Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The Real China and the Olympics"

The following open letter was written by human rights activists Teng Biao and Hu Jia. Mr. Jia was arrested by the Chinese government 3 months later for "incitement to subvert state power" and is still in prison today. This reproduction comes from the full translation text of last year's letter, released on the Human Rights Watch website this past Tuesday. To see the letter on HRW's website, click here.

September 10, 2007

The Real China and the Olympics

On July 13th 2001, when Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government promised the world it would improve China’s human rights record. In June 2004, Beijing announced its Olympic Games slogan, "One World, One Dream." From their inception in 1896, the modern Olympic Games have always had as their mission the promotion of human dignity and world peace. China and the world expected to see the Olympic Games bring political progress to the country. Is Beijing keeping its promises? Is China improving its human rights record?

When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. You will see the truth, but not the whole truth, just as you see only the tip of an iceberg. You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood.

We are going to tell you the truth about China. We believe that for anyone who wishes to avoid a disgraceful Olympics, knowing the truth is the first step. Fang Zheng, an excellent athlete who holds two national records for the discus throw at China's Special Sport Games, has been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the 2008 Paralympics because he has become a living testimony to the June 4, 1989 massacre. That morning, in Tiananmen Square, his legs were crushed by a tank while he was rescuing a fellow student. In April 2007, the Ministry of Public Security issued an internal document secretly strengthening a political investigation which resulted in forbidding Olympics participation by 43 types of people from 11 different categories, including dissidents, human rights defenders, media workers, and religious participants. The Chinese police never made the document known to either the Chinese public or the international community.

Huge investment in Olympic projects and a total lack of transparency have facilitated serious corruption and widespread bribery. Taxpayers are not allowed to supervise the use of investment amounting to more than US$40 billion. Liu Zhihua, formerly in charge of Olympic construction and former deputy mayor of Beijing, was arrested for massive embezzlement.

To clear space for Olympic-related construction, thousands of civilian houses have been destroyed without their former owners being properly compensated. Brothers Ye Guozhu and Ye Guoqiang were imprisoned for a legal appeal after their house was forcibly demolished. Ye Guozhu has been repeatedly handcuffed and shackled, tied to a bed and beaten with electric batons. During the countdown to the Olympic Games he will continue to suffer from torture in Chaobei Prison in Tianjin.

It has been reported that over 1.25 million people have been forced to move because of Olympic construction; it was estimated that the figure would reach 1.5 million by the end of 2007. No formal resettlement scheme is in place for the over 400,000 migrants who have had their dwelling places demolished. Twenty percent of the demolished households are expected to experience poverty or extreme poverty. In Qingdao, the Olympic sailing city, hundreds of households have been demolished and many human rights activists as well as "civilians" have been imprisoned. Similar stories come from other Olympic cities such as Shenyang, Shanghai and Qinhuangdao.

In order to establish the image of civilized cities, the government has intensified the ban against and detention and forced repatriation of petitioners, beggars and the homeless. Some of them have been kept in extended detention in so-called shelters or have even been sent directly to labor camps. Street vendors have suffered brutal confiscation of their goods by municipal agents. On July 20, 2005, Lin Hongying, a 56-year-old woman farmer and vegetable dealer, was beaten to death by city patrols in Jiangsu. On November 19, 2005, city patrols in Wuxi beat 54-year-old bicycle repairman Wu Shouqing to death. In January 2007, petitioner Duan Huimin was killed by Shanghai police. On July 1, 2007, Chen Xiaoming, a Shanghai petitioner and human rights activist, died of an untreated illness during a lengthy detention period. On August 5, 2007, right before the one-year Olympics countdown, 200 petitioners were arrested in Beijing.

China has consistently persecuted human rights activists, political dissidents and freelance writers and journalists. The blind activist Chen Guangcheng, recipient of the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award and named in 2006 by Time Magazine as one of the most influential 100 people shaping our world, is still serving his sentence of four years and three months for exposing the truth of forced abortion and sterilization. The government refused to give him the Braille books and the radio that his relatives and friends brought to Linyi prison in Shandong. Chen has been beaten while serving his sentence. On August 24, 2007, Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, was kidnapped by police at the Beijing airport while waiting to fly to the Philippines to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award on behalf of her husband. On August 13, 2007, activist Yang Chunlin was arrested in Heilongjiang and charged with subversion of state power "for initiating the petition ‘Human Rights before Olympics.’"

