Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chinese Women Volleyball is Beautiful to Watch

On the last day of the Rio Olympics, China’s women volleyball team played Serbia for the gold. It was the most watched event in China as well over half of the TV sets in the country were tuned on the outcome.

When China won, it was the only gold of the three major team sports that China won from Rio, having fallen far short in basketball and football. Thus all of China was ready to fall in love with this sport all over again.

It was not easy. Chinese team qualified last in their pool play and had to face the top seed from the other pool. The top seed was Brazil, the defending Olympics champion of two previous Olympics in Beijing and London.

After beating Brazil in the fifth set, China had to face Netherlands, second seed and had beaten China in the preliminary play. After Netherlands, Serbia, China’s opponent in the gold medal round, had also beaten China in the preliminary round.

The United States team that beat Netherlands for the bronze medal had also beaten China in the pool play. U.S. was top seed after pool play but was upset by Serbia in the semifinal round. In other words, China was the underdog every step along the way.

Curiously, volleyball was least funded of the major Olympics teams in China. In fact one of the volleyball player complained about being poorly paid. “What we get as salary for a year is about what the basketball player gets in one game,” she said.

Coach Lang Ping was transformed from villain eight years ago to acclaimed hero of Rio Olympics. At the Beijing Olympics, Lang Ping coached the U.S. team that defeated China in the semifinal and went on a silver medal, losing to Brazil in the gold medal round.

Lang Ping, after leading China to the gold at the LA Olympics in 1984 as the MVP striker, left China to study sports management in the U.S. After graduation she became a coach for professional volleyball teams in the U.S., Japan and Italy.

Fans in China were unhappy with Lang for not coaching in China, not taking into account the lack of a level of compensation that would be competitive with the international market.

Lang was persuaded to return and accept the coaching role with the stipulation that she would run the team with total control and no interference from the sporting authorities and government officials.

Since taking over China’s national team in 2013, Lang has been the mother to the team. She even bought protein supplement from the U.S., out of her own pocket, to give to the players while in training to boost their nutritional in take and supplement an indifferent training table.

Her captain, Hui Ruoqi, had to miss several months of practice and workout as she underwent surgery to correct a heart condition. When Hui returned to the team, Lang monitored her conditions daily. Happily, Hui struck the match-ending kill for the gold.

When assembling the national team, Lang noticed that Zhu Ting was missing from the list of candidates. She had seen Zhu played previously and remembered her and asked about her.

Zhu had been relegated to second tier level for regional competition before Lang rescued her. At the Olympics, Zhu was voted the most valuable player, as was Lang in LA. In the just the gold medal round, the 6 foot four inch Zhu notched 25 kills against Serbia.

(By the way, Zhu was not the tallest player on the team. All except for the libero—the defensive specialist that spend a lot of time rolling on the floor digging for balls to keep them in play—were over six foot including 6-5 and 6-6. They must have gotten proper nutrition from somewhere.)

After Rio, Zhu will be going to Turkey to play professional ball. Coach Lang felt that Zhu, at age 21, needed to play at the highest international level to continue to improve. So she introduced Zhu to a team she knew and more importantly the Dutch coach that had Lang’s confidence.

China’s sports leadership has always measured Olympics success by the number of gold medals won. Many projected wins did not come through at Rio and they were bracing for a disappointed Olympics. Women’s volleyball saved the day.

How will China perform in 2020 Tokyo? This team is young and talented. As Xinhua News noted, the team members are vivacious and some are as beautiful as runway models. They are made to be sports ambassadors for China.

The key is whether Beijing will elevate the importance of volleyball to be closer to that of football and basketball and properly nurture the current and next generation of athletes.

Before the team arrived in Rio, a classmate of Lang and ardent volleyball fan sent her one million renminbi to subsidize the team expenses. Upon winning, the now successful businessman congratulated the team with another gift of five million yuan.

China’s sports authority can’t afford to depend on fans and donors popping up to the rescue.  Beijing needs to show the Super Mario of Tokyo (masquerading as prime minister) that Chinese women volleyball will continue to rule.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Contradictions in Harry Wu

This piece first appeared in Asia Times. I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Professor Norman Matloff of UC Davis. In the '90s a group of us decided to pool our energy to debunk Wu, and Norman was the one to set up and maintain the website as repository of articles and op-ed pieces written about Wu that shed light on the dark side of this individual. This website has been a real blessing for me as I was preparing to write this concluding chapter of Wu's life.

