Monthly Archives: March 2006

Leaving party politics

DPP Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲), in announcing that he was leaving the DPP and party politics in general, tells it like it is:

He poked at the political parties’ passion-fanning rhetoric and found that they contained nothing but empty slogans. The parties, fearful that the people might see through their “emperor’s clothes, ” cannot but keep fanning supporters’ passion with divisive rhetoric as if feeding them “rave party pills,” he said.

When a party’s supporters are in “a state of ecstasy,” they don’t reflect on themselves, Lin said, claiming that party leaders use this to try to protect themselves by leading the crowd to attack “the enemy.”

Indeed party leaders, be they “green” or “blue,” have found that their supporters are so naive that they don’t care about policy, governance, credibility or ability, or even corruption, and that they still “follow the leaders” after enjoying a good show of “slogan shouting and illusions,” Lin said.

He said that in Taiwan, since the peaceful transfer of power in 2000, “rave party-pills politics” has driven people into two opposing camps, neither of which care about right and wrong in society and both of which care only about their political positions.

As a result, he added, political parties have become gangs dedicated to gaining power and fulfilling individual ambitions, caring only about the next election while ignoring the suffering of the general populace. “Doing things that will benefit people is not important; what is important is doing things that will benefit political parties. If they are serving only themselves, why should the people remain loyal to them?” Lin asked.

I don’t think you’ll find many people disagreeing with his sentiments there. Given that he’s talking common sense, I confidently predict he won’t be reelected in next years legislative elections.

Ma’s “Five Do’s”

One thing that Ma Ying-jeou has been attempting to do is convince the US government that he has a plan for China-Taiwan relations. In the great tradition of Chinese (Sorry – Chinese and Taiwanese) politicians he has come up with a number-word combination which sounds awkward in English: the “Five Do’s”. I haven’t got his original text, but they are (as described here):

  • Lay out a provisional framework for peaceful engagements across the Taiwan Strait
  • Push for the resumption of cross-strait dialogue
  • Seek to improve cross-strait trade and economic relations
  • Promote talks with Beijing concerning Taiwan’s entry into international bodies
  • Promote cross-strait cultural and educational exchanges

Now compare that with this speech given in 2004:

It is my belief that both sides must demonstrate a dedicated commitment to national development, and through consultation, establish a dynamic “peace and stability framework” for interactions; that we must work together to guarantee there will be no unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait; and, additionally, we must further promote cultural, economic and trade exchanges–including the three links–for only in so doing can we ensure the welfare of our peoples while fulfilling the expectations of the international community.

Notice the similarities? By my reckoning he’s proposing to do exactly what Chen Shui-bian was proposing when he started his 2nd term – with the exception of negotiation on international representation (although I’m sure Chen would have loved to chat with China about that).

Of course, Ma has a trump card that Chen never had: He is willing to play China’s “One China” game and so start talks. However, the US politicians who were impressed with this positive attitude (do’s as well as don’ts!) would do well to note that Ma’s ideas are hardly original – or particularly groundbreaking.

Will they succeed? Well, that depends on the response from China. I do confidently predict though that Ma’s central idea of a ‘peace treaty’ between the two sides is likely to happen sometime during Ma’s first term – possibly just before some major election in Taiwan. There will no doubt be dancing in the streets of Taipei and Beijing, while analysts examine the smallprint about it all being contingent on Taiwan being part of China … and wonder exactly how it is any different from the anti-secession law.

De jure independence

Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) kicked off his US tour in New York yesterday, and of course the major topic was China-Taiwan relations. I was struck by this quote:

“The people of Taiwan elect their own president, parliament and manage their own affairs. Legally it already is a sovereign independent country and there is no need to declare independence a (second) time,” Ma said.

Two points are worth making about this:

  • This could have been taken straight out of the DPP’s 1999 Resolution on Taiwan’s Future (check point 1). In fact, of the 7 points in that resolution, I believe Ma would only disagree with the DPP’s position on ‘One China’.
  • A common viewpoint (which I’ve never really understood) is that Taiwan enjoys ‘de facto’ independence but is not ‘de jure’ independent. Obviously this is not a viewpoint that Ma (or the DPP) subscribes to.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ma is starting to define a position on China that is lightyears ahead of his predecessor’s in terms of clarity, common sense and acceptability for the people of Taiwan. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the two areas where he seems shaky (arms purchases, and position on ‘One China’ – which is worthy of a separate post) are the two areas that he inherited from Lien Chan.

