Monthly Archives: November 2005

Taiwan’s pre-crime police department

What happens when a society gets so advanced that it can predict (and so prevent) a crime before it happens? Philip K. Dick imagined an advanced and generally crime-free society when he wrote ‘Minority Report’, while George Orwell wrote about an efficiently opressive totalitarian state which prosecuted thought-crimes in ‘1984’. The reality in Taiwan is slightly different to both of these scenarios …

A couple of weeks ago, Taiwan’s pre-crime department swung into action in Taoyuan:

Taoyuan police yesterday arrested four people on suspicion of producing a VCD to defame Taoyuan County commissioner Chu Li-lun (朱立倫), a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) who is standing for re-election in the Dec. 3 local government elections.

“Police learned that there were people who were producing a VCD and planning to publish it in order to defame Chu, so police raided a company studio at Zhongxiao E Rd (忠孝東路) in Taipei on Friday night, seizing the VCD,” the Taoyuan Police Bureau said in a press statement yesterday.

The statement said that police arrested the VCD’s producer, Peng Jin-wen (彭金萬), and three of his aides. The four were then released after police took statements.

Police said that because the VCD has not been released, the suspects had not violated the Law of Offenses Against Personal Reputation and Credits (妨害名譽罪), so they would let Taoyuan prosecutors decide whether to charge them.

So, because the VCD hasn’t been released, no crime has been committed yet. Hmm … tricky one. Should the police claim he would have broken the law and charge him with pre-crime? Or crimethink? While the legal geniuses were mulling that, the press and politicians had no doubt what to do:

  • The pan-Green politicians (including that champion of free speech Pasuya Yao) started screaming about freedom of speech, and how the KMT were suppressing it.
  • The pan-Blue politicians started screaming about how the VCD was the work of the DPP, who were trying to besmirch the good name of blameless KMT politicians.
  • The media gave Lin Yi-fang more publicity for his VCD than he could have dreamt of.

Bizarrely, most of the rumours as to what is on the VCD have come from KMT politicians – who seem to be doing everything they can to publicize the thing. As a result of all this posturing, Lin Yi-fang has held a very well-attended press conference in Taipei, followed up by another in the legislature, and has even had the DPP candidate for Taoyuan staging a hunger strike on his behalf.

All this over a video that hasn’t been (and may never be) released. I might suggest that if the police had not arrested him before he did anything wrong, and if the KMT politicians hadn’t made such a fuss, then noone would have been particularly interested in the thing. After all, as far as anyone can make out (remember, noone has actually seen the VCD yet – beyond a few outtakes at the press conferences), the content is a home movie of a few ‘actors’ having a chat about some of the more famous politicians. The conversation is along Beavis and Butthead lines, something like this:

“That Ma Ying-jeou looks totally gay in his running shorts.”
“Do you think he is then?”
“What? Gay? Bet he is.”
“Yeah. I bet Jason Hu is too.”
“Yeah. Could you imagine if Hu and Ma got together …”
“Ewww! Dude! Totally gross.”
“Yeah. What about Chu Li-lun?
“Gay? Nah. If he was he wouldn’t have hired such a hot babe as a secretary.”
“Ahh … so you think he and his secretary are …”
“Totally. Not just with his secretary either!”

(My apologies if it turns out to be Oscar material, or a model of investigative journalism. However, I believe I have captured all the major allegations along with all the supporting evidence)

The final word has to go to DPP Legislator Tsai Chi-fang, who gives us all a lovely mental image to help us understand the legal subtleties of of the case:

Legislator Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳) said that it does not make sense for prosecutors to arrest Lin before the VCD is distributed.

“It’s as if the police stormed my house while I was jerking off in my room and said that I was undermining public morality,” he said.

Random notes

A few interesting articles in the news today:

    • The Pasuya show continues: As head of the GIO, Yao is responsible for publishing the minutes of the weekly cabinet meeting. So what does he do when premier Frank Hsieh chews him out for his general incompetence in last week’s meeting? He publishes the criticisms on the GIO website, then edits the comments out, then denies it happened at all. Unfortunately, he forgot that some journalists might have actually checked the website before he changed it:

      However, the story was denied outright by Yao and Cabinet Spokesman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰). Yao implied that Lee had made up the story.

      “Are you happy with the story?” Yao asked Lee in front of a group of reporters in the GIO press room yesterday afternoon. “I am afraid that your story is inaccurate because what you said did not happen at all during the meeting.”

      Lee then told Yao that he had simply cut and pasted the paragraph from the meeting records, which were available from the GIO’s Web site. Yao said that he had not seen anything like that on the Web site.

      I wonder if anyone’s checked Google’s cache?

    • Is Lien Chan being marginalised in the KMT? One can only hope … Despite stepping down as chairman, he still wields tremendous influence inside the party. Why then wasn’t he invited to the KMTs 111th birthday party?