Have you ever wondered what it's like to enjoy a long pee on someone's tombstone? Well, writing this piece comes close to that feeling.

When Harry Wu unexpectedly died while on vacation in Honduras, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave him quite a tribute. She said, “With his passing, the world has lost a global champion for freedom and democracy.” Well ahem, in light of more recent disclosures, may be not.

Recent reports, first in Foreign Policy (May 25) then in New York Times (August 14), described a morally corrupt person, not a knight in shining armor. Wu was accused of having absconded millions that did not belong to him and was to face charges of sexual misconduct in court. The heading from Foreign Policy said it all: “In death, a darker tale of extortion and sexual misconduct threatens to tarnish his legacy.”

These posthumous disclosures hardly surprised those of us in the Chinese American community that had been following his career. We always knew him to be a charlatan and a scoundrel.

But give Harry Wu credit for being a trailblazer. He discovered that he could make a nice living by saying nasty things about China. Sometimes his statements were believable because they were based on facts skillfully doctored or exaggerated. Other times, he simply made them up as he went; the more lurid he made it, the more compelling he became. The western media could not get enough of his stuff and members of Congress were the most ardent members of his fan club.

From a middling salary of a non-profit, Wu came into his financial windfall in 2007 when families of two Chinese plaintiffs sued Yahoo for illegally providing information to the Beijing authorities that led to their arrest and imprisonment. (Illegal that is from a US perspective.) At the House Foreign Affairs Committee public hearing, then chairman Tom Lantos castigated Yahoo as a bunch of moral pygmies. Wu was invited to the hearing as an interpreter for the plaintiffs.

The cowed company agreed to give $3.2 million to each of the two plaintiffs and $17.3 million to a human rights fund as aid for future Chinese dissidents. The fund was to be administered by Harry Wu and his Laogai Research Foundation. That was a big, big mistake.

Yahoo’s donation became Wu’s personal fortune

The plaintiffs had to sue Wu later in order to get some of that $3.2 million awarded to them. Other dissidents never did see any of the $17 million. Instead the tax returns for LRF showed revenues of $325k in 2006, which jumped to more than $18 million in 2007.

In 2008, Wu bought a building in Washington DC for slightly under $3 million to house his museum. In the museum were prominent displays of photos of Wu with the who’s who of the world including Margaret Thatcher of UK and Bill Clinton and China bashing members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi, Chris Smith and Frank Wolf.

Wu was supposed to disburse $1 million per year as aid to dissidents but according to Morton Sklar, attorney for the plaintiffs, Wu never did. Sklar said to New York Times, “But Harry Wu saw the money as his own personal fund, to benefit his own activities.”

Jeff Fiedler, who helped Wu formed the LRF in 1992 and should know Wu better than anyone, left the board in 2011. He said, “Harry was uncooperative and saw the money as his alone. He became extremely unreasonable.”

Wu died while vacationing in Honduras and cause of death has not been publicly disclosed. Perhaps he would still be alive today if he did not come into all that “discretionary” funds for exotic vacations. Rather than speculating on what might have been, I have been following his career and would like to discuss the person that he became. How he lived his life can serve as a cautionary tale.

First an important disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the accuracy of anything I say about Wu that are drawn from his public utterances. The reason is because consistency in his public statements was never his strong suit. I stand behind everything else in this piece.

How did Wu ended up in China’s prison?

Just the explanation of how Wu ended up in China’s labor camp would be reflective of his carelessness with facts. At different occasions, Wu gave different answers. Sometimes he said he was persecuted because his father was a banker and therefore Wu had the wrong family background. But then he was asked why the government would allowed him to graduate from college in 1959 and did not send him to labor reform during the height of the anti-rightest movement between 1957 to 1959?

Oh then, may be it was because he voiced criticism of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolt. But that timing did not work either since the failed revolt also took place in 1956.

Another version which Wu had sneeringly referred to as the official Beijing line was that after graduation, Wu was assigned to a government job that would make use of his training in geology. He was caught taking money from a co-worker’s purse and that was how he made his first visit to China’s prison.

