Category Archives: Taiwan Republic

Taiwan’s 2022 local elections and this emerging Taiwanese national identity – a few more thoughts: Taiwan dispatch, world history, and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

After decades of studying elections in the US, Europe, and Asia, a few observations and thoughts.

One. Never criticize/review citizens-voters. The easiest path for the losing party is to criticize the voters-citizens, and the party that falls prey to that temptation will continue to lose. Democracy is imperfect and messy, but its beauty is that what’s right and wrong is decided by citizens – full stop, end of discussion. I am unhappy with what the voters chose for the 2022 Taiwan local elections, but it is what it is. DPP leaders must examine exit polling and other data to improve their performance in future elections. This defeat is on them, not the voters.

Two. Refrain from reviewing/criticizing “the media.” Likewise, to criticize the media landscape and reporting. Taiwan’s journalism is deeply flawed – a legacy of its China KMT authoritarian era, communist infiltration, too many outlets controlled by conglomerates, and the unwillingness of media companies to pay journalists decent wages. I am not uncritical of Taiwanese and western journalists but related to the point above, the losing party will continue to lose if they focus on journalists and not themselves.

Three. I am a supporter and admirer of President Tsai. During the democratic era, out of its three elected presidents, Lee, Chen, and Tsai, Tsai has been the best national security president. For domestic affairs and electoral politics President Tsai and her team have been far less impressive – they are no match for President Chen’s insight into the mechanics of local politics, nor President Lee’s charisma and retail electioneering. In contrast, President Tsai and her team are too Taipei-centered, too reliant on a particular style of soft Taiwan soap-opera-ish online storytelling – these may be useful towards a particular subset of urban educated younger voters, but clearly not useful for nationwide local elections.

Four. Misreading past success and failure. I am astonished that after the DPP drubbings in the 2018 local elections the national party failed to radically rethink its local electioneering strategy – and in fact, I think they misread the 2020 national, presidential election victory as a sign that the DPP already overcame the previous challenge – institutional, attitudinal, structural, towards local elections. Think of this as the DPP’s version of a common fallacy by some western journalists and academics, over and misreadings of what local elections actually mean – either in the US, or Taiwan.

Five. Elections require storytelling and a narrative strategery. For the DPP this 2022 election was story-narrative free – confused, contradictory, grab bag of things from the past. It was passive, confusing, contradictory, and reactive. I am dumbfounded, for example, that they nominated the super competent and likable health minister responsible for protecting Taiwan during this pandemic, and failed to have a clear and prepared strategy to counter the predictable pan-blue/red lies about vaccines and death rates. The focus within the DPP leadership on nominees rather than a coherent story/narrative makes me wonder if the major party factions have moved on to the 2024 nomination fight.

Six. All politics is local, with some peculiar exceptions. I was taught from my very first Political “Science” class that voters do not vote on foreign affairs – voters respond to pocketbook/kitchen table issues. There are exceptions when foreign affairs bleed into domestic tranquility (American War in Vietnam, Global War on Terror and Iraq invasion ….), or when the China KMT nominated a dangerously incompetent candidate in 2020, enough so that citizens decided this is neither the kind of neighborhood nor moment in Taiwanese history to experiment with an unusual candidate. Watching the 2022 DPP election strategy, I failed to hear a consistent series of domestic, local, policy-based narratives – pandemic success could have been rebranded as a harbinger for positive healthcare reforms, success in trade talks with the US and other democracies could have been translated into a vision for transformation local manufacturing, education, R&D, very few words on the perpetual problems of low wages, particularly for young, recent graduates, housing justice for the youth and low-income population, etc, etc. Even the China threat could have been productively built into a clear, consistent web of local, domestic, and future policy visions – and yet this did not occur.

Seven. The unique characteristics of President Tsai and her team. President Tsai’s astonishing success in national security and foreign affairs is rooted in her approach to public affairs – sober, consistent, thoughtful, professorial in its sophistication and boring-ness – all characteristics that are particularly unuseful in domestic politics, particularly local elections. The nominees from DPP are super competent – but unable to control the tempo and seize the narrative. Going back to the super competent Health Minister and nominee for Taipei Dr. Chen – was he even the right nominee? A man who has never run for local offices, without a political-campaign team of his own, to run in one of the nastiest, toughest localities in Taiwan? And if he was to be the the best nominee for the moment, why did the DPP fail to put together a political-campaign team, with the same level of narrative storytelling sophistication it organized during the 2020 election?

Eight. Speed is not our friend and the dangers of over-reading specific episodes. As brave Chinese people protest the Chinese communists all over China I cautioned students from jumping to quick, self-serving conclusions. This is my sense about the 2022 Taiwan local election as well. Is this the pendulum effect? Is this voter fatigue? Are these major factions within the DPP moving onto 2024 prematurely? Are voters seeking an outlet for their frustration with the pandemic? I have noted previously that during the democratic era, President Tsai is the first Taiwanese president who – paws crossed – has maintained relatively high approval ratings and avoided a major protest during her second term. Is this changing? We do not know, but I am certainly watching closely. The simplest conclusive assertion I can share is that this election had little to do with the “cross-straits/communist China/rising tension” issue. It is possible for Taiwanese citizens to seek democratic avenues to express dissatisfaction or to teach a lesson to the ruling party, without it having to do with changing views of the Chinese Communist Party. Maybe even top election managers of the DPP could use that lesson, along with analysts and talking heads, so that we may gain a better, more informative sense of local Taiwanese politics. 29.11.2022

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Taiwan’s 2022 local elections and this emerging Taiwanese national identity: Taiwan dispatch, world history,  and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

Taiwan Republic dispatch. No one likes losing elections, and I am hyperpartisan when it comes to Taiwanese politics. I do, however, take a world history perspective on the wins and losses — that is, what is the larger, general direction. This is why I turned off the news after last evening’s losses and read this book on Taiwanese artist Chen Cheng-po, educated by the Japanese, murdered by the invading China KMT — his mangled corpse left at Chiayi town square, family members unable to retrieve it, as a show of force for the Chinese invaders. Many of his pieces I love, his painting on Tamsui, one of my favorite northern Taiwan places, is my favorite — it populates my computer background, class slides, and phone screen savers.

It has taken centuries of struggle by Taiwanese forbearers, against enemies foreign and domestic, to get Taiwan Republic to this point of democracy and human rights — and it will be centuries more of tears and sweat to preserve and improve Taiwanese democratic statehood. Human beings always wish for an easier path, I include myself in that camp — so yes we all wish for a “final” victory, a moment when we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Chinese in China and the Chinese in Taiwan and the western imperialist powers will all leave Taiwanese democracy alone. Not without centuries more of difficult fighting and sacrificing — of using Taiwanese art and literature, anime and manga, food and street fairs, films and documentaries, songs and poems — just as Mr. Chen did here, to put into earthly forms expressions and explanations of this Taiwanese nation that we love. For that love, he was murdered by the Chinese invaders.

Given the level of political polarization, I am proud of the relative normalness of it all — for a relatively young democracy, little violence, losers conceded, and the democratically elected president resigned as chair of her party to take responsibility. I walked around the streets of Taipei last evening, MRT and shops buzzing, citizens going about their business – they voted, some obsess over results, life goes on as it must in a democracy. We can always rely on some western imperialist press and academics to produce bad takes — local electoral victories in Taiwan as a sign of warm feelings for the Chinese communists, implications for the rising tension, etc. I suggest studying the ruling DPP’s massive defeats in the 2018 local elections and then pondering what happened in 2020 as a way to frame what is going on in Taiwan. Our Taiwanese elders fought the Chinese to have this democracy, preserving democratic sovereignty no matter who wins any particular election is the most important reason for the struggles. Without democracy and domestic peace, Taiwanese nationalism would be pointless. 27.11.2022

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Taiwan’s Jong Shyn Shipbuilding and American Lockheed Martin signs MOU to build warships for ASEAN nations 洛馬將委託中信造船造艦 售予東協國家: Geostrategery and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

美國軍武大廠洛克希德馬丁公司(Lockheed Martin;簡稱洛馬)已與高雄中信造船(2644)簽署合作備忘錄(MOU),未來將委託中信造船建造軍艦艦體,再由洛馬公司安裝武器系統,交付給印尼、馬來西亞及菲律賓等東協國家,以強化這些國家海軍實力,因應南海日趨緊張情勢。中信造船董事長韓碧祥低調証實此事,表示只要洛馬下單,中信造船會立即備料騰出產能,滿足美方的需求。中信造船的造艦實績與品質受到洛馬公司注意,先前曾派員到高雄考察工廠及相關設備,並與中船造船負責人詳談,經美國總公司評估認可後,已與中信造船簽署備忘錄。洛馬在2022年5月再度派員到高雄中船造船廠,現場勘查船塢設備,並再中信造船負責人及主管晤談,委託造艦業務將視美國政府與南海諸國協商後,隨時都會展開。中信造船目前有4個造船船塢,最大造船噸位5萬噸,過去已承造過3000噸級、2000噸級及1000噸級巡防救難艦,目前海巡署委託的12艘600噸級安平級(原型為沱江艦)正建造中,已有5艘交船下水執行海巡任務。

