Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Chen Shui-bian case and foreign meddling

Former president Chen receives a medical checkup
Unless Taiwanese themselves mobilize to secure medical parole for the former president, lecturing by foreign visitors will fall on deaf ears 

The issue of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) detention and mounting health problems is not going away, not because the majority of Taiwanese are concerned about the welfare of the former president, but because it is being kept alive by a small group of (no doubt well intentioned) individuals who are trying to internationalize the matter. Sadly, for both those people and for Chen, their efforts have proven counterproductive.

Every day, as I scan various database for pictures to put in the next day’s newspaper, I come upon a handful of shots from outside Taipei Prison, where Chen is serving an 18.5-year prison sentence for corruption, or hospital where he receives examinations and treatment. Every day, the pictures involve no more than 10 or 15 individuals aged between 50 and 70, which sometimes includes Chen’s mother. It’s always the same people. As such, claims by US-based organizations that there is a “wide consensus” in Taiwan that Chen should be granted medical parole are bogus. For the great majority of Taiwanese, it’s evident that Chen’s case is of little concern to them.

It also doesn’t help Chen that a good number of the invariably Caucasian foreigners who passed through Taipei to visit him and to pressure the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration in recent months were already discredited by past deeds. I fail to see how a former Republican congressman who, for all intents and purposes, had been kicked out of his party, and who is known for his xenophobic and racist views, can show up in Taiwan and purport to defend Chen’s human rights. Or for a former US attorney general, known for defending genocidal maniacs who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own, can visit Taipei and still pretend to have enough moral authority to lecture Taipei on human decency.

The support in Taiwan for Chen’s medical parole is so small that it’s easy for the Ma administration to ignore it and to further harden its views, especially when “white” meddlers and would-be saviors of the poor little innocent Taiwanese butt in. Taiwanese are not idiots, and they don’t need external intervention to be able to tell right from wrong. Nor is their compassion limitless. When Chen’s son, the rather politically naïve Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), admitted on TV last week that his family had used political donations to purchase condos in the US — one for him to live in, the other as “investment” — it’s difficult to imagine that Taiwanese, even Chen supporters, didn’t feel betrayed or did not conclude that Chen and his family deserved their sentences.

Unless large enough a number of Taiwanese in Taiwan start mobilizing for Chen’s release on medical parole and provide conclusive evidence that he, unlike other prisoners in Taiwan, is being held in sub-standard conditions, the Ma administration will not feel compelled to shift its views. Adding to the list of discredited foreign visitors who usually know little, if anything, about Taiwan will not help. In fact, it risks producing the opposite results. Absent such conditions, time, resources and money — and good people’s good intentions — will be wasted fueling an exercise in futility. And Chen, if his medical condition truly requires his removal from prison, will continue to waste away.

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