According to his own autobiography, Wu was in various prison camps from 1960 to 1979. If so, Wu would have been among the first batch to be released and allowed to return to civilian life as Deng Xiaoping returned to power and China began its reform.

In 1985, Wu came to the U.S. He claimed to have accepted an invitation to UC Berkeley as a visiting scholar; it was a curious invitation that came without any stipend. He frequently made proud reference to the fact that he came to America with just $40 in his pocket. I could not find anyone at Berkeley that would admit to having invited Wu.

As an alternate explanation, Wu had a sister living in San Francisco and it was possible that she sponsored his immigrating to the US. Less glamorous than being a visiting scholar but it would explain why Wu was allowed to remain in the America as a permanent resident. He and his sister hadn’t seen each other for 30 years and quickly found that they couldn’t stand each other’s company. He soon left her home and found work at a donut shop in Oakland.

Wu discovered his calling

Somehow the next year Wu was invited to speak about his prison experiences in China before a group of students at UC Santa Cruz. He gave an emotionally charged presentation that impressed the audience and thus Wu unwittingly found his life long calling. No more making donuts, he could just talk about his experiences in China’s prison system.

Ramon Myers, curator of East Asian Studies at Hoover Institution on Stanford heard about Wu and met with him. Myers wanted to know more about China’s prison system and gave Wu a small research grant to pursue a study. More importantly, Myers gave Wu access to the archives at Hoover. Long after the research grant had petered out, Wu continued to brandish his affiliation as a Hoover Research Fellow, a business card and title that conveyed priceless legitimacy on to Wu.

Then in 1991, Wu met Jeff Fiedler who was at the time secretary-treasurer of AFL-CIO Food and Allied Services Trade Department. I was not there but I would guess that it was mutual admiration at first sight. Okay, that might be too strong a description but each had something the other wanted.

Fiedler had a personal mandate which was to disrupt trade with China in any way he could. His logic was flawed but simple. Namely, low cost goods made in China took away jobs from American labor force. Wu could provide the ammunition Fiedler needed and Wu craved the cover of legitimacy that big organized labor could offer.

Laogai foundation founded by AFL-CIO

They founded Laogai Research Foundation to be based in Washington DC. “Laogai” was Chinese terminology for reform through labor and was the term used in China for a particular kind of prison camps. “Research,” I am sure, was Wu’s contribution having learned the bona fides that came with that word. For the early years, the so-called Washington headquarter of the foundation consisted of an extension with an answering machine in Fiedler’s department located in the AFL-CIO building.

To continue to burnish his credentials, it was necessary for Wu to gather research material by making field trips into China. His highest profile visit was to take Ed Bradley into China for a piece on 60 Minutes allegedly to expose prison made goods from China. He apparently did the same with BBC.

By the time Wu was ready to make another clandestine visit to China in 1995, he was a known and wanted person by China’s public security. He tried to enter China’s Xinjiang by way of Kazakhstan and was caught at the border entry. A female companion from AFL-CIO was detained with him.

It was hard to understand why Wu brought along a Caucasian woman at a remote border crossing if he wanted to keep a low profile and avoid detection, but it turned out to be a stroke of luck for him. The Chinese authorities had no reason to keep the woman in detention and released her within days. She then told the world that Harry Wu had been arrested.

The timing of Wu’s arrest was also fortunate for him. The International Women’s conference was to be held in Beijing later in the summer and first lady Hillary Clinton was to be the keynote speaker. Washington’s position was that without Wu’s release, there would be no first lady going to Beijing. Without that negotiation, Wu could have been facing another 19 years in China’s prison. He had become an American citizen a year earlier, so you could say he was three times lucky.

Wu became a world celebrity

Wu came back to the U.S. a world famous celebrity. Going under cover to China was no longer an option nor necessary; Wu became a popular speaker on the circuit. He appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was interviewed by Charlie Rose and spoke at schools and universities and of course testified before various sub-committees of Congress. (Anytime Congressman Chris Smith wanted to go on C-Span, he would call Wu in for a conversation.) His remarks became increasingly lurid and graphic and his anti-China position more extreme.

