Monthly Archives: December 2005

Taiwanese democracy and Chinese unification

Michael Turton says:

This raises a very interesting issue: if the island is annexed by Beijing, how can China exist half-free and half-slave? China will either be required to crush the island’s democracy — which might have grave international and internal repercussions — or else it will have to live with “one country, two systems.” And when ordinary Chinese visit Taiwan and see how much different things are here than there…

Be careful what you wish for, eh? Perhaps our democracy here is a better insurance against annexation than we think.

While I’m a big fan of the ever-deepening acceptance of democracy in Taiwan, and accept that China has problems with the idea of democracy on their doorstep (let alone in their own country), I have a few problems with Michael’s thesis:

  • China currently seems quite happy to live with the “One country, two systems” concept. Plenty of mainlanders have visited Hong Kong, and (as far as I’m aware) noone in Shanghai is clamoring for their own ‘Basic Law’. I doubt this would be any different for Taiwan.
  • If we’re talking ‘annexation’ rather than peaceful reunification, then China won’t be too backwards in enforcing their vision on the Taiwanese. In particular they could impose martial law until the Taiwanese are ‘ready’ for proper Chinese democracy (that worked for the KMT for 40+ years), or just declare separatist activities illegal (thus outlawing the DPP & TSU). Back to the fig-leaf democracy days of the KMT plus a few token ‘tangwai’.
  • If there is some form of peaceful unification, then one of the two main parties would have lost their main platform. In this situation, it’s debatable whether the DPP could remain a serious contender for power in Taiwan – there’s a pretty good chance that the KMT and CCP could coordinate to marginalise everyone else. Would Beijing really care if the DPP commanded 30% of the legislature and spent all their time railling against the injustice of it all?
  • If anyone can crush a democracy without worrying too much about international reaction, I’m betting that China can. Unless Taiwan can find someone as media-friendly as the Dalai Lama to promote their cause, I’m guessing that international reaction would be at the sub-Tibet level.

Further thoughts at Peking Duck, MeiZhongTai, and Asiapundit

The buck stops with CSB

“The buck stops here” is a noble statement which shows a willingness to take responsibility for your decisions. “The buck stops over there” is slightly less edifying to hear. No prizes for guessing which version Taiwan’s ever-impressive-politicians are keen on.

The FT recently ran an article by Kathrin Hille which featured a bunch of senior DPP politicians laying into President Chen Shui-bian. The article itself was pretty poor – I don’t want to repeat the fairly comprehensively analysis of it by Michael – but the interesting issue for me was the lack of introspection by DPP members, and their willingness to blame the boss. Five different DPP politicians were quoted – all of them either saying or implying that all the Government and the DPPs problems were down to Chen (as against an unnamed presidential aide who defended him). The best quote to illustrate this was:

“I don’t believe that clean government is the most important issue on our reform agenda,” says Lin Cho-shui, a veteran DPP lawmaker. “A much bigger problem is that Chen Shui-bian’s mysterious leadership style and his short-term opportunistic decision-making don’t work any more.”

Anyone who tries to downplay the importance of tackling corruption in Taiwan is either a) A liar, b) Completely clueless, c) On the take themselves, or d) All of the above. Of course, because corruption is endemic, it is not something that can neatly be blamed on someone else. It also can’t be solved simply by picking on a scapegoat.

This complete unwillingness by many senior DPP members to take a hard look at their party and go beyond a simplistic laying of blame on one of their members is important because it comes during the campaigning for the next DPP Chairman. Of course, some of it is down to which candidate they support: since Yu Shyi-kun is widely seen as Chen’s choice, supporters of the other two candidates are likely to lay into Chen as a way to promote their own candidate. However, it’s also in danger of turning the election into a Catch-22 situation: If Yu wins, then there’s no real powershift in the DPP, and so nothing will change, while if Yu loses, then all the DPPs problems will be blamed on Chen, meaning that nothing will change (apart from the leader).

It’s not all bad news though: The DPPs willingness to criticize their most senior member during their chairman elections stands in stark contrast to the recent KMT chairman election – where both candidates felt it necessary to be nauseatingly obsequious to a man who had led their party to two presidential election losses, lost them their majority in the legislature (twice), and nearly bankrupted the richest political party in the history of mankind. At least the DPP expects their leaders to take some responsibility – they’ve just got to learn to take some responsibility themselves too.

