Monthly Archives: February 2006


February 28th is a national holiday in Taiwan to remember the events of 1947. As I mentioned last year, the definitive history of this (for English speakers) is Formosa Betrayed by George Kerr – which is available online. Kerr was an American diplomat in Taiwan who was an eye-witness to it all:

From an upper window we watched Nationalist soldiers in action in the alleys across the way. We saw Formosans bayoneted in the street without provocation. A man was robbed before our eyes – and then cut down and run through. Another ran into the street in pursuit of soldiers dragging a girl away from his house and we saw him, too, cut down.

This sickening spectacle was only the smallest sample of the slaughter then taking place throughout the city, only what could be seen from one window on the upper floor of one rather isolated house. The city was full of troops.

The NUC ‘ceases to function’

As has been expected for some time President Chen Shui-bian today announced the abolishment of the National Unification Council and Guidelines … or did he? Here’s what he said:

The National Unification Council will cease to function. No budget will be earmarked for it, and its personnel must return to their original posts. The National Unification Guidelines will cease to apply. In accordance with procedures, this decision will be transmitted to the Executive Yuan for notice.

So does ‘cease to function’ mean that it’s been abolished? Or did it cease to function back in 2000? The answer to both these contradictary questions is probably ‘yes’. Perhaps Chen has decided that if the US is going to base their Taiwan-China policies on ‘strategic ambiguity’, then there’s no reason why Taiwan can’t either.

Perhaps the acid test for whether this is actually an abolishment of the council lies not with Chen Shui-bian, but with his successor. The wording of this statement seems to leave room for the next president to ‘resume the function’ of the NUC and the associated guidelines. But would Ma Ying-jeou feel comfortable doing that, given his public statements about letting the people decide about unification or reunification?

Clearly Chen has chosen the wording on this statement carefully. He’s avoided clearly ‘abolishing’ the council to make some concessions to the US, and to give his supporters some wiggle-room to argue as to whether this is a real change or not. If Chen can spin this as a non-event which the pan-Blues are overreacting to (I’ve already heard one legislator call him ‘Osama bin Laden’ and of course the move to recall him is in full swing), then he may yet come out ahead.

Whatever the reasons behind Chen’s move, it remind me less of Machiavelli and more of Baldrick’s “I have a cunning plan …”

Wang Jin-pyng and constitutional change

I am a big fan of Chen Shui-bian’s plans for constitutional change – the fact that noone can give a straight answer as to whether Taiwan is a presidential or parliamentary system, the constant battles between the legislature and executive over who has the power to do anything, and the whole “how many branches of government does a country really need?” question all point to the need for a new (or updated) constitution.

Unfortunately, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou doesn’t see things that way – which means there is no chance for any change in the next several years. However, I was pleased to see that Wang Jin-pyng is publically supporting constitutional reform:

At a Kuomintang parliamentary council meeting, Wang said yesterday the party has to seriously consider increasing the membership of the nation’s highest organ to 200.

At the meeting, Wang also called for a German-style parliamentary system of government.

As a matter of fact, the Constitution mandates a dual leadership system of government. The president may appoint the premier without the consent of the Legislative Yuan, to which, however, the latter has to be responsible.

So what’s Ma’s rationale for keeping things as they are?

“The people would question the government and the parliament, if too many constitutional amendments were made,” Ma pointed out.

So to be clear: he doesn’t care whether the constitution needs reform or not – he cares about whether he would look good or not supporting a change.

Of course, the cynical take on this is that it’s hardly surprising that the head of the legislature wants to make the legislature the most important body, and that president-in-waiting Ma is more than happy to keep the presidency. However, whatever their motivations Wang is talking sense while Ma is busy sticking his head in the sand on this one.

Say it loud, and say it proud.

KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou says something which the KMT really needs to say:

“The KMT has stressed that the people of Taiwan have full authority to determine the future of their nation, whether it be unification with China, declaring independence, or maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait; these are all considered options for Taiwan’s future.”

Pretty obvious, huh? Yet it’s something which the KMT has had a problem with accepting for some time. Ma is simply stating that the KMT is just one party in a multi-party democracy, and as such they have no absolute control over what happens to Taiwan. Given the KMT’s history, and the overblown rhetoric over independence and unification from both sides, it’s important to say it though. To clarify, Ma said:

“As citizens of a democratic country, the people of Taiwan are free to choose which option to pursue, so long as the choices are constitutional and do not violate any of the laws of the country.”

