Friday, November 07, 2008
Hopes of a new era that accompanied the election of Ma Ying-jeou as president of Taiwan in March are being eroded by allegations his Kuomintang administration is reverting to authoritarian tactics used when it ruled the island under one-party martial law for 40 years.
At least seven senior members of the Democratic Progressive Party administration of former president Chen Shui-bian are being held under draconian "investigative detention" laws that allow prosecutors to hold suspects for up to four months without charge.
Prosecutors claim they believe the detained officials have been involved in corruption and might destroy evidence if not imprisoned.
But DPP leaders and other observers accuse the new Kuomintang administration of using the judicial system to purge the political stage of its opponents, smearing the reputations of the detained DPP officials by leaking unsupported allegations to the media, and using the detentions to try to extract confessions.
Those detained include a former senior official in Chen's office, the former interior minister Yu Cheng-hsien, former deputy prime minister Chiou I-jen, the former deputy environment minister Dr. James Lee, two DPP municipal officials and a county magistrate.
Former president Chen himself is under investigation for allegedly misusing the equivalent of just over $500,000 from a special fund and his wife, Wu Shu-jen, is on trial for the same offence.
The allegations against Ma and his Kuomintang administration have come to a head during the four-day visit to Taiwan of Chen Yunlin, the head of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).
Chen is the most senior envoy from Beijing to visit Taiwan since 1949 when the island became an exile haven for the Kuomintang after its defeat by the communists in China's civil war.
Chen and his Taiwanese counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, signed a series of agreements allowing direct flights and shipping between Taiwan and China, linked postal services and regulations governing food safety.
Ma and his administration insist the agreements will help boost Taiwan's economy and will not undermine the island's sovereignty as an independent nation.
But opponents such as the new leader of the DPP, Tsai Ing-wen, say Ma and his coterie of influential senior Kuomintang officials, who were mostly born in China, have been too ready to make concessions because they are prepared to surrender the island's sovereignty to Beijing.
Those suspicious of the intentions of Ma and his influential mentors such as former Kuomintang leader Lien Chan and James Soong, both of whom have developed close ties to Beijing, have watched intensely every nuance of the visit of ARATS head Chen.
There were instant rebuttals in the media when, in preparation for the visit, Ma referred to Taiwan not as an independent state, but as a "region" and an "area."
That opposition intensified when no Taiwanese national flags were flown around the hotel where the 60-member Chinese delegation stayed and police confiscated the flags from demonstrators on the streets outside.
The heavy security around Chen's visit has fuelled concerns on Taiwan that the Kuomintang is returning to the authoritarian methods of one-party rule and martial law it was forced to abandon in the late 1980s under pressure from the public and its principal ally, the United States.
On Wednesday a coalition of human rights, judicial reform and social movement organizations accused the Kuomintang of "pulling Taiwan's human rights standards down to the level of the People's Republic of China." The organization cited suppression of protests during the Chen visit, as well as the detention of the DPP officials.
Similar criticism came from a group of 20 leading American, Canadian and Australian experts on China and Taiwan.
The group, which included Washington's former de facto ambassador to Taipei, Nat Bellocchi, said the recent acts by the Ma administration resembled "the unfair and unjust procedures practised during the dark days of martial law."
Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, November 07, 2008