      The KMT’s organization and development committee chief Huang Chong-hsian (黃重憲) said they did not invite Lien because he had electioneering events to attend, and that the party had invited him to join a rally scheduled for Sunday. The party’s explanation, however, contradicted remarks from Lien’s staff, who said that he did not have any campaigning scheduled for yesterday.

    • From the same article:

      Later, Ma gave a speech in which he detailed the party history, and encouraged the party to make concerted efforts to fight against the “corrupt government.”

      I would just love to know how Ma moved from talking about ‘party history’ onto ‘corrupt government’ …

    • The rest of the world loves us really! A GIO-sponsored survey finds out that everyone loves Taiwan:

      The GIO survey found that over half of those interviewed in each country have a positive impression on Taiwan with the Japanese topping the list at 76 percent followed by 73 percent of Americans, and 68 percent of Britons.

      In terms of the cross-strait issue, most people believe their own country has friendlier relationships with Taiwan than with mainland China. Despite the mainland’s promotion of the one-China policy, 60 percent of respondents understand that Taiwan and China are separate countries.

However, according to premier Hsieh they love Taiwan because they know nothing about it. Ignorance is bliss it would seem.

Weblogs and Taiwanese politics

What does a Taiwanese politician do when he finds out about weblogs – and that people are using them to make fun of him? He blames his opponent and then sues him:

Legislator Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the key Taipei County commissioner race, yesterday filed defamation and public humiliation lawsuits against the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate, Luo Wen-chia (羅文嘉), for allegedly posting libelous information about him on an Internet Web site linked to Luo’s campaign site.

The offending website is 瑋哥部落格 (or Wiego’s blog), which seems to be a very standard blog which has a grand total of 15 entries since it started last September. Is there any evidence that this is the work of Luo Wen-chia and not some random pro-DPP internet user? Not according to Luo:

In response, Luo yesterday repeated that the blog has nothing to do with his campaign, and criticized Chou for being ignorant about the blog culture that is now especially popular among young people.

“Chou’s accusations only exposed his ignorance of blogs and youth culture,” Luo said. “I can only describe Chou’s reaction using `five noes.’ He has no idea about the law, blogs, young people, or world trends — and he has no sense of humor.”

“As far as I know, a blog is usually written by the type of young person who just doesn’t fit Chou’s political profile,” Luo said. “They use their imagination and creativity to voice their thoughts.”

Unless there is some real evidence linking Luo to this blog, Chou is coming out of this looking like a complete idiot, and Luo as someone who actually understands this new-fangled internet thingy.

Whoever is responsible for this blog (and my money is on someone who is now shitting himself that his little hobby is making front page news and threats of lawsuits), one thing is clear: his website is now massively popular. How popular? Well, my website is the 5th result on a search for a misspelling of his blog at Yahoo (search for 偉哥部落格 on Yahoo!) and I’ve had nearly 500 separate searchers click though in less than 2 days … so 330,000 hits per day looks like a fair figure. Now, how can I convince Chou to complain about my blog?

Update: As mentioned in the comments, the blog author (22-year-old Tseng Yen-wei) has come out to publically say he (along with 99.9999% of other blogs out there) has no links to senior government figures – hardly surprising to anyone with the most basic knowledge of blogs. Unfortunately, the writer of this hilarious article (found via Michael) hasn’t got the most basic knowledge … here’s a sample:

… ahead of next month’s crucial municipal election high-tech blogging designed to draw large numbers of politically alienated voters to the polls …
But this year they have been joined by state of the art computer attacks
Using high-tech computer programs, the blog ridicules Chou …
A sleek animation shows Chou blinking his eyes in disbelief

High-tech blogging, eh? I’ve got to get me some of that!

The election atmosphere is still crazy

It’s always interesting to see what the view from across the Taiwan Strait is on all matters Taiwanese. Their take on the upcoming elections:

Although three elections integrated in one, the island’s election atmosphere is still crazy. News of the election, candidate introductions and election analysis are frequently seen on local newspapers and TV programs. Candidates’ photos and posters with their competition slogans were put up along the streets.

Candidate introductions and election analysis? Those crazy crazy Taiwanese …

Election mania

December is election month in Taiwan. You’d have thought that after presidential elections (March last year), legislative elections (December last year), and National Assembly elections (May this year), we were due a bit of a break. Not so – Taiwan works on the principle that a democracy needs elections, and lots of them!

This time around, it’s local elections. These always used to be the preserve of corruption and vote-buying – with the candidate who could provide the most ‘incentives’ for his constituency a surefire winner. Nowadays, things have improved no end, to the point where the election is all about … allegations of corruption and vote buying. The candidate who can make the most mud stick to his opponent wins. Jason at Wandering to Tamshui does an excellent job of rounding up the major battles.

