Archive for March, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Who will Torpedo Taiwan’s 2012 Military Budget?

Lawmakers expressed concerns about a decreasing military budget on March 7 this year, saying that it was insufficient to meet the country’s security needs. A few days earlier, KMT legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁芳) said that Taiwan’s rather low budget reflected the uncertainty of US arms sales to Taiwan and said that the budget would provide for arms purchases from the US as soon as Washington cleared the requested arms sales. Taiwan’s defense ministry (MND)  had told the BBC‘s Mandarin website that facing a Chinese military budget about ten times as high as Taiwan’s – China’s official budget of USD 91.3 vs Taiwan’s USD 9.2 billion in 2011 -, Taiwan would protect its security with a flexible approach.

In NT-$ (New Taiwan Dollars), Taiwan’s 2011 military budget is at 297.2 billion. For comparison, it was about 206.72 billion NT-$ in 1990*) . That said, Taiwan’s total budget was at 680 billion NT-$ then, and  stands at 1.79 trillion now, (as passed by the government / Executive Yuan in August last year, and if it was passed unchanged by the Legislative Yuan). Given China’s much smaller amounts of public (and above all, military) spending in the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwan’s 2011 budget doesn’t look as if defense was a great priority for the KMT government.

While America could do more for Taiwan’s military equipment, and while Europe’s arms industries don’t seem to do business with Taipei at all, criticism from Taiwanese lawmakers suggests that Taiwan’s government  needs to do better, too.

President Ma Ying-jeou‘s government may need to do better in the future. Shuai Hua-min (帥化民), another KMT legislator and therefore a member of the party president Ma  is chairing, said bluntly on March 7 that the MND’s 2012 budget would be rejected if it were less than 3 percent of GDP.

But that would only be next year. For 2011, the budget has been approved.

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Notes
*) or 30.4 per cent of a total budget of 680 billion NT-Dollars in 1990, according to Oskar Weggel, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Munich 1992, page 128
The differences between 1990 and now are big enough to think that they would be implausible – corrections and objections are welcome. However, public welfare has played an increasing role, in direct and indirect ways, all the way from the 1960s through this decade, and the Taiwanese economy has been growing much of the time.

Related
Squaring the Circle, Taipei Times, March 20, 2011
“A Fly-Head-Sized Benefit”, January 8, 2010

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Xinhua Coverage from Tripoli

[Main link: Beijing Youthnet (Beiqing Wang), March 22, 2011. Links inserted during translation.]

Beiqing Wang frontpage (photo to the left alternating with several other topics). The second headline is about Fukushima power plant rescue work having been interrupted.

Beiqing Wang frontpage (photo to the left alternating with several other topics). The second headline is about Fukushima power plant rescue work having been interrupted.

Xinhua Net, Tripoli, March 21 (message, reporters Xin Jianqiang, Li Teng) — Several targets in Libya’s capital Tripoli suffered airstrikes from Western countries’ fighter planes. Since the beginning of military strikes against Libya by Western countries on March 19, this is the third time that fighter planes struck at targets in Tripoli. Eyewitnesses told Xinhua’s reporters that a naval base in the eastern quarters of Tripoli, near the coastal line, had been attacked first. The barracks are located near the radio and television station building. Then, about two kilometers away from the barracks, two oil pipelines near 沙阿卜 harbor exploded in an airstrike, which the witnesses said led to a fire. Also, a governmental military camp had suffered bombings from the fighting planes.

On March 21 at about 21 p.m., Western fighting planes launched strikes again. The reporter(s) heard a huge explosion in the city. After that, Tripoli air defense forces immediately struck back with highly concentrated shellfire.

After the bombings, Libyan government spokesman Ibrahim Moussa (穆萨·易卜拉欣) held an emergency press conference and expressed strong protest against the bombings. He said that Western countries had launched air strikes against Libya for three consecutive days, and this had happened after Libya’s armed forces had already announced a comprehensive ceasefire, and stopped all military operations. Most of Libya’s civil airports and seaports had suffered destruction during the attacks.

Moussa said that the military strikes by Western countries had led to many civilian casualties (平民的伤亡).  In the March 19 attacks alone, 46 civilians had died.

