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Friday, September 18, 2009

People not like us?

Just when it seemed the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ couldn't run a worse Taiwan-related article than the piece it carried by Ralph Cossa last week, Japan's finest English-language newspaper managed to top itself with today's issue. Commentaries on Taiwan don't get much more biased than "With Chen behind bars, Taiwan set to heal" by one Sin-ming Shaw:

"Last week, a Taiwanese court sentenced Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁, Taiwan's president from 2000 until 2008, to life in prison for corruption. Chen had embezzled millions of dollars of public funds. He did not act alone. His wife, children and other relatives all helped to hide the stolen loot in overseas accounts. Taiwan's former first family turned out to be a den of common thieves."

Right off, the astute reader will already know that Shaw is not going to mention any of the disturbing aspects that have surrounded the Chen case, particularly the denial of basic civil rights to the defendants and the crass Mahathir-like manipulation of the legal system that has gone on all throughout the proceedings. Things quickly get worse after the less-than-promising introduction above:

"Chen and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party 民主進步黨 camouflaged their personal and parochial financial interests behind the patriotic mask of ensuring the survival of a democratic Chinese society in an independent Taiwan. For years, Chen was perceived as a brave David fighting the communist Goliath, and attracted many admirers around the world. Presenting himself and his party as champions of democracy, Chen sought to create the impression among Taiwan's voters that their freedom would perish in the hands of the Nationalist Party (KMT) 中國國民黨 or any party other than his own. But in fact, it was the late President Chiang Ching-kuo 蔣經國, the son of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, who instituted the unprecedented democratic reforms that paved the way for the eventual electoral triumph of Chen's formerly banned DPP."

In fact, Chiang put in place those democratic reforms only under great pressure from dissidents who would eventually form the DPP, including Chen, who first came to prominence defending the accused in the Kaohsiung Incident 美麗島事件. Shaw says nothing about the political murders that continued up until Chiang's death, and completely ignores Lee Teng-hui 李登輝, the man who did more than any other to move Taiwan away from its KMT-established authoritarian system and into the democratic state it is today.

"...Chen was always more concerned with consolidating his own power than with defending Taiwan. His most controversial political moves were aimed at his domestic opponents, not the Chinese government on the mainland. He led a vicious campaign to portray all Taiwanese with mainland Chinese roots, even if born and bred in Taiwan, as untrustworthy carpetbaggers or 'not native people' — as if they were aliens from a different culture."

These "aliens from a different culture" arrived in Taiwan in 1945, and found an island that was quite different from the mainland as a result of 50 years of Japanese administration. They responded by massacring the elite of Taiwanese society, and instituting a repressive security system that was to last for more than 40 years.

"This official effort to portray native 'Taiwanese' as a separate ethnic group, with scant relation to Chinese culture, was extended to language, as Chen favored using the Fujian dialect in lieu of the Mandarin spoken by 1.3 billion Chinese and taught all over the world. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education 中華民國教育部 sought to expunge all references to China in school textbooks."

Of course Shaw neglects to inform his readers that hardly anyone on Taiwan spoke Mandarin before the KMT arrived, nor does he mention how students were punished if they spoke Taiwanese (or any of the other local languages) at school. He also omits the fact that the KMT-controlled education system emphasized a China-centric curriculum, with the end result being that most people on Taiwan probably know more about Chinese history than about what important events occurred on their own island.

"So insistent was Chen's campaign that it reminded some people of Mao Zedong's毛泽东 Cultural Revolution 文化大革命, a time when Chinese were divided into 'us' and 'them.' Indeed, under Chen's policy, Taiwan nearly became a rigidly divided society, where 'local' and 'not native' Chinese lived as potential enemies."

As opposed to the good old days, when mainlanders were placed in all important positions of power, and "locals" were relegated to the margins. The KMT often plays the ethnic card when it finds itself forced to face its murderous, corrupt past, but Shaw seems to forget that a kind of apartheid system existed for many years here.

"In the end, Chen's effort was as futile as it was foolish. The Chinese culture embodied in the daily lives of 23 million Taiwanese of whatever political beliefs was not so easily eliminated by decree. Moreover, the attempt to do so angered the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese, who finally understood the stupidity of Chen's policy, particularly how it led to economic stagnation at a time when China was booming."

Paeans to the greatness of the Middle Kingdom and its people aside, Shaw seems to feel that the Chen years, a time when the economy was still growing, were a time of hardship, unlike the booming economy everyone has been enjoying since Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 took over the presidency in May of last year.

"Indeed, Taiwanese capital and know-how built much of China's high tech industries, and well over a half-million Taiwanese live and work near Shanghai 上海 in a virtual replica of Hsinchu 新竹, Taiwan's Silicon Valley. But in Chen's Taiwan, domestic squabbles took precedence over economic development. Chen invariably blamed the KMT for blocking sensible economic plans, but even some of his moneyed supporters knew better."

Yes, Taiwanese capital and know-how did much to help China reach the place where it is now, but at what cost to the domestic economy? Chen "stupidly" attempted to get Taiwanese companies to look towards places like Vietnam when it came to making investments, and Shaw doesn't seem to be bothered much by the hollowing out of Taiwanese industry, and the growing dependency of Taiwanese manufacturers on the Chinese market. ECFA 海峽兩岸經濟合作架構協議 is coming, and life is going to be great!

"When it was finally proved that power had turned Chen into a common criminal, the KMT was voted back into power. But, while Chen's legacy of lies and corruption has ended, the reborn KMT under President Ma Ying-jeou has much to do to convince a cynical public that Chen's ways, reminiscent of KMT's own darker past, have not become embedded in the system. Chen's jail sentence should also serve to remind the DPP that it must become a party for all Taiwanese, 'local' or not, if it is to have any chance at a revival. Taiwan's people know that they cannot prosper as a democracy if ethnic divisiveness is allowed to hold sway."

Shaw shows he has a humorous side in his reference to the KMT's "darker past", as if the party is now squeaky-clean. The system that he refers to in the paragraph above was set up by none other than the KMT. Shaw is correct in observing that the DPP must become more than a party for Taiwanese speakers, but the reality is "ethnic divisiveness" in terms of Taiwanese politics often becomes a smoke screen to prevent reformers from delving into the authoritarian (KMT) past, and creating a truly democratic system that can deliver justice for all its citizens. And that includes even those such as Chen who find themselves on the wrong side of the political divide.

You can place Sin-ming Shaw in the same file as the likes of Frank Ching - ethnic Chinese commentators looking forward to the day when Greater China returns to its rightful position of dominance in Asia, and scornful of any of their brethren who have been contaminated with "Western notions" like "democracy". In some respects, the hatred the pro-blue crowd has always shown towards Chen is reminiscent of the lunacy being exhibited by some in the United States in regards to Barack Obama.

Only in Taiwan's case, however, the lunatics have won.

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