Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lee Wen Ho, Chinese and China: Another Inconvenient Truth

- Campaigns in Iowa are heating up. (I am getting numerous phone-calls every day from "Iowans for XXX.") But what about all the fuzz on trade and China?

By Thomas Huang

I still remember the summer of 1999, when newspapers, cable networks and websites in China filled their headlines with stories about the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia by the US-led NATO forces and images of frenzied students protesting the atrocities of “American Imperialists.” Six months later came the case of Dr. LEE Wen Ho, a Taiwan-born Chinese American wrongfully accused of spying for Beijing.

At that time, these events were beyond what my seventh-grade mind could possibly interpret. Eight years later, when I had a chance to revisit Dr. Lee’s story, I was struck by the tribulations that still traumatize many newcomers who embark on their journey to the New World with unwithered American dreams. Dr. Lee’s case is another inconvenient truth, not only for the then-Secretary of Energy, Mr. Bill Richardson, but also for the many native-born citizens in this country who forget how their own ancestors came here as immigrants.

Yet beneath the turbulence of ethnic politics, a greater problem is that, as long as the two countries, China (Mainland) the United States, cannot comfortably trust each other, mistrust toward the first-generation Chinese Americans, especially those who work with politically sensitive, state-of-arts technologies like Dr. Lee, will persist in every corner of the social and political paradigm. Similarly, the several E-Coli-contaminated food recalls this year by American companies from domestic markets certainly cannot compete with the similar incidents on Chinese cat-foods in terms of publicity and degree of politicization. Most media news sources will keep on telling the fairy tale that, when there is no more import from China (tomorrow, maybe Vietnam and Thailand as well), the prince and the princess can live happily ever after.

At the Democratic debate in Chicago, candidates refused to clarify whether China is a friend or adversary but agreed to call China a “strategic competitor.” It is not entirely obvious what the euphemism is alluding to, yet one thing is clear: as China exuberantly marches towards industrialization and modernization, fear toward this export juggernaut will not evaporate any time soon. But pointing fingers at China does not teach one how to make structural adjustments or how to take care of the poor in an age of globalized economy without shutting down trade: China is also bogged in its own income-gap problems. American people and their leaders must call on their own wisdom to sort out the mess in domestic distributive justice. But, so far, aside from stereotypical fanfares condemning the great evil of corporate America, few politicians have elucidated the practical economics of trade and taught hard-working Americans how to take advantage of globalization instead of being taken advantage of.

In fact, a more rational voice on trade will fit comfortably into Democrats’ agenda along with other proposals on healthcare, education and green energy. A successful healthcare reform that enables American workers to switch jobs easily without losing healthcare coverage will greatly reduce anxiety in the midst of a structural adjustment. By improving the education system, America will have an even more competitive workforce that can quickly adapt to the demands of the market. By developing renewable or alternative energies, America will not only be able to reduce its reliance on Middle-Eastern oil, but also foster a whole new industry that creates jobs, exports and revenue. Meanwhile, raising import standards and the level of inspection for imported goods would not only ensure that American consumers, especially lower-income families, obtain cheap and safe commodities, but also push producers abroad to adopt better practices in manufacturing. This list goes on and on, but no one in this campaign has even started telling the other side of the story.

Therefore, Dr. Lee Wen Ho’s story is still not the most inconvenient truth for the xenophobes. The more troubling story is that, as the wind of populism blows, many citizens are too easily driven by the campaign rhetoric while shying away from trying to think in a rational way.

Also published in SandB.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

228: Please, leave me alone!

- The so-called proponents of democracy on Taiwan are pushing for a law that would push the idea of "transitional justice" to an extreme.

The DPP in congress is proposing a law to liquidate the human rights infringements incurred under the KMT authoritarian rule. The law demands punishment to those who participated in the 228 incident, a massive political suppression under the KMT's reign, and compensation to the victims or their descendants. Even more frightening is the provision that stipulates an "inherited liability," i.e. if the person found liable of human rights infringement has deceased, his/her offspring and relatives can be pursued for compensation.

It would not be surprising if the radical populists would cheer it as a move toward justice. Yet how much good does a late justice do to a society, compared to the damage it causes by stirring up the bitter memory that is already fading from public life, not to mention that the reality of the 228 incident is far more complicated than the populists portray?

If the KMT were to continue defending its past authoritarian rule (like the right-wing politicians in Japan defend the country's invasion of China and Korea), the greens would be more than justified to demand a clear answer from the KMT. But that is not the case. Not only had the KMT opened up for freedom and democracy and admitted its own past wrongs, but it has also actively participated in the democratic process without the slightest intention to restore authoritarian rule through an electoral victory. The greens cannot find evidence to incriminate the present-day KMT of being anti-democratic, and the only thing they can do is to dig into the past.

The truth is, Taiwan does not need another bloody internal fight to move on, and it should choose forgiveness instead of vengeance as the way toward justice. "Transitional justice," an idea that camouflaged hatred and desire for revenge with a distorted version of the "rule of law," only makes sense when there is a pressing necessity to give the suppressors a lesson in order to prevent a revival of authoritarianism - which is clearly not the case of Taiwan. Thus, when Taiwan is struggling to depart from its authoritarian past, passing a retroactive law and extending its jurisdiction to people who are not even involved in the incident not only constitute a gross violation of the principle of the "rule of law," but also incur an act that further hinders progress toward a mature democracy.
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