October 8, 1999

Playing Politics with
Taiwan's Quake Victims


Lee Teng-hui and the Taiwan separatist elite would have the outside world believe that their obsession with separatism reflects the "will of the people" on Taiwan, because they were "democratically elected." This is true for Americans in particular, as we are expected to underwrite their bid for "independence" with both our sweat and our blood.

But as we Americans ought to know better than anyone, that is an laughably simplistic non sequiteur. Even in "advanced" western nations, elected governments can and do impose policies which ride roughshod over not only the desires but the best interests of the people they were elected to serve.

How many conservatives for example, would actually agree the Clinton administration's priorities genuinely reflect "the will of the American people?" How many conservative hawks who demand US intervention on behalf of Taiwan independence would agree that Britain, China, France and Russia have the "right" to intervene militarily in America to help Bill and Hillary impose their statist policies on Americans? After all, wasn't the Clinton administration "democratically elected?" Doesn't it reflect "the will of the American people?"

This divergence between the priorities of political elites and the genuine long term interests of a citizenry is still more pronounced in less sophisticated, developing "democracies." Because normal people are, quite reasonably, busy living their lives instead of neurotically plotting to accumulate ever more power, a focused (read, obsessed) political elite can with relatively little resistance hijack the apparatus of state before an inattentive public catches on, much too late.

Lee Teng-hui's separatist elite, which holds the reins of government in the ROC today is a textbook case of just such an obsessed minority abusing their positions of public trust. They are deliberately doing everything in their power to worsen relations with the Chinese mainland to ensure that reunification never happens.

Bevin Chu is an American architect of Chinese descent registered to practice in Texas. Currently living and working in Taiwan, Chu is the son of a retired high-ranking diplomat with the ROC (Taiwan) government. His column, "The Strait Scoop," now appears Fridays at Antiwar.com.

Archived Columns

Playing Politics with Taiwan's Quake Victims

Taiwan's Great Earthquake and the Mandate of Heaven

Taiwan's Little Emperors

Globocops With Guillotines

Taiwan Independence and the Stockholm Syndrome

Taiwan Independence and Free Lunches (8/31/99)

Inside the Taiwan Political Scene (8/19/99)

American Values in Dire Straits (8/10/99)

Lee's "jieh ji, yung ren" or "avoid haste, use patience" policy is essentially an illegal ban on direct commercial telecommunication, shipping, and air passenger links with the Chinese mainland. By means of a petty tyrant's personal diktat, Lee has squelched spontaneous private sector activity – economic, cultural, familial – which in the absence of calculated and heavy-handed efforts to keep the two sides apart, would cause them to slowly drift back towards each other like two magnets.


Lee Teng-hui is renowned in Taiwan for two slogans. The first is "Ming zhi sou yu, chang zai wo xing" which translates as "The hopes of the people are always in my heart." The title of Lee 's latest ghostwritten book is "With the People Always in My Heart." The other is "Lao bai xing shi tou jia" which translates as "The common folk are the bosses."

But Lee Teng-hui and the Taiwan independence elite, like members of the nomenklatura everywhere, do not really believe "the common folk are the bosses," and have anything but the hopes of the people always in their hearts. Rather they see themselves as Chess Grand Masters in a wondrous, Kiplingesque "Great Game," in which ordinary citizens are merely expendable pawns, to be sacrificed, perhaps with mild regret, as the need arises.

Shortly after the abominable incident in which President Lee Teng-hui's helicopter entourage killed a five year old homeless earthquake victim, "Mr. Democracy," incensed with the public's reaction to his string of deadly blunders, vented his spleen at the Fourth Estate. Chairman Lee of the KMT turned on TV news crews, many of whom worked for KMT owned and operated networks and testily admonished them "Just make sure you do a good job of reporting! Do a little less criticizing!"

