Monthly Archives: October, 2016


Tiger on a tightrope – Why Taiwan is called ‘Chinese Taipei’

Harrison Rule

International relations | Asia


Heads of state from across the Asia Pacific will congregate in Peru this November for the annual APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting. As the global political heavyweights gather around the diplomatic roundtable in Lima however, one placard may seem out of place.

Squeezed between household names like Barak Obama, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe will sit a Taiwanese politician from a minor opposition party, under the banner of ‘Chinese Taipei’.

A name for a nation that does not exist, ‘Chinese Taipei’ is a political compromise. It’s a label for one of Asia’s four great ‘economic tigers’ that must perform a delicate balancing act to win the right for global recognition. The diplomatic status of ‘Chinese Taipei’ or Taiwan as it is more commonly known, is a quirk of history – a by-product of a 70 year-old civil war over the governance of Asia’s oldest superpower.

[caption id="attachment_5005" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Taiwanese politician Lien Chan greeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the 2008 APEC Forum[/caption]

In the early hours of 10 December 1949, Communist troops laid siege to the final Nationalist stronghold in China – Chengdu. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Government, battered and bruised retreated to safety of Taiwan. The Nationalists however, much like the Communists, insisted that their government continued to represent all Chinese people, both on the island and the mainland.

While for much of the Cold War, most Western powers including Washington and Canberra recognised the administration operating in Taiwan as the legitimate government of ‘China’, it became apparent in the 1970s that the People’s Republic of China in Beijing posed greater economic and political utility in the fight against the Soviet Union.

And so, in 1971, representatives of Taipei walked out of the UN General Assembly, an organisation of which they were founding members, as Resolution 2758 was passed. It recognised the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.”

The following decades saw a string of memorandums and communiques, with the United States promising to withdraw recognition and reduce the quantity of arms provided to Taiwan in exchange for an assurance from Beijing that Taiwan would be able to engage in capitalism and maintain a degree of autonomy – “one China, two systems” in the words of Deng Xiaoping.

But the China of the 1990s, undergoing turbulent economic and structural reforms, was ill-equipped to represent the diplomat and economic interests of a democratic, capitalist Tiger, eager to engage with the region.

The compromise was ‘Chinese Taipei’.

Taiwan would be permitted to participate in multilateral organizations, not on the basis of legal sovereignty, but on its role as an autonomously governed economy with significant regional economic interests.

The restrictions placed on this new ‘Chinese Taipei’ were not however limited to simply a humiliating name. A Memorandum of Understanding signed between China, Taiwan and APEC in 1991 significantly limited Taiwan’s space in the organisation, specifying that Taiwan is not permitted to send its President to the annual APEC economic leaders meeting or its Foreign Minister to the Ministerial Meetings.

Instead a strange diplomatic ritual has emerged, in which the APEC secretariat sends a special envoy to Taipei to deliver a letter of invitation to Taiwan’s President, who is then expected to politely decline. A second envoy then delivers an invitation to a candidate that has been both elected by the president and approved by the APEC host nation.

For a country with limited diplomatic means, the ability to appoint an APEC representative has become an unconventional but important tool for maintaining balance on the tightrope that is cross-strait relations.

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s newly elected president, has used the APEC candidate selection process to extend an olive branch to Beijing. Representing ‘Chinese Taipei’ in Peru later this month is James Soong, leader of the People First Party – a small pro-China, minor opposition party with only two seats in the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan.

[caption id="attachment_5035" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Leader of the Taiwanese People First Party and representative of Chinese Taipei to APEC 2016, James Soong[/caption]

Tsai’s election of a candidate with a strong pro-unification stance is a show of good faith from a president whose Democratic Progressive Party is viewed in Beijing as a major challenge to the existing status quo.

Pulled in two directions by an ever growing domestic desire for recognition and an intense pressure from its powerful neighbour, Taiwan must tread carefully. The Little Tiger of East Asia must exploit the abnormality of its peculiar political position, even if that means working under an unfamiliar banner to achieve its diplomatic objectives.

