TAIWAN IN THE 2000s
The presidential election of March 2000 was a momentous one for Taiwan. DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian, who had served as the elected mayor of Taipei from 1994 to 1998, defeated KMT candidate Lien Chan and the more-than 50-year era of KMT dominance was over. Although the DPP won the larger share of seats in the Legislative Yuan, the KMT’s alliance with the People First Party (Qinmindang, a KMT breakaway party) gave the KMT de facto control. Thus, the new era also meant one of divided government and impediments for the new DPP administration. Further complications arose to thwart the DPP’s efforts soon after Chen’s inauguration in May 2000, when the international high-technology industry began experiencing severe problems and orders from Taiwan quickly and substantially decreased. [Source: Library of Congress *]
In 2003, as the economy began to recover, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis hit Taiwan, temporarily shaking confidence. Despite the inauguration of Lunar New Year tourist flights from Taiwan to China via Hong Kong and Macau, Beijing continued to be wary of the DPP and refused to engage in suggested government-to-government talks or anything else relating to direct links that might improve Chen Shui-bian’s chances at winning a second term in 2004. Chen ran a successful campaign, and, despite an assassination attempt on March 19, 2004, he went on to win a second term in the March 20, 2004, election. In the December 2004 Legislative Yuan elections, the DPP won more seats than any other party and was allied with another major party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (Taiwan Tuanjie Lianmeng; TSU) in the Pan-Green alliance. However, the KMT-People First Party coalition (known as the Pan-Blue alliance) had greater strength in overall numbers and thus continued to control the legislature.
Chen Shui-ban became president of Taiwan in 2000 in elections that year as the leader of Democratic Progressive Party. Known as A-bien in China, he was trained as a lawyer, made a name for himself as mayor of Taipei and used his skill as a street campaigner to become president. Chen was a long time opposition figure. Sometimes compared with South Korea's Kim Dae Jung, he did some jail time for his views and may have been the target of two assassination attempts. Chen is short, only 5 foot 4 inches, but regards himself as having what it takes to be a great man. In 2004, he was re-elected as president and survived an assassination attempt.
Before the 2000 election Chen was widely viewed as pro-independence, After being elected Chen soon softened his stance somewhat, declaring in his inauguration speech that the status quo would be maintained as long as China did not attempt to take Taiwan by force. According to Lonely Planet: “But Beijing was hardly won over by Chen’s words, demanding a firm commitment to the ‘One China principle.’ Chen found himself between a rock and a hard place, unable to please either his supporters or his detractors. As a result, cross-strait relations stalled during Chen’s first term, with the only glimmer of improvement being the opening of limited trade and travel between China and Taiwan’s offshore islands. Though often overshadowed by the more high-profile presidential election, Taiwan’s legislative election of 2001 was equally revolutionary, reducing the KMT (albeit temporarily) to minority party status in a legislature they’d once controlled with an iron grip. [Source: Lonely Planet]
Chen Shui-ban’s Early Life
Chen is a member of the Puyuma tribe, one of Taiwan indigenous ethnic groups. The son of a poor, illiterate laborers, Chen was born in southern Taiwan in 1951 in Hsi-Chuang, a farming village about 40 minutes from Tainan, Taiwan’s forth largest city. He and his family lived in a mud hut with little furniture and were often destitute. At school Chen often went without lunch.
Chen worked very hard in school. He graduated from primary school, ranked number one in his county. His classmates remembered him as annoyingly studious. They recalled that his hand shot up nearly every time his teachers asked a question and liked to show off by finishing his homework before lunch. [Source: Time]
Chen attended the elite National Taiwan University and graduated with high honors in law 1975. Initially, Chen had little interest in politics. He joined a prestigious law firm, where he specialized in maritime law, and married Wu Shu-jen, the daughter of a wealthy doctor. The couple have a daughter, Chen Hsing-yu, who is a dentist; and a son, Chen Chih-Chung, who, having received a law degree in Taiwan, gained a Master of Laws from the University of California, Berkeley in 2005.
Chen Shui-ban’s Political Career
Chen became involved in politics almost by accident. In 1980, he was asked to defended two pro-independence leaders who had been charged with sedition after leading a protest in the port city of Kaohsiung. Chen lost the case but it piqued his interest in politics, He said later, “I realized this experience was not a real legal issue. I came to accept the defendants’ political arguments and ideals.” He said he became “a believer” that China and Taiwan were “two separate countries.”
Chen made a name for himself as a human rights lawyer and supporter of Taiwanese independence. He was particularly popular with native Taiwanese but was portrayed as an extremist by the Kuomintang. In 1980, Chen scored his first political victory when he was elected as member of the Taipei City Council. He was regarded as rebel rouser and a crusader. In 1985, he suffered a setback when he lost a countrywide race in his native Tainan County.
Chen Shui-ban Jailed and His Wife Paralyzed in “Assassination Attempt”
In 1985, Chen’s wife Wu Shu-chen was paralyzed in an accident with a truck that he and his supporters claim was an assassination attempt directed at him. Just as he and Wu emerged from a restaurant, a truck came roaring towards them. The driver missed Chen, but struck Wu and ran over her body three times, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The driver said it was an accident. Many people believe the attack was ordered by the Kuomintang. Chen often appeared in public pushing Wu’s wheelchair. Every evening he reportedly returned home to give his wife a massage.
