Dear President Ma,
On the occasion of the first anniversary of your presidency, we, the undersigned, scholars and writers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, wish to publicly address our concerns to you about a number of trends in Taiwan, as well as several specific developments.
We raise these issues as international supporters of Taiwan’s democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation-state. As you recall, we voiced concerns on three previous occasions, most recently in a letter to you, Mr President, dated Jan. 17, 2009, in which we expressed our concern regarding the fairness of the judicial system in Taiwan.
These concerns have not been alleviated by either the response from Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) or the cessation of troubling, flawed and partial judicial proceedings, in particular involving the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
We reiterate that any alleged corruption must be investigated, but emphasize that the judicial process needs to be scrupulously fair and impartial. In the case of the former president, it is evident that the prosecution is heavily tainted by political bias, and that the former president is being treated badly out of spite for the political views and the positions he took during his presidency. Such retribution does not bode well for a young and fragile democracy, as Taiwan is.
The second issue that we feel we need to highlight is press freedom. In spite of earlier expressions of concern by international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, there continue to be reports of impingement on press freedom by your administration. A case in point is the recent disturbing report that Central News Agency staff were instructed to write only “positive” stories about the policies of your administration, and that reports containing criticism of your administration or China were excised.
As supporters of a free and democratic Taiwan it is disheartening to see that in the annual report on press freedom by the New York-based Freedom House, Taiwan dropped from 32nd to 43rd place. In addition, it is disconcerting to see reports that groups with close ties to China are buying their way into Taiwan’s media circles, gaining a controlling voice in major publications such as the China Times. We need to remind ourselves that China is still an authoritarian state with a long history of control of the news media. Its financial influence in Taiwan’s free press will in the long run be detrimental to hard-won freedoms.
This leads us to a third general issue: the means by which rapprochement with China is being pursued. While most people in Taiwan and overseas agree that a reduction of tension in the Taiwan Strait is beneficial, it is crucial to do this in a manner befitting a democratic nation: with openness and full public debate. Only if there is sufficient transparency and true dialogue — both in the Legislative Yuan and in society as a whole — will the result be supported by a significant majority of the people.
Transparency and true dialogue have been lacking in the process. Decisions and agreements are arrived at in secrecy and then simply announced to the public. The Legislative Yuan seems to have been sidelined, having little input in the form or content of the agreements, such as the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA). The administration simply sends to the legislature the texts agreed to in the negotiations with the People’s Republic of China, allowing virtually no possibility of discussion of the pros and cons of such agreements. This undermines the system of checks and balances, which is so essential to a mature democracy. We may mention that recent opinion polls show overwhelming support for a referendum on an ECFA and for better legislative oversight of China policy.