Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Lessons learned across the Strait

Two topical events on opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait are of particular educational value to the public.

The first was in Taiwan: Vice President Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) daughter, Wu Tzu-an (吳子安), discovered that her son’s passport was valid for less than six months when she and her family were about to pass through customs at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ branch office at the airport renewed the passport at the last minute and an hour later the family left the country. The ministry staff at the airport have been accused of granting special privileges to Wu’s daughter.

Wu later said that he had been unaware of the incident at the time. He also said that the service was not a special privilege because it has been in place for some time; it was just a matter of most people not knowing how to apply for documents in those circumstances.

However, many Internet users who have had similar applications denied at the airport have said that this service is not provided to everyone, because the foreign ministry’s regulations include an annotation in red saying that its office at Taoyuan airport “does not accept applications for passports, visas or legalization documents from citizens at the counter,” making it impossible to apply for the service Wu’s daughter received.

In order to calm things down and to help its senior officials out, the ministry had to change its regulations to offer the service publicly. Now, “a person who must leave the country within 12 hours and has proof of flight and reservation” can contact the consular service at Taoyuan airport and ask for help.

While granting special privileges is bad, transforming it to a universal privilege is good, because it is a happy resolution to an obvious mistake.

The second event is taking place in China. The trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) has sparked interest in China and internationally. Although the Chinese government is not broadcasting the trial on TV, it does over the Internet, allowing Chinese to follow the trial live. It is the most politically explosive trial in China since that of the Gang of Four in the late 1970s.

It is China, so trials of top political leaders are only handed to courts for a verdict after the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) leadership and disciplinary committee have had their say. After they have decided the direction the case should take and the penalty, all that the court needs to do is follow instructions — there is no chance that a court will find a defendant not guilty after the CCP has decided on a stiff sentence.

The court’s treatment of Bo has therefore been surprising to many people. When the bailiff says something and the judge strikes the gavel, the defendant is usually frightened to death. The difference in the Bo trial is striking, as the judge, prosecutors and bailiffs have treated Bo with a degree of politeness and respect. Bo even thanked the court for the gracious treatment he received.

Such treatment is normal in a democracy, but in China it is a special privilege. Regardless of what sentence Bo gets, the verdict has more to do with politics than with the law. Still, the Bo case has great value to China — it can educate Chinese on how the judicial system works. Chinese have now seen what rights they are allowed in court and what treatment they should expect. A lesson on the rule of law and human rights is the unexpected result of the Bo trial.

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