Official statistics published on March 20 say that Western airstrikes had led to 64 people killed and 150 injured so far.

A second Xinhua dispatch on the same web page, also dated March 21, quotes from a press conference by United States Africa Command‘s combatant commander Carter F. Ham (卡特·哈姆), near Stuttgart, Germany. Human relief missions would become possible once the no-flight zone had been extended, Ham is quoted as saying.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Matter of Experience

I think I’m all right, thank you. I’ve still got 10 kilograms of the stuff I bought during SARS.

An old Granny in a Beijing supermarket earlier this month, in reply to a helpful younger lady who offered to help her grab a bag of salt.

Overheard by Froog.

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Related
Salt, Autobahn, Free Elections, March 19, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tibetan Updates, Info and Questions

The Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy was apparently a reaction to the United Nations-sponsored Durban Conference in 2009. But it has since become a regular event.

On March 15 this year, Dechen Pemba, possibly most widely known for having been expelled from China in summer 2008 for “splittist activities”, gave a talk there. She described her stay in China from 2006 to 2008, travels to Tibet, and her learning the Chinese language at the Minzu University of China in Beijing. She gave a short account of developments in Tibet since 2008, including some information about a non-violent initiative for strategic nonviolent resistance called Lhakar.

Adam Cathcart‘s blog hosts a guest post by Kristiana Henderson of Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA), with questions about a supposed invisible, or not so invisible, Chinese hand in Tibetan everyday culture, and yet more questions about a specific video.

I have no idea myself, but maybe someone can add some info there.

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Related
“Cold and Detached Gloating”, March 18, 2011
UN “Racism Conference” – Cui Bono, Tai De, March 14, 2009

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Libya: Chinese Government deplores Military Strikes

Q: Multinational armed forces have begun to carry out military strikes against Libya, how does the Chinese side view this?

问:多国部队已开始对利比亚实施军事打击,中方对此有何评论?

A: The Chinese side is following the latest developments in Libya closely, and deplores the military strikes against Libya. The Chinese side has never  been in favor of using military force in international relations, has stood for adherence to the UN Charter’s purposes and principles, as well as the relevant standards of international law, respect for Libya’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity.

答:中方注意到利比亚局势的最新发展,对向利进行军事打击表示遗憾。中方一贯不赞成在国际关系中使用武力,主张遵循《联合国宪章》的宗旨与原则以及相关国际法准则,尊重利主权、独立、统一和领土完整。我们希望利局势尽快恢复稳定,避免武装冲突升级造成更多平民伤亡。

Jiang Yu (姜瑜), Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, in reply to a journalist’s question on Sunday.

Update / Related
India, Russia oppose Air Strikes, Deccan Herald, March 20, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Obituary: Mohammed Nabbous, 1983 – 2011

Mohammed Nabbous, a Libyan blogger and founder of Libya Alhurra TV, the first private television station established in territory controlled by the National Transitional Council (Benghazi), was reportedly killed on Saturday, while reporting on continued efforts by pro-Gaddafi forces to recapture Benghazi, in violation of an immediate ceasefire declared by the Gaddafi government itself one day earlier.

Nabbous was married, and his widow is pregnant, writes the Toronto Star, in an article with a link to a statement attributed to her.

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Related
Libya calls for International Observers, CNN, March 18, 2011
Second Battle of Benghazi, Wikipedia
Mohammed Nabbous, Wikipedia

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Libyan No-Fly Zone, my fearful Country, and its big Mouth

Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters,

writes the UN department of public information. Resolution 1973 (2011), the one which imposes the no-fly zone,

authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi,

but excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory – not one inch, as the information department quotes Lebanon’s speaker at the United Nations security council (UNSC).

Just another German press review

Just another German press review

Just as on Iraq early in 2003, Europe presented itself divided once again. But different from then, I’m not so sure today that Germany’s government made the right decision in the resolution 1973 vote. I’d have preferred to see Germany supporting it.

I can sense some of the risks. Nobody seems to know if the resolution’s scope  will be wide enough to protect the Libyan population effectively. Not only Libyans, but other Arab countries supportive of the resolution, too, will blame any failure on America and Europe. A divided Libya may turn into a another failed state, close to the borders of the European Union. We don’t know who the anti-Gaddafi forces are – and after all, the resolution helps them more than Gaddafi and his connections.

