Where else but Taiwan Republic would a baseball hero’s nickname be ‘Minister of National Defense’, and where else but Taiwan would the democratically elected vice president now prime minister and Army frogmen heroes echo his salute?
Politicians focus on curriculum and monuments and formal national iconographies when it comes to national identity debates — these categories play a role, but national identity emerges from a complex mixture, of formal and informal, planned and accidental, low and high cultures, action and reaction. The Chinese Taipei refugees imposed a particularly odd set of values and historical memories on postwar Taiwan — meek, notebook in hand, sitting using only one-third of a chair, autocratic filial piety, loyalty to the Chiang crime family, frugality amidst their corruption, self-effacing mixed with Han Chinese imperialism and racism.
This Taiwanese baseball team, on the other hand, is modern and global, they are celebrating loudly — a natural swagger, this Team Taiwan celebrates individuality, and spontaneity — they reflect the real historical experience of peripheral, heterodox, land of refuge from many different quarters of historic Taiwan.
How to purge democratic Taiwan of this poison the Chinese brought democratically, without bloodshed — it may be that constitutional reforms and national day declarations and political summits play less role than something like a World Baseball Classic, where Taiwanese naturally call their team Team Taiwan — where Chinese Taipei is understood as the slur imposed by the Chinese Taipei KMT that it is — where Taiwanese naturally, joyously, return to their historic, authentic national identity — a land of pirates and rebels and migrants, an island nation where beliefs and practices and foodways from different immigrants get hilariously mixed together.
Without a breakdown of which missiles are produced in what quantity annually, it is difficult to assess the significance of “1,000” – though it is a good sign that Taiwan Republic, Japan, and US are all addressing the logistics of a war against China. Taiwanese “indigenous” missiles are a product of the peculiar stage in Taiwan-US-China relations – a product of compromise and the fictional One China status quo. I wonder if policymakers in DC have seriously studied and throught through the implications of having the Taiwanese continue this dual track – purchasing/importing US-made missiles while investing in domestically manufactured missiles. Perhaps the blurb from the recent US-Taiwan military talks about “enhancing munitions coproduction” is a way to discuss this issue – from economies of scale, to whether NCIST missiles are more vulnerable to Chinese communist infiltration and sabotage, to obstacles to interoperability with Japanese and American units. An example: during the war can the US-made Patriots efficiently coordinate with the Taiwanese TK2 and TK3 surface-to-air missiles? How about Taiwanese naval units using American Harpoons and Taiwanese HF series? Or Taiwanese artillery units using Taiwanese MLRS and soon-to-be imported American HIMARS?
A final observation: while it is good that Taiwan’s CSIST is moving away from the “handcrafted” model of manufacturing missiles into the modern mass assembly, one of the many chasms between the Taiwan military and Taiwanese democracy is in this island nation’s economic dynamism and know-how, and how isolated the military remains. Simple question: should a quasi-state military research entity like CSIST even manufacture missiles? Or would it be best to adopt the model from Israel, or Singapore, or South Korea, or Japan, have CSIST coordinate strategic level priority weapon systems research, and subcontract manufacturing to private or public-private corporations? 10.2.2023
Depending on what ‘altitude’ you fly over news items, for most international news outlets Taiwan reinstating year-long conscription feeds into the “rising tensions-most dangerous place on earth” storyline. And for domestic Taiwan news, arguments about which party made this move necessary, whether American pressure is behind this change if this means the youth vote will shift for 2024, etc etc.
To me, this is classic President Tsai and why I am a supporter. Smart policymaking, aggravatingly careful and slow and boring, good for Taiwan’s democracy, not likely to win her praise or many votes. Kind of like her green energy policy. Legalizing gay marriage. Pension reforms. Pandemic abatement. The opposite of the kind of quick, easy-to-understand modern storytelling to rile up populist emotions.
I have no faith in the ability and resolve of the China KMT dictatorship-dominated Taiwan national security establishment, though I know if they are good at one thing, it is to use their bureaucratic skills to kill reform efforts pushed by civilian, democratically elected leaders. So we will see.
It is politically smart to give the mostly superficial domestic Taiwan press the massively raised salary of the conscripts as their headlines. Once you listen to the press conference and read the details the most encouraging facet of this new policy is the recognition that the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense requires revolutionary change and improvements – a breakthrough for the democratically elected president of Taiwan to acknowledge that former draftees felt their time and talent were not fully respected and utilized by the military, to be smart about using this year-long conscription wisely, to import training regimes (and important, doctrines and concepts) from the US and other leading democracies, to think about how the volunteer military and conscripts enhance one another. This is a difficult and important first step – future elections will determine whether the momentum to democratize and reform the Taiwan military will continue.
