For the fourth time, US President Joe Biden has stated that America will defend Taiwan
A US-provided F-16 takes off from an airbase in Chiayi. Photo: Al Jazeera; Creative Commons.
US President Joe Biden said on news program 60 Minutes that the United States would intervene if China made an “unprecedented attack” on Taiwan.
It is the fourth time Biden has made such a statement, although on this occasion, under careful questioning, it is the most unequivocal.
Once again, the White House says that US China policy is unchanged. The only plausible reading is that US policy – under Biden at least – has all along been to intervene militarily even though the Taiwan Relations Act famously does not require it to do so
For Taiwan watchers, Biden made another statement of great interest earlier in the interview clip above.
‘There is a One China Policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgements about their independence.’
In the 1950s and 1960s, the US crafted a policy position that the status of Taiwan – following Japan’s renunciation of colonial sovereignty – was “undetermined.”
In 1972, President Nixon promised Zhou Enlai that there would be no more statements to this effect. Indeed, to ChinaDiction’s knowledge, the US has stuck to that promise.
But times change and if, as Biden says, it is up to Taiwan to decide on independence even if the US does not encourage it, it seems reasonable to infer that the US in fact thinks that Taiwan sovereignty is undetermined and that the Taiwanese people have the right to determine it.
It’s also worth noting that the interviewer, Scott Pelley, specifically contrasted Taiwan with Ukraine:
So unlike Ukraine … US forces, US men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?
Why does Taiwan differ from Ukraine? The US has been a Pacific power since the end of the 19th century. After Japan’s attack on Hawaii during World War II, the US has consistently maintained a buffer zone all the way to the first island string off the Asian mainland – the Kurile islands to Luzon, including Taiwan,.
The US seeks to maintain the military alliance with Japan that underpins the US-Japan relationship and thus US power in the region.
In short, the US has important interests in East Asia in general and Taiwan in particular. It has far fewer interests in Ukraine.
China, for its part, understandably wants the US out of its backyard in East Asia just as the US insisted that European powers stay out of Latin America under the Monroe Doctrine.
Biden’s words come amid further messaging out of the US – not least from the US Department of Defense – on Xi’s stated aim to be ready to take Taiwan by 2027, as Taiwan’s Chinese-language United Daily News reports that China will revise its Party charter to make “resolving the Taiwan problem” its historical mission.
Colin H. Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said that while China aims to expand its sphere of political and military influence in the Indo-Pacific region, it's likely going to be more cautious when it comes to a move as aggressive as an invasion of Taiwan.
‘As China becomes increasingly assertive in kind of asserting its prerogatives around Taiwan, ... do they take the next step of trying to enforce those changes in the status quo in a way that runs the risk of an incident — an incident with the United States, and incident with one of our allies and partners?" Kahl asked. "We have seen the [People's Republic of China] engage in, over the last year or two, ... a trendline of increasingly unsafe and unprofessional encounters — both in ... the skies and at sea.’
If Biden is to be believed, at least one of the ramifications of his latest statement is that the US is running out of patience and is unlikely to take one of China’s “increasingly unsafe and unprofessional encounters” gone wrong laying down.
Michael Fahey in Taipei, Chris Taylor in Bangkok
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‘Let me explain …’
Russian President Vladimir Putin can explain everything – not just to Xi Jinping, but to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi as well. Photo by Tong Su on Unsplash.
A visibly uncomfortable Putin told CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping that Russia “understands your questions and concerns” (about Ukraine).
But the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) get-together in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, was not exactly a slap in the face for Putin even if it must have been edge-of-the-seat uncomfortable for the Russian autocrat.
China, for its part, cleaved to its Russia partnership without endorsing Putin’s military adventurism, as Xi doled out his words with far less committed fervor than even his robotic second-in-power Li Zhanshu, when he was in Vladivostok last week.
‘We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,’ Putin told Xi, according to a Kremlin transcript. ‘We understand your questions and concerns about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position, though we have also spoken about this before.’
