GIO’s response misses the point

By Richard Kagan  / 

Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - Page 8

Last Friday I received an e-mail from Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) responding to “Open letter to Taiwan’s president” (Nov. 13, page 8), which I signed with many other academics. This was one of a series of letters we have written concerning Taiwan’s eroding democratic freedoms, judicial systems and international relations. Su has responded in detail to the previous letters by defending the operations of the government with regard to the judicial system, and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) democratic reforms and policies.

But this time, Su wanted to justify and praise Taiwan’s system by referring to the “international community’s assessments” on these matters. His attempt to defend Taiwan by using international standards actually backfired in several ways.

Let me explain in some detail why I question the minister’s research and the professionalism of the GIO.

First, Su uses faulty methodology to prove his point by not providing a context for his argument. He correctly points out that Freedom House ranks Taiwan among the “free” countries of Asia. In the combined ratings of Political and Civil Liberties, Taiwan scores 1.5. This puts it with Israel, Japan and South Korea. The rank of No. 1 is filled mainly by European countries as well as the US and Canada. What he fails to note is that China is scored 6.5 out of a 7-point ranking. China is paired with Zimbabwe and just below Myanmar and North Korea, who scored a 7.

Why, then, is the Ma administration seeking rapprochement with China? How can a democratic country be so blind as to seek close relations with a government that is one of the most among authoritarian societies in the world? Who will benefit? Which is the likelier scenario — that China will force Taiwan to become less free, or that Taiwan will help China become more democratic?

We can actually see the consequence of this relationship in the Corruption Perceptions for this year. Su claims that Taiwan’s ranking in the report on 180 countries issued by Transparency International rose to No. 37. This statement reveals political alchemy at its best. For instance, Taiwan’s score in 2007 was 34. Numerically it did rise to 37. But the higher a country gets, the greater the index of corruption. Somalia is rated at No. 180. In fact, Taiwan fell into greater corruption by three points.

China, meanwhile, moved from 72 in 2007 to is worst score ever, at 79, this year. By Su’s admission, both “regions” (Taiwan and China) are slouching toward Somalia in the corruption index.

Since we talked about Taiwan’s relations with China in our letter, it is important to place Taiwan in the context of Beijing’s power and influence to control cross-strait dialogue.

One can see this most significantly when analyzing press freedoms. Freedom House reports that China has a system of control that “originated under classic totalitarian conditions” and is being modernized to serve the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. In 2005, China was ranked as No. 177 out of a total of 194 countries. Freedom House does not include in its analysis China’s policies in Tibet. If Tibet had been considered, China’s ranking would certainly have been even worse.

How can Chinese make a rational and educated decision about policies toward Taiwan when they live in an iron box of propaganda? When Beijing talks about the feelings of the Chinese people, how does the leadership know what the people think if it does not allow certain information to be circulated, or criticism of its policies? And why would Taipei believe that Chinese have any independent ideas about cross-strait relations when they are ruled by a state that is similar to Myanmar and North Korea in preventing its people from having freedom of the press, freedom to form political parties and freedom to live in a system ruled by law?

What Su needs is an international standard for judging how governments treat each other. For instance, when looking at some of the international organizations that the minister mentions, I could not find any place called “Chinese Taipei,” “Chinese Taiwan” or “One China.” Freedom House, unlike Beijing and Taipei, uses the appropriate name of “Taiwan” and not any substitute to evaluate the country’s rights and freedoms. Why can’t the leadership in Taipei conform to this international usage?

Su defends his government’s policies through misuse of documents and through the use of irrelevant documents. It does not matter how democratic Taiwan appears to be. What is important to ask is: What happens when a democracy seeks to join one of the authoritarian countries in the world? Actually, what should be compared are the statistics on the ruling parties of each country. The government of China is ruled by the CCP and not by the people. And the government of Taiwan is slowly reverting to a one-party state. In the Taiwan Strait, it is the leaders of the political parties, not government officials, who negotiate.

From a historical perspective, Su is engaging in the colonization of his country by an empire. No mater how pure the pearl is, when it lands in stomach of the predator, it no longer shines.

Richard Kagan is professor emeritus at Hamline University in St Paul, Minnesota.