policy, in accordance with our understanding of it." 

     The State Department has also clearly stated that "...non-binding documents exist in many forms, including declarations of intent, joint communique and joint statements (including final acts of conferences), and informal arrangements."  This is important to note because Norton also states that "At the conclusion of the war, the U.S. along with other powers in the Cairo, Potsdam and Yalta agreements returned Taiwan to China".  I would counter this by making two points.  First, these declarations did not state a transfer of sovereignty of Taiwan--they merely called for Japan to cease its sovereignty over the island that it held since the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895--and did not specify what the status of Taiwan was to become.  Secondly, these declarations only signaled intent, and were not treaties of legally binding character.

     Norton later goes into the 1982 joint communique stating that "The Chinese leadership has been and continues to be confused by some sales and discussions of proposed sales of weapons with offensive capabilities, which reach as far back as 1992 when the U.S. sold F-16 A/B fighters to Taiwan.  While it is true that a number of weapon platforms sold by the US to Taiwan could be used for offensive purposes, it is often in the eyes of the beholder of what constitutes an "offensive" weapon, as well as taking common sense into account of what a military would realistically use a weapon for.  The leadership is well aware of why Taiwan purchases such hardware, and know that they need not fear the day where ROCAF F-16's are flying off the coast of Fujian Province attempting to establish air superiority in a prelude to a Taiwanese military offensive.  While Norton emphasizes Beijing's stance that Washington has not fully adhered to the principles of the joint communiques, he only in passing mentions Beijing's continued build up of its missile arsenal along its coast---nearly all of which are directed at Taiwan--and attempts to portray the PRC as an innocent peacemaker who wishes merely to have a dance with the United States, only to see itself alone on the dance floor without any rational reason why. 

     Norton then moves on to the next bone of contention---the U.S.-Japan relationship, where he looks to frame Beijing's perception of the United States enabling Japan's ambition of reawakening it's dreams of a Pacific Empire:

"Right now the Chinese leadership sees the U.S. as the main driver of Japan's resurgence and as lacking the political will to restrain an increasingly assertive Japan.  Further, the current Japanese leadership's growing assertiveness takes place in the context of growing nationalism with an imperial twist." 

     Norton states that these "American motives" violate the spirit of the previous communiques, while not specifying what exactly constitutes Japanese assertiveness.  Japan, for its part, has not made any new territorial claims in recent years that could be construed as "growing assertiveness", only it has made clear to other potential claimants that its long claimed territories of the Senkaku islands, as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone that falls within in it, are under the jurisdiction of Japan, an area in which the United States recently clearly clarified
.  Norton would do well to look towards Chinese actions in the East Asian region to find the source of many areas of contention in the region. One area that concerns China,  ironically, is Japan's renewed commitment towards modernizing its military capabilities, is due primarily  to Chinese actions and aggressive behavior--not from American prodding.

 Chinese military action in the Scarborough Shoal
The Second Thomas Shoal , increased rhetoric towards Vietnam regarding territorial disputes, and of course the ongoing Senkaku island disputes have alarmed not only Japan, but other nations in the region as well who are now looking  to modernizing their respective military capabilities  Finally, Norton says that the Chinese leadership believes that "American leadership has ambitious regional designs that include a major role for Japan.  And for obvious reasons this undercuts commitments made in the 1972 and 1978 communiques."   Once again China (and Norton?) make the mistake of placing American joint communiques with China on the same level as an American security treaty with Japan, which they are not.  Yet China is correct in assuming that the United States has ambitious regional designs in regards to Eastern Asia---as the United States has played the role of primary peacekeeper in the region since the end of the Second World War, and under such an arrangement has created an atmosphere of stability in the region in which many countries have seen their economies flourish.  The United States maintains core interests in the areas of trade and security in the region, and it would be illogical to not include a long time security partner in Japan from such interests--China fails to see that their policies are the root cause of many issues in the region--not American relationships with Taiwan and Japan, and J.M. Norton does Beijing no favors in glossing over what could be deemed fairly obvious.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Thunder Dragon Caught Between Two Tigers


At first glance, the Kingdom of Bhutan would not seem to be a country that would factor heavily in the calculus of regional powers. With a land mass smaller than that of the Dominican Republic and with fewer people than Fiji, this landlocked Himalayan country has nonetheless become increasingly important strategically to both New Delhi and Beijing. The reason for this interest is not untapped mineral riches or a large consumer class, but Bhutan’s geographical location. As the Kingdom has only in recent years begun to open itself up to the outside world (only legalizing television and the internet in 1999 ), it finds itself caught up in a discreet but high stakes diplomatic battle being waged between India and China.

My article in its entirety, published today on The Diplomat, continues here

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Mandatory Disclaimer-- Why do so many Western media articles about Taiwan have to sound the same?

(photo: wiki commons)


Disclaimer: I am a news junkie when it comes to Taiwan.  I enjoy its political scene (and unique international status), the David vs. Goliath narrative involving China, the security-military dynamic, and of course  the eclectic makeup  of Taiwanese culture that makes Taiwan, well, Taiwan.  I rarely skip an article posted on thinking-taiwanthe diplomat , Taiwan in Perspective , and of course we can't forget my  good friend Michael Turton .  Much of the reading on these sites, however, could be a bit confusing (or even intimidating based on the day) for someone who doesn't have at least a basic understanding of Taiwanese history and/or current events that have transpired throughout Taiwanese society in recent years (or even months).  Normally  however, I make it a point to simply bypass Taiwan-related news stories from  major Western media outlets.


