The Future of Taiwan’s Relationship with China

"Students gather outside Taiwanese legislature on March 21, 2014, protesting the trade agreement between Taiwan and China" (Yohmi, Flick Commons)

“Students gather outside Taiwanese legislature on March 21, 2014, protesting the trade agreement between Taiwan and China” (Yohmi, Flick Commons)

Ever since the nationalist government of China fled to the island of Taiwan in 1949, the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) relationship status with the People’s of Republic of China (China or PRC) has been clouded with ambiguity. The 1992 consensus, accepted by both China’s Communist Party (CPC) and Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), stated that there is “one China” that encompasses China and Taiwan; however, disagreement persists as to which government maintains legitimate authority over the region and what exactly “one China” means. The last 60 years have witnessed increasing contention over diplomatic recognition and territorial claims by the governments of China and Taiwan.

While China’s CPC and Taiwan’s KMT insist that each has legitimate authority over both Taiwan and China, Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the more liberally minded opposition party to the KMT, adamantly rejects the 1992 consensus and any notion of unification with China, viewing it as a disparate nation. Following Taiwanese President (and KMT leader) Ma Ying-jeou’s attempts to cultivate stronger economic ties with the China, in March 2014 hundreds of outraged college students stormed Taiwan’s parliament, occupying it for several weeks, with thousands more protesting in the streets. Eight months later, the DPP enjoyed widespread victories throughout Taiwanese localities.

This electoral victory is largely a reflection of general dissatisfaction with the failed leadership of President Ma, and only slightly tied to DPP’s anti-unification policies. Still, recent moves by the PRC to undermine Hong Kong’s political autonomy have galvanized Taiwanese political movements aimed at countering increased economic and political ties between Taiwan and China. Many Taiwanese are progressively wary of any moves towards reconciliation or economic integration with their estranged neighbor to the north. After all, the “one country, two systems” agreement that supposedly guaranteed Hong Kong’s political independence in exchange for unification was an idea first conceived by Taiwan. That Hong Kong’s political sovereignty has been so flagrantly disregarded by China’s politicians is not a positive signal to those Taiwanese leaning towards conditional unification in the future.

Because the DPP is seen as the strongest hardliner on independence, Taiwan’s anti-unification trend will only serve to strengthen DPP’s political influence in the coming years, as well as increase the odds of a DPP candidate ascending to the presidency in 2016. Such a shift in Taiwan’s leadership would aggravate the CPC, since a Taiwanese president from the DPP party would likely ratify legislation aimed at diminishing economic ties with China and further distance Taiwan from pressures to reunite.

Legislation of this variety is seen as unacceptable by the CPC and could inevitably lead to heightened aggression by China towards Taiwan. As was made abundantly clear in China’s 2005 Taiwanese Anti-Secession Law, a mere declaration of independence by Taiwan would result in aggressive military action by China.

In sum, China has shot itself in the foot. Its attempts at curtailing freedom in Hong Kong have not only been met by widespread protests, but also served to embolden formal independence movements in Taiwan. These increasing calls for independence in Taiwan will precipitate aggression by China, which will then trigger more calls for independence in Taiwan. And here begins the vicious cycle that will plague cross-strait relations for the foreseeable future.

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Alleged Murder Shakes Argentina’s Political Establishment

Allegations currently mount against Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s administration following the suspected murder of Natalio Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor leading the investigation of the 1994 AMIA bombing. Resulting in 85 deaths and nearly 300 injuries, the car bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires left a permanent scar on Argentina, yet it has remained unsolved for over two decades.

On January 14, just four days prior to his death, Nisman publically accused Kirchner’s administration of concealing Iran’s suspected involvement in the AMIA attack and negotiating with Iran to protect its officials from prosecution in exchange for oil. In fact, Nisman’s death occurred just one day before he was scheduled to testify before Congress about the president’s purported involvement in the cover-up. To top it all off, investigators found a drafted arrest warrant for Kirchner in the home of the deceased.

Gerardo Pollicita, the federal prosecutor assigned to take over Nisman’s investigation, has requested authorization for a formal investigation into Kirchner’s involvement in the AMIA bombing cover-up. If the judiciary believes there to be sufficient evidence for a trial, Kirchner will face criminal charges and potential impeachment in one of the most egregious political scandals Argentina and the world have ever seen.

