TIME Taiwan

Cross-Strait Ties Just Got More Complicated

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou walks out of a voting booth at a voting station during local elections in Taipei
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou walks out of a voting booth at a polling station in Taipei during local elections on Nov. 29, 2014 Frank Sun—Reuters

Taiwan politicians must fathom how to engage with China without vexing voters who are increasingly distrustful of Beijing

Ma Ying-jeou is having a bad week. Taiwan’s President went into this weekend’s local elections battered, his approval ratings low. Then on Saturday his party, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), got thoroughly trounced, losing ground across the island, including key mayoral posts in Taichung and Taipei. The results prompted Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah to resign and 80 cabinet colleagues to also offer to step down — an act of contrition that may or may not be enough to staunch growing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of food-safety scandals, the economy, and the island’s relations with China. Ma may yet resign his chairmanship of the KMT.

China and Taiwan have been at odds since Mao Zedong’s communists prevailed and the nationalists beat a retreat across the strait. Ma came to power in 2008 promising to put existential questions about Taiwan’s relationship with China on hold, focusing instead on building economic ties with the Chinese mainland. He was re-elected in 2012 in a hard-fought battle with the opposition Democratic Progress Party (DPP), which is generally more skeptical of Beijing. It was a narrow victory — Ma beat challenger Tsai Ing-wen by about 6% of the vote — and in the years since, his government lost more ground. This spring, demonstrators occupied the legislature under the banner of the Sunflower Movement to protest the government’s handling of a proposed trade pact with China, only heightening the sense of a political reckoning to come.

This weekend, voters delivered it. While it might be tempting, especially from a distance, to read the results as a sort of referendum on cross-strait ties, to do so is to misunderstand the island’s electoral landscape. What the results show, Taiwan watchers say, is that the voting public is deeply unhappy with the status quo under the KMT, including, but not limited to, their China policy. They are worried about quality of life issues, clean government, and want their leaders to focus on competing globally, not just trading with China. “These are local elections, fought on local issues, by local personalities, so we have to be careful not to overinterpret the results” says Alan D. Romberg, distinguished fellow and the director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. “Cross-strait relations were not at the center this time, but next time, in [the 2016 general elections], they will be.”

Indeed, the KMT losses are particularly striking considering that the 2016 presidential election is fast approaching. The prospect of a KMT defeat in that contest — that is to say, a win by the opposition DPP — could potentially alter the calculus of cross-strait ties. Unlike the KMT, which accepts some iteration of Beijing’s “one-China policy,” the DPP is more reticent. The DPP maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation and should engage with China on those terms. The DPP does not see reunification in the future, a no-no for Beijing. As such, the prospect of a DPP government in 2016 is sure to worry the Communist Party’s top cadres. Says Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan specialist at Davidson College in North Carolina: “Beijing is definitely not loving this.”

Especially right now. Since late September, pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong have occupied for long stints three neighborhoods in the former British colony, demanding a more representative voting system. The movement is, like the Sunflower Movement before it, student-led and fueled by a deep distrust of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. Though Hong Kong is not — as any Taiwan person would tell you — the same as Taiwan, Beijing cannot be pleased with the parallel. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province and compares Hong Kong to an impertinent child. At a time when President Xi Jinping is speaking evocatively of an “Asia-Pacific dream” and forging ties abroad, it is awkward to have trouble at (what he considers) home.

Going forward, Taiwan politicians must find ways to engage with China without alienating a public that is increasingly wary of Beijing’s embrace. “The question for China is: How do we deal with a Taiwan that does not make anything easy?” Rigger says. After the week he has had, President Ma may be wondering the same thing.

TIME world affairs

China’s New Identity Crisis

Activists Take To The Streets As China Votes On Hong Kong Election Process
Protesters take part of the rally for the beginning of Occupy Central movement outside Central Government Offices on August 31, 2014 in Hong Kong, China. Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

Zheng Wang is the Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Hong Kong is not Beijing, and 2014 is not 1989

Today, students are attempting to occupy the streets outside Hong Kong’s central government complex; 25 years ago, the students occupied Tiananmen in Beijing. However, Hong Kong is not Beijing, and 2014 is not 1989. These similar actions have taken place in entirely different contexts, even though Beijing’s political control is behind both of the events. It is important for us to identify the real sources of the current conflicts in Hong Kong, and not get sidetracked by simple reflections back to Tiananmen.

