At the end of March 2003, the Kuomintang Party and the People's First Party (PFP) announced that they would field a joint ticket in the upcoming Presidential elections: the leaders of the two parties, the KMT's Lien Chan and the PFP's James Soong will be the Presidential and Vice-presidential candidates in the "blue camp" attempt to wrestle the presidency away from the "green camp" _ President Chen Shui-bian of the DPP, supported by the Taiwan Solidarity Union.
While on paper, the Lien-Soong combination looks strong -- the KMT and PFP together have a majority of some 114 seats in the Legislative Yuan (against some 100 seats for the DPP and TSU together), the ticket has major weaknesses:
First, Mr. Lien Chan himself: he is a most boring politician, who lacks any charisma: in the 2000 elections he came in a distant third with only some 23% of the vote, in spite of the fact that he was the annointed successor of former President Lee Teng-hui and the fact that the KMT had ample financial resources. In addition, Mr. Lien Chan has alienated himself from the Taiwanese mainstream by steering the KMT away from the "Taiwan First" policy of former President Lee, towards a policy of kowtowing to China.
Second, Mr. James Soong: while Mr. Soong has ample charisma _ at some 36% of the vote he came in a close second in the 2000 Presidential elections _ he has several major skeletons in his closet. Firstly, the Chung Hsing Bills Finance scandal, and secondly, the even more recent indications that Mr. Soong was the recipient of some US$ 400 million in connection with the sale of four Layfayette-class frigates in the early 1990s.
The Chung Hsing scandal referred to the Chung Hsing Bank, where some US$ 36 million were found in account of Mr. Soong and his family, reportedly stashed away KMT Party funds and election campaign donations. Part of the funds apparently found its way to the United States, where Soong's family had purchased expensive real estate in the San Francisco Bay area. The matter came to light during the 2000 election campaign. Prosecutors did charge Mr. Soong, but the case got bogged down in political wrangling.
Mr. Soong's second major skeleton came to light very recently: in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro on 2 March 2003, former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas stated that in 1991, US$ 400 million was paid to the "secretariat-general of the party in power in Taipei" and US$ 100 million to the central committee of the Chinese Communist party in Beijing _ the latter amount presumably to reduce Beijing's opposition to the sale.
When the news of Mr. Dumas' statement received front-page attention in Taipei, Mr. Soong of course played innocent, and started to accuse the news media of slandering him.
Below are two editorials from the Taipei Times, one on Mr. Lien Chan and the other on Mr. Soong.
This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 2 April 2003. Reprinted with permission.
During the KMT's national congress on Sunday, 30 March 2003, Chairman Lien Chan said that if he were elected president next year he would embark on a "journey of peace" to China, which would result in "equitable interaction" and "win-win cooperation" between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. During the last presidential campaign, Lien said he would like to go back to Xian, his birthplace, to revisit his childhood memories. Now that he has reiterated his wish to visit China, he should not be afraid of being labeled as a "unificationist" during the election campaign. But why does he have to wait to visit his birthplace. He could go now.
Even if Lien wins next year's election, we are curious about what kind of "equitable interaction" and "win-win cooperation" his proposed visit can bring to the people of Taiwan. Is Beijing likely to interact equitably with Taiwan?
Beijing has long made it clear since the days of Deng Xiaoping that, in the "one country, two systems" framework, Taiwan's leaders could only become the PRC's deputy heads of state or vice chairmen of the Chinese Communist Party. Former premier Hau Pei-tsun, during his term in office, even used the idea of "one country, two governments" as a trial balloon to test Beijing's attitude toward equitable interaction with Taiwan. Beijing immediately rejected the proposal, putting the Greater China advocate Hau in an embarrassing position. No one has ever mentioned the idea since.
Remember, Beijing has always been willing to sacrifice Taiwanese lives. After the 921 earthquake, Beijing insisted that international aid and rescue teams could only go to Taiwan with its approval. Chinese authorities have not only tried to hide its cases of what is now called severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from its own people and the outside world, but continues to obstruct World Health Organization personnel from going either to Kuantung Province the suspected ground zero of the disease or to Taiwan.
In fact, within Beijing's "one China" framework, it is impossible for it to allow the two sides of the Strait to coexist as two equal governments because this means there will be two Chinas. Beijing has always opposed the "two Chinas" model and the "one China and one Taiwan" model.
Therefore, Lien's talk of Taiwan and China getting along with each other on an equal basis is just wishful thinking.
