As former speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill once famously said: “All politics is local.” He could have added that it is especially so in election time.
O’Neill was referring to the need for politicians to appeal to the everyday concerns of their constituents, but it can also be interpreted as meaning that a country’s foreign policies — especially those that, seen from the outside, appear illogical — are also the product of domestic political wrangling. The moment more than one individual is involved in decision making, the political arrow will point back to the domestic magnetic north, even more so in democracies.
At election time, policy decisions are often made so that a certain candidate or political party can benefit from them — or, conversely, to make things more difficult for an opposing party. By creating a fait accompli, an administration imposes new rules by which its successors must abide.
The administration of US President George W. Bush did two such things in recent weeks, and both measures were meant to put the Republican party at an advantage.
First, on Oct. 3, Bush reversed nearly a year of “arms freeze” policy by agreeing, at the 11th hour, to sell Taiwan US$6.5 billion in advanced military equipment, which includes the state-of-the-art AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter, as well as PAC-3 missile batteries and other items. The first two — the Longbow and the PAC-3 — are key.
The Apache helicopter is designed at the Boeing facility in Mesa, Arizona, a Republican state. Boeing’s in-house publication, Frontiers, has reported the city of Mesa tripled in size since the plant opened 25 years ago and is now the US’ 40th most populous city.
The PAC-3, for its part, includes the Missile Seeker, a component built at the Boeing factory in Anaheim, California, while the entire system is designed by Lockheed Martin at its Camden, Arkansas, facility and other industry partners. Arkansas went Republican in the last two elections, and some pundits claim it could be a Tier I battleground state in the coming election.
The arms deal cannot hurt the Republicans, which historically have been closer to the defense industry than the Democrats. While bringing contracts and creating jobs is a sure vote-winner, the deal will also make it easier for future US administrations to continue selling weapons to Taiwan, as a permanent “freeze” would have become the new baseline in Washington’s dealings with Beijing. What Bush did was to resurrect the “status quo” and in so doing give credence to his policy of helping democracies worldwide.
The other Bush decision was the removal on Saturday of North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism to ensure Pyongyang would comply with its pledge to end its nuclear activities. Given North Korea’s history of brinkmanship, Bush and his aides know fully well that the delisting was, at best, a stopgap measure and that Pyongyang will eventually find a new argument to resume its bad-neighbor politics. The move was nevertheless a last-ditch attempt to salvage a process that the Bush administration has invested heavily in since 2003 and to leave a legacy of “accomplishments” that could put the Republicans in a more favorable light — even if the move meant angering Tokyo.
With Bush’s Middle East peace plan going nowhere fast, Iraq still shaky, Afghanistan a mess, the “war” on terrorism an exercise in futility and Wall Street in shambles, Bush and the Republicans needed quick “wins” before the curtain falls on Nov. 4. Taiwan and North Korea provided them.
It is a plot that could have come straight from the pages of a John le Carre novel. The head of a nation’s secret intelligence service is caught in a honeytrap: captured on camera with a mysterious younger woman at Bangkok International Airport and covertly followed to their hotel. A secret liaison in an exotic location, used to blackmail the spymaster of an adversary, who misappropriated public funds to pay for the clandestine affaire d’amour. This is what the Chinese Ministry of State Security wants people to believe after it used a Thai-language “cutout” Twitter account to release a “leaked” photograph
In a China-US war over Taiwan, paradoxically the greatest loss of life could be inflicted on the Muslim Uighurs. Uighurs constitute 45 percent of the Xinjiang population of 25 million people, with over 1 million incarcerated in internment camps in accordance with a policy initiated under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). Another half-million children have been placed in state-run boarding schools. Forced sterilization has led to a 24 to 60 percent drop in the birthrate, leading officials from many countries to describe the mass detention as genocide. Estimated annual death rates in the camps of between 5 and 10 percent could
Starting from November, and in line with recent amendments to the Compulsory Automobile Liability Insurance Act (強制汽車責任保險法), electric bicycles (e-bikes) and other small electric two-wheeled vehicles must be licensed with mounted license plates before they can be ridden on the road. This change should resolve some existing problems, such as the difficulty that e-bike owners have faced in receiving help to find their bikes if they are stolen, and the difficulty that road users have in holding anyone accountable when an accident occurs. It would also allow the more than 600,000 e-bikes that are currently being ridden on Taiwan’s roads to
Taiwan is a fully functional democracy with a constitution and democratically elected leaders. Over the past seven decades its political system has matured and it is completely different from communist China. It is consistently ranked as one of the freest countries by the Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders freedom indices, as well as the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom. Taiwan’s economic and political growth has been remarkable. It is one of Asia’s major economies and a leader in the global semiconductor industry. Only 13 UN members recognize Taiwan and about 59 countries, including India, have established unofficial diplomatic relations