China still practices literary inquisition and holds the world record for detaining journalists and writers, as many as several hundred since 1989 according to incomplete statistics. As of this writing, 35 Chinese journalists and 51 writers are still in prison. Over 90 percent were arrested or tried after Beijing's successful bid for the Olympics in July 2001. For example, Shi Tao, a journalist and a poet, was sentenced to ten years in prison because of an e-mail sent to an overseas website. Dr. Xu Zerong, a scholar from Oxford University who researched the Korean War, was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for "illegally providing information abroad." Qingshuijun (Huang Jinqiu), a freelance writer, was sentenced to a 12-year term for his online publications. Some writers and dissidents are prohibited from going abroad; others from returning to China.

Every year in mainland China, countless websites are closed, blogs deleted, sensitive words filtered. Many websites hosted abroad are blocked. Overseas radio and television programs are interfered with or strictly prohibited. Although the Chinese government has promised media freedom for foreign journalists for 22 months, before, during, and after the Beijing Olympics, and ending on October 17, 2008, an FCCC (Foreign Correspondents Club in China) survey showed that 40 percent of foreign correspondents have experienced harassment, detention or an official warning during news gathering in Beijing and other areas. Some reporters have complained about repeated violent police interference at the time they were speaking with interviewees. Most seriously, Chinese interviewees usually become vulnerable as a result. In June 2006, Fu Xiancai was beaten and paralyzed after being interviewed by German media. In March 2007, Zheng Dajing was beaten and arrested after being interviewed by a British TV station.

Religious freedom is still under repression. In 2005, a Beijing pastor, Cai Zhuohua, was sentenced to three years for printing Bibles. Zhou Heng, a house church pastor in Xinjiang, was charged with running an "illegal operation" for receiving dozens of boxes of Bibles. From April to June 2007, China expelled over 100 suspected US, South Korean, Canadian, Australian, and other missionaries. Among them were humanitarian workers and language educators who had been teaching English in China for 15 years. During this so-called Typhoon 5 campaign, authorities took aim at missionary activities so as to prevent their recurrence during the Olympics.

On September 30, 2006, Chinese soldiers opened fire on 71 Tibetans who were escaping to Nepal. A 17-year-old nun died and a 20-year-old man was severely injured. Despite numerous international witnesses, the Chinese police insisted that the shooting was in self-defense. One year later, China tightened its control over the Tibetan Buddhism. A September 1, 2007, regulation requires all reincarnated lamas to be approved by Chinese authorities, a requirement that flagrantly interferes with the tradition of reincarnation of living Buddhas as practiced in Tibet for thousands of years. In addition, Chinese authorities still ban the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and a world-renowned pacifist, from returning to Tibet.

Since 1999, the government has banned many religious beliefs such as Falungong and the Three Servants. Their followers have experienced extremely cruel and planned persecutions. Many died from abuse, suffered torture, brainwashing, imprisonment and labor camp internment for persisting in their faith, possessing religious books, making DVDs and writing articles to expose the truth of the persecution.

China has the highest death penalty rate in the world. Execution statistics are treated as "state secrets." However, experts estimate that 8,000-10,000 people are sentenced to death in China every year, among them not only criminals and economic convicts, but totally innocent citizens, such as Nie Shubin, Teng Xingshan, Cao Haixin and Hugejiletu, whose innocence was proven only after they were already dead.

Another eight innocent farmers, Chen Guoqing, He Guoqiang, Yang Shiliang, Zhu Yanqiang, Huang Zhixiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen and Cheng Lihe, who confessed their "crimes" after being cruelly tortured by the police, have been sentenced to death and are currently held in prisons in Hebei [province] and in Jingdezhen [in Jiangxi province].

Torture is very common in China's detention centers, labor camps and prisons. Torture methods include electric shock, burning, use of electric needles, beating and hanging, sleep deprivation, forced chemical injection causing nerve damage, and piercing the fingers with needles. Every year, there are reported cases of Chinese citizens being disabled or killed by police torture.

