Governance and Its Discontents 世界需要新藍圖
Is Ma Yingjiu truly the son of Satan?
“Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, written in the 14th century, is the most popular Chinese historical novel, based on the tumultuous history of the country during the second and third centuries. A cultural icon, it has lost nothing of its evocative power, revived through TV series, mangas and videogames. Throughout the centuries, its over-complex plot has also provided the Chinese political scene with endless analogies, helping politicians and commentators to assess power relationships, strategies and claims to legitimacy.
No wonder that the “Three Kingdoms” metaphor is still in use. And it serves today to describe the somehow subdued battle going on between the three main ideological forces that divide the Chinese intellectual spectrum, all of them trying to define policy making and future institutional transformations. Roughly speaking, the “Three Kingdoms” are now referred to as Confucianism, Christianity and a populist form of Maoist revival.
Let us start with the latter “Kingdom”: Bo Xilai (薄熙来), Party secretary of Chongqing Special Municipality and a scion of a prominent Communist family, has built up his popularity on the eradication of local mafias (or its substitution by new factions), the building of scores of social housing, and the chanting in group and on TV of revolutionary songs of the past. He has somehow reshaped a “spiritual civilization” based (a) on the comfort of small groups fostering mutual support through chanting together and participating in community activities, (b) on nostalgia for less corrupt times, and (c) on the reassertion of the quasi-religious nature of the Party. Strangely enough, the model has proven effective, and is now embraced by a growing number of national and local cadres, making the ones who embrace the revival of the Party and the enshrinement its history leading contenders in the political battles to come. For sure, the ultimate motivations behind Bo’s launching of the “Red songs campaign” remain unclear, but it any case it has initiated a movement that has implications going beyond his personal political future. Current dissatisfactions as to inflation and unemployment may give more impetus to this peculiar form of populism.
Confucianism fits better the mind of the leaders and intellectuals who envision the future of China as a continuation and refinement of the current model: meritocracy is the core value, a meritocracy mainly based on technical and administrative expertise; virtue is to be extolled, along with obedience and sense of order; “scientific development” associates with uncritical reverence for China’s long past (while the Populist-Maoist model relies more on generational nostalgia and short-term memory); caution and wisdom anchored into the ruminating of Chinese classics have to predominate over daring attempts at change, so prone is the country to disorder and division.
Finally, “Christianity” is fostered by the rapid growth of Christian churches, joined by people aspiring to a spiritual experience anchored in both personal and community life; at the same time, it clearly posses political undertones as it goes with aspiration to personal freedom and rights understood in the Western sense; such aspiration ultimately implies to relax or even to overcome the Party-State’s overall control on society. “Christians’ are thus often assimilated to people aspiring towards a Western-leaning model, and such people can also be found in leading circles. An example is the one provided by the economist Zhao Xiao (赵晓), who has equaled the historical achievement of the West with its adhesion to Christian beliefs and has converted to Christianity. During the last few years and months, spiritual and political values have been more clearly associated than was the case at the beginning of the “religious fever’ tide, with tensions and debates consequently growing.
“Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is characterized by the intricacy of its plot and the innumerable changes of alliances and fortune that occur. It would thus be unwise to see in the three “Kingdoms” now emerging the sole actors of an ever-evolving drama. But the understanding of the Characters who appear on the stage at a given moment of time might help all observers to better follow the plot yet to unfold.
Over the next few months we will be releasing videos of all the impassioned researchers based at the Taipei branch of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) to introduce their new research directions in Sinology and Taiwan Studies. Vincent Rollet is a researcher at The French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, Taipei branch based in Academica Sinica. His research is based around Identity, Security and Societal Dimensions of the Taiwan’s Foreign Policy against Infectious Diseases (2000-2008). Here, Vincent came to the Ricci Institute to introduce his research and reveals to us the role of public health and afflictuous diseases in international diplomacy, before looking at ways that Taiwan can have greater representation in international public health while it remains outside of the WHO.
While the last decades have been characterized by the acceleration of the emergence or re-emergence of infectious diseases, many governments have placed the fight against these diseases on their foreign policy agenda. Two main questions can be raised: what has been the nature of their foreign policy and which dynamics prompted or conditioned them?
To answer these questions and to contribute to the general debate on the link between « Foreign Policy » and « Health », my Phd research focused on the Taiwan case. It shows that despite the particular situation of Taiwan on the international scene, since 2000, its government has conducted a specific foreign policy to fight against infectious diseases which has taken several forms.
Calling upon the conceptual tools proposed by the Constructivist, Realist and Liberal streams of International Relations commonly used to analyse Foreign Policy, this thesis provides an original interpretation of this foreign policy. It also shows that corporative, role-type and collective identities, as well as exigencies of security and societal demands, represent the explicative factors of this foreign policy.
This research concludes that the Foreign Policy conducted by Taiwan between 2000 and 2008 in the fight against infectious diseases held identity, security and societal dimensions, which then displays the multidimensional aspect of a Foreign Policy in the field of Health.
There are three domestic powers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: The Party, the Family, and the military. The phasing out of Juche (self-reliance) rhetoric in favor of Seong-gun Jeong-chi (military-first politics) has been underway since the mid-nineties. This put the Party on the backburner as the main power broker and the military filled the void. Where ideology and economy fail, the barrel of a gun becomes the most reliable source of power. Most NoKo observers will agree that Kim was obliged to seek support in the military following the death of his father. As a result, Kim is obligated to work closely with the military in coordinating most matters of state.
