Tang Ben Forum
But in Taiwan people watch another historically repetitive, if rather less-elevating performance: They watch how many times President Chen Shui-bian has had to apologize to the nation. And this has almost become Taiwanís silly national pastime
In Asia, to be sure, an official apology in general is not necessarily a bad thing. In small quantities ?on rare occasions ?it can demonstrate a sincere respect for public opinion, a proper sense of shame, and an appropriate attempt to regain dignity.
The most notable recent example of a classic Asian apology actually took place in New York, where superstar baseball player Hideki Matsui apologized to management, teammates and to his many adoring fans for sustaining an injury that would keep him out of the lineup for months. Even though the injury was an accident, suffered during a game in a fearless effort to make a difficult diving catch, the proud Yankee wanted to say how sorry he felt to have to be removed from the battle.
On the other hand, sometimes the Asian apology, especially when they come in large numbers, month after month, year after year, are less personally ennobling than shameful. This is the case with President Chen, first elected by the good people of Taiwan in March 2000.
In these last six years Taiwanís president has apologized something like 13 times for 10 different alleged broken promises, misdeeds or misconducts, the latter mostly attributed to family members.
One round of apologies revolved around his wife over allegations of
illegal stock trading, another involved a relative accused of corruption,
This is getting embarrassing.
It is a dishonorable son-in-law drama that is on center stage right now, entertaining all of Asia and serving to remind the entire world that the Chen presidency, taken as a whole, has not exactly amounted to Taiwanís finest moment. The latest: Chao Chien-ming, the husband of Chenís daughter, was handcuffed and officially detained by law-enforcement authorities earlier this week on allegations of insider stock trading.
The apology scorecard was not nearly so over-the-top during the administration of Chenís predecessor, President Lee Teng-hui --- only official 6 apologies for 5 miscues in 12 years, according to one count.
And as Chenís opposition is calling for resignation, his die-hard supporters point out that none of the corruption allegations have touched Chen personally. And, at this writing, incumbent President Chen actually has not yet issued his 14th official apology.
But perhaps the world wonít have to wait too long. Itís as if Chen believes that the more he apologies, the more credible he becomes. The apology becomes an act almost of spiritual rejuvenation and public redemption.
It didnít start this lowly way at all for this once-ultra-promising, pro-independence leader, former mayor of Taipei and driving force behind the so-called ďgreen?Democratic Progressive Party. On the contrary, his election in March 2000 was a thrilling moment in the nationís history. After decades of domination by the heavy-handed KMT party ?whose rule was absolutely ugly and notorious prior to the dramatic democratization of the late ?0s -- the DPP came in as a breath of fresh air. And it came into power in a remarkable demonstration of democratic regime-change without any bloodshed at all.
Right away, it initiated a needed process of internal reform and external redefinition. The former made a lot of sense, but the latter created new international strain. For in his effort to push Taiwan away from China and closer to formal independence, Chen made Beijing very angry and Washington very nervous. The most recent irritation was the formal scrapping of Taiwanís unification council. The unification council was a symbol of the effort to reduce cross-strait relations and move forward toward some kind of political settlement.
In recent years, China has embarked on a significant buildup of its military, and the U.S. has had to work hard to keep Chen from making moves that might somehow trigger Beijing to use that new capability against Chenís Taiwan.
But it now looks as if Chenís domestic stewardship has been no better than his foreign-policy management. For if good government means never having to say youíre sorry, the Chen administration is one of the sorrier governments around.
One thing is for sure: Many people in Taiwan would prefer that he stop apologizing and start governing. They are sick of the apology spectacle, embarrassed by it all, and waiting for the day two years from now when Chen and his crowd are out of office.
Beijing and Washington are sharing the same settlements. It looks increasingly probable that they will get their wish.
UCLA Prof. Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is a veteran American journalist.
Tom Plate, 2006. Distributed by the UCLA Media Center.
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