Can Taiwan Shrug Off the Lee Teng-hui Complex?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 25, 2011
Two ruling party changes have taken place on Taiwan. But over the past ten years, democracy on Taiwan has remained mired in web of contradictions. On the one hand, both the ruling and opposition parties praise the passing of the baton. On the other hand, the replacement rate for politicians is surprisingly low. Over the past decade, this has resulted in a "Lee Teng-hui Complex," and even an inability to escape the influence of the "Lee Teng-hui Era." Althought he has retired, this nonagenarian continues attempting to play the role of kingmaker.
Lee was the first president of the Republic of China born on Taiwan. No one can ignore Lee Teng-hui's contribution to democracy. Before leaving office, he said his greatest wish was to be a missionary. Who knew that within six months, he would found the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU)? In the beginning, the purpose of the TSU was to induce the Nativist faction to defect from the KMT. When this attempt failed, the TSU became an independent bastion for the Taiwan independence camp. Within a year, it shattered successor Chen Shui-bian's "new centrist path."
Ah-bian was in power for eight years. On the surface, he and Lee were got along swimmingly. In fact, relations were strained to the breaking point. Ah-Bian both solicited his opinion, and intimidated him. He dared not confront Lee outright of course, The TSU virtually became the DPP's policy maker. In order to crank up election sentiment and bolster support for Taiwan independence, the DPP was forced to follow the TSU's lead on such issues as joining the United Nations or making referenda part of the election process. This remains true even today. The TSU no longer has a single seat in the legislature. But because it unites the Taiwan independence movement, it continues to exert a powerful attraction on the DPP. DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen can subtly snub Chen Shui-bian. But she must cling to Lee Teng-hui for dear life.
Even stranger is the effect Lee Teng-hui has on the KMT. It is similar to the effect James Soong has on the KMT. Both have an influence that cannot be ignored. One reason is that Lee is too adept at political intrigue. Either that, or the middle-aged elites within the Blue and Green camps are far too inept. Over the past decade, they have allowed Lee Teng-hui to political developments by dropping rhetorical bombshells and by staging media events.
James Soong was once powerful because of Lee Teng-hui. He fell from grace, also because of Lee Teng-hui. The key issue was not that Lee froze the Taiwan Provincial Government. The key issue was that during the 2000 Republic of China Presidential Election. Lee either acquiesced or conspired in leaking information about the Chung Hsing Bills case and US real estate registered in the name of James Soong's son. Lee and Sung have many scores to settle. Thirteen years after their battle over the freezing of the Taiwan Provincial Government, James Soong attended Lee Teng-hui's birthday party. He even felt compelled to thank Lee Teng-hui for making him "the one and only governor." Had he known this is how things would turn out, James Soong need not have turned against Lee Teng-hui so many years ago. He could have obediently allowed Lee Teng-hui to plan his political future, and the political arena on Taiwan would look very different today.
Lee Teng-hui made good use of James Soong. But he also pulled the rug out from under him, Lee refused to allow Soong to run for president, because Soong was a "Mainlander." "At most he can be Premier." But neither did Lee appoint Soong to his cabinet. Instead he allowed Vincent Siew, Soong's good friend, to assume that role. From that moment on, Siew and Soong were strangers. Today Lee praises Soong as "the best administrator ever," It is even rumored that Lee Teng-hui urged Tsai Ing-wen to make James Soong a member of her cabinet. This has left both the Blue and Green camps dumbfounded. James Soong has ironically become best pawn in Lee Teng-hui's effort to divide the Blue Camp.
The Ma administration assumed office three years ago. Lee Teng-hui has repeatedly criticized the Ma administration for "pandering to [Mainland] China and selling out Taiwan." As a result, democracy on Taiwan has undergone regression. Lee seems to have forgotten that of all the Presidents of the ROC who served on Taiwan, he was the only one who ever joined the Communist Party. He seems to have forgotten that he was the one who dispatched a "cross-Strait emissary" to Beijing during his term. He was the one who wanted the Uni-President Corporation to grow tomatoes on the Mainland. He was the one who suggested that Chi Mei set up factories on the Mainland. He accused the Ma administration of "forfeiting the nation's sovereignty." But he seems to have forgotten his own years in power. How many nations offered the ROC visa-free entry back then? He seems to have forgotten that his state visits to allies were made possible only by means of spendthrift checkbook diplomacy, and that he left behind the foul stench of secret national security accounts.
Lee Teng-hui's intense power lust undermined his policy expertise. Consider another example. Lee Teng-hui is an expert in agricultural economy. He contributed to Taiwan's economic development. But during his term the largest peasant movement in history took place. In 2004 Lee blasted Lien and Soong, accusing them of not understanding agriculture. He also blasted Beijing for "dumping" agricultural products on Taiwan. But he seems to have forgotten it was the Chen administration that permitted the importation of Mainland produce to Taiwan, not Lien and Soong.
Today he is blasting the Ma administration, saying that its "small landlord, big tenant farmer" policy was bungled. He trumpets the "80,000 strong army of peasants" during his term as Taiwan Provincial Governor. He argues that there are now 300,000 jia worth of fallow land, calling it such a pity. He seems to have forgotten that he first served as governor, then as vice president, then as president. He was in power for twelve years, Why was the "scale up in order to reduce costs" policy he advocated unsustainable? We have not even mentioned how the scale of agriculture on Taiwan began shrinking during his term of office.
Lee lived through colonial rule and the white terror, Lee has a strong sense of political mission. He has strong feelings about the direction the nation should take. During his term, he advocated "terminating the alien regime," remaking the KMT as a "Nativist" political party, and underscoring "Taiwan's sovereignty." Whether one agrees with his rhetorical style and content, no one can challenge his "Taiwanese values." Lee has already written an unforgettable page in Taiwan's history. Why does he feel compelled to add a footnote that provokes so much unnecessary controversy?
Blue and Green politicians who consider themselves new generation political leaders, may defer to this elder, who once commanded the forces of nature. But they need no longer dance to his tune, Otherwise, what future is there for politics on Taiwan?