I couldn’t agree more. Ma went on to say that the KMT still support eventual unification – a position they’ve always held, and aren’t likely to change soon. Will the other parties applaud Ma for this statement, and say they respect (but might disagree with) the KMT’s position on unification? Or will they just try to misrepresent what he’s saying? I’m not taking bets on that one …

Taiwan’s relationship with the US

When it comes to international relations, only two things really matter in Taiwan: Taiwan’s relationship with China, and Taiwan’s relationship with America. As everyone knows, links between Beijing and Taipei have been strained for a while now. Unfortunately, links between Taipei and Washington aren’t much better – and it’s a pretty inexcusable state of affairs.

Of course, there are major policy differences between the two countries: in particular, while the US supports Taiwan’s democracy and effective freedom, it is very keen for Taiwan not to do anything that ‘rocks the boat’. In practice, this means that anything that upsets China is likely to upset America. However, almost all countries have their differences and the issue isn’t where you differ: it’s how you manage your relations to maximise communication, understanding and the possibility of mutually-acceptable compromises.

A recent example of the inept handling of Taiwan-US relations came over Chinese new year, when President Chen casually announced he was thinking of scrapping the National Unification Council. Because the US had no forewarning, it gave a strong (over)reaction which mixed a justified anger over not being informed with a lack of comprehension as to what Chen was doing. How is it possible that relations could get to this state?

The historical connection

The US has held a lot of influence on Taiwan’s development since World War II. However, since that first foray into Chinese-Taiwanese relations in Cairo 1943, it has been the KMT that the US government has interacted with – something which still seems to be an issue for the current government. The majority of diplomats and Taiwan-experts in the US had regular contact with senior KMT officials and built up their relationship with the KMT. When the DPP took over power in 2000, the US suddenly found that their contacts weren’t in control, and they had to develop a whole new set of relationships.

Equally, on the Taiwanese side any senior career diplomat will have cut his teeth during the KMT regime, and will almost certainly have been a KMT member. This presented a problem to the DPP – assign a ‘party loyalist’ with little or no experience, or try to use senior experienced KMT members? When Chen Shui-bian became president he assigned Chen Chien-jen (程建人) as de-facto Ambassador to the US. Chen was a KMT member[*] – but someone with excellent links in Washington, and was widely seen as an excellent choice for the job. Indeed, in 2003 Chen was receiving rave reviews from the DPP and being snubbed by the (ever-petulant) Lien Chan. But the problem remains, as someone who was previously the KMT’s foreign minister, how well trusted was he by the DPP government? And how well could he explain to the US controversial issues like the 2004 referendum?

Chen resigned from his post after the 2004 presidential election, and has been replaced by another KMT member, David Lee (李大維). Again, noone has seriously questioned[**] his experience, competence or integrity, but it is almost certain that he is very distant from the government’s decision-making processes; he probably has as hard a time understanding some decisions as his US counterparts, to whom he should be explaining things. Unfortunately, the US post is generally seen as too junior a position for anyone who has both the experience with the US and the connections inside the DPP – for example Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) turned down the position in 2004[***].

While Taiwan has been struggling to bridge the blue-green divide in diplomatic appointees, the US appointments seem to have fallen foul of this overly partisan split in Taiwanese politics. The head of the AIT (America’s diplomatic office for Taiwan) during President Chen’s first term was Therese Shaheen who was famously outspoken in support of Taiwan in general (and the DPP government in particular). Her claims that George Bush was Chen Shui-bian’s “guardian angel”, and that the US didn’t oppose independence (they just didn’t support it either) drew heavy criticism from other US officials, and often led Taiwanese officials to believe that they had more support in Washington than they did. In the end, she was fired after congratulating Chen on his win in 2004 before the White House did:

State Department officials acknowledged that Beijing had been riled by a series of Taiwan policy pronouncements that Shaheen has made since she was appointed the AIT chairman of the board and managing director on December 31, 2002. But they said Shaheen’s troubles emanated not from the Chinese complaints but rather from the fact that her policy pronouncements were frequently at odds with US policy.

“She wasn’t faithfully representing the policies of the president,” said one diplomatic source. “She would say things like: ‘What the president meant to say was this’ or ‘This is what US policy really is’. She was being inconsistent and in that position you can’t do that,” the source said, noting the particular sensitivities about the US relationships with Taiwan and China.

