It’s official now — smoking in public spaces is illegal. The new law, which came into effect on Sunday, will clear up the air and hopefully encourage some to abandon a harmful habit that costs billions of dollars in healthcare and work absenteeism every year.
Laudable though the new law may be, there were signs on Sunday that the authorities may be overreaching after the Taipei City Government encouraged the public to report any violations by providing name, time, date and location — and pictures — while promising 5 percent of the fines as a reward.
In other words, the government was telling us that it is OK to spy on each other and to snitch on friends, family members and coworkers.
“I think most of the monetary rewards will go to those who report someone they know, such as a coworker or friend,” Chang Kang-hsin (張康興), a Taipei City Health Department inspector said at the time.
Now there is nothing wrong with a civilian reporting a serious crime — murder, rape or other serious offenses — or with the state providing financial compensation for their cooperation. But a policy encouraging people to report individuals who violate a smoking ban is another question altogether, especially when it comes with a financial incentive at a time when thousands of people are being laid off or forced to take unpaid leave. Furthermore, while some may be motivated by money, it wouldn’t take too long before less scrupulous individuals use this for other motives, such as vengeance, jealousy or any other grievance.
Petty motives aside, when a government invites citizens to spy on each other, it is on a very slippery slope. Not that the current government is breaking new ground in this department; after all, not so long ago the Environmental Protection Administration was offering similar incentives to encourage people to report those who failed to recycle or littered public spaces. In 2002, the US Department of Justice launched an initiative known as Terrorism Information and Prevention System (with the appropriate acronym TIPS), which enlisted people from all walks of life to work as “extra eyes” for the government.
What should make all of us step back, however, is that once citizen spies become a fact of life, there is no telling where it will end — especially when a government has authoritarian tendencies. Today it’s cigarettes and failure to recycle a plastic bottle; tomorrow, it could be anything — business practices, sexual behavior, political views. Spying is made perfectly legal, we would think, because it was sanctioned by the government, the infamous top-down directive that throughout history has resulted in untold abuse.
In darker periods of history, the KGB, the Gestapo and the Stasi all encouraged people to snitch on each other, ostensibly to “protect” the state. Given where these agencies — and the governments they worked for — are today, it should be clear that the practice, though seemingly effective at first, is in the long term deleterious as it turns citizens against each other, undermines trust and unweaves the bonds that make society function. Those reviled agencies, we should note, pushed citizen spying to a terrible extreme, but they did so gradually, just as the proverbial frog will allow itself to be boiled to death if the temperature is raised one degree at a time.
Encouraging people to quit smoking is one thing, a good one at that. But such efforts should not unleash measures that cause more harm than the ill they seek to remedy.
Ideas matter. They especially matter in world affairs. And in communist countries, it is communist ideas, not supreme leaders’ personality traits, that matter most. That is the reality in the People’s Republic of China. All Chinese communist leaders — from Mao Zedong (毛澤東) through Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), from Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) through to Xi Jinping (習近平) — have always held two key ideas to be sacred and self-evident: first, that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is infallible, and second, that the Marxist-Leninist socialist system of governance is superior to every alternative. The ideological consistency by all CCP leaders,
The US on Friday hosted the second Global COVID-19 Summit, with at least 98 countries, including Taiwan, and regional alliances such as the G7, the G20, the African Union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) attending. Washington is also leading a proposal to revise one of the most important documents in global health security — the International Health Regulations (IHR) — which are to be discussed during the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA) that starts on Sunday. These two actions highlight the US’ strategic move to dominate the global health agenda and return to the core of governance, with the WHA
In the past 30 years, globalization has given way to an international division of labor, with developing countries focusing on export manufacturing, while developed countries in Europe and the US concentrate on internationalizing service industries to drive economic growth. The competitive advantages of these countries can readily be seen in the global financial market. For example, Taiwan has attracted a lot of global interest with its technology industry. The US is the home of leading digital service companies, such as Meta Platforms (Facebook), Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft. The country holds a virtual oligopoly of the global market for consumer digital
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) on Saturday expounded on her concept of replacing “unification” with China with “integration.” Lu does not she think the idea would be welcomed in its current form; rather, she wants to elicit discussion on a third way to break the current unification/independence impasse, especially given heightened concerns over China attacking Taiwan in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She has apparently formulated her ideas around the number “three.” First, she envisions cross-strait relations developing in three stages: having Beijing lay to rest the idea of unification of “one China” (一個中國); next replacing this with