Open letter to Taiwan’s president

Published in Taipei Times on Thursday, May 21, 2009.
Dear President Ma,
On the occasion of the first anniversary of your presidency, we, the undersigned, scholars and writers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, wish to publicly address our concerns to you about a number of trends in Taiwan, as well as several specific developments.
We raise these issues as international supporters of Taiwan’s democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation-state. As you recall, we voiced concerns on three previous occasions, most recently in a letter to you, Mr President, dated Jan. 17, 2009, in which we expressed our concern regarding the fairness of the judicial system in Taiwan.
These concerns have not been alleviated by either the response from Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) or the cessation of troubling, flawed and partial judicial proceedings, in particular involving the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
We reiterate that any alleged corruption must be investigated, but emphasize that the judicial process needs to be scrupulously fair and impartial. In the case of the former president, it is evident that the prosecution is heavily tainted by political bias, and that the former president is being treated badly out of spite for the political views and the positions he took during his presidency. Such retribution does not bode well for a young and fragile democracy, as Taiwan is.
The second issue that we feel we need to highlight is press freedom. In spite of earlier expressions of concern by international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, there continue to be reports of impingement on press freedom by your administration. A case in point is the recent disturbing report that Central News Agency staff were instructed to write only “positive” stories about the policies of your administration, and that reports containing criticism of your administration or China were excised.
As supporters of a free and democratic Taiwan it is disheartening to see that in the annual report on press freedom by the New York-based Freedom House, Taiwan dropped from 32nd to 43rd place. In addition, it is disconcerting to see reports that groups with close ties to China are buying their way into Taiwan’s media circles, gaining a controlling voice in major publications such as the China Times. We need to remind ourselves that China is still an authoritarian state with a long history of control of the news media. Its financial influence in Taiwan’s free press will in the long run be detrimental to hard-won freedoms.
This leads us to a third general issue: the means by which rapprochement with China is being pursued. While most people in Taiwan and overseas agree that a reduction of tension in the Taiwan Strait is beneficial, it is crucial to do this in a manner befitting a democratic nation: with openness and full public debate. Only if there is sufficient transparency and true dialogue — both in the Legislative Yuan and in society as a whole — will the result be supported by a significant majority of the people.
Transparency and true dialogue have been lacking in the process. Decisions and agreements are arrived at in secrecy and then simply announced to the public. The Legislative Yuan seems to have been sidelined, having little input in the form or content of the agreements, such as the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA). The administration simply sends to the legislature the texts agreed to in the negotiations with the People’s Republic of China, allowing virtually no possibility of discussion of the pros and cons of such agreements. This undermines the system of checks and balances, which is so essential to a mature democracy. We may mention that recent opinion polls show overwhelming support for a referendum on an ECFA and for better legislative oversight of China policy.
Mr President, as international scholars and writers who have followed Taiwan’s impressive transition to democracy during the past two decades, we know the sensitivity in Taiwan of the issue of relations with China. Rapprochement needs to be carried out in a way that ensures that the achievements of the democratic movement are safeguarded, that the political divide within Taiwan is reduced and that Taiwan’s sovereignty, human rights and democracy are protected and strengthened.
However, during the past year we have seen that the policies of your administration are being implemented in a way that is causing deep anxiety, particularly among many who fought for Taiwan’s democracy two decades ago. This was evident in the large-scale rallies held in Taipei and Kaohsiung on Sunday.
We have also seen a further polarization in society due to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances. Many observers believe that the rapprochement with China has occurred at the expense of Taiwan’s sovereignty, democracy and freedoms. To some, the judicial practices and police behavior toward those who criticize your policies are even reminiscent of the dark days of martial law.
In this respect, symbols are important. It does not help that your administration has renamed National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall in Taipei back to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It doesn’t bolster your case that the funding for the Chingmei Human Rights Memorial in Sindian (新店) has been cut drastically and that the location is being turned into a “cultural” park. It doesn’t help that changes are being made to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) that infringe on freedoms of protesters instead of enhancing freedom of speech.
Mr President, we appeal to you to take measures that alleviate these concerns. A first step would be to initiate and implement reforms in the judicial system that safeguard the human rights of the accused and ensure a fair trial. A second step would be to guarantee complete press freedom, and instill in those engaged in the media the determination to live up to the highest standards.
Thirdly, rapprochement with China needs to be brought about in such a way that the people of Taiwan have a full say in determining their future as a free and democratic nation. Closed-door deals that bring Taiwan increasingly into China’s sphere of influence are detrimental to Taiwan’s future and undermine the democratic fabric of society.
Due to its complex history, Taiwan has not had the opportunity to be accepted as a full and equal member of the international family of nations. We believe the people of Taiwan have worked hard for their democracy, and that the international community should accept Taiwan in its midst. Your actions and policies can help the island and its people move in the right direction. We urge you to do so.
Respectfully yours,
Former chairman, American Institute in Taiwan
Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Washington
Associate Professor of Political Science, China and Taiwan Studies, University of Lyon
Author, The Coming Collapse of China June Teufel Dreyer
Professor of Political Science, University of Miami
Chairman, Taiwan Corner, Copenhagen, Denmark
Executive Director, Formosa Foundation, Los Angeles
Professor of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University
Professor Emeritus of History, Hamline University
Author and associate professor (ret.),
National Taipei University
Former Canadian member of parliament and secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific
Visiting Fellow, The Brookings Institution, Washington
Emeritus Reader at the University of London, Great Britain
Professor of Chinese Language and Literature,
University of Pennsylvania
Associate Professor of Political Science, Austin College
Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Manitoba
Associate Professor, Department of International Trade, Overseas Chinese Institute of Technology; and Editor, Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia
York Center for Asia Research, Toronto, Canada
Professor of Economics, City College of New York
Professor of Law,Georgetown University
Former senior research
fellow, The Heritage
Foundation, Washington
Arthur Waldron
Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania
Professor of Political Science, University of Richmond
Editor, Taiwan Communiqué
Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics, and
Visiting Scholar, George
Washington University
President, DC Asia Advisory, and former deputy assistant to the US vice president for national security affairs