Chen ‘flip flopping’ on China?

On a completely separate note, the article makes this claim:

Mr Chen’s government has frequently changed policy direction, most obviously in relations with China. After pledging more economic exchanges across the Strait early in his first term, he later turned to aggressive anti-China rhetoric and last year played to pro-independence sentiment in a re-election campaign that provoked the mainland.

I’ve seen this claim again and again in various forms, and I don’t understand it. From my perspective, Chen has been completely consistent in his policy on China: He has consistently adhered to the 1999 DPP Resolution on Taiwan’s future (which states that Taiwan is an independent nation), has consistently refused to accept the ‘One China’ principle as a precondition to talks, and has consistently pushed for increased economic links within these limitations. Just about the only promises which he’s been able to keep from his inauguration speeches were his “5 noes” promise on China. Fiery rhetoric around election time is one of Chen’s trademarks (and usually a vote-winner), but it doesn’t imply any change in his policies. So, what policy shifts are we talking about here?

Ma does Newsweek

A recent interview in Newsweek by KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou has caused some discussion among Taiwan blogs. There’s plenty of interesting stuff both in the interview, and the backtalk.

The interview

ADAMS: The DPP lost a lot of ground to your party in the recent elections. Are you pleased?
MA: We did well, but not because the KMT has really improved itself. Rather, the DPP has become so corrupt, and so inept, that people have lost confidence in them.

I think he’s spot on here. Despite the fact that I mocked him for this comment in an earlier post, it has some interesting implications. Firstly, Ma has only been Chairman for 6 months, so can’t really claim to have yet molded the KMT into what he would like – hence the KMT “hasn’t really improved”. Secondly, the implication is that he thinks change is necessary – which has got to be a good thing.

Under your leadership, the KMT seems well positioned to reclaim the presidency in 2008. How would your party change Taiwan’s relations with China?
The DPP is somewhat handicapped by their ideology. They have to keep a distance from mainland China. They have been very timid, very conservative and very reserved in pushing ahead a productive policy toward the Chinese mainland. If the KMT is able to get back in power, we will open up direct flights with the mainland in two years.

Again he’s right. The DPP are keen on stuff like direct links and improved (up to a point) economic links – but because China requires adherence to ‘One China’ as a precondition to talks, things are stalled. The KMT has no such idealogical problems (although the inherent bizarreness of their One China policy is worthy of a separate post), and so improved economic ties with China is one of their biggest assets.

Beyond economic links, what is needed for unification talks with China to begin?
Actually, the mainland is not pushing unification anymore. They don’t want to see de jure independence for Taiwan, but they are not talking about [unification]. Their hands are full. But if Taiwan makes a provocative move, they would be left with no choice but to use force. So the most important thing for Taiwan is to maintain the status quo, not to provoke the mainland, but increase trade and investment and to relax cross-Strait relations.

This answer along with a couple of follow-up questions (where Ma dodges the arms purchase issue, and eventually says he doesn’t really expect unification in his lifetime) get to the core of his (and so the KMT’s) position on China. His position can be summarized as:

  • Adhering to their version of ‘One China’ will allow the KMT to promote economic links with China much more easily than the DPP.
  • The KMT is only pursuing economic links. They plan to ‘maintain the status quo’ when it comes to political links.
  • They believe that China is only interesting in stopping independence – and doesn’t care about progress towards unification. This means that there is no serious threat to Taiwan based on KMT policy, and they can plan their defense policy accordingly.

These points throw up a lot of questions (most notably “While China is only talking about stopping independence now, does Ma really think this will be true in the future -when there is a KMT government for example?”), but are interesting because it’s the clearest definition of a KMT position that I’ve heard in some while [*].

I suspect Ma understands that adhering to ‘One China’ by itself is a vote-loser. However, adhering to ‘One China’ while giving clear promises of the resultant economic benefits and promising to protect Taiwan’s existing sovereignty is (if he can convince people) a big vote-winner. If Ma succeeds in explaining a clear and sensible China policy over the next couple of years, I don’t think the next election will even be close.

