A Brit in South-East Asia

Contributed by a British ex-patriot living in South-East Asia, and covering world news, news about British politics and news about Taiwan.

The views expressed are those of the contributor.

23rd June 2022     History Being Repeated - Punch Magazine ... 1904.

Punch Magazine - History Repeated

Despite the passing of a Century plus, a couple of World Wars, a bunch of regional wars, riddance of dictators and despots, dictator comebacks, a lot of boundary/border changes and more, not much has changed, has it?

23rd June 2022     Being Squeezed.

One thing that became ever more evident, I believe, clearly emerged into the limelight at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue conference in Singapore: that China and the USA are doggedly heading towards confrontation, and that 'Taiwan' will most likely provide the excuse for the rhetoric & lies to slide into war, essentially a proxy war between the two main protagonists.

During a weekend speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that China was unilaterally attempting to change the "status quo" regarding Taiwan. China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said "China vows to 'crush' any attempt by Taiwan to pursue independence."

So was the Chinese Defence Minister simply parroting a message handed to him by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or is he a dangerous hawk? Does it matter?

Additionally, a new Chinese taunt: China's declaration that the Taiwan Strait isn't international waters [i.e. the Strait falls within China’s exclusive economic zone]; the US is likely to ignore this outrageous nonsense and continue to sail navy ships through the Strait, observers said. The question is more how Beijing responds. The US conducts freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims around disputed land features. "The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait," the Pentagon spokesman said.

There’s only 4 months to go until the 20th Party Congress (of the CCP); unless something 'falls apart' between now and then, Xi will most likely get elected to an unprecedented 3rd term - albeit with concessions being handed out to his political foes by way of Politburo seats to compensate for the recent economic debacle – which will not be good for Taiwan’s future. Hopefully, in the meantime, the new Covid outbreak in Beijing will destroy his credibility – but that currently seems far too much like wishful-thinking.

14th May 2022     the blue tears of Matsu or Kinmen … like you’ve never seen before!

The Blue Tears Of Matsu

Noctiluca scintillans - the main bioluminescent dinoflagellate in the archipelagos around here … and this is about 100x better than anything we ever saw around Matsu – bioluminescence-wise, that is.

7th March 2022     A book, a conversation between old men, a perspective on American geopolitics.

For all sorts of reasons, I invariably feel somewhat reserved about recommending articles/podcasts to a wider audience.

Nonetheless, here is one that I suspect some of you will indeed be interested to hear: a CSIS-led book review (of "Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail") featuring three renowned scholars/former diplomats, one of whom is Henry Kissinger: here.

As a Taiwan resident, I’m not at all sure that I feel entirely ‘comfortable’ with all of the issues discussed/implied. But at least I/we are fortunate enough not to live in the Ukraine.

27th February 2022     Confused Americans!

29th January 2022     Electric Scooters .

Fascinating how this innovation has taken off.

I guess it was some 4- 5 years back when Gogoro launched its electric scooters in Taipei. Taipei, of course, is an ideal place in which to pilot electric scooters, given the enormous number of scooters here – as evidenced by the growing number of Gogoro electric scooters and more recent introductions by other brands. Indeed, although not mentioned in the article, Yamaha has just signed a deal with Gogoro for launching a model in Taiwan based on Gogoro’s battery swapping (charging/re-charging) infrastructure; and Foxconn (or Hon Hai) the Taiwanese MNC that assembles iPhones (mostly in China) has just announced that it will back Gogoro substantially.

I’m aware that there’s a Chinese electric car manufacturer whose approach is based on a comparable infrastructure; however, it’s a dog. The driver needs to position his/her car over a pit so that the depleted battery can be removed/dropped out, presumably by robot arm, and replaced with a fully charged battery; just imagine the design/maintenance/re-stocking effort required to install such pits, let alone the costs, both once-off and ongoing.

