In Taiwan, Arrests Raise Echoes of Martial Law DefenseNews■（2008.11.24）By wendell
TAIPEI - A spate of arrests of members of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has drawn allegations that the Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which once ruled Taiwan under martial law, is back in the business of political repression.
The most controversial are the arrests on allegations of corruption of Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's former president; Chiou I-jen, a former National Security Council secretary-general; and Yeh Sheng-mao, former director-general of the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau.
"I am extremely concerned about the political situation in Taiwan, and I am personally very angry at the way the current government is handling national affairs and the way our beloved Taiwan is heading: back to the authoritarian past," said Joseph Wu, former de facto Taiwan ambassador to the United States under the Chen administration.
KMT officials say the arrests are not politically motivated.
"The Special Investigative Task Force was created by Chen Shui-bian and its officials were appointed by him," said KMT legislator Shyu Jong-shyoung.
Shyu said the DPP was overreacting to the recent arrests and using them for political gain.
Among the current and former DPP officials arrested or questioned on allegations of corruption are:
■ Yeh, arrested Oct. 6.
■ Yu Cheng-hsien, former minister of the interior, arrested Oct. 15.
■ James Lee, former deputy minister of environmental protection, arrested Oct. 28.
■ Chen Ming-wen, Chiayi County magistrate, arrested Oct. 29.
■ Chiou, arrested Oct. 31.
■ Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County magistrate, arrested Nov. 4.
■ Ma Yung-cheng, former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general, arrested Nov. 4.
■ Chen, arrested Nov. 11.
Pre-trial detention is legal in Taiwan , and a suspect can be held without charge for four months.
It is unclear whether more arrests of DPP members are planned.
Protests and riots have followed the arrests and a Nov. 3 visit by a mainland Chinese delegation headed by Chen Yunlin, chairman of China 's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait .
"The excessive police presence during Chen Yunlin's visit, resembling scenes from the martial law days, infuriated DPP supporters," said Hsiao Bi-khim, former DPP legislator and adviser to former president Chen.
The KMT swept legislative and presidential elections earlier this year, ending an eight-year gap after holding power for more than a half-century. From 1947 to 1987, the KMT governed Taiwan through martial law, imprisoning or killing thousands in a period known as the White Terror.
The new president, Ma Ying-jeou, promised closer relations with China . The arrests have sparked accusations that Ma's government is carrying out political retribution and trying to appease the mainland.
No KMT officials are among those arrested since the election.
"While the DPP has repeatedly expressed support for rooting out corruption, the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary on these cases have come under question," said Hsiao. "Party members suspect that a political witch hunt is taking place, and the atmosphere of intimidation brings back familiar memories of the mass arrests following the Formosa Incident of 1979."
Some non-KMT officials say the arrests are awkward bureaucratic mismanagement, not political.
"I frankly do not consider the arrests part of the KMT's revenge or its attempt to placate mainland China ," said Wu Yu-Shan, director of the Institute of Political Science , Academia Sinica. "The timing of the arrests, particularly those of the two magistrates, was politically awkward, as they made it possible for Chen to form a 'united front of hunger strikers' and made the Green camp [DPP] hysteric."
Instead of a coordinated campaign for revenge, said Wu Yu-Shan, "I consider the arrests signs of lack of coordination among the different branches of the government."
Allegations of KMT political oppression could become a thorn in the side of U.S.-Taiwan relations.
"I think it will become an irritant between Taiwan and the U.S. if the situation is not improved, and the U.S. government may move one scale higher than its current statement," said Joseph Wu, now a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University.
"And if the situation gets much worse than what it is right now, i.e., more arrests, more detention without hearing and indictment, etc., the U.S. might do something such as unpublicized human rights dialogue, open criticism and limitation of the exchanges between the two countries," Wu said. "But I don't think the overall relations between Taiwan and the U.S. will be affected."
Washington is watching the situation closely, but so far, its reaction has been tepid. In a Nov. 12 press conference, the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan called the arrest of Chen a "big story," but said it was "a matter for Taiwan 's legal system to resolve."
"The only thing I would say is that not only Taiwan but also your friends around the world will be watching this process very closely, and we believe it needs to be transparent, fair and impartial," said Stephen Young, who runs the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). "Assuming that it is conducted in that manner, it can strengthen the confidence, both here and around the world, in your democracy."
Young said U.S.-Taiwan cooperation on security issues is close "across the board" and pointed to Taiwan Defense Minister Chen Chao-min's "successful trip to America earlier this fall."
"President Ma's support for the arms requested and budgeted by the Chen administration resulted in President Bush's notification of $6.4 billion in weapons [sales] to the U.S. Congress last month," Young said. "This was a strong reaffirmation of America 's commitment to Taiwan 's defense needs under the Taiwan Relations Act."
Young said unofficial advisers to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama were scheduled to visit Taiwan in early December. The delegation will include former AIT chairman Richard Bush and Strobe Talbott, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, both now with the Brookings Institution in Washington . Bush declined to comment.
"I understand that they have been among a very large number of people who have been advising Sen. Obama during the campaign, but I can't say whether they're coming out with a message reflecting [the thinking of] the president-elect, or whether they're coming in their Brookings capacity," Young said.
Young said unofficial delegations from Washington are common. Earlier this year, former U.S. defense secretary William Perry led a group to Taiwan that later traveled to China as well. ■