An additional breakthrough is in how rapidly and directly the praise came from the American embassy in Taipei – without regard for the thin skin-ness of the Chinese communists and their allies inside Taiwan and in the west. This gets me back to my earlier point that folks generally focus on the headline numbers of the NDAA and aid to Taiwan, I have been fascinated by the detailed plans on interoperability and the “software” of national security – personnel, advisors, new mentality. California and Florida National Guards heroically trained Ukrainian officers – Hawaii National Guard has been paired with the Taiwanese military, is this the model we will see with new, modern training for the conscripts and volunteers alike? And again, having seen too many bright-eyed Taiwanese patriots graduate from West Point, Annapolis, and US Air Force Academy only to file for early retirement due to a reactionary and hyper-bureaucratic Taiwan military leadership. We will see, and we hope for the best. No shortage of talent and vitality from the bottom up in a democracy such as Taiwan – the bottleneck is within Taiwan’s military leadership.
An additional thing to ponder is this paradox of Taiwan. A medium small-ish nation. An oceanic, island democracy with a history of heterodoxy and not following imperial rules. Taiwanese businesspeople are notoriously creative and flexible. Taiwanese cuisine and music and literature are hybrid and ever-changing. The parts of Taiwan dominated by the China KMT dictatorship are reactionary, uncreative, haughty, stuck in trench warfare mentality – hyper-bureaucratic, better to get fifteen stamps than five, hurry up and wait – these facets of Taiwan public life exist in a parallel universe with the vibrant, democratic, can-do democracy that grew up around this China KMT dictatorship.
So I have been wondering about creatively deconstructing how the Taiwan public health – less dominated by the China KMT dictatorship because during the martial law era this was a safe harbor for educated Taiwanese – could serve as a model for how a reformed Taiwanese military could democratize and harness the creativity and energy of this democratic nation. Taiwanese public health and healthcare were not flawless during this pandemic – yet compared to the Taiwan military, it has been far more flexible and responsive to criticism and suggestions from citizens, civilian authorities, and foreign experts. Pandemic management had features and characteristics that are warfare-like – the “enemy” was not just the virus, but foreign and domestic bad actors, fear, rumors, anxiety, and fake news. What is it about the Taiwanese public health leadership, bureaucracy and regulation, institutional culture, and how it relates to the rest of this democracy, that enabled it to successfully meet these challenges? And what lessons might the democratically elected civilian leaders of Taiwan seeking to democratize and reform the Taiwan national security establishment draw from this model? 28.12.2022
Even though Taipei appears full of doom and gloom over President Tsai’s electoral defeats during the recent local elections, future historians will study this ‘indigenous’ Taiwanese submarine project as an example of her administration’s success.
If the project proves successful, President Tsai and her team would have overcome decades – since the 1960s – of American, Chinese communist, China KMT interference and sabotage against a Taiwanese submarine fleet. No doubt rapidly shifting geopolitical realities enabled the change in American policy. This shift then brought along critical technology from other democratic allies, the UK, maybe South Korea, maybe Japan, and others. I remain fascinated and a bit confused at the relatively muted reactions from the Chinese communists and their allies inside Taiwan – is this because they have other problems and crises to deal with, or do they have other angles?
What remains true is this, if we compare the three democratically elected Taiwanese presidents, Lee, Chen, and Tsai – a bureaucracy of Taiwan’s central government, particularly the national security establishment, ensconced in decades of China KMT party-state external authoritarian occupation, a similar project under Presidents Lee and Chen that did not leak like a sieve would have been unimaginable. The relative success of the Tsai administration in preventing the vestiges of the authoritarian bureaucracy from sabotaging this project has been a noticeable success in Taiwan’s democratic consolidation.
As to whether or not these ‘indigenous’ (even a global empire like the US can no longer manufacture high-end weapons without global supply chains and know-how, much less Taiwan ….) submarines will deter and defeat a Chinese invasion – are eight enough? Should they be paired with unmanned underwater vehicles? Should they be armed with defensive and offensive ordinances? Are they linked with other Taiwanese military units as well as US and Japanese units? Maybe the first step in a genuine democratization of the Taiwanese military is to have an open national debate on why the Taiwanese Navy has been circling in step since the 1990s – unable to match the surface nor subsurface fleets of the region? In this, I suspect advice and know-how from American and Japanese officers will play a critical role in ensuring the money invested in hardware such as submarines will be properly deployed during a future war to defend Taiwanese sovereignty and democracy – a kind of AUKUS+ regional submarine chain – Australian and Japanese long-range submarines plus smaller Taiwanese and others to contain the China threat. This is also where the significance of the US NDAA is never about money or hardware/weapons per se, but the infusion of American expertise into the stagnate and reactionary Taiwan national security establishment. 27.12.2022
While the headlines and focus will be about the amount of US military aid to Taiwan Republic, and the weapon systems transferred, to me this is the most significant breakthrough in this year’s NDAA. Ten American officials per year to Taiwan is not significant – the mental-psychological breakthrough on the part of DC – the real pivot to the Indo-Pacific, understanding the China threat, and realizing the nature of the Chinese threats against democratic Taiwan – those are decades in the making. And one suspects once the breakthrough occurs, more will (and should) follow.
Even just the simple yet monumental step of normalizing the interactions between these two democratically elected national governments of America and Taiwan – official to official, bureaucracy to bureaucracy.