Gogoro’s infrastructure has blossomed here in recent years, although it was far from a given thing just a few years back. And even now, you’ll not find too many (= any) electric scooters in mountainous areas away from the cities and larger towns, let alone battery swapping infrastructure, albeit that there’s more than 2,000 such stations in Taiwan alone. Indeed, there’s one mounted on the pavement some 60m from the entrance to our apartment block. Each scooter takes 2 battery packs.

23rd January 2022     Gettin' old: rigid, stoopid and forgetful ... as if.

I rather like this article. I never much liked the author when she was an FT journalist writing ‘Agony-Aunt-in-the-Office-for-Officeworkers’ articles – less because of what she wrote and more because I never regarded such content as suitable for the FT as-it-had-long-been – it all changed (= went even further downhill) after the Japanese bought out Pearson.

Anyway, she left the FT a few years back and became a school teacher somewhere in East London, albeit that she still writes occasionally for the FT, which was the origin of this article. https://dailyuknews.com/business/why-is-it-still-considered-ok-to-be-ageist/

Why? Well, it’s not just that it hits a personal bugbear, it’s also that it serves to emphasize just how much talent/experience/capability/energy/whatever is so hopelessly wasted in western, working society. Same here too!

I’m well aware that it’s long been the case that, in large US corporations, senior staff in their mid-late 40s/early 50s are so often pushed out to grass, replaced by folk some 20-30 years younger – simply because the younger ones are nearly-ish as capable and … a great deal cheaper salary-wise. Still, that seems to me to be more a matter of demographics rather than innate capability to do-the-job, and well!

23rd January 2022     Brussels has just saved Europe - ha ha!!!

Brussels proposes green label for nuclear and natural gas … the Exploding Plastic Inevitable for European energy economics and investment https://dailyuknews.com/business/brussels-proposes-green-label-for-nuclear-and-natural-gas/ .

… not that the German ‘Greens’ seem over the moon about the EU proposal.

Like it or not, Renewables in the form of solar or wind power are more or less a passing fashion, one that will never contribute much to the overall generation mix for the vast majority of countries, and for which anyway a very roughly equal and opposite commitment to generation from rotating machines is de rigeur (combining baseload as well as dispatchable supply) - hence, with coal and oil viewed these days as nasty “no-no’s” then gas and nukes are in the ascendancy – and we can but hope that better (and cheaper?) nuclear power generation technologies will come to market sooner rather than later, largely alleviating the appalling and dangerous waste storage problems that so many countries have rushed into, heedless and apparently uncaring.

23rd January 2022     Referendums .. or is that 'referenda'? Who cares, really? or 'WHO CARES?'

Here in Taiwan, four initiatives challenging the government’s policies (effectively, a vote of no confidence orchestrated by the opposition party, the KMT) on energy, food safety, environmental protection and regulations governing referendums failed to pass yesterday in a national referendum characterised by a relatively low turnout (some 40%) and nearly identical vote margins on all four issues.

Do you care, really? Is that important over in western Europe? Strangely enough, I suspect it could become so … more of which below.

Since the early 1990s, there has been one clear distinction between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), now the party of government: The KMT views Taiwan as part of China [whatever that may mean], and the DPP doesn’t. However, the KMT has belatedly recognised that being chummy with China doesn’t garner votes these days, let alone resolve the underlying issue that they have absolutely no clear-cut policy on the sole dividing issue (i.e., whaddya we do about China? That’s quite amazing because some 6 - 7 years ago then pretty-much the whole country here was China-leaning), And, much as the DPP would love to declare independence (i.e., from China, based primarily on the constitution, although in reality the country is already wholly independent, except for trade purposes), it has refrained from on so, largely entirely because so doing would give the other great hegemon, the USA, a superb get-out clause! So … stalemate reigns!

The KMT appears to be in its death throes: with a sinking level of support, mainly from/by the older clique, which gets ever older, further characterised by poor educational attainment (widespread amongst the post middle-aged generations) and/or gratitude for a good-pension-paying former civil service, or military, role. The DPP, formed in the late ‘80s’ by then young political activists, is almost as sclerotic these days, focused on greed and supported by rotting incompetence. Sounds familiar? [My wife]: hmm, Yep, a true-blue KMT supporter. Why? Dunno! Guess’s it’s in the blood’ … ??.