Blog reaction

Michael took issue with how the interviewer was being so easy on Ma. There were no really searching questions, and the whole interview was a chance for Ma to talk about his position in the way he wanted. While that is true, that doesn’t make it a bad interview; the lack of understanding outside Taiwan of the position of the two main camps is huge – and so there is a need for the Blues and the Greens to try and articulate their positions better in the Western press. Ma did this clearly and eloquently.

Jason follows up this point by lamenting the inability of the DPP to explain their position in a similar manner. Good relations with the US are more important to the DPP than they are to the KMT, and yet the DPP seem to either not care about Western opinion or to be genuinely incapable of explaining themselves to the Western press in a sensible manner. If an equivalent interview with President Chen was run alongside this interview with Ma then it would provide an excellent overview of the main political positions in Taiwan. Yet I don’t see this happening.

A good example of this imbalance was the 2004 post-presidential election chaos: It was the KMT who opened up their HQ to CNN to shoot footage of the protests (while ‘explaining’ the situation to the reporters), it was Lien & Soong who held a press conference in English for foreign journalists to air their grievances, and it was Lien who (ghost)wrote an article in the IHT for international consumption. What did the DPP do to promote their views in the international press?

The KMT has outdone the DPP in terms of media relations in an era when they’ve had a weak, uncharismatic bad communicator as their chairman at the same time as the DPP have had a clear leader and a fairly clean image. What is going to happen now that the KMT has a charismatic Western-friendly leader, and the DPP are a mess with noone in control?

You can hardly blame the Western press for bias when only one side is trying to talk to them.

* Lien Chan never got much beyond “Trust me. I’ll work out a good deal for the KMTTaiwan”, while LTH’s government was always kinda conflicted on the issue. You have to go back to the Chiang dynasty’s adherence to a ‘the only good communist is a dead communist’ position for any real clarity.

DPP Election: Continued factions

The DPP will be voting for a new chairman on January 15th. As with the KMT Chairman election back in July, the fact that there is a real contest on which all party members can vote is a step forward. (Although the DPP has had open elections for the party head for a while, recent elections have only had one candidate standing).

There are three candidates: Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) – the ‘heavyweight’ who has done spells in most of the senior DPP positions, Trong Chai (蔡同榮) – a well-respected senior member of the DPP, and Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) – who would be considered an outsider if it wasn’t for the support of DPP giant ex-chairman Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄).

Although there was quite some talk about the need for a fresh face to lead the DPP forward, it is quite notable that none of the three candidates are particularly young (Yu and Wong are in their late 50s while Chai is 70); in particular all three are older than Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou. The current generation of leaders in the DPP were all involved in the fight for democracy and the setting up of the DPP, and it will probably be a while before a younger member who wasn’t involved in this struggle will be trusted with a senior position.

One issue which it seems will be raised during the campaign will be the role of factions inside the DPP. The various factions have always wielded a large amount of power behind the scenes, and this often results in members being more worried about internal power-struggles than more important stuff (like trying to run the country). One sign of how the factions in the DPP have way too much power was the reaction of the New Tide faction to Wong registering as a candidate, while leaving her faction:

Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康), chief convener of the faction, announced last night that he would resign from the post to take responsibility for Wong’s decision to run for DPP chairperson without consulting the faction beforehand.

Not only does this imply that the New Tide faction expected Wong to ask for permission before running, but that her not doing so is such a shocking embarassment to the faction that it’s a resigning offense for the chief convener.

Trong Tsai has already said that he will aim to get rid of the factions if he wins the election – although whether this is any more acheivable than the next premier saying he will stop the cross-party fighting remains to be seen. Ironically Tsai is the only candidate who has the official backing of one of the factions (the Welfare State faction); all other factions have said that their members should vote as they see fit.

Whoever wins this election will have their work cut out to turn the DPPs fortunes around. For more thoughts on the candidates hop on over to Wandering to Tamshui (here and here), and Michael Turton’s site.

