The Arrest of Taiwan’s Chen Shui-bian

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 12, 2008

There was always something Bill Clinton-like about Chen Shui-bian. Like Clinton, the Taiwanese politician came from a poor family, grew up in the rural south of his country, went to a prestigious law school, and became a dynamic leader of the opposition party. Like Clinton, Chen won the presidency in a three-way race without winning a majority. Chen’s rivals, like the Republicans in the U.S., regarded him as a usurper who didn’t deserve to be president but Chen, like Clinton, infuriated his critics by managing to win re-election anyway. (In Chen’s case, thanks in no small part to a botched assassination attempt on the eve of the election.)

Unfortunately for Chen, the similarities don’t end there. Like Clinton, he was dogged by suspicion of scandal that contributed to his party’s loss after his second term. Now he’s gone beyond his American counterpart. Yesterday the former Taiwanese president was arrested and today a court sent him to jail for alleged involvement in bribe taking, money laundering and document forgery.

Chen says he’s a victim of witch hunt led by his successor, the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou, and cheered on by the Chinese government. Ma, who himself was targeted by corruption investigators while Chen was president, denies this is a case of payback. According to AFP, Ma said “I do not intervene in any case. I respect the judicial system,” adding “we do not feel any joy (from his detention).” That may be. But no doubt few leaders in Beijing are shedding tears for Chen, whom they despise as a Taiwanese independence advocate who (they believe) did his best to further the island’s separation from the mainland. While Chen heads off to jail, relations between Taiwan and China continue to improve. Last week, the highest-level delegation from the mainland visited the island for talks and reached an agreement with the Taiwanese to launch direct air and shipping links between the two sides, something Taiwanese business leaders have been wanting for decades. And on the same day the court imprisoned Chen, the Taiwanese Ministry of Education announced it might open up Taiwan’s universities to students from the mainland.

I don’t know the merits of the government’s case against Chen, but Ma is going to have to be careful. The KMT, which ran Taiwan uninterrupted from 1949 till 2000, doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being squeaky clean itself. With the Taiwanese high-tech sector now slammed by the global recession, the current president will need to focus on taking more steps to improve the economy by further improving relations with China. If Chen Shui-bian is like Bill Clinton, Ma certainly doesn’t want to end up like George W. Bush.

Reader Comments

Alec Lin

November 12, 2008 1:55 PM

This is indeed a biased article submitted to Businessweek. It reads as if the arrest of Chen Shui-bian is the result of some conspiracy between KMT and Beijing.

If one pays close attention to the case of Chen's corruption, Chen's whole family (his wife, his son and even his inlaws) are invovled in various cases of corruption and bribery. All these details have been exposed in the Taiwanese media. Even his son has admitted involving in transferring large sum of money, much more than what they can earn from salaries and stock/bonds trades, from Taiwan to overseas banks. When asked in the court why he did it, his reply was "it is a family secret...If we hid the money at home, it will be stolen by petty thieves".

bonjour lausanne

November 12, 2008 3:09 PM

Ma Ying-Jeou has used Chen Shui-Bian to gain popularity from Taiwanese people for a long time. Ma divides the Taiwanese into pro Chen Shui-Bian and against Chen Shui-Bian. However, the marginal value Ma can gain from insulting Chen is decreasing. The last development is a stupid act Ma took to cover his incompetency and lack of support from the Taiwanese. Currently, several groups of college students are protesting around Taiwan, and demanding Ma to apologize for the violation of human rights. Another group of college professors and citizens have been protesting for 2 weeks to demand an amendment of the referendum law. In the past 6 weeks, high-level opposite party officials have been prosecuted or put in jail. Chen Shui-Bian is another victim.
The prosecutors have worked on cases involving Chen and his family for more than 2 years. Just like Clinton’s Whitewater case, the prosecutors still cannot make a case. However, the prosecutors now have up to 40 days to make a case. Under Ma and his propaganda, Chen Shui-Bian is “guilty until proven innocent”. What Ma has done yesterday only proves that the justice system and the human rights condition are deteriating dramatically under Ma Ying-Jeou’s government.

George RUAN

November 12, 2008 3:34 PM

Chen Shui-bian is like Bill Clinton? Are you silly?

Do you know why Chen is put in jail? Terrible comparing with USA Mr. President.

If you don't know the whole story, please shut yourself up.

Will

November 12, 2008 3:42 PM

It's interesting Mr. Einhorn wrote this article while admitting his limited knowledge about the case against Chen. The allegations started early on after Chen's re-election, which developed into a province-wide (or nation-wide, depending on your point-of-view) movement to impeach Chen in 2006. The movement failed only because of Chen's executive privilege and his party's majority in the legislature, which now is also gone. Allegations against Ma was raised during this year's election, and was since cleared by the justice system. It is a very big stretch to suggest that Chen's arrest is a pay-back from Ma, or that Chen's presidency resembles Clinton's is any meaningful manner.