If the billions in direct military aid authorized by the NDAA are funded, and if the Biden administration does not waste more time fighting Congress, then I would expect more American advisors and officials to follow that money. I cannot find a previous case where Congress authorized large military foreign aid without request from the foreign party – nor was such an amount being transferred without direct US involvement (advisors, etc.) Because humans always refer to the most recent historical experience as a template, I have read many articles referring back to the US-RoC Mutual Defense Treaty/US Advisor era. Times change, the nature of the governments are different, and characteristics of modern warfare shift – the era of large contingents of US and Japanese troops stationed in Taiwan makes little sense. Rapidly rotating in units for realistic training and coordination – advisors in key units, teams from the US and Japan to help locate and fix weakest links in Taiwanese strategic and tactical planning, intelligence and counterintelligence, logistics, civil defense, sabotage, and infiltration, etc., in 2023 these will make more difference to the security of the Indo-Pacific and countering the China threat than anything else.
Have we ever had a case in American history where a designated aid nation did not request aid, and US Congress generously, voluntarily provide such a massive amount? And instead of debating whether this is good policy, perhaps the first prudent thing to do is to ponder what is going on in this moment of world history that such an unusual move has been taken.
Novices and bad actors will focus on the dollar amount, while experts and those with a sincere desire to protect democracy in the Indo-pacific will notice that the direct military aid is only the tip of a very large spear against the China threat — technology, education, trade, democracy, law enforcement, intelligence, and counterintelligence, etc. are other realms where this global struggle are occurring.
The most important part of the NDAA is Congress forcing a lumbering executive branch to pivot to face the China threat for real — i.e., increasing production of critical munitions, money for base protection, a stockpile of critical munitions in the region, etc. Novices and bad actors will focus on allegedly “provoking” the Chinese communists and rising tensions even though the communists are experts at self-provocation — they will fuss about budget and deficit, and they will spread lies that the Taiwanese prefer to surrender. Experts from this point on will avoid focusing on weapons sold and transferred, and see if Congress is able to force the executive branch and the Pentagon to do real interoperability — i.e., to abandon the idiocy of Jimmy Carter and invite the Taiwanese military to participate in US-Japan-Australian-NATO exercises. I wonder, and this is speculation on my part – would the US government voluntarily grant this massive amount of foreign military aid without sending American military advisors? Taiwan’s archaic and dated military leaders require a push and a nudge re: modern warfare – rapid pace, technology-centered, intelligence-counterintelligence, modern logistics, and creativity. What the Taiwan military leadership requires most, and perhaps this is where American, Japanese, and European advisors can best provide, is the lesson of Ukraine – a national military divorced from the democracy of its nation cannot and will not fight. Taiwan’s national security establishment requires democratization so that it can absorb and adhere to the strengths of the democracy it is suppose to protect.
I am against large US military presence in Taiwan, having nothing to do with the easily hurt feelings of the Chinese in China and the Chinese in Taiwan — but that it makes little tactical and strategery sense. Quick and thoughtful public and routinized rotations of American and Japanese units in and out of Taiwan to work on interoperability and training, with a small officer-advisor corp in Taiwan as advisors to the Ministry of National Defense and Taiwan’s democratically elected civilian leaders, and massive munitions and platforms depot in the area ready for the fight immediately are hopefully enough to deter the communists.
Now that the American aid is here, Taiwan must increase its annual war budget by the same amount — we have to increase our war budget so that our American congressional allies will have cover from domestic bad actors, united front fellow travelers. All multinational policies regarding the China threat is to prevent Beijing from even considering starting a war of annexation against Taiwan.
A history of why the Taiwanese Navy, in 2022, is still using two World War Two era GUPPY II conventional submarines would be a fascinating book – covering dictator Chiang Kai-shek’s delusional dreams of recovering his fictional China, to US Cold War policies, to misguided US policies on offensive versus defensive weapons, to the complications of Taiwanese domestic politics during the democracy era, that one of the two major political parties – the China KMT – has a national identity crisis (and hence, blocked the conventional submarine project for a decade.)
For a leaky Taiwanese national security scene, I have been impressed with how tightly the Tsai administration has held information on this ‘domestic’ submarine project. The fewer leaks the better, not just for the submarines project, but a sign that systemic problems in the national security apparatus are being fixed. While there were rumors of South Korean, or maybe Japanese involvement, recent reports indicate that the US and UK are the primary actors – with the recent British parliamentarians visiting Taipei indicating that discussions were held re: the submarines most interesting. A kind of soft AUKUS+ emerging – nuclear submarines for Australia and maybe Japan, conventional submarines for Taiwan.
What remains missing, I think, is a discussion-debate inside Taiwan, and then between Taiwan and its democratic allies, on an overall strategy to deter and defeat the China threat. Are eight submarines enough? Should they have offensive cruise missile capabilities? Are the submarines designed to operate with CSIST’s mini/unmanned underwater vehicles? Are they designed with interoperability with the Japanese and American Navy?
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
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
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