Kirchner’s response has hardly alleviated the ensuing political turmoil. Initially claiming that his death was a suicide, she later changed her position suggesting that Nisman was murdered by one of his aides. Kirchner’s widespread calls for national unity amidst the proceeding investigation were quickly followed by her throwing the spotlight onto the Secretariat of Intelligence, Argentina’s top intelligence agency, asserting that they alone were responsible for Nisman’s murder in an attempt to incite political instability.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that recent developments will lead to any legitimate political reforms. Argentina is widely regarded as a country blessed by resources, but cursed by politicians. Over the last half-century in particular, Argentinians have shown a strong proclivity for electing peronístas, adherers to the political movement founded by President Juan Domingo Perón (1946-55, 1973-74), whose proletariat ideologies are often conflated with authoritarianism and fascism.

Since Perón’s tenure, nine candidates of the Justicialist Party, the main Peronist party, have been elected to Argentina’s highest office. The populist values of Kirchner and other peronísta candidates typically carry the most appeal to voters; even if Kirchner resigns from politics there is unlikely to be substantial policy deviations by her successor.

More generally, this crisis of leadership threatens Argentina’s already weakened economy at the tail end of an expired commodity boom. In order to make its economy a more attractive destination for foreign direct investment, it is critical that Argentina’s political establishment restores some base level of trust in political institutions and mounts a legitimate investigation, unfettered by government meddling.

Still, Nisman’s recent allegations are markedly the most shocking to ever be levied against Kirchner’s administration. Given the ubiquitous corruption that permeates nearly all of Argentina’s political institutions, there is serious doubt as to whether or not criminal investigators will uncover the truth.

The increasing uncertainty over his death and the conjectured culpability of her administration in the Iranian negotiations will likely tarnish Kirchner’s legacy irrevocably. Whether or not her administration is able to weather this political firestorm is unclear. This is in no way Kirchner’s first tango with criminal investigations, but it may very well be her last.

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Ebola in West Africa: A Medieval Quarantine in the Modern World

Map of Ebola outbreak in West Africa, highlighting widespread infections in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons)

West African nations have lost over 1,400 people since March of this year to Ebola. With no formal cure other than treating symptoms, the infected face a mortality rate of between 50-90%, making it one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

Regarded as the worst Ebola outbreak in history, the recent spread in Africa has precipitated the revival of the cordon sanitaire, a medieval quarantine tactic employed in the 14th century to combat the bubonic plague.

Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have created a triangular zone encompassing infected regions and prohibited people from leaving the quarantine zone until the outbreak subsides. While international health organizations have pledged to supply food and water to quarantined regions, this type of quarantine procedure is inherently barbaric in nature as vital resources become increasingly scarce and infected and non-infected citizens are indiscriminately interned together, further increasing the risk of infection.

While cordon sanitaire proved effective in combatting the bubonic plague and, more recently, typhus in early 20thcentury Russia, it is not necessarily an appropriate response to an Ebola outbreak. Since it is not contagious in its asymptomatic phase and can only be spread by direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, a more appropriate response would be to quarantine symptomatic patients and closely monitor family and neighbors for symptoms for up to three weeks. Given that Ebola is unlikely to develop into a pandemic, one might argue that such a response by West African nations is overzealous.

As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. April 2, 2013. (EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre/Flickr Creative Commons)

In stark contrast to the draconian quarantine, the more localized responses of towns and affected citizenry have lacked commonsense precautions. It is not uncommon to encounter people passing through infected homes to visit and deliver food, nor is it atypical to find symptomatic patients refusing to go to a hospital out of an irrational fear of ‘disappearing’. With some villages under the delusion that health workers carry the disease themselves, there are even instances of locals chasing away international aid volunteers with threats of violence.

At the root of these problems of inadequate or irrational responses are critically underfunded health care systems, with many regions only possessing two doctors per 100,000 people. (Belgium, for instance, boasts 449 doctors per 100,000 people.) With a deficit of medical professionals and a lack of established disease prevention procedures in these regions, it is likely that Ebola’s spread will be intensified by regional quarantine. As this policy escalates the populous’ distrust of authority, there is increased risk of infected persons electing not to seek medical help at all.

While the effectiveness of this intensive quarantine remains unclear, the economic repercussions of the cordon sanitaire have proven crippling, with local industries and inter-regional trade at a standstill. Moreover, this quarantine provides no guarantee of containment, with fearful citizens apt to flee the region and potentially catapult its spread into outer regions. As fear continues to dominate both governmental and individual responses, and medieval tactics stand to do more harm than good, the future of Ebola’s containment in West Africa remains uncertain.