Taiwanese shipbuilder responsible for its double-hulled fast attack corvette has signed an MOU with Lockheed Martin for Taiwan to build the hulls while Lockheed Martin coordinates and fits their weapons and sensors. These small naval ships will be sold to Southeast Asian nations. The fact that usually hypersensitive to Beijing’s opinion Southeast Asia may be involved is fascinating. If this deal proceeds accordingly, this is good news for Taiwanese and regional security – anything which further integrates democratic and independent Taiwan into the US-Japan-led global democratic supply chain is good. Not clear if this is a part of the purposeful news leak from the latest Taiwan-US military summit where the US plans to collaborate on weapons manufacturing. Also, a very good sign that a civilian, nonstate-owned Taiwanese shipbuilder is involved in this deal. Previous plans to integrate aviation and aircraft maintenance with global arms suppliers faced stiff resistance from Taiwan’s archaic and complicated military-state (and formerly, authoritarian China KMT party) owned enterprises. Israel, South Korea, and Singapore are three good models of small-mid sized nations surrounded by larger hostile powers, and how they have focused their resources and rationalized the collaboration between military-state led R&D, civilian corporations and manufacturing, and links to global military supply chains.

An important part of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation is to push into the last mile – the national security apparatus is the most resistant to democratic change and modern transformation. This is also the sector where modern management techniques and manufacturing would go a long way in aiding Taiwan to modernize its own domestic arms manufacturing. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated, even a global superpower like the United States cannot manage the logistical challenges of a modern medium-intensity war alone – so it serves vital American national security interests to coordinate with global democracies such as Taiwan, Japan, Korea, EU partners by creating a global arms supply chain. We hope for peace of course, but any potential democracies versus authoritarian China conflict in the future will be far more intense than the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ability of the US, Japan, Taiwan, and democratic allies to restock high-end high technology munitions (THAAD, Patriots, AMRAAM, etc.) in a high-intensity war will play a critical role in any future conflict in the region. 24.11.2022

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All But Fully Normalized – this emerging Taiwanese national identity and the status quo: Geostrategery and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

“In a move likely to anger the Chinese communists ….” “rising tensions,” “escalating tensions,” “spiraling tensions” …. there, western imperialist journalists and academics, I’ve collated your cliches.

The senator wisely noted the governmental titles and location of this public, official, nation-to-nation meeting between Taiwan and the US. While other western imperialists will practice Chinese communist filial piety by calling Taiwan an “island” or “region” or “area,” none of those weasel words describe any entity in the global stage that have Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs who could visit the capitol building of another nation in an official capacity.

What is the “status quo” between Taiwan and the democratic world? Let me borrow a concept from graduate school, ABD – “All but dissertation” – “All but fully normalized” – AbFN. Whatever angels on the head of a pin style arguments some western IR folks wish to fuss over, I am a pragmatist – if the smartest way to preserve Taiwanese democracy and independence and avoid a Chinese communist war of annexation is to remain at AbFN for now, then so be it. But let there be no doubt, Taiwan has made amazing progress in its international status and statehood since 1996. 23.11.2022

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Bibliography: Taiwanese antiradiation UAVs with a range over 1,000 km capable of striking Chinese coastal radar systems 劍翔無人機 可攻擊中國沿岸雷達: Geostrategery and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

〔記者涂鉅旻/台中報導〕因應中共解放軍威脅,國軍持續強化「不對稱戰力」,中科院昨對外展示無人機研發成果,其中,「劍翔」反輻射無人機現已進行量產,中科院首度公開實機與性能諸元,中科院航空所長齊立平表示,「劍翔」無人機的攻擊距離可超過一千公里、滯空五小時,俯衝攻擊時速更可達五、六百公里。劍翔機 俯衝時速逾500公里 – 國防部自今年至二○二六年執行二三六九億餘元的「海空戰力提升計畫採購特別預算」,其中一一九億餘元投入量產「劍翔」無人機。國軍規劃,這型無人機年產量可達四十八架以上,並區分尋標、攻擊二型機,可偵蒐敵雷達輻射訊號後,高速撞擊摧毀敵目標,且壓制目標包含中共沿岸、內陸及海上雷達。中科院也首度公布「劍翔」無人機確切諸元,齊立平表示,「劍翔」反輻射無人機若採直線飛行,其攻擊距離超過一千公里,可滯空五小時,若距離敵目標五百公里,則尚有約五百公里的餘裕,可於目標區上方盤旋。而「劍翔」無人機飛行時速約兩百公里,俯衝攻擊階段時速則可達五百至六百公里左右。

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is at least two decades late in terms of unmanned vehicles – in the air, at sea and submersed, for coastal defense. The gap between Taiwan’s vibrant and creative civil society – economy, commerce, technology, innovation – and its national security establishment cannot be wider than in the UAV sector. And I suspect while the obvious gaps are in the hardware, the greater threat to Taiwan’s national security exists in the ‘software’ – strategy, tactics, openness to new ideas, thinking creatively, and learning from the world. The Chinese communist military has invested decades in unmanned technology – the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense is still discussing bayonets. This Ministry of National Defense is reactive, conventional, and prefers copying past practices, refusing to learn from global counterparts such as the Israelis. A Martian traveling to earth in the 1990s and assessing the balance of power between communist China and democratic Taiwan, would surely assume smaller Taiwan would focus its energy and attention on unmanned vehicles. That it is 2022 and Taiwan’s national security apparatus has barely just started – much less engaging its talented civilian sectors in a wide-ranging discussion of strategy and tactics, is astonishing. Though, better late than never. 