In 1986, Chen was jailed for 8 months when a dissident publication he was associated with was charged with libel after accusing Kuomintang official Elmer Feng—later a New Party lawmaker— of plagiarizing a doctoral thesis. He was released from jail in 1987, just as the Kuomintang was ending martial law and allowing political parties to form. Chen joined the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), where his diligence and intelligence won him many supporters. In 1989 he won a seat in the legislative Yuan.
Chen Shui-ban as Mayor of Taipei
Chen was elected mayor of Taipei in 1994. He was credit for doing something about Taipei's notorious traffic jams, getting the city’s subway on line, and generally trying to make the city more liveable. He banned cars on Sundays, created bus lanes, placed traffic police at major intersections, opened expressways to cyclists and joggers, knocked down ugly apartment buildings to make room for parks, opened up luxury shopping malls in garbage dumps and helped earn Taipei high rankings in Asian livability surveys.
Chen cleaned up Taipei by making it illegal to leave trash on curbsides and requiring trash trucks to arrive at a fixed time every day. As part of the “the garbage will never touch the ground” campaign, trash trucks, playing the jingle, Maiden’s Prayer, drove through a neighborhood as people rushed out of their homes with trash bags and threw them in the back of the truck
Chen was also given credit for combating crime and prostitution. He closed down government-run brothels, imposed a midnight curfew for youths 18 and under, cracked down on illegal gambling, and closed 4,000 unlicenced gangster-run v ideo game arcades by shutting off their water and electricity. Roadblocks were set up to make sure cars and motorbike drivers obeyed the laws.
Chen Shui-ban suffered a humiliating defeat when he lost the Taipei mayoralty in December 1998 partly because of his position on legalized prostitution, and his crusading style which won him many enemies and cost him many friends. The defeat made him more mature. He became less combative and softened his stance on the mainland.
Presidential Elections in Taiwan in 2000
In March, 2000, in Taiwan’s second presidential election., Chen Shui-ban defeated Lien Chan, Lee’s successor in the Kuomintang, and James Soong, a longtime Kuomintang insider who broke away from the party. The result marked the first time in Taiwan’s 40 year history that it would not be run by the Kuomintang and the first democratic transfer of power in China’ 5000 year history.
Chen won with only 39 percent of the vote. Soong took 37 percent of the vote and Lien only grabbed 23 percent even though the Kuomintang reportedly spent $60 million on his campaign. The voter turnout was 82.7 percent. Many believe the Kuomintang would have won easily if Soong hadn’t defected from the party. People were surprised by Soong’s strong showing.
China was quite unhappy with the result. Chen’s was the their least favored choice. His victory was greeted with silence. Many wondered if war was in the not too distant future. China didn’t fire missiles before the election as it had done before the 1996 election but it did make threats. In a 11,000-word white paper Beijing warned it would invade Taiwan if Taiwanese leaders “indefinitely delay” negotiations ion reunification.
Candidates in the Elections in 2000
Chen campaigned as a corruption fighter and reformer and portrayed the Kuomintang as corrupt and pandering to gangsters. He promised the clean up Taiwan’s “black gold” (corruption). Beijing called him a “sweet talking” liar and separatist, charges that Chen welcomed, saying they only helped his cause. Chen toned down his rhetoric but said there was no point declaring independence because Taiwan was already sovereign.
Soong’s ran as an independent and a populist reformer. In the 1990s, he was accused of stealing $7 million in Kuomintang funds. Lien was Chen’s opponent in both the 2000 and 2004 elections. He is a lifelong bureaucrat who served as vice president and prime minister in the former Kuomintang government. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago. According to a tell-all book by a feng shi master, Lein is very superstitious and conspired to deface the grave of Soong’s father.
The candidates were neck and neck through much of the campaign. In the home stretch, Chen was able to win some key endorsements, notably from Taiwan’s only Nobel laureate, Lee Yuan-tseh, and draw huge crowds to his rallies. He was clearly helped the fact he was a native-born Taiwanese. The other two candidates were born in China.
Kuomintang members blamed former president Lee Teng-hui for Lee the loss. Around 2,000 members gathered outside the Kuomintang headquarters and chanted anti-Lee slogans and pelted the building with eggs and rocks and grabbed party members as they tried to enter the building. One of Lee’s advisors was beat up by a mob and another ran for his life. Several hundred people barricaded themselves inside the building, demanding that Lee resign, and battled with police. Lee agreed to step down as leader of the Kuomintang. Lien and several other leaders in the Kuomintang also agreed to resign. Soong started a new party.
Chen’s Domestic Policy
Chen had difficulty governing. His poor showing in the election meant that he lacked a mandate and the fact that the Kuomintang still controlled the legislature—and blocked almost every move he made—made passing new legislation impossible. Chen made many blunders. In his first year he mishandled the economy and a series of domestic problem, including the construction of a nuclear power plant, caused his approval ratings to drop to record lows.
In his first year in office Chen also endured the resignation of his prime mister, a deadlocked legislature, endless bickering and a constitutional crisis that threatened to oust him from power. After coming to office, the stock market plummeted and investors lost confidence in Taiwan and moved $10 billion in investments out of Taiwan.
