Two recent events have quickly earned the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration the label of troublemaker. Moreover, further actions by the courts and the Legislative Yuan have threatened to undermine the nation’s hard-earned democracy.
First was the political uproar generated by the provocative comments of Prime Minister Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) and the reckless actions by some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators in response to the accidental sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat in the waters near the Diaoyutai (釣魚台) islands. Liu allowed himself to be goaded by the KMT legislators into saying that he “doesn’t exclude war” with Japan over the incident.
While he later retracted the statement, the remark has highlighted a rather unbalanced thinking on the Ma administration’s part on the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty and security. Ma seems to want to defend the nation’s sovereignty over a fishing boat and a piece of rock, but he neglected to mention Taiwan’s sovereignty in his inaugural address. The sovereignty issue was also whitewashed in the recent meetings with China.
If the Ma administration would have sought to determine what really happened in the Diaoyutais, it would have learned that the Taiwanese boat was inside the 19km zone delineated in an agreement between Taiwan and Japan and that the Taiwanese captain was unnecessarily endangering the lives of his crewmembers.
Instead of letting legal authorities handle the case (as the Japanese did, with evenhandedness), the KMT government made a political issue of it, going as far as recalling the nation’s representative to Japan, a very unwise political move as it risks estranging Taiwan from its closest ally in the region. The act could also seriously undermine Taiwan’s security.
At home, Ma has been undermining democracy and fostering the corruption he said he abhors: The judicial authorities are pressing charges against former president Chen Shui-bian in relation to a “slander suit” brought against the former president and two Democratic Progressive Party legislators, one of whom is still serving in the legislature.
The case stems from remarks made by Chen and the two legislators in 2005, alleging involvement of retired vice admiral Lei Hsueh-ming (雷學明), retired rear admiral Wang Chin-sheng (王琴生) and three others in a kickback scheme over the purchase of French-made Lafayette frigates. The two navy officers held key positions under former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) when the decision was made to purchase French frigates rather than South Korean ones.
Former French foreign minister Roland Dumas said that some US$500 million in kickbacks were paid by Thompson CSF, US$400 million of which went through the office of the KMT secretariat-general, then headed by James Soong (宋楚瑜). During his terms in office, Chen encouraged the court system to investigate the case and prosecute those who were found guilty, but this was stonewalled by the KMT-dominated courts.
By allowing the slander suit against the former president to move ahead, Ma has undermined democracy and risks allowing individuals who were involved in large-scale corruption to go unpunished.
A fair and just judicial system should take legal action against corrupt individuals, not whistle blowers.
Taiwanese have worked hard to achieve security and democracy. It would be unfortunate for all that work to be squandered by the provocative words and reckless actions of the Ma administration and by hardline KMT legislators.
Gerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication based in Washington.
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