Foreign ministry to probe open letter to Ma Ying-jeou

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Apr 14, 2011 - Page 1

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is looking into a petition by 34 foreign academics and former government officials that criticized President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration over government accusations that 17 former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials failed to return 36,000 official documents.

The open letter, dated April 8 and published in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) on April 10 and the Taipei Times the following day, was co-signed by Nat Bellocchi, former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and 33 academics, writers and former government officials from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.

Following the letter’s publication, some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, including Chiu Yi (邱毅), appeared on TV talk shows on Monday night and questioned whether the signatories were fully aware of the content of the letter.

Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), head of the ministry’s Department of North American Affairs, said yesterday the ministry would contact each of the signatories to check if they initiated the petition themselves or just added their names to it, what their concerns were and what exactly they knew about the matter.

“We heard that Bellocchi seldom goes out nowadays and it is not so often that people have a chance to talk to him. It seems he has not been well recently. We are checking this out,” Linghu said.

Linghu said the ministry would make it clear to the signatories that the government’s decision to turn over the missing documents’ case to the Control Yuan for investigation was made based on the law and would ask them to respect Taiwan’s legal system.

At a separate setting, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Thomas Hou (侯平福) told the legislature’s Foreign and Defense Committee the ministry had demanded that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US look into the matter on Monday, with results expected in a week.

KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) yesterday asked Hou to give him a copy of the original letter along with other open letters addressed to Ma by Bellocchi and others in recent years.

“This was the sixth letter. Has the ministry ever tried to get the original English copies? The letter [in the Liberty Times] was written in Chinese. I don’t believe that all the 34 academics [who signed it] understand Chinese and are able to write Chinese characters. Was the original version in Chinese or English?” Chiang said.

Chiang said he doubted the original letter was written in English, as the ministry has said.

“It’s a reasonable assumption that the letter was originally written in Chinese. [Bellocchi] had a written Chinese version in place and had others put their names on it. Their position has been clear, which is to attack the Ma Ying-jeou administration, accusing it of taking democracy a step backward, abusing political power and harboring political motives,” Chiang said.

Chiang said Bellocchi “deserved condemnation for interfering with the country’s internal affairs” because he had been an official with the US State Department attending to foreign affairs concerning Taiwan.

Chiang said Bellocchi has lost his credibility and objectivity in commenting on issues related to Taiwan because he has been close to the DPP and has had his articles published in the Liberty Times after his retirement, which clearly showed his political inclinations.

Multiple sources involved in the drafting of the letter have confirmed to the Taipei Times that the original was written in English and that all 34 signatories saw its content before it was translated into Chinese and distributed to the media. Several of the academics also played a role in its drafting.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER