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Taiwan and China at the Crossroads of History

New America Media, News analysis, George Koo Posted: Nov 17, 2008

Editors note: Taiwan and China, historical enemies, are moving closer to real diplomatic ties, while Taiwans former president, a strong supporter for Taiwans independence, has been arrested for corruption. Dr. George Koo is a retired international business consultant and a board member of New America Media.

Two historic moments are being recorded in Taiwan. The first involves economic talks between Taiwan and Beijing. It marks the first time when an official from Beijing met with the elected leader of Taiwan since the Nationalist government fled the mainland and set up headquarters in Taiwan.

The second event is not a proud one. After months of dodging and weaving, former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, a vociferous opponent of closer ties with China, was finally taken to jail on November 12 to face charges of corruption.

Chen is accused of embezzling NT$14.8 million (about $400,000) in secret state funds, laundering US$21 million in funds abroad and accepting as yet undetermined millions of New Taiwan dollars under the table from Taiwan businessmen.

He admitted that his wife transferred $21 million to secret Swiss accounts, but without his knowledge. Furthermore, he said he had done nothing wrong and the money rightfully belonged to him anyway.

Besides proclaiming his innocence, he mounted an offense accusing the prosecution and the judiciary of acting as pawns of the ruling political party, Kuomingtang, KMT, to turn him into a political scapegoat. Chen claimed that by discrediting him, the KMT hoped to discredit his party, the Democratic Progressive Party, DPP, before the people of Taiwan.

While the leaders of the DPP opposition have protested the undignified arrest of Chen and questioned the necessity of having to handcuff him like a common criminal, no one among the DPP leadership has stepped forward to vouch for Chens integrity and veracity.

Chen was the 12th in a long line of people arrested in connection with the investigation of corruption during his term of office. All the arrests that preceded him were members of his staff, officials that reported to him, or friends and family. Other members of his immediate family, including his wife, have been forbidden to leave Taiwan pending further investigation and court appearances.

The week before his arrest, Chen Yunlin, Beijings chief cross-strait negotiator came to Taiwan to sign several breakthrough agreements and meet briefly with Ma Ying-jeou, the current president of Taiwan.

The agreements will increase daily flights from Taiwan to more destinations on the mainland and all flights will be direct and not have to detour over Hong Kong airspace. Direct shipping will be allowed as well as improved mail service and better assurance of food safety. This became known as the four agreements.

The agreements could prove to be historically important in furthering cross-strait economic cooperation. The meeting with Ma could mark the symbolic beginning of the eventual cross-strait unification.

For weeks leading up to this cross-strait summit, the DPP had staged a number of public protests in the name of Taiwan independence and sovereignty. Chen Shui-bian, though uninvited by the organizers, was active and prominent in these agitations. The DPP-led protesters even trapped Chen Yunlin in a hotel where a hosted banquet was taking place and the Beijing official was not allowed to leave for eight hours.

Despite such vociferous protest by the opposition, polls revealed that less than 17% of the Taiwanese population opposed the four agreements. Less than 26% of the people supported the DPP protest while over 59% did not.

After Taiwans security force came to arrest Chen Shui-bian, he made one last attempt to avoid jail by complaining that he was injured by rough handling from the police. Chen was promptly taken to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed a slight muscle strain due to over exertion of his shoulders. He apparently strained his shoulders trying to show his handcuffs to the media.

Since Chen became inmate #2630, he began a hunger strike, protesting that he had become a political prisoner of the KMT. He was again hospitalized for extreme dehydration. Shih Ming-teh, former chairman of DPP and former political prisoner under KMT, dismissed Chens antics, saying that his refusal to eat will not transform Chen from a suspect in corruption and money laundering into a political prisoner.

History will not have to wait long for a verdict on Chen. If convicted, Chen could spend the next 10 to 30 years of his life in prison. If not, he could be the martyr of his dream.

The importance of Mas meeting with the Beijing official, on the other hand, will take longer to assess. If the historic meeting and economic agreements become the foundation of ever-closer integration across the straits, the memory of the first meeting will fade, to be replaced by a succession of higher profile summits and official proclamations.

Related Articles:

Former Taiwan Presidents Family Laundering Money

Flights begin between Taiwan and Mainland China

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