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke out too, telling Putin that now is “not an era of war,” forcing Putin to publicly acknowledge New Delhi’s “concerns” about the conflict after doing the same with Xi the day before.
Chinese state media did not carry Putin’s cryptic comment at the meeting in Uzbekistan, where the leaders are attending a regional security forum, and quoted Xi as saying only that the two countries would continue to co-operate closely and support each other’s defence of their “core interests”, without mentioning Ukraine specifically. Officially, the Chinese government has echoed Russia’s insistence that US-led Nato “encroachment” in Europe was the real trigger for the Ukraine war. Washington, Beijing adds, is therefore responsible for all of the conflict’s consequences, from humanitarian tragedies to food and energy shortages and global inflation.
’If Putin is that obsessed with Ukraine, what can [Xi] realistically do?’ [Alexander] Gabuev [senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace]. ‘Getting cheap [Russian] commodities and weapons designs is good for [Beijing] and the departure of the Putin regime and the unlikely prospect of a pro-western government in Russia is a terrible nightmare for China.’
Putin’s unexpected remarks about Chinese concerns over Ukraine are “a sign of the shifting power balance in the relationship”, said Jakub Jakóbowski, a senior fellow with the China programme at the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw.
All the same, as The Economist points out:
It would be premature to imagine that Russian losses in the plains and river valleys of Donetsk are enough to make Mr Xi rethink his decision in February to publicly align his vision of global security with Mr Putin’s. That world-view is based on a shared hostility to American-led alliances in Asia and Europe; scorn for Western multi-party democracy; and calls for a security order that heeds the “legitimate security interests” of sovereign states (Chinese and Russian code for deferring to big countries).
… China’s cold-eyed priority is for the American-led West to end up divided and weakened. China views this as a long game. It still hopes to see Europeans hold ‘America’s war’ responsible for soaring energy prices causing pain to citizens and businesses across their continent, especially after a long, hard winter.
Whether this is a huge miscalculation, winter will tell.
Masked-up commuters in Shanghai. Photo: © RobertWei | Dreamstime.com.
Whatever august mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times (“it came out of the Huanan Seafood Market!”) may be telling us, the Lancet Commission confirms what many people without input access to influential op-ed columns and splash-news reports have suspected for more than two years.
We still don’t know the origin of SARS-CoV-2.
The 58-page report – authored by no less than 39 PhDs and specialists – is agnostic on the origins of the virus, but its concerns on the matter head the list of key findings:
The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown. There are two leading hypotheses: that the virus emerged as a zoonotic spillover from wildlife or a farm animal, possibly through a wet market, in a location that is still undetermined; or that the virus emerged from a research-related incident, during the field collection of viruses or through a laboratory-associated escape. Commissioners held diverse views about the relative probabilities of the two explanations, and both possibilities require further scientific investigation. Identification of the origin of the virus will help to prevent future pandemics and strengthen public trust in science and public authorities.
In short, the importance of restoring trust in Science through scientific transparency is essential if we are to be ready for a vastly mutated version of Covid-19 – or an entirely new pandemic.
Stimulus in a time of Covid
The Financial Times reports, what do Chinese local governments do when consumption and revenues are down?
Use investment finance vehicles to borrow money and invest in land and wait for the market to recover and prices to go up, obviously.
Western China-watching media are skeptical.
China’s home prices slid at a faster pace in August, marking a 12th month of declines, underscoring how a revival of the country’s real estate market could take much longer despite a flurry of government support policies.
New-home prices in 70 cities, excluding state-subsidized housing, dropped 0.29% last month from July, when they fell 0.11%, National Bureau of Statistics figures showed. From a year earlier, prices dropped 2.1%, the most in seven years.
The Wall Street Journal raises its eyebrows at the current state of things:
August’s decline was the steepest in year-over-year terms since September 2015, despite rate cuts and a loosening of real-estate regulations across the country last month. In month-on-month terms, new-home prices have fallen or remained flat for 12 consecutive months, surpassing an 11-month slide in 2014-15.
