Monday, October 21, 2013

The Tourism Bureau’s assault on Falun Gong ... and our intelligence

A nationwide directive targeting the Falun Gong backfires, and the government’s explanation shows that the administration believes we are all imbeciles

One characteristic of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration that has manifested itself time and again is its tendency to issue a directive, assess the public reaction and, if the latter is negative and it becomes apparent that the government won’t be able to get away with it, attribute the matter entirely to “administrative errors” or “junior” officials. By doing so, the government itself is never to blame for bad policies, and senior officials — President Ma himself — never have to face the consequences.

The latest incident (the whole wiretap mess aside) involves the Tourism Bureau, which on September 26 issues a directive to local governments nationwide to help remove the placards, banners and posters of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that have sprouted at the main tourist attractions where Chinese tourists tend to flock, such as Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei and the Chikan Tower in Tainan. According to the directive, the signs — which usually contain pictures of past and present Chinese officials accused of crimes against followers of the movement, as well as bloody images of the victims of such repression — are “unsightly” and undermine “Taiwan’s international image.” The bureau allegedly took action after receiving complaints from individuals who are unnamed, but whose political stance (or origin) we can easily guess.

As should be expected in a democracy, the Falun Gong, along with representatives of human rights organizations and legislators, pointed out that the directive was an affront to Taiwan’s democracy and individuals’ freedom of expression. With a small dose of hyperbole, National Taiwan University professor Chang Chin-hwa (張錦華) went as far as to call the measure “fascist.”

Facing the backlash, the Tourism Bureau adopted the Ma administration’s usual formula, explaining that the directive was a mistake by a “rookie official” who had been on the job for a little more than a month. A revised directive would be issued within a week, it said.

This was straight out of the Ma administration playbook: A new policy, this one evidently intended to please the tourism industry as well as the Chinese by removing an inconvenient reminder of CCP repression, backfired, and once it attracted criticism, the whole thing was blamed on a low-ranking scapegoat. And as always, the government hopes that the public will swallow its facile explanations and forgive it the administrative error. Unfortunately for Ma and his friends, people are less and less inclined to believe what it says, especially when the government obviously takes the public for idiots.

Are we really to believe that a rookie official, with less than two months experience at the bureau, had the power, the permission, and the ability to issue a nationwide directive to local governments, one that has repercussions both in terms of politics and freedom of speech? Really? Anyone who has worked in government knows the extent to which the system is weighed down by red tape, forms, and endless chains of approval before anything can happen. This writer experienced this firsthand when he worked for the Canadian government: Even three years into the job, he still required the approval of his immediate supervisor in writing before he could order coffee and donuts for the next day’s meetings with FBI officials, let alone before interacting with municipal or provincial governments.

And yet we are supposed to accept the story that a rookie was capable of singlehandedly issuing a binding directive to governments round the nation, something that clearly requires the approval of senior officials not only within the bureau — which has turned into one of Beijing’s favorite prostitutes in Taiwan — but quite possibly above it as well.    

This government has once again demonstrated its contempt for the public, which it evidently takes for imbeciles. (Photo by the author, Anping Fort, Tainan)

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