Friday, September 11, 2009

One Saga is Over, Another Continues

Today the over-extended drama across the Taiwan Straits is finally over.
Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian was sentenced to life for corruption and bribery. He was charged last December for money laundering and bribery. He and his wife, Wu Shu-chen, were charged with embezzling 104 million Taiwan dollars ($3.15 million) in public funds and accepting bribes of at least $9 million in a land purchasing deal during his presidency.
Wu was also convicted and handed a life sentence. In addition, they were fined $15.2 million.
Hundreds of Chen supporters gathered outside the Taipei court and held flags and banners that read, "free him" and "Chen's innocent".
A Taiwan television station is going wall-to-wall with coverage with a picture of a spider's web and pictures of all the people caught in the case, and "911" prominently displayed, as if this was Taiwan's September 11. A panel of experts are weighing in on the verdicts, while also showing scenes of people fainting on the street and police having to carry them away.
Ah, the drama.
Interestingly Chen, 58, chose not to attend the verdict hearing and instead stayed in his Taipei jail.
It finally brings to an end a dirty chapter in Taiwan's history, as many believed Chen was guilty of at least some of the charges. It didn't help that Beijing did whatever it could to sully him in the media because of his pro-independence stance. Also, while President Ma Ying-jeou tried to make it look like he and his administration were not actively involved in the court proceedings, the various delays and judicial officials not really following the rule of law made it look like they may have had some hand in it.
Nevertheless, hopefully this case has demonstrated, as Ma is hoping, that no one is above the law, and that corruption at any level will not be tolerated.
It also puts behind bars a colourful character, who at times was wildly radical in his independence policies that in the beginning sparked pride in the Taiwanese people, but later shame when it was found he was funneling money to Swiss bank accounts.
What will also be interesting is how Wu will be treated in jail as she has been in a wheelchair for years after a car accident and can't look after herself without assistance.
Now that this chapter in Taiwanese politics is over, Ma probably feels relieved and can concentrate on rebuilding his links with the mainland after his serious blunder with the Dalai Lama over a week ago...
And in another footnote that should not be forgotten, today is the first anniversary when Sanlu dairy recalled hundreds of tons of baby milk formula and the government vowed to punish those responsible for the contamination.
However, no one will be marking the event -- mostly because Chinese authorities are preventing the parents of those children who died or were sickened by the contaminated milk from gathering in Beijing for a commemoration today.
"The scandal has affected a whole generation of China's future," Zhao Lianhai, the father of a sickened child said to the Associated Press. "This day is a humiliation for all Chinese. It is a national disaster. We should have the courage to remember this day."
But he and many others have been prevented from arriving in the Chinese capital thanks to the upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations.
While China does have so much to celebrate in its six decades of development, it also needs to face its mistakes and rectify them. Although only six babies were reported to have died from the milk contamination, the number was probably much higher, as well as the 300,000 sickened. Yes it is a shame, but the Chinese government must face the reality of its wrongs in order to make its next 60 years better.

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