In the past I've been concerned about the lack of effort the State has put into building the image of Kim's son. In time, however, I've come to realize that it doesn't really matter what the people think of the leader as he will only be a mouthpiece of the military. I highly doubt that the rogue elements in the chain of command are keen to launch an all-out coup, but it's likely that they are dissatisfied with the state of things and want to shake it up a bit, hence the attack on the Cheonan. Kim gives them a face, and the military gives him support. It's a mutual relationship and neither is going to profit from the destruction of the regime.
Photos by K. Mathesius
The result of the Copenhagen Summit is creating strong disappointment all around the world, and rightly so. However, one might wonder whether the hopes pinned on the event were justified in the first place. After all, there were no signs before the summit begun that nations were coming closer on the most basic issues – mode and amount of financing the efforts to be made, national targets, and verification mechanisms. Therefore, one might wonder how such incompatibilities would have been overcome just by meeting around a negotiation table. For sure, the Chiefs of State and Government were anxious to prove that they still could be the “saviors” of the world, people able to work out last-minute compromises through their negotiation skills and innate wisdom. This time, the magic just did not operate. Maybe it was because differences in substance and style were really too strong for being ignored.
The trick of forging a five nations “deal” did not truly help, and it might be better after all that the text worked out by five of the protagonists were finally not formally endorsed by the whole assembly. On the long term, the failure that Copenhagen was might be more helpful for working out a reform of world governance – and even substantial progresses on climate change – than a more ambiguous result would have been.
First, the Copenhagen failure clearly shows that an age of world governance is coming to an end. Big circuses are not the way to make real progresses any more. A more multilateral approach, regional agreements, and pilot efforts made by a country or a group of countries are the best way to go ahead. World governance must rely on the principle of “variable geometry.” When Summits like Copenhagen serve as pretexts for diluting one’s responsibility, the present style of world governance proves to be actually harmful to the causes it pretends to serve.
Second, the Copenhagen failure shows that “leaders’ are not “saviors’. Progresses in natural conservation, energy-saving measures and sustainable development will primarily come from the creativity and dedication of the private sector, civil society and national governments (when the latter are pushed in the right direction by the nation they govern). The proven inefficiency in world governance can be a boost for accrued self-organization of civil societies around the world.
Third, I do not think that the Copenhagen failure is so alarming when it comes to managing climate change. At the local and national level, the dynamic is clearly towards rapid improvement in terms of technical know-how, political will and administrative implementation. The issue does not disappear with Copenhagen. On the contrary it is appropriated anew by all parties concerned. Hopefully, the global struggle for tackling climate change is now starting on a new basis.
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- The first debate has been about the dismal performance of the forecasting system, unable to predict the deluge that has engulfed the southern part of the island.
- The second one, and the most damaging politically, has focused on the slow response of the central government. President Ma Ying-jeou, it has been argued, has shown that he was not a strong and capable leader. From the start, he had appointed a cabinet of technocrats insensitive to real life issues and popular feelings. And he has focused so much on bettering relationships with China that he has forgotten to tackle Taiwan’s everyday concerns. Whatever the fairness of these allegations, they have suddenly altered drastically his public image, with consequences so far-reaching that they are still difficult to predict.
- Though they have not taken the brunt of political criticisms, local governments have not fared much better than the Center. They sometimes have been slow to request external help. Roads and other public facilities might have been so inadequate because public works contracts are given out by local powers in dubious fashion; however, the “Green” counties of the South have been keen to shift the blame towards the central government.
- Quite logically, the attention now focuses on the poor quality of public works, deforestation and general neglect of environmental imperatives, which might explain the amplitude of the mudslides. Political leaders are not the only ones to blame. The strife towards rapid profit and Taiwan society’s indifference to long-term issues account for the rapid ecological deterioration, especially in mountain areas, which might trigger similar disasters in the future.
- The prayer tour conducted by the Dalai Lama has opened up a new front: political motivations have been invoked, as the invitation made by Green local leaders is deeply embarrassing for Ma Ying-jeou, who could not reject the Dalai Lama’s application without further political consequences but has now to deal with China’s anger. Meanwhile, not all Taiwanese religious leaders have reacted enthusiastically to the coming of the Dalai Lama: many victims from the mountainous area were aborigine, thus probably Christians. Taiwanese Buddhist leaders fear the growing influence of Tibetan Buddhism on their own flock; and Chinese religion associations have pointedly underlined the “efficacy” of traditional memorial services and rituals…
- Once avidly watched, medias have also suffered from a backlash: their unbridled sensationalism, the relentless flow of often meaningless reports and interviews and the competition among TV channels have illustrated once again the very poor quality of information service in Taiwan. Medias now appear as the main profiteers of a national disaster.
- One positive effect of the disaster has rarely been noticed: Civil society has very quickly taken up relief work (from the outset of the disaster in fact), without public support, and newly relying on Internet Social Networks, especially through Plurk, preferred by many young Taiwanese activists to Twitter. Once again, Taiwan has shown that its main strength lies in its robust civil society that works independently from the public and media apparatus. A positive inheritance from the way Taiwan’s democratization came about.
The typhoon has thus proven to be a social and cultural revelation. Taiwanese have experienced once again the ills that come with short-term vision and concerns, and have strongly expressed their political disillusions. At the same time, their natural gift for self-introspection and for self-organization has been as remarkable as has been the case in previous circumstances, such as after the massive earthquake that happened ten years ago. The problem is now to draw the right lessons from the disaster, and to resolutely orient Taiwan towards sustainability and proper use of land resources. A global challenge that new social networks might help to spell out for the greater good of a traumatized society looking for meaning, purpose and unity…
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