There are other public policy discussions a democratic nation such as Taiwan should engage in. The role and purpose of CSIST, for example – should it focus on R&D and subcontract the manufacturing to civilian firms? Should it try to engage R&D in all sectors as it appears to do now? In what ways can CSIST play a leading role in placing Taiwanese high-technology manufacturing into the global democratic supply chain? If Taiwanese civilian firms have an edge on CSIST in UAV technology, what are the global best practices to ensure the talent and creativity of the private sectors are harnessed while maintaining national security? As Admiral Lee and others have rightly argued, Taiwan’s democracy requires open and honest discussions and debates on its national security options. 16.11.2022

《TAIPEI TIMES》 New drones to boost military’s capability: institute

攻擊距離超過1000公里 劍翔無人機 實機首公開

104 locally developed Chien Hsiang ‘suicide drones’ to be made by 2025

Taiwan’s NCSIST unveils new single-rotor drone: UAV will be deployed for reconnaissance, surveillance missions

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Reviews: The Overall Defense Concept: An asymmetric approach to Taiwan’s defense, Part Two – Democratizing and modernizing Taiwanese national security台灣的勝算 李喜明: Geostrategery and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

For Part One of the review, see HERE

Admiral Lee’s main argument is that smaller, resource-poor Taiwan’s best defense policy is to transform its national security establishment’s long-held mentality and focus on smaller, mobile, survivable platforms-munitions in all branches while emphasizing resiliency, mobility, and survivability in surveillance, intelligence, and logistics. These are difficult changes because they revolutionize how things have been done within the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense since 1949. These proposals also revolutionize how the nation’s elected leaders and citizens evaluate their national security and express their sense of national pride – pouring concrete and making small mobile communication vehicles and producing thousands of cheap, replaceable drones make national security sense, but challenges the psychology and emotions of all sectors of this nation.

Which gets us to the mystifying process of how the Taiwanese Navy has been pursuing its surface fleet since the early 1980s. I am not a partisan in intra-Taiwan Ministry of National Defense factions and arguments – I find those arguments, dating back to their China days (big northern fleet versus small attack craft southern command ….) tiresome. It is fascinating to think carefully about Admiral Lee’s stillborn manned and unmanned stealth missile crafts versus recent news that once again the Taiwan Navy will reverse course, delay its larger AEGIS/VLS surface vessels, and build smaller non-AEGIS/VLS frigates.

I do not have the professional-academic background to argue which model makes the most sense. Whether Taiwan is better off with a large vessel fleet, small fast attack craft fleet, a combination of both, and/or focus on submarines (and if so, what size and how many ….) I do have the background to conclude that Taiwan has not had an adequate, democratic, public policy debate over such an important issue. Admiral Lee’s argument is that if the US warning that dictator Xi and the Chinese communists want to be ready for a war of annexation no later than 2027 – then quickly getting hundreds of small, cheap, rapidly manufactured missile crafts into service is far more sensible than programs requiring decades. He further makes the argument, convincingly, that the Chinese communists would like nothing more than a grand, conventional, force-on-force battle – reminiscent of how Chiang Kai-shek’s army melted into thin air in 1948-1949 China I think.

And if these smaller frigates take too long to build, require too many sailors to staff, take too long to train to bring online, and are too easily sunk by the Chinese – well then in the same issue of this Taiwan-based military magazine, the additional mystery of Taiwan Navy building a massive amphibious landing vessel. In an ideal world – say if you are cheating in a computer game and money can be infinitely replaced, then sure you buy everything. In the real world, Admiral Lee argues correctly, one needs to prioritize – and the priority is not choosing weapons that make people proud, but choosing weapons that will survive the initial strikes from China and be able to inflict enough damage on the invaders so as to deny them the victory they seek.