42nd time lucky

Nothing emphasizes the deadlock in Taiwanese politics better than the stalled ‘Arms bill’. This is a proposal for a special budget to buy arms from the US, which has been in limbo for nearly the whole of Chen Shui-bian’s five year reign. Despite the fact that the arms purchase was originally requested by the KMT, and is strongly supported by the president, the bill has not even been discussed yet by the legislature. Until this week. On the 42nd attempt by the government to get this bill heard by the legislature, they succeeded – by waiting until the KMT weren’t watching:

Taipei, Dec. 20 (CNA) “Pan-green” camp legislators pulled a fast one on their opposition “pan-blue alliance” colleagues at the Legislative Yuan’s Procedures Committee Tuesday by calling for a snap vote on the long-stalled arms purchase bill when some opposition legislators were away at another meeting.

At around noon time, when only five “pan-blue alliance” lawmakers were present at the meeting, one of the 12 lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which form the “pan-green” camp, proposed a vote whether to put on the legislative agenda the arms bill and the review of the president’s nominations for Control Yuan members.

Committee chairman William C.T. Lai of the DPP ruled that a vote be held immediately to decide on DPP Legislator Hsu Kuo-yung’s proposal. By 12: 30 p.m., the committee had voted 12-5 to put the two matters on the legislature’s meeting agenda, leaving the five “pan-blue alliance” legislators in a daze.

Another triumph for democracy? Or another childish move in Taiwan’s ever-puerile government? What happens next is wholly predictable:
The KMT will spend two days bitching about how it’s unfair that the DPP abused their 30-minutes of majority rule, after which the arms bill will be conclusively voted down in the legislature’s plenary session on Friday.

Presumably all pan-Blue lawmakers will now be issued with colostomy bags to make sure the DPP can’t sneakily pass any laws while they’ve nipped out to the toilet.

Taiwanese whispers

The three most powerful men in Taiwanese politics are President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九). The fact that they have serious trouble communicating with each other is fairly reflective of the problems and divisions in politics here in general.

Last Saturday, Chen invited Wang to a private meeting. There was no announcement by either party as to what they discussed, but the following day, Ma gave his interpretation of what happened:

Ma held an unusual news briefing at Taipei Main Station at 2:30 p.m yesterday to announce that Wang had phoned and informed him of the president’s invitation.

“I learned from (Legislative Yuan) President Wang this morning that the president had invited him to form a Cabinet,” Ma told reporters. “The KMT recognizes the president’s will to break the current political deadlock by seeking inter-party cooperation to form a Cabinet,” Ma commented, continuing that considering the interests of the whole country and society, “The KMT is willing to give a friendly response to the idea.”

A pretty sensational piece of news. However, there was a swift response from the Presidential Office, who came out with a press release within a couple of hours:

“The president did not invite Wang to form a Cabinet during their meeting,” the press release stated, rebutting reports that claimed Chen had invited Wang to be the new premier during their closed-door meeting Saturday.

The next day, Wang confirmed it was all just a silly misunderstanding between himself and Ma:

Wang yesterday said a Cabinet reshuffle was one of the topics he discussed with the president on Saturday and that he had never considered taking up the job, nor did he want to.

“We first talked about the arms procurement plan, then about the confirmation of the president’s selection of Control Yuan members and then cross-strait issues,” Wang said. “We then talked about the Cabinet reshuffle and other important government bills.”

So, how to explain the fact that Ma’s public briefing was 100% wrong? There are two possibilities:

  1. Ma made a massive mistake, and instead of listening to what Wang was telling him he only heard what he wanted to hear. That would be a pretty worrying thing for a President-in-waiting; I shudder to think what could happen if he used this ‘selective hearing’ when in negotiations with the PRC.
  2. It was a deliberate piece of misinformation: Ma thought that by announcing that Chen had chosen Wang to head up the cabinet he could get public support for a KMT-based cabinet, while discrediting Chen if Chen were to ‘back down’ from this deal. Unfortunately, for this to have worked he would have needed the cooperation of Wang – hardly likely given the tense relationship between the two.

(There is a third possibility, that Wang actually set Ma up: he implied over the phone that he’d been offered the job, and then innocently said “But that’s not what I said” when Ma went public. Intriguing though this idea is, I don’t think relations between the two are quite that bad)

Whatever the story, Ma comes out of this looking pretty stupid – and it’s not the first time he’s been caught out by a Chen-Wang double act. Back in October, Chen discussed with Wang about him representing Taiwan at the upcoming APEC meeting. Wang didn’t mention this private little discussion to Ma, who was then got very grumpy about not being told when it was announced by the Presidential Office.