As for the referenda issues then I’d love to go on at great length but suspect that I’d soon lose your interest! Reasonably enough.

The referenda issues of food safety and environmental protection were originally introduced, in my opinion - as well as treated abysmally by the DPP who thus deserved a truly, and thoroughly, evil kicking – extraordinarily poorly, with about as much preparation as a *****. As for ‘energy’ then, to my mind, the issues were ‘politics’ with absolutely nothing to do with the safety of several million people, economics & ‘reality’ or with the multi-party failings over many years to deal with nuclear waste disposal (in the UK, then just think ‘Sellafield’). Btw, I’m pretty much in favour of nuclear generation, as an interim technology until ‘better alternatives’ can support decent societal needs. So … I genuinely regard the DPP as the party of total s***s, wholly aligned with their colleagues in the KMT. There was, and remains, only one good reason (that needs to be offset against some very good reasons to ‘can’ it forever) to even consider re-starting a project to commission the 4th nuclear generating station: that Taiwan is very exposed to the CCP mounting a maritime blockade that would, inter alia, prevent the inwards receipt of oil, gas and coal, i.e., of all other primary forms of energy and which could thus eviscerate the economy, lives too, within just a few weeks. Creating a good, sensible, flexible, energy policy here is far more complex than in many other island countries/economies – and, there are plenty of fabulously competent people here – yet: there remains a basket load of politicians here that need, hmm, let’s just say ‘early (and very permanent) retirement’.

So … Do you care, really? Is that important over in western Europe?

If this all leads to an, albeit potentially limited, America-China war then … ‘Yes’, I guess so. Given respective domains of influence and support, then the political fall-out would almost certain become global: business, trade, politics and miliary interventions .. all unhealthily combined.

23rd January 2022     Global Taiwan Institute - Taiwan/Germany relations.

Some of you may find the article below (‘Changing of the Guard: The Politics of German-Taiwanese Relations in a Post-Merkel Era’) of some interest.

Changing of the Guard: The Politics of German-Taiwanese Relations in a Post-Merkel Era

By: Dominika Remžová

Dominika Remžová completed her master’s degree in Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and was a summer 2021 intern at the Global Taiwan Institute.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who has been one of the staunchest supporters of engaging China through a so-called “change through trade” (“Wandel durch Handel”) policy, has stepped down. Under the new chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) defeated Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the September election, there are both internal and external drivers that could lead to a potential shift in Germany’s China policy. This could then create new opportunities for Taiwan, especially considering that both of the SPD’s coalition partners—the center-left Greens and the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP)—expressed support for Taiwan in their election manifestos. Regardless of whether the policy shift is substantive or rhetorical, the new governing coalition is unlikely to follow Merkel’s business-oriented approach—at least not in its previous form. 

Germany’s Evolving China Policy: Continuity or Change? 

Germany’s relations with Taiwan are conditioned by the “One-China Policy” as defined by the PRC. [1] However, in an era of China’s increasing assertiveness in both domestic and foreign affairs, Merkel’s China policy—which was based on the well-established practice of compartmentalization, or separating economic ties from security and human rights concerns—started drawing criticism from both outside and inside her own party. 

The China policy divisions within the Christian Democratic Union were best captured by the debate over whether Huawei (華為) should be allowed to participate in building Germany’s 5G infrastructure. Whereas the former Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier defended inclusion of Huawei on economic grounds, Norbert Röttgen, who chairs the outgoing German federal parliament’s (Bundestag) Committee on Foreign Affairs, opposed it due to security concerns. Others within the previous coalition government of center-right Christian Democrats and center-left Social Democrats took a more critical stance on China—at least on certain occasions. Among these was the former Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was a driving force behind the proposal to deploy a German frigate to the South China Sea in August 2021, which was seen as a step by Germany to take a tougher stance against China. However, Merkel’s office agreed to the freedom of navigation exercise only on the condition that the frigate would not sail through the Taiwan Strait. The plan was additionally modified to include a stopover in Shanghai, which prompted critics to argue that the deployment may strengthen, rather than challenge, China’s territorial claims, although the stopover was later denied by Beijing.