The DPP proposed rewriting the nation's constitution and unsuccessfully tried to negotiate transportation agreements with Beijing on a state-to-state basis. The Kuomintang went into obstruction mode. It blocked the purchase of $18 billion in U.S. arms requested by the ruling party, and it has frozen the budgets of some government departments, rendering them barely functional.
Many Taiwanese felt Chen insulated himself too much and relied too heavily on a group of 30 something advisors referred to as the “Boy Scouts.” Hard core members of his own party became disillusioned with him because he softened his tone on China.
Things improved a bit for Chen and the DPP after legislative elections in 2001. The DPP won 87 seats (up from 65). Kuomintang held on to 68 seats (down from 110). The PFP won 46 seats (up from 20), the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) won 13 seats (up from 0) and the pro-reunification New Party won only one seat. The Kuomintang’s poor showing was partly the result of a backlash from voters angered by the KMT blocking every move made by Chen in the parliament. No coalition was really formed after the election. Later the DDP formed a coalition with Taiwan Solidarity Union.
Chen Shui-ban and Corruption in His First Term (2000-2004)
The DPP changed after Chen became president. It became friendlier to big business and its corruption-fighting reputation was tarnished by its involvement is a complex campaign finance scandal that involved developers giving out tens of millions of dollars to politicians of both the DPP and the Kuomintang in southern Taiwan, the traditional DPP stronghold. It was also revealed that Chen’s wife accepted large cash contributions from a tycoon in trouble with the law.
In January 2001, Vice President Annette Lu went on trial for libel after the respected newspaper The Journalist said that the President was having an affair with an aide, with Lu named as a source. Lu said she was told about the affair by Chen’s wife.
Chen and China in His First Term (2000-2004)
Chen at various times took both hardline and conciliatory stances towards Beijing. He talked a lot about independence and many Taiwanese felt he provoked China. He promoted a “Taiwan First” policy and backed a referendum on whether of not Taiwan should declare itself independent from China. At the same time he called for talks between Taipei and Beijing,
Chen often hardened and softened his tone in China to serve his political purposes at a given time. Shortly after taking office in 2000, when prudence was in order, so as to not antagonize China or the United States, he said he agreed with the “one China” idea. He also proposed a summit meeting between himself and the leader of China (the proposal was rejected by Beijing). Later he suggested establishing a demilitarized zone between Taiwan and China and setting up liaison offices and having special envoys
Chen’s provocative stance on China alienated the United States. In August 2002, Chen said he backed a referendum on formal independence and added that Taiwan and China are each “one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait” and “this should be clearly distinguished.” This is a view that Beijing considers blasphemous and a provocation for war. Days later the Taiwanese Prime Minister Yu Shyi-kun attempt to cool down the situation by saying that Taiwan would not pursue a referendum on independence unless Beijing imposed its “one country, two systems” formula on it. On another occasion Chen call the leader of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, a puppet.
Chen insisted that he could promote independence without provoking a crisis with Beijing. He relaxed controls on investment and communication and transportation links between Taiwan and China. In September 2003, Taiwan began issuing passports with the word “Taiwan” added to cover added along with the “Republic of China.” Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the change was made so that Taiwan would not be confused with mainland China.
Chen made trips to the United States in 2001 and 2003. Beijing wasn’t pleased about the trips but they didn’t stir up the kind of trouble that Lee’s trips did in 1995. After becoming President in 2000, Chen made transit stops with U.S. government permission in New York, Los Angeles and Houston. In November 2003, Chen received the 35th annual International Human Rights Award in New York. He picked up the award on a “refueling stop” on the way to Panama.
Elections in Taiwan in 2004
In March 2004, Taiwan held its third presidential election. Chen won by the narrowest of margins. He defeated the Nationalist leader Lien Chen, who said the “result was unfair,” and asked that the election to be declared invalid and demanded a recount, setting in motion a series of events that reminded many of the showdown between Bush and Gore in Florida after the U.S. presidential elections in 2000.
Chen won 50.12 percent of the vote. Lien won 49.88 percent. More than 13.25 million ballots were cast. The margin of victory was 29,518 votes, or 0.2 percent of the total vote. (Chen took 6,471,970 and Lien got 6,442,452). The opposition claimed 300,000 votes were invalid.
Chen ran as the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Lien ran as a member of the Kuomintang (KMT)-People First Party (PFP) alliance. His running mate was James Soong’s, the head of the PFP, a splinter KMT group. The KMT and PFP united so as not to lose by splitting the vote as they had done in 2000. China was mostly quiet in this election.
In November 2004, Taiwan’s High Court decided not to nullify the March 20 presidential election result. The decision brought to a close seven months of hearings, ballot recounting and investigations.
There were two separate referendums in the 2004 elections. One asked voters if they wanted Taiwan to build up its military defenses if China refused to withdraw missiles aimed at Taiwan. They other asked if Taiwan should pursue peace talks with Beijing. Both were rejected. In each case only 45 percent of he electorate voted in favor of them. Beijing was happy with the result, which seemed to back the contention of the Chinese government that most Taiwanese did not want independence. Many viewed the referendums as preview of a plebiscite on independence. In November 2003, the Taiwanese legislature passed a bill that would make if difficult if not impossible for a vote on independence to be carried out.
Assassination Attempt of Chen Before the 2004 Election?