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Gambling for jade on the China-Myanmar border

Patrick Cordwell

Society and culture | Asia


The unofficial lotteries and clandestine casinos of China are the source of many tales of instant wealth and dramatic financial loss. But in Yunnan province, you’re more likely to see amateur gamblers pin their hopes, and their savings, on lumps of rock as they hunt for precious jade.

Jade is big business in China. In Yunnan province alone, the industry employs more than 500,000 people and annual sales of the precious stone have reached nearly US $2.5 billion. The prized stones flow across the border from Myanmar, and most find their way to counters in cavernous showrooms and glittering jewellery emporiums in Ruili, a small city near the frontier.

But not all jade that trades hands in Ruili is beautiful and polished.

Raw jade is covered by base material, meaning that in its natural state, it’s impossible to tell the quality of the stone within. Its true value is therefore concealed, fuelling fantasies that a rock could be hiding a glittering jadeite secret. For hundreds of years, this mystery has driven the thriving business of du shi – ‘gambling rock’.

The idea is straightforward. A raw stone of any shape or size is purchased – neither the buyer nor seller know what is inside. The buyer slices it open, revealing the stones’ true value. For most its worthless, but there’s always a chance of finding priceless jade hidden inside.

Those who get lucky can sell the stone to a jewellery company and profit immediately, or take a further gamble by keeping it and hoping that the price of jade continues to increase.

[related_article align="left" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Should we boycott Myanmar?"]

It’s a game that appeals to the twin Chinese passions of gambling and jade, a valuable stone that has etched itself into Chinese culture. Long ago, Confucius believed it to reflect the virtues of a true gentleman – its fine texture representing wisdom and its purity signifying loyalty and benevolence. With such symbolic value, jade has become an age-old cultural obsession.

It is no surprise then that thousands flock to Yunnan to try their luck at du shi. This eagerness is only inflated by dramatic stories that tell of peasants uncovering endless wealth as they break open stones to reveal precious jadeite.

In one famous story, a jade trader from Sichuan Province purchased a stone in Myanmar for US $9,000. Inside he found a rare jadeite with seven different colours, and the estimated value skyrocketed to US $60 million.

But there’s no such luck for the overwhelming majority who try their hand at du shi. Like any form of gambling, the sad stories of extreme financial loss and hardship are much more common. People often take out loans or borrow large amounts of money from family and friends to finance a bet on a worthless rock containing nothing of value.

Such was the case for Long Jiheng, a jade-gambler when the industry first exploded in the 1990s after the construction of a bridge connecting jade-rich Kachin State in Myanmar to jade-hungry Yunnan. According to him, he purchased a 1000kg raw stone for over US $1 million. It didn’t contain the precious jade he was sure that it was hiding. “I planned to commit suicide by jumping into the river to end all of the mess”, he said.

As Chinese websites offering du shi mushroom all over the Internet, the scale of gambling is only set to increase. It’s now possible to peruse pages upon pages of stones at every price point, and take a chance without travelling to Yunnan as hundreds of thousands have done in the past.

The only threat to the industry is the continued supply of jade from across the border. But with the United States recently lifting sanctions on Myanmar, including those on jade, it seems likely that the precious stones will continue to flow eastwards from Kachin State.

And as long as there is supply, the demand for du shi will continue. As the Chinese proverb goes, “there is a price for gold, but no price for jade”.

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To heal or to harm – problematic doctor-patient relationships in China

Jiamei Feng

Society and culture | Asia


According to a non-official survey in China, around 60% of medical workers in China are unwilling to let their children become doctors after growing up.

While this figure may be an exaggeration, today the reality is that working in the Chinese medical system is not so appealing. While surgeons and physicians are considered prestigious professions and count among the highest-paid jobs in Australia, in China a doctor working in a tertiary hospital “sees fifty or sixty patients” in a single morning, and may still earn less than 80,000 RMB (around $US 13,000) per year.

