At long last, the Chen administration is about to deliver a symbolic victory -- of sorts -- to its core supporters.
Chiang Kai-shek International Airport will almost certainly be renamed the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, while retaining its codename, TPE, for administrative purposes.
It is a most satisfactory development to have the name of a dictator stripped from the first port of call for most foreign visitors to this country, though perhaps most ordinary people will not react strongly in either direction. For that reason, it is unlikely that the change will attract serious opposition.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (
For the Democratic Progressive Party, the change may herald a more aggressive approach on initiatives that are entirely within the control of the executive, but which have stalled in the past because of fears of retaliation by the legislature.
The change also points to a chink in the KMT's armor that Chen will be looking to further exploit. Chen has appealed to and received support from KMT politicians in Taoyuan -- including the crucial voice of County Commissioner Chu Li-lun (
The remarkable thing about the Chen era, however, is that so little has changed. In previous eras, a new colonial government would install itself and, regardless of the opinions of locals, remap the country with references to itself and its preferred symbols, heroes and philosophical underpinnings.
In so doing, meaningful history would be wiped out, replaced by a lattice of uniformity and irrelevance. There is no more conspicuous example of this imposition than urban road networks, with their mandatory honoring of Sun Yat-sen (
Most people will oppose wholesale changes to even these because of the inconvenience, not ideology. But there are some changes that do matter: If Chen couldn't deflate the would-be personality cult of a dictator, then he should not have been president.
All too often the public has been regaled with lectures on the importance of nation-building, but with little from the lecturer to show for it. This may change as Chen enters the last lap of his presidency.
Some analysts have predicted that Chen will feverishly use the remainder of his term to fortify his legacy, thus potentially destabilizing the region with theatrical actions that would infuriate Beijing.
This danger is grossly overstated. Any meaningful legacy involves fortifying domestic support not for him personally but for the integrity of the nation. There are many things he can do in attempting this, but the pragmatic nature of Taiwanese is such that the extent of his reach is limited by local power structures -- which is exactly why he had to consult with the Taoyuan County commissioner on the renaming of an international facility.
If the airport's new title is rather clumsy, then this is the price the administration must pay to secure local support. It seems that Chen and his lengthy team of shuffling ministers has finally worked out -- all too late, for many -- how to grip political weapons with both hands and run an executive.
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