Meanwhile, Douglas Paal (the Taipei-based directory of the AIT) was someone who had strong links with the KMT and fairly strained relations with the DPP.

Paal “has basically no relationship with the DPP,” argues one American official, because he came to Taiwan as a Sinophile and interacts mostly with the opposition KMT. (DPP sources confirm that Paal and Chen have strained interactions.) American officials say that inside the administration Paal and some other relatively pro-China diplomats portray Chen and his compatriots as irresponsible leaders who have whipped up pro-independence sentiment and wrongly believe that, if the KMT regains power, the issue of Taiwanese independence will die.

The combination of Shaheen and Paal has guaranteed a string of wildly conflicting interpretations of policy going in both directions across the Pacific.

The current situation

So, During Chen’s first term, policy was passed from a pro-independence government to a pro-unification ambassador who then relayed it to a pro-independence AIT head who in turn passed it on to a generally pro-China US government. It’s hardly surprising that there was plenty of miscommunication and re-interpretation of issues. Unfortunately, the situation has got worse in Chen’s second term.

Shaheen (who left ten months ago) has been replaced as AIT Chairman by … nobody.

Paal (who left last month) has been replaced as AIT Director by … nobody.

A replacement for Paal, Stephen Young, was announced this week but he won’t start work until next month. Like Paal, he is someone who has good links with the KMT, but issues with the DPP. The next AIT Chairman still hasn’t been announced, but it is expected to be Raymond Burghardt, who was an AIT Director in Taipei several years ago. However, it is expected that the post will be down-graded to a part time position.

So, what to do?

The most basic point is that it would help if both sides took relations seriously. The recent NUC flap showed that President Chen didn’t consider informing the US about a major announcement (and it seems didn’t even bother mentioning it to his foreign ministry or US ambassador). Equally, the fact that the US can leave their most senior position vacant for nearly a year, and fail to announce a replacement to the 2nd position before that becomes vacant shows they’re not focused on communication with Taiwan.

However, the onus has got to be on Taiwan to improve things: any reduction in US support for Taiwan would cost them nothing (and improved relations with China would be a big incentive) while being a major problem for Taiwan. Chen Shui-bian has had over 5 years to build up a relationship with the Bush administration in the US, and has clearly failed to do so. Even if he doesn’t realise the importance of this, the electorate does: a recent poll showed that more people were worried about America’s response to scrapping the NUC than were worried about China’s response.

Perhaps it’s time that the job of handling US-Taiwan relations should be upgraded: the current cabinet has room for a Director of the Coastguard, the chairman of the MAC, a minister in charge of Mongolian and Tibetan affairs and chairman of the Overseas Chinese Comission. Looks like there’s room for someone dedicated to improving US relations.
* He possibly gave up his KMT membership to serve for a non-KMT government, but I’m not sure about it.
** There have been accusations by certain politicians aiming at scoring cheap political points, but I don’t consider those ‘serious’.
*** I also have a vague memory of Hisao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) being asked whether she’d consider the job in 2004 to which she responded “Do you think I’m stupid?” but I can’t find a reference to it … so maybe I misremembered.

Taiwan’s Tony Blair

Here’s a thought for all those people who are interested in both UK and Taiwan politics (I know there are lots of you really …): Is Ma Ying-jeou Taiwan’s Tony Blair?

Here’s the evidence:

  • He inherited an old-fashioned party which had forgotten how to win elections.
  • He has a charisma and ‘youthful energy’ which is completely at odds with previous leaders.
  • Without any substansive changes he has single-handedly changed the perception of the party from “yesterday’s party” to “tomorrow’s party”.
  • He embodies the phrase “a triumph of style over substance”.
  • His enthusiasm for links to the big power across the water (which the country has long historical links to) make many of the electorate nervous.

But here’s the thing that got me thinking, from a news report today about Ma:

Stating that the goal of the KMT’s cross-strait policy is to achieve peace and prosperity for Taiwan, Ma stressed that he will advocate a “third path” for Taiwan – maintaining the status quo while boosting bilateral exchanges and mutual understanding across the strait – apart from the options of independence or unification.