Merkel’s emphasis on cooperation over rivalry with China was rooted in the CDU’s pro-business orientation. Big corporations, especially in the automotive industry, have long been criticized for their overreliance on the Chinese market, with Volkswagen and BMW generating one-third or more of their profits in China. At the same time however, the voices opposing Merkel’s approach gained prominence in 2016, when the Chinese Midea Group (美的集團) acquired German robotics manufacturer Kuka. This triggered a significant pushback against China at both a national and EU level, with the federal government tightening its own investment rules while simultaneously pushing for an EU-wide investment screening mechanism. Another wake-up call came in 2019, when the Federation of German Industries (BDI) published a report describing China as a “systemic competitor.” The report was pushed through by German small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), overriding the concerns of big corporations, and followed by the European Commission’s three-layered description of China as a “negotiating partner,” “economic competitor,” and a “systemic rival.” The BDI’s 2021 report further reiterated the federation’s China-critical stance, calling the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, formerly known as “One Belt, One Road,” 一帶一路) a “hegemonic policy” and proposing a way of connecting business with values-based politics.

Merkel’s successor will therefore face a variety of internal and external pressures, including increasingly China-critical positions across party lines, business sectors, and among the German public, as well as among leading political figures in the United States and other like-minded countries. These pressures will curtail—at least to some extent—attempts to continue Merkel’s engagement-first approach in Germany’s relations with China. After all, German-China relations in 2021 are in a profoundly different state compared to when Merkel took office in 2005.

The Traffic Light Coalition and Prospects for an Independent German Policy on Taiwan

Following the CDU’s defeat, a “traffic light” coalition (so called due to the colors of the three parties) was established between the Social Democrats, Greens, and Free Democrats. Nevertheless, it was not until about a month prior to the election that the SPD’s Olaf Scholz overtook the CDU’s Armin Laschet as the main contender for the post of chancellor. Laschet, a former Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia—where the city of Duisburg serves as a European end point to China’s BRI—was believed to strongly subscribe to a Merkelian China policy. Scholz—the former Mayor of Hamburg—may find himself in a similar predicament, as Hamburg is another example of structural constraints the new government will face when trying to diversify Germany’s supply chains away from China. Indeed, Scholz cautioned against economic decoupling throughout his election campaign. Although the SPD’s manifesto condemned China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, it did not voice support for Taiwan—mentioning only the party’s concern about China’s increasing military pressure. While Nils Schmid, the SPD’s Bundestag spokesperson on foreign affairs, repeatedly criticized Merkel’s “change through trade” approach, a recent analysis by MERICS shows that the Bundestag members, irrespective of their party affiliations, have always been more critical of China than cabinet ministers. Indeed, the Bundestag’s criticism of China’s human rights record had limited influence on the previous government’s day-to-day dealings with China, and it is unclear to what extent this will differ under the new coalition. 

Advocating for the centrality of human rights, the Greens have long been the fiercest critics of Merkel’s approach. Indeed, it was the possibility of a Greens-led coalition that has been most frequently associated with prospects for a substantive shift in Germany’s China policy. As the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait relations and support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations are supported—at least implicitly—across party lines, it was the inclusion of Taiwan among Germany’s Indo-Pacific partners and the call for deeper political ties that made the Greens’ manifesto stand apart. The European Parliament has provided an additional platform for the Greens to push for stronger ties between Taiwan and Europe. Reinhard Bütikofer, who chairs the Delegation for Relations with the PRC, co-authored an op-ed in September 2020 calling for a re-evaluation of the EU’s "One-China Policy." Citing China’s disruption of the status quo, the op-ed calls for greater EU support for Taiwan, ranging from upgrading economic relations to opening dialogue with Taiwan’s political figures. As a rapporteur, Bütikofer advocated for the inclusion of Taiwan in the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy—especially when it comes to digital and health infrastructures—and the start of negotiations for an EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA). The parliament’s recent resolutions on a new EU-China strategy and EU-Taiwan political relations and cooperation provide further support for the BIA, the latter being the parliament’s first ever standalone report on Taiwan, which was followed by an unprecedented visit to Taiwan by delegates from the Special Committee on Foreign Interference and Disinformation.