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China’s Shrinking Population: The One-Child Policy’s Thirty-Year Tenure and its Threat to China’s Economic Future

One child policy propaganda posters. The girl child is hand in hand with her mother and holding up a booklet. Caption reads: I have got my 'only child certificate'! March 11, 2009.(kattebelletje/Flickr Creative Commons)

Gradually phased into implementation in the late 1970’s, China’s one-child policy was largely viewed as a pre-emptive response to an impending Malthusian trap, the shortage of food and resources precipitated by unsustainable population growth. While exceptions were made for ethnic minorities, rural citizens whose first child is a daughter and most recently for parents who are only children themselves, the policy is easily the most draconian family planning strategy of the 20th century.

Families with more than one child are forced to pay exorbitant fines totaling several times a typical year of wages. In many cases, women pregnant with a second child face intense discrimination, abuse and even forced abortions.

To this day, the Communist Party touts the success of this policy in averting some 400 million births. Unfortunately, anticipated curbing of the population has been largely offset by a paradigm shift in longevity. What few people outside of economic and policy circles grasp is that this policy is largely linked to China’s economic growth miracle. China’s economy has benefitted immensely from having a smaller increase in non-productive dependents (children) relative to its population of productive independents (adult workers). Known in economics as a demographic dividend, this phenomenon is associated with economic growth, as decreases in spending on children correspond to increased investment and per capita income.

The bulk of China’s population is now middle-aged as a result of a sharp curb in the birth rate over the last three decades. As the lion’s share of its population grows old and retires, China will be faced with a shrunken labor force as well as numerous social crises. December 5, 2011. (Karrasan/Wikimedia Commons)

The bulk of China’s population is now middle-aged as a result of a sharp curb in the birth rate over the last three decades. As the lion’s share of its population grows old and retires, China will be faced with a shrunken labor force as well as numerous social crises. December 5, 2011. (Karrasan/Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately for China, it is about to reach its ‘Lewis Turning Point’, or the point in time in which the large supply of unskilled, agricultural labor migrating from the countryside is exhausted, causing wages to rise. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that after a three-decade tenure of low birth rates, China’s population is reaching its apex, and about to begin a steady decline.

In an attempt to avoid this population slump and ensuing rise in wages, the Communist Party has initiated reforms to allow for a higher birth rate. To the chagrin of China’s economic policy makers, allowances for families to have additional children have not spurred the birth rate. This is largely because preferences for family size have changed dramatically since the policy’s inception.

In tandem with the increased costs of raising children, many families are reluctant to have more than one child. Thus, in the coming decades, even amidst policy changes, China will find its birth rate stubbornly low. As its surplus of cheap labor dwindles, and wage prices rise, China will quickly lose its hailed place as the world’s manufacturer.

An equally troubling phenomenon is China’s skewed gender distribution. Precipitated by a strong preference for sons over daughters and coupled with China’s proscriptive one-child policy, millions of families have undergone sex-selective abortions to ensure their sole child is male. With some 51 million more males in China than females, China faces numerous social crises. Men who are unmarried, only-children in China (referred to as ‘bare branches’) face numerous psychological issues and disproportionately high rates of suicide. These men have few ties to and little vested interest in the following generation, making them less inclined to be productive members of society and more inclined to engage in criminal activity.

Unequal gender distributions have also precipitated sharp increases in property values across Mainland China, exacerbating China’s growing housing bubble. With millions of bachelors vying for a limited number of unmarried women, owning property has become a prerequisite for finding a wife. This inelastic demand is facilitated by China’s ‘4-2-1’ family structure. Four grandparents and two parents can find themselves providing financial assistance in purchasing real estate for their sole descendent, further intensifying the inelastic demand for Chinese property. As China’s population begins its gradual decline, there will be potential for a burst of the rapidly expanding real estate bubble, as well as a huge contraction in property development.

“Please for the sake of your country, use birth control.” Slogans such as this are common across China to encourage young women to adhere to the one-child policy. February 15, 2006. (Venus/Wikimedia Commons)

“Please for the sake of your country, use birth control.” Slogans such as this are common across China to encourage young women to adhere to the one-child policy. February 15, 2006. (Venus/Wikimedia Commons)

Another prospect is the increased risk of political instability. Migrant workers and agricultural laborers, who have the most grievances towards Communist Party policies, are the demographic most likely to remain unmarried in China due to their poor employment opportunities. Add sexual frustration to their already poor economic prospects, and there is a strong likelihood that these young men are galvanized into political uprising.

With such tremendous negative impacts associated with China’s one-child policy one can easily liken it to Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward (referred to by many scholars as China’s “Great Leap to Famine”). Regardless of what policy changes and amendments to the one-child policy are implemented in the coming decade, there will be some unavoidable economic contractions, social crises and political risks. While many project that China has robust economic prospects in the coming century, the one-child policy’s numerous adverse impacts remain an important consideration in tempering these overly optimistic projections.

