Monday, July 03, 2006

Soong and Blue Leadership in Taiwan

I say to you againe, doe not call upp Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. -- Letter from Jedediah Orne: H. P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The recall died in the legislature, and also, 25 years ago today, died a Carnegie-Mellon professor, at the hands of the KMT regime:

The appeal came on the 25th anniversary of the murder of Chen Wen-chen (陳文成). Chen's bruised and battered body was discovered on July 2, 1981 on the campus of National Taiwan University after he had been taken away by the Taiwan Garrison General Headquarters (TGGH) the day before.

Chen was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was involved in the Taiwan democracy movement. He had returned to Taiwan from the US to visit his family. His murder attracted significant attention and pressure from the international community.

At a conference yesterday held to discuss achieving "transitional justice," human-rights lawyer Kenneth Chiu (邱晃泉) said that "right now the government and the media only focus on compensating victims, but have totally ignored finding out what really happened in the White Terror era."

It is sobering to recall that the man responsible for coordinating the KMT's campaign to deflect the massive publicity hit they took from that killing was none other than James Soong, last seen at a sit-in about the integrity of the government outside the Presidential Office. David Kaplan writes of the event in Fires of the Dragon, about the KMT's illegal spying activities in the United States:

"Warnings went out to newspapers that while they could report on the case, they had best avoid speculation on the cause of death. AIT officials learned that James Soong, the ham-handed director of the Government Information Office, personally telephoned the Hong Kong bureau chief of a foreign wire service to advise him to have his reporters back of the story."(p309)

One of Taiwan's very great tragedies, in my opinion, is that those killed at the hands of the KMT regime died twice -- first when they were clubbed over the head and tossed into the ocean, or infected with tuberculosis in overcrowded cells, or assassinated in the safety of their homes -- and again, when Taiwan failed to put together a truth commission and bring justice to the victims of the White Terror. Nor is this merely balm for old wounds, for the fact that the "ham-handed" Soong's political career is still alive is one result of this failure.

President Chen has taken a lot of criticism for his leadership, but it is interesting to reflect on the utter incompetence of the Blue leadership over the last two and half decades since Professor Chen's death. James Soong's untrammeled run of sheer error is truly breathtaking. Consider, for example -- it was Soong who put out a press release in the US after the KMT and its allies attacked the Human Rights Day Rally in 1979, claiming that scores of policeman had been injured, but not one protestor. The absurdity of that claim backfired on the KMT. Similarly, after the death of Professor Chen, Soong claimed that there were no spying activities in the US, a claim that provoked laughter in the US. Despite this, his loyal service gained him a promotion to head of the Cultural Affairs Bureau, where he oversaw the suppression of the press and "control of culture," as he himself put it, stating that there could be no opposition party in Taiwan because of "Communist infiltration." Later, in 1984, the Taiwan Garrison Command would have gangsters kill dissident writer and triple agent Henry Liu at his home in Daly City, CA. Liu, in one of life's little coincidences, had once been a good friend of James Soong. This move would anger US Congressmen, and help set in motion the chain of events that would eventually lead to the legalization of the opposition and the lifting of martial law three years later. That in turn would lead to the rise of party politics in Taiwan, the splits in the KMT, the loss of the Presidency, and the erosion of mainlander control of the island's politics.

Again it was Soong who split the KMT in a big way when he left it to run independently for the Presidency, thus giving Chen Shui-bian the victory. Currently Soong is the driving force behind the motion to recall the President and the Cabinet, and have the legislature dismissed -- bringing the government down. This has had a strongly negative impact on approval ratings of the Great White Hope of the KMT, Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, and on the public view of Soong and his party, which lost two more legislators to the KMT after the recall. In pushing for the recall, Soong is like a sorcerer who has called up a demon, only to find that he cannot control it. Fate loves irony, and nothing is more ironic than the way the Blues keep shooting themselves in the foot:

On Aug. 23, 2003, after Non-partisan Solidarity Union lawmakers abstained from voting, the legislature passed the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) and the PFP's version of amendments to the Additional Articles of the Constitution (憲法增修條文修正案) by a vote of 200 to 1. These amendments included the stipulation that a two-thirds majority would be needed to approve a presidential recall vote. The KMT and the PFP set strict requirements not only for passing a presidential recall vote, but also a national referendum. The same minimum applies to the Referendum Act (公投法).