Shortly after his release from China, Wu joined the picket line at Boeing in Seattle. He was quoted by the local newspaper as saying, “The strike by Boeing members (of the machinist union) is really a strike against the Chinese government; a strike the American labor movement must win.” At the time the union accused Boeing of exporting jobs to China because Boeing agreed to subcontract manufacturing of certain sections of the 737 to China. (In retrospect, Boeing would not have made a fortune in airplane sales to China without the subcontract agreement.)

He led protesters before K-Mart stores claiming that most of the merchandise inside was made by prison labor in China. Cheap goods from China made by prison labor became an important high profile issue for Wu. To disrupt bilateral trade with China, Wu went around the country claiming that practically everything made in China came from the prisons. This was in the era before Apple introduced iPods made by Taiwanese contractors in China, and Wu could get away with extravagant claims before a poorly informed American public.

In 1998, James Seymour and Richard Anderson published a scholarly study of China’s laogai penal system, “New Ghosts, Old Ghosts.” The book was widely acclaimed for its objectivity and dispassionate analysis.

Their findings disagreed with Wu’s wildly disparate estimates of the number of prison camps in China and the number of prisoners. They estimated that China prison labor could not have contributed more than one-tenth of one percent to China’s GDP. The real difference was that theirs was a rigorous study based on accepted academic practices; Wu would not have known what that meant.

Wu took on the World Bank

In 1996, Wu led the protest against the World Bank for financing an irrigation project in Xinjiang. Wu charged that the project would benefit the laogai camps in Xinjiang. He found out that a Fan Shidong had been recently released from a Xinjiang laogai and was living in Hong Kong.

Wu flew to Hong Kong to meet him and offered to pay all his expenses if Fan would agree to testify before Congress against the World Bank project. Fan refused saying that the irrigation project would benefit the local Uighurs and had nothing to do with the prison camps. Fan later revealed his encounter with Wu to the ethnic press after he immigrated to the U.S.

As Wu basked in international recognition including Nobel Peace prize nominations and spoke in the European circuit as well as in the U.S., those that knew him intimately became increasingly disenchanted with his actions.

By late 1996, Ramon Myers, who made Wu a “Hoover scholar,” said to LA Times, “We do our work in a very fair, objective way. It doesn’t help us any when Harry Wu is affiliated with us and he’s peddling his stuff in every parliament in the world. I regret, frankly, that he was ever at Hoover.”

Chinese American community disenchanted with Wu

On one occasion Wu visited Columbia University to speak and receive some sort of recognition. While lining up for some refreshments, he was delighted to meet Li Qiang, a student at Columbia, who was originally from Shanghai. Wu said he was homesick for the opportunity to speak in their local dialect. Li took the opportunity to point out to Wu that contrary to his public remarks, China’s human rights conditions had never been better in the last 50 years. Wu said, “Yes, yes but the Americans know nothing. Let’s just talk between us.”

Even as Wu became more facile with his English speaking ability, he missed the fellowship of speaking to compatriots of his homeland. Ironically, the Chinese American community was increasingly outraged by his public remarks and activities. One of his best-known publicity stunts was to use a secretly taken video of an operating room in China performing an open-heart surgery and claiming that the video was documenting the process of harvesting of kidneys from prisoners.

Ignatius Ding, a leader of a democracy in China movement in Silicon Valley, spontaneously organized in response to the visceral TV images of June 4 in Tiananmen, was an early supporter of Harry Wu. By the end of 1996, he offered a rueful observation to the LA Times that Wu had no supporters from his own ethnic Chinese community, just members of Congress. Later I asked Ding why he made that comment. He said, “I support the cause of helping the Chinese dissidents but I cannot condone Wu’s methodology. He pushed the envelope way too far.”

It was not much later that Wu sold his home in Milpitas and moved to the DC area. Thus he left the largest community of Chinese Americans in the U.S. that shunned him to be near the Congressional community that adored him.

After Wu’s death, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida who succeeded the late Tom Lantos wrote a eulogy on Harry Wu, “After a hearing on Yahoo’s collusion with Beijing in suppressing Internet freedom, Harry stepped in on behalf of those who had been imprisoned and their families.” She apparently was not aware of the charges that Harry stepped in not for anyone but his own pockets.

The tragedy of Harry Wu was that he didn’t just soak up all the funds that could have benefitted dissident families in financial distress; he also sucked up the oxygen from with other dissidents. His distortions and exaggerations corrupted the very issues that the dissidents wanted to raise against the Beijing regime. The truths that could have stood on their own merits and let the society decide were no longer possible as they were covered by the slime from Harry Wu.