The day before the vote for the 2004 presidential election, Chen and his vice president Annette Lu were shot and injured in an apparent assassination as their motorcade drove through streets clogged with supporters in Chen’s hometown of Tainan during last minute campaigning. Chen was shot in the stomach. Lu’s right knee was grazed by a bullet. The injuries were not life threatening. Chen had the bullet removed in the hospital and received 14 stitches to close the wound.
The bullet’s were fired from a home-made gun. Chen was standing in a red convertible four wheel-drive vehicle, waving to the crowds, when he was shot. People were setting off celebratory fireworks and no one heard any shots. “The vice president first felt pain in her knees, and she thought it was caused by firecrackers,” a government spokesman said. “Then the President felt some wetness on his stomach.”
The bullet had not penetrated any internal organs and Chen left the hospital five hours after he entered. A short time after that both he and Lu were on televison urging people to remain calm and remember to vote Photographs taken afer the shooting show a dinner-plate-size spot of blood in Chen’s abdomen area. It was not clear how many shooters were involved and how many shots were fired Two bullets were found: one in the car and one in Chen’s pocket. One bullet hole was found in the windshield. Initially, no shooter or shooters were ever caught and no arrests were made. There were descriptions of a mysterious man wearing a Chen T-shirt and a motorcycle helmet fleeing the scene.
The KMT said the attacks were responsible for Chen’s victory. Chen’s supporters claimed “there was no sympathy vote” and pointed to polls that showed their candidate was ahead by two percentage points before the shots were fired.
Theories About the Assassination Attempt of Chen
The target and motivation for the attack were unclear, however theories as to why the attack took place abounded. Many thought it was set up by Chen and his supporters to ensure that Chen won. Other speculated that it was carried out by assassins from the mainland, political extremists or even gangsters that had placed bets on the outcome of the election.
There were rumors that the slug found in Chen’s body didn’t match the casing found at the site. When police said they did match, some people said the slug and the casing were fired from different guns. People also wondered why Chen and Lu were in the same car (Lu is next in line in power if something happens to Chen), why they weren’t wearing any protective clothing and why Chen’s security detail had visited the shooting scene and the hospital before the attack (their response was that were following standard security planning procedures).
Questions were also raised as to how the shooters got close enough to hit both the president and vice president but cause only superficial wounds and why Chen was taken to a hospital nearly five kilometers away rather than the nearest facility. Medical records and video tapes from the hospital were released—a practice usually not done with a head of state—to stop “rumors” and “controversies.” For the most part, again, Beijing was quiet on the issue.
Investigations, Arrests and Deaths Connected to the Chen Shooting
Chen said that he was insulted by insinuations that he staged his own shooting but refused to set up a task force to study the matter. He invited U.S. forensic experts to join the probe of the shooting. One of the experts, Dr. Cyril Wechet, who participated in the probe of former U.S. President Kennedy’s assassination, said, “The wound I saw and the pictures that I had seen and the information I had received with the doctors, all of the information is consistent of that of a gunshot wound.”
In March 2005, a prime suspect in the shooting was conveniently found dead. Reuters reported: “An unemployed man who is believed to be the most likely suspect for last year's election-eve shooting on Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, committed suicide days after the attack. Investigators say the suspect, Chen Yi-hsiung, was likely motivated by dissatisfaction with the Chen Shui-bian Government. They say he left behind a suicide note saying he wanted to kill himself to relieve the burden on his family. "By tracing the bullets, Chen Yi-hsiung is the most likely suspect," Hou Yu-ih, commissioner of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, said. "The papers that he left behind indicated he was unhappy with current social affairs." Police interrogated Chen Yi-hsiung before he died because he bore similarities to a balding man in a yellow jacket, who was seen leaving the scene shortly after the shooting. Mr Hou would not say that the shooting case was solved, but said: "The direction is already very, very clear." [Source: Reuters, March 7, 2005]
In January 2013, China extradited a suspect in the Chen shooting. The Bangkok Post reported: “A fugitive accused of modifying a gun and making the bullets used to shoot and injure Taiwan's former president Chen Shui-bian in 2004 was extradited to the island from China, police said. Tang Shou-yi was arrested in Xiamen city in southeast China earlier this month and was returned to Taiwan under a reciprocal crime-fighting agreement, according to the island's Criminal Investigation Bureau. [Source: Bangkok Post, January 25, 2013]
Campaigns Before the Elections in 2004
The 2004 presidential campaign was long and divisive and focused on Taiwan’s relationship with China, its ambiguous status as a state and the impact of increased trade and investment between China and Taiwan. Chen wanted Taiwan to distance itself more from China. Lien argued that Taiwan needed to improve relations with China and called for air and shipping links between Taiwan and China and said that the issue of sovereignty should be decided by future generations.
Chen and Lien engaged in Taiwan’s first ever presidential debate, feuded over a variety of issues and engaged in their share of mudslinging and publicity stunts. To draw attention to his roots as a native son of Taiwan, Lien and his supporters prostrated themselves and the kissed the ground, a move that Chen said was a campaign gimmick. At one point Lien accused Chen of being a dictator and compared him to Adolf Hitler in a full page ad taken out in major newspaper. He later apologized for the action.
Large rallies with fireworks displays, singing and firecrackers were staged. In February 2004, Chen organized the anti-Beijing Hand-in-Hand in rally in which two million people linked hands, forming a 500-kilometer chain running from north to south across Taiwan. Lien answered back with rallies that drew between two and three million people.
