I’m off camping in Gukeng, the center of Taiwan’s coffee production. Coffee-themed kitsch on a galactic scale…. Meantime lots of commentary out there on the Taiwan election. First is this disturbing editorial from Taiwan News on the human rights situation and the KMT. The money quote:

However, many actions and statements of KMT legislators since Ma’s victory Saturday have already sent chills down the spines of Taiwan citizens concerned with protecting our hard-won human rights.

The most disturbing example is the call issued by KMT lawmakers for the minister of national defense to “swear allegiance” to the president-elect even before Ma is inaugurated May 20.

We applaud the decision by Defense Ministry’s Tsai Ming-hsien, Taiwan’s first truly civilian defense minister, to reject the demand for such an oath which are only common in personal dictatorships or one-party authoritarian states.

The demands for a declaration of personal allegiance to Ma Ying-jeou were not raised by Ma himself, but, apparently without any sense of historical irony or shame, by KMT Legislator Chiang Hsiao-yen, the illegitimate grandson of the late KMT dictator Chiang Kai-shek, and other right-wing KMT lawmakers.

Don’t worry! The KMT has changed. It’s not the old KMT, you know. They wear much better suits now….

Also on tap is neocon John Bolton speaking sense on Taiwan in the LATimes. Damn! I hate when neocons say things I like:

For the United States, the clearest way of expressing that support is to give full diplomatic recognition to the state that already exists and that the Taiwanese overwhelmingly wish to preserve. Maintaining ambiguous, informal ties to Taiwan is confusing and potentially dangerous; it obscures Beijing’s understanding of just how committed the United States is to Taiwan’s defense and self-determination.

Recognition would bring stability and certainty, thus actually lowering the risks that Beijing will misinterpret the U.S. position and threaten or actually commence military action to regain Taiwan. Extending diplomatic recognition would no more prejudice the U.S.’ “one China” policy (itself an exercise in confusion and ambiguity) or the ultimate issue of reunification than did U.S. recognition of the two Germanys during the Cold War.

The Japan Times gives some Japan-centered thoughts on the election (hat tip to Sponge Bear):

The biggest concern now is Beijing’s understanding of Taiwanese politics. It has wooed KMT leaders for several years and they have reciprocated. But if Beijing expects the new president to sharply alter course, then it is sure to be disappointed. Mr. Ma has said that “before we can talk about peace, we need to remove the threat,” a reference to the 1,000 missiles reportedly arrayed against Taiwan. Mr. Ma has also promised to increase defense spending to about 3 percent of GDP. That does not sound like a man ready for unification. Fortunately, with the Olympics on the horizon, China will have little appetite for tension.

Mr. Ma also reportedly wants to elevate relations with Japan. Japan overtook the U.S. in 2006 as Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner: Two-way trade nearly reached $63 billion, and 2.3 million tourists were exchanged. While the KMT has traditionally been cool on relations with Tokyo, Mr. Ma is said to want to launch negotiations on a free-trade agreement. Those talks will be tricky: China is sure to take offense at any deal that appears to prevent reunification.

Mr. Ma has his work cut out for him. But the scale of his victory should provide a solid foundation for his administration. Taiwan’s voters appear to understand his priorities and appear ready to back a pragmatic agenda. Most significantly, the alternation of power — from KMT to DPP and back to KMT — is powerful reassurance about the state of democracy in Taiwan.

Much of the logic in these centrist pieces is quite strange. While they all struggle to show that Ma isn’t going to be Beijing’s lapdog and paint rosy pictures of possible conflicts between Ma and Beijing — think what the mere existence of such a discourse implies about what the reality is — they all gloss over the fact that in order to accomplish his economic programs, Ma absolutely needs Beijing.

UPDATE: Businessweek has the latest in the string of articles that have been appearing since late December on the changes in China that are pushing firms to relocate abroad. Most readers are familiar with the effects of the rising yuan and the new labor laws, but I had not known that at the same time China had canceled rebates on materials used in export processing:

The rise of the yuan may be the biggest single factor driving companies to relocate. But other government policies are contributing to the crisis. Last year, Beijing decided to cut or cancel tax rebates on more than 2,000 items used to make exported goods. The impact has been huge. “The end of rebates has raised the cost of manufacturing many goods by 14% to 17% at the factory level,” says Harley Seyedin, president of the Guangzhou-based American Chamber of Commerce in South China.

What happens is this: in many developing countries switching to an export orientation, tax rebates on stuff used to make exports is a very common policy, found in Taiwan during its heyday as well. Let’s imagine I import steel to make toys for export. When I import the steel, I have to pay an import tax or customs duty. However, if I use that steel to make toys which I export, the government refunds me the import tax I paid on the steel. That way the cost of importing the steel isn’t included in the cost of the product, holding production costs down. This also means that if I use the steel to make something sold domestically, its cost will be higher (all other things being equal) since there is no rebate on the steel, meaning that local consumers pay more than foreign consumers. The higher costs thus hold consumption down at home, increasing savings.


Factoids of the day: A friend passed along J Michael Cole’s observation that while Ma is always “Harvard-educated,” Hsieh was never “Kyoto-educated.” Future would-be presidents, take note!

Here’s something I didn’t notice until last night. While the government announced that it had opened more than 6,000 cases of vote buying during the legislative elections, how many did you hear of during the Presidential election?