Are these elections important? Well, a good mayor or county commissioner will probably have more direct impact on the lives of the people who live there than a good legislator or president. However, there’s little reason to support the ‘this is a make-or-break election for the DPP/KMT’ hyperventilation which seems to be common in the Taiwanese media. While party loyalties will play a big part in how people vote, they shouldn’t: party policies give very little direction to local politics.

So although these elections will give some sort of measure of how popular the major parties are at the moment – beware of anyone who tries to read too much into the results.

The GIO & TVBS: non (literal) sense

The GIO debacle continues, with the GIO releasing a position paper on their handling of the TVBS dispute (via Rank). Most of it rehashes the known facts, but the interesting bit is in the conclusions:

Judging from the background and intention of the legislation as outlined above, it is clear that “directly held,” as stipulated in Article 10 of the Satellite Broadcasting Act, should not be taken in the literal sense to merely indicate “direct investment by foreigners.” Instead, it should go one step further to include foreign investors achieving the purpose of direct investment in satellite broadcasting enterprises through a 100 percent indirect investment. The GIO concludes, therefore, that the TVBS ownership structure clearly violates Article 10 of the Satellite Broadcasting Act.

In other words, the GIO feels that laws should not be taken literally, but that it is qualified to interpret the intent of those laws (and act accordingly). Glad they’ve sorted that out for us …

In other news, it seems they’re less than keen to prosecute Formosa TV (a pro-Green station) which also seems to be in violation of the broadcasting laws. Presumably they’ve only broken a ‘literal interpretation’ of that law, so there’s nothing to worry about.

The GIO and TVBS

Pasuya Yao (the head of the Government Information Office) is fast becoming my favourite politician in Taiwan[*]. He epitomises the current government perfectly: He seems to believe in the rule of law – but is too selective in applying it to inspire confidence, he’s obsessed with righting the wrongs of the KMT (or punishing them for those wrongs) – to the point where seems to be more important to him than the well-being of the country, and he seemed a damn sight more competent in opposition than in power. But the main reason I like him is this: when he finds himself in a hole of his own devising, he seems to think that “keep digging” is the best motto.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked whether Pasuya Yao was really as incompetent as the media was making him out to be, or the victim of a witchhunt … the past fortnight has answered that pretty conclusively[**].

The TVBS Fiasco

It all started when a talk show on TVBS uncovered evidence that Chen Che-nan, a senior government official under investigation for his involvement in the Kaohsiung Metro scandal, had illegally visited a casino in Korea in 2002 (a claim that Chen had denied).

Less than 2 days later, the GIO slapped a NT$200,000 (~US$6,000) fine on the station for falsely reporting their funding – and warned that it might consider closing the station down if it was operating illegally. Of course, Pasuya Yao claimed these two events were completely unrelated.

Unsurprisingly, this caused an uproar: the opposition screamed about censorship of the media, and threatened mass protests and impeachment of the president if the station was shut down.

Start digging Pasuya

Aware that he might have put his foot in it, Yao then did what any smart politician wouldn’t – by raising the stakes:

Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Pasuya Yao (姚文智) yesterday said the GIO possesses sufficient evidence to prove that cable TV station TVBS is a foreign-owned company and therefore breaking the law.

“I think this clearly shows that the TV station is a now completely foreign-owned company. If that is the case, the GIO is authorized to suspend all operation licenses for its four channels,” he said.

These comments just inflamed the situation more, to the point where President Chen felt the need to do some firefighting – by stating that he would not close down any TV station during his presidency. There was also some attempt to calm the situation by Premier Frank Hsieh [***].

Deeper and Deeper

Clearly a man who doesn’t know when to stop, Yao next turned his attention to how TVBS had received its license, implying that previous directors of the GIO Jason Hu (胡志強) and Cheng Chien-jen (程建人) – both KMT members – had failed to do their job properly by awarding then renewing the license for TVBS. Strangely, he didn’t try to criticize the goon who had renewed the TVBS license earlier this year.

Next he fined TVBS again, and threatened them with worse[****]:

The TV station has been found to be 100 percent funded by foreign capital, and thus is in violation of Article 10 of the Satellite Broadcasting Law (衛星廣播電視法) which stipulates that direct foreign investment in a TV station should not exceed 50 percent, GIO Minister Pasuya Yao (姚文智) said.

Therefore, the GIO has decided to fine the station NT$1 million (US$29,686).

The cable station was also given the deadline of Dec. 20 to improve its condition, or else will face more severe disciplinary measures, to include being stripped of its operating license, Yao said.

Threatening to do something that the President had explicitly ruled out a few days earlier is never a smart move. TVBS promptly proved how stupid it was by calling Yao’s bluff and refusing to pay the fine.