But then the peculiar modern history of Taiwan is this. In the early 1980s when Taiwan was still under China KMT martial law military publications began to appear, but military affairs were very much seen as highly confidential, only the military ought to discuss the military. Taiwan has a long history of civilians rightly avoiding politics, military, history, and diplomacy – no one wanted to become yet another political prisoner of the China KMT. This is what I thought of when Admiral Lee pointed out Taiwan is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of high-end speed seacrafts – one of many, many areas where the democratic, civilian Taiwanese civil society thrives, yet this historically created chasm between the national security establishment and Taiwanese civilians remain. In this sense, the greatest proposal from Admiral Lee’s book is not about a particular model or approach, or a particular weapon or munition – I’ve noticed in publications and online discussions these shorthands, asymmetry, porcupine, Javelins and Stingers. I think the main conclusion from Admiral Lee’s book, and the experience of Ukraine, is that a democracy cannot compartmentalize its national security policies from other realms of democratic policy debates. That in order for a democracy to make difficult national security decisions, in order for the democracy to harness all of its talents, its national security apparatus must be as democratic and modern as the rest of the nation. Admiral Lee pointed to the thriving and creative ship design and building industry in Taiwan – contrast that with the uncreativity and directionlessness of the Taiwan Navy since the 1980s. I see similar gaps in unmanned vehicles (design, manufacturing, deployment-uses), in gaming, in information warfare, etc etc. Taiwanese businesses are perhaps some of the most creative and resilient in global logistics – whereas the Taiwan military has had a reputation for weaknesses in logistics. Democratizing and modernizing the national security establishment are the only ways forward to ensure Taiwan’s national security can withstand the challenge posed by its imperialistic autocratic neighbor.

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Democracy is a verb – a Taiwan that belongs to the Taiwanese citizens, a better Taiwan as a part of the world – this emerging Taiwanese national identity: Taiwan dispatch, national identity, and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

阿中部長凍蒜!On the boulevard that used to greet the invader-dictator and then renamed for the indigenous people 凱達格蘭大道, next to the memorial that still inexplicably honors the dictator-invader, thousands of us participated in a political rally on behalf of Taiwanese democracy — a democratic Taiwan Republic that belongs to its citizens — as President Tsai said, a Taiwan that belong to the Taiwanese, a better Taiwan for the world — free from threats and violence.

Have you ever noticed how some too-cool-for-school western reporters, academics, and talking heads find focusing on democracy and human rights corny and not “realistic/realist/adult enough”? The more clever ones will go around in wordological circles and pretend to care, and the more honest ones will just tell you a version of “might makes right” – in the end, the main idea remains, smaller nations with darker people do not get to have self-determination. Interesting too to see overlapping circles of this unwillingness to engage democracy as a core, existential subject in domestic American elite discourse – see the corporate media and chattering heads twisting themselves into knots over President Biden daring to give a speech on democracy; or the core issue of democracy and self-determination in the Russian invasion of Ukraine; likewise, the nature of Chinese imperialism and Taiwanese democracy.

Well, democracy and self-determination are verbs for Taiwanese citizens – not abstract theoretical concepts, not frameworks for which egghead academics negotiate away on their behalf. And it is a concept as many are in Taiwan, borrowed and then modified for local taste – Mickey Mouse paws wearing street bowing by politicians, a parade of too loud vehicles, traditional market sweeps, the chanting at rallies that feels like a Taiwanese-Japanese baseball game.

I stood for three hours with thousands of Taiwanese citizens primarily to thank 阿中部長 for preventing the pandemic the Chinese communists are responsible for from harming my elders. It was very moving to watch Taiwanese democracy as a way of life and an emerging national identity — to be greeted in Taiwanese as ‘The nation of Taiwan’s owners’ in front of the same building where the invader-dictators tried to wipe out Taiwanese as a language. To watch the old school Premier at the end of his speech giving ninety-degree bows three times, sincerely asking for our votes in three languages, Taiwanese, Hakka, and Mandarin. Imagine a Chinese communist, China KMT dictator, or a western imperialist doing that.

The path of decolonization and transitional justice will be crooked and difficult for Taiwan, but there is this energy in this young democracy, irreverent, nontraditional, heterodox, good-humored, and pragmatic. Nothing gave me more faith that this democracy will survive the onslaught from the Chinese communists, the China KMT, and western imperialists, than how orderly and peacefully the rallygoers left at the end — picking up their own trash, waiting for the traffic light, keeping relatively quiet to not disturb the neighborhood. Democracy and nationalism are pointless without love for their fellow citizens inside this nation — they are also pointless if the nation is filled with violence and chaos. May the Buddha bless our beloved ancestral homeland, and our hard-fought and blood-soaked democracy. 12.11.2022

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Reviews: The Overall Defense Concept: An asymmetric approach to Taiwan’s defense 台灣的勝算 李喜明: Geostrategery and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

This is an important book regarding the national security of Taiwan, and it is a pity that it has provoked little earnest discussion and debate among Taiwan’s civilian and military leaders. This does not mean I believe Admiral Lee’s ideas should all be adopted – but the lack of debates is indicative of the greatest danger posed to Taiwan’s national security – the inability of its hyper-conservative (in this instance, I mean not ideology but a culture – reluctance to embrace new ideas, take risks, debate openly) national security apparatus to adopt democratic and modern norms in order to make necessary and rapid adjustments.

At nearly five hundred pages, this book could have used more thorough editing. The writing can be repetitive. In a polarized national identity climate, nothing in public policy Taiwan can escape quick and ideological dismissals. Probably I disagree with Admiral Lee on most political and diplomatic issues. I respect his expertise, and I see no reason as other reviewers have, prematurely jump to conclusions regarding his patriotism and loyalty.

