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Abbott Delivers Clock of Death to Taiwan’s President

The governor unintentionally gives an inappropriate gift.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

When the Godfather‘s Sonny Corleone received a fish wrapped in brown paper from a rival mob family, he immediately interpreted the Sicilian message—his top henchman had been killed. Governor Greg Abbott certainly didn’t have sinister intentions when he gave the president of Taiwan a present this week, but his goodwill gesture—a clock with the Texas seal—is the Chinese version of “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes,” according to Foreign Affairs magazine.

Admittedly, few of us might have imagined that a clock holds such meaning in Chinese culture, and obviously Abbott didn’t realize the faux pas when he presented President Tsai Ing-wen with the clock. According to Foreign Affairs, “give a clock” sounds like “attend a funeral” in Mandarin, so gifting a clock is “highly taboo.” Tsai gave Abbott a vase, which as far as we know is not offensive in Chinese or American culture. The governor, however, isn’t the first person to make this mistake. According to Foreign Affairs:

In fact, in 2015, Baroness Susan Kramer, then-British minister of state for transport, gave Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je a pocket watch on a visit to Taiwan. Though Ko noted that he did not believe in such superstitions, he also joked that he might sell it to a scrap metal dealer. Kramer apologized, insisting that she did not know of the taboo. “I had no idea a gift like this could be seen as anything other than positive: In the U.K. a watch is precious — because nothing is more important than time,” she said.

Tsai’s meeting in Houston with Abbott and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz comes on the heels of President-elect Donald Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president, which upset China. China does not recognize Taiwan as a separate country.

Abbott’s office provided us with a letter from Patrick Ho, the Taiwan divisional director for the economic and cultural office in Houston, assuring the governor the clock was not an insult:

Regarding the clock as a gift, please rest assured that the President loves it very much because in our culture the word “clock” pronounced as “zhong” also means “zhong xin” (in English “wholehearted, heartfelt and cordial” or “best wholehearted wishes”). So it is no problem at all!

Texas has a long history of doing business with Taiwanese companies. Formosa Plastics has a plant located in Point Comfort, the Westinghouse electric motor plan in Round Rock recently changed its name to TECO-Westinghouse after a merger with a Taiwanese company, and the state does about $6 billion a year in exports to Taiwan.

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  • WUSRPH

    Since Abbott and Cruz both went out of their way to insult the Mainland Chinese, I wonder if Texas trade delegations to China will find a colder reception in the future and whether the word has come down to back off on any new investments here. The Chinese have a way of letting you know they are unhappy.

    I’m waiting till he offers his left hand to a Saudi prince.

  • Just a minor point for all those Godfather fan’s out there: Vito Corleone did not receive the fish. He was in the hospital recovering from an assassination attempt. The fish was directly received by Salvatore Tessio who then brought it to Vito’s son Sonny and his other Capo. 🙂

    • BCinBCS

      Wasted youth?

  • Fred Talmadge

    Maybe a little sensitivity to other cultures would be a good.

  • grubber

    Not quite as bright as Rick Perry.

  • St. Anger

    isn’t it unconstitutional for states to have foreign policies and sign international trade agreements?

    maybe this is why.

    • José

      You’re probably thinking of Article I, Section 10.
      Part 1:
      “No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation…”
      And Part 2:
      “No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws…”
      And Part 3:
      “No State shall…enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign power…”

      I’m no Constitutional scholar but it appears to me that trade agreements fall outside of these restrictions. The context of Part 3 is military and defense, not commerce.

  • WUSRPH

    It has to do with China….but really off thread:

    As many of you can confirm, I have had some weird thoughts in my day…..but today I had one of, if not the,
    weirdest…….That being that there is actually a grand strategy behind Trump’s actions toward China—a strategy that goes beyond making trade fairer or bringing jobs back to America to actually bringing China to its knees and
    ending the threat of it being a great power for some years to come.

    The policy, if there is one, would be based on the pattern established by President Reagan’s Administration
    that by waging an arms race brought the Soviet Union to the edge of national bankruptcy and, ultimately, to its collapse. That arms race diverted more and more resources away from the Russian economy, heightening public unrest and dissatisfaction with the leadership and the direction of the country. The result, after a last-ditch effort for “reform”, was a political and economic collapse. Russia, the remnant of what was once the Soviet Empire, is still 25 years later struggling to regain a portion of the power and influence it enjoyed prior to that
    collapse. The hope might be the same could be the case with a China of the future.

