Monthly Archives: October 2005

Non-Constitutional Reform

President Chen Shui-bian is very keen on constitutional reform. He regularly talks about it being vital for the future development of Taiwan, and a cornerstone of his presidency. This in itself means that the pan-Blue opposition parties will make very sure that he won’t be able to reform the constitution again during his presidency.

So if constitutional reform is a non-starter, then what about other reforms? The latest drive against corruption by the government is just such a reform:

The Democratic Progressive Party Cabinet yesterday approved a draft bill to establish a new agency to curb political corruption under the Ministry of Justice and submitted it to the Legislative Yuan for approval.

Executive Yuan Secretary-General Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) told The Taiwan News that the Cabinet submitted the bill in response to a call by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) earlier this month to respond to concerns in society about the governing party and corruption by intensifying reform and moving to ensure cleaner politics and government.

The draft bill mandates that the proposed new bureau would be responsible for the investigation and handling of cases of suspected crimes of graft and corruption and other issues related to clean politics and government.

All very worthy and commendable. It is undeniable that there is (and always has been) corruption in the various layers of govnerment, and having a body tasked with stamping this out is a popular move. There was only one major complaint about the idea, from Judicial Reform Alliance Executive Director Kao Yung-cheng:

“It would be better to integrate anti-corruption responsibilities at a higher level agency, such as an anti-corruption administration, that would be independent from the executive system and have judicial investigative powers or by bolstering the powers of the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau to investigate economic crimes and make the MJIB more transparent,” said Kao.

Hmm … A high level body, independent of the Executive Yuan, whose role is to investigate corruption and other illegal activities by government officials. An interesting concept,which raises a question that i’ve often wondered about: Has noone in government actually read the constitution? Here’s a few relevent articles:

Article 90
The Control Yuan shall be the highest control organ of the State. It shall exercise the powers of consent, impeachment, censure, and auditing.

Article 95
In exercising its power of control, the Control Yuan may request the Executive Yuan and its Ministries and Commissions to make available to it any orders they have issued and all other relevant documents.

Article 96
The Control Yuan may, according to the work of the Executive Yuan and its Ministries and Commissions, set up a number of committees to look into all aspects of their activities to see whether there is any violation of law or dereliction of duty.

So in summary: To fight corruption, the government plans on setting up a body whose responsibility is exactly covered by an existing (but largely ignored, and currently defunct) branch of government – except that this new body will have less independence and authority than the current body. What a great step forward.

Update: Inspired by this DPP initiative, the PFP have come up with their own anti-corruption plan:

The People First Party (PFP) caucus yesterday proposed amending the law to empower lawmakers to exercise the right of investigation, including summoning the president, in order to probe the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp (KRTC) scandal.

At least with this daft idea some lawmakers did actually mention the constitution and point out the principle of separation of powers among branches of government.
Why do I get the feeling that in a couple of years we’ll have more ‘anti-corruption bodies’ than you could shake a stick at (and as a direct result, more corruption)?

Chinese Tourists in Taiwan

Taiwan is hardly a prime tourist destination. However, that might be about to change as there are continuing rumours that mainland Chinese tourists will soon be able to visit Taiwan in large numbers:

China’s top official in charge of tourism begins a 10-day visit to Taiwan on Friday, fuelling hopes the trip could open the floodgates for Chinese tourists to visit the island Beijing claims as its own.

Shao Qiwei, head of China’s National Tourism Administration, will lead a 66-member delegation to see tourist spots around the island, including the tranquil Sun Moon Lake, the misty Alishan mountain range, and the steep Taroko Gorge.

While the Taiwan government has said no official negotiations will take place during their tour, hopes are high that it can be a major step towards ushering in Chinese tourists — a potent economic force, as evident in nearby Hong Kong.

Chinese tourists would certainly revolutionise the tourism industry in Taiwan – but there are several obstacles to get over first:

  • The biggest is the reluctance of the PRC to let their people visit Taiwan. Hence the interest in this officials visit – if the PRC changes its policies, then things could happen quite quickly.
  • The second is the nervousness of the Taiwan government about hordes of PRC tourists either trying to defect or hide in the country (to spy or work illegally). Currently, the travel agent that organises the trip is responsible for all the tourists getting on the plane back to China, and is heavily fined if they lose a tourist – to the point where they require an NT$ 1 Million deposit from each tourist. It is only going to be the rich who visit Taiwan to start with.
  • The next is the issue of direct flights from China to Taiwan. These aren’t going to happen in the near future (except maybe over Chinese New Year) – so any tourists will be flying via Hong Kong.
  • The final issue is the possible need for ‘government agreement’ between officials of the PRC and officials of the ROC. Since the PRC continually refuses to talk to senior officials in Taiwan, this is a problem for all cross-strait communication. At least in this case it seems to be being handled with common sense:

    Wu said Shao’s visit was arranged by the private Taiwan Association for Tourism. The private association has been authorized by the Taiwan government to negotiate on its behalf and the move follows closed-door negotiations between the association and its Chinese counterpart.

