Archive for July 14th, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is Obama’s Taiwan Policy Consistent?

Randy Shriver, assistant secretary of state for East Asia from 2003 to 2005 under the Bush jr administration, worries that Washington may not understand that only the approach of supplying Taiwan with weapons for self-defense had given the country’s leaders the confidence it had taken to go to the negotiating table with Beijing. The approach had paid off, Schriver writes – “see ECFA and other recent developments”. President Ma Ying-jeou, on the other hand, understands this very well and has consistently asked the U.S. to make more modern weapons available to Taiwan.

Shriver voiced his concerns in an article for the conservative Washington Times on July 9. And he is careful not to accuse the Obama administration outright of letting Taiwan down. But apparently, he has no time to pay  attention to local or regional subtleties – not when it comes to politics, anyway.

A visit by the Dalai Lama to Taiwan in August 2009 turned into a walk on eggshells for the Taiwanese government – the visit was eventually approved, but one of the Ma government’s – semi-official – negotiators, Strait Exchange Foundation Vice-Chairman and Secretary-General Kao Kung-lian (高孔廉) apparently suggested that a the statement [by the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office concerning the Dalai Lama’s visit] didn’t accuse president Ma or the KMT at all, one could understand the mainland position, as its stance concerning “the Dalai” had always been this way (可以理解大陸的立場,因為大陸對達賴的看法一向如此).  Several referrals to the DPP in the statement suggested that Kao Kung-lian saw a Chinese acknowledgment that the invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan was just an action by the oppositional DPP (i.e. the bad guys in Taiwan who were trying to sabotage the beautiful honeymoon between Taipei and Beijing).

Frequently since 2008, president Ma’s KMT has appeared to position itself closer to Beijing than to its own people – unless their own people supported the government’s China policies. When oppositionals prepared for a rally against ECFA, KMT lawmakers accused them of “political motives” – just as if Beijing’s approach to the ECFA negotiations was unpolitical. A referendum on ECFA was – more or less elegantly – buried by the relevant review committee early in June, and the ruling KMT kept the review process of ECFA in parliament as lean as possible.

America’s interest in Pacific affairs is hardly fading. It’s latest military moves East of China don’t suggest that at all – moves which may as well be interpreted as an American – and a Japanese – preference for taking care of the regional status quo by themselves, rather than relying on a Taiwanese government that looks anything but confident.

“The U.S. has always set a policy based on singling-out a potential rival, a country that may pose a danger to America from the standpoint of its overall resources”, the Voice of Russia quotes Alexei Fenenko, Associate Professor of Moscow State University, who explains why, in his view, the U.S. has suddenly started offering India broader cooperation in areas where Russia and India have long had strong ties, after 30 years of disregarding the country and refusing to supply advance peaceful nuclear technology. Fenenko adds that

“The strategy of containing China declared by the Clinton Administration and searching a counter balance to China is based on this. Originally, the U.S. tried to use Australia for this purpose but when it became clear that it is a weak player, Washington turned towards India in 2005 considering it as a counterbalance to China and offered to promote cooperation.”

If Australia, a country whose political independence is undisputed, should indeed be seen as a “weak player”, how weak is the Ma administration looking? Does it make sense to provide Taiwan’s administration the weapons it has asked for? The answer may still have to be “Yes” – but this doesn’t go without saying.

Party politics can blind people. It may be unconceivable for Shriver that Barack Obama‘s administration may actually have a clear picture of China’s military build-up against Taiwan. It may be hard for a conservative former politician to understand that the current administration may actually be  continuing a policy started by another  Democrat – Bill Clinton.

Shriver’s role in international business doesn’t necessarily help to assess China and Taiwan in a political light either – his merits in promoting U.S.-Taiwan relations notwithstanding.

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Related
Zhao Nianyu’s Three Taiwan Commandments, June 19, 2010
Tibet: “America’s Consistent Policy”, March 26, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Protectionist Pressure, Useful at Times

Real Economy nostalgia, Oldenburg (Oldb) Railway Station (archive)

blue-collar nostalgia, Oldenburg (Oldb) Railway Station (archive)

I’m not saying that protectionism is a great idea in every situation. And I’m not saying that US president Barack Obama‘s Export Initiative is flawless. But I believe that what the Economist likes to denounce as protectionist moves can sometimes be exactly the tools to drive

“a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”,

to quote the occasionally griping old aunt from London herself.