And Caixin weighs in on problems facing local governments in terms of payments, reporting that local government finance vehicles (LGFVs) are downright failing to pay on issued commercial paper in increasing numbers.
It’s not exactly the long-awaited coming collapse of China, but it is a bottom-up unravelling of things just when China and its visionary helmsman Xi Jinping are supposed to be at the apogee of their greatness, ready to show the world how governance is really done.
UK takes aims at Confucius schools
Confucius Institute in Scotland. Photo: Ronnie Leask; WikiCommons.
As Britain’s latest prime minister, Liz Truss, allegedly prepares to label China an “acute threat,” tarring it with the same brush as Russia, The Guardian reports that cross-party members of parliament (MPs) are in talks with Taiwan to bring Taiwanese teachers to the UK.
Britain currently has 30 Confucius Institutes:
Almost all UK government spending on Mandarin teaching at schools is channelled through university-based Confucius Institutes, a study conducted by China Research Group in June has shown. This amounts to at least £27m allocated from 2015 to 2024, according to estimates.
… Under the new proposal being seen by MPs, this funding could be redirected to alternative programmes such as those from Taiwan.
It’s extremely hard to resist the urge to editorialize and point out that China’s soft-power global push is failing at such a clip – and as Taiwan steps into the vacuum with a huge whoosh! – that the idea of China and Formosa being irrevocably tethered together by historical chance seems increasingly anachronistic.
The Greater Sinosphere
From pride to the fringe
Gay pride in Hong Kong. Photo © Mike K. | Dreamstime.com.
The China Project reports on the territory’s dwindling space for LGBTQ citizens and residents:
The city that once had a reputation as an inclusive and safe haven — at least compared to mainland China, where sexual minorities are pushed to the fringes due to repressive social mores — has changed along with the city’s political landscape. Bruised press freedoms and a shrinking civil society has caused the marginalized to lose their limited sense of belonging.
Following the anti-government protests of 2019 and the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020, Hong Kong saw the fall of pro-democracy LGBTQ icons amid the arrest of other human rights activists. A crackdown on media outlets and civil society coincided with the scaling back of major LGBTQ events. Hong Kong, once a beacon of diversity and inclusion in Asia, has lost its liberal sheen.
Taiwan is an LGBTQ regional groundbreaker, having legalized same-sex marriage in 2019, but the new rules do not apply to foreign spouses from jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is against the law, subject to legal disputes, some of which have been successful.
Time and a wave of Chinese-style authoritarianism mitigate against a continuation of freedoms once enjoyed by Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community and they like so many others will likely drift away from Asia’s erstwhile “world city.”
Taitung-centered quake shakes nation
Yuli, Hualien County, where buildings were damaged and lives lost in a September 12 temblor. Photo: Chung T'ien Television.
It’s true that Taiwan has one of the best earthquake early detection systems in the world – usually, your screeching mobile is more terrifying than the quake that follows in its wake.
But when the big ones strike, it’s as if everything solid is melting into air.
That’s precisely what happened when a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck at 2:44pm yesterday (Sunday).
A worker at a cement factory in Hualien (花蓮) County’s Yuli Township (玉里), was killed by falling equipment. So far 79 people are listed as injured.
The Taipei Times reports:
The quake, centered in Taitung County’s Chihshang Township (池上), also caused an apartment building and two bridges in Hualien to collapse. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the nation so far this year and followed a magnitude 6.4 tremor late on Saturday.
Rescuers in Yuli Township yesterday saved all four people trapped under rubble at the apartment building, and others rescued three people, who were crossing the nearby Kaoliao Bridge (高寮大橋) when it collapsed, the Hualien County Government said.
