Monthly Archives: April 2005

Pandering to the opposition

PandaIt seems that Lien Chan’s trip to China will have at least one concrete result: reports are that Hu Jintao is preparing to give him 2 panda bears as a gift.

China’s President Hu Jintao is planning to award opposition Kuomintang leader Lien Chan with China’s highest diplomatic offering when he meets with him on Friday — a clumsy pair of pandas, media reports said.

The shuffling, black-eyed animals from Sichuan will then be offered a new home at Taipei’s zoo in Mucha.

Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou said he thought the zoo could make the necessary preparations to house the bears in six months if the report was true.

As a present, it makes Lien’s gift of a book by his grandfather look a bit measly. Of course, we are left wondering what political significance we can attach to the leader of the KMT being given a couple of almost extinct animals …

Riot at CKS Airport

What happens when you get a bunch of extreme independence supporters meeting a bunch of extreme unification supporters in the presence of a totally incompetent police force? Well, we found out yesterday when they all descended on the main airport in Taiwan to ‘see off’ Lien Chan on his trip to China.

ESWN has done an excellent job of describing what happened, so I won’t repeat it here. The money quote:

Much of the fighting came under the watchful eye of police on duty, who remained in a line formation waiting for orders from their superiors. Only after the fighting stopped did police move closer to the scene, failing to arrest any of the assailants who walked away in full view. Chen Jei-tien, chief of the Aviation Police Bureau, has been dismissed from his job at 11pm that day.

A few additional thoughts:

  • It is pretty amazing that any police force, with a great deal of prior warning and plenty of personnel, can fail to secure an airport of all places. Several of the protestors managed to let off firecrackers inside – can you imagine what would happen to anyone found with explosives in e.g. a U.S. Airport?
  • Whenever there is any violent protest in Taiwan you can guarantee that there will be at least one member of the Taiwanese parliament either inciting things or physically involved in it. This time there was a DPP and TSU member, last time (pan-Blue riots after the 2004 presidential election), it was PFP and KMT leaders. It would be nice to see them kicked out of their respective parties; It does seems that the DPP are investigating one legislator, but I’m not holding my breath.

The main point is that this will happen again when Lien returns from China unless the police sort things out. You only need to look at the reaction of the two extreme political parties to see they’re already itching for a rematch. The TSU (violently pro-independence):

Chen Chien-ming, secretary-general of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, accused New Party supporters of starting the fight at the airport.

The TSU supporters stayed in their designated areas, but the police failed to maintain order, allowing the pro-unification “pan blue” side to start the trouble, Chen said.

The New Party (violently pro-unification):

New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming also condemned the violence, but he said the TSU and the airport police should take full responsibility.

Yok said that his party will “from this day on declare war on the TSU and there will be no end to the struggle.”

Taiwan: Where democracy meets gambling

Sometimes, politics in Taiwan can look like a big experiment; the remarkably quick transition from brutal dictatorship to open democracy leaves you scratching your head trying to understand how it all happened, and what will happen next. One problem that has risen recently is a serious case of ‘election burn out’: After a big election year in 2004 (Presidential elections and Legislative elections), 2005 has National Assembly elections in May, and then 3 separate elections (county commissioners and city mayors, county councilors, and village and township mayors) later in the year. 6 major elections in 2 years is a bit much by any standards, and with each election less important than the previous one, voter turnout is starting to become a big concern.

A common sense proposal to merge the 3 year-end elections is being talked about as one solution, but the best solution is for the National Assembly election:

In an effort to boost the voter turnout rate in the election, the CEC will hold a “lucky draw” for people who go to the polls. The top prize will be NT$1 million (US$31,556) in cash, while notebook computers will be given to three second prize winners.

Other prizes up for grabs include five digital cameras, eight mobile phones, 10 translation machines and 15 MP3 players.

Some people vote for politicians they admire. Some people vote for the party with the best policies. In Taiwan, it seems, people will vote for a new MP3 player.

The collapse of Taiwan’s government

Without anyone really noticing, the government of the Republic of China collapsed on February 1st this year. The government is made up of five branches:

  • The Legislative Yuan (this is the main ‘parliament’ which has all the foodfights and arguments)
  • The Executive Yuan (the ‘cabinet’ appointed by the president)
  • The Judicial Yuan (the legal system)
  • The Examination Yuan (handles the civil service)
  • The Control Yuan (a watchdog body)

The Legislative, Executive, Judical and Examination bodies are functioning as you would expect, but the Control Yuan has been stuck in limbo since the previous incumbents left office at the end of January. The problem is that the members of the Control Yuan are proposed by the President, and this is then ratified by the Legislature … unfortunately when (pan-Green) President Chen proposed a list of members to the (pan-Blue controlled) Legislature, they refused to ratify it. Until agreement is reached, the government will continue to operate without one of its core bodies.

In practical terms, this means that over 3000 appeal cases have built up over the last two months, with noone to look at them. Although this has hardly caused the nation to grind to a halt, it is fairly indicative of the paralysis in government caused by the antipathy between the Legislature and the Presidency (which has been ongoing for five years now).

An empty Control Yuan does seem to get as much done as a full Legislature though: As another example of the paralysis yesterday, all 33 bills proposed to the legislature were voted down by the KMT and the PFP – with the PFP (supposedly allies with the DPP nowadays) declaring ‘war’ on the DPP for not supporting their bill.

This state of affairs is one of the reasons put forward for constitutional reform (Do you really need 5 branches of government? What really is the separation of powers between the president and the legislature?). However, you need cross-party agreement on this, and with reforms that were already unanimously agreed upon last year now under doubt, reform is looking like the last thing on the agenda in Taiwan nowadays.

Which president will Lien Chan visit?

It is a sign of the continued bitterness of Taiwanese politics that Lien Chan, the head of the opposition KMT party, is busy trying to arrange a trip to China to meet with PRC president Hu Jintao, while at the same time point-blank refusing a meeting with ROC president Chen ShuiBian. Unfortunately, assuming Lien’s trip to Beijing goes ahead, things are going to get even more divided in Taiwan afterwards.

The most recent spat is over the legal status of these trips to China. Last month’s visit to China by KMT vice-chairman P.K. Chiang, while mainly symbolic, concluded with a 10-point agreement between the CCP and the KMT. This was treated with some distrust by the DPP – who questioned whether the deal was illegal. There seem to be two laws which might be relevant. The first is Article 113 of the criminal code:

Those who make private agreement with a foreign country’s government or designees thereof, without approval of the government, on matters needing approval by the government, are to be punished by a sentence of life or seven years in prison.

Of course an important phrase here is ‘foreign country’; while it might seem reasonable to call the PRC a separate government, officially the ROC still claims sovereignty over the whole of China, so making the PRC a (long lasting) rebel uprising. The pan-Greens are pushing this law however, as they would love to see a judicial ruling that considered the PRC a foreign government.

The other law is Article 5 of the Act Governing Relations Between Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area which says:

no “Taiwan area” citizen, legal person, organization or any other organ shall make deals involving government power (or jurisdiction) or political issues with their counterparts on the mainland without prior authorization from the Mainland Affairs Council.

Whether the rather vague 10-point agreement that the KMT and the CCP came up with breaks either of these laws is debatable (and indeed is being vigourously debated in Taiwan). What is clear though is that any agreement made by Lien in his trip will bring up exactly the same issues. By refusing to see President Chen before his trip, Lien Chan is basically daring him to charge him under these laws on return from his trip.