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Saturday, September 19, 2009


The Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ has atoned for its sins! After printing an atrocious opinion piece yesterday by one San-ming Shaw, the paper redeemed itself in today's edition with its editorial on the conviction of Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 ("Pardon Mr. Chen to help Taiwan"):

"The conviction and sentencing of former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is a troubling development. The life sentence handed down to Mr. Chen is certain to deepen the fissures in an already deeply divided and volatile society. He has appealed the sentence. While justice should be blind, it can and should be tempered by other considerations, such as mercy or, in this case, the desire to avoid the radicalization of Taiwan's politics. In other words, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九, Mr. Chen's successor, should be thinking of a pardon."

After providing some background on the turbulent years when Chen was president, the editorial lays out the background to his legal troubles:

"An hour after he left office (in May 2008), Mr. Chen, his wife and his children were charged with corruption. Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Chen and his family had embezzled more than $3 million (¥274 million) from a special presidential fund during his term in office, and received bribes worth $9 million (¥823 million) in connection with two property deals and then laundered the money overseas. Prosecutors further charged the defendants with sending more than $30 million (¥2.74 billion) to accounts in Singapore and the Cayman Islands and and moving funds to Swiss bank accounts. In August last year, Mr. Chen and his wife resigned from the (Democratic Progressive Party) 民主進步黨 after he admitted that he had failed to declare election campaign funds and conceded that his wife had wired $21 million (¥1.92 billion) overseas without his knowledge; they agreed to return the money in November."

What the paper can't grasp (and neither can many others) is the severity of the "justice" meted out to Chen:

"Not surprisingly, a three-judge panel found the former first family guilty last week. What was stunning was the sentence. The former president was given the maximum, life in prison, and fined NT200 million (about $6.1 million/¥564 million); his wife was also given a life sentence (suspended because of her poor health) and fined NT300 million (¥846 million); their son was given a 30-month sentence; their daughter-in-law got 20 months (for helping them launder the money); and their daughter received a six-month sentence on lesser charges."

And then the Japan Times, to its credit, points out many of the troubling aspects that have fouled the air around the case, facts that too many other foreign news outlets have chosen not to illuminate:

"Mr. Chen and his supporters say they expected the verdict and the sentence. They have complained that the entire process was political, not judicial. It is hard not to agree. Twice the court ordered Mr. Chen released on bail, and twice it was overruled; at one point, the judge who had ruled in his favor was replaced. Keeping him in solitary confinement was necessary, the court reasoned, because the former president was a flight risk or might conspire with other witnesses to defraud the court. The rulings seemed excessive and spiteful. The Chens may be guilty — the evidence certainly looks convincing. But Taiwan's supercharged political environment should now be a factor in the government's thinking as it decides how to deal with the verdict. Even though the investigation began while Mr. Chen was still in office, the entire court process looks like a settling of scores. Mr. Chen has accused the government of prosecuting him to appease China and to facilitate Mr. Ma's agenda of reaching out to Beijing."

If one needed proof as to why the Japan Times is by far a superior newspaper than our local rag the China Post, the above statements should be more than sufficient. And there is none of that "Taiwan's democracy has been strengthened" tripe that august publications like the Wall Street Journal have been foisting on their readerships:

"Taiwan does not need this. The island's 23 million people are deeply divided as politics infuses every issue. Even the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot 颱風莫拉克, a tragedy that resulted in more than 600 deaths, has become an opportunity for political grandstanding of the worst kind. Taiwan faces mounting challenges. The most immediate is the cleanup after Morakot. Then there is getting the economy in order."

In the end, the editorial falters on what could be described as wishful thinking, but the JT staff's hearts are in the right places:

"Mr. Ma must reach out to the DPP. Pardoning Mr. Chen and his family would help that along. There will be continuing anger among DPP stalwarts who seek no compromise with the (Kuomintang) 中國國民黨 and who prefer high dudgeon to handshakes. But for those who worry about politicization of the judiciary, the setting of an ugly precedent, and the need for Taiwan to unite to deal with the challenges that lie ahead, such a gesture would be a good start. It is, however, only a start."

Unfortunately, Ma bears a great deal of responsibility over the politicization of the Taiwanese judicial system, and asking him to pardon Chen, or at the very least commute his sentence, would be asking him to accept the principles of democratic governance that he has fought against (though benefited from) throughout his political career. Ma would also run the risk of infuriating those elements within the KMT who have been gunning for Chen ever since he was first elected president in 2000. Chen is probably going to rot in gaol while the DPP fades further into insignificance, but it's a little comforting to see that at least the Japan Times understands all too clearly what is really going on in Japan's strategically-placed neighbor to the southwest.

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