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The Revolving Door: Public Service Increasingly a Conduit to Lucrative Lobbying Careers

Capitol Building

Capitol Hill is home to the offices of 535 legislators who increasingly find themselves catering to the interests of corporate clients as the pervasive influence of K Street in politics grows. December 10, 2005 (Kate Mereand/Wikimedia Commons)

Bribes masquerading as gifts and political contributions are nothing new to Washington. In Mark Twain’s 19th century work, The Gilded Age, he delineates a step-by-step methodology for bribing members of Congress. What is novel to America’s political system is the increasingly common revolving door that connects ex-political staffers and retired politicians with lucrative careers in the lobbying industry. While political contributions and gifts remain in the arsenal of any Washington lobbyist, their effectiveness in allowing lobbyists to influence legislation has been surpassed by retired insiders making their way to K Street.

Notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff remarked in his book Capitol Punishment that the most effective way to influence a politician was to offer his/her chief of staff a lobbying job following their stint on the hill. From that point forward, not only would Abramoff have unrestricted access to a politician, but also staffers would actually go out of their way to promote his clients’ interests.

Many politicians often bite at the prospect of lucrative lobbying salaries, despite a life-long commitment to public service. In Mark Leibovich’s book, This Town, he cites a frightening statistic: “In 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Now 50 percent of senators and 42 percent of congressmen do.

Consider retired Senator Judd Gregg, whose tenacious fight for transparency and ethics in the financial industry ended as soon as he left office and took a high-paying ‘consulting’ job at Goldman Sachs. More astonishing is ex-congressman Billy Tauzin, who earned nearly twenty million dollars between 2006 and 2010 as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.

Even high-profile politicians cannot always resist the temptation of lobbying salaries. Former Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, who played a key role in drafting universal health care legislation, earned an annual salary of $2.1 million only a few years after his leaving the Senate. While Daschle vehemently denies working as a lobbyist, his recent employment has been with lobbying firms specializing in health care, albeit as a ‘consultant’.

It is unclear precisely what these ex-politicians are providing in exchange for their astonishingly high compensation packages. No doubt some utilize their influence on the Hill to sway current members of Congress to draft legislation that benefits their clients. There remains serious ambiguity, however, as to whether or not these politicians preemptively advanced their future employer’s interests while in office at the prospect of being duly compensated following retirement.

    K Street NW at 19th Street

K Street in Washington DC is home to some of our capitol’s most prominent lobbying firms. There are currently 23 lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress. February 24, 2005 (Erifnam/Wikimedia Commons)

This tacit collusion between elected officials and the private sector goes against the very concept of public service and the notion of a democratic process unfettered by private sector interests. While laws exist that bar ex-congressmen and senators from working in lobbying for two years after being in office, most bypass this restriction by refraining from formal registration as a lobbyist. After all, there is no law against working as a ‘consultant’.

Public service implies some form of personal sacrifice, often in the form of time and compensation. With this in mind, is it too much to ask that our public servants refrain from profiting from the private sector following their retirement from politics?

Indubitably, successfully curtailing the migration of politicians from Capitol Hill to K Street will be futile as those we have entrusted to make our laws have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. As attempts at lobbying reform continue in Congress, however, an important question remains: how do we define lobbying?

After all, the day that Congress passes a law barring ex-political staffers and politicians from working as lobbyists and consultants is the day we see an influx of political veterans working as ‘policy advisers’ with seven-figure salaries. Who knew public service could be so rewarding?

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The Tragedy of Media Sensationalism in America

It has been over two months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control and disappeared, triggering the most expansive search and rescue attempt in history. The hunt for Flight 370 continues to this day with a multinational coalition conducting a targeted underwater search in the Southern Indian Ocean.

The tragedy enshrouding the presumed loss of 227 passengers and 12 crew members has elicited extensive media coverage, with CNN providing non-stop coverage for weeks at a time. Typical of American media, the vast majority of this coverage has been rich in speculation and lacking in substance.

India's search areas for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (2)

India’s search areas for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. March 19, 2014 (Indian Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

News outlets’ traditional responsibility was to report on facts and provide pertinent analysis. This traditional model of reporting, however, has been increasingly threatened by the media’s dependency on advertising revenue. In his book Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky discusses this funding constraint as a serious impediment to unbiased, factual reporting. As a result, news channels – vying for increased viewership and advertisers – are more inclined to cater to sensationalism over substantiated and relevant news stories.

