Monthly Archives: May 2005

Going out with a bang

The (hopefully) last ever National Assembly started yesterday in YangMingShan. The 300 members only job is to vote once on a package of constitutional reforms; given that they don’t even have to decide how they are going to vote (their parties have told their members how to vote), this is a job that trained monkeys could do pretty reliably in less than a day. They wouldn’t do it with the same style as Taiwanese politicians though …

The three members of the ‘Democratic Action Alliance’ took first prize for stupid behaviour on day one:

Chang, Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) and Huang Kuang-kuo (黃光國) announced on the first day of the National Assembly session that they were quitting and accused major political parties of perfunctorily preparing the constitutional amendment package last year under populist pressure without due deliberation.

So the grand plan of this party of nobodies is that each day the three members will quit their posts – to be replaced by three new members the following day. They are doing this to protest the fact that these amendments are popular.

Chang claimed that only 19 percent of the public supports the amendment package, while more than three-quarters refuse to endorse it.

… or perhaps they’re doing it because these amendments are unpopular. They seem to be claiming it both ways. However, their principled stand did have some limits:

They, however, joined other deputies in taking a group picture to commemorate the inauguration of the last National Assembly and attending a sumptuous lunch.

Food before principles, it would seem. Assuming that this is a foretaste of more idiotic behaviour, some members have taken action:

To get all deputies to behave, the lady deputies of the ruling party issued their “ten commandments” warning against drinking bouts, night parties, and above all, exhibitionism.

It isn’t clear whether fistfights are banned under this edict …

But will the vote go through?

All this moronic behaviour does detract from the serious business of voting. Despite a last minute panic by the DPP, it is looking likely that the two major parties will enforce their party line properly – and so the ammendments will succeed. Both the DPP & KMT have promised to expel any members who vote against the bill – and the KMT have already removed one candidate who had spoken out against the amendments. This should ensure that the 75% vote required to pass the amendments will be acheived quite comfortably. Unfortunately, nothing is certain in Taiwanese politics …

Update: Day 2

The China Post has an excellent article on the continued misbehaviour of the National Assembly members. You’ve got to admire an article which starts like this:

Many of 300 National Assembly deputies turned megalomaniac yesterday, conveniently forgetting that they are in fact just rubber stamps.

2 Days now gone – and they’ve still acheived absolutely nothing

The Taiwan that Taiwanese know about

ESWN has translated an excellent article by Taiwan-born acadamic Lung Ying-tai about how the Taiwanese view their future (original article here, in Simplified Chinese). The central premise is one I agree with completely: although there is a huge spectrum of opinions in Taiwan, for most people the central issue is guaranteeing their basic freedoms – not abstract issues about independence or reunification.

These people of Taiwan, like any other group of people in the world, yearn for social peace, economic stability, personal happiness and protection of individual rights under the law. But because they have lived through colonial and totalitarian rules, they are untrusting and contemptuous of those impressive-sounding grand narratives. Instead, they care about freedom of speech and thought, they are concerned about social justice and care for the socially vulnerable, and they want that the government should not invade their privacy and individual rights.

My main quibble with the article was that it idealises Taiwan’s system: implying a perfectly run democracy, with no corruption and an absolute trust in the rule of law (although he does provide a caveat at the end). Although this is a system that Taiwan is working towards, there is still some way to go … which makes the main point of the article all the more amazing: this article was published in the Chinese Youth Daily – a paper controlled by the Chinese Communist Youth League.

That an official CCP paper would promote a clear unbiased perspective of what Taiwanese people think – while glossing over the imperfections in Taiwan’s system – is very encouraging. Now we just need the rest of the Chinese media, the Taiwanese media, the CCP politicians, and the Taiwanese politicians to follow suit, and there might just be some chance for progress …

Addressing the big issues

It seems that the DPP are getting to grips with the important issues facing Taiwan:

Three ruling Democratic Progressive Party legislators launched a campaign yesterday calling on Taiwanese baseball fans to email an appeal to the New York Yankees to keep Taiwanese pitcher Wang Chien-ming in their lineup.

Every Taiwanese baseball fan should email a letter to the public relations staff and coaches of the Yankees to express their hope of seeing Wang remain in the major leagues, said Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), in response to reports indicating that the team is considering sending Wang back to the Columbus Clippers, a triple-A affiliate farm team of the Yankees.

Wang’s recent success has been big news in Taiwan recently. I am sure that these three legislators are indeed avid baseball supporters – not engaging in a spot of cheap populism at all.

