Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Should Chen Step Down?

Two of my students clown for the camera.

Some thoughts on the recent indictments of Taiwan's First Lady, Wu Shu-jen, and the crisis surrounding President Chen. Observations in no particular order, take with one grain of NaCl.


How dumb is the First Family? Actually, any way you slice it, they have to be pretty stupid. That's one of the problems everyone has in accepting any of the claims. The First Family claims essentially that it submitted its own family receipts because the accounting office wanted receipts, any receipts. That's just silly. You can imagine their conversations:

PRESIDENT CHEN: Hi honey! Listen, I gave our contact in Shanghai NT$200,000 today. And I sent another $50,000 to the US to our favorite lobbying firm. You know, the one that rhymes with "Tasaday."
FIRST LADY WU: NT$200,000? How are we going to cover that?
CHEN: Well, there are those diamond rings I bought you. I think one of them was over $300,000.
WU: But Pooh-pooh! I was saving those rings for something really serious!
CHEN: This is serious! And stop calling me Pooh-pooh! You know I hate that name! Can we scrape up the receipts?
WU: I don't know. Look, I have them carefully sorted into these shoeboxes. The red one is for even numbers. The yellow one is for numbers less than NT$300. The black one is for numbers divisible by 7.
CHEN: And the gray one?
WU: Prime numbers.

Chen claimed that the First Family has been collecting its receipts and submitting them year after year to cover the expenses of the government's secret diplomatic slush fund. It sounds impossible until you start to think about it -- who on earth hasn't collected a bogus receipt to submit on a good faith expense? Another point in Chen's favor is that the prosecutors admit that this explanation is actually true in two of the six cases. But think how naive this makes the First Family: in a political environment where the opposition parties are wholly unscrupulous, driven by visceral hate, and waiting eagerly to take their heads, the Chen Family la-la-la breezily submits its own receipts for a secret slush fund as if the bureaucracy isn't honeycombed with Blue supporters. Hello! Chen Family! Are there any brain cells still alive in there? According to the Chen Family's own account, they are so dumb, nobody has to set them up -- they did it all on their own. I hereby disown them as relatives.

One of the department's brightest and most interesting students.

The prosecutor's claim is even sillier -- that the First Family stole the money and then submitted receipts for the theft. Just think about those conversations:
ACCOUNTANT: ....and how much money did you steal today, Ms. Wu?
FIRST LADY WU: Well, let's see. Here's the receipt for our night on the town. And here is the NT$129 one for some magazines. This one is for the diapers.
ACCOUNTANT: Quite a haul! Anything else?
WU: [gushes] Yes! Look! Pooh-pooh bought me a diamond ring out of the state funds. NT $300,000! Isn't it beautiful?
ACCOUNTANT: Pooh-pooh?
WU: [clears throat] The President purchased a gift for the First Lady.
Of course, the prosecutor's position is that the three accountants and the Chen Family were all in it together to steal $NT14.8 million, or about as much as Chen made in a couple of years of private practice when he was one of Taiwan's most successful lawyers. Since some would have to be kicked back to the accountants, the actual sum appropriated by the Chens would have to be even less.

My kids light firecrackers for Guy Fawkes Day. In the Taiwan expat community, it's always someone's holiday.

When you think about, the prosecutor's claim is quite bizarre. Nobody steals money and then submits a receipt for what they actually stole. In the real world people submit bogus receipts that look good on the surface, don't direct attention to the stolen items, and are essentially untraceable. The pattern of real-world fiscal impropriety would be more like this:

PROSECUTOR: Now, this receipt here says that you gave $5,000 to the Guatemalan government for a new school.
CHEN: Yes, that's correct.
FIRST LADY: I handed the money to the Ambassador myself.
PROSECUTOR: And here, that you gave another $2,000 for the same school.
CHEN: Sure.
PROSECUTOR: Unfortunately, there's no record of such a school being built. The Guatemalan government denies ever receiving the money. Do you have any proof that you handed over that money to them?
CHEN: [thinking]: Ohhh shhiiiiiittttttt.....
PROSECUTOR: You didn't pocket that money, did you?
CHEN: Who? Me? Well.....
FIRST LADY: [cries out] Pooh-pooh!

You decide: did Chen Shui-bian, who is extremely intelligent and is an experienced lawyer with many years of administrative experience in government, would submit real receipts for real stolen items?

