Thursday, October 25, 2007

Political Theatre 101: the Hsieh-Chen Split

In the comments section on the post on Robert Ross' pro-China piece in Forbes one commenter argued, after I pointed out that Hsieh and Chen are most probably engaging in political theatre, that..
In fact Hsieh and Chen took different stances on the issue not because they deliberately cooperate: Hsieh and Chen have had that disagreement for long.
The issue is not whether they actually disagree -- whether they bash each other with baseball bats when they get together, or whether they swap drinks cackling over how stupid the media is, is really quite irrelevant. No, the relevant fact in the "Chen-Hsieh" rivalry is the Hsieh-Su rivalry.

Whoa. The what?

Remember the primary campaign back in May of this year -- not six months ago? The bitter campaign with its bitter accusations of leaks, the media claims that Hsieh and Su disliked each other -- that Su especially was upset -- where did all that go?

Down the Rabbit Hole. In a brilliant display of party unity, the DPP put together a Presidential slate consisting of the two men who had just fought a bitter primary contest, and all the complaints and speculation disappeared. When was the last time you heard anything about the bitter primary battle between the two men? It may as well have taken place in an alternate universe. Clearly, when the DPP wants to make something become a media non-event, it can.

Maybe Hsieh and Chen hate each other. Maybe they don't. But the reality of the rivalry is irrelevant to its important political effects: it permits Hsieh to continue to appear moderate compared to Chen, while at the same time, it keeps Beijing and the KMT in rapt obsession with every action of the Source of All Evil, Mad Chen©, instead of with the real opponent, Frank Hsieh. Do you really think two experienced politicians as savvy as Chen and Hsieh are not aware of what they are doing and how they look?

Remember the good old days when Chen was moderate?

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth said Friday that Washington was impressed and encouraged by moderation expressed by Taiwan's President-elect Chen Shui-bian and his emphasis on cross-strait dialogue.(here)
American officials have described relations between Taiwan and the United States as better than at any time since the severance of formal diplomatic ties in 1978. The cordiality is due in part to US appreciation of Chen Shui-bian's moderate posture toward mainland China...(here)

What year did Beijing say this?

On Monday, the Chinese Army accused a "prominent figure" -- read Chen Shui-bian -- of pushing for independence and said it had put its troops on alert to crush such a move.

"Under no circumstances should we be fooled by his sweet talk," said the army's newspaper, Liberation Army Daily, in a front-page editorial. "One minute he is brazenly howling 'Long live Taiwan independence,' while the next he is using beautiful and pleasant words to lie that he wants 'good will, reconciliation, vigorous cooperation and everlasting peace' with the mainland."

That's right. NY Times, March 9, 2000 -- ten days before Chen was elected to his first term. Plus ca change... Beijing has been writing this script for years. Only now Chen has decided to direct it.....

UPDATE: A commenter below points to a piece by columnist Frank Ching on Hsieh that recapitulates the differences between Chen and Hsieh. There is a longer version of it in the Korea Times and the local Taiwan China Post.


Adam said...

So are you suggesting that Frank Hsieh's moderate stance would change after he gets elected? Is the theory that the DPP has its pro independence stance but doesn't believe it can be elected on this platform, so they purposely portray a moderate candidate who can then push through their independence platform after getting elected?

Anonymous said...

check this article out....'Bad Bad Chen vs Moderate good Hsieh' ha ha

Michael Turton said...

No, both Chen and Hsieh are pragmatic, moderate men by any rational sense of that word. It's just that "moderate" has come to mean something else in the context of cross-strait relations.

What will happen is that after Hsieh is elected, there will be a short honeymoon. Then within a year Beijing will start bitching about what a hardliner Hsieh is.

As for the US side, Chen switched to being a radical after our involvement in Iraq. Whether Chen or Hsieh is a "moderate" is really a function of the needs of Beijing and Washington....


Anonymous said...

"The Source of All Evil, Mad Chen©"'s title is getting longer. That is good sign for Hsieh, I suppose ;-)