Three birds of a feather

There are others that have made a career out of Harry Wu school of China bashing. Two comes to my mind. Gordon G. Chang wrote about “The Coming Collapse of China” in 2001. A decade later, China’s economy was on verge of quadrupling, surely not a sign of collapse? Undaunted, Chang boldly affirmed that he was merely off in his prediction and confidently predicted that the collapse will most certainly take place in 2012.

It is now 2016 and his fellow traveler, Peter Navarro came to Chang’s rescue. Navarro also affirmed that Chang’s prediction was just around the corner, except he was smart enough not to say when, thus leaving room to review the collapse question every ten years or so. It’s no coincidence that Navarro was also the person that produced the video tribute to Harry Wu’s life posted on the LRF website. Three birds of a feather flock together?

Featherweight credentials notwithstanding, their anti-China messages continue to find a willingly receptive audience, and they will continue to be interviewed by the media and invited to testify before Congress. And we Americans will continue to suffer from the endless charade (and parade) of charlatans.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Donald Trump has the GOP boxed in

This item first appeared in Asia Times.

According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was so much in love with his own reflection in the water that he fell in and drowned. In the case of Trump, America is in danger of drowning because of his grandiose sense of self-importance. Elders of the Grand Old Party are wondering whether they should organize the salvage operations before the shipwreck or after.
Even at the risk of incurring a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, it’s hard to resist piling on Donald the Trump. This past week, everybody it seems has been dumping on Donald.
Donald Trump
If Donald Trump loses the election, GOP elders will find it hard to explain why he hijacked the nomination and how such hijacking will never happen again
This war hero for president has been quick to remind us that by getting a deferment in the nick of time, he narrowly escaped capture by the Viet Congs. His tour of duty lives in his vivid imagination, as he has been quick to remind us.
His record of war service and sacrifice entitled him to deride Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Khan only wanted to compare the loss of his son, Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, with Trump’s alleged sacrifices.
Consistent with Trump’s rash and brash style, one of his handlers on national TV promptly blamed the death of the brave American, Captain Khan, on Obama and Hillary Clinton four years before President Obama was elected into the White House.
Trump himself could have said, “See, if I had been President then, I would have banned the entry of all Muslims and Captain Khan would still be alive today —probably somewhere in Pakistan.”
Trump’s religious and evangelical supporters have gone so far as to suggest that Khan is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood sent to the U.S. to infiltrate into the Democratic Party and undermine America.
The religious right of Trump’s camp seemed to have forgotten that Jesus said to love thy neighbors; he did not say to love only thy neighbors who are Christians.
At the garden of Gethsemane, the Roman soldiers asked Peter three times if he was a follower of Jesus. According to Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, Trump asked a foreign policy adviser three times that if we have nuclear weapons, then why can’t we use them? The religious right might appreciate the parallel and irony.
Drawing from the “me, me, & me” personality described by the ghostwriter of his best selling book, it is not far-fetched to imagine a Trump at the White House press conference before a worldwide audience. “Look at me folks, please look at me,” he says with commensurate pomp, “I’ve got my finger on the button, oops…”
It’s not fair to his candidacy to only treat it as a mere laughing matter. Trump for president has potential deadly consequences. Therefore the leadership of GOP (Grand Old Party) has a challenge before them.
Do they somehow repudiate him now or could they keep their collective heads buried in the sand and hope for the best? Perhaps if Trump somehow does win the November election, the GOP can pick up the pooper-scoopers and go to work then.
Since it won’t be in Trump’s personality to deal with the minutia of running a country nor the patience to dig into and understand the nuances of domestic and international issues, we can hope and pray that the vice president and White House staff would go about running the country behind the scenes.
They can easily keep Trump distracted by letting him soak up all the attention that only a POTUS can attract. The staff can even organize a daily parade down Pennsylvania Avenue featuring President Trump for national TV.
If, on the other hand, Trump were to go down in a massive defeat as many are now predicting, on post election, the GOP will have a huge challenge on their hands on how to regain the trust and confidence of the American voters.
It will be difficult at that point for the elders of the party to explain with any credibility as to how they let someone like Trump hijack the nomination. And how, as a new GOP rises from the ashes, hijacking the top of the ticket will never happen again.
By declining to endorse Trump in his speech at the GOP national convention — he got the limelight and his announcement for 2020 too —, Senator Ted Cruz has already decided to jump ship and push off from the impending shipwreck.
Cruz has been disliked almost as much as Trump by the party rank and file. The party elders probably would also want to fix the future format and process for nominations that would give candidates of substance the opportunity to strut their stuff and stand a fair chance of gaining the nomination without having to sing his/her own praise of me, me & me.
Speaking of jumping ship, some Republican luminaries have already announced that they won’t be voting for Trump. Some have even said that they would vote for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The list of defectors include Mitt Romney, former candidate for president; Meg Whitman, former candidate for governor of California; Barbara Bush, former first lady and wife of George W; Hank Paulson, former Secretary of Treasury; Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state; Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of NYC; and a list of Senators and House of Representatives too numerous to mention.
And oh yes, the men of the Bush family, George H.W., George W. and Jeb have all also publicly indicated that they would not be voting for Trump.
The extent of disaffection is unprecedented and mutual. Donald Trump declined to endorse the re-election of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain, himself former candidate for the presidency, for a long time before grudgingly doing so. Both prominent Republicans are undoubtedly having mixed feelings over his tepid endorsement.
According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was so in love with his reflection in the water that he fell in and drowned. In the case of Trump, America is in danger of drowning because of his grandiose sense of self-importance.
The party elders of the Grand Old Party are in a collective quandary. Do they organize the salvage operations before the shipwreck or after? Can they save the country and their party? Can they save the country if they sacrifice their party? Or, are we doomed?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Is Tsai Giving up Claims in South China Sea?