Whoops! That one got stuck in low-lying vegetation!

Of course the receipts are bogus -- it's a slush fund designated for hush-hush work! The question is where the money went. Chen will not say and simply asks everyone to trust him when he says it was spent on secret foreign affairs. Apparently, though, there's a whole contingent of people out there who think that President Chen really ought to supply receipts for the secret diplomatic activity he claims he spent the money on. You can imagine those conversations:
PRESIDENT CHEN: Here you go! US$10,000, as promised.
BORIS THE SPY: Thank you. [counts]. All here!
CHEN: Can I have a receipt?
BORIS: Say what? A what?
CHEN: A receipt. Under the laws passed a couple of years back, I have to submit a detailed accounting of all monies spent. Sorry! Here's a copy of my invoice. Have you had a chop made yet?
BORIS: [spluttering]Invoice! Chop! Are you serious? Look, Pooh-pooh, read my lips: No. Receipt.
CHEN: Huh? What? How do you know about Pooh-pooh?
BORIS: I'm a spy, aren't I?
The prosecutor running the investigation, Eric Chen, has a strong and longstanding reputation for integrity and independence. Apparently he has no evidence that either Chen or his wife have pocketed the money; the indictment is essentially for falsifying receipts. The presumption is that since the receipts are bogus the cash must have been nicked. So....where's the money?

You decide: did one of Taiwan's most independent and intelligent prosecutors really claim that the Chen Family submitted receipts for what it actually stole?

What's really going on? There's plenty of undercurrents to troll through......

Third year students extend their greetings across the building.

To understand this, we have to review all the familiar ingredients of the Blue Pesticide Formula: 1. Demand Recall. 2. Run Faux Protests 3. Stoke Local Pro-Blue Media 4. Dupe International Media. 5. Repeat until pest is eliminated or term expires. Some of the underlying issues, in no particular order........

One of the most important issues that lies behind the six year struggle of the KMT to suppress Chen Shui-bian has been the sex of Taiwan's government: Presidential or Parliamentary? In the 1990s President Lee Teng-hui had several changes made to the Constitution, most of which extended the power of the Presidency, to enable him to protect Taiwan's emerging democracy and suppress challenges to that and to his own power from the authoritarians then still powerful in the island's politics.

One change of Lee's made the premier the appointee of the President rather than the legislature, another made the Presidency directly elected. I would argue that a structural feature of Taiwan's politics is that the DPP has an innate advantage in the race for the Presidency, since it is elected by popular and majority vote, while the KMT, with its longtime links to local business, organized crime, and neighborhood and village chiefs, has the advantage in local elections. The DPP has had great difficulty establishing a broad-based local presence. This means that in a parliamentary system with a weak president, the advantage will probably go to the Blues (as it currently does); but in a Presidential system with a powerful President, the advantage may go to the DPP. Hence, one of the KMT's main goals for the last six years has been to hem in and reduce the power of the presidency, and replace the presidentially-appointed premier with a premier elected from the Blue-dominated legislature; or failing that, with a Blue premier, period. Note that the talk of Chen stepping down has produced more talk of Wang Jin-pyng, the dapper KMT Machine politician and current speaker of the legislature, being moved up to premier. Since changing the Constitution now requires a public referendum and is enormously difficult, the Blue team must content itself with gutting the Presidency.

As if further proof of this weren't required, the Blues have already promised that they will go after Annette Lu when she takes command. Kudos to the Foreigner in Formosa for spotting this: the China Post, the local pro-KMT English paper reported the other day:

"People First Party Chairman James] Soong said that it's also imperative for [President Chen's] ruling Democratic Progressive Party and opposition parties to hold a summit to discuss the rights and obligations an acting president should have."

In other words, it is clear that the Blues are going to let Lu be as little a President as possible -- indeed, they will define her as the ACTING President though she will fully be the President, just as Ford was after Nixon resigned.

Singing to the lunch crowd in the cafe at the university.

In Taiwan more than 6,000 public officials have the right to receive a special account from the government for use on government business. They may place that money in their personal accounts, and need only supply receipts for half of it. The effect of this on institutionalization of corruption in Taiwan is profound; everyone who is anyone essentially has their own money in little brown bags from the central government with no need to account for it. Thus, few believe Chen when he says he hasn't spent the money on himself, because so many officials abuse those funds.