On the surface, the turmoil in Hong Kong is caused by Beijing’s decision regarding general elections. In reality, the deep sources of the conflict are not so different from the recent large-scale outbreaks of social tensions in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. These tensions should not be seen as isolated political battles with Beijing, but rather should be heard as both the battle cry of China’s new identity crisis and a conflict of globalization. For these places, globalization has to some extent become “Chinaization” or “Mainlandization.” These recent events can be explained by the globalization theory “Jihad vs. McWorld.” This theory describes globalization as dialectical interactions between modern commercial fundamentalism and traditional parochialism. It argues that the expanding global commerce and the corporate control of the political process has weakened the autonomy and power of local communities, threatening the identity and culture of the smaller communities while at the same time leading to the reassertion of ethnic and religious identities.

In Hong Kong we can see clearly the effect “McWorld” has had, even though the further integration with mainland China brought prosperity to the city. But most of the advantages and profits produced by this process have gone to business tycoons and corporate elites. Much like the American rallies against the “1%” in recent years, the remaining grassroots population experiences the problems that this success has brought.

Due to the arrival of large numbers of newcomers and the flow of outside capital to Hong Kong, the real estate market has skyrocketed, pricing out much of the population while also increasing everyday cost of living. Large numbers of visitors have made the city quite crowded, leading the local people to worry that further integration will threaten their way of living, the identity of the city, and most of all the distinction of Hong Kong from the mainland that they so cherish.

In Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet there is another story of globalization. The Uighurs, Taiwanese, and Tibetans feel they have been marginalized. For the Uighurs population, their response is jihad. In recent years we have seen the violent attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of mainland China. These violent actions can to some extent be seen as local resistance and rebellion in response to this marginalization and threat of identity, though any terrorist actions should be condemned.

Whereas the Hong Kong students went to the street to protest, a group of Hong Kongese business tycoons went to Beijing and met with the Chinese leadership. Beijing was pleased to gain their support. It is similarly common in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang for elites to have maintained good relations with Beijing. The CCP has garnered support from the successful elites, while keeping their growth tied closely to Beijing. There are many cases of major Taiwanese corporations having relocated their headquarters from Taiwan to the mainland. The huge market the mainland offers has brought enormous profits to the Taiwanese business community. For example, a Taiwanese company in Mainland China manufactures almost all iPhones.

This phenomenon can be explained by another theory of globalization: “integrated on top, collapsed on the bottom.” When the elites of the different regions and industries gain from globalization, they become more united and integrated behind the banner of shared economic interests. On the other hand, even though the living standards of people in the grassroots have been improving in recent years, they have suffered many of the negative consequences of the globalized economy, such as the demise of their established traditions, cultural morality, and identity.

It is in this identity crisis that the different groups have chosen to express their protests. The recent student movement in Taiwan against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China has been the Taiwanese response. While the protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan should not be confused for any type of jihad like that of the Uighurs’, they nonetheless underscore common issues. Unfortunately, Beijing is not well versed in handling identity issues. Identity-based conflict is different than interest-based conflict. People won’t change their cultural identity, whether by intimidation or by compensation. Both the proposition of bribes and the threat of use of force often only worsen a situation, as people remain steadfast to their identity. Beijing lacks an understanding of this concept and how to remedy it.

Hong Kong’s problem will continue for as long as the structural sources of conflict cannot be addressed. The identity crises in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet will surely become Beijing’s real tests and dilemmas. How well the Chinese leadership deals with these crises will determine China’s rise and future development. From this perspective, the identity issues have a real global impact, as does the street movement in Hong Kong.

Zheng Wang is the Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Hong Kong

Global Support Pours In for Hong Kong Democracy Protests

AUSTRALIA-HONGKONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Notes from supporters of the thousands of protesters who paralyzed parts of Hong Kong to demand greater democracy from Beijing are seen in Sydney on Sept. 29, 2014 Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

Rallies in the U.S., Australia, Taiwan, Europe and elsewhere have been held to express solidarity

As tens of thousands of protestors flooded the streets of Hong Kong over the weekend, their struggle for democracy captured the imaginations of supporters across the world.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a group called the Hong Kong Overseas Alliance organized protests Saturday in various cities to show their solidarity with the Occupy Central movement — now being dubbed the Umbrella Revolution because of the ubiquitous umbrellas being used by protesters to shield themselves from police pepper spray.

