Western academics being told they deserve condemnation for interfering in a country’s internal affairs after they criticize what they believe might be an abuse of power by the government is something that is usually associated with China. When US government officials or professors accuse China of abusing human rights by arresting dissenters or squelching opposition with supposedly “legal” means, Chinese authorities either refer to them as ignorant foreigners who don’t understand the specific requirements of running the Middle Kingdom, or they accuse them of seeking to denigrate China for political purposes.
The Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan has typically demonstrated a much more amiable attitude to Western officials and academics. After all, the ROC and the US are long-time friends and it is unlikely Taiwan would still be independent if it hadn’t been for the US. That’s why it is all the more disquieting that under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Taiwan is beginning to sound so similar to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In an open letter to the KMT administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) first published in Chinese on April 10 and in English on April 11, 34 foreign academics, including former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Nat Bellocchi, questioned the timing of a probe into 36,000 confidential state documents that allegedly went missing under the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration. The case of the allegedly missing documents, which is being investigated by the Control Yuan and could lead to criminal charges against many DPP luminaries who would play an important role in the upcoming presidential election, was announced the day before former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who is one of those being investigated, announced his bid for the presidency.
The foreign academics couldn’t help but suspect this investigation of being a political ploy — the KMT using the judiciary to influence the elections. In the open letter, they expressed sincere concern that this could erode Taiwan’s democracy.
However, in its sharp response to the letter, the Presidential Office sounded no different from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) called it “unfair” for foreigners who knew little about the situation to “recklessly interfere in and criticize” the legal means the Ma government is using to address the matter. Basically, Lo called Bellocchi, University of Miami professor June Teufel Dreyer, Stephen Yates, a former deputy assistant for national security to former US vice president Dick Cheney, and many other experts on Taiwan nothing but “ignorant foreigners.”
Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), head of the Department of North American Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was more insidious. He insinuated that Bellocchi was a sick old man who “seldom goes out nowadays,” suggesting he was not well enough to know what he was doing. KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) said he did not believe the letter was written in English, and that few of the signatories could have read the original Chinese-language version before signing it. However, a majority of the signatories have denied this, saying that it was drafted in English and they did have a part in writing it.
Chiang went further, sounding even more like the CCP thugs he seems intent on emulating, accusing Bellocchi of interfering in Taiwan’s internal affairs and saying he had a political bias toward the DPP.
It appears that the KMT, like the CCP, can’t differentiate true concern for the fate of democracy or the well-being of Taiwanese with a personal attack on the party. Like the CCP, the KMT takes any criticism personally and counterattacks with whatever low-handed means it can muster. The KMT is truly getting back to its roots, with Chiang in particular sounding like his authoritarian grandfather.