Trusting ROC citizens who foolishly voted for Lee Teng-hui in 1996 because they believed "he's one of us" have learned a bitter lesson. They now know Lee and his Taiwan separatist elite will not hesitate to sacrifice ordinary ROC citizens' lives, let alone their economic futures, as long they are convinced that by doing so they can realize their private agenda.


During Taiwan's recent crisis, Lee Teng-hui flatly refused assistance from the mainland Chinese rescue team. He also deliberately insulted the Hongkong rescue team. Why the animosity toward Hongkong? Simple: One Country, Two Systems. Anathema to the Taiwan separatist elite. Lee made certain the mainland team stayed locked out, even as he welcomed rescue teams from dozens of other nations with open arms.

On the other hand, Lee really milked the presence of Japanese rescue teams allowed into Taiwan, staging "heartwarming" photo ops of Japanese medical teams tending to the injuries of Taiwan quake victims. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Consider this "news" article from the Central News Agency (CNA). The CNA is the ROC's counterpart to our own propaganda organs, Radio Free Asia and The Voice of America, or mainland China's Xinhua news agency.

A visiting Japanese politician politely flatters his attentive host, suggesting that Taiwan's rescue team was "three times as fast" as Japan's. A very flattered Lee Teng-hui takes it rather too literally.

Now imagine dramatic live CNN footage of mainland Chinese rescue teams risking life and limb to save their fellow Chinese on Taiwan.

"This is Andrea Koppel, reporting to you live from Taipei, where heroic mainland Chinese rescue workers, without regard to their personal safety, have just succeeded in freeing two teen-aged brothers trapped for 130 hours beneath the wreckage of a twelve story building. The Taiwan public has been deeply moved by their selfless courage. Is this the beginning of a warming in cross-Straits relations? A positive sign for eventual reunification"

Lee Teng-hui would sooner let every last earthquake victim on the island die an agonizing, protracted death trapped under tons of twisted steel and shattered concrete, before permitting a scenario like that to unfold and be seen around the world, let alone by the ROC public.


Each time Lee Teng-hui has been presented with the opportunity to demonstrate good faith regarding reunification, Lee has exploited the occasion to deliberately provoke hatred among Chinese on Taiwan against their compatriots on the mainland. He then insists disingenuously that he is merely playing hardball with Beijing to uphold the "dignity" of the people of Taiwan.

One might be more inclined to take Lee at his word, if only he showed a little more respect for the dignity of the people of Taiwan himself.

How much respect, for example, did Lee show for the dignity of the elderly Taiwanese woman whose tent he demolished? How much respect did Lee show for the dignity of the five year old Taiwanese girl whose skull he caved in? If Mr. Democracy wants a good look at the "evildoer" who is disrespecting the dignity of the people of Taiwan, he need only stare in the mirror.


The Chinese expression for self-demeaning sycophancy is "pai ma pi." Literally translated means "patting the horse's ass." This expressions has roughly the meaning as the more picturesque, but less tactful, term from American slang: "a**-kissing."

This brings us to October 3, 1999, when patting the horse's ass backfired and the Lee Teng-hui regime's Japanophile sycophancy backfired.

"Taiwan's Sentiments" a regularly scheduled "human interest" radio show on the China Broadcasting Company, a KMT owned and operated radio network, conducted a live on air telephone interview with a senior official from NHK, Japan's equivalent of Britain's BBC.

The radio show's host introduced him as a senior official from Japan's NHK, who along with his colleagues at NHK, were donating a generous sum of money to the local Red Cross for earthquake relief, and that Taiwan was honored to have such a high-ranking journalist from Japan visit.

The NHK official explained that he was here for several reasons. To bring the relief funds of course as the host mentioned, but also to report on the earthquake for audiences back in Japan.

"Your Chinese is extremely good for a Japanese," the show's host noted. "You have no trace of a Japanese accent. Where did you learn Chinese?"