According to Open Access Government, Taiwan currently has “three rapid reporting systems:”
The earthquake early warning (EEW) system can acquire the information and issue the warning message, on average, in about 15 seconds. Then, the general public can be notified through the message from Internet applications, Cell Broadcast (CB) on mobile device, TV, and so forth. About five minutes later, an official report is generated by the earthquake report releasing system. A quickly confirmed earthquake report is crucial for the emergent responses of society, and meanwhile, reduces social panic effectively.
The shaking got the attention of Taipei and Kaohsiung (高雄) residents, who flooded social media with videos. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami advisory for far-flung islands in Okinawa Prefecture. It was later lifted.
Chris Taylor in Bangkok
The Taiwan Policy Act backlash
Taiwan’s lively print media providing shade to street-side fruit. Photo: © Mirek1967 | Dreamstime.com.
After the US Senate’s Foreign Relations committee passed its version of the Taiwan Policy Act (TPA) by a vote of 17 to 5 last week, Taiwan’s opposition print media started cranking out reports, analyses, cartoons and op-eds traducing the Act as in fact being bad for Taiwan from multiple angles.
In the two days following the committee vote, ChinaDiction counted 24 articles critical of the TPA in the United Daily News and the China Times.
Day 1’s arguments against the TPA included:
1. TPA means Taiwan will lose control over its military (UDN)
2. TPA is equivalent to announcing that the US will not send troops to defend Taiwan (UDN).
3. White House intervenes to stop key provisions (UDN)
4. Taiwan should be concerned about the risk of the TPA turning Taiwan into a US pawn to be deployed against China (China Times)
The “pawn” metaphor is favored in Taiwan by those who think that Taiwan should be careful about allying itself too closely with a fickle US.
According to veteran Taiwanese journalist Tseng Wei-chen (曾韋禎), the main rhetorical strategy on Day 2 was to argue that the TPA and getting too close to the US increases the risk of China going to war with Taiwan. The objective of this strategy, Tseng asserts, is to fan anti-American sentiment (煽動仇美).
It’s a matter of debate whether the United Daily News and the China Times are “loyally pro-China,” or simply agents of Chinese propaganda. They certainly echo Chinese talking points and metaphors such as “playing with fire” (玩火) frequently.
In any event, in Taiwan’s color-coded politics, the KMT is blue and the UDN and China Times are considered to be blue media. In contrast, the DPP is coded green. For many years, Tseng wrote for the Liberty Times (自由時報) – a popular example of a green media outlet, as its name suggests.
It would be misleading, though, to say that the UDN and the China Times produce nothing but blue political propaganda. The UDN in particular features plenty of high quality journalism on topics unrelated to politics, such as mental health.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Ministry of Health and Welfare takes on mental health
The past decade has seen a number of horrific cases in which people with untreated mental illness attacked or killed innocent victims.
The public is often outraged when the courts sometimes find them not guilty by reason of insanity, but the government has been researching mental health issues and funding solutions.
For example, recent Taiwanese research showed that 17% of Taiwanese over 50 suffered from depression. While 80% of this cohort thought that mental health care was easy to access, just one third were in treatment. While Taiwan’s vaunted National Health Insurance covers psychiatric care and drugs it does not cover counseling
Last week, the UDN reported that Taiwan's Ministry of Health and Welfare has earmarked NT$2.7 billion (US$86.2 million) for treatment of the estimated 140,000 Taiwanese who suffer from psychosis.
The focus of the program is on early treatment and long-acting injectables. Meanwhile the Ministry is building special judicial wards for mentally ill incarcerated persons in at least five designated medical institutions, as well as adding 1,000 community workers and 500 social workers with training in psychology.
While 80% of the community workers and 50% of the social workers have been hired, the first special judicial ward is not expected to be completed until early 2023.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Taiwan elections bring out the country’s hectic vibes. Photo: © Yali Shi | Dreamstime.com.
As long-time Taiwan observer Courtney Donovan Smith notes in his regular Taiwan News column, this year’s so-called 9-in-1 local elections (November 26) are even more turbulent than usual (see the Chiang Wan-an controversy below).
