Chang Hsien-yao Incident Must Not Become a Drowning Incident
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 27, 2014
Summary: The political fallout from the Chang Hsien-yao leaks case continues.
Some pundits would repudiate the past six years of improved cross-Strait
relations. This sort of cheap political calculus must be thoroughly
discredited. Did Chang Hsien-yao leak secrets? He is a key government
negotiator. If he betrayed his duties as a civil servant, he must be
severely punished. The public is advised to remain calm. The facts will eventually emerge
and a reasonable judgment will be made. The ruling KMT must reflect on
its lack of crisis management skills. It must learn from its mistakes
and avoid such pitfalls in the future.
Full Text Below:
The political fallout from the Chang Hsien-yao leaks case continues. Some pundits would repudiate the past six years of improved cross-Strait relations. This sort of cheap political calculus must be thoroughly discredited. Did Chang Hsien-yao leak secrets? He is a key government negotiator. If he betrayed his duties as a civil servant, he must be severely punished.
The Ma administration has been in office for six years. Cross-Strait relations are the best they have been in 60 years. The administration's achievements include direct flights, Mainland tourists coming to Taiwan, cooperation in combating crime, and 21 signed agreements. These are all objective achievements that stand up to scrutiny in the harsh light of day. How can suspected leaks by a solitary individual negate these accomplishments in cross-Strait relations? How can they invalidate past agreements signed by both sides? We must reaffirm out fundamental direction, then return to the specifics of the event. We must reflect on the government's crisis management skills, and consider improvements.
The more open and transparent a society is, the more important government and corporate crisis management becomes. In particular, those agencies responsible for national security crisis prevention and management must be watertight. There is no room for error. Consider the current case. When Chang Hsien-yao's superiors learned of the leaks, what did they do? According to the ABCs of crisis management, they must ask three questions. How strong is the evidence? How much damage will the leaks do? How should the leaks be explained to the public? Consider the Ma administration's perspective. Any evidence presented suggesting that Chang Hsien-yao leaked secrets must be concrete and specific. If they are, then Chang must be removed from office. That is as it should be. But the executive branch is not the criminal justice system. All it can do is impose administrative sanctions and cope with the political repercussions. Whether the evidence warrants criminal prosecution is not within the purvue of the Ma administration. The administration is obligated to presume innocence and await the verdict of the criminal justice system.
Alas, public opinion is unwilling to allow the government to wait and see. When Chang Hsien-yao was about to be fired, the reason became clear. We must then confront the second question. How much damage will the leaks do? The damage is threefold. One. Damage to Chang Hsien-yao's reputation. Two. Damage to the government's credibility. Three. Damage to the future of cross-Strait relations. This is going to be a real shocker. Another question is when were the leaks uncovered? If the leak was uncovered before the facts were ascertained, the shock effect will be multiplied. Therefore it is easy to understand why Wang Yu-chi would consult with Chang Hsien-yao as chairman, and cite family considerations as his reason for leaving. One. This would buy time to investigate. Two. It would be consistent with the presumption of innocence. It would protect Chang's reputation and interests during the investigation. Three. It would minimize the damage to the credibility of the Ma administration and to cross-Strait relations.
Once this understanding with Chang was reached, the issue entered the third stage. How should the leaks be explained to the public? The Ma administration underestimated Chang Hsien-yao's reaction. It did not expect Chang to violate the understanding, then bring down the Ma adminstration along with himself.
Some say that Chang Hsien-yao, as chairman of the board, wanted the leak case settled privately. This allegation is questionable. President Ma never compromises with illegal conduct. Others say that given the sequence of events, a private settlement would not have required Wang Yu-chi to mention leaks to Chang. The Ma administration clearly had no intention of settling the matter privately. Chang Hsien-yao knew his situation was perilous. That is why he made a huge splash and presented his case to the public. But the Ma administration is in the habit of backing down. This led to one-sided public criticism. It lost control of the incident. The government should learn a lesson from the crisis.
One. When dealing with a crisis, the number one concern must be public perception. Wang Yu-chi was chairman. Settling the matter privately would have been inappropriate. Doing so would have left a bad impression on the public. Ignoring public perception undermines the legitimacy of one's other, legitimate actions. One forces those who might have spoken up for the government to remain silent. During crisis management, the first question to ask oneself is whether the public will buy it?
Two. Human nature is difficult to fathom. One must be accurate in one's perceptions. Were Chang Hsien-yao's leaks serious? Chang himself knows best. He appears confident of his innocence. It's possible he lashed back merely because he feared being defamed. On the other hand, if he knew he was guilty, he might fight back even more desperately. Chang's office would have been provided him with s ammunition. The key to crisis management is understanding human nature. This is a lesson that the Ma government must learn.
Three. Assuming both sides are prepared, an organized team will prevail over a lone individual. Chang Hsien-yao fell out with the Ma administration. He refused to follow the Ma administration's script. This made the situation even more chaotic. The Bureau of Investigation later denied that it had accused him of being a "Communist agent" or of committing "treason." But the media had already published these reports in black and white. This left the waters seriously muddied. The government team fragmented into ten one man operations, confusing the message even further. Conspiracy theories proliferated, making the crisis still worse. First it showed that the government's crisis management was inadequate. Then it showed that the government's lateral communications in normal times was equally weak.
Four. Damage control must prevent someone choking on water from drowning in water. The opposition DPP is sharpening its knives. Chang Hsien-yao has counterattacked. The two sides of the Strait remain shrouded in fog. The crisis continues. The Ma administration must tread lightly. It cannot afford mistakes. It must redirect attention to the bigger picture and stop the hemorraging as soon as possible. The government's credibility has take a huge hit. It must not allow cross-Strait relations to go from choking on water to drowning in it. That would be a disaster.
Five. The Ma administration must stop being so cowardly. Allowing Wang to resign will destroy the Ma administration's credibility. Some are demanding that Wang Yu-chi step down. Ma government should not dance to their tune. The focus should be on the justice system. It must uncover the facts behind the leak. If the Ma administration repeatedly retreats in a cowardly fashion and forces Wang to step down, even before the justice system has released its findings, then it is effectively admitting that this is a political struggle and not a leak. This would wipe out any remaining shred of the Ma administration's credibility.
We would call also on the Mainland authorities to exercise restraint. It must avoid any miscalculation that would unwittingly help those attempting to undermine cross-Strait relations. The opposition DPP is wallowing in Schadenfreude. Its opportunistic political rhetoric can be laid to rest. The public is advised to remain calm. The facts will eventually emerge and a reasonable judgment will be made. The ruling KMT must reflect on its lack of crisis management skills. It must learn from its mistakes and avoid such pitfalls in the future.