Take an article from the Financial Times of July 5, 2010, for example. Richard Florida of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management argues there that not every job in the manufacturing industry is or ever was well-paid, and that on the other hand, the service industry had the potential to create well-paid jobs. Blue-collar jobs were made well-paid jobs, he argues, based on the enormous improvements in productivity brought about by improved technologies and management techniques (plus a bit of help from the power of unions). Florida argues that a number of tertiary-sector companies (including Trader Joe’s) had recognized that better conditions for their employees led to better customer experience.

A case for income distribution. That’s how I’m reading it, anyway. It has occured to me several times during these summer vacations so far that these or similar points are made by otherwise fairly naked capitalists.

And not only Western ones.

在一连串失衡的数据背后,诸多社会矛盾已经积聚。“收入分配问题,不仅关乎人的生存和发展,也像就业一样体现人的尊严和价值。”一位全国政协委员曾如是提 醒。收入分配制度改革这支在弦之箭,如今已不得不发。 — Behind a series of [income] imbalances data, a great deal of social contradictions have accumulated. Income distribution doesn’t only relate to peoples’ subsistence, but just as employment, it reflects human dignity and values,

Xinhua‘s Economic Reference (经济参考报) quotes an unnamed member of the National Committee of the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference” (CPPCC). Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian, Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing, Shanxi, Shandong, Hubei, Ningxia, Jilin, and Shaanxi had recently adjusted minimum wages, on a scale of ten and sometimes 20 per cent, writes the paper.

Income tax is mentioned as an important tool to the end of having more people enjoy the benefits of GDP growth. One wonders what the fruits would look like – free elementary schooling in those rural areas where school fees, no matter what families earn, are a rule? Tax-funded shopping vouchers for the poor? The former could help steps into the direction of improved technologies and management techniques. That said, neither the former nor the latter would be no answer to systematic sources of income disparities. That would take steps to transform government function, deregulate price controls, promote market competition, reform the State-owned enterprise (SOE) system and promote privatization of SOEs, as well as accelerate political reform.

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Related
Deutschland “vor Vollbeschäftigung”, Die Zeit, July 14, 2010
The Primacy of Politics, June 13, 2010
Tianjin Minimum Wages Adjustments, April 5, 2010
Creative Destruction or Development, March 15, 2010
只要GDP上去了,就可”一俊遮百丑”, people.com.cn, Sept 2, 2009
Politics and Science, August 15, 2009

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Green Dam: Bureaucracy dumps its Partners

“Green Dam” censorship (or “youth escort”) software (绿坝-花季护航) was initially meant to be mandatorily installed on all personal computers in China, private and public ones alike. When Chinese academics Zhou Ze (周泽) and Wei Yongzheng (魏永征) pointed out legal obstacles for the software project in June last year, one of their points was the Anti-Unfair-Competition law‘s article 7. It says that

[t]he government and its organ shall not abuse its authority to force the others to purchase the commodities from the pointed seller or prohibit the fair competition from the others. The government and its organ shall not abuse its authority to prohibit outside commodities from going into home market, or prohibit domestic commodities from going to outside market.

The government had pledged to pay the license fees during the first year, but there was no information on who would pay during the following years – if the consumer had to, it would be a violation of article 7, argued Zhou and Wei.

This may now be one of the licensors’ – Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer Systems Engineering Co Ltd  (郑州金惠计算机系统工程有限公司) and Beijing Da Zheng Language and Knowledge Handling Technology Co Ltd (北京大正语言知识处理科技有限公司) – major headaches. Who is going to pay the license fees from now?

The authority in charge of stipulating laws and regulations of the manufacturing industry of electronic and IT products, the communications industry and the software industry (2.), and to handle other matters entrusted by the State Council (16.). In August 2009,  minister Li Yizhong (李毅中) said that poorly written regulations had led to the misunderstanding that the installation of Green Dam software would be mandatory on every new computer. However, all public computers in schools and internet cafes would have to install the software.

And then, it seems, the bureaucracy lost all its interest in the project. Not only that the state budget for the software licenses has run out now. That was, after all, announced more than a year ago and should as no surprise. If schools and internet cafes all over China really had to install the software – and pay license fees to the two software makers -, it’s hard to see how a licensor would be compelled to shut down the office in Beijing which runs the Green Dam website and promotes the software now.

But then, who in China would pay licenses (unless it was comprehensively enforced), and who would want to call a support office in Zhengzhou to make sure that his or her computer is being censored effectively?

Rather, Beijing may now try another approach: an end to anonymous phones and online comments.

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