Bob

November 12, 2008 5:39 PM

This is a rather casual, shallow, and meaningless observation. Don't want to waste time commenting on it.

Will Tong

November 12, 2008 6:09 PM

Bruce, Why don't you learn about the case before you write about it? Just some co-incidental similarities between Chen and Clinton do not indicate his guilt one way or the other. After all, that's what counts, right?

George Koo

November 12, 2008 6:09 PM

Comparing Chen with Clinton is doing a great dishonor to Clinton. He may have personal weaknesses but he never put his personal interests ahead of his country. Chen always did, lining his and his family's bank accounts ahead of what was good for Taiwan.

Speculating that Ma could end up like Bush is also farfetched. For one thing he is smart having enough intelligence to obtain a doctoral degree from Harvard Law School. He is certainly no unilateralist. If anything, he listens to too many views and can be accused of being indecisive.

charlie1111

November 12, 2008 9:06 PM

Chen Shuibian is the clown of our world today. Nobody can compare to him in this regard, not even the dalai lama. Check wikipedia to learn more about him. He will never die from hunger strike. It is just one more trick from his repertoire of deceptions. He would rather to have his wife die for him and take all the blame. It is good to see him in the place he deserves.

Dennis

November 12, 2008 9:07 PM

Chen can not be consider charismatic or grace of Clinton. Problem, Chen was not a problem solver, he encourage Chinese people to hate themselves via Taiwan hate China mentality.

Ma is a visionary, China & Taiwan share same culture, language & economical aspirations. Ma sees more commonality than differences. Political differences to solve later. Besides there is no doubt China has "use force" option, why force China to bring fire & brimestone. Whey become a Western pawn at your own expense, TW. US loves to sell outdate military inventory to TW, while TW economy can not effort such. There is is many horse power in four cylinder engine, China has 12 big cylinders. You can not move the island farther away from China and TW can not change its own race or language. Mr Einhorn, TW people is smarter to integrate with China than move away. TW fighting China is like fighting against gravity.

Michael Turton

November 12, 2008 9:17 PM

It's a shame the article focuses on a strained comparison between Chen Shui-bian and Bill Clinton. Chen is certainly guilty of tax evasion, as he has confessed, and probably other things as well. Note that Chen is in detention but has not been charged with anything. He can be held up to four months without charges. But that's not really important.

What has everyone nervous is that Chen is now the 9th DPP politician rounded up and detained by the KMT. It's the context, not the arrest, that clearly indicates political prosecution -- the KMT could care less how much money he stole. The recent wave of detentions and indictments has been aimed at DPP higher ups for the most part, no KMT politicians or lower-ranking DPPers have been swept up. Coming from a party that has repeatedly said it looks to Singapore as a model, the effect on local society has been quite chilling.

Michael Turton
View from Taiwan blog

joe

November 13, 2008 9:02 AM

Clearly the author is clueless of what he's talking about. Chen is the worst and ruthless leader in Taiwan who always tried his best to divide up Taiwanese ethnic groups. He left not a single positive legacy in Taiwan but a trail of corruption and shame. Chen should be imprisoned!

A-singh

November 13, 2008 8:43 PM

The corruption charges and money laundry of Chen's family was brought to light by a bank in Singapore. The prosecutor worked for him showed him the document when he was in power. Ma is smart enough to step aside and let the law to run its course. How can it be conspiracy. All the nine DPP member arrested because they were personally involved in the case.

Albert

November 13, 2008 9:36 PM

There is no doubt about Chen being corrupt and finding anyway to make money for his family in the government.
As for China, no one wants to be a part of the PROC, the KMT only wants economic cooperation.

Albert

November 13, 2008 9:56 PM

There is no doubt that Chen is extremely corrupt and jumps at any opportunity to make money off of the government and people. As for Ma's policy and China, no one wants to be a part of PROC, and there corrupt communisty regime.People only want economic cooperation.

@Michael Turton

November 14, 2008 7:14 PM

There is a simple explanation why most politicians being prosecuted by law enforcement are DPP politicians. The DPP has been ruling Taiwan for the past 8 years lead by Chen Shui-Bian, who lead with extreme corrupt practises at the top of the central goverment. When the director for the Beurough of Investigation received Information about money laundering by the former president's family members, he passed the information to the president directly rather than to the Prosecutor General, covering up the crime silently. Chen has also in many instances during his presidency threaten opposition politicians implying he will to use his investigative power against them. Under such an atmosphere, do you think any local level KMT politican would be stupid enough to commit corruption in the past 8 years??? DPP politicans on the other hand, feel theat they have one of their own at the top to help cover up for them, so would be enboldened to steal from the people while they still can. None of these would have been uncovered if not for the fact that Taiwan's voters finally throw these bums out.

John Tsai

November 15, 2008 7:06 AM

Chen Sui Bien is a corruptor period. He and member of his family should all go to jail.

JIm203k

November 15, 2008 7:13 AM

You have got to be kidding, comparing Chen to Clinton, Chen is a fraud, a corrupted leader just like Philipine's Marco. I think Bruce Einhorn has a political agenda for posting this article.

