Ma Ying-jeou Completes his First Year as Justice and Human Rights Continue to Erode in Taiwan

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Tuesday May 26, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Ma Ying-jeou has completed his first year as president of Taiwan and the reviews of his performance are far from favorable to say the least. The economy remains poor but Ma as a "one-trick pony" risks endangering the nation¡¯s sovereignty by professing that his only salvation is in China. Those countries eager to profit off of China's cheap labor and tainted goods are happy to go along with this and praise him for it. Within Taiwan, however, there have already been four major protests in the nation; for the observing group of scholars and writers, justice and human rights continue to erode. They have issued their fourth letter on this. The postings of the previous letters can be found here on November 15, 2008, November 29, 2008, and January 30, 2009. Below is the latest Open Letter, printed in the Taipei Times on May 21, 2009. The most recent letter follows.

Dear President Ma, On the occasion of the first anniversary of your presidency, we, the undersigned, scholars and writers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, wish to publicly address our concerns to you about a number of trends in Taiwan, as well as several specific developments.

We raise these issues as international supporters of Taiwans democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation-state. As you recall, we voiced concerns on three previous occasions, most recently in a letter to you, Mr. President, dated Jan. 17, 2009, in which we expressed our concern regarding the fairness of the judicial system in Taiwan.

These concerns have not been alleviated by either the response from Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) or the cessation of troubling, flawed and partial judicial proceedings, in particular involving the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

We reiterate that any alleged corruption must be investigated, but emphasize that the judicial process needs to be scrupulously fair and impartial. In the case of the former president, it is evident that the prosecution is heavily tainted by political bias, and that the former president is being treated badly out of spite for the political views and the positions he took during his presidency. Such retribution does not bode well for a young and fragile democracy, as Taiwan is.

The second issue that we feel we need to highlight is press freedom. In spite of earlier expressions of concern by international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, there continue to be reports of impingement on press freedom by your administration. A case in point is the recent disturbing report that Central News Agency staffs were instructed to write only positive stories about the policies of your administration, and that reports containing criticism of your administration or China were excised.

As supporters of a free and democratic Taiwan it is disheartening to see that in the annual report on press freedom by the New York-based Freedom House, Taiwan dropped from 32nd to 43rd place. In addition, it is disconcerting to see reports that groups with close ties to China are buying their way into Taiwans media circles, gaining a controlling voice in major publications such as the China Times. We need to remind ourselves that China is still an authoritarian state with a long history of control of the news media. Its financial influence in Taiwans free press will in the long run be detrimental to hard-won freedoms.

This leads us to a third general issue: the means by which rapprochement with China is being pursued. While most people in Taiwan and overseas agree that a reduction of tension in the Taiwan Strait is beneficial, it is crucial to do this in a manner befitting a democratic nation: with openness and full public debate. Only if there is sufficient transparency and true dialogue both in the Legislative Yuan and in society as a whole will the result be supported by a significant majority of the people.

Transparency and true dialogue have been lacking in the process. Decisions and agreements are arrived at in secrecy and then simply announced to the public. The Legislative Yuan seems to have been sidelined, having little input in the form or content of the agreements, such as the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA). The administration simply sends to the legislature the texts agreed to in the negotiations with the Peoples Republic of China, allowing virtually no possibility of discussion of the pros and cons of such agreements. This undermines the system of checks and balances, which is so essential to a mature democracy. We may mention that recent opinion polls show overwhelming support for a referendum on an ECFA and for better legislative oversight of China policy.

Mr. President, as international scholars and writers who have followed Taiwans impressive transition to democracy during the past two decades, we know the sensitivity in Taiwan of the issue of relations with China. Rapprochement needs to be carried out in a way that ensures that the achievements of the democratic movement are safeguarded, that the political divide within Taiwan is reduced and that Taiwans sovereignty, human rights and democracy are protected and strengthened.

However, during the past year we have seen that the policies of your administration are being implemented in a way that is causing deep anxiety, particularly among many who fought for Taiwans democracy two decades ago. This was evident in the large-scale rallies held in Taipei and Kaohsiung on Sunday.

We have also seen a further polarization in society due to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances. Many observers believe that the rapprochement with China has occurred at the expense of Taiwans sovereignty, democracy and freedoms. To some, the judicial practices and police behavior toward those who criticize your policies are even reminiscent of the dark days of martial law.

In this respect, symbols are important. It does not help that your administration has renamed National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall in Taipei back to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It doesnt bolster your case that the funding for the Chingmei Human Rights Memorial in Sindian (新店) has been cut drastically and that the location is being turned into a "cultural" park. It doesnt help that changes are being made to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) that infringe on freedoms of protesters instead of enhancing freedom of speech.

Mr. President, we appeal to you to take measures that alleviate these concerns. A first step would be to initiate and implement reforms in the judicial system that safeguard the human rights of the accused and ensure a fair trial. A second step would be to guarantee complete press freedom, and instill in those engaged in the media the determination to live up to the highest standards.

Thirdly, rapprochement with China needs to be brought about in such a way that the people of Taiwan have a full say in determining their future as a free and democratic nation. Closed-door deals that bring Taiwan increasingly into China's sphere of influence are detrimental to Taiwan's future and undermine the democratic fabric of society.

Due to its complex history, Taiwan has not had the opportunity to be accepted as a full and equal member of the international family of nations. We believe the people of Taiwan have worked hard for their democracy, and that the international community should accept Taiwan in its midst. Your actions and policies can help the island and its people move in the right direction. We urge you to do so.

Respectfully yours,

NAT BELLOCCHI, Former chairman, American Institute in Taiwan

COEN BLAAUW, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Washington

STPHANE CORCUFF, Associate Professor of Political Science, China and Taiwan Studies, University of Lyon

GORDON G. CHANG, Author, The Coming Collapse of China

JUNE TEUFEL DREYER, Professor of Political Science, University of Miami

MICHAEL DANIELSEN, Chairman, Taiwan Corner, Copenhagen, Denmark

TERRI GILES, Executive Director, Formosa Foundation, Los Angeles

BRUCE JACOBS, Professor of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University

RICHARD C. KAGAN, Professor Emeritus of History, Hamline University

JEROME F. KEATING, Author and associate professor (ret.), National Taipei University

DAVID KILGOUR, Former Canadian member of parliament and secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific

LIU SHIH-CHUNG, Visiting Fellow, The Brookings Institution, Washington

MICHAEL RAND HOARE, Emeritus Reader at the University of London, Great Britain

VICTOR H. MAIR, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Pennsylvania

DONALD RODGERS, Associate Professor of Political Science, Austin College

TERENCE RUSSELL, Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Manitoba

CHRISTIAN SCHAFFERER, Associate Professor, Department of International Trade, Overseas Chinese Institute of Technology; and Editor, Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia

MICHAEL STAINTON, York Center for Asia Research, Toronto, Canada

PETER CHOW, Professor of Economics, City College of New York

PETER TAGUE, Professor of Law, Georgetown University

JOHN J. TKACIK JR. , Former senior research fellow, The Heritage Foundation, Washington

ARTHUR WALDRON, Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

VINCENT WEI-CHENG WANG, Professor of Political Science, University of Richmond

GERRIT VAN DER WEES, Editor, Taiwan Communiqu

MICHAEL YAHUDA, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics, and Visiting Scholar, George Washington University

STEPHEN YATES, President, DC Asia Advisory, and former deputy assistant to the US vice president for national security affairs