Crime and foreigners

Well, this isn’t encouraging. The first concrete action which has been linked to Premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) attempt to focus on crime has been taken by the CLA:

Companies and individuals who illegally hire foreign nationals will see their potential financial risks multiply five times starting next month, announced the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) yesterday.

Kuo Fang-yu, director-general of the CLA Employment and Vocational Training Administration who accompanied Lee to the Legislative Yuan, told reporters that there were concerns about the illegal workers resorting to crime.

“If these workers encounter problems and are not able to sustain themselves, they may resort to extreme measures such as robbery or other criminal activity,” Kuo said.

As the (very good) China Post article points out most of the illegal workers in Taiwan are young Filipino women who are hired as domestic helpers – given that they are much much more likely to be the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators Kuo’s justifications don’t make sense, and carry a rather unpleasantly racist undertone. Either Kuo just thinks the ‘crime crackdown’ is a convenient excuse to implement his policies, or he thinks that those dirty foreigners make a convenient scapegoat for Taiwan’s problems with crime.

To be clear, Taiwan does have a problem with illegal overseas workers – with an estimated 20,000 people (mainly from Southeast Asia) working illegally – but this problem is caused by rules imposed by the CLA which encourage exploitation of the workers. A situation which has just been exasperated by this new move. This is nothing new though – the problem is legislation dating back to 1999; this article from three years ago describes the very reasonable demands by foreign workers:

“The first is asking the CLA to re-include foreign workers under the protection of the Labor Standard Law (勞動基準法); the second is to remove the current employment agency system and replace it with a direct employment system to end agency-fee exploitation; the third is to set up a regulation to enforce time off for these workers. Lastly, we are asking for the right to switch employers freely.”

The Hope Workers’ Center was founded to assist needy foreign migrant workers in Taiwan. It helps more than 70,000 foreign workers a year.

According to O’Neil, in 1998 the CLA included foreign migrant workers in the Labor Standard Law, which aims to protect the basic rights of employees. For instance, the law specifies that the total number of working hours shall not exceed 48 per week, while overtime hours have to be strictly recorded and paid by employers.

“However, after foreign workers had been included in the law, employment agencies and employers started to file complaints about the hassle of keeping track of overtime hours and asked the CLA to exclude foreign workers from the law. As a result, in January 1999, foreign workers were once again deprived of their rights. Right now, there is no law to protect them at all.” O’Neil said.

Premier Su tackles crime

Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has been Premier of Taiwan for just under two months – and has decided that it’s time to show where his priorities lie:

Faced with public complaints concerning rising crime rates, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has pledged to improve social order and list it as a top priority for his administration, adding that he will withdraw from political life if he fails to live up to his promise within six months.

This is a good move in so many different ways: Tackling crime is obviously something important for Taiwan, it’s something that affects people directly (as compared to the abstract way the unification/independence arguments have any impact), it’s something which Premier Su actually has some control over, and it attempts to distance him from the topics of eternal Green-Blue bitching.

At the same time as Chen Shui-bian is talking up his grand vision of constitutional reform, which (while I agree with it strongly in principal) is going to go nowhere and get dragged down into the same old independence battles, Su is asking to be judged on his performance fighting crime. As Premier, Su has to support everything the President does – as shown when he spent hours defending Chen’s NUC decision to the legislature, despite having little or no say in the decision to scrap the council. So the best he can do is to make it clear what are his ideas and what are Chen’s.

Of course, the cynical amongst you will be wondering how sincere this promise to withdraw from politics if he fails is. After all, Su promised to (and did) step down as DPP Head to take responsibility for the local election failure of his party – only to be promoted to Premier as a result. Politicians who fall on their sword in Taiwan usually reappear sooner rather than later. There is also the question of how Su wants to be judged:

“You may find some statistics in our report, but we are not using those statistics as a gauge of our performance in maintaining social order,” Su said. “I care more about how people feel about our work, hoping that they can feel our determination to attain our goal.”

“I will resign from the premiership and withdraw from Taiwan’s political circles forever if most people do not feel any improvement concerning social order six months from today,” Su said.

Translation: Su will be judged by a government-sponsored opinion poll. Given that opinion polls in Taiwan have a long history of bias dependent on who commissioned them, Su should be pretty safe.

Cynicism aside, this is a good move by Su. I must say, I’ve been impressed with him so far as Premier – he’s always been an immensely likeable politician (one of the few!), but he seems to be showing a general competence and political savvy as well.