A further issue is that under previous presidents and premiers no receipts were necessary -- the authoritarian-in-chief needed merely to sign on his own authority. After Chen came to power the rules were changed so that the president had to provide receipts for use of the special funds --probably a deliberate move to curb Chen's power. Thus for the past five years Chen has had to come up with receipts for that spending, and his claim is that he used his family's receipts to account for the spending, and did this every year for the past five years. The Blues and the prosecutors claim that the Chen Family stole the money and then submitted receipts for the theft.

That receipts have been bogus for the last five years and caused no trouble prior to this year is a very suggestive fact. Of course, despite the fact that a number of previous presidents and premiers are still around, Chen is the only one indicted for problems with the slush funds. I guess not having to provide receipts means never having to say you're sorry.

Consider also how common bogus receipts and kickbacks are in Taiwan society. I have close friends who put everything on the company expense accounts -- groceries, gas, an even out with friends. I have another friend who regularly shakes down her circle of acquaintances for receipts from the toll booths on the highway, which she then submits to her company accountants for reimbursement for trips she never took. When the prosecutors claim that Chen stole money by receipt forgery, they are describing the daily experience of life on the Beautiful Isle for many, many Taiwanese. It is hard for anyone to believe Chen's claims here, given the widespread forgery of receipts.

"Amy, do you know what that shirt says?" "No. What?"

Let's not forget: the KMT and PFP have been trying to get Chen recalled since he became president; indeed, after he ascended to the post, the Blues changed the rules to make it easier to recall the President. When Chen canceled the nuclear plant, they immediately threatened to have him recalled. This is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of attacks on Chen and the Presidency that go back many years, in fact to when he was mayor of Taipei in the 1990s and the KMT hijacked the protests of the legalized prostitutes at Chen's attempt to shut them down, which then went on for 18 months, damaging his chances to get re-elected in 1998. They also threatened to recall him then. Recall-and-protest is not something that was invented by Shih Ming-teh in the last three months.

Earplugs: great stress reducers.

Speculation: One thing Chen said is that the Taiwan government is apparently making payments to dissidents in China out of the slush fund (dissidents were furious about this, apparently). Readers are of course aware that the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP in China are currently coordinating their policies to suppress the DPP. One aspect of this prosecution is that it looks a lot like a fishing expedition into the secret diplomatic account so that China can see who is getting Taiwanese money.

Who is the snake in this situation?

The timing of the indictments was extremely fortuitous for the KMT and its ally the PFP. Readers may recall that the news had recently been dominated by the US de facto ambassador publicly dressing down the Blue team for holding up the arms purchase in the legislature and for behaving like babies at the October 10 National Day celebrations in Taipei. The Blues had also taken a beating from the partisan protests led by former DPP chairman and current Blue ally Shih Ming-te discussed earlier here. Shih's protesters consisted almost entirely of Blues, and each day they were out causing a ruckus in Taipei they caused public perceptions of the Blues to collapse -- Taipei and Kaohsiung, the two main cities, are having key mayoral elections, and the KMT candidate for Taipei Mayor, Hau Lung-bin, saw his support slide 16 points during the protests. With the indictments of Wu and essentially, President Chen, support for Hau and the Blues rebounded instantly, and revived Shih's protests as well, which had been DOA since the embarrassing incidents that took place on Oct 10, as well as since Shih's attacks on KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou for not supporting him.

The conventional wisdom has it that this is a good thing -- that an independent prosecutor indicting the wife of a sitting President will be good for Taiwan's democracy. I remain skeptical. When I see the Blue leadership under similar indictments for much greater crimes -- not even a single person has been indicted for the White Terror killings -- then perhaps we can say things have progressed.

If you read carefully the stories circulating about the rings, you'll find that the Control Yuan is the one requesting that Chen supply them with more verification regarding why the rings weren't on his asset declaration. Some of you might recall that the Control Yuan has been on ice for some time, as the Blue-dominated legislature has refused to confirm Chen's slate of candidates for its highest posts. For the same reason, there is also no national chief prosecutor. I know some of the more paranoid among you are already asking how long this set-up has been in preparation.