Ma’s biggest asset is his ability to manage the media – so why has he been putting his foot in it so often recently (Michael spotted another last Saturday)?

Pasuya watch: But is he a minister?

Rank has spotted this gem about Pasuya Yao
, the head of the soon-to-be-irrelevant GIO: In a poll of legislators Yao came out top of a list of ‘nightmare ministers’

According to the United Evening News last night, lawmakers cited Yao as being “unprofessional, careless, lazy, rude, and ill-tempered.”

No argument here. I was telling this to a GIO employee last night and he said, “They missed arrogant.”

Could I add ‘incompetent’ to the list too?

Politics and media control

Taiwan is in the middle of setting up a new National Communication Commission (NCC) – which will take over as a media watchdog from the Government Information Office. Given the incompetence of the current GIO head (my hero Pasuya Yao), and its long history of censorship and oppression, everyone approves of this.

However, there have been bitter (and bloody) fights over how to setup this body – the DPP wanted it to be selected by the Executive Yuan (currently controlled by the DPP), while the KMT wanted it to be selected by the Legislative Yuan (currently controlled by the KMT). The KMT got their way – after a small concession allowing the Executive Yuan to nominate some candidates for the NCC. This week, the process for selecting the members of the NCC started, and it didn’t take long before accusations of political bias appeared.

The process is pretty convoluted. 18 candidates are first selected: 3 by the executive yuan, and 15 by the Legislature (split 8-7 blue-green in line with the split in the legislature). Then a selection panel of 11 is selected by the Legislature (again in proportion to party size), who will select the 13 members of the NCC from the 18 candidates. This selection process happened over the weekend:

Thirteen nominees for first National Communication Commission were selected yesterday following a three-day intensive review process.

Of those selected, three are law experts, four are telecommunication technology experts, three are mass-media study experts, and three are communications economics experts. Only two are female – Liu You-li and Weng Hsiu-chi.

NCC Member Review Committee Chairman Wang Chung-yu (王鍾渝) said the selection process was not influenced by politics. He also said he hoped that political parties would not try to interfere in the operations of the NCC and that NCC members would undertake their new positions with professional judgment.

Although Wang was claiming the process was not influenced by politics, the fact that the Blue dominated selection committee selected all 8 KMT/PFP nominated candidates didn’t escape notice:

All six candidates recommended by the Kuomintang, as well as the two recommended by the People First Party were chosen. The review committee only chose two of the six nominations recommended by the Democratic Progressive Party and two of the Cabinet’s three candidates as NCC members. They also selected the one Taiwan Solidarity Union nominee.

While the DPP were muttering to themselves about this one of their selected candidates, possibly realising his selection had had more to do with politics than media regulation, panicked and withdrew his candidacy:

In a letter to Premier Frank Hsieh, Lu said he regrets that several political parties had packed the list of NCC nominees with their supporters, asking the premier to drop his name from the list of nominees of NCC members to be presented by the premier to the Legislature for confirmation.

Unfortunately, given the way the GIO and the NCC have become political hot potatoes recently, it would take a minor miracle to get a reasonably impartial NCC. The only question is whether they will be as amusingly inept as their predecessor.

No shadenfreude at the KMT

Life has been pretty good in the KMT recently: they’ve got a popular leader, won massively in the recent elections, and don’t seem to have a care in the world. In fact, one of their biggest worries is … the recent problems in the DPP:

Ma said that in order not to undermine the national image and the government’s normal operations, Chen and Lu should stop rampant infighting.

Ma stressed that as an opposition party, the Kuomintang is not glad to see such an undesirable development.” We hope them to sit down for talks and settle controversies, otherwise, it won’t be a boon to Taiwan.”

