The political storm brewing over an approaching personnel reshuffle at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy was anything but inevitable.
Not long after news emerged that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) intended to make changes to the foundation’s board of directors, various organizations in Taiwan and the US began accusing Ma of interfering in the affairs of this reputable organization. One US congressman has gone so far as to call on US President Barack Obama to get involved.
Criticism of the reshuffle has centered on Ma’s efforts to improve relations with Beijing. Support and funding by the foundation for Tibetan groups and pro-democracy elements in China and Cuba, it has been alleged, would be the main targets of the Ma administration following alleged complaints by Beijing.
National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) is also reported to have demanded the removal of deputy executive directors Maysing Yang (楊黃美幸) and Tung Li-wen (董立文).
Despite claims by the Presidential Office that the pending reshuffle is not politically motivated, accusations by reputable organizations such as the US-based Freedom House — which downgraded Taiwan 11 spots in its most recent index — and the Formosan Association for Public Affairs that Ma is seeking to hamstring the foundation are proving hard to ignore.
That the foundation’s chairman, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), has remained silent over the controversy has only invited more criticism. If, as the head of the foundation and one of the most powerful officials in the country, Wang cannot exercise his influence to keep the foundation free of partisan skulduggery, then the ramifications for other organizations of this nature are worrying, indeed.
Another aspect fueling concern over any changes is the fact that the foundation came together under the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government. Ever since Ma became president, his administration has endeavored to reverse the DPP’s symbolic achievements, such as renaming Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Chunghwa Post. The foundation would be the latest victim of this process, and in practical terms a more tragic one: Monuments and postal services are not responsible for seeding democracy in foreign lands.
There is a degree of speculation in this controversy. Government sources remain anonymous and for now rights watchdogs are more fearful than they are informed. But the present political environment, in which human rights and freedom of speech are suffering gradual erosion, justifies vigilance. A case in point: The Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission is now accused of trying to eviscerate the agenda of the Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation.
By deed, if not by word, the Ma administration is earning an unfavorable reputation — and it only has itself to blame. Given this administration’s track record and its growing willingness to sacrifice core values for Beijing’s sake, accusations of manipulation of groups like the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy will cast a shadow for as long as the government refuses to demonstrate that its intentions are benign.
The opaqueness of the government’s agenda for the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy is simply unacceptable. If a reshuffle takes place that is consistent with Beijing’s wishes then Taiwan’s capacity and reputation as a cultivator of democracy will continue to decline.