The Blues have now introduced another recall motion into the legislature, the third. With the swirl of accusations around Chen, hardly anyone has noticed the fact that four of the five branches of government -- the defunded Examination Yuan, the Control Yuan, the Legislature, and the Executive, are essentially deeply impaired. No one is paying attention to the bills that now sit in the legislature, unexamined. Governance? Every minute that the island is well-governed is one more minute its independence is established. Why the constant ruckus? Another long-term Blue goal is to make it appear as if the island cannot govern itself, to help pave the way for international acceptance of annexation to China.

Ji-ji town in Nantou.

If the current Vice President, Annette Lu, becomes President, look for plenty of talk in the international media about what a hothead and fiery independence radical she is. This will of course echo the "Mad Chen" smear of President Chen, the bogeyman who has inhabited so many media portrayals for so long ("Watch out! He could declare independence and start a war AT ANY MOMENT!"). Lu is an intelligent, pragmatic, and independent politician who says what she thinks. She is forceful and energetic, and would probably make a fine president under other circumstances. She used to be abused for her eccentric dress and independence of mind -- much of that is simply the gendered nature of political discourse that every educated person knows so well -- the independent woman is a madwoman, the independent man is strong -- but she now dresses quite nattily. Still speaks her mind, though. Dollars to donuts she'll be a credit to her side.

Will Chen resign? He is intensely stubborn and high-handed. Although it is not often seen, there is an immense reservoir of support for Chen out there in the silent majority, especially outside of Taipei -- as a pundit noted last month, 2002 DPP mayoral candidate Li Ying-yuan never polled over 20% in the last Taipei mayoral election, but he got 37% of the votes. For all the disgusted commentary heard about Chen in the international media, there is a Taiwanese out there disgusted at the way things have worked out for Chen, but not being heard. Don't underestimate Chen's ability to tap that. It will be an uphill climb, but it can be done. Just yesterday when I walked into class here in central Taiwan there was a knot of students discussing whether they should wear green in a show of support for Chen. For many locals, Chen is their man, and they will stand by him. My polling is running about 50-50 for and against stepping down. Of course, my students mostly know I am pro-Green, so I might be skewing the results.

Another issue in any putative resignation is that Chen must surely be aware that a resignation will not stop the Blues from continuing their attacks on the Presidency and on the democracy side. As noted before, the KMT and PFP alliance has already signaled it will go after Annette Lu. What, exactly, will a Chen resignation solve? It isn't going to change corruption, or stop the attacks on the DPP. It might not even help the election of DPP candidates, as many argue -- because the prosecutors will immediately go after him, keeping it in the news. You know CTI will be there 24-7 with images of the Chen Trial. The agony is never going to end: the principal goal of the Blue team is, after all, to terminate the democracy side and annex the island to China. Any one who thinks that the Blues are going to operate on good faith if Chen resigns is living in a fairy tale world. After all, the PFP, failing to have the President recalled, wanted to bring down the premier, in order to have the President dismiss the legislature, so they could get a new legislature, in order to....bring down the President.

Now the question of questions: should Chen resign? At the moment, I am leaning no but could be convinced of yes. I think this should have a few more days to play out -- I don't know how many more rabbits Chen has left in his hat, but surely there must be at least one or two (his speech is online, judge for yourself). I was greatly encouraged when the TSU legislators voted to reject their party's demand that they vote with the recall motion. Surely it must be dawning on wiser heads that this is more complex than an investigation into corruption. The DPP is incredibly fractious, but in the end, threats and blandishments may bring its unruly membership to heel. Will Chen sink the DPP? Time will tell, but unfortunately the decision on him must be made soon.

Sadly, the issue here isn't corruption and never was -- the KMT and its allies don't give a fig about corruption. Rather, this indictment is driven by many things, from the visceral hatred of the Blues for Chen Shui-bian, hated usurper President of "their" ROC, to institutional and local political issues, to the Confucian Ideal of the Virtuous Leader [Note to KF: I'm waiting....]. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: politics on the Beautiful Isle is enough to make the alcoholic sober, and the sober, alcoholic. See ya at the whiskey store!


Anonymous said...

A very interesting and detailed analysis Michael. When I first heard the news on the weekend I thought he should step down. Now I better understand the nature of the charges I am not so sure.

I think Chen is obviously very strong. He has spent much of his life being bullied and attacked by his political opponents in some way or another. He obviously won't give up easily.

