Hsu Hsin-liang, a Man for All Junkets

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Saturday April 02, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Whether one is blue or green, there is a moneyed side to Taiwan politics that few know about and maybe even fewer want to know about. As in other countries, within that moneyed side are the financers and contributors who look for and support marketers who will promote their vested interests. These contributors search out people who regardless of party, will act on their behalf in the spotlight allowing them to remain in the background. On the receiving side of these contributions are the marketers (more coarsely the shills) who like chameleons can change color depending where the money is. Taiwan has several of these chameleons but perhaps the master bar none is Hsu Hsin-liang.

Hsu is one of those strange entities in Taiwan; a man who has always wanted to lead the parade but has rarely had a sustainable following. He is a man who loves to talk and press the flesh but has not had a recognizable job in decades. Yet, surprisingly, he seems to live well enough so much so that he makes many wonder where does his money come from.

Thus as the presidential campaigns for 2012 in Taiwan begin ramping up, it is not surprising to see Hsu looking for a place to throw his hat in the ring as well as let the contributors know that this shill is available. The blue camp's nomination process is pretty well determined; unless a disaster happens, their candidate will be Ma Ying-jeou. Little chance there. The green camp on the other hand, is another story; their candidate is to be determined, and so Hsu has borrowed the NT$5 million needed to register and thus be qualified to speak at all televised debates and policy sessions.

Some may wonder, how can the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) allow this man back in, especially after he went over to the other side during the 2004 campaign and courted Lien Chan's money. But party membership in the DPP is loose. As long as one registers and pays the current dues and has not officially been kicked out in the past, then anyone even the bluest of blues can join. Hsu left in the past; he was never officially kicked out.

Hsu had started out on the blue side long ago. However when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would not let him run for Taoyuan Magistrate in November, 1977, he ran as an independent. The KMT looked for ways to stuff the ballot box to prevent his victory. Hsu and his people recognized this and protested severely in what is called the Zhongli Incident. Hsu won as an independent Tangwai?one outside the party; there was no DPP or any other party at that time. In the end, the KMT was forced to accept him as Magistrate of Taoyuan County. Now begins the more checkered side of his life.

Hsu participated in Tangwai protests in the coming years and because of that was forced out of his Magistrate position and into exile in September 1979. This proved a blessing in disguise for Hsu would be traveling abroad when the Kaohsiung Incident (December 1979) went down and all prominent Tangwai were arrested, put on trial and sentenced to long terms in jail. Thus while most others were languishing in prison, Hsu was learning fund raising and enjoying the benefits of free income and donations; it was a hero's role and he played it to the hilt.

Hsu is partly an idea man, but he is primarily a marketer who follows the money and enjoys the wining and dining life style that such marketing involves. As a radical Tangwai, he had notoriety and a ready audience who would contribute to his cause of opposing the KMT's one-party rule. On ideas, he has always supported the marketer's policy of engaging China; he terms it the Great Leap Westward. A marketer looks at China through simplistic sales eyes and says, they have 1.3 billion people, engage them. If each one buys a toothbrush or whatever one is selling, think how rich we will all be. In the meantime of course, this will require many junkets, and wheeling and dealing meetings to set it up. With Hsu, one has the impression that he really is not that concerned with the final out come and amount of sales etc. that will come from this. What is more important is that he is in on the process of wining, dining, and setting it up.

Thus from 1979 on, except for the nebulous role of fundraiser with little accountability, Hsu has really not had any recognizable jobs. True he was Chairman of the DPP from 1992-93 and 1996-98, but that position also is primarily a fund-raising position for the party. In that position, the chairperson has little accountability and can sign off on much of the money. A lot goes on behind the scenes in such situations and the man with the money can entice loyal generals to work for him. In his first term as DPP Chairman, Hsu raised some NT$100 million but like a true marketer he managed to spend it in a variety of ways. He left under questionable circumstances as Commonwealth Magazine was about to break a scandalous story.

At times Hsu will take the image and role of monk, but more often than not, he is found spending time in the finest hotels around the world courting supporters. When it comes down to the actual brass tacks of running a serious campaign for office, Hsu has tried several times and at several levels on up to the presidency. Each time he has failed miserably garnishing less than 5 per cent of the vote. How then can he keep running especially when he has no track record demonstrating managerial and governing skills? That is one of the hidden sides of Taiwan politics. There are always vested interests that need their shills. Hsu has the past notoriety to attract attention and he will accommodate. You can bet you will see his face in the coming months.