Lien was ahead in opinion polls during much of the campaign. Chen narrowed the gap when he stepped up the anti-China rhetoric and proposed referendums on the China issue. The moves prompted sharp warnings from Beijing. Beijing clearly favored Lien and his conciliatory approach, but for the most part Beijing kept a low profile, worried that strong rebukes of Chen, would play into his hands and draw voters to his side. Instead it tried persuading the Bush administration to rebuke Chen and encourage him to tone down his anti-China rhetoric and the language used in the referendums.
Aftermath of the Elections in 2004
After the election, a Taiwan court ordered all of the ballot boxes sealed to protect the evidence. Lien challenged the election on a number of fronts. He claimed the election had been marred by voter irregularities and demanded a new election on the basis of voter fraud, claiming vote irregularities spoiled 330,000 ballots. He petitioned the Taiwan High Court to take up the matter. Lien also pushed forward with the planned recount that Chen also endorsed.
Lien insinuated that the mysterious shooting that wounded Chen might have been set up and demanded that Chen set up a special task force to investigate. Lien also alleged that many soldiers and police were not allowed to vote because they had been put on military alert following the shooting. Chen said that he was insulted by insinuations that he rigged the election and staged his own shooting and refused to set up task forces to study the matters, saying they were unnecessary and would unfairly cast doubts on the government’s credibility.
The opposition staged large and sometimes slightly violent protests outside the Presidential Office in Taipei. One demonstration attracted a half million Lien supporters. Demonstrators engaged in minor clashes and fistfights with police at a barbed wire barriers set up around the Presidential Office. In one clash involving 1,000 riot police and demonstrators hurling stones and water bottles seven people were hurt.
The recount took place in May 2004. The margin of victory was reduced to around 23,000 votes after the recount was complete and judges ruled that nearly 40,000 ballots were disputed, some of which were declared invalid because they were improperly marked. Of the disputed ballots 23,000 belonged to Chen and 16,000 to Lien. In November 2004, the High Court confirmed President Chen won the election. The court dismissed a Nationalist Party lawsuit that the election should be overturned because of questions
Chen and China After the Elections in 2004
In interviews after the 2004 election, Chen said that he rejected the “One China” policy but was flexible about improving relations with China. He also said, and he was committed to holding a referendum in 2006 and revising the constitution before 2008 In May 2004, Beijing condemned President Chen’s inaugural speech as veiled call for independence. Chen did not say anything openly about independence but Beijing was disturbed by the way he talked about Taiwan as if it were an independent country.
In November 2004, President Chen accused Taiwan's top military brass of staging a “soft coup” against him. He said retired military officers with links to the Kuomintang sough to create a confidence crisis after the 2004 presidential election. In December 2004, on the eve of legislative election, Chen vowed to hold a referendum on a new constitution is his pro-independence party won control of the parliament.
Chinese officials were upset about a “transit stop” by Chen in the United States in January 2007. Chen stopped in San Francisco for 17 hours n his way to Nicaragua. In May 2006, the United States turned down a request by Chen to stop in San Francisco and New York on his way to Costa Rica, giving him the option of layover in Alaska, which Chen viewed a slight and turned down, flaying to Latin America via Indonesia, Abu Dhabi and Libya instead
Taiwan Elections and Politicking Afterwards
The relatively pro-Beijing and anti-independence Nationalist-Party-led opposition alliance did surprisingly well in the legislative elections in December 2004 and held onto a slim majority in the Taiwan legislature. The KMT, Nationalist-led “blue team” of three parties won 114 of 225 seats, keeping its narrow lead. The Nationalists won 79 seats, an 11 seat gain. The more pro-Beijing People First Party retained 34 seats and lost 12. The DDP-led “green team” won 101 seats. The DDP won 89 seats, picking up only two seats. It had been expecting to do much better. Independents took 10 seats.
Chen responded to the poor showing by quitting his post as head of the DPP, appointed a new Prime Minister (he replaced Yu Shy-kun with Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh) and making peaceful overtures to China. In February 2005, Chen formed an alliance with Taiwan’s most pro-Beijing party. The moved seem to alienate everybody. Many of the most pro-independence members of Chen’s party quit. Approval of Chen’s party and the pro-Beijing party dropped.
In May 2005, the DPP won elections for the National Assembly, the organ tasked with ratifying constitutional changes approved by Parliament in 2004. The DPP won the equivalent of 128 out of 300 available seats. The Kuomitang (Nationalist Party) took 38.9 percent of votes (117 seats), and lagging behind was the Union of Solidarity of Taiwan, allied to the DPP, got 7 percent (equal to 21 seats), while the First Party of the People, the second opposition party, got 6.1 percent (18 seats). The turnout was less than 40 percent. [Source: AsiaNews, May 14, 2005]
In February 2006, Chen scrapped the National Unification Council —government body set up in 1996 that was responsible for facilitating the eventual unification with China. Chen insisted the move was not a pretext for a drive towards independence. Even so it riled China and was viewed by Washington as provocative. In March 2006, Chen announced his intention to write a new constitution. Chen wanted a new constitution to be approved by the legislature and a public referendum in 2007 and formally adopted in 2008. Chen’s tough line on China wore out the patience of the United States.
