Mon, Feb 25, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: 'ethnic card,' Aboriginal-style

So often we hear complaints by politicians that their rivals stir up ethnic tension by appealing to base instincts and Taiwan's history of ethnic discrimination. Occasionally, the "ethnic card" is played among the smaller minorities -- Hakka, Aborigines and marital immigrants -- for less spectacular results. But in election season, as legislators and party activists spit out language both offensive and florid, the chance presents itself to gain greater attention and exploit social inequalities.

KMT Legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉) is a perfect example of this. This Aboriginal lawmaker was elected in 2004 on the strength of his connections to then Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the support of the KMT machine. Ma had earlier appointed Kung to lead the city government's Aboriginal affairs office and this, combined with a proficient campaign in the Mountain Aboriginal electorate, gave Kung the highest vote of the four winning candidates.

Last week Kung attacked President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for his record on Aboriginal affairs. But it was more gutter politics than fair analysis.

Over Chen's two terms, Aboriginal affairs have seen a mixture of genuine concern and indifference. Part of the responsibility for this must lie with the legislature, which -- hardly surprisingly -- has expressed a bipartisan lack of enthusiasm in advancing reform on Aboriginal autonomy and land rights.

But responsibility also lies with Chen's team in the Presidential Office. Top among these is Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), whose extraordinarily racist and patronizing comments about Aborigines over the years have brought discredit to all involved.

So Kung's criticism can be expected. When he suggested, however, that Chen take after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and issue a broad apology to Taiwan's Aboriginal peoples, he went over the line. In doing so, Kung not only insulted Chen by misrepresenting his record on Aboriginal issues, he also exploited the misery of Australian Aborigines to advance his career.

Rudd's apology was made in the context of hundreds of years of racist, if not genocidal, Aboriginal policy, and was partly energized by a report detailing the widespread, forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their parents for ideological reasons. It was also made in an environment of widespread opposition to any apology, including from former prime minister John Howard, a number of conservative legislators and media commentators, as well as a large minority of ordinary Australians.

Comparing Chen's eight-year stretch of government to Australia's centuries-old history of mistreatment of Aborigines is ludicrous. If Kung were simply another ignorant and uncouth legislator mouthing off on a touchy subject, then this would not be so noteworthy. But he holds a doctorate from a British university and his thesis was on indigenous people and the media. He cannot be unaware of the horrible experiences of Australian Aborigines -- at the hands of their government, ordinary White Australians and their own miscreant elements -- and of the currency that can be gained through media manipulation.

There are perfectly good reasons why Kung stooped to such demeaning language. The most likely is that if Ma wins the presidential election, Kung will be on the inside track to head the executive-level Council for Indigenous Peoples, the top Aboriginal bureaucracy. Every little attack on the enemy, no matter how cynical, helps this agenda.

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