The security measures that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) government has implemented for the arrival of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) must be awakening a sense of dread in anyone old enough to have lived in the Martial Law era under dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).
In fact, so ostentatious was the presence of police and National Security Bureau officers at critical venues along Chen’s path from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to the Grand Hotel in Shilin (士林) that the Chinese envoy must have felt right at home.
The Ma administration’s argument that such measures were the direct consequence of the Democratic Progressive Party’s “mobbing” of ARATS Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) in Tainan last week is obfuscation, as police are not only protecting the envoy but also muzzling freedom of speech by forbidding people from displaying the national flag, banners with political content or symbols of Chinese oppression, such as the Tibetan flag.
What’s even more worrying is that the security apparatus seems to have quickly reverted to the random, unclear rules upon which authoritarian regimes depend to keep their opponents on edge. In other words, while the government tells Taiwanese not to fret over the meetings, it has unleashed the tool of fear to unbalance detractors. Days ahead of Chen’s arrival, demonstrators didn’t know whether they would be arrested for activities that in the past two decades did not constitute breaking the law.
Barbed wire at key intersections, demonstrators manhandled by police without cause, a young woman’s finger broken as police pried a Tibetan flag from her hands and arrested her — this is the stuff of news in China, not Taiwan.
After years of democratization and transformation of the security apparatus into an instrument of the state rather than the private army of a political party, officers that a year ago could not have imagined themselves doing the things that they did yesterday have become a tool of state oppression.
The great British thinker Bertrand Russell, who had a lifelong interest in the uses of power, once referred to a phenomenon that could be summed up as the “anonymity of the flock,” in which the individual is capable of committing actions that are out of character because of the “deresponsibilization” that the context provides them. Being part of an organization — especially in the security apparatus — weakens one’s moral barriers and allows for the perpetration of unspeakable acts. A police officer is merely following orders and doing his job, which he could lose if he refused to comply with directives from the top.
When this happens, otherwise decent human beings are capable of just about anything.
Taiwan hasn’t reached the extremes of this phenomenon, but the seeds are there and the leadership — the moral compass in any institution — has shown its willingness to use force against its own people, assaulting a harmless 34-year-old woman in the process. And yesterday was only the first day of Chen’s visit.
The pendulum of freedom cannot be allowed to swing back in a direction that has caused this nation so much suffering in the past.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably