Vice President Annette Lu has caused yet another political storm due to her inappropriate remarks. Over the past four years, she has expressed her personal opinions and proposed a number of creative ideas. But these remarks have often been criticized by the public as well as the media.
After Tropical Storm Mindulle caused major damage in the center of the country, Lu offered a number of suggestions. Her point was that the major mountain and river areas are facing ecological crises due to excessive and improper development. It was therefore necessary to review whether residents in these areas should be allowed to continue to live there, or whether the government should force Aboriginal tribes to relocate and close the mountains to habitation to conserve the water and soil.
The problem of excessive land development is nothing new. The relocation of certain Aboriginal tribes was discussed after the 921 Earthquake in 1999. This idea was not first raised by Lu, for many non-official groups and experts have also urged the government to restructure national land-use policies. The damage caused by Tropical Storm Mindulle is an indication that nature is striking back, and confirms the foresight of environmentalists.
Lu sought to demonstrate that her knowledge and perspective accord with international trends, thereby displaying her vision and ability to run the nation.
But some media reports have focused on accusations that the vice president's tour of the disaster areas disrupted rescue work. To an extent, they have oversimplified her statements, quoting her as saying that "rescuing those people who should be held responsible for the spoiling of soil and water resources around central Taiwan should not be praised as mercy," that "Aborigines are not Taiwan's original inhabitants" and that "victims who live in devastated areas could move to Central or South America."
The media have portrayed Lu's eagerness to express her views as evidence of her ambition to become president. Lu in turn has accused the media of spreading rumors and a "black terror" in which her freedom of speech is under attack, and has said the media have no concern for conservation issues. Some media emphasized certain elements of her words, taking them out of context so they appeared as bare insults to Aborigines and natural disaster victims.
Yet, while Premier Yu Shyi-kun led government teams in the rescue effort, Lu rushed forward to discuss land-use reform and criticize those who have engaged in unregulated cultivation or construction. Here were two members of the same government, one working for disaster relief and providing compensation to calm public anger, the other demanding restructuring and rushing to parcel out blame for the disaster.
It is true that Lu has spoken at inappropriate times or venues. But the public is also at the mercy of the news media when they put aside serious policy issues and pick through Lu's statements to anger storm victims and Aborigines.
Nevertheless, Lu has been promoting her own policies and personal ability during her time as vice president. There is almost no topic, domestic or diplomatic, on which she has not expressed herself. She served as an envoy to other countries and has visited supporters around the country. These actions indicate that she has her eye on the presidency in 2008, and this is the logic the media is working on.