This article from the Asia Times explains some of the problems with the constitution. Although I know you have already explained much of this previously in your blog.

The big question is whether the prosecutors pressed the charges in response to direct or indirect political pressure. They obviously believe they have enough evidence to successfully prosecute the First Lady. Chen obviously thinks he can defend himself. Who will the winner be?

Jason said...

The timing might be sub-optimal considering the interest surrounding the US elections, but I think you should get this post up on DailyKos to help folks on this side of the pond etter understand the situation!

Anonymous said...

"while the KMT, with its longtime links to local business, organized crime, and neighborhood and village chiefs, has the advantage in local elections"

I have relatives whose votes are bought by the KMT because of their links to the local businesses/ability to guarantee employment.

great blog. thanks for your helpful analysis.

Anonymous said...

The problem Chen has is that the public:

a) doesn't believe him
b) doesn't like him

We have kind of got to that stage now with Tony Blair in the UK. As to whether he has done real wrong over the cash-for-peerages scandal, the public doesn't care that much - it just wants to see the back of him.

Chen may well be able to stay on, as it appears the Pan Greens will still support him. However they're going to pay the price and could easily lose Kaoshing as a result.

For the legislative elections next year they had better get on track with strong domestic messages and hope the trial is over and Chen steps down/his wife is cleared.

Anonymous said...

Michael, beautiful post. Beautiful coverage, beautiful analysis, beautifully written.

David, I was in a similar spot as you, though I was more of the position that he would be forced to step down by the DPP and TSU than that I personally had an opinion. The winds really changed after Chen's speech.

If anyone paid attention (um... yeah...), the DPP's immediate reaction after Chen's speech was that they would do more to try to understand what Chen was saying but that the 國務機要費 needed to be system-itized, i.e., it needs some fucking supervision. In fact, if I think about the history of say, the CIA and its assassinations of democratically elected leaders in Latin America, I would say that this fund needs a lot of fucking supervision.

Michael, there is an alternative explanation that is somewhere between "evil but idiotic Chen" and "The Chen according to Chen". Some of the media has been covering the problems with Ma Ying-jeou's special slush fund that the mayor of Taipei gets. His is even more crazy--it goes straight into his personal account, no receipts, no nothing, and no, it has absolutely nothing to do with his salary, and yes, it is supposed to be spent on stuff for the city.

Well, given that all other head officials have a special fund that everyone realizes they are basically just stealing from, given the Chen was previously mayor of Taipei--I think it's actually quite plausible that his wife, perhaps even without his knowledge, simple thought it was a similar type of deal.

On the other hand, I can totally buy that the accounting office told him to just simply submit false receipts when he asked how he was supposed to use his fund. The ROC bureaucracy is just that bad and that stupid, though, everyone is forgetting how much better it has gotten since the DPP took power and that there is some semblance of an idea that transparency and good "customer service" is expected of the government.

And I want to confirm to you that the habit of submitting false receipts or other people's receipts is extremely widespread--it's something that many, many college students in Taiwan do in association with their student groups, even ones that want CSB to step down.

poseidon206 said...

Hi Michael,

Another great post. took me some time reading it. I'd like to point out a spelling error, or a typo though:

"the Blue team ...skipped.. behaving like babies at the October 10 National Day celebrations in Taipei"

I think you mis-spelled the word baboons, the behavior of the hurd on Oct. 10th clearly resembles the baboons as pointed out below:
- Baboons live in hurds.
- Baboons have well-established social ranks.
- Baboons also have something in red, their buttocks :p.

Oh schucks! I hope I didn't offend any animal rights activists for insulting the baboons...

Anonymous said...

"Apparently he has no evidence that either Chen or his wife have pocketed the money; the indictment is essentially for falsifying receipts. The presumption is that since the receipts are bogus the cash must have been nicked."

Are you saying that the prosecutors are saying bogus receipts are bad(falsifying?) for a few expense items but not falsification(even though they re still bogus receipts) for at least two items?

What distinguish them apart?

Are those two items deemed okay by the prosecution because they were related to state works that can be and have been revealed and confirmed? If so, why arnt such above board endeavors covered with legit receipts in the first place?(Though you might have kind of explained that in your post, to wit bogus receipts for good faith expenses being endemic in Taiwan life)

And if the only problem the prosecution have is the confidential nature of the expenses involved, does the whole thing come down to whether the story of secret diplomacy is to be believed? In that, if its believable, or judged so at a later date, those bogus receipts would automatically not be falsifying?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to post the commentary and the useful links.