This would set off alarm bells for anyone who’s ever listened to Tony Blair’s obsession with his ‘third way’. What is the ‘third way’? Who knows – but it sounds damn good as an excuse for doing what you want while sounding moderate. This article tries to nail it (about half way down):

Now, trying to define what that [the third way] means is very hard. Some wags have observed that the best definition of the Third Way is whatever Mr. Blair actually does. So if you want a directly elected mayor for London, if you want to stop teenage pregnancies, if you want to continue privatizing the railways, then obviously you must be Third Way. That is very obvious, isn’t it?

So what does this mean? Not a lot really. Except that I find Ma Ying-jeou’s obsession in getting his face on as many posters as possible in Taipei and appearing in every photo-opportunity going annoys me just as much as Tony Blair’s holier-than-thou way of talking.

Pasuya for mayor

Headline in the Taiwan News today: Yao plans to run for Kaohsiung mayor

Former Government Information Office minister Pasuya Yao has expressed his intention to run in the year-end election for mayor of Kaohsiung City in spite of the controversy surrounding him during his tenure as a Cabinet member.

You just can’t keep a good man down. Or Pasuya it would seem. For a little bit of background on the man they callwho calls himself ‘brave warrior’, check out the many successes of a true Taiwanese hero.

Ma Ying-jeou and Taiwan’s ‘Pragmatic Path’

KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou continued his efforts to promote the KMT internationally with an article in the Asian Wall Street Journal yesterday. This isn’t the first time that Ma has taken time to explain the KMT’s vision to Westerners, and it certainly won’t be the last time. It also stands in stark contrast to the ham-fisted mess that the DPP government is currently making of relations with America.

The article had four interesting areas: Confrontation, One China, Unification/Independence and Constitutional reform.

Politically, the KMT should serve as a responsible and responsive opposition party. We should act as a check and balance on the ruling party and the Chen administration, while always keeping our actions within reasonable limits and being mindful of the national interest. As a society, Taiwan has been internally divided for too long. It is time to begin the healing process. To aid this process, the KMT is determined to pursue a course of reconciliation rather than emotional confrontation.

While I couldn’t agree more that this should be the KMT’s position, the sad fact is that obstruction and emotional confrontation have got worse since Ma took over from Lien Chan as Chairman – and Ma has done nothing to moderate it. Maybe, as he says “it’s time to begin” reconcilliation, but I’m not holding my breath.

Likewise, the KMT should continue to help lower tensions across the Taiwan Strait. In 1992, when I was senior vice chairman of the cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council, the KMT administration ironed out a political compromise with Beijing on the knotty issue of one China, known as “one China, different interpretations.” During the 1990s, Taipei conducted 24 rounds of talks with Beijing, including a landmark meeting between Chairman Koo Chen-fu of the Straits Exchange Foundation and President Jiang Zemin in 1998. We participated in these discussions without jeopardizing Taiwan’s security, economy, democratization, or international standing. I see no reason why we can’t repeat them in future.

Of course, the KMT’s willingness to support a ‘One China’ principle is a big differentiator between them and the DPP. The fact that talks will likely resume across the Taiwan Strait when the KMT return to power is a big selling point for them. However, it’s worth noting that the KMT version of ‘One China’ claims that Chen Shui-bian is the rightful ruler of the whole of China, and that the PRC does not exist – which is closer to being a drug-induced hallucination than a sound basis for talks.

Taiwan needs a new paradigm — a fresh way to look at itself and others. For too long the country has been torn between its Chinese and Taiwanese identities, between the ideas of unification and independence. The KMT now believes that neither unification nor independence is likely for Taiwan in the foreseeable future and that the status quo should be maintained. The island’s future should be determined by its people, rather than the government. In this fresh paradigm, Taiwan sees itself in a new light. I am confident that as the island further opens itself up, it can only become more prosperous and secure.

The line that Taiwan’s future is up to the people of Taiwan to decide could have been taken straight from just about any Chen Shui-bian speech in the last 6 years; I’m not sure whether Chen will be happy that Ma has ‘seen the light’ or be annoyed that he’s stealing his favourite bits of rhetoric.

Nevertheless, Ma is almost certainly the first KMT chairman to acknowledge (while the chairman) that formal independence is an option for Taiwan (however unlikely), and that the KMT way is not the only way. Ma is usually careful to say that unification with China is the eventual goal of his party – which is of course very different to saying that it’s the goal for the whole country. His position on this is more well-defined, more clearly explained, and more moderate than that of his predecessor, which he should be commended for.