Political Problems and Scandals Involving Chen Shui-ban
In May 2006, troubles began brewing for Chen when his son-in-law Chao Chien-ming was detained and later indicted on suspicion of insider trading and taking bribes. Chen publicly apologized for Chao's actions but said he would not resign. After that Chen handed over day-to-day control of Taiwan’s government to the premier.
In June 2006, the legislature voted on whether or not to oust President Chen for incompetence and prolonging a political crisis and because connections of family members to scandals. AFP reported: “Prosecutors began looking at whether Chen had misused funds intended for national affairs. He survived an unprecedented parliamentary vote to topple him, after the move failed to win the backing of two-thirds of all lawmakers. If passed, it would have triggered a national referendum on Chen's future. His wife Wu Shu-chen is also under investigation for allegedly accepting department store gift certificates in exchange for lobbying efforts.
Large demonstrations were mounted by the opposition and Chen supporters. One demonstration by the opposition drew 20,000 people outside the Presidential Palace. In September 2006, AFP reported: “Tens of thousands of Taiwanese protesters took to Taipei's streets in a bid to step up the pressure on embattled President Chen Shui-bian to resign over alleged corruption. They marched a 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) route circling Chen's office and nearby residence amid downpours caused by an approaching typhoon. Many dressed in red, waved flashlights, chanted slogans demanding Chen's resignation and gesticulated the thumbs-down sign to vent their anger at the president over a string of corruption scandals. "Chen already lost the people's trust and he was unfit to rule anymore. He must quit to save Taiwan," said Michael Huang, 47, who marched with his wife and two children Friday. The Huang family and some fellow protesters trod on an effigy of Chen in a show of anger. [Source: AFP, September 15, 2006]
"We must succeed to create a clean and corruption-free Taiwan," said pro-democracy veteran Shih Ming-teh, who launched the "Million Voices against Corruption, Chen Must Go" campaign. "We stand here today in heavy rains because our leader made grave mistakes ... A Bian steps down," Shih told the crowd when he began the rally, referring to the president using a nickname. Shih's camp, which organized a round-the-clock protest now in its seventh day, estimated a turnout of nearly 300,000 as of 6:30 pm. Some 3,800 riot police were expected to be deployed amid fears that the protest could trigger clashes between pro- and anti-Chen campaigners.
In November 2006, the third effort in six months to oust Chen failed. Associated Press reported: Taiwan's president won a reprieve when opposition lawmakers failed for the third time to muster enough support for a referendum on removing him from office. The motion fell 28 votes short of the required two-thirds majority in Taiwan's 218-seat Legislature. The main opposition Nationalist Party, the allied People First Party and seven independents supported the motion, while lawmakers from Chen's Democratic Progressive Party did not participate in the poll. The 12 members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union — a DPP ally — deliberately spoiled their ballots.” A week and half earlier “prosecutors indicted Chen's wife and two former aides on charges of embezzling $450,000 from a special fund under presidential control, and said that Chen could face the same charges when his immunity from prosecution lapses after he leaves office. [Source: Associated Press, November 14, 2006]
In December 2006, the by-then, scandal-plagued DPP was soundly beaten in mayoral elections in Kaohsiung in December 2006. The poor showings by DPP candidates in the mayor's races in Taipei and Kaohsiung caused the party leadership to distance itself from Chen in the run-up to legislative and presidential elections in late 2007 and early 2008.
Chen’s Son-in-Law Sentenced to Six Years in Prison
In December 2006, Chen’s son-in-law was sentenced to six years in prison for insider trading. The China Daily reported: “Chao Chien-ming, a doctor suspended by the Taiwan University Hospital over the scandal, was also fined 30 million Taiwan dollars (US$917,000) following the verdict by a court in Taipei. He was convicted of making gains valued at 4.27 million Taiwan dollars (US$131,000) through the illegal deal, said Liu Shou-song of the Taipei district court. Chao's father Chao Yu-chu was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in the same case and was given a further three years in jail for embezzling 11 million Taiwan dollars (US$336,000) in private donations to a tennis association and some political funds donated to the "president." He was also fined 30 million Taiwan dollars, Liu said. [Source: China Daily, December 28, 2006 ==]
“Chao and his father did not show up at the court and are expected to appeal against the rulings. "Chao Chien-ming failed to behave decently... using his power and influence to seek personal gains," the verdict said. Prosecutors had originally sought a nine-year jail term for Chao and a 10-year prison sentence for his father for making illegal gains through insider trading. Five other defendants involved in the same scandal received jail terms ranging from 18 months to four years and three months. Both the Kuomintang and Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said they respected the ruling. ==
“Lawmaker Lai Shyh-bao of Kuomintang (KMT) said he applauded the court for giving a tough sentence. "This shows that the court is fair and just and is unaffected by those in power," he said. Chao was arrested in May on suspicion of insider trading and taking bribes and was later released on bail. Chen has apologized for the political turmoil caused by his son-in-law but he himself was later implicated in graft scandals centred on his wife. Chen's wheelchair-bound wife Wu Shu-chen was excused from the second hearing of her trial last week after doctors at the Taiwan University Hospital, where she is being treated, advised her not to go. The corruption charge against her carries a minimum jail term of seven years.” ==
Chen Shui-ban’s Wife Passes Out During Her Trial
On Wu Shu-chen’s trial in 2006, Associated Press reported: “ Taiwan's wheelchair-bound first lady passed out during the first session of her embezzlement and forgery trial, and she was taken immediately to a hospital. Television footage showed the 54-year-old Wu Shu-chen being carried out of the court by an unidentified woman and loaded into an ambulance waiting outside the courthouse in downtown Taipei. As she was placed in the ambulance, her eyes were closed and she did not appear to be moving. [Source: Associated Press, December 15, 2006 |::|]
