Saturday, 28 March 2015

After Death of Lee Kuan Yew, Some Wonder About Advantages of Autocracy

In a recent editorial following the death of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew on March 23, columnist Michael Chugani wrote that Hong Kong needs a dose of autocracy "à la Lee Kuan Yew".

"[N]o honest person can deny [Lee Kuan Yew] turned a sleepy town into an Asian economic powerhouse - not through democracy but virtual autocracy," wrote Chugani in the 'South China Morning Post'. "We in Hong Kong lament the lack of democracy but envy Singapore's housing, clean air, efficient government and societal contentment. We compete and judge ourselves not with Asian democracies like the Philippines and Taiwan but with authoritarian Singapore."

According to Chugani, Singapore "lacks so-called true democracy but most Singaporeans are happy. We demand true democracy but yearn for the things Singapore achieved through autocracy. Where is the logic in that? ... Maybe what Hong Kong needs is a dose of dictatorship Lee Kuan Yew-style."

Is it therefore true that autocracy helps economic development, as some people suggest?

Singapore's Success

It is indeed undeniable that Singapore's economic miracle is an astounding success story.

In 1966, one year after independence, Singapore had a GDP per capita of US$ 3,152 (constant 2005 US$), and a life expectancy of 67 years. The same year the United States had a GDP per capita of US$ 19,791 and a life expectancy of 70 years; Sweden US$ 18,780 and 74 years;  Hong Kong US$ 4,763 and 70 years; data for Germany are available only from 1970, when GDP per capita was US$ 17,463 and life expectancy was 71 years (World Bank).

Now let us look at the figures for the year 2012: the United States had a GDP per capita of US$ 45,038 and a life expectancy of 79 years; Sweden US$ 45,260 and 82 years; Germany US$ 39,273 and 81 years; Hong Kong US$ 32,729 and 83 years; Singapore US$36,110 and 82 years.

If measured by GNI per capita based on purchasing power parity, Singapore ranks first: United States US$ 52,220, Germany US$ 44,310, Hong Kong US$ 51,920, Sweden US$ 44,980, Singapore US$ 74,150. Lee Kuan Yew is widely credited for Singapore's rise "from third world to first", as he himself put it.

It is also undeniable that Lee Kuan Yew was suspicious of too much democracy and sought to establish an institutional framework that combined partial democracy, elitism, draconian laws, restrictions on personal freedoms and paternalism. 

Singapore - An 'Illiberal Democracy'

Singapore has the fundamentals of a democracy: a parliamentary system, an elected president, elections and universal suffrage. Lee Kuan Yew and his party, the PAP (People's Action Party), believed that popular participation was necessary in order to legitimate the state. Lee Kuan Yew's ideal was a "government by free choice of the people, by secret ballot, at periodic intervals". It would therefore be entirely misleading to define Singapore as a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime (see Diane K. Mauzy / R. S. Milne: Singapore Politics Under the People's Action Party, 2002, pp.128-129).

Friday, 20 March 2015

"Are You Crazy?" Says Ma Ying-jeou to Scholar Who Asked If Taiwan Will Renounce South China Sea Claims

At a meeting of the Fullbright Taiwan Foundation for Scholarly Exchange Ma Ying-jeou, the incumbent president of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), was asked by a scholar whether the ROC will renounce its claims to the South China Sea. Earlier in March the former vice-secretary of the National Security Council of the ROC, Zhang Xucheng (張旭成), and the former deputy minister of National Defence, Ke Chengheng (柯承亨), had said in an interview that the ROC might renounce its claims to the South China Sea. They stated that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the current main opposition party, is "considering a proposal to give up Taiwan's sovereignty claims over the South China Sea as defined by the U-shaped line".

Ma Ying-jeou seemed surprised by the scholar's question and replied: "Are you crazy? Of course we won't!" As leader of the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party), Ma Ying-jeou officially maintains that the Republic of China is the legitimate government of the whole of China, including mainland China and about 90% of the South China Sea. In 2013, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had clarified that the territory of the Republic of China includes the area of People’s Republic of China (PRC), the South China Sea and the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台, called 'Senkaku' in Japan and 'Diaoyu' in the PRC).

Giving up the sovereignty over the South China Sea is an "unconstitutional act" (違憲的行為), Ma was quoted as saying. He added that he will protest against sovereignty claims over the South China Sea or its islands on the part of the Philippines, and that he will continue to emphasise the ROC's territorial integrity.

Ma Ying-jeou stressed the fact that agreements with other countries can be achieved despite territorial disputes, citing as an example the fisheries agreement which Taipei and Tokyo signed on April 2013. The agreement eased tensions over fishing rights around the Diaoyutai Islands. "You don't need to worry," said Ma Ying-jeou to the scholar. "There will be no war."