If I were to choose a few pages as a microcosm of what makes this book important, it would be the section on Admiral Lee’s proposed manned and unmanned stealth mini-attack naval crafts (pages 344-357). Many words have been spilled by many parties over this aborted proposal – but the admiral’s convincing explanation here, and the unhealthy political process by which other leaders in the Taiwan national defense establishment ended this project without engaging in a proper and fair democratic debate, serves as an important example for what policymakers in Taipei, Tokyo, and DC ought to focus on – not merely weapons and platforms, not how much money to provide for military aid, not denial versus control, not porcupine or not – but that Taiwan’s military leadership is in dire need of a revolutionary change in culture.

Elsewhere I have noted this, that in the decades of Taiwanese democratization, the national security institutions have been the least touched by democracy and openness to engage the rest of the world. One may generally argue that this is the case in most nations. Yet I think one can reasonably argue that this phenomenon is particularly pronounced in Taiwan. And Taiwan’s civilian leaders from all parties lack the expertise, and rightly fear the instability of a menacing authoritarian neighbor, by pushing for democratization and openness within its military.

This is where a constructive avenue is to adopt the models of the 1950s, where Taiwan turned to Japanese and American officers – retired and active service – for advice. Again, refusing to participate in simpleminded name calling one sees in some Taiwan-based military publications – this is not about whether Taiwanese officers have expertise and insight. I think they do, no less than foreign officers. I have never had doubt about the quality of the Taiwanese rank-and-file military – only doubts and worries about its generals and admirals. The problem is not expertise, but bureaucratic, institutional inertia, decades in the making – requiring a push from the outside to cut through decades of habits and precedence. In many ways while reading this book and other related articles the inertia in the Taiwanese military leadership reminds me of the American higher ed thought leaders – everyone knows a demographic tsunami is coming, everyone agrees that the economic model makes no sense – yet there is zero incentive structure for anyone to be the one to say this, much less to make substantive changes.

So then back to Admiral Lee’s mini-missile crafts. I do not have the expertise to decide whether they were the right approach for the defense of Taiwan. I think the fact that there was basically no national discussion and debate, from the proposal, and adoption, to the removal of both the policy and Admiral Lee himself from office, illustrates the gap between Taiwan’s democracy and its national security policy-making apparatus. Even the fact that this book has received relatively muted responses from Taiwanese political leaders, military establishment, journalists, and scholars, illustrates this dangerous gap – an otherwise vibrant democracy, yet cannot engage in honest and direct conversations and debates regarding its fundamental survival.

And I admit, as I read Admiral Lee’s thorough proposals, moving away from jet aircraft and large warships and armored vehicles, my initial reactions were emotional and reactive – my decades-long sense of Taiwan’s national defense and identity intertwined in these weapons and systems. Yet Admiral Lee’s analysis is rational and thoughtful – how does a smaller nation invest very limited resources so that it could deny a larger neighbor the military victory it seeks? And Admiral Li is a rare Taiwan military leader who is neither defeatist/too political, yet is willing to risk the unpopularity of speaking the unvarnished truth.

This reminds me of something I have thought about for decades as I watch Taiwanese military maneuvers and read interviews and articles published by the Taiwanese military – a core question for me has been: Are these generals and admirals honestly preparing to fight for real? And I think Admiral Lee has convincingly answered this question as sadly being no. This is where Taiwan’s civilian democratic leaders require the most assistance from their US, Japan, and other democratic allies – expertise and credibility to push for a revolution in Taiwanese military leadership. A few recent examples are alarming indications. That the Taiwan military leadership reacted so slowly to the Chinese communist unmanned aerial vehicle intrusions is a clue of deep-seated institutional problems. The recent special forces maneuver preparing for a Chinese communist landing at the mouth of the Tamsui River – they have been practicing against that scenario for as long as I have been reading the news – do you suppose the Chinese communists have noticed that too? And if so, why would they follow the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense’s scenario? And finally, this is subtle but to my thinking indicative and fundamental. A Taiwanese college student, a music major, on his own initiative used open-source information to map out major Chinese communist military installations on Google Map. In most functioning democracies he would have been invited by the Ministry of Defense – if only for the PR/marketing/recruitment drive – and an even smarter military would see this as a way to draw strengths from the democracy it is trying to protect. Yet thus far, to my knowledge, the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense has not reacted.