“Wu's trial began in the shadow of her precarious physical condition, and doubts about her ability to hold up in the face of an expected firestorm of media attention. She was paralysed from the waist down when a truck ran her over in 1985" in what Chen called an assassination attempt on him. “In recent months Wu has appeared frail and sickly, with some reports placing her weight at less than 30 kilograms. Shortly after the trial began, Wu pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. |::|
“She was indicted on November 3, 2006 with three former presidential aides on charges of skimming 14.8 million New Taiwan dollars (US$450,000) from a special presidential fund used to sustain Taiwanese diplomatic activities abroad. The aides - Chen Cheng-hui, Lin Teh-hsun, Ma Yung-cheng also pleaded not guilty. Wu arrived at the courthouse near the Presidential Office building in downtown Taipei shortly after 9:30 AM and was seen chatting with aides. Seated in her wheelchair, she was lowered electronically from her specially equipped van and wheeled past security officials toward the courtroom. Her attendance at the proceedings had been in doubt until the last minute because of concerns over her health. |::|
“Her trial began amid declining public support for the physician's daughter from southern Taiwan, who was once widely respected for the considerable suffering she endured. Sympathy for her began to recede in 2005 and early 2006 when it was alleged she had used insider information to make large amounts of money on the stock market, and had been given expensive gift vouchers from an upscale Taipei department store in exchange for helping to arrange for a change in its ownership. Wu has also been pilloried in the Taiwanese media over her collection of upmarket jewellery, which includes an expensive Breguet watch.” |::|
China-Taiwan Relations During Chen Shui-ban’s Second Term
Lonely Planet reported: “China, fearing that Chen’s reelection would embolden pro-independence factions, caused cross-strait tensions to be racheted to their highest level in years with the issuing of an ‘anti-secession law’. The law, in brief, codified China’s long-standing threat to attack Taiwan should the island’s leaders declare independence. Though Beijing’s move was protested by massive rallies throughout Taiwan, cross-strait tension seems to have abated somewhat since, and there’s been little outside of the usual saber rattling for the past two years. [Source: Lonely Planet ++]
The year 2006 brought a number of interesting political developments, as two major figures from Taiwan’s ‘old guard’ made much-touted visits to mainland China. Other major political stories of 2006 and 2007 have been the changing the names of various state-run departments and buildings to incorporate the word ‘Taiwan’ instead of ‘China, ’ and the large scale removal of thousands of statues of former dictator Chiang Kai-shek from many public spaces in Taiwan.
In April 2005, the leader of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, Lien Chan, visited China and held talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The BBC reported: It was “the first meeting between Nationalist and Communist Party leaders since the Nationalists fled to Taiwan after losing China's civil war in 1949. Critics say Mr Lien, who steps down this year, sees the visit as a chance to ensure his political legacy. Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which favours independence from China, says Beijing is using the visit to try and split public opinion in Taiwan. The Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang, were for decades implacably opposed to dealing with China's Communists. But since they lost power in 2000 they have increasingly favoured closer ties, especially for business reasons. [Source: BBC, April 26, 2005]
Mr Lien arrived in the central Chinese city of Nanjing, the Nationalists' former capital. "Taipei and Nanjing are not too distant, but it still took 60 years to come here. It certainly took too long to make the journey," Mr Lien told the official welcoming party. Mr Lien, who was born in China, has called his trip to the mainland a journey of peace - saying he hopes it will help the two sides work towards reconciliation after more than half a century of conflict. "I hope the journey will contribute in whatever small way towards mutual assistance, mutual concern, and the creation of a win-win situation," he said.
The BBC's Caroline Gluck, in Taipei, said there were chaotic scenes and scuffles inside the airport before Mr Lien left as supporters and opponents of his visit clashed. At least two people were injured and had to be taken to hospital in the fighting, in which firecrackers, eggs, water bottles and bamboo sticks were used as weapons. Opponents chanted that Mr Lien was "selling Taiwan out" by going on the trip, our correspondent said. The two groups had to be separated by heavily armed police, but Mr Lien avoided the trouble entirely having been taken into the airport via a VIP entrance.
The government, initially strongly critical, is now cautiously backing the trip. President Chen Shui-bian has said visits to China by opposition leaders would have his blessing if they acted according to the law and did not sign agreements with Beijing without government authorisation. Another opposition leader, James Soong, head of the pro-unification People First Party, also accepted an invitation to visit the mainland, and traveled to China in May 2005.
In March 2007, Reuters reported: “China denounced Taiwan's latest talk of independence as "deliberate provocation" and "a dangerous step" that does not take into account consequences for territory Beijing claims as its own. Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said that the self-ruled island should pursue independence and change its official title, "the Republic of China", prompting its key ally, the United States, to express concern. "It once again demonstrates that Chen is a politician with no credibility," China's policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement posted on its Web site, referring to Chen's pledges not to change the status quo when he took power in 2000. [Source: Reuters, March 6, 2007]
In October 2007, Chen launches torch relay to promote Taiwan UN bid. The relay began around the same time Beijing launched its torch relay for the 2008 Olympics. In March 2008, a referendum in Taiwan on whether the island should try to join the United Nations failed.
