Mon, Nov 05, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen's book explains slow reform

Lien Chan (連戰) is shocked, shocked, to find electoral campaigning going on at this time -- some four weeks away from, well, an election. That seems at least to be the substance of his criticism of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) preposterously titled new book The Premier Voyage of the Century (世紀首航). Lien has been waxing strong that the book is an election ploy and so unnerved is the Presidential Office that it has even issued a denial and pointed out that the book was scheduled for earlier publication but was delayed by the pressures of personal and public events. Actually, the Presidential Office's denial has the ring of truth if only because it was so unnecessary. To condemn the president for releasing what might be construed as election campaign material during an election campaign shows how very out of touch with political reality Lien obviously is. Perhaps he should spend less time with the collected writings of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) and more time looking at opinion polls -- as long as they are taken by a different set of pollsters to the KMT's in-house sycophants who forecast his easy election last year. Still, let us not berate Lien the loser in what is probably the last month of his political life. Let us instead ask whether Chen's book is more than pre-election political barnstorming. Does it in fact tell us anything interesting?

Yes it does. It explains why the pace of change has been disappointingly slow -- and this fact is in no way diminished by the fact that it also serves the interests of the Chen administration. Chen explains that the slow progress resulted not only from the fact that many of the incomers to high office were inexperienced -- Taiwan has, of course, not cultivated the kind of personnel rotation between government office, think tanks and academia that we see in the US, for example, which provides any incoming government with a sympathetic pool of expertise on which it can draw.

Included in the new administration's problems is the fact that there was simply no mechanism for a transition. The outgoing KMT had no program for honorably handing over the reins of power -- and in the wake of its shock electoral defeat, it had no inclination to make the DPP's life easy.

It is interesting to speculate -- Chen's book does not do so -- how many of the 500 days of the DPP's administration, which the book is supposed to record, have been effectively wasted by the chaos that came with the handover.

And it is not just that the effectiveness of Taiwan's government was reduced by the nature of the handover, the very security of the state was endangered in a number of ways. As the book points out, Taiwan's intelligence on China collapsed as agents suddenly refused to work for the DPP. Taiwan's security services were in a state of near mutiny. Some elements of the military were dangerously undecided on whether to serve a DPP government. Even now the armed forces are in a sense approaching an ideological crisis and undergoing a massive re-indoctrination campaign, led by the chief of the general staff, on the issue of for whom and for what should they fight.

The problem here is that the line between the political fortunes of the KMT and the ROC state barely existed in the past. To work for one was to work for the other. There was no distinction between the national good and the good of the party.

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