Sat, Mar 10, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: Hey, Mr Rice-Planter: Rectify this

If you are a lame duck president, the very least you can do before leaving office is stay on message -- depending on your audience. But ol' A-bian is doing more. He wants to change names and influence people, so ... hail the Tomb of Democracy.

By Johnny Neihu 強尼內湖  / 

Invitations to fancy dinners from Scandinavian diplomats. Requests for a "heart to heart" over coffee from bright, young, female, aspiring journalists. And a proposal from a certain arms dealer for an all-expenses-paid junket to Pattaya to "let our hair down," in his memorable words.

With all the propositions flooding into my inbox these days -- some unprintable -- I may need some kind of social planner. Well, let me just make it clear: After recent fiascos involving my Taipei Times expense account and Xiao H, Xiao I and Xiao J, I am happily settled down with my gal Cathy Pacific and dog Punkspleen. I'm not gonna fall for the old Chicom honey trap, so don't even try it, fellas. And most importantly: I cannot be bought (rentals, however, will be considered on a merit basis given an appropriate allowance for Taiwan Beer).

I'm not the only one with a packed schedule these days -- the Rice-Planter-in-Chief has also been a busy little Formosan butterfly. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) got himself in hot water recently while planting rice at a photo-op when a young female journalist shouted a question: "What are you thinking about?"

"Wo zai xiang ni," was the Presidentissimo's response -- "I'm thinking of you" -- which drew a round of laughter.

Some thought that was an inappropriate remark, but I say the aspiring journalist only got what she deserved for asking a particularly asinine question. "I'm thinking of you -- naked": now that would have pushed the envelope.

After that display of presidential wit, it was off to a dinner on Sunday to tell a fiercely pro-independence lobbying group exactly what it wanted to hear: Taiwan wants independence. The fact that Chen was addressing the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA); that he was trying to seem more pro-independence than former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) who had spoken to the group before him; and that Chen is a pandering politician like any other: All got lost in the furor that followed.

Chen's speech "appeared specifically intended to raise hackles in Beijing" (the Guardian). Snort. "Markets plunge on Taipei confrontation" (Deutsche Presse-Agentur). Yawn. "Whoever wants to split away will become a criminal in history" (Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星)). Pffft. "China Slams Taiwan's Independence Talk" (the Age). Zzzzz.

What Beijing and international media fail to appreciate is that Chen is impotent in legislative circles. Full independence? Not gonna happen during Chen's term. And let's look at the other red meat he threw to the FAPA crowd: The nation should have a new constitution (doomed without a three-quarter legislative majority). It should change its official name to "Taiwan" (this requires a change to the Constitution, so forget it). Chen might as well say Taiwan should build a tofu-growing colony on one of Jupiter's moons.

So what can Chen do? Well, go on blithering -- and changing his message depending on the audience, like any zhengke worth his salt. For Washington and international media, it was the "four noes and a not" pledge. For FAPA, it was the "four yesses and a no." For Beijing, its the "four screw yous and a not in this lifetime." And to those who ask how he will improve people's livelihoods, it's the "four not sures and a let me get back to you on that."

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