Taiwan Closes Chiang Kai-shek Mausoleum
In December 2007, authorities closed the mausoleum of Chiang Kai-shek as part of the ruling party's vigorous campaign to diminish the legacy of the late leader. Associated Press reported: “The Defense Ministry ordered the guards to pull out and closed the spacious mausoleum in Taoyuan in northern Taiwan, shutting out dozens of people hoping to pay their respects. Chiang’s 1975 burial in the mausoleum was meant to be temporary -- until the Nationalists could one day return to rule the mainland. President Chen Shui-bian told a political rally that closing the mausoleum would save taxpayers' money. But the move also comes amid a campaign by Chen's Democratic Progressive Party to wipe out the late leader's legacy. Authorities have renamed the Chiang Kai-shek international airport and park commemorating Chiang in the capital, Taipei. [Source: AP, December 24, 2007]
“DPP officials say the democratic island should stop honoring a dictator. But many members of the Nationalist Party -- now the main opposition -- say Chiang blocked a communist invasion and contributed to the island's security and economic development. Chen's government had planned to rebury Chiang's remains at a military cemetery near Taipei. Some of his relatives objected, saying Chiang should be buried in his hometown in China's eastern Zhejiang Province. But other Nationalists have objected to a burial on the mainland as long as the political standoff continues with China, suggesting Chiang's body would stay in the mausoleum.” [Ibid]
Chen Shui-ban’s Legacy
Chen Shui-ban completed his second term in 2008 when his party was voted out of power and the new president was a member of the Kuomintang, the opposition party when Chen was in power. In 2009, after Chen Shui-ban was found guilty on corruption charges, Sin-ming Shaw wrote in The Guardian, “Chen preached patriotism but practised self-interest. Now he's serving a life sentence for corruption. Chen had been caught stealing millions of dollars of public funds. He did not act alone. His wife (who also received a life sentence), children, and other relatives all helped to hide the stolen loot in overseas accounts. Taiwan's former first family turned out to be a den of common thieves. Chen and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party camouflaged their personal and parochial financial interests behind the patriotic mask of ensuring the survival of a democratic Chinese society in an independent Taiwan. For years, Chen was perceived as a brave David fighting the communist Goliath, and attracted many admirers around the world (including me at one point). [Source: Sin-ming Shaw, The Guardian, September 28, 2009. Sin-ming Shaw is a former visiting scholar of history at Oxford and Harvard.+=+]
“Presenting himself and his party as champions of democracy, Chen sought to create the impression among Taiwan's voters that their freedom would perish in the hands of the Kuomintang (KMT) or any party other than his own. But in fact, it was the late President Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who instituted the unprecedented democratic reforms that paved the way for the eventual electoral triumph of Chen's formerly banned DPP. +=+
Chen's personal wealth grew conspicuously shortly after he assumed office, but no one could produce hard evidence of his corruption back then. His political supporters initially brushed aside the mushrooming rumours of his self-enrichment as opposition KMT propaganda. But, one by one, most of the DPP's founding fathers all left the party, accusing Chen of corruption and autocratic behaviour even within his own party which Chen dismissed as sour grapes from people who wanted their share of the political spoils. +=+
“In fact, Chen was always more concerned with consolidating his own power than with defending Taiwan. His most controversial political moves were aimed at his domestic opponents, not at the Chinese government on the mainland. He led a vicious campaign to portray all Taiwanese with mainland Chinese roots, even if born and bred in Taiwan, as untrustworthy carpetbaggers wai shen ren, or "not native people" as if they were aliens from a different culture. +=+
“This official effort to portray native "Taiwanese" as a separate ethnic group, with scant relation to Chinese culture, was extended to language, as Chen favored using the Fujian dialect in lieu of the Mandarin spoken by 1.3bn Chinese and taught all over the world. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education sought to expunge all references to China in school textbooks. So insistent was Chen's campaign that it reminded some people of Mao's Cultural Revolution, a time when Chinese were divided into "us" and "them." Indeed, under Chen's policy, Taiwan nearly became a rigidly divided society, where "local" and "not native" Chinese lived as potential enemies.
Taiwan's sole aboriginal parliamentarian once provided the logical rebuttal to Chen and the DPP, delivering a speech to a packed Congress entirely in his native tongue, which nobody else in the chamber could understand. The message was obvious: his was the only group with a legitimate claim to being native Taiwanese. +=+
“In the end, Chen's effort was as futile as it was foolish. The Chinese culture embodied in the daily lives of 23m Taiwanese of whatever political beliefs was not so easily eliminated by decree. Moreover, the attempt to do so angered the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese, who finally understood the stupidity of Chen's policy, particularly how it led to economic stagnation at a time when mainland China was booming. Indeed, Taiwanese capital and know-how built much of China's hi-tech industries, and well over a half-million Taiwanese live and work near Shanghai in a virtual replica of Hsin Chu, Taiwan's Silicon Valley. But in Chen's Taiwan, domestic squabbles took precedence over economic development. Chen invariably blamed the KMT for blocking sensible economic plans, but even some of his moneyed supporters knew better. +=+
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015