In fact, the European-Gaddafi coexistence had been quite comfy during the past few years. The Great Socialist Jamahiriya‘s leader had kept North African refugees back on the African continent, and Western business people fell over each other to strike lucrative deals with the dictator and his connections.

But not knowing if the people who would replace Gaddafi are worse or better than him creates no obligation to stay on the sidelines and to watch Gaddafi’s revenge on his opponents (including scores of suspected opponents) unfold. We don’t know who the oppositionals are, but we do know what kind of “leader” Gaddafi is. By now, any suggestion that he should bring the entire country back under his control has become an unreasonable demand on the Libyan people.

There is no institution like the Egyptian military in Libya. If the no-fly zone, plus all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, but minus an option to occupy Libyan territory, will be successful in stopping Gaddafi’s forces (many of whom aren’t Libyan nationals, but mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa), either all Libyans, or those outside the reach of Tripoli, will have to find agreement among themselves before they can build such institutions. It’s looks like an adventure, rather than like a project.

Therefore, a government may abstain in the UN security council’s vote, and be proven right in the end.

But even if that should be the case, Berlin would have chosen its position for the wrong reasons, and in contradiction to messages it had sent during the past months. The German government cited some which one may find convincing indeed, but most crucially, it abstained because it was afraid of public opinion at home. The government  finds it hard already to maintain our country’s existing military commitment to Afghanistan.  German pacifism*), an attitude based on the experience of the second world war,  plays a big role here.  It helped for the short term in 2002, that then chancellor Gerhard Schröder succeeded in making the public believe that the Bundeswehr was basically sent to Afghanistan to rebuild bridges and protect little girls on their way to school. The rude awakening since wasn’t really that helpful. Afghanistan looks like a never-ending story, and involvement in Libya could become a quagmire, or a failure.

According to a survey quoted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, 90 percent of the German public support the government’s position on Libya. Government and population seem to share the feeling that our allies could ask for a German fighter jet’s involvement, and the feeling that this would be asking too much.

Some German papers have criticized our government’s – and oppositional parties’ – siding with countries such as China or Russia. That doesn’t bother me. If I was convinced that the resolution 1973 on Libya was wrong, I wouldn’t mind our government’s company. Besides, one could say that China’s and Russia’s positions are pretty consistent with their previous views on the northern African revolutions.

Berlin? Not so. Here is some of Guido Westerwelle‘s (German foreign minister) exhilarated bushwah in Egypt, in February this year, according to an official German website:

“A movement for freedom has started here, and we intend to do our bit to help ensure that it brings success for the people.”

[…]

“Tahrir Square is to the Egyptians what the Brandenburg Gate is to Germans,” Westerwelle said, adding that Germany had a noticeably good reputation in Egypt – “perhaps in part because we made such a good job of our own peaceful revolution for freedom.”

That, plus some comments by Westerwelle on Libya, in a radio interview, also in February – i. e. shortly after Benghazi and other Libyan cities ousted the pro-Gaddafi forces (and therefore took the risk of being treated as “traitors”, should those forces return):

“This regime is hitting out like mad; it is waging war against its own people; it is threatening the people with a protracted civil war – and that’s why I have decided that we will again call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council. I believe sanctions are inevitable in the light of these severe human rights violations and the massive use of violence. These might include travel bans for the ruling family, but also the freezing of assets.”

And

We Germans made our position crystal clear right at the beginning of the week – along with other colleagues, may I say, France for instance – and this will not have been lost on our other colleagues. This morning I will be meeting my Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, whom I value very highly, and whom I know to be a compassionate man who is completely aware that Europe’s foreign policy must be interest-based, but above all value-oriented. And we as European democrats stand on the side of democratic change.

Where is my country standing now?

To be fair, one should add that Westerwelle didn’t want to take a stance on possible military intervention then. But at that time, late in February, he didn’t need to. The situation in Libya was different from now, and without Britain, France, but above all America supporting military action, Germany’s position wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

But Germany’s position now appears to be that, while it will always do “its bit” to “encourage” change, the risks will be exclusively for the people south of the Mediterranean themselves to take – even when Germany would be quite capable to take a share in it. That stinks.

