Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: Organ music and the FTA shuffle

Some trade is more free than others when it comes to global wheeling and dealing, but at least you can be sure that your vital organs will fetch a handy sum on an unregulated market in China. And the more desperate the buyer, the better.

By Johnny Neihu 強尼內湖  / 

Sat, Feb 17, 2007 - Page 8

It might surprise you, but I'm fully in favor of free trade. Quite often I find myself walking out of the local Family Mart with a gratis pack of Long Life cigarettes in the pocket of my shorts.

But for reasons that remain a mystery, Taiwanese government officials seem hell bent on signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the world's "No. 1 exporter of democracy," the good old US of A.

The benefits of such an agreement are hard to fathom. After all, now that we have Dunkin' Donuts, life here in Taiwan is complete. It's not like we need any more McDonald's and Starbucks, is it?

Besides, FTAs with the US are more like BKAs (Burger King agreements) because Uncle Sam always "wants it his way," and 99 times out of 100 he gets it.

But anybody with the slightest bit of intelligence and the ability to read a newspaper (something beyond our government, it seems) would know by now that the US is leading Taiwan up a very wide and long FTA garden path.

A front page article on Feb. 8. in this very newspaper quoted Eric Altbach, the US Trade Representative (USTR) office's top China and Taiwan negotiator as saying: "Given the demands this full agenda places on USTR and other agencies ... it is frankly impossible for us to launch any new FTA negotiations at this time."

It must have been difficult for the Taipei Times reporter to understand Altbach, as his tongue must have been stuck very firmly in his cheek. Just two days earlier on page 10 of this noble publication ran a story with the headline "US, Malaysia launch new FTA talks." And you can bet your bottom dollar that the FTA in question wasn't a new chapter of the Friends of the Taliban Association. Hey, MOFA, wake up and smell the frappuccino!

Yet Taiwanese officials continue to beg, grovel and lick the boots of Bush's boys trying to convince them to sign on the dotted line.

It's pretty obvious that the main reason officials here want to sign an FTA is because it confers the notion of statehood upon little old us, something they pursue with the same amount of rabid obsession as a teenage girl trying to complete her set of 7-Eleven Snoopy and Woodstock multi-view cards.

But as ever with Taiwan and its mission to become a "normal country" -- whatever that means -- there is a big Red obstacle standing in the way.

For deny it as they might, US officials cannot convince me or my dog that the Chicoms aren't behind the distinct lack of progress. In fact, it got me wondering what kind of conversation would transpire between US and Chinese officials if one day the US were to even consider beginning talks with Taipei:

Communist cadre: "We hear you're thinking of talking to Taiwan about signing a free trade agreement."

US official: "Why, yes sir. That's correct."

Communist cadre: "You must stop this splittist activity immediately. Don't you realize? No one can halt the sacred mission to reunify the motherla... [blah, blah, blah. Five minutes later:] One phone call from Comrade Hu and by this time next week, the shelves of all your Wal-Marts will be empty."

US official: "Now wait a minute Charlie. What was that last part about Wal-Mart? Shee-iit ... Hank, get on the phone and call them talks off."

Talk about gullible. Do they think we Taiwanese just got off the last banana boat? FYI, Uncle Sam, we grew the freakin' bananas and we own the damn boat.

While we're on the topic of business, news of a gruesome case of cross-strait trade was featured in the Falun Gong fanzine Epoch Times last week. I would advise those with a weak constitution to stop reading now.

It concerned Taiwanese businessman Tseng Wen-fang (曾文芳), a native of Kinmen, who was murdered in Xiamen on July 31 last year. In the article, Tseng's wife detailed how "when her family arrived in Xiamen to see the body at the Mashan funeral home, they found the body naked, with the head and body autopsied [sic], and the abdomen hollow and empty. The family members suspected that his organs had been stolen."

Tseng went on to describe how "thick suture threads were identified from the dissection places such as the throat, shoulder, chest and abdomen. The tracings of suture lines were found on the entire head and at the back of the head."

This gives a whole new meaning to "the hollowing out of Taiwanese business."

It doesn't mention if poor old Mr. Tseng was a Falun Gong practitioner, but there must be no faster way to ensure your pall-bearers will have an easier time of it than Chicom cadres discovering you're a card-carrying member of the "evil meditation group" that wants to take over the universe.

But even this particularly dark cloud may have a silver lining.

Apparently, Tseng was diagnosed with liver cancer back in 1997, so the rich communist cadre or heartless foreigner who may or may not have placed a cash-on-delivery order for fresh liver may have got more than he or she bargained for.

There may be a God after all.

Talking of the hallowed one, this week's column would not be complete without a word about Taiwan's very own fallen angel, the politician formerly known as clean, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman-no-longer Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who, in case you were vacationing on Pluto, was indicted on Tuesday on charges of embezzling NT$11 million (US$333,000).

Before you start crying into your cornflakes or rice porridge at the thought of the handsome one spending seven years in a cell with the president's son-in-law, spare a thought for the nation's prosecutors, whose popularity seems to go through more cycles than the Neihu household's washing machine.

In the last few months prosecutors have gone from being "tools of the administration," to "staunch defenders of the law" and now back to being "political weapon[s]."

The same cannot be said for goldenballs, who, according to polls by the United Daily News and TVBS, is even more popular than Brad Pitt in a gay bar now that prosecutors have decided to indict him.

But then these polls were carried out by the same people who said KMT Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Huang Chun-ying (黃俊英) was leading the Democratic Progressive Party's Chen Chu (陳菊) by between 12 and 20 percent just before December's election. And we all know what happened to him, don't we?

Endnote: Old Johnny is making use of next week's reduced edition of the Taipei Times to catch up with his extended family for a non-stop orgy of sausage barbecuing and hongbao distribution to a regiment of screaming children. I'll be back in two weeks with a column marking the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident.

Finally, a very Happy porcine New Year to you, dear reader.

Heard or read something particularly objectionable about Taiwan? Johnny wants to know: is the place to reach me, with "Dear Johnny" in the subject line.