Labor camps are still retained as a convenient Chinese system which allows the police to lock up citizens without trial for up to four years. The detention system is another practice that the police favors, freeing them to detain citizens for six months to two years. Dissidents and human rights activists are particularly vulnerable targets and are often sent to labor camps, detention centers or even mental hospitals by authorities who want to simplify legal procedures and mislead the media.

China has the world's largest secret police system, the Ministry of National Security (guo an) and the Internal Security Bureau (guo bao) of the Ministry of Public Security, which exercise power beyond the law. They can easily tap telephones, follow citizens, place them under house arrest, detain them and impose torture. On June 3, 2004, the Chinese secret police planted drugs on Chongqing dissident Xu Wanping and later sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment for "subversion of state power."

Chinese citizens have no right to elect state leaders, local government officials or representatives. In fact, there has never been free exercise of election rights in township-level elections. Wuhan resident Sun Bu'er, a member of the banned political party the Pan-Blue Alliance, was brutally beaten in September 2006 for participating as an independent candidate during an election of county-level people's congress representatives. Mr Sun disappeared on March 23, 2007.

China continues to cruelly discriminate against its rural population. According to the Chinese election law, a farmer's right to vote is worth one quarter of that of an urban resident. In June 2007, the Shanxi kiln scandal was exposed by the media. Thousands of 8-13 year-old trafficked children had been forced to labor in illegal kilns, almost all with local government connections. Many of the children were beaten, tortured and even buried alive.

The Chinese judiciary still illegally forbids any HIV/AIDS lawsuits against government officials responsible for the tragedy. AIDS sufferers and activists have been constantly harassed by the secret police.

The Chinese government has been selling arms and weapons to Darfur and other African regions to support ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The Chinese authorities have forcibly repatriated North Korean refugees, knowing that they would be sent to labor camps or executed once back home. This significantly contravenes China's accession to the "Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees" and the "Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees."

• Please be aware that the Olympic Games will be held in a country where there are no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts, no independent trade unions; where demonstrations and strikes are prohibited; where torture and discrimination are supported by a sophisticated system of secret police; where the government encourages the violation of human rights and dignity, and is not willing to undertake any of its international obligations.
• Please consider whether the Olympic Games should coexist with religious persecution labor camps, modern slavery, identity discrimination, secret police and crimes against humanity.

As the Beijing Olympics slogan says, we live in "one world" with "one dream." We hope that one day the Chinese people will be able to share universal human rights, democracy and peace with people from all around the world. However, we can see that the Chinese government obviously is not yet prepared to honor its promise. As a matter of fact, the preparations for the Olympics have provided the perfect excuse for the Chinese government to restrict civil liberties and suppress human rights!

We do not want China to be contained or isolated from the rest of the world. We believe that only by adhering to the principles of human rights and through open dialogue can the world community pressure the Chinese government to change. Ignoring these realities and tolerating barbaric atrocities in name of the Beijing Olympics will disgrace the Olympic Charter and shake the foundations of humanity. Human rights improvement requires time, but we should at least stop China's human rights situation from deteriorating. Having the Olympics hosted in a country where human dignity is trampled on, will not honor its people or the Olympic Games.

We sincerely hope that the Olympic Games will bring the values of peace, equality, freedom and justice to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens. We pray that the Olympics will be held in a free China. We must push for the 2008 Olympics to live up to the Olympic Charter and we must advocate for the realization of "one world" with "one human rights dream." We believe that only an Olympic Games true to the Olympic Charter can promote China's democratic progress, world peace and development.

We firmly hold to the belief that there can be no true Olympic Games without human rights and dignity. For China and for the Olympics, human rights must be upheld!

Teng Biao, a scholar and human rights lawyer in Beijing. Hu Jia, a human rights activist in Beijing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

More on Trade

Courtesy of Taiwan Image.