Not only is the salary far from satisfying; being on the job can turn into a nightmare.
Health practitioners get beaten or even killed because patients and their families are not content with treatment results. Sometimes people hire hospital violators, organised mobs or “professionals” to get greater medical compensation. To avoid further conflict, hospitals usually make concessions and pay.

On the other hand, the public is unhappy about expensive medical fees. China provides general healthcare insurance to almost every citizen, but the costs are still high. An ordinary family can easily become broke if someone in the family is diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer.

And doctors’ reputations have only worsened in the face of scandals, like news about receiving financial kickbacks from drug companies (thus raising drug fees) and “red envelopes” – when patients give extra cash to surgeons and anaesthetists for special care. The amount of money varies according to the doctor’s title, the hospital’s location and how serious the disease is. Traditionally worshipped as “angels in white” Chinese doctors are now criticised as “white-eyed wolves” – a metaphor for ungrateful souls.

The public also complains about the difficulties in seeing a doctor. The most extreme cases happen in specialist clinics in China’s tertiary hospitals. Patients prefer experts to young, unknown doctors and they are willing to spend hours or days to get registered. The registration fee is genuinely cheap.

Consequently, an illegal but often agreed silent occupation has sprung up – Huangniu, or registration scalpers. They sell specialist registration numbers to those who cannot wait at a much higher cost.

In January this year a video of a young girl went viral when while at a famous Beijing hospital she angrily claimed that she could not see an expert as a result of her rejecting scalpers, and that the hospital was playing ‘footsie’ with them.

[caption id="attachment_4886" align="alignnone" width="449"] A screenshot of the "girl condemning Huangniu" video. Her words sparked country-wide discussion.[/caption]

Medical institutions have attempted to eliminate this by adopting a real-name system and online registration. But scalpers have also upgraded their operations, remaining active in the shadows, while the police complain it is too hard to arrest them all.
The leading cause of doctor-patient conflict is China’s slow healthcare development. In 2014 the government spent $590.2 billion in medical services, accounting for 5.7% of GDP, lower than Brazil -- 8.8%. Financial aid accounts for a mere 10% of a public hospitals’ income, while 40% comes from medicine earnings, which directly pushes up medication prices.

Additionally, community hospitals, a supplement to big infirmaries, are in an awkward position. They are set to offer basic healthcare, yet lacking funds, they can barely afford advanced facilities for comprehensive treatment. Ambitious doctors are not interested in them either, due to disappointing payment and the bleak career path. They remain ‘deserted’ while major hospitals are overcrowded.

Moreover, the Chinese medical system is caught in a bizarre arrangement. In the 1990s, then Premier of China, Zhu Rongji, promoted industrialisation of healthcare services. Trade in medicines and medical equipment become entirely commercial. But supply channels are controlled both by the government and corporations. Staff in public hospitals, on the contrary, are “within the system” and their salaries increase with the rise in career levels and any official adjustment (which happened only twice in the past decade).

Leaving aside verbal and physical abuse, medical workers argue that they do not receive proper pay. A high professional rank and educational background are critical to a doctor’s career, but it usually takes eight years to get a master’s degree and at least four years of working experience to become an attending physician. Long working hours and night shifts make the job even harder. Receiving bribes and red bags seems acquiring what they deserve in an illegal way.

Subconsciously, citizens regard medical resources as public welfare. People pursue top treatment in the hope of a low price. In 2016, the government announced a raise in registration fees in tertiary hospitals -- from $US 1.3 to $US 3.7 to see a specialist. Although the price is low in doctors’ eyes, the new regulation still sparked controversy online.

China is actively promoting medical reform, yet the results are not satisfactory. Both practitioners and patients consider themselves victims and medical disputes continue. An ideal solution is to fully finance all public infirmaries regardless of hospital volume, but funding remains the biggest problem.

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Warm diplomacy in the world’s coldest capital

Harrison Rule

Society and culture | Asia


“The sleeping giant of Asia has awakened.”

So warned Charles Morgan, the Honourable Member for Reid speaking of Asia to a deeply divided Australian parliament in the midst of the Cold War.