I’m keen to see what Pasuya Yao’s next move is …

* I was hoping to meet my ‘hero’ yesterday, as he was due to give an opening speech at the Fantabulous Forum I was attending. Unfortunately he stood me up … I guess he must have had other things on his mind.
** On a related note, I’m rather proud of the fact that this site is the first result on Google when searching for ‘incompetent Pasuya Yao‘ – which you’d expect to be a pretty common search term nowadays!
*** Yao is Frank Hsieh’s protege (having worked for him both when he was a legislator and also when he was mayor of Kaohsiung) – so this is yet another of Hsieh’s boys who is busy embarrassing the DPP.
**** At this point, you may be asking “Has he got a point? Is TVBS illegal?” The answer is “Possibly”. There is a law that requires all TV stations to be at least 50% Taiwanese owned … TVBS is 53% owned by a Taiwanese company – but that company is a shell company 100% owned by overseas money. So the GIO claims it is 100% foreign owned, while TVBS claims it is not. Unfortunately, the recent actions of the GIO mean that noone believes it can make an impartial judgement on this …

Taiwan and overseas aid

The recent ‘defection’ of Senegal (switching official relations from Taiwan to China) has provoked a lot of talk recently about Taiwan’s “overseas aid” to its allies ( e.g. at ESWN, MeiZhongTai, Sun Bin, Michael Turton). Recently, President Chen Shui-bian mentioned that Senegal had received about NT$5 billion in aid over the last ten years (i.e. ~NT$500 million each year). Ignoring the crass way that this was announced (foreign aid has nothing to do with the upcoming elections in Chiayi), it does raise a question about whether these figures should be made public, and whether Taiwan is getting ‘value for money’.

There are two main problems with the current policy of buying allegiance from UN member nations:

  1. The money that is given to Taiwan’s allies is shrouded in secrecy. At the best of times, overseas aid often has problems reaching the people who actually need it (usually diverted into the bank accounts of various politicians and administrators along the way). Taiwan’s ‘under the table’ deals mean that you can almost guarantee that the majority of it ends up in various officials pockets.
  2. Taiwan’s allies provide very little in return. Apart from giving China an opportunity to throw its weight around each year when one of Taiwan’s allies nervously mentions that letting Taiwan join the UN would be nice, there seems to be no payback for Taiwan. From this perspective, all the aid is a huge waste of money.

So, a change of policy would be good. What follows is my suggestion.

What should Taiwan’s foreign policy be?

All overseas aid provided by Taiwan should follow the following basic rules:

  • Complete transparency. Taiwan will publish exactly how much aid it is providing, and for what. In return the recipient country will publish accounts of how it is spending the money. This won’t stop corrupt officials skimming off their cut, but it will massively reduce it. It will also allow the Taiwanese voters and tax-payers to know where their money is going, and to have a mature debate about how much aid should be given.
  • Base aid levels on international norms. The United Nations sets a target for every developed country to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Product on overseas aid – however the current spending of developed nations who are members is only 0.22% (source). If Taiwan wants to be treated as a serious member of the international community then it should probably spend somewhere between these two figures. Thus, the main purpose of the donations would actually be ‘aid’; support for Taiwan’s international status would be an (important) secondary effect.
  • Primarily donate aid to allies. A majority of all aid should go to countries who officially recognise Taiwan, and are willing to speak up for Taiwan’s representation in international bodies. Clearly, humanitarian disasters should be exempt from this (for example, Pakistan earthquake recovery aid should not be limited by political issues – even though Pakistan has refused aid from Taiwan for political reasons).

What would be the effects of these policies? Well, Taiwan could (with a clearer conscience) talk about how it is helping developing countries – in the way it was helped itself in the 50s and 60s; this would then be something for the Taiwanese to be proud of rather than the current embarrassment at today’s dodgy dealings.

The fact that the aid packages were public would mean China would know how much they would have to increase their aid to compete – while this may result in the loss of a few more allies, it wouldn’t be too many. After all, the less allies Taiwan has, the more aid each ally would get, and so the harder it would be for China to lure them away.

The final big question, is how much aid? Well, the GNP for Taiwan in 2005 is estimated to be NT$11.9 trillion (source). So if we conservatively assume that 50% of all aid goes to the allies, and that we take 0.22% of the GNP as a baseline, we end up with a package of NT$26 billion – of which NT$13 billion would go to allies.

If this policy had been in place before Senegal switched ties, then Senegal (which made up over 10% of Taiwan’s allies by population) would have been in line for ~NT$1.3 billion a year – or in other words almost triple the amount of money they were actually given.

Looked at from this perspective, it seems that Taiwan is not giving enough international aid, is promoting corruption in the aided countries (via secrecy), and scoring a massive public relations own goal by hiding the figures.