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Where Does Ma Stand on Press Freedom?
Paul Lin
7/17/2006

Two weeks ago, an old lady called in to a pirate radio station based in southern Taiwan and urged people to "rise up in rebellion and raise our hoes" as a way of venting her anger over Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's visit to that part of the country to promote the recall of President Chen Shui-bian. The media were quick to cast this statement as a call for the chairman's assassination, thus provoking strong reactions from various sources.

One of those reactions came from Beijing. It did not come from the Chinese government itself this time, as the authorities in Beijing appear to have taken cognisance of the fact that its verbal attacks have actually helped the Democratic Progressive Party in past elections.

Instead, Xu Bodong, director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Beijing Union University, addressed the issue. He said that, "If Taiwan's pan-green camp attempts to assassinate Ma, that would be a major turn of events for Taiwanese independence." He added that China would not sit idly by and watch if their Taiwanese compatriots became embroiled in an internecine struggle and that China's "Anti-Secession" Law would be automatically invoked.

Two days later, when traveling to Hong Kong to attend a forum, Xu repeated his threats.

Another reaction came from the National Communications Commission (NCC), which raided four pirate radio stations and summoned a number of their hosts for questioning.

These two reactions are evidence that Beijing and the KMT are working together to prevent Taiwanese independence.

Although an NCC spokesman claimed that the clampdown had nothing to do with the remarks the radio stations broadcast about Ma, this seems highly unlikely. If the NCC was simply enforcing a ban on underground radio stations, why did it decide to do so at this time?

More importantly, why were armed police required to detain the unarmed owners of the radio stations? What's more, the problem of pirate radio stations has arisen as a result of the inequitable distribution of broadcasting frequencies, an issue left over from the KMT's authoritarian rule. Was the NCC trying to resolve this problem by force?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, one thing is clear: Ma has become Beijing's blue-eyed boy. Since he is now the apple of the Chinese Communist Party's eye, no one is allowed to harm a hair on his head. Beijing began to dote on Ma from the moment he took over the chairmanship of the KMT, and the chairman's favored status was secured when he claimed to be a fan of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Hu now feels that he has a man in Taiwan who he can trust to do "the right thing."

Ma has launched the recall motion against Chen despite the risk of exacerbating the pan-green-pan-blue divide, thus giving Beijing an excuse to intervene. Could Ma hope to make a greater contribution to Beijing's master plan?

The question at issue is, of course: With Hu trusting Ma, should the Taiwanese also put their trust in him?

Taiwanese should take heed of the similarities between how the NCC clamped down on the underground radio stations and how Beijing suppresses dissent and press freedom. The manner in which a little old lady's remarks were interpreted as advocating the assassination of Ma and then suppressed amounts to the suppression of press freedom. If Ma is elected president, the public needs to ask itself whether he will attack press freedom further -- to the extent that every dissenting voice is suppressed, as it is in China.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in Taipei.

Translated by Daniel Cheng

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