Warnings of eroding democracy since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office become harder to ignore when people like former political prisoner Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) add their voice to the chorus. Over the past year, the political system has been undermined by a government that meddles in the judiciary, sidelines the legislature and ignores objections to pro-China policies.
For Ma, dealing with China is like looking into Nietzsche’s abyss — except China’s abyss looked back at Ma long and hard from the very start. No country can engage China without its democracy being tarnished by the experience, particularly if that engagement is political in nature.
Ma, who will become Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman at the end of next month, is turning into a diluted version of his Chinese Communist Party counterparts — brooking little dissent while amassing executive and legislative power.
It’s one thing for democracy to lose its luster at home; it’s another when Taiwan rubs elbows with regional bullies and reinforces their regimes.
The effects of Beijing’s “no questions asked” trade policy on countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, where trade is detached from human rights and environmental considerations, are well noted. Another country where Chinese economic activity has bolstered despots — if less theatrically — is Myanmar.
Taiwan is following suit with an announcement by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) that it signed a memorandum of understanding last week with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry to forge closer economic ties.
In its annual report, Amnesty International wrote that the human rights situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate, with thousands of prisoners of conscience in jail and more than 100 people killed in a crackdown last year. As a result of these abuses and many others, sanctions have been imposed on the military junta from around the civilized world.
The UN Security Council has attempted to issue resolutions criticizing Myanmar, but each has been vetoed by China, whose growing trade relationship with the generals has not only resulted in serious deforestation in the north, but also acts as a lifeline when the junta weathers international opprobrium.
Back in 2003, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, Taiwanese businesspeople operating in Myanmar complained that Taipei wasn’t doing enough to foster better relations. Taipei did support trade with Myanmar, as it happens, but its reluctance to develop closer relations with the regime was in part a result of its atrocious human rights record. The junta’s behavior since then has only deteriorated.
Ironically, in 2007 Myanmar’s foreign ministry expressed opposition to Taiwanese efforts to join the UN, saying that it saw Taiwan as an “integral part of China.” Apparently, neither oppression nor insults have deterred the Ma government in its mission to increase trade there, with TAITRA making no secret of the fact that it sees the country as “an ideal place to open labor-intensive production lines because workers are paid only US$30 to US$50 a month on average.”
In completely ignoring human rights, TAITRA has pulled off a convincing impersonation of a Chinese government agency: an opportunistic body that shows utter disregard for the cost of its actions on ordinary people in other lands.
The “Republic of China” government, it seems, is hell-bent on returning to the bad old days of exporting misery to the citizens of pariah states.
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