The Democratic Progressive Party faces some challenges

The relatively low poll numbers for Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party leader and President of the Republic of China, would seem to bolster the opposition’s prospects for the November elections—and perhaps in the 2016 presidential contest.  Ma is a lame-duck, and the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by students this year would seem to stymie his efforts to build cross Strait economic ties.  Further, some on the island feel strongly that the promised economic benefits of cross Strait economic relations have not been been realized, or have not been shared equitably among Taiwanese.  The mainland’s increasingly aggressive policies toward Japan and others in the region has not helped Ma, who has emphasized how better relations with Beijing would help stabilize the region.  

Further, the Democratic Progressive Party has some strong leaders with with good reputations for their governance of cities or counties on Taiwan.

However, based on two trips to Taiwan this summer, and what I’ve read, I think the DPP is not, and should not become, over-confident. 

1. Taiwan has a history of “surprises” right before major elections.

2. It is unknown to what extent the mainland will encourage or facilitate the return of Taiwanese to vote in a non-presidential election.

3. The DPP has a difficult relationship with the students and activists who occupied the legislature in early 2014.  It is unclear whether the party will be harness that discontent at the ballot box.  These young people probably won’t vote for the Nationalist Party, but will they turn out for the DPP?

4. Greater cross Strait ties have created some economic incentives for some constituencies to temper their support of the DPP.  This was seen in southern Taiwan during the last presidential contest.  

5. In the past, the Nationalists have been able to portray the DDP as unrealistic about Taiwan’s power and its potential to create international space.  How long will the legacy of Chen Shui-bian haunt the DPP?

6. Some strong Nationalist politicians in central and northern Taiwan might be able to stake out independent positions that distance themselves from Ma in the minds of voters.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taiwan Fellowship

The Taiwan Fellowship is accepting applications through June 30, 2014. Akin to the Fulbright Scholarship, the Taiwan Fellowship was established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to promote scholarship in the social sciences and humanities on topics related to Taiwan, cross-Strait relations, mainland China, the Asian-Pacific, and Sinology. Fellowship recipients will receive direct, round-trip airfare subsidy and a monthly stipend (three months to a year depending on duration of research) to pursue advanced studies at Taiwan’s universities, colleges, or research institutes.

Qualified applicants are professors, associated/assistant professors, post-doctoral researchers, doctoral candidates, or doctoral program students at related departments of overseas universities, or are research fellows at an equivalent level in academic institutions abroad. Alternatively, candidates may be recommended by ROC (Taiwan) overseas missions with a field of study on Taiwan’s foreign relations or cross-Strait relations. Those who are currently conducting research, teaching, or studying in Taiwan are ineligible.

For comprehensive details on the Taiwan Fellowship, including information regarding the application process and an online application form, please visit the National Central Library’s Taiwan Fellowship page at

Should you need further details, please contact Thalia Lin at or (202) 895-1852, or John Davis at or (202) 895-1809.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Assumptions about Cross Strait Relations

On April 9, 2014, President Ma Ying-jeou of the Republic of China spoke to Americans via video-conference to discuss his foreign policy.

The talk seemed to contain some interesting assumptions.

1. Better cross Strait relations will not change the US interest or commitment to Taiwan in the long run.  What happens if you convince Washington that cross Strait relations will be resolved peacefully?

2   That Taiwan must continue to strengthen its economic ties across the Strait, and rely on the US for security.   In my mind, such a division of labor will not work in long-term.

3. The problems with TISA (the cross Strait agreement on the service industry) are related to education rather than the content of the agreement.   This was his effort to address the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by students opposed to greater mainland influence on Taiwan, as well as those who felt the process of reaching agreements across the Strait are undemocratic.  Ma’s approach suggests that economic benefits will consistently trump other concerns.  Sorry to be cynical, but the last century is filled with people and states deciding to put national pride and identity before standard of living.

4. That cross Strait integration is inevitable.   This is much like the argument that globalization is inevitable.   I would argue that economic integration waxes and wanes over time.

5. TISA was some sort of litmus test for others (like the US and a possible investment agreement) to decide whether they can negotiate trade or investment deals with Taiwan.   Beef and pork as a barrier to trade deals with the US was not mentioned.

6. Economic and cultural agreements can be divorced from political influence or interference.   I am not arguing that the PRC is unique, but what large country doesn’t use economic and cultural ties to enhance its political  influence?

Just my two cents.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Taiwan’s Sunflower, or the 3-18 Movement

Over the past years, we’ve seen the color revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East.  In Taiwan, we are witnessing the Sunflower Movement of students and others who want to limit their country’s dependence on China.  It is also called the 3-18 Movement because it started on March 18.

First, students occupied the National Assembly.   They accused the ruling party, the Chinese Nationalist Party, of not allowing sufficient review of a new trade agreement with China focused on services rather than goods.   The Nationalists has promised a detailed review of the agreement, then appeared to reject that promise.   The student movement is thus about ties to the mainland, and democracy on the island itself.