We assume that, by now, every English-language Taiwan blog out there has the scoop on R.O.C. the Boat when it comes to American Enterprise Institute and Armitage International's much welcome report released last week, by Dan Blumenthal and Randall Shriver. The report is a product of the work of the Taiwan Policy Working Group, which a joint project by the two Washington foreign policy organizations. The report makes many solid recommendations for ways in which the Taiwan-U.S. relationship can be strengthened for the good of their alliance as well as for the health and stability of cross-Strait relations in general. Not surprisingly, trade was part of the recommended agenda:

The United States and Taiwan can strengthen their economic ties to the benefit of both economies. The two economies already share a strong partnership, but as Taiwan's leadership in computer components and next-generation telecommunications technology indicates, there is much room for further growth.
. . . .

A U.S. Taiwan FTA would have bilateral economic and strategic benefits, and it could also provide economic benefits to the region by fostering inter-Asian trade liberalization. U.S. action could have a positive domino effect on other countries, such as Japan, that do not want to see Taiwan excluded from the Asian economic arrangements for both economic and political reasons.

Just a brief excerpt from the good deal that the report had to say about the benefits of trade between Taiwan and the U.S. and the greater benefits a bilateral free trade agreement would bring.

Taiwan's Chief Negotiator, Mr. John Deng from the Office of Trade Negotiations in the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), is ready to talk turkey with the office of the USTR to get an agreement hammered out. Unfortunately, there are three other bilateral FTAs pending in Congress and public sentiment towards free trade is beginning to cool (to use a gentle term). In the following short piece by Chief Negotiator Deng, "Looking Forward to a U.S.-Taiwan FTA," provided by the MOEA's office in Washington, D.C., Mr. Deng concisely lays out the case for such a trade agreement and calls on American voters to voice their support for a Senate Concurrent Resolution designed to nudge the process along:

Looking Toward a U.S.-Taiwan FTA
Mr. John Chen-Chung Deng
Chief Negotiator, Office of Trade Relations
Ministry of Economic Affairs, Republic of China

In late December, Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 60, thereby demonstrating continued support in the U.S. Congress for the negotiation of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Taiwan. Taiwan is grateful to these Senators for their action, and for the longstanding support and friendship of the United States. A U.S.-Taiwan FTA would ensure continued prosperity for Taiwan, and would bring with it many economic benefits for U.S. exporters as well.

Taiwan and U.S. Trade

In recent years, Taiwan has worked with the United States and the World Trade Organization to develop world-class labor standards, environmental safeguards and strong protections for intellectual property rights. Trading with Taiwan means supporting the values of a responsible member of the world community.

Despite a comparatively large level of trade, the U.S. and Taiwan feature different and largely complementary manufacturing bases. For instance, Taiwan produces almost three-quarters of the world’s laptop computers and LCD monitors, as well as four-fifths of the world’s PDAs, often incorporating U.S. technology and design specifications. Taiwan is also a major customer for U.S. exporters and is the largest per capita buyer of several important U.S. farm products including corn, soybeans, meat and wheat. A recent study shows that the FTA would increase U.S.
exports to Taiwan by an estimated $ 6.6 billion annually.

A U.S.-Taiwan FTA, however, would enhance economic opportunities far beyond our
two economies alone. With the strong American business presence in Taiwan, the FTA would encourage U.S. businesses to use Taiwan as a base of operations in Asia, and establish bilateral alliances with Taiwan’s entrepreneurs to explore business opportunities in third markets. Such trends would help to enhance U.S. trade relations with other Asian economies, while also ensuring a strong U.S. economic presence in the region.

Why a U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement?

Competition among Asian economies is fierce. In order to stay competitive, Asian nations are pursuing FTAs with their key trading partners. These FTAs are often sought not only for their economic benefit, but also for their political and security
significance. Taiwan, however, continues to be excluded from these FTAs as a result of China’s intention to isolate Taiwan from the global trade community. With both the U.S. and Taiwan being members of the World Trade Organization, the reality is that no impediment exists to their establishing closer economic relations through a mutually beneficial trade agreement.