During the 1990s, Taiwan was justifiably proud of the political democratization it had built upon its economic miracle. But after the transfer of power from the KMT to the DPP in 2000, the Chen administration got carried away and pushed, in rapid succession, for a referendum, a new constitution, and even a change in Taiwan’s name. Few other countries have amended their constitutions as many times as quickly as Taiwan — seven times in the last 15 years. Yet, even after all these changes, President Chen was still vowing, in his recent New Year’s Day message, to push ahead with another, even more comprehensive round of amendments.

Constitutional reform is an area where I have a serious issue with Ma Ying-jeou. Apart from the fact that he’s playing fast and loose with the facts (when has the government pushed a ‘new’ consitution rather than a revision? And when has it pushed for a name change?), he flat out contradicts himself here. During the 1990s (which everyone is “justifiably proud” of) there were 6 amendments to the constitution; in the subsequent 5 years (when the DPP got “carried away”) there was one (which, incidentally the KMT supported). If he thinks 1 change in 5 years is too much, why is everyone proud of 6 changes in 10 years?

Anyway, the issue isn’t really how many changes have there been – it’s whether the constitution as it is now needs change. Ma has consistently said it doesn’t need a change. Meanwhile his party has been busy disabling some of the constitutionally-defined (but outdated) branches of government, while trying to redefine the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. Unfortunately, because President Chen has made constitutional reform his main platform, Ma feels the need to deny any need for reform (in line with the ‘course of reconciliation’ he mentioned above).

Whatever issues I have with Ma on some of his positions, there is no doubt he provides a more coherent vision for Taiwan than Lien Chan ever did, and is much better at promoting those ideas to a Western audience than the current government.

Wither the one without

A belated 新年快樂 to everyone! I’ve been away from a computer for the new year, so I’m a bit late on President Chen’s new year speech. Other blogs have already covered the speech, and the American (over)reaction. The main talking point is that Chen Shui-bian said this:

There are people urging that the National Unification Council and its guidelines be abolished. I think now is the appropriate time we must seriously consider it, take a good look at it.

Given that this Council hasn’t met since 1999, has a budget of NT$1000 (about US$30), the guidelines have been explicitly ignored for 5 years and have no legal force, you’d have thought this wouldn’t be such a big deal. It certainly wouldn’t have any material effect on cross-strait links. However, the big issue is that it Chen promised not to abolish the council in his inauguration speech in 2000 – this was his “4 Noes and 1 without” pledge:

Therefore, as long as the CCP regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan, I pledge that during my term in office, I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called “state-to-state” description in the Constitution, and I will not promote a referendum to change the status quo in regard to the question of independence or unification. Furthermore, there is no question of abolishing the Guidelines for National Unification and the National Unification Council.

So, what is Chen doing? Opinions range from “The CCP clearly has an intention to use military force, so he’s not breaking his promise” (from the Green side of the aisle), to “He’s a liar, mad and trying to start a war” (from the Blue side, and unfortunately the US).

An alternative is that he’s been planning this since his inauguration in 2004, and it doesn’t involve breaking his pledge at all – but does involve breaking most people’s understanding of that pledge (an action which is bound to appeal to the lawyer in Chen). Here’s President Chen Shui-bian 2nd inauguration speech in May 2004 where he reaffirmed his promise:

Today I would like to reaffirm the promises and principles set forth in my inaugural speech in 2000. Those commitments have been honored–they have not changed over the past four years, nor will they change in the next four years. Upon this foundation, my next step will be to invite both the governing and opposition parties, in conjunction with representatives from various walks of the society, to participate in the establishment of a “Committee for Cross-Strait Peace and Development,” combining the collective insight and wisdom of all parties and our citizenry, to draft the “Guidelines for Cross-Strait Peace and Development.” The goal will be to pave the way for formulating a new relationship of cross-strait peace, stability and sustainable development.

Now here’s the question: how do you build upon the foundation of promising not to abolish the National Unification Council by establishing a Committee for Cross-Strait Peace and Development, and not abolish the Guidelines for National Unification while drafting Guidelines for Cross-Strait Peace and Development? Simple. You rename the NUC as the ‘Committee for Cross-Strait Peace and Development’ and then update the guidelines too. Does this break his 2000 promises? Technically, no. It even (arguably) fits in with the spirit of his 2004 promise.

Of course, this is pure speculation. But don’t be too surprised if Chen clarifies his statement by just saying he wants to update the Council and the Guidelines to better reflect the Status Quo …