These laws are similar and share a common goal: the intentional obstruction of direct popular power.

The failure of the KMT and the PFP's recall motion was a result of stringent legal requirements formulated by themselves, but that did not stop them from blaming the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for not cooperating and the Constitution for being flawed.

This is not the first time the pan-blue camp's attempts to block democracy have come back to bite them. Under the former KMT administration, the KMT canceled the legislature's right to approve the appointment of a new premier, to prevent DPP lawmakers from blocking a KMT-nominated premier. When the new regulation became effective in 2000 after the DPP took over power, the KMT began advocating the idea that the majority party in the legislature should form the Cabinet.

Perhaps the next time the Blues want to accuse someone of incompetence, perhaps they should look in the mirror. Consider:

How did independence supporter Lee Teng-hui come to the helm of the KMT at exactly the right time to move the island's democratic development forward, split the KMT, and move the island toward independence?

It was James Soong who stood up in the debates and argued for Lee Teng-hui.


Eli said...

This is a fascinating and important post, especially for those of us willing to take the time to try to get a handle on Taiwan's recent history. It is hard to believe how recent it really is.

Anonymous said...

unbelievable information, really just remarkable. i wish the average taiwanese person knew more.

Anonymous said...

are blogs written in Chinese popular with Taiwanese (maybe college students)? can you write some posts in Chinese? do you want to influence Taiwanese people? maybe no one wants to go blabbing too much because they fear for their safety. are there any expats of linda arrigo's stature in Taiwan today?

Anonymous said...

Ah, Machiavelli was nothing compared to James Soong and his subtle and brilliant pro-TI agenda :)

I'm not sure I buy your image of Soong as incompetent. A very unpleasant piece of work, I'd agree with. But I think he's proved himself a remarkably competent and long-lived politician. All his failures can be put down to selfishness and greed - and being outmaneuvered by the master LTH. As head of the GIO he was regularly defending the indefensible - all apologist for evil look pretty stupid in hindsight, but that doesn't mean they weren't doing an effective job.

Taiwan Echo said...

One of Taiwan's very great tragedies, in my opinion, is that those killed at the hands of the KMT regime died twice -- first when they were clubbed over the head ...(snip)-- and again, when Taiwan failed to put together a truth commission and bring justice to the victims of the White Terror.

True. In my opinion this is a result of lacking "sense of law and justice" in general public. Taking 228 as an example, do you hear anyone talking about "legal responsibility" for those killers in 228? No. Not even pro-green scholar like 李筱峰 who devotes tremenderous time and effort to raise the 'historical awareness' of Taiwanese (I actually talked with him in person about this but he thinks legal pursuit of 228 murderers is senseless).

If people don't care about it, then we can't expect the politicians would do anything about it. The absence of legal justification for things like 228 and 陳文成 leaves those tragedies forever open without proper closures. It also makes them remain a political problem that keeps poking and stirling the entire society.

Comparing to the pursuit of murderers in many other killings around the world, Taiwanese attitude toward 228 murderers are extremely indeferent. It shows how poor Taiwanese concept about law is.

Anonymous said...

this blog is like a bunch of people comparing stats on their baseball card collection. blah blah blah. so you think that maybe informing people is doing some good? why? the people you inform are not going to do anything. when the majority of these readers leave Taiwan, they will leave taiwan politics behind them. and if the situation in taiwan gets dangerous, you can leave too, quite easily. so go head and spin your wheels. i prefer to be a participant, not just a spectator. if you are afraid to participate, you can at least anonymously give money to the Taiwan cause/candidate of your choice.