Second, support for their cause grew:

Students fear that the agreement will increase dependency on the mainland, and bring in low-wage labor.  In short, they have the concerns that people all over the world express about globalization.  Add to this the mainland’s claim that Taiwan is part of China.  Many people on Taiwan know that the mainland wants to increase its influence on the island in order to push the island toward unification under the Beijing government’s control.   Students on Taiwan may not articulate it, but they are clearly worried about United Front tactics–a combination of political coalition building and subversion that the Chinese Communists know how to do very well.  Students fear that closer ties to China will mean less democracy on the island–thus creating a key test for the Nationalist Party and President Ma Ying-jeou.

Then, one Nationalist Party leader, the Speaker of the National Assembly, broke with President Ma Ying-jeou, and said he would not support removing the students from the Assembly hall.

Efforts to occupy other government buildings has been met with resistance.

On top of that, the President, Ma, is very unpopular with most voters right now.  He’s a lame duck and cannot run for president again.

To make it even more complicated, the Ma administration said passing the services agreement with the mainland was vital, because this would enable Taiwan to forge trade agreements with other countries.  Two United States Congressmen have already said that Taiwan’s services agreement with the mainland is not a factor in future agreements with Washington.

The mainland is very uncomfortable about all of this, for two reasons.

1. The fear that cross Strait economic integration (which the Beijing government sees as a precursor to political unification) will be slowed.

2. The concern that more people in China will see student protects and want to speak out about the authoritarian government in Beijing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ukraine: What’s at stake? Possible solutions?

My two-cents:,0,1196927.story

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ukraine Crisis, Does It Matter for China?

The current crisis over Crimea, part of the Ukraine taken over the Russia, raised some uncomfortable issues for China.   The PRC has time and again emphasized the importance of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the need to respect the territorial integrity of other counties.   In exchange, China expects others to respect those principles in their dealings with China.  This means that China does not accept even the hint of independence for Tibet, Xinjiang, or Taiwan.   In the latter case, the Chinese Communist Party makes clear that it considers Taiwan to be part of China–the problem is that people on the island and some foreigners do not recognize this reality.

Here is how events in Ukraine and Crimea raise problems for China.

1. Russia invaded the Crimea, then held a vote to build legitimacy for making that region part of the Federation.    China’s experience of imperialism and invasion makes its leaders sensitive to these sort of territorial changes.

2. China does not want to legitimize the idea of elections for succession.

3. Russia is a quasi-ally of China.  Both rail against US power.   This complicates Beijing’s efforts to criticize Moscow.

For the people of Taiwan, any sign that the international community will accept the use of force to change national borders is unsettling, as it may embolden China to increase its pressure for cross Strait unification.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Xinjiang and minorities in China

Perhaps some problems cannot be solved.

The recent massacre at the Kunming train station is part of an escalating series of attacks by Uyghurs (a Turkic people who are usually Moslem) and government reprisals in China.   It is fair to describe the recent attack as terrorism.

Here is a good overview of recent violence:

The Han-Chinese dominated People’s Republic of China cannot loosen its grip on the areas of significant Uyghur population (in part of northwest China known as Xinjiang) for several reasons.

1. The Communist Party has spent decades trying to assimilate and to dominate Uighurs. Just as Beijing is not going allow significant democratic reform in eastern China, the regime is not going to make sudden or major changes to its policies toward minority peoples.

2. Western China has vital natural resources needed for China’s economic development. In particular, China is eager to access resources that do not need to travel by sea.

3. Western China is a sensitive border area.   Due to a century of unequal treaties and imperialist pressure, China is extremely sensitive about protecting its borders and in preventing an perceived threats to sovereignty.

4. Any loosening of policies towards Uighurs would raise expectations of changes for Tibetans or others.

Many Uighurs will never embrace citizenship in the PRC, for several reasons:

1. The conflict is multifaceted: ethnic, linguistic, economic and religious.  China’s treatment of Moslems (and other religious groups) has been brutal, particularly during the Mao years (1949-1976).

2. The hatred between Han and Uighurs has been hundreds of years in the making, and will not disappear.

3. Some of the most militant Uighurs are inspired by and supported by radical Islamic movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

4. Uighurs are poorer than Han Chinese, a gap that has probably grown over recent decades as coastal China enjoyed the fruits of the reform and opening policies started by Deng Xiaoping.

In short, neither side will win. China will not gain the support of many Uighurs, and the Uighurs have no hope of obtaining greater autonomy, much less of establishing an independent regime. In this context, the best one can hope for is that Uighurs seek non-violent ways to gain support (inside and outside of China) for better treatment and the Beijing government can more finely tune its efforts so that individual murderers can be captured without large scale arrests or harassment of Uighurs.  In short, there is no good short-term solution.

Mosque in Xinjinag.   Note the cameras monitoring activity.

Picture 042

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment