Former secretary-general of the National Security Council Su Chi’s (蘇起) recent resignation was long overdue. He ran the council as a powerful “independent kingdom” within the government, but his leadership proved surprisingly incompetent.
Perhaps Su’s biggest debacle was his announcement that Taiwan would relax restrictions on beef imports from the US. At the time, I was meeting senior officials in the newly formed Cabinet under Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義). They clearly did not know what was happening and confusion reigned for several days.
Su apparently believed that giving in to the US would help other negotiations. But the public and many legislators in both major parties expressed legitimate health concerns.
As a result, Taiwan will soon have a referendum on the subject. By giving in unnecessarily to the US on the beef issue, Su clearly sacrificed Taiwan’s interests and created unnecessary conflict with Taiwan’s most important ally.
Even though Su was performing poorly, he stayed in power as long as he did because he was so close to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that many described the two as “close like brothers.”
Critics, including those in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), say that one reason for Su’s failures was an attempt to please his adversaries. When he gave a speech at the Central Party School in Beijing, he repeated Chinese slogans and failed to maintain Taiwan’s interests, just as he failed to do so on US beef imports.
In addition, Su tends to blame others. Even though he was intimately involved in former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) negotiations with China in his various senior governmental roles, in his book Taiwan’s Relations with Mainland China: A Tail Wagging Two Dogs, published last year, Su has nothing good to say about Lee. Rather he blames Lee and former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for all of the cross-straits difficulties. On page 51, he argues the 1994 Qiandao Lake incident, in which Chinese robbers murdered Taiwanese tourists, and Lee’s interview with Ryotaro Shiba “hurt the feelings of the people on the other side [of the Taiwan Strait].” Where is the concern for the feelings of the dead Taiwanese or for the truth in Lee’s declaration that the KMT was originally an alien regime?
As a legislator from 2005 to 2008, Su also hurt Taiwan’s attempts to buy arms. He claimed the failure of the national defense referendum in 2004, which asked “Should mainland China refuse to dismantle the missiles against us, do you agree that the government should purchase more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities?” meant that Taiwan should not buy arms from the US, including submarines.
This argument led to the legislature failing to pass the arms budget. Even Ma criticized the KMT legislators, but nothing happened.
Su’s book makes it clear he lacks any understanding of Taiwan. He twice incorrectly says that Portugal ruled Taiwan (pages viii, 285). He also says that a majority of “non-savvy voters from the countryside … probably just did not have an opinion” (page 212). Elsewhere Su expresses concern for what Mainlanders, Hakka and Aborigines think, but he neglects to mention the ethnic Taiwanese that account for 75 percent of Taiwan’s population (page 285).
Typhoon Morakot proved the bankruptcy of such narrow policies. At that time Su declared that Taiwan did not need foreign aid. In a context where Taiwan has suffered from restrictions on its foreign relations, anyone working on behalf of Taiwan’s best interests would have welcomed US aid whether needed or not.
Will Hu Wei-jen (胡為真) provide new leadership in the National Security Council? His record looks doubtful. Hu obtained his doctorate from the University of Pretoria in 1988, when South Africa was still very much under apartheid rule. As a diplomat, he was happy to accept the Chen administration’s appointment as representative to Germany in 2001 and again to Singapore in 2005. Strangely, it was only in 2007 that he resigned to complain about “de-Sinification.”
After stunning electoral success in 2008 in the legislative and presidential elections, the KMT under Ma has declined spectacularly. In continuing to appoint such figures from the former dictatorships of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) such as former premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) and Su as well as Hu, Ma works with people for whom he feels an affinity.
But in doing so, he is forgetting his robust attempt to project an image of strong Taiwanese identity during his 2008 presidential campaign.
If Ma wishes to be more than a failed one-term president, he must reinvigorate his government’s Taiwanese identity and give such people as Wu and Vice-Premier Eric Chu (朱立倫) a greater ability to look after the country’s genuine interests.
Bruce Jacobs is professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
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