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Saturday, January 09, 2010

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Taiwan's "Erosion of Justice" saga continues

A course in dissembling

Beginning in November 2008, when former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was first jailed after a long trial by media, a series of open letters on the erosion of justice in Taiwan under the administration of current President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) began. Fourteen months later, the deceptive replies to these letters still come, and each time, they fail to honestly and logically address the issues within. Below, I will discuss the latest of these replies.

January 8, 2009
Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) churned out "A GIO response to Richard Kagan" (Professor Emeritus of History at Hamline University and one of the signatories of the November 9, 2009 "Open letter to President Ma Ying-jeou by 30 international scholars" who separately wrote a criticism of Su's nonsensical reply to an earlier open letter). Kagan's letter appeared in the Taipei Times exactly two weeks prior but was not covered here on this blog.

However, I must tackle this "response" which is riddled with problems and avoids addressing the facts in Kagan's letter head-on. I will put Su's response in blockquoted black text, and my comments will appear in full width. To distinguish the single quote from Kagan's letter which appears here, it will appear in green blockquoted text.

After a brief introduction, these are Su's second and third paragraphs:
Professor Kagan expresses doubts about why a democratic country such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) would seek to develop closer relations with mainland China, which is not a democracy. As an historian, he surely must know that all members of the international community should and must develop relations with each other, regardless of differences in political systems or even bilateral disagreements over specific issues. The US engages in trade and security cooperation with non-democratic countries throughout the world, yet few question how this might affect US democracy.

Similarly, the Republic of China needs to develop relations with all members of the international community to ensure the best interests of the people of Taiwan. It is an internationally accepted fact that mainland China is growing in economic and strategic importance. When the international community wishes to solve major international problems, it increasingly finds that it must engage with Beijing to help find a solution. The US is working more closely than ever with the mainland to deal with managing the global financial crisis, handling the North Korean situation and countering global terrorism. As an integral member of the international community, Taiwan needs to engage with mainland China for many of the same reasons, regardless of any cross-strait differences.
Su is comparing apples and oranges by writing as if other people don't realize that China wants to annex Taiwan while the vast majority of Taiwanese people don't want to be part of that authoritarian foreign regime and that those in Beijing hold great leverage over those in Taipei. The phrase "cross-strait differences" doesn't give you any idea that these differences entail the governments of two nations claiming to rule the entirety of each others territory -- dangerous claims which have hung over the lives of people in both countries (but mostly those in Taiwan) for over six decades.

Note how Su says "a democratic country such as the Republic of China (Taiwan)" above, yet in nearly every other case he treats Taiwan as a mere region. How can anyone take him at his word?

Here's Su's next paragraph:
However, this is absolutely not in any way at the expense of Taiwan's hard-won democracy. This administration has consistently stressed since taking office that all its policies and interaction with Beijing shall be based on the principle of "putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people." If improving ties had led to the appalling result Dr Kagan posits of Beijing controlling the dialogue and always getting what it wants, why was no double taxation avoidance agreement signed during the Chiang-Chen [Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林)] cross-strait talks in December, despite being on the agenda? The answer is simple: Disputed details in the wording of the agreement did not accord with the aforementioned principle, so we were not going to sign it, and did not.
He ignores what -- despite promises from Beijing -- has happened to Hong Kong in the past 12 and a half years and talks about the "double taxation" issue as if China won't still benefit by collecting those taxes from Taiwanese businesses. Beijing loses nothing on that point, but Su has weakened the foundation of his own argument.

Su also completely omits the fact that the talks regarding an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) -- which Chinese officials say "will certainly bring about complete unification of the motherland [sic] -- have been anything but transparent and have not been subject to legislative oversight. Su skirts around this just below with the phrase "involving domestic laws." Read carefully:
The fact that these talks took place between the respectively authorized representative organizations of both sides — the SEF and ARATS — debunks the myth that the cross-strait dialogue is being conducted party-to-party, rather than government-to-government. The Legislative Yuan must approve any accord worked out with ARATS involving domestic laws. Only this administration, duly elected by the voters in Taiwan — and not any political party at either end of the political spectrum — sets cross-strait policy and speaks on behalf of the people of Taiwan.
Minister Su acts as if no one heard that Taiwan's Straits [sic] Exchange Foundation (海峽交流基金會) chairman and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vice-chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) recently referred to himself as nothing but a "rubber stamp" in these so-called negotiations.

There's also the strange issue of why the Ma administration won't allow a referendum on the issue, even though the number of signatures collected to initiate the process was nearly double the required threshold. That's not "speak[ing] on behalf of the people of Taiwan," Mr. Su.

