Fri, Aug 22, 2014 - Page 8

Sun more evidence please

I am grateful to Executive Yuan spokesperson Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) for his letter (Letter, Aug. 13, page 8) and hope this is the beginning of a fruitful dialogue between the government and Taipei Times readers. For his second piece, I hope Sun can fill in the following gaps in his first letter, which I assume stemmed from spatial constraints.

Sun argues that to sign bilateral free-trade agreements and join regional economic organizations, Taiwan must first sign FTAs with China. What specific commitments has China made to allow Taiwan to sign which particular agreements upon the ratification of the cross-strait service trade agreement? What commitments have other nations and trade groups made to sign FTAs on the condition Taiwan signs the cross-strait deals? Concrete commitments on the deals for which Taiwan would make these concessions must also be shown.

Sun says Taiwan is not dependent on Chinese trade and notes that exports to China have remained steady at 26 percent for five years. Could Taiwan sustain the loss of 26 percent of its export market via a trade embargo by China? If not, it is already dependent on China.

As the cross-strait service trade agreement would cover a vast swathe of Taiwanese exports, surely their ratification, absent deals with other economies signed simultaneously, would consequently raise the proportion of Taiwanese exports to China far above 26 percent. FTAs take years to conclude and those with other economies need to be closer on the horizon.

It is unlikely such deal would merely allow Taiwan to tread water in China; for instance, according to the Wall Street Journal, the much-ballyhooed South Korea-China FTA would at most cause the replacement of only 1 percent of Taiwan’s total exports (2 to 5 percent of the 26 percent to China).

Moreover, Sun says Taiwan is diversifying its export markets, but cites as evidence the steadiness of Chinese exports at 26 percent and the growth of exports to ASEAN from 16 percent to 19 percent. However, diversification means proportionately more trade with lesser partners (like India) and less trade, not equal or greater trade, with the biggest ones. I hope Sun will provide more evidence of diversification and I eagerly await his clarifications on this and the other issues.

name withheld


Modern drama ancient spin

One might think plots of the prime-time television “idol drama” genre would transcend Taiwan’s political polarization. Two recent series, In a Good Way (我的自由年代) on Sanlih and The Way We Were (16個夏天) on TVBS, are both set in the late 1990s and feed on the viewers’ nostalgia for their school years.

The Class of 1998 has struggled long enough to escape the entry-level “22k”-type salaries. This target audience — the second generation to be homogeneously schooled in Mandarin — is conveniently ripe with enough buying power to be a worthy market for advertisers.

In a Good Way daringly addresses the political tumults on campus and beyond. The main characters discover the history and cultural diversity of the nation, and the newly energized struggle for freedom. One, an idealistic son of a politician embroiled in a corruption trial, breaks up with his girlfriend to allow her freedom to study in England. Here the series stops, near the first political power transition in 2000, for the rest is history. Or is it?

In contrast, The Way We Were avoids political topics, though it claims to cling to the great events of the same period. Indeed, the only historical events allowed are natural disasters: the landslide-triggered power outage and the magnitude 7 earthquake in 1999. Tellingly, it flashes forward from 2000 to 2008 — the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) years — in a one-minute montage with images of typhoons, skyscrapers and smartphones, but no elections, no protests: nothing difficult to explain in certain emerging TV-drama export markets.

During those years, the lead female character climbs up the greasy pole to become a manager in a hypermarket. Then, she again encounters her old flame in Shanghai while there for a business workshop and everything is back to normal again in 2008.

Both serve as nostalgic bildungsroman for Mandarin-speaking, Taipei-based, yet globally mobile young urban professionals. However, in one drama, the aspirations of citoyens drive the plot; in the other, it is the neoliberal satisfaction of the bourgeoisie that prevails.

Granted, these are not propaganda films purposefully made for political indoctrination at boot camps. One might say it is — as always — only the invisible hand of the market that shapes the plots. Yet it is exactly this non-intentionality that makes the narrative divergence all the more insidious.

The gap between Sanlih and TVBS is not limited to the news and political talk shows. Neither are these bourgeoisie–citoyen tensions present in drama form for the first time: The late master Edward Yang (楊德昌) already revealed them in his prophetic 1994 movie, A Confucian Confusion.

The path to reconciliation, where no period of Taiwan’s history is silenced, is still long.

Te Khai-su

Helsingfors, Finland