Presidential New Year’s Resolutions for Tsai Ing-wen

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Saturday, February 12, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The New Year has passed and by tradition most people have already made their New Year’s Resolutions listing what they wish to accomplish in the coming year.

When President Tsai Ing-wen looks back on the past year or — her past six years in office — she certainly can feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Taiwan’s economy is stable. If not boldly progressing, Taiwan certainly has been able to hold its own. In the key area of semi-conductor chips it has strengthened its position. The nation has also performed well in handling the COVID-19 — in terms of cases and in preventing deaths. In that area, it stands far above most other nations.

The threat from China continues but Beijing has failed in its efforts to bully Taiwan. Further, China’s false claims of sovereignty over Taiwan have been thwarted. All in all, as the world turns, with its many challenges, Taiwan is in decent shape.

On the other hand, a distinct irony pervades Taiwan. From Tsai’s first term into her second, Taiwan has clearly lived up to the principles preached by Sun Yat-sen; that is, it has been a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Few might realize this ironic historical reality as they look into the past. In 1895, when the Manchus gave Taiwan to Japan, Sun was still developing his thought. As to whether Sun himself totally understood or accepted the full reality of what he preached, I will leave that to historians and biographers.

However, this irony certainly stands out as regards the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Throughout its first half century outside Taiwan and on the continent and its four decades as a one-party state on Taiwan, it has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into living up to those principles. In contrast, the KMT followed a mantra of a government of the KMT, by the KMT and for the KMT.

The same of course holds true across the Taiwan Strait. There, lip service is also given to Sun Yat-sen. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has held to a similar mantra and still does. It rules China by its unfortunate dictum of a government of the CCP, by the CCP and for the CCP.

That is the irony! How can both these political parties pledge to honor Sun, yet in reality ignore his principles; they cling to Sun simply for the cachet of his name.

But put on hold this past; it is time for Tsai to look to the future; she needs to make resolutions to fit the remainder of her presidency, which will end in January 2024.

Although Taiwan’s hegemonic enemy, China, remains at the gates, in Tsai’s remaining two presidential years, she needs to be thinking about her legacy. And to achieve this, she needs to examine clear, measurable goals to be delivered by the end of her final term.

What is to be said? Unlike former president Chen Shui-bian — the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president — Tsai’s DPP has always had a clear majority in the Legislative Yuan. So what legacy has Tsai to show for this boon?

When I worked as manager of technology transfer for the Taipei and the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Systems, within each contractual agreements were items we called “deliverables.” They were tasks we had to have accomplished and delivered by the end of each contract period.

These deliverables were not vague, general statements like “ build a good MRT System,” “work hard” or “have trains that run on time.” They had specific markers: a set number of stations had to be completed by set dates; specific people had to be trained in specific areas; detailed signal systems etc. needed to be completed and function with specific accuracy. All came down to specifics.

In short, Tsai needs to borrow a few pages from Peter Drucker’s “management by objectives.” and lay out some specific objectives to deliver to the public.

I suggest four areas where greater specifics are needed.

Looking at Taiwan’s past, it is often said: Taiwanese suffered so many crimes, yet so few criminals were found. Taiwan has never learned to accomplish what the Federal Republic of Germany did as regards East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell and the government laid bare the Stasi files of the East German secret police.

These files were provided to those affected in their unredacted form; thus those who had a file could petition and read it in full with the names of all others involved. Twenty pages of abbreviations were even provided to aid in understanding all that the files said.

Taiwan has many files that date back to its White Terror days, where people were spied upon, reported on, betrayed, and suffered crimes. Most cannot yet access the full unredacted details of their personal files; there should be no statutes or regulations to protect the guilty. Taiwan needs to develop its own brand of Stasi accountability.

Those that suffered should have the freedom to find out who were the real villains in their lives.

Taiwan still protects many guilty under a guise of state secrets or such; justice still waits in the wings.

Related to this, is the ongoing work of the Transitional Justice Committee. That the KMT still is by far Taiwan’s richest political party as well as in the world’s, shows how much was stolen by those that fled here from China. Taiwan’s past government was a government of the KMT, by the KMT, and for the KMT.

In each matter, a clear pamphlet essay, similar to that pf US revolutionary Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, needs to spell out the details to the public. Specifics must be listed in concise form noting all (KMT or not) who profited and by how much. Taiwan needs Stasi like files on all past state assets and properties.

A third matter is Taiwan’s Constitution. A “common sense” pamphlet needs to spell out how this island nation is burdened by the 1947 Republic of China (ROC) Constitution; that constitution in reality only existed for two years (from 1947 to 1949) and yet it lays a claim to rule and govern on the mainland. Taiwan is kept out of the UN because of this; and it suffers in numerous other areas. Here I even avoid opening the can of worms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty where Japan never named a recipient of Taiwan.

A fourth area is the final removal of Taiwan’s totalitarian past — specifically the biggest obstacle, the Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) Memorial Hall. That hall still looms as a mausoleum to a dead dictator, regardless of what gloss one tries to apply to his image.

The hall can be made a tribute to democracy and house equal size statues of all Taiwan’s presidents elected since 1996; lower chambers can house the transition from the KMT’s one-party state to democracy. The main CKS statue can be melted down along with numerous others.

Again irony pervades. More than 150 Chiang statues have being fittingly removed to rest in Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park. Yet, a remainder of nearly 43,000 other Chiang statues still disgrace the island. Should a contest be held to decide on what to do with their future melted metal?

This all points to recognizable accomplishments to mark Tsai’s final two years. Committees can be assigned to produce these four common sense pamphlets with accompanying specific attainable aims and dates.

The Taipei and Kaohsiung MRT systems run well; they are a tribute to the many on all sides who met their deliverable targets. Committees tasked by Tsai can follow suit.

Past examples are already there. Former president Lee Teng-hui specifically got rid of the “iron rice bowl” legislators who after election in 1947 held office until 1992. He eliminated the “unneeded” Taiwan Provincial Governor’s position with its budget and entourage; he ensured the president was elected by the people and not the legislators. Specifics can be met.

The time is ripe; the Taiwanese know they want a democracy and how and why Taiwanese are different from Chinese.

in specific common sense pamphlets Tsai can spell out a pathway for: Transitional justice for individuals and state, a new Constitution and the final removal of Taiwan’s totalitarian past. If she can achieve this, she will have a legacy that can stand along with that of Lee and Taiwan will be the better.

If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?