Laughing, the NHK official explained to the surprised radio show host, "I'm not Japanese, I'm Chinese. I'm from the mainland, Beijing. I went to high school in Beijing, and went abroad to Japan for university. My wife is Taiwan Chinese, from Nantou, the region hardest hit by the earthquake. That's another reason I came. I wanted to see what my wife's hometown was like."

An old expression in Chinese comes to mind, "Ren suan bu ru tien suan" or "Man's plans pale next to Heaven's plans."


Taiwan's "Jiu Er Yi Da Di Zeng" or "921 Great Earthquake" as it is known in Chinese, has received considerable international media attention. But many readers may have missed the real story, namely how Mr. Democracy Lee Teng–hui's propaganda machine played separatist politics with the lives of Taiwan's earthquake victims. To read this story one needs to read not the headlines but between the headlines.

Let's begin at the beginning.

Disaster strikes. Within hours of the moment the initial shock waves struck central Taiwan province, mainland China's expert earthquake rescue team, honored by the United Nations, is primed and ready to go.

How does diehard separatist Lee Teng-hui respond?

Lee instructs his staff to craft an pro forma response while Lee tries to figure out how to turn down the mainland's offer of desperately needed rescue expertise, without looking as if he's playing politics with the lives of ROC earthquake victims, which of course he is.

Mainland China, a Permanent Member of the Security Council and the sole legal government for all of China including the province of Taiwan to all but two dozen well greased banana republics, approves the immediate entry of foreign rescue teams.

Lee welcomes anybody and everybody, except his own countrymen.

Thousands of buried victims. Rescuers overworked because they are shorthanded. Remote regions without aid. The victims clearly need everyone they can get. This is hardly the time for politics at their expense.

Chinese-Americans on opposite sides of the Taiwan separatist political divide put aside their differences for this life or death emergency. The question is, can Lee Teng-hui?

Lee lets in US teams.

Now it begins. Lee Teng-hui pulls an hoary old trick known as 'A thief crying "Thief!"' preemptively accusing others of what one intends to do oneself.

Time is running out. Victims are dying of dehydration under tons of rubble. What is Lee Teng-hui waiting for?

Unneeded for now? Maybe we should ask those trapped under the rubble?

Miraculously, more victims have survived, but every able-bodied rescue worker is desperately needed. Despite repeated slaps in the face, mainland China keeps its rescue team on alert, even as it allows foreign rescue teams in and Lee Teng-hui keeps mainland China's team out. How does Lee Teng-hui in Taipei respond?

Lee Teng-hui continues to turn away assistance from the mainland, instead escalates his irresponsibly inflammatory political propaganda to the next level.

The ROC's real Taiwanese still lack disaster relief. Lee Teng-hui has always boasted of his love of the Taiwanese people. How about letting the mainland rescue team in to help some real Taiwanese – the Aborigines?

  • Beijing impeding aid, says Taipei – Straits Times (09/25/99)
  • Taipei Assails China Over Aid – IHT (09/25/99)
  • Taiwan media says China rubs salt into quake wound – Reuters (09/25/99)
  • HK joins rescue efforts despite snub – Straits Times (09/25/99)

Guess not. The Lee Teng-hui regime reiterates its obdurate refusal of mainland disaster assistance, offered on the very same day as the initial shock waves, even as it grumbles about the Hongkong team showing up "a day late and a dollar short."

Still more survivors emerge, proving rescue personnel are still desperately needed, even at this late date.

Lee keeps at it.

Lee can't conceal his administration's ineptitude in the heat of a crisis from the Taiwan public, the common folk who are the bosses.

  • Beijing says aid remains on offer – Reuters (09/29/99)

The mainland Chinese rescue team keeps its offer open.

If all else fails, blame the messenger.

A 1997 government committee investigated emergency earthquake measures and submitted a report. Lee Teng-hui left it to gather dust in his in box.

Is this getting monotonous?

Wait a minute! The Lee Teng-hui regime complains the Hongkong team is "a day late and a dollar short" for showing up on September 25, but a Canadian team shows up eight days later on October 3 and no problem?

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