Demonstrations were held by the group in New York City, which saw 200 people march on the Chinese consulate. Smaller protests were held in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Another group, calling itself United for Democracy: Global Solidarity With Hong Kong, conducted a rally in London on Saturday that drew over 400 people. The protesters, mainly Hong Kong citizens and students, marched to the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the city’s plush Mayfair district, and tied yellow ribbons on the building’s railings.

The yellow ribbon has been adopted as the symbol of Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy, and has inspired a movement in Australia called the Yellow Ribbon Campaign. The campaign reportedly collected 500 signatures from 12 Australian universities for a petition of support.

“My heart sinks, as my brother and sister are participating in Occupy movement. I am worried for their safety,” organizer Chrisann Palm, a Brisbane-based Hong Kong citizen who teaches at Queensland University of Technology, told the Journal.

According to Global Solidarity’s social-media accounts, there were rallies in Perth, Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne on Monday, as well as in Kuala Lumpur and Paris. Demonstrations are planned for Dublin, Seattle, Auckland, Copenhagen and Stockholm on Oct. 1.

A petition urging support for Hong Kong’s push for democracy has also made its way onto the White House public petitions site. “We hereby strongly appeal to the U.S. government to make it clear to the Beijing authorities that any effort to crackdown peaceful demonstrations by force will be strongly opposed and severely punished,” said the petition, which has already reached more than 183,000 signatures in response to its goal of 100,000 by Oct. 4.

Meanwhile Mashable reported that a group in Ferguson — the Missouri town where the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown sparked protests and police crackdowns — held up signs in Chinese to express their solidarity with Hong Kong demonstrators.

Closer to home, solidarity protests have been convened in Taiwan’s capital Taipei, with the Straits Times reporting that a group of protesters led by student activist Chen Wei-ting demanded that their President condemn the situation in Hong Kong and cease all dealings with the Chinese government. Pro-democracy protesters also reportedly crowded a Hong Kong trade office in Taiwan, and briefly scuffled with police.

MONEY mobile payments

Why the U.S. Lags the World in Mobile Payments

Octopus card
Hong Kong's Octopus card Horizons WWP—Alamy

Many American consumers are beyond excited by the prospect of Apple Pay, but overseas the iPhone's latest feature is old news.

When Apple announced its new payment service, Apple Pay, earlier this month, many in the tech world were blown away. The system allows iPhone users to pay at the checkout counter simply by holding their phone to a receiver for a few seconds. Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge, called Apple Pay “this week’s most revolutionary product,” and eloquently summarized how most Americans already feel about the status quo: “mobile payments have sucked so far, and it’s high time somebody fixed it.”

Bohn is right, but what he likely meant to say was “mobile payments have sucked so far in the United States.” Across the globe in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, viewers of Apple’s announcement could be forgiven for falling asleep. Using your phone to buy stuff? We’ve been doing that for years.

In Hong Kong, residents regularly pay for goods, services, and public transit, all without swiping or signing. Instead, shoppers can simply wave their Octopus card, which uses a technology similar to Apple Pay, at checkout and go on their merry way. Octopus Holdings claims 95% of people in Hong Kong between ages 16 to 65 use its product, and Octopus is accepted at 14,000 retail outlets. Even more impressive, the card’s swipeless technology has been incorporated into phones, and yes, watches too. When did this magical future tech launch? Hong Kong has had Octopus since 1997.

Apple Pay-like services are also old news in Japan, a country where mobile payments are already ubiquitous. Afterall, it was Sony that invented the region’s major method of short-range data transfer. That technology eventually came to power Hong Kong’s Octopus card, as well as a slew of Japanese mobile wallets. Today, nearly every cell phone sold in Japan (other than the iPhone) comes with mobile payment technology built in by default.

Takeshi Natsuno, a former executive at one of Japan’s largest wireless carriers, once bragged, “When I leave my house in the morning all I take with me is my phone, which lets me do everything—pay, take public transport—simply by swiping a special reader in shops, stations or airports.” Sounds just like the promise of Apple Pay, except Natsuno said that in 2004.

But the world leader in mobile payments isn’t a glittering Eastern city. According to the Economist, that title belongs to Kenya and its revolutionary cell phone-based payment system, M-PESA. Launched in 2007, the service allows users to essentially text money back and forth while using telecom giant Safaricom, M-PESA’s creator, as a bank. Deposits and withdrawals are made through Safaricom’s network of 40,000 agents. Once money is in the system, it can be sent to any other M-PESA customer—even merchants—via a phone menu. Thanks to M-PESA, the Economist notes, “paying for a taxi in Nairobi is easier than it is in New York.”

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries? There isn’t a single answer. At least in Asia-Pacific, major players may just be more willing to adopt the latest tech. “The thing hindering mobile payment development and contactless cards is that there’s an infrastructure set up in place and banks [and merchants] feel compatible with the current infrastructure,” said Theresa Jameson, senior analyst at Datamonitor Financial. “Certain markets are more willing to adopt new payment technologies.”

New contactless payments for public transport have also helped put Apple Pay-like technology in the hands of every consumer. Hong Kong’s Octopus card, as well as Japan and Taiwan’s mobile payment systems, each originated as a better way to pay subway fares. Over time, merchants gradually began to get on board with the new technology until swipeless payment became a norm. Ben Thompson, founder of the website Stratechery, describes how this exact process played out in Taiwan when a new Octopus-style transit card was introduced:

When I first arrived in 2003 almost everything was cash only. Just a year earlier, however, in 2002, the EasyCard Corporation née Smart Card Corporation had rolled out an RFID stored value card for use on Taipei’s new MRT (subway) system… Within a few years you could use the card everywhere: buses, trains, taxis, parking, government fees, and now, 10 years on, almost every retailer, and the RFID chip is no longer limited to cards, but is embedded in some phones, key fobs, and more.

As Thompson points out, another reason behind America’s stagnation in the mobile payment space is simply the inertia of the credit card system. Magnetic stripe cards are accepted by as many as 9 million U.S. businesses, and it will take an enormous investment to make Apple Pay even half as prolific. However, in countries like Taiwan and Kenya, where credit card penetration is low, or Japan, where there is a cultural aversion to debt, new alternatives were given an opportunity to flourish because credit cards had not already dominated the market.

But as America slowly prepares to move from magnetic strips to Near Field Communication (NFC) systems like Apple Pay, Asia may be held back by its own form of inertia. “Japan and Hong Kong are faced with a dilemma,” says Datamonitor’s Jameson. “If they wish to begin using Apple Pay or other NFC-based mobile payment services, they will need to start from the ground up in building their contactless/mobile payments ecosystem like the rest of the world – which would require considerable investment.” Their other option? “Stick with their existing system while the rest of the world moves in a different direction.”

TIME Taiwan

‘Gutter Oil’ Scandal Raises Food-Safety Fears Once Again in Greater China

Travel Trip Hong Kong on a Budget
A man buys a cake from Maxim's Cakes in Mongkok, Hong Kong, in this file photo from Dec. 18, 2008 Kin Cheung—AP

Potentially harmful oil may have been used in pastries sold by popular bakery chain and also 7-Eleven

A Taiwanese food-safety scare has spread to Hong Kong with the revelation that the city’s biggest bakery chain, as well as branches of 7-Eleven and Starbucks, may have been selling pastries made with so-called gutter oil.

The Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post reports that the popular breakfast staple known as pineapple buns, offered in branches of Maxim’s Cakes and 7-Eleven, as well two specialty Starbucks outlets, could have been made with gutter oil — a potentially harmful blend of oil extracted from food waste, offal and the byproducts of tanneries.

The news once again puts the issue of food safety under the spotlight in a part of the world that has been bedeviled by everything from adulterated baby milk formula to exploding watermelons and even fake eggs.

The Post said that since August 2011 Maxim’s Cakes had bought 34 tons of oil from a Hong Kong importer, who in turn purchased it from Chang Guann, a major lard supplier based in Taiwan. The oil was used to make the bakery chain’s iconic pineapple buns — so called not because they contain pineapple but because of the distinctive shape of the sugar and biscuit crust baked onto the buns’ surface. All the items have now been recalled.

Police in Taiwan last week said that Chang Guann had purchased 243 tons of oil from a gutter oil ring in southern Taiwan since March. The Taiwanese lard giant — which says it was unaware that the oil was gutter oil — in turn sold 51,981 cartons of oil to hundreds of food companies around Asia, according to Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration.

Authorities in Taiwan say that over a thousand Taiwanese companies have used oil supplied by Chang Guann to make a total of 139 different products. Local groceries across China pulled several Taiwanese brands of dumplings, sauces and noodles from their shelves over the weekend.

