Saturday, August 21, 2010

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve
So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt?

 In a follow up to yesterday's post, Michael Turton summarizes his criticism of Jerome Cohen this way:

"You can't support democracy and the KMT/CCP ECFA sellout talks at the same time, since the ultimate success of the latter entails the loss of the former."

Turton also says, "these two positions are inherently contradictory: the KMT and CCP can only kiss and make up over the dead body of Taiwan's democracy."

Which is funny, because the KMT/CPP talks have always reminded me of the political cartoon of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin meeting over the dead body of Poland. (above)

Turton also notes that Cohen's attempt to stake out the high middle ground has made him a target for both sides: supporters of democracy in Taiwan and supporters of annexation/unification in China.

"The reason they are both shouting at Cohen is not because he has found some lofty perch in the Moderate Middle but because his position is incoherent and self-defeating."

This makes me wonder about the Via Media that KMT Leader Ma Ying-jeou promised when he was running for president - and continues to promote as a "way forward" for Taiwan to get out of the political and diplomatic wilderness that the KMT put it in.

But whenever Ma (a.k.a. the Telflon President) talks about the Via Media, it always reminds me of the politician who says he has found the Golden Mean between honesty and dishonesty. And this way "out of the wilderness" leads straight back to Egypt.

When will the Taiwanese wake up a see that there can be no Via Media between Annexation and Independence? No Golden Mean between tyranny and freedom?

Surely what has happened in Hong Kong is a lesson written in Chinese characters (socialism with Chinese characteristics?) big enough to see across the Taiwan Strait? "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong people" doesn't mean autonomy or democracy.

Yet it seems everyone in Taiwan clings to the myth of status quo and repeats the mantra that Hong Kong tour guides have learned so well: "Nothing has changed."

The Golden Path they have chosen is paved with Fool's Gold and is, in fact, Via Dolorosa

The way I see it, the Children of Taiwan have to choose: either they cross over into the Promised Land of democracy and independence or go back to China - back to the house of bondage.

But they think they can continue to wander in the wilderness, worshipping their Golden Calves - Chiang Kai-shek and the God of Fortune.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rule of Law: Neither "Green" nor "Blue"
but maybe Turquoise when you take off the rose-coloured glasses

In Taiwan's colour-coded politics, being "Blue" means being pro-Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party), defending their dictators and supporting their one-China policies. 

On the other hand, being "Green" means being pro-democracy, pro-Taiwan independence and supporting the parties that have spearheaded the movement, chiefly the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Most expat businessmen I met in Taiwan supported the KMT (either implicitly or explicitly) because, basically, "they make the trains run on time." 

Diplomats were divided, but I found that (privately, at least) the more they actually knew about Taiwan, the more they were pro-Taiwan and pro-Green.

Most real journalists I knew supported the goals of Taiwan Independence and democracy, even if they didn't necessarily support the DPP or its political allies.

When I worked in Taiwan, I was accused of being Green (by the aforementioned expat businessmen) - and therefore supporting the DPP - because I supported real democracy. And because I insisted that Taiwan was a real country - no matter what Beijing or Washington said.

And when I was critical of the KMT or its dictators (from Chiang Kai-shek to Ma Ying-jeou), I was told, "You are not Chinese, so you do not understand." 

I confess I am no expert on Taiwan or China; merely a scribe who tries to learn and understand - and then explain to others. 

But apparently, I am in good company. Professor Jerome A. Cohen is co-director of NYU School of Law’s US-Asia Law Institute and adjunct senior fellow for Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

In an op-ed that first appeared in the South China Morning Post, Cohen argues that he is neither "Green" nor "Blue". But Cohen  says he has been accused of being "Green" because does support rule of law, accountability in government and an independent judiciary that is not merely the tool of an autocratic party that hungers for the old days of martial law. 

And, of course, Cohen has been told that he does not understand and appreciate the "one-China" principle because he is not Chinese.

My friend, Michael Turton, who makes no bones about being Green (pro-Taiwan, pro-democracy) responds by saying that Cohen is so busy correcting other people's colour blindness that he forgot to take off his rose-coloured glasses.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First - Kill All the Lawyers: Premier Legal Advice for Becoming a World-Class Business

By Stephen A. Nelson
 Renowned Taipei lawyer C.V. Chen has some advice for anyone doing business in Taiwan and China: "Get good legal advice" and make it an integral part of your decision-making process.
Chen is a managing partner at Lee and Li, one of Taiwan's premier law firms. He gave his free advice while speaking at a joint meeting of the British, American and French chambers of commerce in Taipei.

Chen warmed up the crowd by telling a couple of jokes at his own expense. He first cited William Shakespeare's best-known legal advice, "First, kill all the lawyers!"

Then he asked, "How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?"
This reporter was the only one who dared speak aloud the correct answer,"How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips move."  

"That's right," Chen concurred.

All kidding aside, Chen engaged his audience with true stories and cautionary tales underlining the importance of being honest. Well, at least legal. That means paying attention to:
  • the law in your home country
  • the law in those countries where you do business
  • international law
Those who fail to obey the law do so at their own peril, Chen says. And this holds true whether you're a foreign business operating in Taiwan or a Taiwanese business operating in another country.
Yes, even in China. And even though Chen admits that "rule of law is a foreign concept in Chinese society."
From April, 2005

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Look Through Your Window:
A Room With A View

A view of Taipei's RenAi Road, from the RenAi traffic circle, looking east towards city hall and Taipei 101.
Taipei 101 is no longer the world's tallest skyscraper - but it is impressive at night.

Around this traffic circle are a 24-hour bookstore (with a 24-hour coffee shop) and a 24-hour Cantonese restaurant.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Journey of a Thousand Miles: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Taiwan

Teaching in Taiwan:
When I quit my job to become an English teacher,
many people started asking me “Why?”

A Story by Stephen A. Nelson
(Originally published in Maple Leaf,
the magazine of the Canadian Society in Taiwan)
Not long ago, I started my life as a teacher in Taiwan. Now, 20 years after graduating from journalism school at Ryerson, it seems a long way from what I started out to do.

So, if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, when did I take that single step?

Let's say that this journey began in the early 1970s when I first saw David Carradine in the original Kung-Fu TV series and persuaded and my mum to sign me up at a martial arts school. Ever since then, I've wanted to go to China. I guess I just always thought that it would be Hunan province, home of the Shaolin Temple. I never thought it would be Taiwan.

Before coming to Taiwan, I took another step. I quit my job with the Thomson Newspaper chain after more than 10 years as a working journalist — the last eight and a half at the Brandon Sun. At the time, many people asked me “Why?”

The truth is, the chance to teach English in Taiwan couldn't have come at a better time. Now is not a good time to be a journalist in Canada.

For those of you who don't actually work in the business — or at least know somebody who does — you need to know only one thing about journalism. The business of journalism isn't about journalism any more. It's about business.

Want proof? Just look at media magnate Conrad Black, sometime owner and publisher of The Times of London as well as the National Post. Conrad Black's hero is Napoleon. His workers are his armies and his henchmen are his generals.

When Conrad Black used his armies at Hollinger Publishing to conquer Canada's largest newspaper chain, Southam, Black told reporters that he was “the best friend a working journalist had in Canada.”

To prove it, he immediately laid off hundreds of journalists at the newspapers he'd just acquired. Apparently, if you didn't think Conrad Black was your best friend, you weren't a working journalist any more.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, many ex-journalists found out that this was not actually a bad thing. A lot of people, like me, felt trapped in their jobs. It wasn’t fun any more. They may still have liked their work. But they hated the job. They felt overworked, overstressed, underpaid, unappreciated, depressed and in debt. But they, like me, stay in the job because of their commitments — a family, a mortgage, and a credit card.

The Brandon Sun was once considered “the Cadillac of small newspapers in Canada.” But for my last two years at the Sun, my mantra was “I just want my life back.” I said this at least as often as I said, “I hate my job.”

When I decided to take a chance on Taiwan and become a teacher, I took the most important steps. I sold my house, cashed out my retirement savings funds, and paid off some debts. What I couldn’t give away, I put in storage. And then, on a wing and a prayer, I came to Taiwan.

In Taiwan, I have found that teaching children can bring redemption for jaded souls, and life to weary bodies that have spent too long in jobs they can't stand.

Perhaps that's because children are life. Did not a very wise man once say “Allow the little children to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”?

That same wise man (those who knew him called him "Teacher") also said, “Whoever would save his life must lose it. And whoever loses his life... will gain it.”

When I became a teacher, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had my life back. All I had to do was take that one child-like step.

All I had to do was give up everything I had.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Formosa Displayed: The Magnificent
Monuments of 'Chinese Taipei'

By Stephen A Nelson
The Brandon Sun
May 1, 2010

There is a new movie playing in Canada that's been drawing unexpectedly large audiences. There are no flying dragons or warring gods; but there is a story about Paradise Lost and the battle between good and evil.

The film is Formosa Betrayed, a story about Taiwan's dark days of martial law under the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his successor, Chiang Ching-kuo.

Visit Taiwan today and you can’t help asking questions that are at the heart of Formosa Betrayed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taking Sides Over Taiwan
China Still Singing the Same Old Song

Adapted from CBC Newsworld story
following election of Chen Shui-bian and the DPP
April, 2000
By Stephen A. Nelson

TAIPEI - China (read "The People's Republic of China") is obsessed with Taiwan. It wants Taiwan so badly, it can taste it. Hong Kong and Macao were merely appetizers. Taiwan is the main course.

China even has its version of the "fee-fo-fi-fum" song favoured by that unfriendly giant who had a taste for Englishmen.

China's chant goes like this:
"Taiwan always has been and always will be a part of China. Nothing can change that. Not even democratic elections in Taiwan.
"It is the desire of Chinese people everywhere for Taiwan to be reunited with China."

This is called the "One China Principle."

Lately, it seems I can't open a newspaper, or turn on the TV without hearing some Chinese official singing that same old song.

It's the same song the Chinese people have been hearing for the last 50 years from the Nationalist government in Taiwan (read "The Republic of China.) Of course, they always thought that China and Taiwan would be re-united under Taiwan's Nationalist regime, not Beijing's Communist regime.

Here in Greater China, both sides have their own interpretation of the One China tune. As long as both sides were playing the same tune, they could at least dance together, even if they needed the United States to chaperone.

But last year, Taiwan's President Lee Tung-hui started singing a slightly different tune. While the mainland was still singing Some Day We'll Be Together, Lee was singing "It's going to take some time, next time." But to the Chinese, this sounded like The Twelfth of Never.

This made the Chinese and Americans a bit nervous.

And now the people of Taiwan have chosen a new leader: Chen Shui-bian, who doesn't particularly like this dance or this kind of music.

This has made China's leaders, and people on both sides, angry and confused. The U.S. is very nervous. They all liked the old song. So the Chinese bandleaders keep telling their musicians "Play louder! Play louder!" and the American chaperones keep telling everyone "Keep dancing! Keep dancing!"

This, no doubt, has a lot of people asking themselves "What are we doing here?"

Before you can even try to answer that question, you have to ask two more questions: "What do you mean by 'We'? " and "Where is 'Here'?"

"Here" is Taiwan, still known to some people as Formosa, or even "Nationalist China."The official name of the country is "The Republic of China"or "ROC" for short. But most countries, including Canada, refuse to recognize Taiwan. So in sporting events such as the Olympics, or in trade organizations such as APEC, Taiwan must appear under the name "Chinese Taipei"; which is kind of like Canada being called "American Ottawa."

Confused? You're not alone.

So let me try to put things in perspective: Geographically, Taiwan is to the Chinese mainland what Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are to the rest of Canada.

About 160km off the south-east coast of China, the main leaf-shaped island is about 394km long and about 144km across at its widest point. Taiwan also controls a number of smaller islands in the region.

There are more than 22 million people living here, most of them on the main island.

The "we" is China and Taiwan.

What you have here in Taiwan is a people who are united to the mainland by culture and language, but divided by history and politics.

In this part of the world, Chinese officials and Chinese journalists (on both sides of the Taiwan Strait) love to tell the One China story, with special emphasis on the part that says Taiwan is a province of China. They say that Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are "brothers and sisters" who long to live together as one happy family.

Well, it is true that most people in Taiwan trace their ancestry to China. And in many ways — culture, religion, even language — the Taiwanese seem even more Chinese than the Chinese.

But most of these families arrived during the reign of the emperors, more than 100 years ago. Many of these people, including Taiwan's new president, think of themselves first and foremost as "Taiwanese."Chinese if necessary, but not necessarily Chinese.

To many Taiwanese, people on the mainland are "distant relatives."At best they can be friends, but they will never be close family.

True, many of the more recent arrivals from China do think of themselves as Chinese. And they do have close family ties on the mainland. But to many young people here, the whole question of "Is Taiwan a part of China?" is so "Yesterday."

But what is the rest of the world to think? Is Taiwan part of China?

It is true that maps of China have long included Taiwan. Then again, many maps of the United States include parts of Canada, too.

And even if Taiwan is considered part of China, it hasn't always been under Chinese rule.

In 1544, when the Portuguese discovered this sceptred isle, they called it "Ilha Formosa" which means "Beautiful Island" in Portuguese. But the Portuguese couldn't hold on to Formosa and concentrated their colonial efforts elsewhere instead.

In the 1600s, Taiwan was colonized by both the Dutch and the Spanish, who fought for control of the island until the Dutch finally kicked out the Spanish.

Most of the people living in Taiwan at the time were not Chinese, but aboriginals. They had more in common with the Polynesians of the South Pacific than they did with the mainland Chinese.

During the late 1600s, China's warring Ming and Manchu families arrived in Taiwan. They kicked out the Dutch and fought each other for control of the island and control of China. The Manchus finally won and established their dynasty in China, making Taiwan a county of Fujian province.

This triggered many successive waves of immigration from China. Most of the immigrants were from Fujian province, directly across the strait from Taiwan. To this day, the "Taiwanese" language is virtually identical to the Fujian dialect.

In 1895, Japan took Taiwan from China and held onto it until the end of the Second World War, when it was “handed back to China.”

By this time, of course, the emperors were gone in China.

That's because, in 1911, the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party), led by Sun Yat-sen, overthrew the Ching dynasty. The KMT subsequently established the first Republic of China.

With the help of strongman Chiang Kai-shek, Sun tried to unite a China that was deeply divided by powerful warlords. They never quite succeeded.

After Sun's death, Chiang's efforts to unite China were interrupted by the Japanese invasion and the Second World War.

In recent years, many people have been critical of Chiang Kai-shek. But during the war, the Generalissimo was regarded as a hero for fighting the Japanese and rescuing China's national treasures from the invading hordes.

At the end of the Second World War, “giving Taiwan to China” was seen as the Allies' way of rewarding one of the great leaders of the "free world."

Before long, the KMT was fighting again, this time with its former allies, the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung. The Nationalist forces lost and — along with about two million people — fled to Taiwan to plan their re-conquest of the mainland. Fifty years later, some of them were still planning.

In the meantime, the KMT established the Republic of China on Taiwan, while the Communists established the People's Republic of China on the mainland.

For most of the last 50 years, both have claimed to be the sole voice and legitimate government of all China. For the first two decades, most of the international community sided with the Nationalists. "Free China" (under martial law, of course) survived as a virtual colony of the United States.

In 1971, things started to fall apart for the Kuomintang, who were still clinging to the "One China" fiction.

The People's Republic of China had applied for admission to the United Nations. Many countries were willing to accommodate Taipei and Beijing with a "Two Chinas" policy. But the ROC staked everything on its position: that it was the sole legitimate voice for all of China. The KMT gambled and lost.

First they lost the Chinese seat at the United Nations — including its seat as a permanent member of the Security Council. Then, one by one, Taiwan's major allies, including Canada, severed their diplomatic ties with Taiwan and switched their allegiance to Beijing. Taiwan was ejected from countless international bodies and became persona non grata in the international community.

In 1979, the United States withdrew both its official recognition and its troops from Taiwan. The U.S. didn't completely abandon Taiwan, promising to help Taiwan defend itself from outside threats — namely China.

Since then, China has threatened war many times. But its major attacks have been on the diplomatic battlefield, where it has tried — and succeeded — to isolate Taiwan.

But, while most of the world was looking the other way, Taiwan was changing.

In 1975, Chiang Kai-shek died and was succeeded by his son, Chiang Ching-kou. To those independent-minded Taiwanese, this was starting to look like another dynasty. The Taiwanese didn't like that much, and said so openly — a bold step when the country was under martial law.

Thus, the democracy movement was born in Taiwan. Eventually, the movement was given a name, the Democratic Progressive Party. As it turned out, "Emperor" Chiang Ching-kuo was not unsympathetic and allowed the newborn party to live.

Most people are aware of the economic miracle that has taken place in Taiwan in the last 20 years. The technological revolution has turned a developing country into an economic powerhouse. Certainly the KMT and out-going president Lee Tung-hui can take some credit for that.

But the economic miracle almost pales in comparison to the political miracle. Twenty years ago, Taiwan was a one-party state under martial law. The government was still talking about re-taking the mainland. It was forbidden to even discuss the idea of Taiwan independence.

These days, no-one is talking about re-taking the mainland. Taiwan has just completed its second presidential election. The people of Taiwan have democratically put an end to one-party rule. And they've chosen a leader: Chen Shui-bian, who has spoken openly about Taiwan independence.

This has made the Chinese government very angry. It's made the U.S. very nervous. It's made a lot of Taiwanese people angry and nervous.

But for a lot of people at this dance, it's also very exciting. No more slow waltzes and foxtrots. If they ever play the "One China" tune again, it will be to a rock-and-roll beat. And, whatever the tune, it seems rock and roll is here to stay.

For now, anyway.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time to honour a national hero:
Sir John A. Macdonald

 In an essay in the Globe and Mail (Toronto's national newspaper), former Liberal prime minister John Turner argued that one Canadian prime minister stood head and shoulders above all other prime ministers: Sir John A. Mcdonald.

In short, Liberal Turner argues that Conservative Mcdonald built this nation and was its greatest prime minister. And he deserves the recognition Americans give their most notable leaders

This was my published reply...

I am a proud Canadian, now living and working in Taipei, Taiwan (NOT a part of China). When I went home to Ontario for Christmas, I returned to Taiwan with some Canadian money. 

While paying for my coffee at my favourite coffee shop, I accidentally pulled out a Canadian $10 bill. 
The coffee shop owner asked me, "Is that the father of your country?" 

It was a natural question. Who else's picture would you put on a $10 bill?

How could I, as a Canadian, explain to my Taiwanese friend, that although Sir John A. Macdonald was the first prime minister and the man who built Canada, he was not considered our national father. I didn't even want to get into the idea that we had several "Fathers of Confederation." 

In Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), only two political figures appear on the currency: Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. 

Sun Yat-sen never saw his dream of a united China. Yet even in Communist China, he is honored as "the founder of modern China." Sun Yat-sen never lived in Taiwan. Still, here in the ROC, he is honoured as "the father of the country" and his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. 

Isn't it about time that we, as Canadians, did the same for Sir John A.?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Devil's Own Instrument?
The BBC in Taiwan

 Once upon a time in Taipei, BBC presenter Nik Gowing was speaking at a luncheon to promote the launch of the BBC World TV channel in Taiwan.

I was covering the event for Radio Taiwan International, as well as for the British Chamber of Commerce which was sponsoring the event.

Peering down from his pulpit, the media maharishi preached the virtues of "citizen journalism" and venerated the BBC's role as gatekeepers of the news and guardians of the truth.

After he fielded several softball questions from fawning fans (mostly homesick British ex-pats who hated CNN), I decided to throw this heavy hitter a curve ball.

I quoted Malcolm Muggeridge (a real journalist), who also often appeared on the BBC:
  • Television is the devil's own instrument
  • By its very nature, television distorts and deflects
  • Not only CAN the camera lie, it always lies   
So, I asked Nik, what did he have to say about how television distorts the truth, especially how it distorts the truth about Taiwan?

For example, television almost always: 
  • refers to Taiwan as "the island" instead of "the country"
  • calls the governors of Formosa merely "Taiwan authorities" instead of "Taiwan's government"  
  • calls the democratically elected head of state "Taiwan's leader" instead of "Taiwan's president"
    I thought I'd get an intelligent and thoughtful answer from the media maestro who covered the death of Princess Diana in Paris and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

    Instead, I got a politician's answer from a man who'd interviewed too many politicians.

    Gowing mumbled and fumbled, as if searching for notes that weren't there.
    "I don't know," he sputtered, still fidgeting with his papers.  "You're asking me about television... and I work for the BBC. Um, yes... next question."

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    The Tao of Taiwanese Sculpture 2:
    Zen and the Art of Juming

    If there is one thing I learned in Taiwan, it’s this: 
    language is an art, art is culture, and culture is politics. And in Taiwan, the best art — like the best politics — is rooted and grounded in tradition and history, but not bound by them.

    By Stephen A. Nelson
    The Brandon Sun
    November 21, 2009