This first appeared in Asia Times.
The soap opera known as the South China Sea dispute apparently has more to run. The proverbial fat lady that sings the finale is nowhere in sight.
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen has taken the lead role in the latest episode. While her initial objections to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling were regarded as consistent with general expectations, her subsequent action surprised many.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen visits a La Fayette-class fridate at a naval base in the southern county of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (C) visits a La Fayette-class frigate at a naval base in the southern county of Kaohsiung, Taiwan July 13, 2016. Military News Agency/ via REUTERS
She objected to her government not being invited to the proceedings. She resented being called the “Taiwan Authority of China,”—she doesn’t even like to be known as leader of Republic of China on Taiwan. Lastly, she objected to the judges blithely ignoring Taiping’s natural features of a real island. So far, so good.
Then a strange thing happened. Almost immediately after the PCA ruling was made public, Taiwan’s coast guard boats set forth to patrol the waters around the Taiping Island as an expression of defiance. But Tsai’s military head commanded the boats already at sea to return to Taiwan.
The reason for a vigorous protest was that if the PCA ruling was allowed to stand, Taiwan was at risk of losing the internationally accepted 200-mile economic exclusion zone that goes with an island but not with any reefs, rocks or sandbars.
Taiwan fishermen defied Tsai
Five boats of Taiwanese fishermen, festooned with the blue, white and red national ROC flags, also set forth on the six-day, one-way voyage from Taiwan to reaffirm Taiwan’s ownership of the island. The Tsai government forbade the sailing claiming that they needed to apply for a permit 45 days in advance.
Half of the original ten fishing boats were intimidated by the government threat of punishment and did not sail. The other five decided to ignore the unreasonable regulation retroactively imposed. Upon arrival, one of the boats was not allowed to dock at the pier on Taiping.
Tsai’s reasoning for keeping the people on the fifth boat from going onshore was that the boat had working journalists for “foreign” entity on board. The so-called foreign journalists were well known Taiwan citizens based in Taiwan and employed by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.
All of a sudden, Taiping Island in the middle of South China Sea has become a militarily sensitive area in need of security measures against Taiwan’s own citizens. Pundits in Taiwan accused Tsai of not wanting any exhibition of nationalism that would offend the U.S. and Japan.
The fishing boats returned in triumph with samples of potable water taken from the wells on the island and sand from the island as trophies of their high seas journey. The fishermen received a hero’s welcome from the people but faced an uncertain future as they wait to hear the fine the Tsai administration will levy on them for their so-called breach of security.
Derision from the media has been growing daily. They accuse Tsai of giving up claims of sovereignty and the livelihood of current and future generations of fishermen in order to please her masters in Tokyo and Washington—hugging Uncle Sam’s thigh was their colorful expression.
Tsai’s approval rating plummeted
At the outset, 70% of the people in Taiwan were in favor of Tsai leading a contingent to the Taiping Island to plant the ROC flag for the world to see. She evaded the public clamor and did not make the flight. Instead, eight legislators from KMT side of the aisle did.
According to one of the latest polls, in just two months in office, Tsai’s approval rating has already plummeted to a record low of 8.4%. It took her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, four years to drop to a single digit.
Others credit Tsai with more devious scheme than just being weak and indecisive. Even though the airstrip on Taiping was constructed under Taiwan’s first DPP administration, by Chen Shui-bian, Tsai’s inner circle has been revisiting the question as to whether the U-shaped, dash-line claims of South China Sea continue to be relevant to DPP interest.
