On Wednesday, the Special Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division (SID) opened an investigation into the National Development Fund’s investments in Yu Chang Biologics Co.
This is interesting news. First, because this is the same SID that showed its political colors in the earlier investigations of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and a number of other prominent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials. By all accounts, the SID is being used by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as a political instrument against the DPP. It has given Taiwan a bad name internationally and has been the main cause of the erosion of justice in Taiwan over the past three years.
Second, as is well-known in Taiwan by now, DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her family invested in Yu Chang Biologics in the early years, when it was just a startup. After she stepped down as vice premier in May 2007, the principal researchers at the company — which is developing a breakthrough medicine for AIDS treatment — invited Tsai to become the chairman of its board, primarily to spearhead negotiations with the US company Genentech.
In 2007, Tsai consulted with the Executive Yuan’s Legal Affairs Committee as to whether her involvement in Yu Chang would violate Taiwan’s “revolving door” regulations, and the answer was a clear “no.” Because she had not had any direct dealings with, or responsibility for, the company during her time in office, it was deemed in agreement with the rules.
So this brings us to our third point: Why is the SID launching an investigation at this time? It does not take a rocket scientist to see that there is a presidential election campaign going on and during the past few weeks Tsai has been pulling ahead of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Such an overtly political move as an SID investigation is surprising (or maybe not, given the history of the SID). Over the past three years, Taiwanese have seen too many such maneuvers and could well react by rallying in support of Tsai.
Overseas, the move also reflects badly on Ma: Until now, most foreign observers have sat back and watched the political campaign unfold, but this move is such an obviously desperate attempt to discredit a political opponent that it will stain Ma’s reputation.
International observers expect a level playing field and have been impressed by the issues-oriented campaign that Tsai has conducted. A resort to mudslinging by the KMT is deepening the existing political divisions instead of bringing about a much-needed “Taiwan consensus,” as advocated by Tsai.
The move will also undoubtedly attract the attention of the US Congress and the European Parliament.
Early this month, at a conference on Capitol Hill, US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, stated: “My colleagues in Congress and I will be watching the conduct of these elections very closely.”
Ma would be well-advised to order an immediate halt to the political prosecutions of the SID and steer Taiwan back toward a reasonable and rational discussion of the multiple and complex issues facing the country: income inequality, energy and the environment, how to move forward on cross-strait issues, and much more.
Taiwan’s upcoming elections could be a momentous event, a beacon for democracy in East Asia, with its light shining brightly across the Taiwan Strait. However, that requires its president to set an example. The SID investigation will be yet another dark stain that cannot be easily washed away.
Gerrit van der Wees is the editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication based in Washington.
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