Taiwan Strait: A gulf of
By Wong Kwok
TAIPEI - Located on Zhongxiao Road East, the
Executive Yuan is the central nervous system of Taiwan.
Every morning over the past few days, a protester has
been putting up a banner that accuses the incumbent
President Chen Shui-bian and his predecessor, Lee
Tung-hui, of playing "black-gold politics" - trading
political favors for illegal gain.
serious allegation has not hit the headlines - not
because the indigenous press is gagged, but because the
protester was dismissed as irrelevant, a crackpot.
"He's a maniac. Not only the news media ignore
him, but also the gate-keeping guards have had enough
and do not give a damn about him now, though they did
intervene somewhat at first," a veteran political
However, on the other rim of the
Taiwan Strait, it is unthinkable that even a barking dog
would be left alone, allowed to have its say outside the
central-government offices. As a matter of fact, anyone
chanting slogans outside official office buildings -
such as the central government at Xinhuamen, East
Chang'an Avenue in Beijing, or the Hong Kong
administration on Lower Albert Road - is apprehended
The incident, trivial as it may
seem, reflects the tremendous differences between the
mainland and Taiwan in political, social and cultural
attitudes. Therefore, anyone obsessed with the
perspective of Beijing, or even Hong Kong, simply fails
to grasp the reality of the island.
14, Valentine's Day, the two presidential candidates in
the March 20 election clashed in their first debate,
televised nationally. President Chen Shui-bian of the
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) faced off with Lien
Chan of the Kuomintang (KMT).
highlight: 'I don't beat my wife'
declaration of "I don't beat my wife" stole the show and
dominated all Chinese media afterward. Soon, his words
were bitterly condemned for implicitly decrying Lien as
a wife-abuser. Even Mrs Lien openly challenged the
president to show evidence.
No one imagined that
the debate would develop into such a farce. The
consensus on both the mainland and in Hong Kong is that
it proves the baseness and very vulgarity of both
candidates, Chen in particular. But no one bothers to
dig out the story behind his declaration.
fact was that before the debate, the two hopefuls were
invited to comment on Valentine's Day. Mainlanders may
wonder what the big deal is or what it has to do with
the election. Such a query, however, would itself
demonstrate grave ignorance.
Maybe to the
amazement of people on the mainland and even those in
Hong Kong, Valentine's Day counts as much in Taiwan as
the traditional Chinese New Year. Even Annette Lu and
James Soong, running for vice president on the Chen and
Lien tickets respectively, sent their festive
Valentine's Day wishes from other locations.
it is quite normal that the two candidates make open
pledges to their beloved partners on this day. But Chen
dealt a vicious card with his "I don't beat my wife"
comment, and he may have intended subtly to undermine
the coalition between Lien Chan and James Soong of the
People First Party. The reason: he was more or less
imitating Soong's similar remarks four years ago when
the blue duo faced off against each other in the last
Thus Chen expressing
pride in a loving relationship with his wife is
understandable, but that doesn't insulate him from
accusations of using smear tactics. Actually, however,
it was Lien Chan who initiated the mud-throwing: he
scoffed at Chen's short stature as he commented on his
rival being provided a podium on which to stand.
Beijing fails to understand Taiwan - at its
To the man in the street on the mainland,
the Taiwan issue is merely after-dinner chat that does
not merit serious deliberation. But to the Beijing
government, failure to understand anything truly about
the island will only have devastating consequences.
On voting day, March 20, voters will choose a
president and decide on Chen's "defensive referendum".
Voters will be asked whether to ask China not to aim its
496 missiles at the island as at present and, if China
refuses, whether to seek advanced military defense
systems. Chen's supporters, called the "green camp", are
still pinning their hopes on the Chinese Communist Party
- which has been ranting that the referendum is the
first step toward independence - to make strong and
alienating responses, such as menacing military
exercises. Any such move by China would fuel Taiwanese
hatred for Beijing and consequently attract more votes
to the greens.
Meanwhile, the greens appear to
believe that the United States will provide them asylum
and sanctuary before Beijing makes serious military
moves, such as launching missiles.
has appeared to know quite well about Chen's wishful
thinking. So far the only countermeasure it has taken is
playing the Taiwanese spy card - saying it arrested
Taiwanese spies on the mainland - which dealt a blow to
the green camp.
But Chen can gather ammunition
from another city, Hong Kong. Beijing's recent warning
that Hong Kongers' longing for democracy and human
rights equals anti-patriotism has ignited even more
loathing in Taiwan. The comments by An Min, vice
minister for commerce, "Love the country, love the
Party," might be translated on Taiwan as: "Choose the
island, choose the Democratic Progressive Party" of
Beijing's corridors of power
should never forget that the chances of handling the
Taiwan issue effectively and comprehensively are remote,
to say the least, unless Beijing's leaders are more
prepared to learn.
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times
Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact [email protected] for
information on our sales and syndication policies.)