Elections are always fought hard in Taiwan, but the odds are unusually high this time.
The KMT has the advantage of incumbency in most of the 14 key posts they hold in the 22 major elections in play. Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is losing key politicians to term limits in important races.
For the moment, the battle lines are still taking shape and invective rules the game. They’re calling these mid-terms the “Plagiarism Elections” – with such a surfeit of accusations about plagiarized academic theses flying around no one can keep track.
Now-former DPP Taoyuan mayoral candidate Lin Chih-chien (林智堅), KMT candidate for Nantou County commissioner Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華), the KMT's Nantou County Council Speaker Ho Shang-feng (何勝豐) and TPP Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如).
… Allegations have been leveled at TPP Hsinchu mayoral candidate Ann Kao (高虹安), KMT Hsinchu mayoral candidate Lin Geng-ren (林耕仁), DPP Keelung mayoral candidate Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應), KMT Keelung mayoral candidate Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) and independent Taoyuan mayoral candidate Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬).
That’s sidelining the allegations of corruption and worse. Take Miaoli County Council Speaker Chung Tung-chin (鍾東錦), who announced in a press conference that he wasn’t a murderer and rapist and had only stabbed a friend and committed “criminal adultery.”
Democracy in action.
Chris Taylor, in Bangkok
What’s in a name?
Chiang Wan-an, who is campaigning for Taipei mayor, paired with Chiang Ching-kuo (son of Chiang Kai-shek) in a bid to “make Taipei infinite.” Photo: Twitter.
For anyone scratching their heads about the downright weirdness of Taiwan politics, why would a self-purported scion of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) family be a viable candidate for Taipei mayor?
Well, Taipei remains a dwindling stronghold of “Deep Blue” mainlanders (外省人) – or at least their children and grandchildren – some of whom harbor nostalgic feelings for the “good old days” of martial law – the Chiang name, as much as the autocratic progenitors are largely reviled in Taiwan, is as close as you get to “pedigree” in Taiwan, and Chiang Wan-an is youthful by political standards, articulate and good looking.
The question, however: is he really who he says he is?
ChinaDiction is going to leave you with this fabulous thread by @DemesDavid, and you can make up your own minds:
Chris Taylor in Bangkok
Lockdown comes to the High Plateau
Tibetan monks in masks. Photo: Reforma.
It’s not often that Tibet makes the pages of the New York Times, but cries for help amid what is reportedly a “chaotic lockdown” are snatching headlines worldwide.
Allegations are leaking down from the High Plateau – as they were last week from Yili in Xinjiang – that Tibetans are being forced quarantined, the uninfected with the infected, in “makeshift isolation centers.”
Lockdowns, including of entire cities, have become almost commonplace in China, which remains bent on eliminating the coronavirus even as the rest of the world tries to live with it. But the recent calls for help out of Tibet, as well as Xinjiang — two border regions where the Chinese government has put in place highly repressive controls — speak to how desperate conditions have become there, where many residents are usually intimidated into keeping quiet.
‘The social media posts you see from people in Lhasa are all about suffering, but that’s the real Lhasa. Lhasa’s public announcements, I feel they’re all fake,’ said a food delivery worker in the city who gave only his surname, Min, for fear of official retaliation.
‘Rabbit nibbles the hair’
Chinese rediscover sex – it has 5,000 years of history – at an exhibition in the PRC. Photo: chwalker01; Creative Commons.
“Rabbit nibbles hair” is just one of the nine ancient Chinese sex positions that could be spicing up your marriage, according to asiaone, which is obviously as desperate for viral content as ChinaDiction is.
Other intriguing bedtime maneuvers include “wrestles monkey” (no actual monkeys involved), the “tiger slit” (obviously no tigers) and “fish interlock their scales,” which we assume is for those who’d just prefer to watch.
With Confucius Institutes under siege (see the UK above), we still clearly have things to learn from China, though whether the China sexual revolution headed our way should be labeled “soft power” is debatable.
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