The recent suicide of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, who was under investigation for corruption, is bound to draw comparisons with the ongoing trial of former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). After all, the two former human rights lawyers have faced accusations of corruption — Chen of receiving or embezzling NT$490 million (US$15 million) and Roh of accepting US$6 million in bribes while in office.
In both cases, the investigations were launched after a transfer of power — from the Democratic Progressive Party to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in Taiwan, and from the left-of-center Uri Party to the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) in South Korea. (Incidentally, just as in Taiwan, the previous government was “green” and was replaced by the opposition “blue.”)
In democratic countries, high-level corruption represents a betrayal of trust that can have ramifications on a party’s performance at the polls. In other words, votes will serve as a corrective to corruption. In one-party systems like China, however, corruption is seen as an impediment to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whose grip on power is contingent on its ability to maintain high economic growth and social stability. Anything that undermines that image or threatens to derail modernization — as high-level corruption does — is also perceived as a threat to the CCP, which in recent years has not refrained from ridding the party of highly visible corrupt officials. Under such a non-democratic system, however, direct popular elections cannot serve as an instrument to fight government corruption.
There are two areas in which both democracies and single-party states see eye-to-eye on corruption. One is in the use of corruption probes as a weapon for power plays within a political party, which is especially prevalent within the CCP but not unseen in multiparty democracies. The other — and this is of special interest here — is in the use of probes as a means to discredit the policies espoused by the targeted political figures in another party.
While they were in power, both Roh and Chen advocated policies that were extremely divisive.
In Chen’s case, his advocacy of an independent Taiwan alienated a sector of the polity that either sought to maintain the “status quo” with China or clearly supported eventual unification.
As for Roh, his most contentious — and equally divisive — policy was his decision to continue the “Sunshine Policy” of his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, toward North Korea, which culminated in a visit by Roh in Pyongyang in October 2007. In January that year, the main opposition GNP — a hardline on North Korea — criticized Roh’s government for trying to arrange the Inter-Korean Summit.
In both cases, the opposition had substantial influence on the media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report that the so-called “Big Three” conservative newspapers in South Korea — the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo — together accounted for about 70 percent of the country’s newspaper market. These dailies, the CPJ said, had all been critical of Kim’s “Sunshine Policy.” Unsurprisingly, when major South Korean media outlets, including the three mentioned, faced tax evasion probes in 2001, the GNP turned out to be their “loud champion,” as the CPJ reported.
In December last year, the Korean Central News Agency reported that Media Action, a grouping of 48 civic and public organizations, including the south Korean Press Trade Union, denounced moves by the GNP — which came to power on Dec. 19, 2007, replacing Roh — to put media under its control. The group accused the party of seeking to revise media laws in ways that risked undermining impartiality and favored conservative media such as the Chosun Ilbo.
A clear link between the GNP’s control of the media, hardline stance on inter-Korean dialogue and the level of publicity surrounding the Roh case can be established. It is therefore not impossible that through the media and the judiciary, the GNP sought to discredit Roh’s policies vis-à-vis North Korea by focusing on allegations of corruption against him. Soon after his death, some South Koreans were already starting to ask if the media and the judiciary might not have come down “too hard” on Roh — something that would equally apply to the Chen case in Taiwan, where a large sector of the media falls under direct or indirect control of the KMT, and where the government has been accused of meddling in the judiciary.
It is interesting to note, too, that much like the KMT, the GNP has its roots in a military dictatorship, in this case that of Park Chung-hee in 1963, when it was known as the Democratic Republican Party. Such political dowry may have played a role — an old reflex, perhaps — in the KMT and the GNP’s use of mass propaganda campaigns to discredit not just a political opponent, but also an ideology (Taiwanese independence; liberal policies regarding North Korea).
The similarities in the Chen and Roh cases are more than superficial and may expose deep undercurrents in how young democracies with an authoritarian past address corruption. In both instances, the storm that has accompanied the probes against former officials point to a politicization of the process and the dangers inherent in government control of the media.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
South China Sea exercises in July by two United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers reminds that Taiwan’s history since mid-1950, and as a free nation, is intertwined with that of the aircraft carrier. Eventually Taiwan will host aircraft carriers, either those built under its democratic government or those imposed on its territory by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). By September 1944, a lack of sufficient carrier airpower and land-based airpower persuaded US Army and Navy leaders to forgo an invasion to wrest Taiwan from Japanese control, thereby sparing Taiwanese considerable wartime destruction. But two
This year, India and Taiwan can look back on 25 years of so-called unofficial ties. This provides an occasion to ponder over how they can deepen collaboration and strengthen their relations. This reflection must be free from excitement and agitation caused by the ongoing China-US great power jostling as well as China’s aggressive actions against many of its neighbors, including India. It must be based on long-term trends in bilateral engagement. To begin with, India and Taiwan, thus far, have had relations constituted by various activities, but what needs to be thought about now is whether they can transform their ties
On Thursday last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a barnstorming speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future.” The speech set out in no uncertain terms the insoluble ideological divide between a totalitarian, communist China and the democratic, free-market values of the US. It was also a full-throated call to arms for all nations of the free world to rally behind the US and defeat China. Pompeo elaborated on a clear distinction between China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in an attempt to recalibrate the
As Taiwan is engulfed in worries about Chinese infiltration, news reports have revealed that power inverters made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co are used in the solar panels on the top of the Legislative Yuan’s Zhenjiang House (鎮江會館) on Zhenjiang Street in Taipei. However, what is even more worrying is that Taiwan’s new national electronic identification card (eID) has been subcontracted to the French security firm and eID maker Idemia, which has not only cooperated with the Chinese Public Security Bureau to manufacture eIDs in China, but also makes the new identification cards being issued in Hong Kong. There might be more