Traffic. This year the traffic jam in the northbound lanes extended from Taipei all the way to Taichung with no end in sight. As I drove home around 4 it was basically a parking lot all the way back to the 140 km marker, or over 100 kms from the Taipei exit.

Ran up to Taipei for New Year this year. The weather was awful — colder than Republican domestic policy, and grayer than a Jesuit’s heart. Of course, it was drizzling too. But I had a wonderful time hanging out with many interesting people.

Latest rumors running around the capital and in the Chinese-language media: KMT Presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou has a US passport and US citizenship, which would disqualify him from running for the presidency. The local media was reporting that 2004 presidential candidate Lien Chan is a US citizen as well, which would have disqualified him from running in 2004. The DPP has growling that it was going to sue the Central Election Commission (CEC) for not doing its job.

Taipei, done up in gray.

Lots of commentaries in the media recently. Some of you might want to stop by to politely reply to this pro-China piece full of misunderstandings that found its way into the Yale Daily News. In the Star Bulletin in Hawaii Bill Sharp passes on the conventional wisdom on the election and on Chen Shui-bian, along with some weirdnesses (referring to the KMT as the “NP”) and believing that the KMT’s superior local networks date from the successful 2005 3-in-1 elections. Huh?

Speaking of the conventional wisdom, David Yang has an article in a recent edition of World Politics that argues that Taiwan’s democratization was not a middle class project as is typically argued, but a working class one. Quite interesting, especially in light of the long conversation I had with Linda Arrigo yesterday on labor unions and social movements in the 1990s and how they were used and abandoned in different ways by the DPP and by the KMT. Those of you who are looking for thesis projects for MA and PHD work should contact her; she’s a font of ideas, questions, and intimate, personal knowledge (Why did the pro-PRC leftists allied to the KMT end up in the 1996 Presidential election supporting — not KMT candidate Lee Teng-hui — but Hao Pei-tsun and Lin Yang-kang, the reactionary right-wing candidates from the KMT who ran as independents?). Linda has many stories to tell….Finally, Global Voices online has a great article on influential local blogger Portnoy.

Last week also saw some meetings in Washington, where Bush Administration official John Negroponte balanced critical remarks on the referendum prior to the election with more positive remarks at a media event:

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte urged Beijing to be “a little bit more generous toward Taiwan” when Taipei seeks participation in international organizations that do not require statehood.

“Our policy is to counsel restraint on both sides of the Strait, to reiterate our position that this is a question that should be settled by peaceful means, and that no one should do anything that would unilaterally alter the status quo,” he said in an interview with the US Council of Foreign Relations on Monday.

“And for its part, one of the things that we urge the People’s Republic of China [PRC], is that they shouldn’t try to deprive Taiwan of all of its political space,” he said.

“For example, there are institutions, global institutions, that don’t require being a state to have membership. We think Beijing can afford to be a little bit more generous toward Taiwan in regard to some of those organizations,” he said.

“We also are concerned, and expressed our preoccupation, about this military buildup on the PRC’s side of the Strait. That’s a subject of continual concern as well,” he said.

Contrast this weak statement, which lacks any strong criticism of Beijing, with the Administration’s abusive comments on the harmless referendum over the last few months. Meanwhile stalwart Taiwan supporter John Tkacik and longtime Taiwan abuser Ted Galen Carpenter spoke at a think tank event last week:

Meanwhile, at a forum on Wednesday on Taiwan’s defense capability, a US academic said he believed Taiwan’s future would be grim unless the nation could reach a consensus on its relations with China.

John Tkacik, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that based on the current pace of military expansion on both sides of the Strait, Taiwan was virtually defenseless.

He said that while a majority of Taiwanese politicians advocate opening up trade relations with Beijing, many overlook the fact that allowing Taiwan’s high-tech companies to invest in China is basically handing Taiwan’s strength to Bei-jing on a silver platter.

Tkacik also questioned the logic of the Bush administration’s Taiwan policy.

On one hand, the US government wants Taiwan to purchase weapons to defend itself, but on the other, it opposes Taiwan buying offensive weapons that have the capability of destroying the Chinese military.

Another US academic at the forum, Ted Cato of the Cato Institute, said for the past eight years, the pan-blue camp has been depending on the US for military support.

He said he hoped Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would stick to his word when he said he would increase Taiwan’s military budget if elected.

Carpenter said there were several benchmarks that could be used to assess China’s “friendliness” toward Taiwan if Ma wins office: would Beijing stop deploying missiles pointed at Taiwan, stop suffocating Taiwan’s diplomatic space and allow for Taiwan’s greater participation in international bodies such as the WHO.

Beijing’s post-election posture toward Taiwan is the subject of everyone’s curiosity. I myself am curious as to why Beijing would do any of the things that Carpenter identifies, since it has suffered neither concrete censure nor concrete punishment for engaging in these activities as it currently stands. Indeed; it is constantly rewarded with ever greater leverage over US policy and international media presentations, as well as calls from people like Carpenter for the US to abandon Taiwan. Why on earth would it switch away from this utterly successful strategy mix? Wendell Minnick, one of the region’s most reliably excellent reporters, has an article over at Defense News on Taiwan’s missile programs, as well as China’s longterm military plans. It’s clear that China isn’t going to swap strategies at this point….the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has a short piece on the upcoming Presidential election.

To cold to fly.

Hope everyone had a wonderful New Year!