Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The KMT-Bamboo Union connection

Readers of yesterday's newspaper may have seen two separate stories with an interesting, though unremarked upon link. In one, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) said that one of the nation's two greatest challenges was what remains of the authoritarian Chiang family regime. And elsewhere in the paper there was a story reporting that the Bamboo Union is the nation's biggest organized crime group.

The link between these stories lies in the history of the Bamboo Union. The gang was formed in the mid-1950s in Yonghe by the disaffected kids of Mainlander parents who banded together to stop themselves getting beaten up by Hoklo hooligans. Perhaps because so many of its members came from military families, the gang was far better organized and more prepared to use violence than its Hoklo rivals, and had soon used its muscle to become a major force in Taipei.

The gang prospered in an atmosphere where the authorities were far more concerned with political dissidence than with basic law and order issues, but it was in 1980 that the Bamboo Union really made it to the big time. In the late 1970s, the democracy movement and tangwai activism, as exemplified by the Chungli incident in 1977 and the Kaohsiung Incident two years later, had been getting more and more vigorous. In the wake of the Kaohsiung Incident, high-ranking Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials met with Chen Chi-li (陳啟禮), the gang's leader, and asked him to use his influence "for the country."

It was a typical "white glove" operation. The government realized it was getting an ugly reputation through its repressive tactics, and so gave the Bamboo Union a degree of impunity in return for being able to use the gang's muscle against the democracy movement. The most notorious result of this was the slaying of the writer Henry Liu (江南) in California -- his "crime" was to write a critical biography of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) -- by Bamboo Union agents at the behest of the Ministry of National Defense's Intelligence Bureau. During this time of close KMT-Bamboo Union cooperation, it is not accidental that Taiwan became Asia's principle hub for heroin trans-shipment to the US.

As Taiwan started to democratize, gang connections became useful to the KMT in a different way. The KMT decided that as it actually had to fight elections, then it might as well load the dice in its favor. So it relied on its gang connections -- indeed still does -- to buy votes. The problem was that the party also had to be seen by the public as doing something about crime and public order. As a result it had the interesting technique of using the gangs when it wanted, and throwing some high level mem-bers in jail when it needed to buff up its law and order credentials.

The gangsters soon learned that rather than simply enjoying the KMT's mercurial protection, they could enjoy more protection by entering politics themselves and availing themselves of the constitutional protection from arrest elected officials enjoyed.

And so we end up with a legislature dominated by a party extensively connected to racketeers, many of whose legislators are racketeers themselves. This should not be a surprise. Corruption and violence have always been the KMT's stock in trade.

If Taiwan had anything like the US' Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, being a member of the KMT could be made a criminal offense. The government would shy away from this because it would face criticism abroad for "anti-democratic" behavior. But the KMT is not a political party as these are generally understood elsewhere; rather it is, as it has always been, an organized crime syndicate masquerading as a political party. And as such there are very real questions about whether, once it looses control of the legislature and some hard-hitting laws can be put on the books, it should be allowed to exist at all.

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