A brief look at Taiwan

Last time I wrote about China’s 2012, but I don’t have much to say about Taiwan. Politically, Ma ying-jeou got reelected, and by a bigger margin than expected, despite his approval rating dropping drastically nonstop. Taiwan settled its beef dispute with the US and promptly got US Visa waitver status, meaning holders of Taiwan passports don’t need a visa to visit the US. Economically, there’ve been grumbles over salaries not rising much in the past few years and GDP growth being miniscule. Sportswise, Linsanity swept across Taiwan earlier this year, and promptly wound down as he got injured, then traded. Yani Tseng continued her reign as the world’s number one female golfer. In the Olympics, Taiwan won a measly 2 medals. In terms of industry, HTC experienced a shocking slump that saw its worldwide market share drop by a half as it consistently got outpaced by Korea’s Samsung.

Personally, I don’t see Taiwan becoming more open or progressive in its outlook or attitude. There’re still a lot of dislike towards mainland China, yet Taiwan isn’t trying hard to be more open to other Asian countries, developing countries, or the West. I feel there’s a lot of insularity, that seems to be more prevalent despite its prosperity. I even have a feeling that Taiwan might be going the way of Japan, where its prosperity has made it become more insular and even satisfied with turning away from the world. On one occasion, a departmental head in a Taiwan university defended Taipei as a global city by saying that that English was much less widely spoken in Tokyo than Taipei, and he added to another question that Japanese professors who get their degrees in Western schools find it hard to gain employment in Japan schools.

I always knew Taiwan was a pretty safe place, especially Taipei. Whether you’re a guy or girl, no matter what time of day or night, it’s safe enough to walk around in most parts of Taipei, with little chance of being robbed, murdered or physically assaulted. Taiwan’s murder rate bears this out, with an impressive low of 686 murders being committed in 2011 (see below for the numbers for the last 20 years). Even 686 seems high, given how little I read of murders in the news. Taiwan’s population is 23 million, so this works out to about 30 murders per million. This is a stark contrast to Trinidad (population 1.2 million), which will have at least 379 murders this year, which is actually better than previous years when totals of 400-something and even 500-something were common. However, out of curiosity, I checked Hong Kong’s murder rates, and the numbers are even lower, making Taiwan’s numbers seem skyhigh. In 2011, Hong Kong registered a grand total of 17 murders (Click on the years to see the stats). However, this year has seen a terrible increase of murders to 22 (Jan. – Oct.). Japan is famous for having low numbers of serious crime as well, and developing China generally is a safe place, with murders, or rapes, not being high either. It’s safe to say that East Asia in general is really safe in terms of not many murders take place. By coincidence, I read in the news today that New York City will see its lowest murder rate in almost 50 years. New York had 414 murders this year, down from 515 last year. The population of New York City is 19 million, which makes it safer than Taiwan in terms of murders. Which is interesting, to say the least. So maybe Taiwan isn’t that safe in general or its media doesn’t cover murders a lot?

Tw mrder rates 2012-12-29_200226

Screenshot of the Murder statistics PDF taken from Taiwan’s National Police Agency.
There are some who tend to be overly complementary about Taiwan, that small things get blown out of proportion and praise is lavished extravagantly. One such article about Taiwan with these attributes appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Recently, a major news story in Taiwan is the impending sale of the Taiwan branches of Next Media, which includes the notorious Apply Daily, to a group of investors. The Apple Daily is quite popular, being full of scandalous and trashy stories, and the epitome of successful  superficial journalism. However what makes their sale controversial is that their former owner, Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, is a noted China critic and isn’t afraid to criticize mainland China. The people he’s selling to include business magnates who do business in China. This has worried some people in Taiwan, who fear the local newspaper market being dominated by outlets sympathetic to China. Some students protested in November against this, prompting observers such as this guy to see it as a major student movement, akin to the Taiwan democracy movement in the 1980s where students played a role. The article is full of lofty phrases and descriptions of a growing political awareness among Taiwan youth, which seem convincing, until you reach the part where it saysstudent groups, operating under the “Alliance Against Media Monsters,” launched two protests in late November that brought together 500 students from 37 universities nationwide.” I had to take a double take. 500 students from 37 universities (a whopping average of 13.5 per school) protesting does not a popular student mass movement make. I’m surprised the Wall Street Journal allowed a commentary with such weak reasoning to be published. It is admirable that a few hundred students will protest an issue like this, but this is a pitifully low number, which given the size of Taiwan’s population and youth, is definitely not anywhere near a movement. Personally I feel that while there is legitimate reason to worry about media monopolization, Taiwan’s media, whether pro-blue (KMT) or pro-green (DPP), don’t generally exercise much genuine and worthy journalism (admittedly I can’t read Chinese, but given that many Taiwanese don’t respect the media much, and given the way how TV news is, I doubt that Chinese-language newspapers are much better). Even a decent news and business magazine like CommonWealth comes out with foolish article headlines like this.


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