They concluded that by giving up on Taiping and claims of the U-shape boundary on South China Sea, DPP could make a clean break from the historical ties to ROC and common cause with Mainland China.  It would facilitate Tsai breaking away from the need to acknowledging the one-China consensus and finally laying a claim for an independent, albeit slightly smaller, Taiwan.
By allowing the only naturally occurring island to be redefined as a rock, no one can lay claim to a 200-mile economic exclusion zone in the South China Sea. Thus, in helping the U.S. and Japan accomplish their objective, which is to declare South China Sea as belonging to no one, Tsai is counting on the two “friends” in the event of armed conflict with Beijing.
Whether the people of Taiwan will go along with her strategy remains to be seen and whether Beijing will continue to allow Taiwan to enjoy a subsidy in the form of near $30 billion trade surplus also remains to be seen. Given her remarks in the exclusive interview with the Washington Post, which aroused the ire of the people both in Taiwan and across the strait, the future seemed dark.
Philippines having second thoughts
On the other hand, the Philippines is one country having second thoughts of being a proxy for the U.S. in the South China Sea dispute.
The U.S. has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and has no claims in the South China Sea, not even a submerged coral reef. America needed a stand-in to litigate against China’s claims. That was Philippines.
Rigoberto Tiglao, formerly in charge of Philippines’ presidential office, now writes for Manila Times. He said the suit for arbitration was filed at the behest of the United States. He suggested that Washington needed to reimburse Manila for the $30 million spent on the arbitration suit.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration charged about $3 million for secretarial services that included the use of the hearing room at a rate of Euro 1,000/day. Besides the generous compensation for the American lawyer acting for Philippines, how much of the rest went into the pockets of the judges, he wondered.
That the American intervention has been way over the top is also the judgement of Alberto Encomienda, former official of Philippines Foreign Affairs department.
Antonio Valdes, former undersecretary of education, said a one-sided arbitration without the agreement and participation of the other party to the arbitration was meaningless. The ruling was merely a legal opinion without the force of law.
The PCA has been around for more than 100 years. On the average, it provided arbitration services for about three cases every 20 years. Most of the times, major powers ignored rulings that they didn’t like. The body rents space at the building in The Hague belonging to the International Court but PCA has no connection with the international court or with the UN.
Kerry saw the wisdom of bilateral talks
Even Secretary John Kerry saw the futility of pursuing the PCA sham ruling when the closing statement of the ASEAN conference in Laos omitted any mention of  the arbitration ruling that the Philippines just won. The closing statement was supposed to represent the consensus of the ASEAN members. He now liked the idea of bilateral talks between Philippines and China.
Does that mean he will honor the $30 million invoice from Manila? Who knows. At least the Philippines government by looking forward is betting that collaboration with China will lead to infrastructure investments worth many times the fee paid to PCA.
At this point, Tsai might be feeling a bit lonely. When the Post asked her about the decline of tourists from mainland, a non-trivial part of Taiwan’s local economy, Tsai rather lamely hoped that Taiwan could attract tourists from elsewhere.
As for the trade surplus with the mainland, Tsai said to the Post that the surplus is declining and in any case the mainland is becoming more of a competitor. She bravely claimed that Taiwan could develop its economy via other avenues independent of the relations Taiwan has with the mainland.
Tsai is no fat lady and she is not ready to sing the finale in triumph or tragedy. The drama rolls on.