President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) main representatives in negotiations with China — Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) — are both very inexperienced in cross-strait affairs. For example, this month, Wang failed to identify pictures of all but two members of the standing committee of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) politburo, and last month, Lin revealed that, aware of his lack of knowledge and experience in cross-strait matters, he had initially declined Ma’s appointment.
Despite this, the two seem to think they are succeeding in their jobs. Lin is not an altogether inexperienced man: He has been hiding in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) bureaucracy, and his mind is already well trained in the KMT’s culture of “reporting to one’s superior.”
Such KMT bureaucrats have been trained to respect and follow authority and to always report to their superiors throughout their career — from their first section chief all the way to the premier and the party chairman as they climb up the ladder. The better they are at it, the better they do for themselves. It is not very strange then, that when they are finally appointed emissaries, continuing to “report to the chairman” comes easily — the phrase Lin used in an exchange with Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Jia Qinglin (賈慶林) — one of the people Wang failed to identify.
The feudal culture of blind respect for authority and always reporting to one’s superiors can be seen throughout Taiwan’s bureaucracy and military and it has even spread to business. Both the political bureaucracy and the military are strongly hierarchical, but while blind respect for authority may be both feudal and outdated, it will not damage national dignity. However, when someone behaves in the same way toward officials of an enemy state, they are betraying the country.
However, Ma doesn’t even seem to notice.
In the US, managers and their subordinates often address each other by their first names, and the only formal language used are phrases such as “Mr President” and “Mr” or “Mrs Secretary.” When officials from the American Institute in Taiwan meet Ma, they will never think of saying they are “reporting” to the president.
The CCP built its power on revolution and is accustomed to using the term tongzhi (同志, or comrade), a word that has a completely different connotation in Taiwan. However, when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) visited the White House, he would never have thought of addressing US President Barack Obama as “comrade,” nor did he say that he was “reporting” to Obama. He did not even use “Mr,” simply calling Obama “you.”
Behavior differs at domestic and international events. How foreign affairs officials address their counterparts, how they adhere to protocol and how they express their points of view affect national dignity and national interests. These things must therefore be carefully planned out and strictly adhered to.
Senior KMT bureaucrats lacking a sense of propriety and telling the enemy that they will “report to the chairman,” and a businessman who does not understand the role of the press in a democratic society, but is buying up Taiwanese media outlets because he wants to help China understand Taiwan, and then traveling to Beijing to “report to the man in charge”: These are all expressions of a slave mentality.
Abandoning power and humiliating the country by “reporting to the chairman” and trampling on freedom and media independence and dignity — such traitorous and shameless actions are completely unacceptable to all upstanding Taiwanese.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Perry Svensson