    Wu said Taiwan wanted to keep Shao’s visit as simple as possible and it would not engage in talks with Taiwan officials.

    “We are quite afraid that if negotiations are involved in their visit to Taiwan, it is going to complicate things further,” Wu said.

There has been some discussion on weblogs about the general behaviour of Chinese tourists abroad – so it will be interesting how they are viewed in Taiwan. I suspect the main ‘tourist attractions’ they will be drawn to will be the larger shopping malls in Taipei, where I’m sure the storekeepers will be overjoyed to see them (and their wallets).

The only other questions are whether they’ll be able to avoid confrontations with the pro-independence Taiwanese they bump into, and how they interact with the other main group of tourists to Taiwan – the Japanese.

Taiwan’s flag and Mayor Ma’s folly

ROC flagMa sports an ROC cowboy hatTaiwan has an interesting relationship with its national flag. The Republic of China flag of course represents the whole of China, rather than just Taiwan – and so many regard it as an anachronism, and the more independence-minded would love to replace it. Of course, the fact that the main feature of the flag (the blue and white sun) is taken from the KMT’s party logo also means that feelings are split down party lines: KMT supporters are fierce supporters of the flag, while DPP supporters are less enamored with it.

This split of feelings means that the flag often gets used as a political football[*] . KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou is the latest person to try to bring the flag into play – showing his devotion to the flag and his country:

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has postponed plans to fly a large Taiwanese flag atop Taipei 101 — the world’s tallest building — to help raise the nation’s profile.

The plans called for putting a flag at the top of the Taipei 101 building that would be large enough to be seen from the ground.

More flags to raise the nation’s profile? I don’t think so – Taipei is already covered in them: 2 weeks after ‘National flag waving day’ (October 10th) I was able to count 319 flags while on a 4 mile bus journey. I don’t think one more will make much difference.

Anyway, it seems Ma’s grand idea has run into some logistical problems:

“To make the flag visible to the people on the ground, we have to manufacture a huge flag which is the same height as an eight-story building,” said Lo Chih-cheng (羅智成), commissioner of the city’s Department of Information.

“We initially wanted to hang the flag at the top of the building. The problem is the difficulty of unfurling such a huge flag in gale-force winds. The wind speed at the height of 508m is about 150-166 kph,” Lo said.

An 8 story high flag blowing in an 150kph wind (and that’s before one of Taiwan’s many typhoons hits)? I’m guessing that Mayor Ma will drop this plan sooner rather than later.

* Before the legislative elections in 2004, Chen Shui Bian came up with the daft idea that if he couldn’t change the national flag, he’d force the KMT to change their flag. Voters were less than impressed with his cunning plan.

Poor old Pasuya: Incompetence or a witch-hunt?

The head of the Government Information Office (GIO) Pasuya Yao has had a rough couple of months:

No wonder some are now calling him the George Costanza of Taiwanese politics!

Why have all these news stories come out recently? Well, of course, the most obvious answer is that Yao is an incompetent minister with a knack for putting his foot in it. However, it can hardly be coincidence that all these stories have come out after he was responsible for refusing to renew the licenses of several TV channels – thus drawing the ire of Taiwanese media. Freedom of the press means that if you piss off the press, then they will get their revenge. Pasuya Yao must be yearning for the ‘good old days’ of the GIO (otherwise known as the ‘James Soong years’) when anyone critical of the GIO would have been shipped off to Green Island, and their newspaper shut down.

But wait, it gets worse

Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did:

Useless statistics of the day

From the Taipei Times:

In addition to men with military experience, according to a poll done by Chinese Culture University in June, more than 65 percent of male university students don’t want to go to war with China. Of those, 30.5 percent said they didn’t think Taiwan could survive a Chinese military invasion and 25.6 percent though they would be the “victims” of a war.

This is from an article talking about how unprepared & unwilling Taiwan is to go to war. It got me thinking:

  • Did 35% of the students really say “Yeah – I’d really love to go to war”?
  • It’s good to see that university education has paid off on those 69.5% who realise that Taiwan’s military is a tad outnumbered by China’s.
  • It’s also good to see that the students realise that being a foot soldier in a war could be a dangerous business.

Seriously – what does this survey tell us beyond the fact that most students would rather not get shot at?

Banking in Taiwan

Just to prove that government in Taiwan isn’t all legislative fighting and intra-party power struggles, yesterday legislators were debating one of President Chen’s promised reforms – Changes to the banking sector:

Legislators from the Kuomintang yesterday urged the government to stop intervening in Taiwan’s financial services market and allow the market to develop naturally.

