Sun, Nov 26, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Huang’s uneasy time in the spotlight

By James Baron

Foreign policy was always going to be tricky for President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration. It was one of the few areas that her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), could hail as a success when he left power on single-digit approval ratings.

Granted, Ma’s can be regarded as something of a Pyrrhic victory, coming on the back of emasculating concessions to China that yielded an unofficial “diplomatic truce” and brought a suspension to years of ally poaching.

However, regardless of how it was achieved, Ma’s performance was always likely to be seen as a step up from the abysmal record of the man he replaced.

Former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) two terms in power were marked by almost constant accusations of “checkbook diplomacy.”

Chen was unfortunate to be the first Taiwanese president to be subjected to the scrutiny of a largely hostile free press. He also had to contend with a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature eager to cast every diplomatic misstep as, if not outright venal, at the very least hopelessly naive.

Yet there can be no doubt that Chen’s government made a rod for its own back, and few figures came to be more strongly identified with this self-flagellation than James Huang (黃志芳), who Chen appointed minister of foreign affairs in January 2006.

Some online sources have erroneously referred to Huang as having left this post as a matter of course with the outgoing administration in May 2008, but Huang had actually resigned days earlier, following what was the most shameful of several notorious debacles that had stained his tenure.

The Pacific Island nations, among which Taiwan has maintained a perennially fluctuating ally count, provided fertile ground for scandal during Huang’s time at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

Thrown in at the deep end just three months after his appointment, Huang was called on to rebut as “groundless” claims by the Australian government that Taipei had interfered in controversial general elections in the Solomon Islands.

The vote led to rioting in the capital, Honiara, with Chinese-owned businesses targeted and an estimated 90 percent of the city’s Chinatown burned down. The Pacific Casino, an alleged front for Taiwanese money laundering, was among the buildings torched.

If Huang was thrown a hospital pass with this first high-profile outing, he can surely have had only himself to blame for the tragicomically inept series of events that precipitated his downfall.

In 2006, Huang oversaw a failed bid to lure Papua New Guinea away from China with a US$30 million bribe. The money was heading for the pockets of Papua New Guinean legislators before the deal fell through.

According to Huang, he called a halt to proceedings on deducing that the Papua New Guineans had no intention of establishing ties and were simply angling for a handout.

Papua New Guinean officials had a slightly different take, with then-Papua New Guinean minister for national planning and monitoring Paul Tiensten saying that Port Moresby had made it quite clear that full diplomatic ties were not on the table.

Whatever the case, the collapse of the deal was the least of Taipei’s concerns in light of revelations that the intermediaries charged with conveying the funds had absconded with the money.

When one of them — a Taiwanese-American named Ching Chi-ju (金紀玖) — was brought to book in a court in Singapore, he claimed that he had taken his share of the money (US$10 million) as payment for work he had undertaken as a secret emissary to China under then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) from 1995 to 2000. Ching even went so far as to suggest that he had helped avert a military confrontation during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995 to 1996.

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