To me, the greatest tragedy of this whole anti-Chen movement, which is now culminating in the recent indictments, is that it has the secondary effect of trivializing all the issues that are most important to the long-term development and consolidation of democracy in Taiwan. For many of the opposition leaders, I'm sure that is precisely their aim. Either that, or they are just too obsessive in their hate to stop and consider any of the possible long-term results of their attacks. It also is not hard to work out how this is all working in China's favor. Does that make me a conspiracy theorist?

Even if turns out to be true that the wife and extended family of the president DID manage to pocket millions-- I'm sorry, that STILL does not even make it into the top-ten crucial issues for Taiwan. There are so many vastly more important and more critical issues facing Taiwan. For Chen's presidency to be torpedoed by this scandal would be a victory ONLY for the people who worked so hard to hijack and trivialize the media over the past several years. It’s like the Monica Lewinski scandal, only much worse, because the stakes are so much higher. A trival affair blown completely out of proportion.

If Taiwan had opposition parties that were patriotic and who truly cared about safeguarding Taiwan's developing democracy, then perhaps I could see some justification for a change of leadership. But unfortunately that's not the case. Supporting Chen’s resignation is giving support to the anti-democracy pro-unification camp who has been shouting "a-bian, xia tai!" all along since the last election, and I’m against it.

It pains me to see the inability of so many Taiwanese people to see the larger picture. Yes, people must set high standards for public officials, but the priorities seem all mixed up considering all of the problems that Taiwan faces. Does that attitude make me an arrogant foreigner?

When I discuss these issues with Taiwanese people, the ones who agree with me are impressed that a foreigner can understand Taiwan so well. When the ones who disagree with me see that they are not going to change my mind, they say, "Aya! It's just impossible for foreigners to understand Taiwanese issues..."

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think most of Taiwanese are thinking like this "If the Chinese want something, we are gonna deny them."
It's just that simple. Lessons learned from the last 5 decades.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese agenda is so crystal clear,
1)Chen steps down for schemed allegations, or
2)loss all possible diplomatic links

Either way, it's gonna be a win-win situation for the Chinese.

I thinks most Taiwanese is chosing option A

Anonymous said...


If you ever do a top ten list of previous posts, this one belongs on it.

It's definitely cleared up a few of the inchoate doubts and misgivings I've been having for the past few days.

Anonymous said...

What about that Tiffany diamond ring? Care to elaborate a bit? Michael?

Anonymous said...

What about that Tiffany diamond ring? Care to elaborate a bit? Michael?

You mean...the President used state funds to purchase a ring for his wife...and then submitted a receipt for the illegally purchased item.



Anonymous said...

Brilliant blog, and from my 30 years here I see few who understand so well what is happening as you do, Michael.

Now, it is up to us to watch how this will play out. Will the democratic freedom of the people here be maintained and furthered, and how will a coming global competition between the US and China for the control of economic and security resources in Asia play out.

I was here in 1979, a year important here because of Carter, but I have a sense of fear now of what is happening that pales from that prior incident.

We are doomed with living in interesting times.

Anonymous said...

This is the thing I am always confused about:

The KMT use to be a Nationalist government, opposed to Mainland China, anything Communist, or even anything with a whiff of Communism. Obviously, this situation has made a 180º about face...

I am even more of a foreigner than you, Michael, and you have never, to my knowledge made any analysis or statement as to how this came to be.

Was it due to mere opportunism, considering the scarily geographically close the Mainland is to Taiwan is, and how powerful China has become? Since China wants Taiwan, the KMT wants to be its puppet (I can already hear Echo & The Bunnymen's song doing the soundtrack...).

Or is it due to some mysterious transformation?

Did the KMT transform ideologically? Or did it change because many people in Taiwan changed, or both?

Has the KMT gotten bigger or smaller since the DPP came to power?