The concept of keeping politics out of sports doesn’t seem to apply in Taiwan: the KMT were quick to nominate Olympic taekwondo silver medal winner Huang Chih-hsiung (黃志雄) into the legislature last year. Then again, given the number of fights in the legislature, having a taekwondo expert on your side has plenty of practical benefits too …

KMT election update

The election for the next KMT chairman has taken a back seat in recent weeks to visits to China and National Assembly elections. However, with Ma Ying-jeou starting his signature drive today, there have been some interesting developments, and there’s still one big question hanging over it all.

Voting requirements settled

The issue of who will be allowed to vote was finally settled by the KMT central standing committee:

Wang wanted to enable all members to vote, while the Chinese-born mayor insisted the eligibility be awarded to only those who have paid their membership dues in full.

According to Lien’s compromise, the Kuomintang would continue urging all those members with dues in arrears to make them up before July 16 but anyone whose party rights have not been suspended on or before that day can vote.

That means all Kuomintang members are qualified, if no suspension is effected. One of the party rights is that of election.

The fact that virtually all the 1 million KMT members will be allowed to vote is a big win for Wang Jin-pyng; the general consensus is that Wang is more popular among the ‘rank-and-file’ members, while Ma Ying-jeou is more popular with the older voters (who don’t pay membership dues, so were always going to be eligible to vote). Allowing everyone to vote seems to have made Wang the favourite, except for one open issue …

Will Lien run?

The big question hanging over this race is “what will Lien Chan do?”. Although he has repeatedly said he’s not really interested in running again, the effect of each of those statements has been to increase the chorus of loyal KMT supporter calling for him to run to ‘ensure party unity’. The two contenders have been forced to do a delicate dance to show their loyalty to Lien while trying to replace him; again Wang has won this competition by saying categorically that he will withdraw from the race if Lien decides to run.

Ma, however, has tried to suggest that Lien should be given an honorary chairmanship, in recognition of the significant contributions that Lien has made to the KMT.

In light of all this uncritical loyalty being aimed at Lien Chan recently, it’s worth noting what those “significant contributions” might be. Here’s my list:

  • Coming a distant 3rd in the 2000 presidential election – first KMT candidate to lose the presidency.
  • A big loss in the 2001 legislative elections – for the first time the KMT no longer had an absolute majority, and was no longer the largest party.
  • Losing the 2004 presidential election – after setting up an ‘unbeatable’ ticket with James Soong.
  • Better than expected performance in the 2004 legislative elections. Still not the largest party though.
  • Poor showing in 2005 National Assembly elections.
  • Failed to push through a long-talked about merger between the KMT and PFP.
  • Led the richest political party in the world (est. US$2.5 billion in 2001) to a point where it had to lay off half its staff, and couldn’t afford to pay the other half
  • Led a month-long protest against the 2004 presidential election. Lost 2 separate lawsuits against the election. Still hasn’t acknowledged that he lost.
  • Went on a trip to China. Shook hands with someone famous.

As you might guess, I’m not a big fan of Lien Chan. I believe it will be an unmitigated disaster for the KMT (and so also Taiwan) if he stays on as chairman. It would alienate Ma and his supporters, remove any chance for serious reform in the KMT for the next 4 years, and ensure the KMT continues its petty-minded obstructionist behaviour. In other words, I fully expect Lien Chan to decide to stand again and win.

The DPP in a panic over the National Assembly

A week is a long time in politics. In Taiwan, half a week is enough for a law to be passed, one of the parties that passed the law to then demand that law be overturned, and then for a mass boycott by the other parties.

The Legislative Yuan [with DPP support] passed a law governing the operation of the National Assembly yesterday that requires a three-quarter majority vote for the passage of any constitutional amendments.


The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday decided to overturn legislation adopted on Friday requiring approval from at least three fourths of the National Assembly (NA) members to pass any constitutional amendment.


At the request of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Wang Jin-pyng, president of the Legislative Yuan, called an interparty meeting for consultation, which was boycotted by all other parties.

This is basically last minute nerves about the Constitutional reform which is expected to be passed following last weeks National Assembly elections. In principal, 83% of the elected NA members should support the reform – comfortably over the 75% threshold mandated in last Friday’s law; however, the worry is that some DPP/KMT members will vote against party policy. Given that many of the members will be voting themselves out of a job in 3 years time (due to the proposed halving in size of the legislature), this is a serious worry. However, the current ‘headless chicken’ behaviour of the DPP is no more likely to help things than the sulky “I’m not talking to you” attitude of the KMT.

Update Tuesday:
A slanging match in the Legislature as the DPP try to force a review of the law. It gets voted down (twice) – but not before a few DPP legislators have insulted other DPP members and the premier. I’m looking forward to the threat of a constitutional ruling on the law next …

The DPP and independence

Just about any article about the future of China-Taiwan relationships is almost guaranteed to include the phrase “If Taiwan declares independence …” implying that this is a realistic possibility. In fact, for the last 6 years, the ruling DPP party has not been an advocate of a declaration of independence. Here’s a brief look at how the DPPs official position has changed over time.