This is where Admiral Lee’s policy suggestions should meet actual global policy moves. All of the particulars he has offered are debatable in a democratic process. I think one of the most important first steps for Admiral Lee’s proposal to have a chance of taking root inside Taiwan’s national security institutions is for a US-Japan led global effort to share expertise – civil defense and modern military concepts by Finland, Sweden, and Norway; logistics and civil defense by Israel; how to modernize the Ministry of National Defense by the US. And perhaps a pressing issue is to find ways to send Taiwanese and American officers to learn from their Ukrainian counterparts. How did Ukraine manage to transform its authoritarian, Soviet-based national security apparatus to adapt to its modern democratic reality? How did Ukraine manage to deal with members within its national security apparatus who had loyalty-identity issues without violating democratic norms? How did Ukraine manage the vast logistical and supply issues [recent Taiwan military publication rightly focuses on this issue – where will foreign military supplies reach Taiwan during a war? Has Taiwan planned on how to move them from air and sea ports to storage and distribution?] What lessons have the Ukrainians learned regarding the resiliency of local governments, police, reserve forces, transportation, and communication?

Taiwan has had a long history of sending officers and fact-finding teams abroad, similar to those US higher ed task forces and committees, where findings and reports sink slowly into an entrenched bureaucracy full of reasons why needed reforms cannot occur. Taiwan Can Help, Taiwan in military affairs needs that push from abroad – expertise, resources, reassurances – so that it can transform its mentality from fielding a force for the parade grounds, into a military force prepared to fight, prepared for the unexpected. Admiral Lee has provided invaluable service to his nation by writing this book – a thankless task really, he could have easily kept his mouth shut, become the head of another state-owned industry, and collect his pensions, he should have the gratitude of everyone who cares about Taiwan’s democracy. 12.11.2022

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Reviews: Taiwanese film Untold Herstory 流麻溝十五號 – Decolonization, historical memory, art, and this emerging Taiwanese national identity: Taiwan dispatch, national identity, and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

Because few Taiwanese dared to go into filmmaking, TV, radio, journalism, the arts, history, and politics during the days of the China KMT occupation-dictatorship, even decades after Taiwan’s democratization the decolonization process remains stalled. Taiwanese do not have the institutions, the people, nor the vocabulary to yet fully recover their historical memory and examine their own histories. This new film about the invading China KMT’s political prisoners and white terror during the 1950s and 1960s is an attempt to reverse that tide – for Taiwanese to reclaim their memory, and to tell their own stories. It was a difficult film to watch, much tears, sometimes I just closed my eyes for minutes to shut out the pain. But I told my wife going to a theater is no less important than voting – a small, personal vote against Chinese colonialism.

The incongruities and complications of modernity and modern Taiwan are these – to walk out of a beautiful and heart-wrenching film, subtle and tastefully done, into a western-style shopping mall complex in downtown Taipei. And then, a few minutes later, on a subway, to transfer to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial stop – the same invader-dictator who is responsible for these crimes against humanity, yet Taiwanese citizens are still forced to host a memorial in his honor. And for extra incongruity, one of the Taipei mayoral candidates claims to be Chiang’s illegitimate great-grandson. And he may actually win. None of it makes any sense, yet all of them must coexist, parallel universe-like, democratically and peacefully.

How to reclaim historical memory, tell one’s own stories, and decolonize one’s own nation peacefully and democratically? The greatest strength of this film, I thought, was complicating and humanizing all of the characters, from China KMT political prison guards to political prisoners who are from China to Taiwanese victims – without descending into moral relativism and “What a tragedy of that era ….” b.s. These are my initial thoughts – I am going to take a while to think over my notes and ponder all of this. The range of linguistic diversity, accents, and languages brought over from China to the beautiful code-switching between southern Taiwanese to Japanese to English, speaks to a level of multiculturalism and diversity inherent to Taiwan that the China KMT dictatorship tried mightily to erase. The film did a masterful job with a light touch – this is a subject and a story that’s constantly at risk of tipping over into melodrama. The China KMT crimes and the human suffering were drama enough when simply illustrated. Something about the way the film was filmed and narrated and the stories interspersed felt immersive throughout – a deep sense of sadness and anger, sadness for the needless suffering and injustice, anger that the criminals remain unrepentant and unpunished, beautiful shots of the Pacific Ocean waves and the natural beauty of the Green Island almost as momentary reprieve.

It also occurred to me that decades of China KMT brainwashing into their particular brand of neutered in service of the Chiang crime family dictatorship “Confucianism” and decades of enforced forgetting have nearly erased most of modern-day Taiwanese memory of highly educated and super strong-willed Taiwanese women leaders in its history. A history that films like this is beginning to remember.

The film’s thankless task is also President Tsai’s thankless task – tell a fair and complicated historical memory story which some will take offense for not being harsh enough; while even touching the subject is making Chinese reactionaries inside Taiwan upset. Yet these are necessary steps for the future of Taiwanese democracy and nationhood – requiring brave, selfless Taiwanese to take – to engage the pain and suffering while opening a democratic and peaceful path for national coexistence. 8.11.2022

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Bang-Kah and an emerging rock n’ rolling Taiwanese national identity: Taiwan dispatch, national identity, and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms


I am not naive about semiconductors and global finance, but I think the greatest contribution Taiwan Republic offers the world (Taiwan Can Help!) is a heterodox, pragmatic, peaceful, and democratic national identity. A challenge to a world quick to violence and tempted by utopian perfectionism – bloodshed and authoritarianism in the name of orthodoxies.