Outbreak of sanity in the legislature

Yesterday was the first meeting of the Procedure Committee for the next session of the Legislature. Given the recent shouting matches over the NUC, I would have bet good money on this descending into arguments, pushing, shouting and possibly (as before) bloodshed. If fact, it was one of the least confrontational meetings in years.

It seems that someone (Premier Su?) has decided that proposing bills with zero chance of progress is not the way to go and has opened up the possibility of actual progress in the Legislature:

With the Procedure Committee considering this session’s agenda for the first time, the DPP caucus decided to temporarily shelve controversial bills dealing with ill-gotten party assets, an arms deal with the United States and confirmation of Control Yuan member nominees.

The move was made, the DPP said, as a sign of good will to improve relations between the governing and opposition parties.

Instead, DPP legislators submitted 26 central government appropriations bills that were frozen by the pan-blue alliance in the last session. The bills later made it through the Procedure Committee and put on the agenda of related legislative committees for review, where their chances for passage remain uncertain.

The KMT reciprocated by not proposing a recall on President Chen.

So, does this imply everything will be sweetness and light in the Legislature from now on? Of course not. However, it does mean that the less controversial bills proposed by the DPP actually have a chance of a sensible hearing in the legislature – and that can only be good news.

Whoever is behind this new more conciliatory approach should be commended. It seems it is even affecting some of the appointees:

In another move to placate the opposition, the DPP caucus nominated Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳) as one of the Procedure Committee’s three conveners.

DPP legislative whip Chen Chin-jun (陳景峻) hoped that Tsai, one of the body’s characters known for his comic routines, would relieve the tense atmosphere of the committee and make it possible for the DPP to smoothly push through more bills this session.

Given that the legislators usually act like children, asking a clown to help run things makes perfect sense. (Update: And as Jason points out in the comments, he deserves the title ‘clown’)

No more ‘4 noes and 1 without’

A few days ago I criticized Chen Shui-bian for not clarifying the status of his inauguration promises (the ‘4 noes and 1 without’). He has now done so:

In his inaugural address in 2000, Chen pledged not to abolish the National Reunification Council and the National Unification Guidelines; not to declare independence; not to change Taiwan’s official name; not to push inclusion of the so-called state-to-state description of Taiwan-China relations in the Constitution; and not to promote a referendum to change the status quo in respect of the question of independence or unification.

However, he said in the interview that the precondition for his five pledges has already disappeared.

The precondition was that ‘as long as China had no intention of using military force against Taiwan,’” Chen said. “However, China’s intention to invade Taiwan is visible now.

Glad we’ve got that clear then.

Update (March 6th): Or so you would think. A day after this interview is published we have Tsai Ing-wen (the vice-premier of Taiwan) saying this:

Touching on President Chen Shui-bian’s plan to write a “viable, timely and relevant” new constitution for Taiwan, Tsai said Chen would strictly follow the existing provisions in carrying out his constitutional re-engineering project and would not violate his “five no” promises which include no declaration of independence and no change to the national title.

Government by contradiction.

Update (March 8th): The original interview which Chen’s quotes come from is available here. Chen doesn’t explicitly say his promises no longer apply – but that’s just to give himself a tiny figleaf of deniability. For all intents, the “4 Noes, 1 without” have now been replaced by “not changing the status quo” (whatever that means). Interestingly, Chen also said this (twice) about constitutional reform:

We also affirm that any sovereignty issue that strays from constitutional proceedings not only fails to contribute to maintaining the status quo, but also should be disregarded.

Frank Hsieh for president?

Presidential elections are still two years away. While the KMT nomination is all but decided, there has been plenty of jockeying for position in the DPP to step into Chen Shui-bian’s shoes. Frank Hsieh was a frontrunner until his misfortunes as Premier, but it seems he still has plans:

Frank Hsieh is now ready to start a long undeclared campaign to bear the standard of the Democratic Progressive Party in 2008.

Finally out of Chen Shui-bian’s shadow, the former premier chose to take a trip away from Taiwan yesterday, leaving his lieutenants to make an informal announcement of the start of the drive to run for president.

His strategy seems to be to distance himself as far as possible from the DPP leadership (going as far as leaving the country for a while) in the hope/assumption that things will get so bad for them that they’ll need to nominate someone untainted by the hand of Chen.

We can, of course, expect an enjoyable (if not necessarily well thought out) campaign from Hsieh:

Pasuya Yao, former director-general of the Government Information Office, commands the young campaign office staff.

Praise be!

