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Taiwan president's plight puts China in a spot

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Nov 24: China loves to hate Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, but Beijing has so far held its tongue as he struggles to weather his worst political crisis.

Chen, whose wife and son-in-law face charges over financial scandals, today survived a third parliamentary vote aimed at forcing him from office before his second term ends in 2008.

But his troubles are far from over.

Beijing reviles Chen for rejecting its claim of sovereignty over the self-ruled island and asserting Taiwan's identity.

But China's policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office repeatedly declines comment on his plight, apparently fearing that the winds of democracy might blow towards the mainland. The two have lived in armed confrontation since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.

''The mainland has similar corruption problems and doesn't want to see these kind of reports emphasised because it could encourage the mainland people,'' Taiwan political analyst Andrew Yang said by telephone from Taipei.

China's propaganda mandarins have ordered state media not to comment on Chen's troubles, said two media industry sources who declined to be named for fear of repercussions.

''It's awkward for the government, which has tried in the past to portray Taiwan's democracy as chaotic, with fistfights in parliament, and contrast it with our bright side,'' said He Weifang, a law professor at elite Peking University.

''But more (Chinese) people will feel the system over there is better,'' the professor said. ''It'll trigger reflection. Who is to say China cannot become a society ruled by law?''


This month's indictment of Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, on charges of embezzlement and receipt forgery involving T.8 million (1,000) of the president's state affairs fund has inspired many liberal Chinese intellectuals such as Professor He as well as civil rights campaigners and human rights lawyers.

''Taiwan and the mainland share the same culture and tradition. Taiwan has realised the (democratic) system. It can also be our goal,'' the professor said.

China's Communist rulers have acknowledged corruption is widespread within party ranks and fear the issue could sap their authority. But the party typically handles corruption scandals internally and treats harshly people who protest over the issue.

Jin Zhong, a veteran China watcher and publisher of Hong Kong's Open magazine, said the Chinese leadership was likely to drag its feet on democratic reforms and further tighten controls.

China's state national network CCTV has followed blow by blow Taiwan's snowballing financial scandals, including the indictment of Chen's son-in-law for insider trading, but only Taiwanese commentators have appeared on air.

''The mainland's electronic media, TV and newspapers have deliberately played down the issue to avoid ramifications,'' Yang, the Taiwan analyst, said.

For China, Chen is the devil it knows, while Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu is the devil it doesn't.

''They do not want Chen Shui-bian to step down to avoid new turbulence in cross-Strait relations,'' said Jin, the publisher.

''They are familiar with Chen Shui-bian, but there is uncertainty with Annette Lu.''


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