I love temples. I always remind students to look up and study their ceilings. I love Taiwan’s anti-utopian, heterodox, mishmash with a gentle shrug approach to even religious lives. Yesterday I visited a temple that was basically a United Nations/Mall of America of deities, Buddhist to folk to Taoist to everything in between. One could hear imperialist academics and theologians critique how it really doesn’t make sense – but it works for Taiwan, peacefully, and largely without discussion. And it occurred to me that this kind of incoherence for now works broadly – RoCTaiwan73years.

The first temple we visited had a birthday ceremony for the resident God, with major Goddesses and Gods – again of different localities and heritage and tradition and theological origins – from other Taiwanese temples visiting to celebrate the occasion. That temple, like many in Taiwan Republic, came about during a plague/pandemic, it was built to honor the God’s work putting down the plague.

The same cultural association that organized the incongruent yet beautiful Taiwan National Day show I wrote about organized this historic Bang-Kah street fair – from temple to temple they laid out the festivities, three stages for three series of Taiwanese kids playing their music – from rock to pop to jazz to hip hop to emo? – most of which I don’t quite get. Another of these Taiwanese incongruities – the Cultural Association was started by the China KMT dictatorship during the bad old days when Chiang Kai-shek needed to pretend that his China is the real China, and that his dictatorship was the preserver and inheritor of real “Chineseness” – the characters “Chinese” was removed from the association’s name, put back during Taiwan’s reactionary retrenchment, and left alone by the pragmatic Tsai administration – though their logo emphasizes the two mandarin characters “Cultural Association” – and they are leading the charge in melding President Tsai’s compromise – RoCTaiwan73 years, democratic sovereignty, Taiwan has never been a part of the PRC. Instead of fighting over orthodoxy and symbols and names, President Tsai changes the meaning from within seeking a stable governing majority.

We listened to the band whose name is a multilingual pun on poop – I chuckled as if I was suddenly a junior high student. What struck me the most was not the music, I’m just too old to be jumping up and down, and I can’t dance, and I have a ginormous oldster chest pack – but that the concert and event is a microcosm of this emerging Taiwanese national identity – a relatively peaceful coexistence of one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods, full of young people, setting up a rock concert stage right in front of a temple, no way they did not make the proper offerings and asked the resident God permission to do this, and then to have their semi-ironic, sometimes profane, I wondered what the God made of this kidsnowadays concert, and no one says a peep. Imagine the kind of utopian-perfectionist orthodoxy debate and outrage in an imperialist power like America, or communist China – or maybe even Japan and Korea. My point is not that Taiwan is a harmonious utopia – far from that. Taiwanese politics is polarized, its cities tightly packed, there is for now a willingness to not debate everything endlessly – to be pragmatic, to let differences be.

As we walked around the Bang-Kah neighborhoods and temples and took notes, it occurred to me when my wife asked about a building being pre-Japan, Japanese, or China KMT, or western, that so many had likely fusion/mishmash – layers of Han immigrants, maybe with indigenous connections, trading with Fujianese and Okinawan and Japanese and Koreans and westerners, who may have seen the kind of “Ocean-foreign” buildings in other harbors and rather than borrowing the whole design, took parts, say windows while fuzing the new with geomancy and local material.

Utopianism and perfectionism and modern nationalism are impossible without bloodshed, left or right, fascist or communist, American or Chinese. Taiwan frustrates because the randomness of life and human imperfections frustrate. This emerging Taiwanese national identity is a model, an ongoing experiment with global implications: Can heterodoxy and imperfection and things not fitting and making no sense democratically and peacefully coexist as a modern nation? Past and present, religious and secular, descendants of the 1949 refugees with Taiwan independence activists, Hakkas and Minnan, indigenous and new immigrants from SE Asia, returnees from the global Taiwan diaspora, and immigrants from the world, peacefully and democratically coexisting in a nation.

This is sentimental and emotional on my part. Standing there in a historic temple’s courtyard, watching Taiwanese youths bopping up and down while doing their Texas Long Horn rock and roll hand gestures, with the temple and the resident God as the backdrop, I love this heterodox-based national identity. Live peacefully and democratically, don’t try to resolve and solve everything, and leave other people alone as much as possible. And the most endearing part of Taiwan Republic is, last evening (oldsters like me do not like standing out in the dark too close to bedtime….), my beloved Taiwanese independence rockband FireEx performed at the main stage, and the resident temple provided the Farcebook live stream. This emerging Taiwanese national identity is the most important resource to offer for Taiwan Can Help – it is a model for a different way to manage modern national identity, for a violent, angry, and troubled world. 6.11.2022

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