Warnings of eroding democracy since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office become harder to ignore when people like former political prisoner Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) add their voice to the chorus. Over the past year, the political system has been undermined by a government that meddles in the judiciary, sidelines the legislature and ignores objections to pro-China policies.
For Ma, dealing with China is like looking into Nietzsche’s abyss — except China’s abyss looked back at Ma long and hard from the very start. No country can engage China without its democracy being tarnished by the experience, particularly if that engagement is political in nature.
Ma, who will become Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman at the end of next month, is turning into a diluted version of his Chinese Communist Party counterparts — brooking little dissent while amassing executive and legislative power.
It’s one thing for democracy to lose its luster at home; it’s another when Taiwan rubs elbows with regional bullies and reinforces their regimes.
The effects of Beijing’s “no questions asked” trade policy on countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, where trade is detached from human rights and environmental considerations, are well noted. Another country where Chinese economic activity has bolstered despots — if less theatrically — is Myanmar.
Taiwan is following suit with an announcement by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) that it signed a memorandum of understanding last week with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry to forge closer economic ties.
In its annual report, Amnesty International wrote that the human rights situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate, with thousands of prisoners of conscience in jail and more than 100 people killed in a crackdown last year. As a result of these abuses and many others, sanctions have been imposed on the military junta from around the civilized world.
The UN Security Council has attempted to issue resolutions criticizing Myanmar, but each has been vetoed by China, whose growing trade relationship with the generals has not only resulted in serious deforestation in the north, but also acts as a lifeline when the junta weathers international opprobrium.
Back in 2003, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, Taiwanese businesspeople operating in Myanmar complained that Taipei wasn’t doing enough to foster better relations. Taipei did support trade with Myanmar, as it happens, but its reluctance to develop closer relations with the regime was in part a result of its atrocious human rights record. The junta’s behavior since then has only deteriorated.
Ironically, in 2007 Myanmar’s foreign ministry expressed opposition to Taiwanese efforts to join the UN, saying that it saw Taiwan as an “integral part of China.” Apparently, neither oppression nor insults have deterred the Ma government in its mission to increase trade there, with TAITRA making no secret of the fact that it sees the country as “an ideal place to open labor-intensive production lines because workers are paid only US$30 to US$50 a month on average.”
In completely ignoring human rights, TAITRA has pulled off a convincing impersonation of a Chinese government agency: an opportunistic body that shows utter disregard for the cost of its actions on ordinary people in other lands.