“It has been said that he who rules or dominates Asia rules or dominates the world. As the methods and techniques of Genghis Khan are being revived … we could suddenly be embroiled in trouble.”

At the time, the image of a ruthless conqueror whose great Golden Horde toppled even the most equipped armies of Central Asia and beyond, sent shivers down the spine of Australia – a young nation that viewed itself as alone in its own region, highly reliant on far off powers for protection.

The Mongol Warlord whose empire stretched from the Caspian Sea to Siberia, has acted as a cautionary symbol in Australian Defence politics, of an Asia with an inherently aggressive and expansionist spirit. An Asia that is to be feared, placated or contained.

It thus with great irony, that Australia’s newest embassy has been erected in a city guarded by the watchful gaze of the Great Khan himself. Casted in steel and gold a stoic Genghis watched on from the wild steppes just east of Ulaanbaatar as diplomatic relations were formalised between the two unlikely partners earlier this year.

[caption id="attachment_4742" align="alignnone" width="3557"] Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue - Located East of Ulanbaatar on the bank of the Tuul River. Source: Jonathan E. Shaw [/caption]

This was a move that seemed quite out of character for a sea-girt middle power that has traditionally focused its diplomatic efforts on Oceania and South-east Asia, while consolidating its presence in Northeast Asia to a few major capitals.

So what has changed? Why reach out to Mongolia now?

The importance of engagement with Asia has never been of greater strategic value than today. Following mutual recognition in 1967, diplomatic officials in Canberra were “at a loss” to describe the exact nature of Australia’s business in Mongolia. It was only recently, with the shift in focus towards the “Asian Century”, that Australia has realised the economic and strategic potential of deepening relations with powers like Mongolia.

With a rapidly changing global order, Australia is facing increased competition for access and influence in the region. Larger Asian countries are becoming more central to global diplomatic decision-making and are beginning to encroach on Australia’s traditional diplomatic stomping grounds.

Mongolia presents an opportunity for deepening and broadening our relationship with Asia. The Land of Blue Skies has already backed Australia’s bid for a UN Security Council seat as well as advocated for Australian participation in important biennial diplomatic forums such as the Asia–Europe Meeting. Like other small powers squeezed between military giants, Mongolia is looking to combat its vulnerable geographic position by expanding its diplomatic networks.

By supporting Mongolia’s aspirations for involvement in the ASEAN Regional Forum as well as other international financial institutions, Australia may in return win the support and cooperation of a state in the heart of the world’s most dynamic region.

As mineral-rich nations, both Mongolia and Australia rely heavily on Chinese importation of resources for economic prosperity. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report suggesting that the two nations will find themselves in deep competition for mineral and agricultural export markets in North-east Asia. While this may in part be true, the economic relationship shared by Australia and Mongolia is in fact far more complex.

Fifty Australian companies have a presence in Mongolia, according to data released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Leighton, Xanadu Mines and Kumai Energy – all of which have significant Mongolian mineral leases and investment plans.

On the other hand, Mongolia lacks the domestic technology, wealth and expertise to capitalise on its resource potential. In a 2011 joint-statement, it was made clear by the Mongolia government that the country is looking to Australia for vocational, agricultural and legal assistance in the coming decades.

While some Australians may still be skeptical of their country’s engagement with Asia, we must depart from the political trappings of the past. The image of a terrifying Mongol horde surging towards Australia is today unfounded and laughable.

The “sleeping giant of Asia”, as the late member for Reid warned, has indeed awakened. The threat posed today, however, is not one of ideology or a Pan-Asian Empire, but of a failure to engage.

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Drug war, still poor

Miguel Galsim

Society and culture | Southeast Asia


People in the Philippines support the Drug War, and it is not surprising to see slum residents voicing support for the anti-crime crusade, says Monsoon contributor Miguel Galsim.

In reality, it is often the poorest in Philippine society who have to deal with drug-related crime and experience in the flesh the destruction of families and communities by the shabu industry. Accordingly, many votes for Duterte were votes against the spectre of drug crime. Many people hoped for a better future.