 When it comes to reading Taiwan related pieces or stories in major Western media outlets, I often bypass them (when there are even any to read) for two reasons.  The first is time constraints--there only so many hours in a day, and thanks to the internet there are seemingly infinite quality options to choose from that often go into much deeper into a story than you will find from the said outlets. And the second reason should be more troubling to Taiwan supporters, which is the 'cookie cutter' mentality that seems to be increasingly making its way into mainstream media Taiwan related articles. Call it quite simply-lazy journalism.  To prove my point try a quick experiment: Google "Taiwan" and pull an article from any major media publication over the past few years that involves Taiwan and its international status, Taiwan and China relations, or a similar topic of your choice. I can safely assume that the following phrase will show up in your chosen article in some form or another:

"China considers Taiwan a renegade province and considers it to be a part of its territory, and vows to reclaim the island by force if necessary." 

While any regular observer of Taiwan will all likelihood glance right over this statement (after you've read it 724 times you hardly realize its there), the troubling part is that for many people who are not regular observers of Taiwan--this sentence could essentially create a false narrative in their way of thinking about Taiwan--and what it is or is not.  And seemingly every  major news story about Taiwan that is covered by Western media has to throw this line in their reporting. Every. Single. Time.   So for the casual reader who was savvy enough to sift through all of the articles covering Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in March (and into April) to discover that in Taiwan  a student led protest movement had swelled to the point of occupying its countries'  legislative chamber to protest a shadowy trade deal during the same time, they likely would have read some basics of the event, along with the obligatory 'China considers Taiwan.....' disclaimer.  Well that's just peachy that the journalist felt the need to disclose the official position of the Chinese government, but isn't the article supposed to be about Taiwan?

The Chinese position is by no means unimportant; it does affect Taiwan in a variety of ways. But isn't there another side to the story that should be told? After all, wouldn't a reader who is new to the Taiwan dynamic  be left wondering, "Well, why is Taiwan not a part of China now? Why does China have to take it by force? Did Taiwan leave China?"---All perfectly fair questions.  So instead of potentially creating a false perception of Taiwan being a "renegade province" (renegade (adj.)-having treacherously changed allegiance); which could in itself foster negative connotations of Taiwan "breaking away" from its country for reasons unknown, other options are available. Maybe something like this:

"Although China considers Taiwan part of its territory, since its creation in 1949 The People's Republic of China has never governed Taiwan, nor had any jurisdiction over its citizens."

Different eh? Perhaps even such a phrase could leave a reader new to Taiwan with a different initial impression about what China says and what reality actually is.















Wednesday, July 16, 2014

U.S. Policy and International Law: Taiwan's Friend










Fellow Ohio native (and suffering Browns fan) Michael Turton and myself teamed up to pen an article  in  the Diplomat to refute Julian Ku's claim that an American-Japanese defense of Taiwan in the case of a Chinese military attack would be against international law.  Mr. Turton and myself decided to use controversial tactics--reason, facts, precedent, and yes international law to make our case. 

Julian Ku’s two recent pieces in The Diplomat contending that a PRC invasion of Taiwan would be legal and that the U.S. and Japan both recognize that Taiwan is part of China betray a shocking lack of understanding of U.S. policy on Taiwan and its international status. Ku asserts:
“I get that this is a complicated issue, but I don’t think I am ‘misreading’ historical documents when I write that 1) the U.S. recognizes the PRC as the government of China and that the U.S. accepts that Taiwan is part of China, and 2) Japan recognizes the PRC as the government of China (see the 1972 Joint Communique), and Japan accepts that Taiwan is a part of China. Sure, neither country recognizes that Taiwan is a part of the PRC, but both the U.S. and Japan have made clear that China is a single legal entity that includes Taiwan, and that the PRC is the sole government in charge of this entity.”
Actually, this is not a complex issue; it is a simple issue: the U.S. does not recognize that Taiwan is part of China. Any version of China. Rather, the U.S. position is that the status of Taiwan has yet to be determined. It has been that way for more than six decades. 
 The initial post that began  the debate is available here, and follow-ups in the debate can be found herehere and here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Greatest Arms Sale Never Sold- How Taiwan could enhance its security by moving closer to its long time friend

(Photo-china-screen-news.com)


Imagine for a moment a scenario in which Taiwan was presented a security alliance that was so politically sensitive that it was never to be mentioned by the governments of either country. Any questions regarding such an agreement would be neither confirmed nor denied by the states involved. In the event Taiwan was the victim of an unprovoked attack, it would conditionally receive the support of a modernized and capable navy—frigates and destroyers kitted with AEGIS combat systems, helicopters and aircraft that would provide the latest in anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and diesel submarines widely recognized as being among the best in service. Taiwan could also be the recipient of support from this ally’s air force—highly trained pilots flying fourth and fifth generation aircraft that would provide support under such dire conditions. All that is asked of Taiwan in return is that it continues its trajectory of maintaining a long-standing friendship with this country.
This agreement however, comes with a major caveat: This ally gives no actual guarantee that it would commit to Taiwan’s defense, and would only reveal its intentions shortly before or immediately following the commencement of hostilities. The United States, you say? That’s so Cold War. Taiwan’s potential ‘silent partner’ lies much closer to its shores—the state of Japan.  
The full article can be accessed here at Ketagalan Media.