Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Selective memories limit merit of criticism

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

In response to the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration's economic policies, the pan-blue camp is once again using the late president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) to attack the present with the past.

At a seminar on Taiwan's economic development under Chiang, attendees, including KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and former vice premier Hsu Li-teh (徐立德), contrasted the financial policies and economic development of Chiang's rule with those of Chen's. They highlighted problems facing the administration such as enormous budget deficits, high unemployment rates, the growing gap between the rich and the poor and rough planning on public investment.

Statistics quoted by these "Chiang School graduates" showed that the economy under Chiang performed better than in recent years. Those who fondly remember Chiang's time seem to believe that economic development is a process composed of pieces irrelevant to one another. To them, even the state of the global economy is a secondary factor. Most interesting of all, when they tried to delineate the stages of Taiwan's economic development, they divided it by political leaders' terms of office.

Textbooks say the important stages in Taiwan's post-war economic development were land reform, import and export substitution, liberalization and internationalization. Liberalization and internalization started in the 1980s during Chiang's term.

At that time, Taiwan had a trade surplus with the US, China started to open its market and the triangular relationship between China, the US and Russia was changing. Following Chiang's death, the Cold War ended and the global economy was reshaped, thus speeding up the process of globalization. These continuous developments cannot be simply divided by certain people's terms of office.

It is embarrassing for the KMT to talk about the economic achievements under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). After all, shouldn't former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) be held responsible for borrowing heavily for public construction works? Soong, then Taiwan provincial governor, was often praised for his effectiveness in pushing forward regional construction projects. Yet weren't many of his promises paid for by the central government? National health insurance was regarded as one of Lien's most remarkable achievements. Shouldn't he share the blame for its imprecise financial planning?

There is certainly a standard we can employ to scrutinize the Chen administration's financial policies and the corruption in the Lee era. Yet we cannot measure their performance based on development during the Chiang era. The "10 Major Construction Projects" in the 1970s did not face the problems of land acquisition that similar projects have today. The drastic measures Chiang adopted to end a run on the Taipei Tenth Credit Cooperative in 1985 are simply unavailable to Chen.

Besides, was Chiang all that efficient? Nine months before his death, during a KMT Central Standing Committee meeting in early April 1987, Chiang announced the tax on slaughter houses would be abolished. He said that he had wanted to do it since he was Gan County commissioner in Jiangxi Province. He proposed the same plan when he was premier but it did not pass because of local financing constraints. So he was more than happy that 40 years later his dream finally came true.

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