Yet, hope quickly morphs into anxiety when the brutality of the war does little to alleviate the poverty of those on the receiving end of drug crime. So long as the poor remain on the periphery of policymaking in the Philippines, the same problems of drugs and crime will persist, and the poverty that breeds this criminality will remain entrenched if genuine structural reform centred on the Filipino poor is ignored.

Many have argued the Drug War is a war on the lower class. President Duterte denied this, and recently Philippine National Police Director General Dela Rosa stated that the war would soon target the higher echelons of the drug trade. What is undeniable, however, is that slum dwellers are often caught in the crossfire with little say in the war that is often touted as being waged for their benefit.

The police enter the slums and arrest and/or kill whoever is named on a list provided by the barangay (district/ward) captain, although it is rarely verified how the information was gathered, or if it is even accurate.

Concurrently, the encouragement of vigilantism has given unprecedented impunity to contract killers, regardless of the purpose of the hit. The contraventions against due process within these operations also go without saying, further entrenching power in the hands of the state, pushing the poor further into the periphery.

Maximo Garcia was one day labelled a pusher by one of these lists, and hurriedly declared to the police that while he had used shabu in the past, he was not involved in its distribution. He thought he was safe. Four days later gunmen on a motorcycle attempted to kill him. His five-year old granddaughter, Danica, died instead.

A contract killer, profiled by the BBC, kills on the order of a police officer, her boss. Also impoverished, contract killing became a way to feed her family. However, leaving the field appears not to be an option as she claims the officer “threatened to kill anyone who leaves the team.”

[caption id="attachment_4709" align="aligncenter" width="446"] President Duterte shows a copy of a diagram showing the connection of high level drug syndicates operating in the country during a press conference at Malacañang on July 7, 2016. Image taken under a creative commons license from Flickr.[/caption]

Both situations are not only symptomatic of a wider disenfranchisement of the urban poor, but indicative of ignorance surrounding the root causes of drug crime and usage, particularly poverty. Killing 100,000 pushers may decrease crime for a while, but when people continue to live in crushing poverty the urge to use narcotics as an escape mechanism, or to kill and extort in order to survive, remains constant.

Across the ocean, the example of Colombia demonstrates how underlying political problems can prevent effective solutions to crime. Even though the government conducted an all-out assault on the Medellin Cartel, destroying it by 1993, crime rates did not suddenly decrease, nor did narcotics operations.

Income inequality and the incapacity of the state to monopolise security resulted in the continuation of organised criminality to present. Similarly in Mexico, the collapse of certain cartels does not spell peace, as the underlying issue of “anaemic public institutions” remains unresolved.

In general, a greater distribution of wealth and extension of services needs to be achieved. In July, the Duterte administration announced plans for rice subsidies benefitting the country’s poorest, although the effectiveness of its implementation remains unknown.

Additionally, the administration should consider expanding its CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) program, contrary to its July announcement, and refining its scope to prevent wastage. Moreover, the government would do well to incentivise infrastructure providers to extend critical services like electricity and water to slum districts. A concerted effort from the government and relevant private sectors is necessary to gradually lift the nation’s lowest socio-economic bracket.

From the perspective of slum residents, a more effective strategy against crime would be to include the urban poor in decision making, especially by engaging grassroots community leaders and unionists.

Reinforcing and elongating the proposed rehabilitation and incarceration programs for surrendered drug users – which are often under-resourced and ineffective, further demonstrating the state’s ignorance of underlying issues – would also be critical for reducing recidivism within impoverished communities.

Failing to understand the situation of the poor, especially in urban slums, the Drug War is doomed to continue marginalising these people and trapping them between the extremes of poverty and a hail of bullets.

The crusade may destroy the current syndicates, but crime will continue to spring out of the neglected margins. If these shortcomings remain unrealised, innocent boys and girls will continue to be made unnecessary sacrifices in a brutish government policy.

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