Similar to the Greens, the Free Democrats (FDP) took a more assertive stance on China within their manifesto—in fact, a tougher line in Germany’s China policy is one of the few things the two parties agree on. The FDP juxtaposed Taiwan’s democratic system of governance with China’s authoritarian system, while supporting the development of a joint strategy between Germany and its allies to prevent China from invading Taiwan. The party even went a step further by removing the “One-China Policy” clause from its election program. However, what is particularly noteworthy about the FDP is the fact that despite being a pro-business party like the CDU, its manifesto was arguably the most critical of China and supportive of Taiwan. Indeed, when asked about this discrepancy, the FDP’s Gyde Jensen, who chairs the outgoing Bundestag’s Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, emphasized the fact that industry itself is becoming more critical of China, as seen in the case of the BDI’s reports.

According to MERICS Senior Analyst Roderick Kefferpütz, the main question going forward is whether Germany’s China policy remains the chancellor’s policy. The chancellery has, under Merkel, seized control of all important aspects of Germany’s foreign policy, including the country’s relations with China. If this trend persists under chancellor Scholz, the fact that the Greens are now in charge of the Foreign Office will not matter, as the new course in the country’s China policy will be decided by the chancellor—who preached continuity in foreign policy throughout his election campaign. In this case, a shift in Germany’s China policy could still occur, but it would be predominantly rhetorical in nature. On the other hand, returning some of the decision-making powers—if not all of them—to the Foreign Office could help develop a less reactive, more strategic thinking in Germany’s foreign policy, which could enhance the country’s role in international affairs. As Scholz will most likely be a less powerful chancellor than Merkel, and with the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock becoming the new foreign minister, a more substantive shift in Germany’s China policy may indeed occur. However, the structural constraint of German dependence on the Chinese market will limit its extent. 

What Comes Next?

Whether the inclusion of the Greens and the FDP in the new government amounts to a substantive shift towards a values-based China policy or becomes limited to cosmetic adjustments will depend on which office decides the country’s foreign policy. A foreign ministry held by the Greens is likely to produce a genuine shift in Germany’s China policy. On the other hand, if the decision-making powers remain within the chancellery, changes to the country’s China policy will be more subtle, as Scholz may be more inclined to insist on business as usual. Nevertheless, the shift will still occur—albeit to a smaller extent—as Scholz is unlikely to withstand the multitude of internal and external pressures Germany faces. The increasing criticism of China and support for Taiwan by both political elites and the German public is one such pressure. What is more, the SPD’s powers will be limited by its junior partners, neither of whom is keen to continue a Merkelian China policy. The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should therefore seize this window of opportunity to promote German-Taiwanese cooperation, especially in areas that are of relevance to both countries, such as semiconductors, renewable energy, and SMEs

The main point: Germany’s new coalition is set to rethink the country’s China policy, although we have yet to see whether this will take the form of a more substantive or rhetorical change. Even if the decision-making powers about the country’s foreign policy remain within the chancellery, Scholz will be unable to continue Merkel’s China policy in its previous form due to both internal and external pressures.

[1] Gunter Schubert, “The European Dimension of German-Taiwanese Relations - A Critical Assessment,” Conference paper presented at Hong Kong Baptist University, June 22-23, 2001, p. 1-23.

23rd January 2022     Beyond climate: where energy meets ESG.

