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Chen Was Right to Let Public Know
Paul Lin

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Chen Was Right to Let Public Know
A few days ago, the Taipei District Court ruled against President Chen Shui-bian in a lawsuit brought against him by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong for his talk of a "failed attempt at a coup d'etat" and a "soft coup" in the aftermath of last year's presidential election.

Lien and Soong had demanded that Chen publish apologies in local newspapers and pay each of them NT$1 in symbolic damages. The reason given for the verdict was that the presidency is a national institution regulated by the Constitution, and as such, the president does not enjoy freedom of speech. The verdict has opened a legal debate as to whether the president should enjoy this right. This is not, however, a freedom of speech issue, but rather a matter of whether or not Chen, as the president, had the responsibility to make his view of the political situation at the time known and request that the public consider it.

The passage of time must not make us forget the seriousness of the situation at the time. There really were people who wanted to incite a coup d'etat. Whether or not they succeeded is beside the point. A "coup d'etat" is when a group of people or clique use military or political means to bring about a sudden change in a nation's political leadership. The violent mass protests that occurred in the wake of last year's presidential election were an attempt to bring about not only sudden political change, but a revolution. Then PFP legislator Chiu Yi shouted in public that "the horn of revolution is calling" while leading charges on state institutions in a public call for violent revolution. Some other politicians called on the army to step up, and that is a call for a coup d'etat.

Taking another look at the U.S. government's congratulatory telegram makes the issue clearer still. The telegram praises the Taiwanese public for relying on existing legal structures to resolve differences of opinion while rejecting extra-legal options and violence that would have put democratic principles at risk. This was aimed at the above mentioned methods which sought to spark a coup d'etat.

When the U.S.' congratulatory telegram arrived, China had already issued a statement saying that it would not sit idly by if the situation in Taiwan spun out of control and deteriorated into social turmoil endangering the safety and property of Taiwanese compatriots, as well as peace in the Taiwan Strait.

In case someone is still unclear on the relationship between this statement and the protests, Lien's talk about joining hands with China to suppress Taiwan independence during his tributary mission to Beijing a year later should dispel any remaining doubts.

It is clear that joining hands with Beijing to suppress Taiwan independence is yet another extra-legal measure. It begins as a political measure, but once China undertakes military exercises or invades Taiwan, it has turned into a military measure. This also explains why the US paid such close attention to Lien and Soong's use of extra-legal methods.

Regardless of whether they actually tried to bring about a coup d'etat, their aim was to provide the conditions required for a Chinese invasion. We should be glad that pan-blue supporters were brought back to their senses by the Chinese Communist Party's intervention and the US' warnings instead of continuing to follow the lead of Lien and Soong.

The fact that the arms procurement bill still hasn't been passed, however, is yet another manifestation of the attempt to join hands with China to suppress Taiwan independence. KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou cannot escape responsibility for helping to facilitate a Chinese invasion.

Chen's statements were thus absolutely correct, and a warning of sorts. The general public is owed a clear explanation as to why legal action has not been taken against concerned individuals or why they have not been disciplined. It is precisely because such action has not been taken that the issue of right and wrong has become blurred, and this has given these individuals a chance to strike back.

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

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