Thirty-four US, Canadian, European and Australian academics and writers, including former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Nat Bellocchi and Stephen Yates, former deputy national security affairs assistant to former US vice president Dick Cheney, published an open letter addressed to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) last weekend, calling on the government not to use the Control Yuan and the judicial system for political ends. The letter takes aim at the government’s investigation into the alleged disappearance of documents from the presidential office during the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.
The letter questioned the fact that the government announced the investigation the day before Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced his intention to run for the DPP’s nomination for next year’s presidential election and said it “certainly gives the impression of a political ploy intended to discredit the DPP and its candidates.”
The letter also said: “As observers of political developments in Taiwan for many decades, we believe that these charges are politically motivated.”
Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), the Presidential Office’s spokesperson, responded to these suspicions by saying: “The Republic of China [ROC] is a country ruled by law” and that “the Presidential Office’s consistent approach when discovering that national documents have been destroyed has been to handle the issue in accordance with the law.”
Hearing the tone of this statement, one would be excused for thinking that we have returned to the authoritarian era. When the government at that time responded to international protests against the persecution of political dissidents, the defense was always to say that the ROC was “a country ruled by law” and that the issue would be “handled in accordance with the law,” adding a “hope that foreigners will respect that.”
This attitude is no different from the attitude of autocratic China. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) do not have even the most basic understanding of how democracy, liberty and human rights are universal values and not a domestic issue that foreigners are poking their nose into.
China’s recent arrest of outspoken artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) has become a cause of concern for many countries. The Chinese government did not confirm the arrest until the international demands for Ai’s release grew stronger. Only then did they announce that Ai had been arrested for “economic crimes.” In the eyes of the Ma administration, that would surely be a matter of acting “in accordance with the law.” China has for many years been arresting Christians participating in private religious meetings and persecuting Falun Gong followers. When the Chinese government claims that it is of course doing so “in accordance with the law,” it is abandoning China’s constitutional guarantees for religious freedom as if it were an old shoe thrown by the wayside.
If we think back to the authoritarian era, wasn’t that exactly what the KMT used to say? All the same problems seem to be recurring in the current government. The KMT and the CCP are responding to the international community in very similar ways.
Ma frequently talks about democracy, liberty and human rights, but whether he really adheres to the view that they represent universal values is a different matter altogether. We want to stress that concern for democracy, liberty and human rights is not restricted by national borders. Past international concern for the authoritarian oppression of Taiwanese was based on these universal values. The 34 signatories of the open letter to Ma are also basing their concerns that the government is using the judiciary as a tool for political persecution on these universal values.
If Ma wants to be remembered as Mr Democracy, he should listen to their concerns and implement reform if any mistakes have occurred. When this group of petitioners hears that the government feels foreigners should stay out of Taiwan’s domestic political situation, they will probably become even more concerned about political motives behind the hunt for the missing documents.
It has taken the government almost three years to handle the case of the missing documents “in accordance with the law” — the administrative efficiency is breathtaking. According to the general procedure for handling official documents at government institutions — the Presidential Office is no exception — such documents must go through acceptance, registration, distribution, handling and filing procedures.
With more than 30,000 documents missing, the Presidential Office should first require that the department handling documents promptly compile a report on the handling process and offer a public explanation. Above all, following this international call for justice, the government can no longer turn a deaf ear.
This international group of 34 academics and writers are not the only people complaining. More than two years ago, the human rights reports of the US Congress, Freedom House, The Economist, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders repeatedly showed how democracy, liberty and human rights in Taiwan were deteriorating under Ma. The experience of these international observers is confirmed by the experience of people here in Taiwan.
This should increase our worries that the increasingly close relationship between the Ma administration and the autocratic Chinese government will become closer still and that the international community once again will begin to see Taiwan as the authoritarian state it used to be.
As the true masters of Taiwan, we must use the coming legislative and presidential elections to tell the world that the Ma administration does not represent mainstream Taiwanese society.
TRANSLATED BY PERRY SVENSSON