The U.S. and Taiwan have a longstanding friendship stretching back over 60 years. As a result of U.S. engagement and influence, Taiwan was able to emerge as a democracy late last century. Democracy, however, requires economic prosperity. An FTA with the United States would ensure that Taiwan continues to remain prosperous, and that its democracy remains healthy. With this in mind, I wish to call on our friends in the U.S. to support the Concurrent Resolution as introduced by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Kosovo Question

As many who read this undoubdtedly know by now, over the weekend the parliament of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Soon thereafter, the controversial new European state was recognized by the United States and most of the major European nations. Spain, however, witheld its recognition, most likley due to the implications Kosovar independence holds for independence-minded Basques and Catalans inside Spain. Russia withheld its recognition for reasons that were twofold: 1) Russia has its own problems with groups inside its borders in places such as Chechnya seeking independce from Moscow, and 2) Russia has historically played the role of Serbia's international backer due to strong ethnic, religious and cultural ties. At this point you should be able to guess what the People's Republic of China's stance is on the new country of Kosovo -- due to concerns about implications for its several administrative regions (Tibet, Xinjiang, etc.) and, yes, Taiwan, Beijing has voiced its staunch opposition.

In an interesting twist of affairs, it seemed that for a brief while Russia and China's opposition to the new Kosovar state might actually benefit Taiwan in its battle for diplomatic allies. At face value, it would seem to bode ill for Taiwan's quest for UN membership that a new state openly backed by the U.S. and most of Europe is feeling so much heat from two of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, yet Kosovo's practical need to obtain as much international recognition as possible also spelled an opportunity for Taiwan to gain another diplomatic partner. In short, there some saw an opportunity for two internationally suffocated nations -- one new and one not so new -- to run into each other's arms. Taiwan's government quickly moved to recognize the new Republic of Kosovo over the past couple of days.

Unfortunately however, it seems like this glimmer of chance for official diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Kosovo may be on the backburner for the time being, as Kosovo's government seeks to assuage Russia and China's concerns and holds out hope for eventual entry into the UN. Patrick Goodenough of the Cybercast News Service (CNS) explained the situation as thus:

If Kosovo does recognize Taiwan, it would be a coup for Taipei: The Vatican is currently its only diplomatic ally in Europe; the remainder are mostly small, developing nations in Africa and the Pacific who benefit economically from their allegiance.

But Kosovo's hopes for the widest possible recognition and - if it can overcome Russian and Chinese opposition - eventual membership at the United Nations, makes it unlikely that Taiwan will obtain a new ally.

China wields significant economic and political clout in the international community, especially among developing and Islamic nations, and the pressure on Pristina to shun Taiwan will be considerable.

In what some Taiwanese worry may be a sign of things to come, a Web site that has been naming and thanking countries as they formally recognize the new state added, and then removed, Taiwan from its list, saying it had decided to only list those countries that are U.N. member states.

Although the site is not linked to the Kosovo government, Taiwanese media took note of the change. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh said the ministry was glad Taiwan had appeared on the list at all, even briefly.

The China-Taiwan dispute could work in Kosovo's favor, giving the new state's government the opportunity to indicate to Beijing that Kosovo will recognize Taiwan unless Beijing recognizes it. Thus, China would deny Taiwan another ally, while Kosovo would edge closer to a U.N. seat by having on its side a fourth permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

In other words, there are concerns that Kosovo's politicians may be willing to use Taiwan as a leverage-increasing stepping stone rather than viewing Taiwan as a fellow fighter for the same sort of international recognition Kosovars believe they themselves deserve. It will be an unfortunate turn of events indeed if this new, barely economically viable nation of 2 million manages to bargain its way into the United Nations at the expense of Taiwan -- a nation of 23 million that is a crucial link in the global economic supply chain and a bastion of human rights and democracy in its region, yet does not enjoy UN membership itself. For now, Taiwan's government warmly extends its offer of diplomatic recognition and support to the people of Kosovo. It remains to be seen whether Kosovo's government will decide to accept it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rats! Lunar New Year in Taiwan

This post goes out to any and all readers who, like the humble writer of this blog, may not be terribly well-acquainted with traditional culture on Taiwan. Taiwan Journal ran an interesting article on the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Rat in Taiwan in their recent Jan. 31 issue. By Sandra Shih, the article contains some humor, some history/trivia, and is a good read--get the full article here:

While [the 2007 movie] "Ratatouille" is an entertaining aside to the celebrity-chef phenomenon sweeping the world, a welcome spin off was that the sensitivity and wits of this much-maligned mammal were on show for all to see. But for those versed in the Chinese zodiac, observing a rat with a passion for cooking and a love of adventure on the big screen really comes as no surprise.

