Premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) suggestion yesterday that retired generals and high-ranking officials be permanently barred from taking part in political activities in China appears to be as misguided as the Executive Yuan’s proposals to amend the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) and the Classified National Security Information Protection Act (國家機密保護法) to extend the restrictions on such people visiting China.
In response to a question from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yosi Takun, Su said that a proposed 15-year ban would not be long enough and that such individuals should never be allowed to attend such activities.
Citing news reports about two retired generals who attended last year’s Cross-Strait Generals Forum in Xiamen, China, where they reportedly joined in singing the Chinese national anthem, Su said that such behavior was “out of control” and that the public would be “hard-pressed to accept” it.
While Taiwan’s democracy is imperfect, it is the nation’s most valuable asset, repeatedly touted by successive administrations, so while Su’s indignation over the antics of former top brass is understandable, such an autocratic, top-down effort to restrict freedom of expression is not the way for a democratic society to tackle the problem.
If some retired generals want to try their luck at ingratiating themselves with Beijing, let them; they are not worth compromising the nation’s democratic institutions.
If the Democratic Progressive Party is truly proud of Taiwan’s democracy, it should retract the draft amendments and respect old soldiers’ right to say what they think, even if their actions border on the treasonous.
While the cynics might say that everyone has a price, Beijing would be bankrupted several times over if it actually tried to bribe every Taiwanese into asserting Chinese sovereignty over this nation. Society should be allowed to form its own judgement about people who readily turn their backs on their nation for personal gain.
The government should have enough faith in the public’s ability to realize that such generals are a minority among their peers and that not everyone is ready to abandon their nation for profit, even if many KMT members appear determined to ignore China’s unrelenting efforts to drive wedges between Taiwanese and absorb Taiwan.
After all, when has any law stopped former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other top KMT figures from making misleading remarks about companies in KMT-governed cities and counties enjoying the benefits of doing business with China, despite an impasse in cross-strait relations? People with vested interests will try to manipulate public opinion whether they are here or in China 15 years from now.
When the Executive Yuan first said that it wanted to amend the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, it cited a need to improve national security, but the period in which a retiree with knowledge of military, technological or other state secrets would be barred from traveling to China remains unchanged at three years — with a requirement for approval for such travel after that period — in the draft.
It later said that the amendments were aimed at “preventing retired government and military officials from attending events in China that could unduly assert Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.” Such a comment betrays the government’s insecurity, as Beijing’s “united front” efforts to divide and conquer Taiwanese society will continue regardless of such amendments.
As Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) once said of China’s tactics: “If people have a strong enough immune system, they do not need to be afraid of germs.” The government might want to think about that as it seeks to get amendments through the Legislative Yuan.
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