And finally, why do the DPP and the KMT have a monopoly on Taiwan politics. When I was teaching my older kids in the bushiban where I teach, I explained the US (since they were just having there) election) and their political system. I said there are two parties, the Democrats and the Republican, the first being blues and the second being reds. Then I compare it to Taiwan, where the Democrats are greens and the KMT (or Kuo Min Tang) are blues. I then conclude my short explanation by asking: "Why aren't there more parties either here in Taiwan or in the US." You question would be good! You should, of course, have more choice, so you can have better options to choose from!

Of course, I say it in simpler language than that. I think it's sad how few options there are. Things have gotten just as bad in Canada. The right wing merged. And the left wing is wimpy. The Liberal (the midddle of the road party) shot themselves in the foot far too many times. Nothing's left in Canada.

India? Well, Indian democracy is the largest, but hardly the best. The Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and France are interesting cases. Taiwan isn't so different from France, except there isn't any strange animal called the Prime Minister here in Taiwan.

The KMT is an odd party indeed. Founded on autocratic principles, founded (in its Taiwan form) by an exile/turncoat/thief/hero/...(you choose whatever else he might be, according to, well, whoever you talk to) it doesn't have much of a platform. At least, for me, an oddball foreigner who can't tell his foot from his mouth...

Enough larking about...but really, what's with the KMT and bags of peanuts on the plane?

Anonymous said...


CPC and the KMT are like the two brothers who hated each other. One of them was booted out from home, and made Taiwan its temporary resident by force. After awhile, the one got kicked out found himself no longer in control of his current resident, his servant has taken over. Therefore, decided to turn around and beg for forgiveness in hope of selling the temporary resident to his brother for some quick cash, and teach that insolent servant who's the boss. After all, they're still brothers.

Taiwan Echo said...

thoth harris :
This is the thing I am always confused about:

The KMT use to be a Nationalist government, opposed to Mainland China, anything Communist, or even anything with a whiff of Communism. Obviously, this situation has made a 180º about face...

My opinion about the this looks-mysterious political stands of KMT is: it's nothing but power.

One of the reasons for KMT to maintain "anti-communism" in the past decades, and I think it's the main reason, is to use that mentality to maintain its absolute authority in controlling Taiwanese.

During that period, many people who dared to raise criticisms against KMT were treated as Commism spies and put to death.

Many democracy advocators were procecuted in the name of "spreading communism thoughts."

People were brainwashed so thoroughly, to an extent that when they looked at someone who tried to have any understanding of the communism, they considered that person a communisy spy without any doubt.

KMT used that mentality as a way to prevent any democratic progress and to dismiss any request for party reforms.

As a result, KMT kept the record --- besides being the wealthest political party in the world --- of maintaining the longest martial law (38 years) that any countries ever applied.

Without the execuse of "fighting against the Communism," many of KMT's wrongdoings in Taiwan -- including the huge stolen party assets that Ma has been eager to sell -- would probably have been impossible.

Now, there came a day when they lost the power -- the power that they worked hard to maintain, using the execuse of "anti-communism." Why would they hold on to something that won't give them power any more?

The immediate next question is: what can they rely on NOW to grab back the power?

That's why their sole objective after they lost the power in 2000 is nothing but "anti-bian". To KMT in this power-regrabbing process, "anti-Communism" has lost its use.

It won't be a surprise to see them hugging the red communism China now. After all, that helps them (at least so they think) along the way of regaining power.

What about in case they regain the power? Just think about at that moment, which way will help them maintain their power --"anti-communism China" or "pro-communism China" -- and that's the way they will go.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the power shifts in Taiwan politics over the last decade are very hard to understand for foreigners. Even for foreigners who live here and are curious and actively trying to understand, it can take a long time. That's one reason why it is next to impossible for anyone in the rest of the world to gain any useful degree of understanding about what's actually at stake here in Taiwan. To the degree that people in the rest of the world think of Taiwan at all, most still think of Taiwan as that little fascist anti-communist dictatorship supported by the USA to contain communist China. Here's my take.

As far as Taiwan's position internationally and vis-a-vis China during the martial law period, it was never actually about a struggle between communism and democracy, as the KMT tried to make it appear to outsiders. That was just the ideological facade maintained to justify US support and one-party rule domestically. The KMT was no more democratic than the Shah of Iran, or Marcos of the Phillipines, or any of the many other autocratic reigmes that the US cooperated with during the cold war.