People who were born in the Year of the Rat have long been renowned for their passion, love of adventure and eagerness to take charge. In fact, legend has it that when the Jade Emperor was mulling over which animals should be included in the zodiac, he decided to hold a swimming race. The cat and the rat were the worst swimmers among all the animals, so they hatched a plan and decided to cross the river on the back of the ox. Since the ox was a naive beast, he agreed to carry both of them across the waterway. Just as they were about to reach the shore, the rat--in order to ensure his victory--pushed the cat into the river. Size obviously does not mean everything, but wisdom and quick thinking certainly make a difference.

. . . .

From Feb. 7, the first day in lunar calendar, the year of rat begins and initiates a new cycle of Chinese zodiac. Subsequent years follow in the order other animals finished the Jade Emperor's swimming race. This was ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. According to folk art researcher Guo Li-cheng, in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) people originally used the 12 animals to represent directions and hours in a day. Guo pointed out that scholar Lang Ying in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) also employed similar methods, "Zih is Yin, very dim and dark, so rats [living in the dark] fall into this period." Yin referred to the presence of cloud and darkness, and the hour of zih--the breaking of a day from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.--as fitting perfectly with this period of blackness. Due to the gloom at the daybreak, the characteristic of rats' living habits matched the time period.

Generally speaking, Chinese people like to associate natural phenomena with animal images, according to folklore specialist Chuang Po-ho. Chunag said that no one could neglect his zodiac sign because it occupies an important role in the imagination of the general public. "Quite a few people learned about the zodiac animals when they were young," he said. "Some people were even taught mathematics by counting one rat, two oxen or three tigers."

Fortunately for rats in Taiwan, their zodiac reputation seems to be paying dividends as eradication efforts for the year are nearly at an end. Traps, cats, professional control services and even "rat extermination week" held every year in October or November have not been enough to solve the island's age-old rat problem. Chiu Min-chung, a department head under Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration, said, "We know rats are a problem, especially in our traditional markets, but we can't completely drive them out."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

2008 White House budget proposal: new digs for AIT?

Word on the street is that the White House's proposed budget for next fiscal year will be picked apart by Congress and that the end product will ultimately be a very different tome from the e-document released on Monday. One thing that employees of the American Institute in Taiwan will undoubtedly be keeping their fingers crossed for during this process is the $60 million allocated to them in the proposed budget for the purposes of building a new headquarters in Taipei. The Taipei Times reports:

When added to money previously raised, the funds will provide a total US$171.6 million for the new office complex, the department said. After the lease was signed, the cost estimate for the complex was US$160 million.

The money will come from the State Department's Strategic Capital program, which covers projects needed for "strategic, policy or political considerations," it said.

Also, mirroring persistent complaints by AIT staff about the condition of the dilapidated AIT building on Xinyi Road, the money for the new complex is part of a program "designed to meet the demands of a critical gap in the overseas real property portfolio," the department said.

In the new budget, the Bush administration also proposed an increase of nearly 4 percent in AIT's budget for next year, the second consecutive annual increase.

So that's one thing to root for in the budget process. Although happy representatives do not necessarily equal happy bilateral relations, it can't hurt! In other FY 2009 U.S. budget news, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote an entertaining/intriguing op-ed piece featured today about the White House's move from a printed budget to a paperless, digital one--and why she wishes they would go back to the 2,200-page "dead-tree set" of old:

"Honestly, I am still using the paper books, as is most of my staff," Tom Kahn, the staff director of the House Budget Committee, told me by e-mail. "Online is much harder to use. It makes the information less accessible and harder to ferret out.

Frankly, it is no fun staring for hours at a computer screen to find obscure spend-out rates. You can't underline, can't make a note on a page, and who wants to read a computer in bed?"

Washington is a place where, as the economists say, a non-trivial number of people read budget documents in bed. But you don't have to be one of them to crave the comforting certainty of ink on paper or to wonder about the consequences of having so much of the information we digest migrate from paper to screen.

