When Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) was appointed by former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), there was unanimous agreement that he would be a good fit for the role as a “blank slate.” The government recently announced that former minister of foreign affairs Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) will take over from Lin. Conversely, everyone agrees that Tien is anything but a blank slate and the jury is out as to the color of his spots.
Beijing has repeated its standard line that the cross-strait relationship is decided by policy, not the chairman of the SEF, and avoided ascribing a particular color to Tien.
However, Chinese “academics” said that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has used the appointment of Tien to move her government closer to the “deep-green” camp.
In an interview with Tien, Chinese state media made a point of emphasizing a large photograph, which occupies a prominent spot in his office, showing Tien conversing with former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and neglected to mention a second photograph of Tien, taken with former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), so that gives his spots a slight reddish tint.
Former presidential adviser and Taiwanese independence movement veteran Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) said that when he traveled to the US to push for Taiwanese independence, it was Tien who drove him to the airport, which is offered as proof of Tien’s deep-green credentials. However, it does not appear to have occurred to Koo why other politicians who advocate Taiwanese independence have been blacklisted, while Tien has escaped such a fate and instead has been handed a key official post.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has never admitted that Tien is a member of the pan-blue camp. However, Tien was used by former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) administration, and later, Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party-led administration also employed Tien as both minister of foreign affairs and Taiwan’s representative to the UK. It was only Ma’s orthodox KMT government that had no interest in Tien, while the Tsai administration has dusted off Tien and tasked him to deal with Beijing.
Neither the orthodox pan-blue camp nor the orthodox pan-green camp see Tien as one of their own. Tien has had previous involvement with both the World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI) and the Formosan Association for Public Affairs pressure groups. Nevertheless, his political allegiance has frequently been called into question. Pro-independence purists describe his defining characteristic as “fickle”: A person who changes allegiance in the blink of an eye and fawns over anyone who he believes might be of use to his career prospects.
The pro-independence credentials of neither former chairman of the foundation, Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), who was jailed in his youth on charges of treason for supporting independence from Chinese rule, nor former premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄), a clear advocate of Taiwanese independence, have been questioned, while the political allegiance of Tien, who was a member of the WUFI in the US, is being called into question.
However complex Tien’s political beliefs might be, it should be beyond doubt that he is pro-Taiwan at heart. In 1973, Tien, along with five Taiwanese visiting academics to the US, visited China. During a conversation, Tien told Chinese officials that Taiwanese do not support the “liberation of Taiwan” or “unification.”
Hopefully Tien, almost 80, in his new role as chairman of the SEF, does not forget the words he spoke years ago.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Edward Jones
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