There is a saying in China that great statesmen should not allow private affairs to get in the way of official duties. Official appointments should be based on what is in the national interest, and on who is most suited to the job. Leaders should absolutely not make such decisions based on their personal preferences. Appointments are to be made for the benefit of the country, not that of its leaders.
Where exactly do Taiwan-Singapore relations stand at the moment? Was former representative to Singapore Vanessa Shih (史亞平) guilty of dereliction of duty, or was she not? According to a diplomat familiar with Taiwan-Singapore relations, the Singaporean government refused to have dealings with Shih from last year. The reason for this was that she had behaved counter to an agreement made between the two governments when the Taiwan representative office was originally set up in that country.
Politics is the art of compromise, and diplomacy requires face-to-face communication, the goal of which is to ensure both parties’ needs are met. Shih’s main mistake was to take domestic politics with her to Singapore and put them on display. It is little wonder the Singaporean government reacted so strongly. As far as it was concerned, Shih failed to discuss matters prior to the event and showed little in the way of sincerity after the fact. For Singapore, her poor diplomatic skills were a real impediment to relations between the two countries, and it was this that led to the problem.
When the representative office celebrated the centenary of the Republic of China (ROC), Shih was keen to make it quite an ostentatious occasion, putting up ROC flags and having the national anthem performed in rooms where guests from all over the world would be present. She did all this without notifying the Singaporean authorities of her intentions, despite having planned it for some time. The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not happy. Given that the Singaporean government disapproved of Shih’s performance, and that she was even considered persona non grata, it would be difficult to argue that her diplomatic mission over in Singapore had been a success.
There is another saying: “The generals of a defeated army should not speak of bravery, nor a defeated country’s officials of loyalty.”
For ambassadors or representatives stationed abroad, the fulfillment of their basic duties should be a priority. That is, they must maintain good relations with the country in which they are stationed, or they have achieved nothing. Had the ROC representative office in Singapore managed to pull off the centenary celebrations — flags, national anthem and all — without annoying the Singaporean government, that would have been a major diplomatic success. However, it did not, and that compromised its ability to function properly.
Shih may well be patriotic, but being patriotic is not her job, and in fact can at times be counterproductive. Diplomacy requires discretion. Shih, though, is one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) favored generals, and he has viewed her failings with a more sympathetic eye than he would those of others. Because of her actions, the government of the country in which she was stationed refused to have any further dealings with her. She lost the trust of the Singaporean authorities, and was consequently, and regrettably, unable to function as the representative of our government.
Since the country in which she had been stationed refused to have dealings with her, it is quite evident that Shih had failed in her job. She was not able to fulfill the most fundamental task of maintaining the integrity of the ROC in that country, to the extent that our government had little choice but to recall her. As far as Ma is concerned, he has to learn the importance of choosing people who are most suited to a task, rather than those he just happens to like. If he does not, he will only end up looking like an amateur.
Chu Yen-kuei is a lecturer of law at National Open University.
Translated by Paul Cooper