Just as President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is about to celebrate the signing of an historic trade agreement with China, Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) once again managed to draw attention to himself.
Yaung’s latest faux pas — made while he was in the US — involved publicly expressing his intense dislike of Koreans, who he said had copied Taiwan’s health system but would never admit doing so.
Not only were such comments inappropriate for a public official, they also reflected a view propagated by an increasingly nationalist China. In other words, not only was our health minister making a fool of himself while abroad, he was also spewing Chinese propaganda.
This incident is unlikely to be well received by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which is facing a crisis in popularity ahead of important municipal elections in November. At a time when it is striving to rebuild its credibility and mend fences with countries supposedly alienated by the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, Yaung’s remarks can only make that task more onerous.
For the DPP, Yaung’s lack of discretion is a godsend, providing additional ammunition as it prepares to hold a mass rally in Taipei to oppose the controversial economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).
The Ma administration has a week to distance itself from Yaung’s insulting rhetoric. Should it remain silent on the matter, we could only conclude that it condones such ugly Chinese nationalism and Yaung could well be added to the list of things to be targeted during the protests on Saturday.
Supporters of Taiwan not only have the responsibility to ensure the nation’s survival, but to protect its image abroad by displaying maturity, openness and respect for differences. The importance of distancing ourselves from the racism espoused by Yaung cannot be overstated, not only because it represents an effort to combat “Han” chauvinism, but also because it highlights the type of maturity that the world expects from a democracy.
Regardless of who is in power, Taiwan is in no position to insult other nations through its officials — especially through a crass form of nationalism for which Chinese officials have often been ridiculed. If we fail to condemn this type of behavior, we are no better than the Chinese officials we laugh at for their lack of tact.
Ultimately, a politician’s ability to conduct himself or herself properly serves as an indicator of their ability to oversee national policies. As Yaung is closely involved in managing the debilitated National Health Insurance (NHI) program — one that should be the envy of many countries but that is becoming increasingly unsustainable — his inability to behave like a professional politician raises questions about his qualifications. Are those of us who contribute to the NHI plan and rely on it in times of need really willing to trust someone who engages in such open bigotry to steer the nation’s health program in the right direction?
During the protest on Saturday, let’s hope that among all the placards criticizing the Ma administration and opposing an ECFA that is being forced on us, there will also be a few that give voice to the respect and openness of mind and spirit that far better represent the feelings of Taiwanese people than the racist comments of our health minister.