From extensive discussions of the Bermuda triangle and theories of black holes, to calling on psychics as expert contributors, American reporting has deviated from this traditional model of reporting to instead propagate misinformation and speculation. Discussion of conspiracy theories piques human curiosity and galvanizes viewership, but there is no place for such unsubstantiated reporting on stations claiming to provide corroborated news and relevant analysis.

To the chagrin of traditional journalists, such sensationalist reporting has proven highly popular. In the case of CNN, their round-the-clock reporting effectively doubled their prime-time ratings, resulting in their viewership temporarily outpacing Fox News’ audience for a short duration.

Satterfield cartoon on sensationalism and media stereotypes of the Apache

Satterfield cartoon on sensationalism and media stereotypes of the Apache. November 3, 1905 (Bob Satterfield/Wikimedia Commons)

This style of news reporting may satiate American consumers’ demand for overdramatized entertainment, but comes with its share of negative externalities. Over the course of CNN’s coverage of Flight 370, there were scores of more relevant and pressing global and domestic issues warranting coverage that were passed over. From Russia and China’s plans to discuss trading oil in foreign currencies to threaten America’s petrodollars to the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine, there were (and are) numerous news stories of greater consequence that a more informed populous should be aware of.

It is a tragedy in and of itself that America’s major news sources are incentivized to pass over stories of global significance in exchange for outlandish stories that garner viewership and advertising revenue. That American consumers of news are more intrigued by conspiracy theories than by reporting with the potential to impact their lives is a sad truth to confront in a world on the edge of conflict and crisis. The mainstream media’s coverage of this event proves that we have lost more than 239 innocent civilians – we have lost our commitment to responsible reporting as well.

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Improving Economic Prospects in the Land of Silver

The Thinker in El Plaza Congreso, adjacent to official government buildings in Buenos Aires, Argentina. December 9, 2010 (David Berkowitz/Wikimedia Commons)

Argentina was a gold mine of economic opportunity in the early 20th century. Blessed with trade surpluses in commodities, an influx of foreign technological innovation and development, and a growth rate of 6% (the fastest in the world at the time), Argentina attracted hundreds of thousands of European immigrants.

With the exception of commodity exportation, Argentina’s recent economic condition has soured. The last half-century has been marked by economic decline, political instability, and diminishing geopolitical influence. Consider that when President Obama visited the Southern Cone in 2011, he flew from Chile to Brazil deliberately passing over Argentina. While significant capital inflows from China largely insulated Argentina from the global economic crisis, economic and political turmoil persist to this day. Inflation estimates are above 30%, its expropriation of Spanish petroleum giant Repsol have made those in the international business community wary of FDI, and its export and import quotas have proven disastrous to farmers, businessmen, and consumers alike.

If President Kirchner’s successor seeks to guide Argentina towards a path of economic and political stability, he/she must assuage concerns of an impending crisis, and work swiftly to ignite a stagnant economy. Reviving the economy will be easier said than done in a country whose Ease of Doing Business ranking is 127 out of 189, trailing, among others, Nigeria and Pakistan. A more challenging hurdle will be reducing Argentinean dependence on natural resource exports. As tempting as it may be to ride the commodity wave to economic solvency, diversification of the nation’s income will prove imperative to Argentina’s future growth and stability. Developments in added-value manufacturing and the service industries will better isolate Argentina’s economy from fluctuations in global commodity prices. Diversification will also require improvements in education and infrastructure, areas in which Argentina is particularly deficient.

ArgentinayChile1929.TouringclubitalianoMilano

Map of Argentina circa 1929 depicting recent territorial acquisitions (Ufficio cartografico del Touring Club Italiano/Wikimedia Commons)

One thing Argentina is not deficient in is unfounded optimism. An Argentinean economist once lamented that his nation is destined for lackluster development, positing, “Argentina has always been a country with mediocre growth, believing that spectacular growth and riches are right around the corner, and when a good year comes, Argentines say, ‘Ah, here comes the life we’ve been waiting for and so deserve.’” Such misguided expectations must be replaced by shrewdness and sacrifice. Recovering from the current economic turmoil and moving towards a trajectory of sustainable growth will require drastic fiscal and monetary reforms.

Attempts to curtail government spending will likely aggravate an already sluggish growth rate, particularly after several years of costly welfare programs and President Kirchner’s wasteful spending. Also unpopular will be the inevitable currency devaluation once Argentina’s currency exchange is liberalized. Such unpopular policies have been postponed for far too long. Argentina must follow in Chile’s footsteps by increasing economic competitiveness in the global arena. For a country blessed with bountiful resources, its political malfeasance and bureaucracy remains the only thing slowing down what would otherwise be impressive growth. By fostering more competitive industries and implementing basic economic reforms, Argentina may become the gold mine it once was.

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