Due to its strategic position and natural resources, the South China Sea is craved by the countries that geographically share its waters, such as the ROC, the PRC, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan. To complicate matters, the ROC and the PRC claim to be the sole government of China and both of them control various islands and islets of the sea.  

The geopolitical importance of the South China Sea was already well-known in the 19th and 20th century. In the 1940s Sven Hedin, a Swedish explorer and travel writer, described how the little islands of the sea could be used as military bases:

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Don't Anger Your Taiwanese Wife or ... Face the Consequences!

Are Taiwanese women submissive and passive, innocent and cute, as some people suggest? The following story, although extreme, seems to prove the opposite.

As Apple Daily reported, on Chinese New Year a man surnamed Liu went with his wife to visit her family in the southern part of Taiwan. On February 21st, while the couple were returning to their home in Taichung, they had a quarrel. The man decided to stop at a service station in Gukeng, a township in Yunlin County, to try to ease up the atmosphere a bit.

But his wife was so furious that she took his money, wallet and phone, and just left. "Find a way to go back home, if you can!" she reportedly said as she drove off the service station, leaving her dumbfounded husband alone and penniless.

Without his money and mobile phone, Mr Liu could neither pay for a taxi nor call friends or relatives to help him. Nevertheless, he asked the staff of the service station to call him a cab. He explained to the driver what had happened and asked him to take him to the nearest police station.

At Yongguang police station Mr Liu told the officers his story and borrowed from them money so that he could return home. Jian Liangguang (簡良光), the head of the police station, gave him 1000 TWD (around 30 euros) out of his own pocket.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Premier Li Keqiang Says People in Taiwan and China are 'one big family'

On March 15 Li Keqiang, the Premier of the People's Republic of China, met with Chinese and foreign journalists and answered questions. The press conference was held at the Great Hall of the People by the Third Session of the 12th National People's Congress. 

A journalist from Taiwan's TVBS asked Li about cross-strait relations and the business opportunities of Taiwanese people working in mainland China. Li Keqiang replied:

People on both sides of the Taiwan Straits belong to one big family. As long as we continue to adhere to the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus, oppose Taiwan independence and uphold peaceful development of cross-Straits relations, we will be able to lay a more solid foundation for cross-Straits business cooperation and expand the room for such business ties. To boost the economic cooperation between the two sides, we need to get both wheels in motion. One wheel is to enhance institution building. For example, the follow-up consultations on ECFA should be advanced. The other wheel is to boost mutual opening-up. As far as the mainland is concerned, closer attention will be paid to the investment made by Taiwan business people on the mainland. 
Here I would like to ask you to convey a message to all these people, which I believe will prove to be quite reassuring to them, that is the mainland will continue to protect the lawful rights and interests of Taiwan business people on the mainland and continue to pursue preferential policies towards them as appropriate. In terms of opening-up, we will give priority to Taiwan in terms of both depth and intensity of opening-up steps. We welcome people from Taiwan, including young people, to the mainland to do business. We also want to further enhance personnel interflow between the two sides so as to bring the hearts and minds of people across the Straits closer to each other.

Chiang Kai-shek's Beheading and Ke Wenzhe's Tears

During an emotional speech commemorating the victims of the 228 Incident, the current mayor of Taipei, Ke Wenzhe (Ko Wen-je), could not hold back his tears as he recounted the suffering that his own family had to bear during the brutal and indiscriminate repression of real or presumed dissent on the part of Guomindang one-party state. Following the revolt of February 28, 1947, Ke’s grandfather, Ke Shiyuan, was arrested, not because he had been personally involved in the uprising, but solely because he was an intellectual. After he was severely beaten by the Guomindang police he became ill and died a few years later.

Thousands of people were killed, imprisoned or tortured during the White Terror that followed the 228 Incident. To a certain extent, February 28 1947 was for Taiwan what June 4 1989 was for the PRC. The state revealed its savage and cruel nature, reasserted its authority by force, and ushered in an era of silence, fear and suspicion, during which the memory and the truth about the historical events were suppressed.

On the eve of the 228 commemoration day, students and activists vandalised several bronze statues of Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of the Guomindang and of the Republic of China. It was Chiang who ordered troops from the mainland to be transferred to Taiwan and suppress the popular uprising. Days after the massacre of innocent civilians, he still defended his decision.

To many people in Taiwan, Chiang is the symbol of the White Terror and of the restriction of basic freedoms and human rights that lasted until 1987.

In the morning of February 27, members of ‘Taiwan Nation’ (台灣國) and other groups that advocate Taiwanese nationalism, vandalised the bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek located inside Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, one of Taipei’s most popular landmarks.