And to my mind this article is no exception – it’s basically a fairly savvy introduction to the supply side of those things that drive markets – so well worth perusing, if you have an interest in the subject matter that is. It is, of course, slanted to the factors that impinge in particular on the UK market and the recent price hikes, although the issues are more or less universally relevant.

Beyond climate: where energy meets ESG

28th November 2021     Toilet Signs.

Toilet Signs

Signs to the toilets in a park in Taoyuan [in Taiwan] have recently led to some local controversy.

It is a real, if minor, issue for the relevant department of the Taoyuan City Government.

In case you’re not aware, Taiwanese people are, in general, very enthusiastic and highly creative across the spectrum of visual arts, from classical all the way through to pop.

24th November 2021     Crypto Currency explained.

How Crypto Currency works ... an analogy in Layman’s terms.

Not long ago a merchant found a lot of monkeys that lived near a certain Village.

One day he came to the Village saying he wanted to buy these monkeys!

He announced that he would buy the monkeys at $100 each.

The Villagers thought that this man must be crazy - How can somebody buy Stray Monkeys at $100 each?

Still some People caught some monkeys and gave it to this merchant and he gave $100 for each monkey.

This News spread like wildfire and People caught monkeys and sold them to the merchant.

After a few days, the merchant announced that he will buy monkeys at $200 each.

The lazy villagers also ran around to catch the remaining monkeys!

They sold the remaining monkeys at $200 each.

The merchant then announced that he will buy monkeys for $500 each!

The villagers start to lose sleep!.....They caught six or seven monkeys, which was all that was left and got $500 each.

The Villagers were waiting anxiously for the next announcement.

Then the merchant announced that he is going on Holiday for a week, but when he returns, he will buy monkeys at $1000 each!

He also said that his employee will be in charge, and would take care of the monkeys he bought pending his return.

The Merchant went on holiday!

The Villagers were frantic and very sad as there were no more monkeys left for them to sell it at $1000 each as was promised by the Merchant.

Then the Merchant’s Employee contacted them and told them that he would secretly sell them some monkeys at $700 each.

The news spread like wildfire. As the Merchant promised on his return that he would buy monkeys at $1000 each, they would achieve a $300 profit for each monkey.

The next day The Villagers queued up near the Monkey Cage.

The Employee sold all the monkeys at $700 each. The Rich bought monkeys in large lots. The poor borrowed money from money lenders and bought the rest of the monkeys!

The Villagers took care of their monkeys & waited for the Merchant to return!

However nobody came ! ..... Then they ran to Find the Employee ....However he was not to be found!

The Villagers then realized that they have been duped buying the useless Stray monkeys at $700each, and were now unable to sell them!

This Monkey Business is now known as Bitcoin!

It will make a-lot of People bankrupt and a very few People filthy rich in this kind of Monkey Business.

19th November 2021     Car Emissions.

Climate change? Er, why? It’s not so bad here … Well, guess it’s a tad different where you are ...

Copied from today's FT:


Interesting. Very! Well, almost. At last (IMHO), the big companies are getting together to say something like ‘It ain’t gonna happen’: at least nowhere near in the in the timeframe that you’re, erm, been rabbitin’ on about. It never was, it never could be [that’s just my opinion]. So … get at least half-way REAL, the enemy is not us (the large car manufacturers), unusually, but YOU, the gimme-everything-for-nothing-delivered-but-gobshite politicians and their worthless friends.

It’s late, so late, already way past twelve!

To my mind it must have been clear to the major motor manufacturers for at least several years that the political agenda, let’s say across much of Western Europe as well as in the USA, has been a pile of truly gigantic pooh in this miserable respect – which is not to say that it [the ‘goal’, like some sort of latter-day Netflix series] isn’t a laudable – if naively risible - objective.

So ... who pays the bills? Who should be paying the bills? Who should be benefiting from those payments-in?

31st October 2021     Glasgow ... with added emissions.

COP26 Diesel Generators

27th October 2021     Real Economics 101.

This takes around 45 minutes to watch but is, to say the least, thought provoking …