03 January 2008

Around the Taiwan Strait

Two newsworthy items, first from China, then from Taiwan.

2008 will be a very important year for China, as it holds the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. A major concern has been China's human rights record, and many foreign activists have seen the awarding of the Games to China as an opportunity to pressure the Chinese government to improve its human rights record. Unfortunately, it's not happening; domestic activists continue to be arrested for "seditious activities," as detailed in the following BBC report.


Also worth noting is that China accounts for the majority of the world's capital punishments. The government has been decreasing its number of death sentences, converting from firing squad to lethal injections, and banning the sale of body parts of the executed. But death penalty is still very commonly used, often with quick summary trials.

The Chinese government argues that it is improving human rights, by making its people materially better off. Sorry, but that argument was used by two of your neighbors in the past - South Korea and Taiwan - and in both, the argument was debunked. Only with political reforms did real democracy blossom - and even today, human rights abuses remain, particularly in South Korea.

And speaking of Taiwan's democracy...

Today's Taiwan dates back to 1949, when the Chinese Nationalist government (Republic of China), headed by Chiang Kai-Shek, lost the civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists, and exiled itself to the island. Taiwan's indigenous majority suddenly found itself overshadowed by the mainland refugees, as only the mainlanders could control Taiwan's politics, well into the 1980s, well after Chiang's death.

Things have changed dramatically since then. Today's Taiwan is ruled by a Taiwan native, President Chen Shui-Bian of Democratic Progressive Party, who has been re-examining Chiang's legacy. While Chiang brought about Taiwan's impressive economic growth, his human rights record left a lot to be desired (especially from the natives' standpoint), and Chiang-related landmarks are either being retired or re-themed. Taipei's international airport is no longer named after Chiang, and now the Chiang memorial itself commemorates Chiang's victims as much as Chiang himself.


I will also note that Chiang was a major supporter of Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church, therefore making him partly responsible for the reactionary swing of the US politics over the past three decades.