Few politicians have emerged unscathed from the tussle over imports of US pork containing ractopamine residue. The latest casualty is Ting Yi-ming (丁怡銘), who committed an unforced error by saying the winning dish at the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival used US beef containing ractopamine, leading him to resign as Executive Yuan spokesman.
What Ting says in a personal capacity about this issue is of little interest, but he made up the story and spoke in his capacity as a government spokesperson for political reasons.
He had apologized and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) initially defended him, but the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) called for Ting’s head, accusing him of spreading false information.
Ting was right to resign. Apologies are easy.
However, stepping down as soon as he was shown to be wrong would have demonstrated true contrition.
When an apology leads to resignation only when the issue becomes embarrassing for the government, contrition has clearly taken a back seat to political expedience. An expression of true repentance would have demonstrated awareness of wrongdoing and ensured that the mistake is not repeated.
Instead, there were disingenuous attempts by the government to contain the political fallout, while the opposition was obviously exploiting the circumstances.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cannot resort to misinformation — or even the perception of misinformation — especially when it is waging a war on false reporting. Complacency is not a good look.
There are also concerns that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is falling into the trap of poor policy communication that plagued her first term, although she seems to be erring on the side of decisive action, instead of the excess of caution that led to slothful progress of her reform agenda.
While Ting’s resignation could be construed as a public relations victory for the KMT, its allegations of dissemination of false information by the DPP were somewhat diluted by revelations that a video the KMT circulated online, purporting to show a pig writhing in agony after receiving ractopamine injections, was not all that it seemed.
Not only has Animal Outlook, the group that made the video, said it had no evidence of a connection between the pig and ractopamine, and that the video was never intended to prove one, it was also quoted by the Central News Agency as saying that it had made all of this clear to the KMT when it gave permission for the footage to be used.
The party has refused to take the video down.
Just as Su tried to make amends by eating at the restaurant that was the target of Ting’s accusation, among KMT members, former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), Taipei City Councilor Wang Hung-wei (王鴻薇), Culture and Communications Committee director-general Alicia Wang (王育敏) and committee deputy director-general Huang Tzu-che (黃子哲) backed the video, presumably without mentioning that ractopamine was banned in 2006 by then-president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) DPP administration, or that in 2012 it was allowed in US beef imports by then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the KMT.
Meanwhile, KMT caucus whip Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) accused the DPP government of abusing the beef noodle industry for its gain, unlike the KMT, which seems to be exploiting the industry for its own purposes.
Ting’s comment was a foolish error, Su should have been more proactive in containing the fallout and Tsai needs to avoid wasting political capital and improve policy communication.
However, the KMT needs to be a more effective opposition, not allowing itself to be distracted by sideshows.
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