Many regional food suppliers and restaurants harbor reservations about the quality of food from China, where a series of recent scandals — including chicken feet marinated in hydrogen peroxide and the use of expired meat by one of the country’s top food suppliers — continues to unsettle consumers.

Still, Taiwan had boasted a better reputation.

“Bakeries from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore have done particularly well in China because of worries about locally produced food,” wrote the New York Times, in a Sept. 6 article about the Mid-Autumn Festival pastries known as moon cakes.

But in the wake of the Chang Guann scandal, revelers could be shunning Taiwanese moon cakes this year. Hong Kong health officials told Agence France-Presse that moon cakes sold around the city are undergoing checks.

Maxim’s has told the Hong Kong authorities its moon cakes were not made with contaminated oil, but lab tests are being carried out, the Post reports.

[SCMP]

TIME Taiwan

Taiwan’s Crippling Gas Explosion Caught On Camera

Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, is currently in a state of disarray due to blasts caused by a gas explosion. The number of casualties has now surpassed 250, with bodies continuing to be discovered as the day progresses.

Eruptions began around midnight Thursday and continued into the morning Friday. Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) announced that residents had been reporting smells of leaking gas to authorities prior to the explosions.

Investigations are currently underway to uncover how the blasts could have occurred and who was responsible. It is currently assumed that the cause was underground gas leaks from petrochemical pipelines built alongside the city’s sewer system.

TIME Taiwan

Gas Explosions Kill 25 in Taiwan

Evacuees began returning home Friday

A series of five underground gas explosions tore apart Taiwan’s second-largest city late Thursday, killing at least 25 people and injuring 267.

Officials said they believed the explosions that blasted cars and concrete into the air and ripped trenches through four streets in a busy district of Kaohsiung were caused by a leak of propene—a petrochemical material that is not intended for public use. The city’s Environmental Protection Bureau director told Taiwan’s Central News Agency that the propene came from a warehouse used by the petrochemical storage and transportation company China General Terminal & Distribution Corp. The gas lines that exploded belonged to the government-owned CPC Corp., which told the Associated Press the lines should no signs of trouble prior to the explosions.

“I was on my scooter just across the street, suddenly there was the explosion, a white car was blown toward me, and I saw the driver trapped in the car,” said Wong Zhen-yao,who owns a car repair shop near the site of the blasts.

At least four firefighters were among the victims of the explosions.

About 12,000 lost power due to the blasts and more than 23,000 lost gas service.

An estimated 1,200 people evacuated affected areas of the city of 2.8 million Thursday night, most of whom have since returned to their homes. Cleanup is underway as authorities try to determine the details of what happened in the disaster.

[AP]

TIME movies

VIDEO: The Real Burt of Burt’s Bees Gets Mobbed by Fans in Taiwan

A new documentary goes behind the iconic lip balm

When filmmaker Jody Shapiro got ready to shoot one particular sequence for his new documentary, he told the crew to watch the opening scene of A Hard Day’s Night, the classic cinematic representation of extreme fan mania.

As is clear in the special preview clip above, available early via TIME, that recommendation wasn’t without reason — except the person being mobbed by fans, shown here at an airport in Taiwan, isn’t a Beatle. It’s Burt Shavitz. If you recognize him, it’s probably from the woodcut of his face that has adorned the packaging of Burt’s Bees products for years.

Shavitz, a Mainer who has led a life that’s nothing if not unusual, is the subject of Burt’s Buzz (in theaters and VOD June 6), a look at the life of the man who started it all. He’s been a photographer, a journalist, an environmentalist, a beekeeper — and, apparently, an icon. In fact, it was hearing about what had happened during Shavitz’s prior business trips to the area and an upcoming trip to Taiwan, where Shavitz was traveling as a spokesperson for the brand, that convinced Shapiro to turn his lens toward his subject. “I’d heard about the screaming girls at the airport and I’d heard about the lines around the block, and I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to go deeper into the story,” Shapiro tells TIME. Even so, his expectations for a celeb-worthy reception were exceeded.

To Shavitz, however, being a celebrity is neither here nor there. He guesses in the film that part of the reason he gets such enthusiastic responses from fans of the product is that it’s unusual for a picture on a tube of face product to be of a real guy. But the moment that was caught on film was just one of many for him, and it’s been going on for years. “All the world’s a stage,” he tells TIME. “I never stopped to think about it. It was immaterial as far as I was concerned.”

As the movie makes clear, what interests him most isn’t being famous — it’s getting home to his dog.

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