The remark was made in a televised debate between three KMT legislators and three government officials regarding the second stage of financial reform, which aims to halve the number of state-run banks to six and increase the market share of three domestic banks to more than 10 percent each by year’s end, to reduce the number of financial holding firms to seven from the existing 14 and allow at least one financial institution to be fully-operated by a foreign company by the end of next year.

The thing that strikes me about this is that there are currently 12 state-run banks in Taiwan. Note that this is the state after several years of reform (there were about 50 banks 10 years ago). Huge numbers of banks I can understand (one of Taiwan’s characteristics is the large number of small companies that continually pop up then disappear and generally help the Taiwanese economy), but what is the possible advantage of huge numbers of state run banks? It goes some way to explain the sad state of Taiwanese banking.

Personal banking

I’m not an economist, so I don’t want to say too much about corporate banking – but personal banking is certainly a mess in Taiwan. Apart from historical reasons, there is one big easily solvable problem holding banks back.

Most employers in Taiwan will require their employees to bank at a particular branch of a particular bank – and will only pay salaries into that branch. What this means is that most people in Taiwan have no real choice as to which bank they use. Banks do not compete on quality and service that they provide to their customers – they compete on attracting companies.

So successful banks are the ones that are good at wining and dining CFOs from large companies (and of course giving them suitable ‘gifts’), while providing the most basic and cheap service they can manage.

A simple law requiring all companies to be able to pay salaries into any bank would solve this overnight: people would slowly gravitate towards banks which provide the best service, the inefficient or incompetently run banks would feel the pinch and have to merge or face collapse.

Why hasn’t this been changed already? Well, it’s currently a pretty cozy arrangement for the CFOs & bank managers of Taiwan – and what government wants to piss off the people who control all the money in the country?

Lawmakers storm the president’s home

Taiwan is rightly famous for its fights in the main parliament (legislature). However, PFP legislators took things to a new level yesterday by taking to the streets of Taipei and storming President Chen Shui-bian’s official home:

Led by PFP whip Daniel Hwang, the legislators of the minor opposition party were able to enter the mansion after two unsuccessful attempts but failed to meet President Chen, who was receiving a guest at his office.

More than 100 military policemen rushed to meet the placard-waving legislators, urging them to disperse.

It is illegal to stage a demonstration without previous police approval, a guard chief told the lawmakers.

A small melee took place. Guards and lawmakers pushed and pulled against each other. No one suffered any injuries, however. The legislators left, shouting abuse against the president.

Despite the presence of 100 policemen, the legislators still managed to force their way in – after all, the legislators all have much more experience in hand-to-hand combat than any of the policemen.

They failed to find the President, and had to make do with his director of public relations:

“Why didn’t you come out to meet us at the front gate?” an irate lawmaker shouted at the public relations chief. “We’ll hold you in contempt of the Legislative Yuan,” Liu Wen-hsiung threatened.

Hmm … ‘in contempt of the Legislative Yuan’ for not joining in an illegal mini-riot? That’s an interesting concept.

In case any of you were wondering what the legislators were complaining about: It seems that President Chen accused James Soong of meeting an official from China over 8 months ago. Soong sued Chen over this claim several months ago, but the case hasn’t made it to the law courts yet. A trivial little spat between two people which is already being addressed is still enough of a reason for some legislators to riot. After all, they hadn’t had a good fight for a week now …

Responsible Leadership

In my previous post, I criticised Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for their lack of leadership in allowing (and tacitly supporting) the fighting that has been going on in the Legislature over the last fortnight.

Yesterday, it was President Chen Shui-bian fanning the flames:

Chen, in a meeting with members of his independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) late on Thursday, told DPP lawmakers to block the opposition initiative at all costs.

Well, that’s just great. The day after the latest punch-up, Chen is telling his legislators to block a new law “at all costs“. Short of telling them that they didn’t put enough opposition lawmakers in hospital last time, I can’t think of a worse way to ask Taiwanese legislators to act.

The ‘Peace Bill’

The legislation that Chen is talking about is the PFP proposed ‘Peace bill’:

If approved, the bill would set up a peace promotion commission responsible for holding talks with Beijing and codify the “1992 consensus” that had formed the basis for fence-mending talks up to 1999.

The 1992 consensus says there is “one China”, though each side has its own interpretation of what that means, and is deeply controversial in Taiwan.

It’s easy to see why Chen is upset by this: he doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the 1992 consensus, and believes the ‘One China’ principle is purely a fiction designed to give legitimacy to the PRCs claim over Taiwan.

However, there is more to it than that: this legislation is an attempt to usurp the authority of existing bodies like the Mainland Affairs Council and the Straits Exchange Foundation (who have been handling links with China for many years), and more seriously the powers of the President; It is very likely that this law will be found to be unconstitutional because of this [*].

