Sunday, November 19, 2006

Therese Shaheen: Taiwan's Refuse-to-Lose Crowd

The media giveth, with Therese Shaheen writing a strongly-worded argument about the crybaby Blues that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Nov 8. Shaheen is now with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). That she can post such a powerful article, so supportive of Chen Shui-bian, shows how far AEI has come from the bad old days when it was a close ally of the KMT. I can't get WSJ or AEI to come up, so here's the whole article.


The roots of the current political turmoil in Taiwan lie not in the allegations of corruption against Chen Shui-bian, his family, and his friends. Rather, they lie in the huge changes that the Taiwanese president has sought to introduce during his six years in office.

It's important to remember that Mr. Chen is the first president to come from a party other than the Kuomintang (KMT), which ruled the island with an iron grip for a half-century. Given that, it's unsurprising that his radical reform agenda has faced consistent resistance from an established order unaccustomed to defeat. Known to some Taiwan-watchers as the "refuse-to-lose" crowd, this coalition of former KMT officials -- in conjunction with a splinter group called the People's First Party -- has stymied much of the president's agenda.

Take defense: While it took the President nearly until his second-term to address the island's defense capabilities, he did introduce a $18 billion defense supplemental budget in 2003 which was strongly supported by the Bush administration. But the package has stalled in the opposition-dominated legislature ever since.

Mr. Chen's attempts to reform Taiwan's outdated political structure have met similar hurdles. Dating back to Chiang Kai-shek's defection from the mainland after World War II, Taiwan's current political system consists of five -- often overlapping -- branches of government. But attempts to streamline this into a structure better-suited to the present day have run into predictable resistance from the KMT, whose supporters still dominate most branches of government.

In such a climate, it's unsurprising that allegations of misuse of official funds have been seized on with such glee by the refuse-to-lose crowd -- especially after last Friday's indictment on corruption charges of President Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen. Certainly, charges waged against any public figure need to be investigated and due process followed. But it's also worth remembering that the disputed expenditure comes from funds for unofficial international activities deemed to be in Taiwan's national security interests.

With Beijing investing heavily in countries around the world with the specific objective of isolating Taiwan, the island must be creative with its diplomacy. Because of the discreet nature of these activities, the rules governing these funds are vague and ambiguous. In the light of the current controversy, the air of secrecy surrounding some of these funds could be removed by insisting upon budgetary transparency and developing guidelines governing their use.

President Chen has made missteps during his six years in office. Elected on a mandate to accelerate the move toward sovereignty and national identity that began under his predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, he may have mistaken popular public support for Taiwan to maintain its own identity with a desire for formal independence. His coyness on the issue has been a hallmark of his administration, and the opposition-dominated press has been effective at characterizing him as unnecessarily provocative toward Beijing. Even the Bush administration felt it necessary to caution him on this matter.

The fact is, most of Taiwan's citizens don't want to be ruled by Beijing, nor do they want to antagonize it. This creates a dilemma for Mr. Chen. While the Taiwanese enjoy their de facto independence, they are increasingly intimidated by China's growing economic and military might. The President's periodic flirtations with formal independence make people nervous on both sides of the Straits.

The turmoil in Taipei this week has little to do with the current government's effectiveness, or even its alleged corruption. Instead, the demonstrations and calls for Mr. Chen's resignation are significant for what they say about Taiwan's relatively young democracy.

In taking to the streets, some Taiwanese are abandoning respect for due process and the rule of law -- values that should lie at the heart of any democracy. The heat and the intensity of the anti-Chen movement leaves a sense of riveted frenzy, where the mob -- not process -- will rule. The highest democratic aim ought to be to protect the voice of each individual citizen, not to project the roar of the crowd, however righteous.

A strong, democratic Taiwan is not only best for the people of Taiwan, but for the region and for the world. In this crucial period of its growth, Taiwan's democracy deserves the support and encouragement of the international community. But ultimately, it is up to the people of Taiwan to decide whether they want their future to be determined through democratic processes -- or by mobs taking to the streets.

Ms. Shaheen, chairman of the American Institute of Taiwan from 2002-04, is an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.


Thanks, Ms. Shaheen. But the media giveth, and the media taketh away. Puke your guts out at this batshit nutso pro-KMT article that appeared in the Japan Times a few days ago (thanks for the alert from Taipei Dawg).


jingyang said...

Quick Google of the writer of the Japan Times article reveals that the article has been in a number of English language papers, including in Korea, Pakistan and Malaysia. The writer is formerly a "Hong Kong investment analyst" which obviously means that he is eminently qualified to comment about Taiwan's politics ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your visit to Cuba Journal. I was very surprised when I read the article that I reproduced in my blog.

If this is common, do the Taiwan authorities do anything about it?

Jorge Gonzalez

P.S. I know very little about Taiwan, but Chinese and Italian food are my favorite foods, after Cuban cuisine of course.

Anonymous said...

Even this pretty good article perpetuates a lesser version of the Mad Chen myth, that Chen is looking for any and every opportunity to go crazy and declare formal independence.

Chen is, if anything, a very sharp guy. If we look at the evolution of his political positions over the years, what we see is absolutely a pragmatist. Others in the DPP and larger pan-Green camp are much more extreme about Taiwan independence and see the ROC as a foreign entity and want to start all over from square one with a clean slate, but CSB has basically said, look, we have what we have, we're at least independent, let's get rid of inappropriate imagery if necessary and we can reform the constitution where needed. He has the attitude that basically says, well if you are representing Taiwan internationally and you're pro-Green, what flag are you going to wave? At official functions, what anthem are you going to sing? Yes, yes, problematic, maybe need to be changed, but Chen's idea seems very pragmatic to me--accept the imperfect laws and institutions we have and slowly try to change them where necessary. He's run into tons of resistance like the article points out, but such is the life of a reformer. Chen has his flaws but history is going to have a different view of Chen than the pan-Blue media's current portrayal of him today.

If this all sounds like it makes too much sense and why would it be any other way, rewind to 1990s and listen to what DPP had to say then. Shih Ming-teh wasn't kidding when he said he doesn't overfly China and doesn't even go to Hong Kong since its return to China.

Tim Maddog said...

Michael, you quoted Therese Shaheen's polite phrasing:
- - -
Known to some Taiwan-watchers as the "refuse-to-lose" crowd, this coalition of former KMT officials -- in conjunction with a splinter group called the People's First Party -- has stymied much of the president's agenda.
- - -

[Bold emphasis mine]

That sounds a bit like a back translation of "輸不起," which I prefer to translate as "(crybaby) sore losers." I think my version provides a clearer offset to things like the China Post's "beleaguered president" meme. Shaheen's sounds a bit too much like "never say die," something far too noble for the pan-blues to live up to.

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

Don't you think that secret funds have been used in this case? -)