    An arms race will probably be a only a small part of any policy to do the same to China since China is less
    likely to be led down the path of diverting more and more of its recourses from its economic development efforts. It already spends the second highest amount on what we call defense (after the US) and likely will see no real need for more. Instead, the core of any Trump policy to weaken China could be a trade war designed to reduce its ability to sell its goods abroad.

    Such a trade war—complete with high tariffs and import bans on Chinese goods—will be sold to the US public
    as being designed to make our trade “fairer” and to encourage more manufacturing and jobs in the U.S. The
    fact that this may happen, however, could be only an offshoot of the real purpose—-which is to bring the Chinese economy to a halt leading to not one but dozens of Tiananmen Squares (ala 1989) and, hopefully, to the collapse of the current governing structure.

    What makes this possible is the current “half-way there” status of the Chinese economy which, unlike us, lacks the depth of an internal consumer market to make up for the loss of exports to the U.S. What makes China more susceptible to this threat is that in many ways it is still two separate economies—-a modernizing industrial economy located along the coast and the north and vast inland areas where little in the daily life of the millions of peasants has yet to be changed. China is working hard to develop internal markets, but there are just so many Apple devices other export goods its economy can absorb.

    History seems to suggest that most revolutions take place when “rising expectations” are not met….and a major setback to China’s two economies could produce two groups of people with just those kinds of expectations not being fulfilled. The first would be the millions who have been drawn into the modern export-oriented economy who have rising expectations of even a better life to come. The second would be the peasant masses who look upon the wealth being enjoyed by the other segment of the population and wonder when its wonders will reach
    them. However, A major cooling of the Chinese economy, cut off from its major markets—particularly the US—-and, by necessity, forced to make major cuts in its work force, could give rise to the kind of disappointed expectations that produce massive unrest and undermine the current government.

    The situation is made even more complex in that many in China today accept the limited rights they enjoy under the “communist”, but more authoritarian government, as being offset by the economic boom that has so improved the lives of millions and offers the hope of more to the rest. They accept those restraints because of the material goods it offers or the promise of future improvements. Would they be willing to do so if the economy no longer produced or promised those benefits?

    As I said, some weird thoughts. Anyone have any comments?

    (NB …When I refer to Trump or the Trump policy I do not mean to suggest that Trump, himself, fully understands or grasps the ideas being put forth by those advising him but only that, when a policy is adopted by an Administration, it is identified with the name of the President. Such, you may note, was the case with the strategy adopted by the George W. Bush Administration in the Middle East. It was developed and pushed through by others but, as the man who had to finally say “yes” he gets the blame or the credit.)

    • BCinBCS

      I’m glad that you added the last paragraph because there is no way in hell that Comrade Trump could come up with that strategy. It’s an interesting concept. If it is an actual policy, who do you think developed it and convinced Comrade Trump to begin implementing it?

      • WUSRPH

        Assuming for one minute that there is some validity to this idea, who came up with it is a hard question….In one way it raises questions in the back of my mind about the concept of some on-going “establishment” that behind our daily lives helps shapes events and policies. That is one area where I am not prepared to go at this point. However, who, if there is a who, is likely to be some nerd in the equivalent of my old basement office in the Capitol who is encouraged to have wild thoughts about public policy. (Having played a tiny bit of that role myself I like that idea.) This one would have been be in some foreign policy think tank…..RAND, the Council on Foreign Relations, or any of the ilk. The idea is then considering at various levels and works its way toward those who actually make the decisions—along the way being floated among wider circles until finally it reaches some public notice.

        Something similar happened to the idea of bankrupting the Soviets or otherwise putting their system under such strain that they would be taken over internally by a new generation of leaders (some of whom might even be Georgians as at least one of the major earlier ones was)….This concept was floated several times even in works of fiction including a work called “The Third World War” and, I believe, in some of the Tom Clancy pulp and elsewhere…..Something like this could be happening here.

        Of course, it is far more likely that I just had a weird idea…..but that is what those nerds in the basement do.

        • BCinBCS

          I was asking mostly out of curiosity.

          I assumed that it would have had to be an individual since any policy coming up through the basement-think tank process probably would be something that I would have heard prior to now. Of course, as you said, it might have simply been a weird thought floating in your head.