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Note
*) I don’t think that my use of the word pacifism in this context is really doing justice to the concept. But as genuine pacifism and genuine callousness (plus lots of other mindsets in between) are habitually lumped together as “pacifism” anyway, I’m doing likewise here.

Related
Reactions to the Fukushima I Disaster, March 15, 2011
LSE and “Biased Media”, March 4, 2011
Angela Merkel calls Kadafi Speech “frightening”, L. A. Times blogs, February 22, 2011

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scientific: Salt, Autobahn, and Free Elections

The good news, for all the friends of free markets, is that Hong Kong is still a free market. Panic-buying in Hong Kong pushed up the retail price of salt to as high as HK$30 a catty, from the usual HK$2, according to the HK Standard (via ESWN). Eating lots of salt may help to ease your fear, but it can also kill you, if you eat too much of it, a warning tweet or other microblog post with a sad story from Zhejiang Province informs us.

Meantime, a saltrush in Guangdong Province has reportedly ebbed away, after several authorities in charge had refuted rumors (辟谣, pì yáo).

Or maybe it was rather once it dawned on the innocent (but chronically wary) buyers that they had been “fooled” yet again. On Friday, after the frenzy, Guangdong Provincial Price Bureau received complaints from citizens who wanted to return their salt bonanzas, and their money back, but were turned down by the retailers, reports the Yangcheng Evening Post (via Enorth). Inevitably, during the days of (occasional, I guess) panic, the Chinese retail market had turned out to be a very free market, too. Yangcheng Evening News also provides us with some salt statistics, courtesy Guangdong Provincial Salt Bureau (广东省盐务局).

The salt-buying frenzy began on March 16, at 2 p.m., and ended on March 18. But even though it lasted only for two days, it amounted to what would regularly be a one-month sales quantity. Some 1,000 tons were sold in Guangzhou on March 17. Normally, it would be 180 to 200 tons a day.

Seems that cool heads mostly prevailed in Guangzhou itself  – but then again, maybe there just wasn’t more salt on offer. Anyway, thinking of five Grannies instead of one buying salt, and near-empty shelves ahead, such situations probably have to lead to a strong sense of competition, for the survival of the fittest. Chaotic scenes were probably rather local phenomenons anyway, from Wednesday through Friday.


Let’s simplify this… how does a traffic jam occur? An experiment in Essen, Northrhine-Westphalia, tries to explain. All participating car drivers were told to keep an unvariable distance to each other, at a constant pace. It worked for ten minutes, which is actually quite good. The supervisor’s explanation: the bigger the differences in individual drivers’ pace, the more likely a jam will occur. On the Autobahn, car speeds differ widely.

Who caused the jam? Nobody knows. The driver who is to blame doesn’t know either. The jam occurs some fifteen to twenty cars further behind him or her. Once you get too close to the rear bumpers of the car in front of you, a chain reaction will occur behind you, as you have to brake, making the car behind you slamming on the brakes (more so than needed, maybe) obliging the next cars in the row to do likewise.

It’s a bit more complicated with buying frenzies, probably, because we have two circular flows here: the chain of buyers, and the stream of supplies.

But the moral of the story is the same: the buggers who cause the problems are likely to get away. Except for that anxious buyer in Zhejiang. He expired – or so the microblog quoted by ESWN is saying –

after taking in too much salt in order to ward off radiation. By the time that his family took him to the hospital, it was too late.

When nothing goes right, blame someone. A tweet as an example (please mind that China in itself is at various  mental developmental stages, and this may be meant seriously, or it may just be a bit of Jasmine fun):

This episode also shows that the Chinese government is failing its people.  The people want salt but there is no salt to be found anywhere.  This is the failure of the government.  If there were free elections, salt would be available to anyone who wants it anytime.

We have free elections in Germany, but we don’t have the universally five-lane autobahn we‘d like to have either.

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Related
Garlic Prices: to Buy is to Believe, May 14, 2010
Zigong (“Salt City”), Wikipedia

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