No sir. We’re not pissing ourselves with laughter and planning our 2008 victory celebrations, we’re much too mature and sincere in our love of Taiwan for that …

Presumably, if we can take Ma’s comments at face value, he is also not enjoying the internal rifts in the PFP either. With every PFP politician wondering when it will become an ‘everyone for themselves’ scramble to leave an imploding PFP, one of their legislators claimed that his own party was like ‘used toilet paper’. When challenged by James Soong on this, he tried to clarify things by saying:

Sun stressed that his comment about the PFP being “used as tissue paper” was an impulsive response to the media and he urged PFP members not to belittle themselves. After all, “the PFP plays a big part in reintegrating the KMT that Lee had torn apart,” said Sun.

Ah, the good old “When in doubt, blame Lee Teng-Hui” strategy. I must admit though, I’m struggling to understand how leaving the KMT en masse (at the same time as Lee) to form a breakaway political party can be classified as ‘reintegrating’ the KMT rather than ‘tearing it apart’.

Waiting for the PFP to die

Yesterday evening saw a much-heralded meeting between the leaders of the two main pan-Blue parties KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), at which many analysts were expecting talk of a merger. As it turned out there was little of any substance to announce:

Emerging from their closed-door meeting at the Armed Forces Hall of Heroes, the two chairmen said they exchanged views on problems of mutual concern in a “very friendly atmosphere” and reached agreement on better cooperation.

The areas of cooperation were nothing new (investigating DPP scandals, opposing various DPP proposals, work towards direct links with China), but the most interesting point was the failure to talk at all about a merger (Ma briefly mentioned that a merger was ‘a possibility’ while Soong didn’t say anything). Indeed, there was talk about coordinating nominations for elections in 2006 and 2007, which implies the two parties may stay separate for the next couple of years. To see why this is important, you need to consider the parlous state the PFP is in.

A brief history of the PFP

The PFP was founded in 2000 in the aftermath of the presidential elections – James Soong ran as an independent in that election, and after massively out-performing the KMT incumbent Lien Chan founded the PFP as a pro-China alternative to the KMT. An impressive showing in the legislative elections the following year confirmed its position as a serious political party. The KMT were forced to work with the PFP to ensure an overall majority in the legislature, and for a while the PFP was considered an equal partner to the KMT. However, things went badly wrong in 2004 – the presidential election loss was followed by a disasterous failure in the legislative election. Add to that an almost anonymous showing in the recent local elections, and suddenly a rising power in Taiwanese politics had turned into a fading party with an over-the-hill leader.

However, the killer blow for the PFP was the constitutional reform which passed in June. The new way that the legislature will be elected in 2007 – with only one candidate elected in each district – will make it almost impossible for a small party like the PFP to gain many seats (especially since there is no substantive difference between the PFP and the KMT platforms).

As a party, the PFP only has one thing going in its favour: it holds the balance of power in the legislature. Although it naturally allies with the KMT to give the pan-Blue side a majority, a combined DPP-PFP would also have a majority. So as long as the PFP can threaten to vote with the DPP on their KMT asset stripping bill, the KMT can’t afford to ignore Soong’s party.

An interesting challenge for Ma

So Soong, armed with his one trump card, is trying to negotiate his (and possibly his parties) political future. How Ma Ying-jeou handles this will be informative, as it’s his first real political challenge as KMT head[*] – and one of the biggest question marks over Ma is whether he’s smart enough to handle tough negotiations like this one. Handle it well, and he’ll convince more people that he’s got what it takes to lead a country, but muck it up and people may start questioning how much substance there is behind all his style.

The sensible course for the KMT to take over the PFP is just to wait for them to fade away: support a couple of their pet issues (a few more unconstitutional ‘truth commissions’, a bit more obstruction over the arms budget) to ensure there’s no outright war between the two camps, and just wait until the next legislative elections – at which point the PFP can almost be guaranteed to disappear.

The results from this meeting certainly implies that this is Ma’s strategy: rumblings over the last few months that Soong wants a run at Taipei mayor were explicitly ignored at this meeting (“We’re not discussing matters regarding our personal interests” was the official line), and the lack of serious outcome from this meeting means that the KMT have ensured PFP cooperation for a bit longer without any concessions.

Time is running out for the PFP – each day that passes moves them a little bit closer to becoming the ‘new New Party’.

* By ‘political’ I mean the negotiation, deal-making, and policy side of things. The whole ‘electioneering’ thing is something that noone has ever doubted Ma’s ability in – as confirmed by recent election results.