As far as KMT ideology, the party never really had any particularly clear ideological foundation, even at its founding back in the 1910s. It is surely this complete lack of guiding ideological principles that makes it so easy for the KMT and its followers today to so comfortably switch slogans and enemies when it suits them politically.

The KMT hated communism and the CCP only because that was was denying them power to control China. In the 80s and 90s, when even the diehards gave up the notion that the KMT was ever going to control China, they gradually realized that it wasn't China or the CCP that posed the biggest threat to their power monoploy in Taiwan, but rather the localization movement in Taiwan, from which came parties like the DPP and the TSU. That's why KMT leaders and followers direct all of their hate at Chen and the DPP, and have no criticism left over for China anymore.

The advent of true democracy, civil rights, and an open, liberal society in Taiwan has also complicated things for China, as far as justifcation of its eternal aim of annexing Taiwan. China missed a golden opportunity. It should have invaded when Taiwan was still a hostile autocratic regime. Now, Taiwan is a democratic state that stresses peaceful co-existence with China. Drats! That means that China just has to try that much harder to turn world opinion against Taiwan, and make the world afraid of the dangers that evil splittists pose to regional peace.

The Chinese have now forgiven the KMT for their past sins, because the KMT regularly sends its highest leaders to China to repent, to re-affirm their Chinese-ness, and publically demonstrate subordination to the regime in Beijing. As the localization movement in Taiwan has become the common enemy of both the CCP and the KMT, it must be assumed that the CCP and the KMT are cooperating and coordinating in the carrying out of long-term strategies.

Taiwan Echo said...

Scott: "it was never actually about a struggle between communism and democracy, as the KMT tried to make it appear to outsiders. That was just the ideological facade maintained to justify US support and one-party rule domestically. The KMT was no more democratic than the Shah of Iran,"


"The KMT hated communism and the CCP only because that was was denying them power"

Yes, their (and entire Pan-blue's) objective is nothing but power.

That's why you would see something as rediculous as the following:


When CSB was first elected the president, Chi-Da Hsieh (spelling?), who was a Judge in Taiwan, was among one of the pan-bluers who strongly objected the canceling of the 4th Nuclear Power Station. She was so strongly promoting the benefits of building that Station, and so heavily attacking CSB government's "stopping NPS4 policy," making people think that she has an idea of her own, all well studied and well thought.

Well, how many knows that, before CSB took power, she was one of the leading figures who strongly opposed building NPS4? She not only led a group of environmentists to go against then-KMT, trying to stop KMT from building NPS4, but also written several heavy-weight articles to tell people how diasterous it would be if Taiwan build another NPS ?

Why would her attitude turned 180 degree right after CSB was elected ?


Hao Long-Bing, one of the most promising candidate of the upcoming Taipei Mayor election, was the president of New Party (a party that was considered closest to red China in all the major political parties in Taiwan). When asked why his party tried to prevent CSB from canceling the NPS4 project, he said,

"As long as CSB accepts 'one-china-two-system', then there will never be such debate."

Oh, well, who can understand the logic behind that shit? He is eiather a moron who can't tell what is political and what is not, or simply someone who wanted to pollute everything with political propaganda. I can't imagine any person , educated or not, would actually want him to be their mayor. But, again, hoho, with the level of intellegence that Taipei citizens have, anything could happen ...

Michael Turton said...

Not only Da-hsieh, but also Lin Yu-yin, the "Father of Taiwan's Anti-Nuclear Movement" who, when CSB tapped him to head up the commission to shut down the plant, promptly changed sides and said he had no problem with it. It was just a tactic to be used against authoritarian rule, he claimed.

Compared to these guys, the hypocrites in the US Congress are nothing. No wonder Taiwanese hate politics so much.


Michael Turton said...

I am even more of a foreigner than you, Michael, and you have never, to my knowledge made any analysis or statement as to how this came to be

See my analyses of the KMT as a religion.


Anonymous said...

Your blog appears to be like Chen. In depth yet shallow. If you can please explain about all the money that his son, daughter and son-in-law have been throwing around in Japan, New York, China and Los Angeles buying properties. One more comment. Just because slush funds have been used does not make it right. For no other reason than his own stupidity, Chen should resign. The main reason he will not resign is that he must complete his term to get his lifetime retirement. Since Chen can not be prosecuted while President, I can not wait until his last day to see how he escapes the country.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks for your anonymous...uh... opinions.