At key points in history, there often appear brave heros who shape the course of the age. Former president Lee Teng-hui (
As part of the world's third wave of democratization, Taiwan is the best example of transformation from a Leninist-style regime to a democratic political system. The way that Lee used his determination and knack for understanding the situation to circuitously push through reforms from within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is worthy of study by politicians and business managers alike.
Lee was to the KMT what Japanese kendo is to taichi, in that his logic and responses were completely different. The KMT old guard were completely ignorant of kendo, and were therefore defenseless against Lee. By the time they realized he had struck, the battle was already over.
Lee used popular support as his backing. He manipulated the KMT factions until he had them where he wanted them, then broke the conservative factions one by one. He carefully dismantled martial law, pushed forward a pragmatic foreign policy, established a new political identity and turned Taiwan into a country for the Taiwanese, one step at a time. In skillfully redirecting Taiwan's politics onto another track, Lee was a bit like Turkey's Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who mixed the preference for reform over revolution with lightning-quick battle tactics.
The society, politics, economics and diplomatic relations of the Lee era were completely different from the situation faced by President Chen Shui-bian (
The father of Taiwan and the son of Taiwan have faced different challenges, worked with different resources and employed different policies. Just like the ages they governed in, the good points and shortcomings of their personalities and abilities also appear in striking contrast.
Lee is a deep thinker, a man of broad knowledge and a skillful strategist. He looked at the big picture, made his plans systematically and executed them in a timely manner.
However, Chen was trained as a lawyer and treats politics as if he were handling a legal case. He doesn't have the burden of ideology, but he also lacks Lee's sense of purpose and values. His penchant for practicality goes along with his short-term thinking. He doesn't have the haughtiness of an intellectual, but he also lacks a background in humanities and history.
He is like the small business owners who travel the world with a box of goods in search of buyers, who toil long hours and are resolute in the face of hardship, but who lack the ability to plan for the long term and don't have any experience working as part of a group.
Chen's political record has been disastrous, but the merits and flaws of his personality are the same as those of Taiwanese society. "The son of Taiwan" is an apt title.
Power is a fluid and mysterious thing, a combination of trust, respect and authority. But how one uses power is a more complex issue. Power, not matter how great, is useless to a person who lacks leadership skills.
Someone like Lee, who understands not only how to take power but also how to wield it, is truly worthy of being called the foremost person in Taiwanese history.
Antonio Chiang is a former deputy secretary general of the National Security Council.
Translated by Marc Langer
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