While Su dished out some "tough" talk about how much control this government could exert just two blockquotes above, he does a 180 below and says that his government has no control over anything:
Professor Kagan's letter also dwelled on the disingenuous complaint that using "Chinese Taipei" as the name of our country in international events and organizations signals a deliberate diminution of national sovereignty. Taiwan's participation in such events under the rubric "Chinese Taipei" during previous administrations did not diminish national sovereignty, nor can it do so now. This government has always sought and continues to vigorously seek the use of our official name, "Republic of China," or at least "Taiwan," in such situations. However, given Taiwan's unique international status, use of our national title is beyond our control. We warmly welcome support from Dr Kagan and his colleagues for the correct use of our national title by international events and organizations hereafter.
It actually is entirely under your control whether you choose to participate using such names and whether you do so gladly (as in the World Health Organization [WHO] fiasco which did damage to Taiwan's sovereignty) or under protest, as the DPP would have done.

Su's jeremiad continues:
The mantra that democracy in Taiwan is less robust than before utterly conflicts with reality. Domestic political debate in Taiwan is as spirited and vigorous as ever. The local media scrutinize every action of this administration closely, and public demonstrations on political issues of every kind are commonplace. Any concerns that Taiwan is reverting to one-party rule were surely dispelled by the results of local elections held last month. KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] candidates for mayor and county magistrate posts received 47.88 percent of the nationwide vote, while DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] candidates garnered 45.32 percent. There is no clearer proof that the people of Taiwan have the absolute power to choose their government.
Here, Su ignores the Chinese KMT's continued drive to take over Taiwan's Public TV (PTS, 公共電視). Furthermore, he confuses gains in city, county, and township elections with having both a balanced legislature and a president who listens to majority opinion without oppressing minorities or stupidly telling aboriginals out loud that "I see you as humans," as Ma did before being elected to office.

Su ends his letter like this:
The people of Taiwan have every reason to be proud of the democracy and freedom they have achieved. Taiwan continues to shape the debate on whether democracy is attainable in the Chinese-speaking world, even as cross-strait ties improve. We remain resolutely confident that the undeniable fact of democratic attainment in Taiwan will ultimately prove just as, or even more, powerful to spur positive developments on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait. That can only be to the benefit of the people of Taiwan and those of the mainland, as well as the world in general.
Look at the language he uses: "Chinese-speaking world" is a culturally-imperialist phrase which ignores Taiwan's many other languages; "cross-strait" is an adjective which hides the fact that two separate countries are being discussed; and Su's repeated use of the word "mainland" (when he means "China") also reveals how he see's Taiwan's status as a lesser entity. (I'm sure discerning readers can find even more to criticize in the above paragraph.)

The minister also must think that you, the reader, have forgotten that while former President Chen has been in jail for over a year now, the Ma administration's "Ministry of Just Us" apparently still hasn't collected enough real evidence to convincingly convict him of the life sentence which has already been handed down and is instead using judicial pressure to try to get those close to Chen -- even his former housekeeper -- to squeal.

All of these things are clear signs of the continued erosion of justice, freedom of the press, and democracy, even if -- in Mr. Su's mind -- it's all sweetness and light.

Full Political Alchemist
Oh, and by the way, Su didn't dare address this important bit from Professor Kagan's letter which demonstrates the GIO minister's lack of logical skills:
Su claims that Taiwan's ranking in the report on 180 countries issued by Transparency International rose to No. 37. This statement reveals political alchemy at its best. For instance, Taiwan's score in 2007 was 34. Numerically it did rise to 37. But the higher a country gets, the greater the index of corruption. Somalia is rated at No. 180. In fact, Taiwan fell into greater corruption by three points.
Can you say "fail"?

The prequels
Don't forget the earlier parts of this long-running series, listed here in chronological order:
* November 6, 2008: Scholars and writers from around the world publish an "Open letter on erosion of justice in Taiwan." The same letter -- as an online petition -- has been signed by more than 2,000 people.

* November 25, 2008: Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) calls the open letter "inaccurate."

* December 2, 2008: "Eroding justice: Open letter No. 2" counters Wang Ching-feng's claims.

* January 8, 2009: Over a month later, Wang Ching-feng comes up with "clarif[ications]" regarding the open-letter writers' so-called "misunderstandings."

* January 21, 2009: "Eroding justice: Open letter No. 3" is addressed to President Ma Ying-jeou.

* January 24, 2009: Two more "US-based Taiwan experts add [their] names to open letter [No. 3]."

* January 25, 2009: President Ma claims the public had gained confidence in the judiciary in 2008 -- the exact opposite of what this Taiwan News article tells us they actually felt:
According to recent surveys conducted by Academia Sinica and the Web site Yahoo! Kimo, over 50 percent of the people do not believe in Taiwan's judicial system and over 75 percent have no confidence that the Judicial Yuan will undertake judicial reform [...]
* May 22, 2009: An estimable group of scholars and writers -- 26 in all, and each one with a deep understanding of Taiwan and the surrounding facts -- has composed an open letter addressed directly to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). The letter addresses the ever-increasing problems with judicial fairness, press freedom, the lack of transparency in the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) rapprochement with China, the loss of Taiwan's sovereignty, and the loss of human rights. The argument the letter makes is rock solid. It is based on demonstrable facts.

* November 9, 2009: Then there were 31. The Taiwan News publishes an "Open letter to President Ma Ying-jeou by 30 international scholars" which reminds us that "a decrease of tension across the Taiwan Strait would indeed be welcome, but [...] that this should not be done at the expense of the hard-won democracy" and that "Taiwan should be more fully accepted by the international community as a full and equal partner." (Here's a version with 31 names on the web site of one of the signatories, Jerome F. Keating, Ph.D.)

* December 13, 2009: Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) submits the "GIO response to Nov. [9] open letter" to the Taipei Times.

* December 25, 2009: Richard Kagan, professor emeritus at Hamline University in St Paul, Minnesota and one of the signatories of the November 2009 letter, replies to Su Jun-pin's silliness in "GIO's response misses the point"
Don't expect this to end anytime soon.

In the meantime, never let your guard down. Stay angry, and fight this injustice every chance you get -- whether it's writing a blog, attending protests, reminding your mother-in-law that not "all politicians are alike" (especially when it comes to Taiwan's two biggest parties), pointing out to your doctors that the lie-filled pro-Ma TV stations blaring in the waiting room aren't good for their patients' physical or mental health, or even just by actively using the name "China" instead of "mainland" out of mere habit when referring to our bellicose neighbor.

And if you're registered to vote in today's elections in Taichung, Taoyuan, or Taitung -- the first two of which are being held as the result of Chinese KMT vote-buying convictions -- get out and vote for the DPP candidate in your area.

Good people must prevail against injustice.

Dockets for deliberation: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cross-posted at It's Not Democracy, It's A Conspiracy!

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2 Comments:

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

Your analysis of Su's letter does indicate that his letter will not placate critics who are concerned about the erosion of democracy. However, while you amply discuss the many contradictions in his letter, you don't really point out the places where Su really betrays the lack of care for the effective use of democracy in Taiwan demonstrated by the Ma adiministration.

Specifically, look closely at the passages where Su discusses "democracy" by name. Notice that each time he discusses democracy, he praises Taiwan for having it, but he never says how the policies made by the Ma administration are democratic.

1) Why would "democratic" Taiwan seek to develop relations with authoritatian PRC?

His answer: Everyone should engage everyone.

(Democracy did not really factor into this argument despite his use of democracy to oppose Taiwan to China.)

2) Engagement is not at the expense of democracy in Taiwan?:

His answer: The administration has the best interests of the people in mind.

(Nowhere does he say that the people are involved in influencing policy or that they have the right to be involved. His statement belongs to a paternalist view of democracy: An enlightened government of the few is doing what it says the people want, so claiming to govern for the people in name. Think DPRK or PRC. Both are, after all, "People's Republics" in name.)

3)Regarding the recent election, "there is no clearer proof that the people of Taiwan have the absolute power to choose their government.":

(Let's set the local/national levels of government aside for the moment. Is my understanding mistaken, or does the KMT have a huge vote-buying/influence-peddling problem? Could this issue be impeding the gathering of election results that reflect the majority view in Taiwan? So Su points to an election where the DPP did better than average, but glosses over the elements that might have made the election more representative of public opinion. A decent result for the DPP does not indicate an election where there is no room for improvement.)

4) "The people of Taiwan have every reason to be proud of the democracy and freedom they have achieved. Taiwan continues to shape the debate on whether democracy is attainable in the Chinese-speaking world, even as cross-strait ties improve.":

(Interesting. So Taiwan shapes the debate of whether democracy is allowed? This only means that Taiwanese can talk a lot about democracy. Su still hasn't settled the question of whether the KMT is governing democratically. Likewise, notice that he has neglected to bring up the issue of whether the people really have the power to oversee government policies. People can debate democracy in Taiwan, but can they actually influence the signing of a treaty, for example? They can talk, but can they put democracy into practice?)

Conclusion: Any talk by Su of democracy in this letter is meaningless. He says nothing about the preservation, evolution or devolution of democracy in Taiwan. He is using the term "democracy" as one would use a flashy word at a party -- to impress others. A CCP spokesperson could do the same.

 
At 2:29 AM, Blogger Tim Maddog said...

Thomas, thanks for the additional analysis.

Tim Maddog

 

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