Idiotwatch II: Unification and the constitution

Second idiot of the day is DPP legislator Wang Hsin-nan, who seems to have a different version of the constitution to everyone else and wants to change it. He gets excellent support from the China Post journalists who appear equally clueless:

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Wang Hsin-nan yesterday proposed deleting references to unification in the constitution, spurred on by the president’s move to scrap the National Unification Council (NUC) on Monday.

Interesting idea which only has one minor flaw: there are NO references to unification in the constitution.

Update: The slightly more sane eTaiwanNews clarifies this one – there is a reference to ‘national unification’ in the introduction to the additional articles of the Constitution, which is what Wang wants to get rid of. It seems to be about as relevant as the reference to Sun Yat Sen in the intro to the original constitution though …

In a meeting with the DPP legislative council’s working group to amend the constitution, Wang, a hard line independence supporter, proposed a draft of a new constitution for Taiwan which permitted a referendum on independence or unification.

Given that his party believe Taiwan is a sovereign independent nation already, I’m not quite sure what he’s proposing here – probably because he doesn’t know either. Any constitutional change (either a change in national boundaries due to ‘independence’ of Taiwan or unification with China) is already put to a referendum. So what he wants is already in the Constitution.

President Chen Shui-bian has promised a new constitution for Taiwan but, in recent remarks, said any change to the constitution needs the approval of three-quarters of the opposition-dominated legislature before it is put to a referendum.

You’ve got to love the clueless staff in the China Post: ‘in recent remarks’? The requirements for changing the constitution are very clearly defined in the constitution. This isn’t a unilateral decison made by CSB one dreary Thursday afternoon – it’s a defined process which the whole country voted on last year.

Wang suggested having a section in the constitution forbidding changes to the nation’s sovereignty as a whole or in part — or forbidding any form of annexation from China — unless a referendum was held on the issue first and over half of voters in the referendum agreed to the change.

Not only is this already in the constitution, but Wang himself voted for the constitutional amendment to do this just over a year ago. Not only does he not know what’s in the Constitution, he doesn’t know about the ammendments that he made to the Constitution (Article 1 of the ammendments no less – hard to miss you would think)

The original constitution describes Taiwan as a different region from the mainland Chinese region.

No. It Doesn’t. The original constitution does not mention Taiwan at all (the ammendments make one reference to the Taiwan provincal government).

Besides deleting references to unification from the constitution, Wang also proposed describing the two regions as the “Republic of China” and the “People’s Republic of China.” This is effectively describing the relationship between Taiwan and China as “state-to-state” and is bound to anger Beijing.

Anger Beijing? Confuse them more likely. He’s suggesting that the ROC describes one of its regions as the ROC, and another of its regions as a state with its own completely separate constitution? My head hurts.

However, DPP lawmaker Lin Cho-shui, a senior member in the ruling party, slammed the proposal.

“This is not only unlikely to pass (through the legislature) but will strike an even more serious blow to the party in the next legislative elections,” Lin said.

“It will bury the DPP’s future.”

Finally some sense at the end of the article. However I think Lin Cho-shui is being a bit too polite about his colleague’s proposal. If Wang is one of the geniuses entrusted with handling Chen Shui-bian’s constitutional reform, then I might have to rethink whether I support the principle of it or not …

Idiotwatch I: Recall or Impeach?

One outcome from the scrapping of the NUC is that we can expect a renewed bout of idiotic behaviour from politicians of all varieties over the next few weeks.

First up are the KMT and PFP legislators who obviously feel that Chen Shui-bian’s actions are so disgusting that recalling the president isn’t enough. Impeachment isn’t enough either. They’ve got to do both:

President Chen will be charged with treason for impeachment, said the PFP lawmaker.

By scrapping the NUC, Lu charged, the president further split Taiwan, ruined the mutual trust between Taipei and Washington and destroyed Taiwan’s international credibility.

“That constitutes treason against the state,” Lu pointed out.

His Kuomintang counterpart, Pan Wei-kang, reserved all- out support for the PFP move.

“We support a recall or an impeachment of the president,” Pan said. But, she added, the Kuomintang has already initiated the recall.

Priority has to be given the recall, Pan said. “We need consultation before we’ll go all out to impeach the president,” she added.

Of course, neither of these actions will succeed because the pan-Blues don’t have a big enough majority in the legislature to push them through. I imagine the DPP politicians will enjoy voting both moves down; given that everything they propose gets voted down in the legislature, it’ll make a nice change for them to be doing the blocking for a change.

The only real question is this: will Chen experience a Korea-like spike in popularity due to idiot lawmakers attempting to impeach him?

Update: Rank has also been following this bizarre little saga.