They took advantage of the changing of the guards to throw eggs at the giant statue and sprinkle it with ink. “Chiang Kai-shek, you evil murderer!”, “When there is no truth there can be no forgiveness!” they shouted. The founder of Taiwan Nation, Wang Xianji (王獻極), and its chairman, Chen Junhan (陳峻涵) and other four individuals were soon blocked by the security guards and were later arrested. They were charged with disrupting public order and face a fine of up to 6,000 TWD. Chen was unrepentant. He stated that what happened in history can be forgiven but cannot be forgotten, and that he wants Taiwan’s society to learn the moral lesson from the past.

The 25-ton heavy sculpture of Chiang is not the only one that was damaged this year on the eve of the 228 anniversary. Other statues were vandalised on the campuses of Zhengzhi University (政治大學), Yangming University (陽明大學), Dongwu University (東吳大學) and Furen University (輔仁大學), as well as in Xinglong Park (興隆公園).

Students of Furen University spray-painted on the statue the sentence: "Guomindang, acknowledge your mistakes so that the dead soul may regret them." On the campus of Dongwu University, students spray-painted the words "Murderer!" "Don't forget 228!"

Similar acts of vandalism were committed throughout Taiwan. A statue of Chiang located in a park in Keelung, the city where the troops from the mainland arrived in 1947 to put down the uprising, was beheaded. Other statues were vandalised in Taoyuan's Zhongzheng Park, Taipei First Girls’ High School, Taipei Municipal Da'an Vocational High School, National Zhudong Senior High School, Donghai University and National Taipei University of Technology. Some students turned Chiang's statues into "artworks", spray-painting and decorating them.

What should we make of these acts of vandalism? Are they justified? Is it acceptable for a democratic country to honour a dictator like Chiang Kai-shek? Should all statues and portraits of the autocrat be removed, as it happened with Hitler's or Mussolini's after their regimes were overthrown?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Love or Madness? Dutch National Goes to Taiwan to Meet His Girlfriend's Parents but Gets Banned for 10 Years

Is it love or is it madness? Perhaps it's just a bit of both. 

On February 20, a 23-year-old Dutch national arrived at Taoyuan International Airport with his pregnant Taiwanese girlfriend. The couple were not married and had apparently come to Taiwan so that he could meet the girl's parents. But things did not go too well for them. 

During a previous sojourn in Taiwan the man had overstayed his visa and had been banned from entering the country for three years. When he arrived at the immigration inspection, he was informed that he could not leave the airport and had to be repatriated. His girlfriend, however, had already passed the passport control.

While awaiting repatriation at the airport the man kept talking on the phone with his girlfriend and cried. Then he received a message: "I miss you."

After reading these words he lost his mind. He jumped over the barrier of the immigration inspection and ran out of the airport. He walked for 3 kilometers on a highway and managed to get to his girlfriend's house without being caught. However, around 7 hours later the police found him and arrested him. 

According to local reports, the man and his pregnant girlfriend left Amsterdam on February 19 and arrived the following day in Taiwan to break the 'good news' to her parents. But when he went through the customary immigration inspection the official found that he had overstayed his visa in the past and was therefore banned for three years. His girlfriend had no choice but to leave the airport alone. The man purchased a return ticket and waited at the airport. The immigration staff kept an eye on him as he talked with his girlfriend on the phone and cried. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Taipei-Taoyuan Airport Express Is Finally Coming

When you see scenes like this you know why Taipei really needs an airport express. Last week I arrived at Taipei Bus Station (located right next to Taipei Main Station) and there I saw this huge line of people waiting to board the bus to the airport. When the bus arrived there were so many passengers that I had no choice but to wait for the next one. Overall it took me about one hour and a half to get from the bus station to the airport. 

Then I arrived in Hong Kong. I exchanged some money, bought something to drink, recharged my Octopus Card (the equivalent of Taipei's Easy Card) and took that amazing, super modern, spacious Airport Express that runs from Hong Kong International Airport to Central in just 25 minutes! 

When I first came to Taiwan at the end of 2011, I was quite surprised that this island, known all over the world for its high-tech industry, had no direct MRT connection between the airport and Taipei Main Station. I bought a ticket, exited the airport and looked for the bus stop. Then a guy from the bus company shouted at me in Chinese, asking me where I wanted to go. This was the first time I had to speak Chinese to survive in a foreign country. 