Self Determination

The DPP was formed in September 1986. At that time, political parties (apart from the ruling KMT) were illegal, and the founders of the DPP risked imprisonment just for announcing the new party. As a result, they had to be careful what they announced as the goals of the new party – any mention of independence would have guaranteed they ended up in prison. In this environment, the DPP party platform restricted itself to working for self-determination: the future of Taiwan should be decided upon by the people of Taiwan.

The Independence Clause

Five years later in 1991 (after relaxation of KMT rule, including the end of martial law), the DPP added the following clause to its political platform (the wording was proposed by an up-and-coming Legislator call Chen Shui Bian):

The Democratic Progressive Party calls for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Republic of Taiwan and the enactment of a new Constitution, to be decided by the people of Taiwan in a plebiscite.

Fighting words – and ones which clearly would be met with a rather violent response from the PRC if they were acted upon.

Moderation prevails

In 1999, in preparation for the upcoming 2000 presidential elections, the DPP updated its postion by releasing a “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future”. The core part of this was:

1 Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country. Any change in the independent status quo must be decided by all the residence of Taiwan by means of plebiscite.
2 Taiwan is not a part of the People’s Republic of China. China’s unilateral advocacy of the “One China Principle” and “One Country Two Systems” is fundamentally inappropriate for Taiwan.

This was quite a change from the previous position: instead of advocating independence, the DPP was claiming that Taiwan was already independent (and so no declaration of independence was needed). There were two main reasons for this change of policy:

  1. Although the principle of independence was popular, most Taiwanese voters are ultimately pragmatic – and wouldn’t vote for a position which would start a war. In the 1991 National Assembly elections (2 months after the DPP changed their position), the DPP performed very badly as a result of their too strong pro-independence stance.
  2. With the arrival of full democracy in 1996, there was a growing awareness that the ROC was fast evolving into something close to the ideal ‘Republic of Taiwan’ that DPP members wanted, so obviating any need for a declaration of independence.

This position was what Chen Shui Bian ran for (and won) the presidency on the following year.

Current Position

The position of Chen since he has been President has been to consistently advocate the ‘Taiwan is already an independent country’ line that was agreed upon in 1999. He added a bit of a clarification in his National Day address in October last year:

The sovereignty of the Republic of China is vested with the 23 million people of Taiwan. The Republic of China is Taiwan, and Taiwan is the Republic of China. This is an indisputable fact.

In addition to this, he has explicitly promised not to declare independence, change the official name of the country (Republic of China) or alter the official boundaries (which include all Mainland China and Mongolia) during his presidency. Of course, these are NOT DPP policy – so there is no guarantee that a future DPP president would continue with these promises in 2008.

Future directions

Although the 1991 independence clause has been superceded by a more moderate position, it is still part of the DPPs official position. With the TSU taking up the ‘hard-core’ independence baton, there is little chance that the DPP will go back to this extreme position. Removing the clause from the official DPP position is a possibility – but would require extreme tact by the DPP officials to pull off: any suggestion of ‘giving up on independence’ or ‘caving in to PRC/KMT pressure’ would be strongly resisted by the DPP membership, while an update ‘to reflect the fact of existing independence’ would be supported.

One of the preconditions often mentioned by the PRC for talks with Chen is that the DPP gives up its policy on a declaration of independence; as you can see from the above, this isn’t such an insurmountable object. However, the bigger difficulty is the principle of ‘One China’ – which directly contradicts the DPP position; without some smart ‘reinterpretation’ of both sides positions, it makes direct talks very unlikely in the short term.

Creeping independence

The main point to make about the DPPs position is that it does not advocate any grand move to independence which would obviously cause war with China. Instead, the goal is to make many baby steps towards full independence – blurring the distinction between the ROC and Taiwan, emphasising the de-facto national boundaries over the legal ones, and searching for international recognition as ‘Taiwan’ – in the hope that each one would not be enough to trigger a response.

Beaten by a spelling mistake

10 years ago, the New Party was the 3rd biggest party in Taiwan (after the KMT & DPP) – polling a creditable 13% in the Legislative elections that year. In 2005 they were beaten by a spelling mistake:

One of the interesting results of the election is that the relatively unknown Chinese People Party picked up 41,940 votes, or 1.0822% of the ballots, outperforming better-known groups such as the New Party, the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union, and the Taiwan Independence Party.

A spokeswoman for the KMT said that she suspected the Chinese People Party siphoned away some of the KMT’s votes because people were confused about the name.

