Sunday, December 16, 2012

Free Chen Shui-bian? Foreigners, Think about it

K-town by night.

China Post editorial today puts its finger on a problem:
He wants to found a new political party to succeed an aging former President Lee Teng-hui as godfather of the Taiwan Independence Movement.

Mr. Graft had his son Chen Chih-chung, a first-term Kaohsiung municipal councilman summarily disqualified for involvement in his father's money laundering, broach the news that a new party will come into being at a time “favored by Heaven and benefited by Earth.” This is to be achieved by a unity of purpose among his “One Country on Each Side Alliance” faction of the DPP, and by rallying hard-core independence supporters, who are members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), of which Lee is the spiritual leader.

Well, there won't be any such time any time soon.

There isn't any doubt that A-bian still commands allegiance of a couple of million supporters in Taiwan. Aside from eight members of parliament, his OCESA faction boasts 34 county and city councilors, but the majority of them are not very much interested in bolting from the DPP to join his new party, if it is founded before 2014. They have to run for re-election two years from now, and it's much better for them to stick with the biggest opposition party for much better odds to get re-elected. The parliamentarians? They don't have to worry about re-election for more than three years. The TSU? It's Lee's exclusive fan club, and there won't be many defectors.
Childishness like "Mr. Graft" aside, the China Post calls attention to the impossibility that a parole or pardon for Chen would "heal Taiwan" as (among others) longtime Taiwan supporter and former US diplomat Nat Bellocchi argued a while ago. A close reading of the Bellocchi piece shows that it contains no concrete, positive, Taiwan-centered arguments for Chen's release, nor are there any references to Chen's likely post-release behavior. It shows how weak the argument for pardon/parole is. Sadly, Ford's pardon of Nixon did not heal the US as Bellocchi argues, but rather, helped lay the ground for the current two-tiered criminal justice system in the US, as Glenn Greenwald points out so eloquently. Similarly, if Chen is pardoned or paroled, many Taiwanese aren't going to see that as a healing act. Instead, it will confirm their perceptions that a different law applies to powerful males who commit crimes.

The fact that both the China Post editorial and the Taipei Times' simultaneous refutation of the claim that Chen wants to start a new party make clear is that a parole for Chen will heal nothing in part because Chen's own personal characteristics make it impossible. He's shrewd, charismatic, energetic, likes to be the center of attention, likes to be in control and on top, and says whatever his audience wants to hear. In a politician these are all useful traits; in a would-be pardoned political prisoner and saintly healer they represent liabilities.

Were Chen ever to get out, he would go back to seeking the limelight, encouraging splits within the DPP in order to aggrandize his own faction and friends, and so on. Both the China Post and Taipei Times pieces essentially say the same thing even though they disagree. When Chen gets out he is going to re-enter pan-Green politics, sucking up time, effort, resources, and funds that could be going directly to the DPP and meaningful and important pro-Taiwan groups and causes. He'll be constantly pursued and goaded by the pro-Blue media for inflammatory quotes, further dividing rather than uniting.

In sum, the Free Chen! crowd doesn't appear to have considered the probable consequences of releasing Chen Shui-bian for Taiwan and for the DPP. They won't be benign. Especially at election time, when he is likely to congeal pan-Green support among key independent and Light Blue voters.

It's really, really, really time to stop wasting urgently needed outside and public resources like the attention of US Congressmen and international human rights groups, or space on the Taipei Times' editorial page, on Chen Shui-bian. Chen has made it crystal-clear that he is not going to show a reciprocal humility when he gets out of jail. Instead, he's going to burn the pan-Greens coming and going, draining resources to get him out of jail and then diverting them again once he is out. His family has money, and he still has many supporters in Taiwan. Let them work on getting him out of jail. Once again, I hope instead that Chen supporters overseas will use their valuable and limited resources to support more pressing and relevant causes, causes that meaningfully affect many lives here in Taiwan., for example, our declining media environment, in need of urgent attention. Just today: SET TV host leaves over alleged pro-China censorship by senior management.

UPDATED: See this commentary in TT that explains how Chen can grow a new party. One of the KMT strategies for keeping the DPP out of power is funding third-party candidates to siphon votes from the DPP. Here is Chen planning to do that without any KMT help at all, using pan-Green resources.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

Well,do you not agree than CSB was targeted for reasons of political hatred (not just "this is business" but very much "this is personal") for a long time by his enemies in the KMT, many of which are at least as corrupt as him? And do you not agree that he did serve his country well by giving a voice to those who love Taiwan as Taiwan not just as a province of China, and that he did defend that concept, and this deserves some recognition for that within his penal situation? Many people feel that his incarceration has been disproportionally harsh due to a political vendetta, and that his sentence should be reduced. I am one of them. Chen is no hero but he is far more than just a corrupt villain. He is not just a criminal, he is a symbol. For the bad things he should be punished; for the good, rewarded. The midpoint is a reduced sentence, and better prison conditions. My 2 cents.

Readin said...

"Shrewd" is not a word I would use to describe Chen.

Anonymous said...

For starters, where are his son/daughters in all the "rescuing" missions"?

"many of which are at least as corrupt as him" People voted for Chen/KMT in hope for reformation, a better government, because people know KMT is corrupt.

The argument that KMT is as corrupt as or worse is not convincing at all.

There is prosecutorial misconduct, political interference (or hatred) in Chen's trial, but Chen and his supporters resort to the same KMT tactic to mobilize supporters and divide green, I agree with Michael's viewpoint. I have always maintained that in order to avoid "compassion fatigue", we should only advocate for really important matters for Taiwan (such as the arms sale, China's blatant change of the passport etc), not Chen SHui Bian.

Michael Turton said...

Compassion fatigue is also an excellent point. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Has Jerome Cohen's visit to Chen yesterday changed your opinion on this matter?

Michael Turton said...

No. Cohen makes nice publicity, but he's intensely pro-Beijing and pro-KMT, so I don't pay much attention to what he says except to refute it. Note that he couldn't recommend an outcome for Chen.

In any case, he doesn't change a key issue for me, which is that Chen is going to get back into politics and hurt Taiwan and the DPP again.


FRED LIU said...

Chen will help Taiwan to establish a normal democracy country and against Ma administration to be united by communist China if he can get out of jail and that's why Ma detained him without Chen's crime evidence. Please be understood that DPP center is now becoming a pro-China party which hurt Taiwan a lot and that is why Chen still been justice persecuted by Ma.