Lien said that a "division-of-labor" structure is now gradually forming between the two sides, as local businesses keep their management and headquarters in this country while moving their production and operations to China. He also claimed that the government can create a win-win situation if it upholds its policy of "active opening, effective management." But where do Taiwanese workers fit into this picture? Who can be sure that rising unemployment will ease after Taiwanese industries relocate to China en masse?
Nobody could blame Lien if he were simply stating his personal views about China. He would merely be ridiculed as a modern-day Don Quixote. But he will certainly be suspected of carrying out a "journey of surrender" if he claims to represent the Taiwanese people when visiting China. After all, when a president full of unrealistic ideas visits Beijing and claims to represent mainstream opinion in talks with Chinese, who would not be worried that he would be selling out his own country?
This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 03 March 2003. Reprinted with permission.
The latest accusations about James Soong claim he was the recipient of US$400 million in kickbacks from the French company Thomson CSF in return for Taiwan's purchase of six Lafayette frigates in 1991. This paper has never made any secret of its doubts about Soong's honesty; there are still far too many unresolved questions concerning the Chunghsing Bills Finance scandal for that the property investments in California, why Soong told so many different stories, why he would put money in a bank account in his son's name ...
But we do not expect that even Soong is capable of pocketing US$400 million himself. If the allegations by former French foreign minister Roland Dumas turn out to be true, then it is a fair assumption that Soong was simply the bagman, the man who picked up the kickback money to then spread it around among the many outstretched sweaty palms of the KMT. The frigate scandal was a scam on such a huge scale that there are probably few in the upper echelons of the KMT at the time who did not have their snouts in the Thomson trough.
In this sense then, the Dumas allegations do not so much impugn Soong's good name -- partly of course because he doesn't have one, but we will let that pass for the moment -- as much as they remind us that the Lafayette scandal has still never been fully dealt with.
Almost a year ago Minister of Defense Tang Yao-ming told the legislature's defense committee that the ongoing rumors, suspicions and allegations were a burden for the military and that this issue needed to be settled. We also saw, last year, some navy officers charged with corruption over the Lafayette deal. But these were small fry, certainly not the main recipients of US$400 million of French largesse.
A Control Yuan report was released almost exactly a year ago. At the time we were told that it was comprehensive and was being forwarded to the Supreme Court Prosecutor General's Office. We looked forward to some major indictments being handed down. What we saw last year were a number of lower-level officers accused of not following the proper bureaucratic procedures. This seems to be putting the flimsy cart of how paper pushers pushed paper before the rather muscular equine of, as Deep Throat so memorably advised, following the money.
The Lafayette scandal is not a military scandal, it is a political scandal. The decision to buy the frigates was taken at the highest government levels. The money paid by Thomson was not given to obscure military officers. It was given to a very senior official; the secretary-general of the ruling party, says Dumas, thereby fingering Soong. Perhaps he means the secretary-general of some other branch of government the Cabinet or the Presidential Office, says the PFP. After all, they reason with nauseating condescension, he's French, maybe he doesn't know Taiwan's system.
Well, maybe he doesn't, which is why it is important now to send a team to France to interview Dumas and find out exactly what he knows and how he knows it. But it is clear from his remarks that the payments were funneled through a very senior official and were destined for the highest levels of government. And remember, this is not French money, it is our money.
The cost of the bribes were simply appended to the bill for the frigates to be paid by Taiwan taxpayers. What it involves is a breach of trust at the highest level. Yet no officials have even been named let alone charged as a result of the so-called investigation. Why is the DPP government so averse to pushing this case? We can understand why the KMT wouldn't want a real investigation. But who exactly is the DPP trying to protect?
While the dust was still being kicked up in the "blue-camp", on the DPP-side a possible change in the ticket was indicated by Vice-President Annette Lu, who announced on 23 March 2003 that she would be bowing out of a second term, " if the President can find a candidate who is more qualified."
The president subsequently stated that a decision on a vice-presidential candidate would not be made until the Fall of 2003, and that priority should be given to discussions on the economy and fighting SARS.
In the following days, several possible candidates were mentioned in the press: Ms. Tsai Ing-wen, the eloquent and highly capable head of the Mainland Affairs Council is reportedly the favorite of the DPP's New Tide faction, while the charismatic Taipei County Commissioner Su Chen-chang is reportedly also making a good chance.
Also mentioned is Prof. Chen Shih-meng, the former secretary-general to the President, who is himself of mainland-Chinese descent but at the same time a strong supporter of Taiwan's full and equal membership in the international community.
DPP officials said the vice presidential candidate would only be announced some time in autumn.
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