A triumph of hyperbole over reason

So there are good reasons for arguing against this bill, but there’s no need to treat it like the end of the world:

“If the peace promotion bill passes in its present version, Taiwan is finished. This is a war about life and death for the destiny and future of Taiwan,” Chen said.

“It is called peace law on the surface, but it is in fact a surrender law.”

Taiwanese politicians all seem to love this type of overreaction – and this penchant for hyperbole could be one of the reasons the two sides have such a deep antipathy to each other.

Declaring official support for ‘One China’ is (debatably) a stupid move – but nothing more. After all, it’s going to happen in 2008 anyway when Ma Ying-jeou becomes president (as seems almost certain at the moment), and more importantly it is not an irrevocable move. If the DPP ever gain a majority in the legislature, then they can repeal the law, and move back to their position again. Finally, the fact that it will be passed to the Council of Grand Justices to determine whether it’s unconstitutional or not gives the DPP another way to block the bill.

So, President Chen: Tell your legislators to vote against the bill. Tell them to explain to their constituents why it is a bad bill. Tell them to demand a constitutional ruling. But please don’t tell people fresh from a fight to treat it as ‘a war about life or death’ and to fight it ‘at all costs’. They just might take you literally, and bring weapons more dangerous than a mobile phone to the legislature next time.

* It is certainly the presidents responsibility to handle relations with foreign powers – but of course the PRC isn’t a normal foreign power. However, the president is also responsible for stuff like declaring war, making peace and organising treaties, which likely covers the main substance of the ‘peace bill’.

Bloody politicians

Measured debate in the legislatureYesterday’s fights in the Legislature plumbed new depths of moronic and loutish behaviour with at least two legislators ending up in hospital.

Pan-green lawmakers resorted to violence for the second time in an attempt to block the bill yesterday. The first time was two weeks ago when they paralyzed a session by storming the speaker’s podium.

Kuomintang and People First Party lawmakers labeled the pan-green alliance as “violent parties,” while the Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan Solidarity Union slammed their rivals as the “violent majority.”

KMT lawmaker Chang Sho-wen was struck in his left eye with his cellular phone and blood gushed from his face. He accused DPP lawmaker Lee Ming-hsien (李明憲) of attacking him.

Meanwhile Lee, who was injured on his lips, knees, and nose, accused Chang of insulting him, saying he hit Chang in self-defense. Both lawmakers were sent to the hospital for treatment.

ESWN and Wandering to Tamshui have already done a good job of covering the punch-ups. Suffice to say that it rated somewhere between a schoolground fight and a barroom brawl. A few issues are worth noting about this though:

  • The fight was about whether the members of a media watchdog body should be assigned by the Executive Yuan or the Legislative Yuan. Could you get worked up about such a detail enough to draw blood?
  • Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) failed to act on his threat to call in the police:

    Later in the day, Wang said he did not call the police when a second attempt was made to storm the podium since legislative staff and Non-Partisan Solidarity Union lawmakers helped him stop pan-green lawmakers from retaking it. The attempt was made as lawmakers were reviewing the first article of the NCC.

    In other words, because the blues won the fight, there was no need for the police. How daft is that? It wouldn’t be hard to say that anyone who tried to use physical force to get onto the podium would be evicted and possibly arrested by the police. Sitting and watching the developing fight and doing nothing is very weak leadership of the legislature. It’s pretty clear to me the legislature needs some sort of discipline, and Wang is not providing it.

  • The day before this (wholly predictable) fight, the leaders of the two main parties were sitting next to each other chatting about the weather at the National Day celebrations. Why did they not discuss how to restrain their legislators? Waiting for a fight to break out and then blaming the other side is pathetic leadership by both DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)

So although it’s generally junior party members acting like drunken idiots and doing the actual fighting, the fact that senior politicians are providing no sensible leadership makes them just as guilty as their subordinates.

Google drops the politics

Remember the complaints about Google listing Taiwan as a province of China? Well, believe it or not, Taiwan has got its way. Not only has it convinced Google to drop the ‘Province of China’ bit, it also seems it has convinced google that the whole concept of political names is more hassle than it’s worth:

Defusing a dispute with technology powerhouse Taiwan, Google has changed its global map service to take the politics out of its geography.

A previous version of Google Maps displayed the text “Taiwan, Province of China” next to a map of the island. But on Monday, a search returned only a map of the island, simply labeled “Taiwan.”

Google spokeswoman Debbie Frost confirmed the shift, saying it reflected a broad change in what Google users see when any map is viewed.

Update: Perhaps the Taiwanese expats who picketed Google’s main offices the day after Google changed their site to remove the offending words should have checked Google before setting out on their demonstration. Oops.