16 September 2009

Chen Shui-bian Gets His Just Desserts

(From RealClearWorld)


There was a time when Chen Shui-bian was a rising political star of Asia. He was a masterful campaigner, an astute politician and viewed by some as the champion of the oppressed.

Twice, he won the presidency of the Republic of China, against the better-funded, more-organized Kuomintang (KMT) despite long odds. In 2000, he led the upstart Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) into power in the island's second democratic election, taking advantage of an internal split in the KMT. Four years later, he won by a razor-thin margin aided by a mysterious assassination attempt just two days before the election.

While president, Chen also proved to be incredibly corrupt.

On Friday, Chen was sentenced to life in prison for embezzling $15 million U.S. during his presidency. He had an elaborate setup where he involved family members, including his wife, with a money laundering scheme that'd make the mob proud.

During his second term as president, Chen was busy putting money away while Taiwan's economy went into the tank. His party was routed in the 2008 legislative election, becoming a marginal minority party with fewer than a quarter of the seats. As Chen was barred by the constitution to run for a third term, his successor was beaten soundly by the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou in last year's presidential election.

In his final years in office, as he was trying to cover up the paper trail, Chen unleashed a series of political maneuvers designed to shift the attention of the public: Flogging the corpse of Chiang Kai-shek and stirring up conflict between the islanders and mainlanders; provoking China with frequent rhetoric of Taiwan "independence"; advocating Taiwan's re-admission into the U.N. by holding referendums, all the while knowing it was a purely political stunt.

Chen was dragged out of the office, kicking and screaming. He still has die-hard supporters, who insist on his innocence not because of any shred of evidence but because of their loyalty to a charismatic chameleon, who sold out his principles in exchange for a lucrative retirement. Had Taiwan's judicial authority not detained him swiftly, he surely would've fled, never to return.

The South China Morning Post calls it a tragedy for Taiwan:

The verdict marks the fall of the man once hailed as "Son of Taiwan", the child of a poor farmer who rose to the top, but now dubbed the "shame of Taiwan". As Taiwan's second democratically elected president, he came to power as a leader of some stature, a man seen to embody the hopes of Taiwanese with strong feelings of local identity. Indeed, it was on the back of their support that he became president. He projected the image of an incorruptible champion of Taiwanese nationalism and independence, whose anti-mainland rhetoric froze relations with Beijing.

He is now seen to have betrayed their faith by using his position for personal gain. The question now is how much damage his fall from grace has inflicted on the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and the independence movement in Taiwan. There was already a lot of disillusionment with the DPP over its performance in office after it came to power in 2000. Its reign was marked by internal bickering, administrative incompetence and corruption. Because Taiwan had experienced the dictatorship of the Kuomintang regime for so long, many people were prepared to give the DPP the benefit of the doubt. This fund of goodwill was depleted, however, as the party struggled to come to grips with the responsibilities of office.

This is the ultimate tragedy of Chen's conviction. In order to have a viable and vibrant democracy there needs to be a viable opposition capable of credibly contesting power and testing the government. Chen's disgrace of the island's highest office and his party will make it much more difficult for the DPP to recapture power.

02 September 2009

When Will China Learn to Grow Up?

(From RealClearWorld)

When in doubt, throw a temper tantrum.

It matters not that China has the world's third largest economy, perhaps the second-most powerful military and is the only potential global rival to the hegemon that is the United States. You can still count on China acting like a third-rate despot with all the delicacies of a bull in a, well, china shop.

So the Dalai Lama decided to visit Taiwan, in an oh-so transparent political maneuver designed to poke and get a rise out of China. Did China take the bait?

At first, Beijing acted only irritated, which was a good move and showed considerable restraint. It absolved Taiwan's beleaguered President Ma Ying-jeou and laid the blame entirely on the opposition and independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

That would've been fine. It'd be better had China just acted like the Dalai Lama didn't exist and ignored the visit entirely. Why give the Tibetan spiritual leader and the DPP the satisfaction?

But after thinking it over, Communist China's mandarins couldn't help themselves. They sunk their teeth in it. Hook, line and sinker.

Never mind that Ma's Kuomintang (KMT) had just sent a kowtow party to Beijing last week to explain themselves. Ostensibly, they told the Chinese that given Ma's weakened political state, they couldn't afford another big brouhaha.

Brushing the KMT aside,

China has canceled or postponed at least two planned visits to Taiwan, and nixed ceremonies meant to mark the expansion of direct air service, said KMT spokeswoman Chen Shu-rong. China had already said its delegation would not join Saturday's opening ceremony for the Deaf Olympics in Taipei.

That last move was so classically clever, it sure would resolve to win over the hearts and minds of the skeptical Taiwanese. In a rare opportunity to host an international athletic event, Taiwan now will get snubbed by its cross-Strait brethren. These deaf Chinese athletes, instead of being celebrated as goodwill emissaries for vastly improving relations between the mainland and Taiwan, are now mere ventilators in the latest Chinese temper tantrum.

But what did you expect from a regime, despite its power and size, that has the diplomatic maturity of a 3-year-old?