Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The premier’s ship is taking on water

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) is under pressure. When not taking fire from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) opposition over commodities and gas prices, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators and party officials consider it good sport to smack him around in public if he does not conduct himself in the ideological and administrative manner they expect.

Now he has been badgered into making an astonishing gaffe on Taiwan-Japan ties. KMT Legislator Chen Ken-te (陳根德) of Taoyuan County asked the premier questions that linked anti-Japanese language from Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) before he became president to the ongoing spat over the Diaoyutai islets and this week’s collision between a Japanese patrol vessel and a Taiwanese fishing boat.

At one point, Chen wanted to know if Taiwan’s military was prepared for hostilities with Japan over the matter. Liu’s naive response to an irresponsible question was to play down the matter but still confirm that “war” was an option, if only the final option.

Liu has been in the job for less than a month. Without stronger support from the president and the KMT legislative caucus, it has to be asked if Liu will last the summer.

But if Liu is incapable of understanding the importance of diplomatic language and cannot brush aside rabble-rousing legislators looking to set him up, then he may as well quit now.

The response by DPP legislators to Liu’s words was less shrill than might be expected. Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅), who represents part of Tainan County, gave Liu a relatively polite lecture on the need for diplomatic language when dealing with neighboring states.

The president must take a large share of the responsibility for his premier’s misfortune and growing discomfort. As Taipei mayor, Ma was no friend of Taiwan’s Japanese heritage, let alone that in Taipei City. He also made inflammatory comments about using force to protect the Diaoyutai islets from Japanese incursions. Ma has form on Japan, and this is Liu’s cross to bear.

During his presidential campaign, Ma went to some effort to combat his poor press in Japan, traveling there widely and making a good impression overall.

But the actions of KMT legislators and party officials — conveniently timed to impress Chinese officials as negotiations continue in Beijing — may undo all of that.

Still more questions are emerging about what Ma intends to do overall with a legislature whose members on both sides of politics treat his premier like a punching bag. Ma might consider stepping out from behind his protective media veil and start standing up for his own appointments. That would be the decent thing to do. It is also essential politics.

In the meantime, in a show of patriotic hubris, members of the Diplomacy and National Defense Committee, led by the deputy legislative speaker, expect to tour the location where the sinking of the Taiwanese vessel took place.

The learned gentlemen of the committee need not bother wasting their time and defense resources in commandeering a destroyer.

As far as symbolism is concerned, there is already enough damage being inflicted on ties with Japan by KMT legislators seeking to blow this incident way out of proportion.

And as for the site of the incident, all they will see is salt water.

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