The full name of the KMT is the Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng (literally “Chinese Nationalist Party”). In Chinese characters this is written 中國國民黨.

The Chinese People Party on the other hand is called Zhōngguó Mínzhòngdǎng, which is written 中國民眾黨 in Chinese characters.

When you’re beaten by a party whose only claim to fame is that their name is slightly similar to the second most popular party – that’s a sign it might be time to quietly disband.

I wonder whether the PFP is worried that the same fate may be in store for them? Perhaps they should be.

Rule of law in a democracy

What happens when a government comes up against a law it doesn’t like? In Taiwan (where ‘rule of guanxi‘ is only slowly being replaced by ‘rule of law‘), the answer is all too often that the politicians ignore the law. In that context, it can be seen as a sign of real progress that the Cabinet is preparing to put into effect a law that it disagrees with:

Vice President Annette Lu lashed out yesterday against the Cabinet decision to start fingerprinting all people above 14 years of age on July 1.

A couple of years ago, Lu said, the presidential committee on human rights requested a repeal of the domiciliary legislation act that stipulates fingerprinting of all applicants for ID cards. She heads that committee.

While in office, former Premier Yu Shyi-kun made that request to the Legislative Yuan, which, however, did not take action.

Premier Frank Hsieh again submitted the request, but the Legislative Yuan has refused to act on it. As a consequence, the Cabinet has to do what the law says, said its spokesman Chuo Yung-tai.

Back in 1997, the previous government passed a Household Registration Law which required fingerprinting of all citizens. After many delays, the law is due to come into effect in a month – despite the opposition of most members of the current government.

Apart from highlighting the gridlock that has gripped Taiwanese politics since 2000 (where the president and his cabinet can’t pass or amend any laws without the support of their opponents in the KMT), it shows that Premier Hsieh is willing to implement the law, even when he believes that ‘the law is an ass’ – for which he should be warmly applauded.

The annual WHO failure

It has become an annual event at this time of the year for the World Health Organisation to reject an application from Taiwan to become a member. Yesterday was no exception:

Despite some declarations of support for Taipei, the WHO’s 192 member states accepted without a vote a call by China to take no action on the Taiwanese request for observer status, for the ninth consecutive year.

China says only sovereign states are entitled to take part in the assembly, which is meeting until May 25. Taiwan first sought observer status at the WHO in 1997.

If Taiwan couldn’t get accepted right after the SARS debacle, there was little chance this year. Oh well, I look forward to next years attempt.

There was an interesting sidenote to this years attempt though. It seems that China signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the WHO about Taiwan:

Taiwan’s health minister on Monday rejected a pact between China and the World Health Organisation to help the island in any health emergency, because Taipei had not been consulted.

The accord, a memorandum of understanding, was announced at the WHO’s annual assembly by China’s Health Minister Gao Qiang during a brief debate on Taiwan’s bid — again unsuccessful — for observer status.

This agreement comes just one week after the CCP promised both Taiwanese opposition parties that they would help Taiwan join the WHO. That both the KMT and PFP didn’t even know about this memorandum (let alone the Taiwanese government) speaks volumes about the real level of cooperation between the CCP and the Taiwanese parties.

NA Elections: The China Post gets it so wrong

One of my reasons for starting this site was the lack of decent English reporting on Taiwan (take for example this article, via Michael, which, apart from a mistake in virtually every paragraph, can’t even get the name of the KMT chairman right). However, prize for most incompetent reporting goes to the China Post – one of the two premier English newspapers in Taiwan – which proved in this article that it didn’t know the most basic fact about last Saturday’s elections.

Party delegates are expected to consider a package of constitutional reforms — reducing the legislature from its present 225 members to 113, extending law makers terms from three to four years, amending the electoral system to reduce the number of lawmakers per constituency and enshrining public referenda as the only means for approving constitutional changes.

The reforms will also involve deciding if Taiwan will use a presidential or Cabinet system of government and shrinking the current five branches of government to three.

Other reforms which will be considered by the assembly will be whether to lower the voting age to 18, whether to make military service compulsory, whether an elected president should have an absolute majority or only comparative majority. It will also consider making fundamental labor and human rights a part of the constitution.

The first paragraph is correct (although incomplete). The rest is flat out wrong. As has been known since last August, the National Assembly will vote on one predefined package of constitutional reform – and then disband. Forever. It will not decide to disband some branches of government. It will not consider reforming military service, or how the president is elected. It will not alter human right protection clauses.

How is it possible for a leading newspaper to get such a basic issue so wrong? One of the reasons for the low turnout in this election was confusion as to what the election was about – given that even the newspapers didn’t know, it’s hardly surprising the electorate was confused.