Because as wondrous as the Internet is as a means for discovering and obtaining information, as useful as the personal computer is as a mechanism for inputting and manipulating data, paper remains -- for many of us, anyway -- the format most conducive to clear-headed analysis.

The Nussles of the world ignore the human urge to underline, to scrawl in the margins, an instinct that traces its first manifestations to cave paintings. There is a clarifying immediacy to holding the document itself, not settling for its online representation.

Friday, February 1, 2008

U.S. State of the Union, Congress and TUFTA

From our viewpoint, watching President Bush's final State of the Union address on Monday night, it seemed like the president had chosen a short list of priorities to focus on for his last year in the White House, one of which is to press for Congress to pass the United States' remaining outstanding negotated Free Trade Agreements. From the address (transcript here):

I thank the Congress for approving a good agreement with Peru. And now I ask you to approve agreements with Colombia and Panama and South Korea. (Applause.) Many products from these nations now enter America duty-free, yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field. They will give us better access to nearly 100 million customers. They will support good jobs for the finest workers in the world: those whose products say "Made in the USA." (Applause.)

These agreements also promote America's strategic interests. The first agreement that will come before you is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror, and fighting drug traffickers. If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere. So we must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life. (Applause.)

- President George W. Bush, 2008 State of the Union Address

With free trade seemingly high on the White House's priority list, there may be better prospects ahead over the next year for the passage of these outstanding agreements. Hence the prospects for a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (TUFTA), which has not been hammered out yet between the two allies, seems brighter as well. Reenforcing this logic are statements made recently by Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D) of Montana and committee member Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, as reported in this article by the publication from the Economic Division of TECRO, TaiwanNow:

from TaiwanNow, January 2008 issue
"View from Taipei - Baucus: ‘Launch U.S.-Taiwan FTA Talks’"

Congress Looks Ahead to What’s Next and Needed After Pending Trade Agreements

In late December, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced a concurrent resolution calling on the United States to both “increase trade opportunities” with Taiwan and launch negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement. Co-sponsored by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the resolution, S Con Res 60, comes at a time when trade has become an easy scapegoat for U.S. economic problems on the campaign trail and as an uncertain outlook for the global economy may push the U.S. and other nations to consider protectionist measures.

During this period of economic uncertainty, it takes bold leadership to look beyond what is politically popular in the short-term to embrace good policy in the long-term. Taiwan is both grateful to Senators Baucus and Kyl for their bipartisan vision and for the longstanding support and friendship of the United States. Negotiating trade agreements with commercially significant economies will help safeguard U.S. economic competitiveness in the years to come, and the case for a U.S.-Taiwan FTA has never been stronger.

As the Senators highlight in their resolution, Taiwan and the United States are among each other’s most important trading partners. U.S.-Taiwan bilateral trade in 2006 totaled $61.2 billion, and Taiwan ranks as the 9th largest U.S. trading partner, the 11th largest export market for U.S. goods; the 6th largest market for U.S. agricultural products and the “3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th” largest buyer of U.S. corn, soybeans, beef and wheat, respectively. Not surprisingly, studies show that both the U.S. and Taiwanese economies would experience significant gains from a bilateral trade agreement. According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics, a U.S.-Taiwan FTA would increase U.S. goods and services exports to Taiwan by up to $6.6 billion annually.

Senators Baucus and Kyl have long been supporters of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA. Baucus introduced the U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement Act of 2001, and he and Kyl, along with eight other senators, wrote to President Bush in 2003 urging him to launch talks on an agreement. There has also been similar support for a bilateral FTA in the House, with members introducing resolutions calling for the launch of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA in 2003, 2006 (signed by more than 66 representatives) and most recently H Con Res 137 in May 2007, a proposal co-sponsored by Congressional Taiwan Caucus co-chairs Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Bob Wexler (D-FL.) as well as Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN).

Which brings us back to 2008: We hope that members of Congress and the private sector will support an economically significant U.S.-Taiwan FTA and the resolutions introduced by Senators Baucus and Kyl and Reps. Berkley, Chabot, Rohrabacher, Wexler and Ramstad this year. The time for Taiwan is NOW.