The inauguration of newly-elected president Chen Shui-bian, vice President Annette Lu and a new government on 20 May 2000 heralds a new beginning for Taiwan. It is a major step away from the old and repressive "Republic of China" of the Kuomintang, which lost the Chinese Civil War on the mainland more than 50 years ago, and came over from China and occupied the Japan-held island.
It is also the culmination of the process of democratization, which saw its first inkling in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the budding "tangwai" movement. To those who were involved in the democratic movement, it is fascinating to see how fast the transition took place: the Democratic Progressive Party was founded as recently as September 1986, and it wasn't until July 1987 that the 38 years of Kuomintang martial law was ended.
The underlying theme of the democratization was the quest of the native Taiwanese majority (85 percent) to have a voice in the political system, which was dominated for so many decades by the Chinese mainlanders who came over with Chiang Kai-shek.
Initially, the Kuomintang had to be pushed every step of the way, but gradually, the party itself was "Taiwanized" and with the ascent of President Lee Teng-hui in 1988, the mainstream of the KMT also became more Taiwan-oriented. There is thus now a convergence between mainstream Kuomintang and the Taiwanese-based DPP, and a solid majority for further evolution of Taiwan to full-fledged membership of the international community.
Still, there is much left to be done at home and abroad: the more than 50 years of Kuomintang rule left Taiwan with some creaky institutions with many people with vested interests, built-in corruption and inefficiencies. These will need to be cleaned up and streamlined. The decision by the superfluous National Assembly on 24 April 2000 to virtually vote itself out of existence is a good beginning.
However, the main challenge is abroad: much of the international community has remained silent in the face of Beijing's threats and bullying against Taiwan. Few seem to remember the commitments made by the international community at the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951-52 that the future of Taiwan be determined in accord with the principles of the United Nations, i.e. through the democratic decisions of the people of Taiwan.
It is thus of essence that principled people around the world stand up, and voice the view that the people of Taiwan need to be able to decide their own future without any threat, intimidation or interference from China.
On 30 April 2000, President Chen Shui-bian announced the full line-up of the new cabinet. In the preceding weeks, many names had surfaced already, and a picture had emerged of a careful balance of "old" and "new" in the Cabinet.
As he already promised during the election campaign, Mr. Chen did draw people from a broad political spectrum, considerably beyond the DPP itself.
His first choice, to the surprise of many, was the selection of General Tang Fei, the Defense Minister in the outgoing Kuomintang government, as Prime Minister. The choice came after it became clear that Nobel price winner Prof. Lee Yuan-tseh, whose support in the final weeks of the campaign had been crucial to the DPP victory, did not want to take the Prime Minister position and wanted to remain as head of the Academia Sinica.
With the selection of Tang Fei, president Chen was able to assure himself of the allegiance of the top echelon of the mainlander-dominated military in Taiwan, and at the same time provide himself with a good point man in the upcoming debates in the Legislative Yuan, where the opposition Kuomintang still has a slight majority. Elections for the Legislative Yuan won't be held until December 2001.
The next important decision was that of Foreign Minister, where Prof. Tien Hung-mao of the Institute for National Policy Research (INPR) in Taipei was President-elect Chen's choice. Prof. Tien Hung-mao studied and taught for many years in the United States, at the University of Wisconsin.
Two other appointments under the foreign ministry are Prof. Lo Fu-chen as representative to Japan and Mr. Chen Chien-jen, the present foreign minister, as representative to Washington. Prof. Lo is a highly respected member of the overseas Taiwanese community, who for many years taught at the United Nations University in Tokyo.
Mr. Chen Chien-jen's appointment is controversial, and caused much resentment in the overseas Taiwanese community, where he is considered a member of the Kuomintang establishment, and not in tune with the foreign policy objectives of the DPP.
Another foreign affairs-related appointment is that of Ms. Tsai Ying-wen as head of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). She played an important role in Taiwan's negotiations for the WTO, and was one of the key people behind President Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" initiative in July 1999. The statement gave rise to a heated debate, but remains an important corner-stone of any future discussion with China.
General Tang Fei did promote his former deputy at the Department of National Defense, Admiral Wu Shih-wen, to be his successor as minister. Admiral Wu is the former commander of Taiwan's navy, and generally considered a professional military man.
Another key appointment was that of four-term legislator Mrs. Yeh Chu-lan to be minister of Transportation and Communication. Mrs. Yeh has been a forthright and outspoken critic of corruption in the Kuomintang-dominated construction and service industry. She has pledged to make her ministry the first "e-ministry" under the incoming DPP government: data on budget use and progress in each major infrastructure construction project will be posted on the ministry's website.
Mrs. Yeh stepped into prominence in Taiwan's political arena in 1989, after her husband _ a well-known opposition editor and writer _ burned to death when police surrounded and stormed the offices of his news magazine. She ran for a seat in the Legislative Yuan in 1989, and has been re-elected for four terms.
At the Environmental Protection Administration, President Chen
appointed Prof. Lin Chung-yi of Tunghai University. This
is a well-deserved appointment: Prof. Lin was a pioneer in the
environmental protection movement in Taiwan. In the 1970s and early 1980s,
he was one of the very first people in Taiwan who was so courageous to
speak up for the environment.
Chia-yi mayor Chang Po-ya initially refused, but finally relented and agreed to become Minister of Interior, after a considerable amount of persuasion on the part of President-elect Chen Shui-bian.
Another appointment of a woman was Dr. Chang Fu-mei as head of the Overseas Taiwanese Affairs Commission. Dr. Chang worked for many years at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California, and served as the first President of the North American Taiwanese Woman's Association (NATWA).
Former Ilan County magistrate Chen Ting-nan will head the Ministry of Justice, where he must spearhead the campaign against "black gold" politics. In addition to squeaky cleanness, Chen is famous for his refusal to compromise on principle, a character trait that has even made him something of a maverick within his own party, the DPP, where he has enthusiastically supported disciplining party members who have committed electoral irregularities.
Tainan County Magistrate Dr. Chen Tang-san ("Mark") was appointed chairman of the National Science Council, which oversees all science and technology-related R&D at the science parks. Dr. Chen received his Ph.D. from Purdue University, and worked for many years at the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington D.C., where he was also a key founder and a former president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA).
One of the most colorful persons in the upcoming administration is Vice President Annette Lu Hsu-lien, who until now served as County Magistrate for Taoyuan County, just south of Taipei. Taoyuan County is a heavily industrialized area, and is the second most populated county in Taiwan with 1.2 million people.
Ms. Lü became well-known in Taiwan in the late 1970s as a member of the budding democratic opposition and as a leading woman's rights advocate. She gave a major speech on Taiwan's international status at the now well-known Kaohsiung Incident in December 1979 (for the full text, see the publication The Kaohsiung Tapes at http://www.taiwandc.org/kao-tapes.pdf ) and was subsequently arrested on trumped-up "sedition" charges and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
She was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and was released on medical bail on 28 March 1985, after more than 5 years imprisonment. After her release she spent some time in the United States at Harvard University where she had been a visiting scholar in the mid-1970s. She has a degree in comparative law from the University of Illinois.
In 1992 she returned to Taiwan to became active again in the democratic opposition of the DPP, and ran successfully for a seat in the Legislative Yuan in December 1992. She became one of the driving forces behind the initiative to get Taiwan into the United Nations. In March 1997, Ms. Lü was elected Taoyuan County Magistrate in a by-election.
In early April 2000, in an interview to a Hong Kong television station, she commented that she considered China a "remote relative and close neighbor", indicating that she considered that the future relations between the two nations should be based on peaceful coexistence, and be like e.g. Canada and the United States.
However, the Beijing government-controlled propaganda machine did not take kindly to this overture: on 8 April 2000, the New China News Agency let loose a vicious slander campaign, calling her the "scum of the nation", "hideous", "shameless" and a "traitor." The People's Daily added further insults a day later, and said that Lu was leading Taiwan into the "abyss of war."
Disregarding Beijing's uncivilized behavior against her, Ms. Lu continued to speak out, and in interviews with TIME Magazine, Newsweek, Associated Press and the Washington Post urged the United States to play a much firmer role in bringing peace to the Taiwan Strait. She also urged other nations such as Japan, the Philippines, and the members of the European Union to press China to stop its military treats and intimidation against Taiwan, and come to a peaceful accommodation.
During the weeks and months before Taiwan's presidential elections, there were umpteen pundits, particularly from the United States, who reiterated over and over again that the people of Taiwan were in favor of the "status quo". For sure, the Taiwanese would vote for "stability" _ so these wise men said thinly implying that this meant the Kuomintang's Mr. Lien Chan.
The implication of these dire warning was that Mr. Chen and the DPP somehow represented a danger of being "radical" and leading towards "instability." What are these spin-masters now making of the results of these elections? Do we Taiwanese want the "status quo" or do we want change?
It must be obvious that we do want change. A change for the better. In the words of the birth of the American nation some 200 years ago, we want "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We want a fair, just and open society. We want an end to the "black-gold" perpetuated by 54 years of Kuomintang rule.
Also in our international relations we want change. We do not want to be treated as second-class world citizens, and international pariah's. We want to normalize our relations with the rest of the world.
We now live in the 21st Century. More than 50 years ago, visionary leaders established the United Nations on the basis of the principles of respect for human rights and self-determination. There should thus be no place in this world anymore for 19th Century warlordism.
The Kuomintang's "status quo", which was so dear to some of these international commentators, gave a fake sense of "stability", but in reality it bore the seeds for far greater instability: it gave China the chance to maneuver Taiwan into a corner, putting it for a fait-accompli from which it would be sheer impossible to extricate itself.
Real stability only comes from the mutual respect of people and nations for each other's rights. It is the product of fair and just rules and laws. It does not come about through appeasement of the neighborhood bully.
Real stability only come when major actors, such as the United States, hold firm to the basic principles of human rights and self-determination, and do not let themselves be lulled into concessions in exchange for access to a hot air balloon Chinese market.
Real stability only comes when China accepts Taiwan as a friendly neighbor, and the United States and other democratic nations embrace us as a full member in the international community, and normalize their ties with our beautiful island, Ilha Formosa. That should be the new status quo.
Back to: Table of Contents
Copyright © 2000 Taiwan Communiqué