Then I boarded the bus. It took over an hour to get to Taipei Main Station. I must say that for someone travelling alone, for the first time in Asia, who is already quite nervous because of all the expectations and the uncertainty, and who is tired and hungry and doesn't know anything about this new place, the journey from the airport to Taipei is not as comfortable as in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai or other big cities in East Asia. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Taipei MRT Murderer Sentenced to Death

Today (March 6) a court in New Taipei City sentenced Zheng Jie (鄭捷) to the death penalty. Last year Zheng killed 4 people and injured 22 in a knife attack in the Taipei Metro.

On May 21, 2014, Zheng had boarded a train of the Taipei Metro in Longshan Station. After the train departed, he went on a stabbing spree. The terrorized passengers were trapped for a few minutes inside the train. 

During the interrogations following his arrest, Zheng admitted that the knife attack was premeditated. He said that he had chosen Longshan Station because the distance to the next stop, Jiangzicui Station, was longer than the average. This allowed him to kill as many people as possible.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Full Text of Taipei Mayor's 228 Incident Commemoration Speech

Ke Wenzhe (in Taiwan spelt Ko Wen-je) is the first elected mayor of Taipei who was personally affected by the 228 Incident. In a speech delivered on February 28 of this year, Ke talked about the tragedy that befell his own family and the entire Taiwanese society. 

Here is my translation of the speech:   


Today is the 68th anniversary of the 228 incident. As a relative of one of the victims, I am one of you. I remember how my father used to come back home every year from the 228 ceremony with tears in his eyes. Seeing my father's tears deeply hurt me. But I know that the pain that my father felt for his own father was even stronger.

In that tragic year 1947 many Taiwanese people lost their relatives and friends, and Taiwan's society lost some of its most brilliant intellectuals. Afterwards a long era of terror, of silence and estrangement descended upon our history. People built an invisible wall that separated them from their fellow citizens, a wall that to this day divides our society.

It is obvious that we, the relatives of the victims, have gone through much suffering. Yet this suffering has made us stronger. 

The pain of 28 February 1947 cannot be expressed in words. My father did not want to tell us about what had happened to grandfather. He did not want to pass the suffering of the previous generation on to the next. I therefore learnt about my grandfather through photographs, through history books, through the tears my father shed each year on the anniversary of the 228 incident.

My grandfather, Ke Shiyuan, graduated from Taipei Normal School and then worked as an elementary school teacher in Hsinchu. Whether it was the Japanese or the Nationalists who ruled Taiwan - he had no influence over political matters. He was just an average Taiwanese. A hard-working Taiwanese who was content with his life. Nevertheless he could not avoid becoming involved in the events of that tragic period. When the 228 incident happened, he was arrested by the Guomindang simply because he was an intellectual. During his detention he was beaten, and when he was released from prison he was bed-ridden. He died three years later, at the age of 54.

Since my grandfather was ill for three years before passing away, his family became destitute. When he died my father only had enough money to buy him new underwear. There was just no money to buy new clothes for the burial. That my father regretted for the rest of his life. Due to the 228 incident my father's family was bankrupt, and he never had the chance to get an education. This was his second lifelong regret.

The 228 incident brought great suffering upon my grandfather, my father and me. It caused much pain to three generations of the Ke family. Many other families probably share a similar fate. 

When I ran for Taipei mayor my father opposed my decision. "I have lost my father," he said. "I don't want to lose my son, too." His words made me think. What kind of Taiwan do we want to bequeath to the next generations? Because of what he said to me, I was more determined than ever to run as a candidate. The Taiwanese people must decide their own destiny, they must be the masters of this land! 

In the past four hundred years many governments have come and gone, yet Taiwan remains our land, and this will never change. I often say: the present that we create is the future of the next generations. Only if we know the truth about our past will we be able to forgive, to achieve reconciliation, to obtain peace. Our responsibility is to make sure that the tragedies of our past do not happen again to our children.  

Only when the government is righteous can society live in harmony and the country have a future. Dear friends, the purpose of the commemoration of the 228 incident is to face our history and make the truth known to the public. Let Taiwan stand up again and continue to march forward. Today Ke Wenzhe takes part in this ceremony as the relative of a victim. I look forward to a time when Taiwan's society will have no more regrets and will be full of love and peace. 

Thank you.   

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Mainland Chinese Tourists Scuffle in Taipei 101

On February 24 a scuffle broke out between mainland Chinese tourists who were visiting Taiwan during the Lunar New Year holidays. 

According to media reports, a queueing dispute erupted between two women who were waiting for the restroom in Taipei 101, Taiwan's tallest skyscraper and one of the country's tourist landmarks. 

The women belonged to two different tourist groups, one from Yunnan and another from Tianjin. The quarrel escalated and two men began yelling at each other. They came to blows and one of them was knocked down. When he got up he wanted to take revenge, but he was stopped by some female members of his group. Security guards soon arrived at the scene to separate the men.