NiMaDan

November 15, 2008 8:42 PM

With Bruce Eihorn's analogy in this article, Bruce's unspoken intention is fully revealed---whitewashing the ugliness of Chen's personality and discounting Ma's uprighteousness. Why? I guess Bruce does like anything that goes the China's way!

Fukui

November 16, 2008 9:54 PM

Both analogies are outrageougly ridiculous!
To my opinion, Bush is unscrupulously immoral in world politics, while Ma is idealistic, though in the same time a little naivette.
Chen to Clinton? Besides the grassroot upbringing backgroun, there was little similarity between them! Clinton fumbled on women, Chen on money laundering.

David Lee

November 18, 2008 1:23 AM

I did not know businessweek allows articles to be printed without research being done.

If thats the case, I'm qualified to work for businessweek too. Any subject especially politics, I can say I do not know too much about it but can then lenghten the article by writing superficial comparisions.

Do you hear me, Businessweek? Where and who can I send my resume to?

Sung

November 19, 2008 10:18 AM

If there is anything I despise, it is a lying traitor. How can you compare Chen with President Clinton? Clinton may have had few affairs, many world leaders including some great men have extramarital affairs. The author slandered the president of the U.S and hide behind the freedom of speech. You should be ashamed of yourself. Your parents did not slap you enough while you were growing up to learn some moral value. What Clinton did for the world economy is commendable. Chen is nothing but a crook caught with his hands in the cookie jar. The investigation was not initiated by KMT government, it was the international organization preventing money laundry. Why didn't you report that in your article? I think Business week as a respected article should make a correction.

Alan

November 20, 2008 12:50 AM

Even we all can prove Chen is wrong, and how bad he is, but, it doesn't mean Ma is right. Ma is obviously trying to manage a great opportunity for Chinese government to take Taiwan as a part of China before 2012, exactly the same as planned by Chinese government. This will cause a disaster for Taiwanese people, except some KMT politicians and business men.

political wacher

November 20, 2008 9:23 PM

Chen Shui-bien is hardly a sympathetic figure unless one is a supporter of him regardless of what he has done--but then there is little point to discuss with such a person. Not that I know for sure that Chen is guilty of money laundering or taking bribery, but there is little in what he has done during his eight years in the highest office of the island that gives you much confidence in his honesty or good moral character as a politician. For one thing, he has shown himself to be totally willing and able to resort to political and media manipulation for personal gains or the gains of his party even if the consequence of such manipulation was to create or deepen divisions among the island population or to endanger the lives and well being of people on both sides of the strait. His hunger strike after the arrest earlier this month is much more likely a continuation of his habitual histrionics to win public support than an outburst of genuinely felt sense of injustice.

Chen has little basis for crying foul after his arrest. In August this year he already admitted to his wife's wiring campaign funds to overseas accounts (though he was then unwilling to admit to his own direct involvement)--after his initial denial of the same but not before incriminating evidence started to surface when Swiss law enforcement started to seek cooperation from Taiwan. That little drama does not help to support his self-claimed innocence. Taiwan's law that allows the detention of a suspect before s/he is formally indicted indeed seems excessive if we compare that with, e.g., the criminal law procedure in the U.S. (where Chen would normally remain free, often with a hefty bond, at least until he receives a guilty verdict), but then the likelihood of evidence tampering if the suspect has freedom of movement is probably much higher in Taiwan than in the U.S., where the rule of law has been in place much longer and has a greater degree of integrity (which includes people's greater fear of legal punishment for wrongdoings such as perjury, though perjury by no means disappears from U.S. courts). So while the current detention of Chen may seem draconian, so long as it is legally allowed, Chen cannot just shout "political persecution" as if his detention were somehow illegal. In fact, given the remaining influence he has among his staunch (or shall we say blind/brainwashed?) followers, the prosecution had every reason to suspect that if Chen remained free, he could have manipulated public opinions (by instigating mass demonstrations, e.g.) in such a way that impartial prosecution of his case would become very difficult or that the case could become even more politicized. By accusing the current leadership of political persecution, Chen is poisoning the minds of his audience so that even if he is clearly proven to be guilty of taking bribery, for instance, some people would still view such a verdict as politically motivated and so unfair. That is so Chen Shui-bien. It's simply not something you expect of a self-respecting politician (or lawyer, for that matter).

From the perspective of promoting democracy (in whatever form that works) in mainland China, Chen has been a disaster. Democracy as practiced in Taiwan--granted it is young and immature--has impressed many people in mainland China as something not to be taken seriously (think of the physical attacks some legislators indulge in). With his alleged misconduct, Chen has strengthened the stereotype among mainland Chinese that democracy in Taiwan is a farce when the example of democracy in Taiwan could serve as a rallying cry "Yes we can" to people on the other side of the strait who share the same cultural traditions. It is a shame that such a narrow-minded and self-absorbed demagogue like Chen Shui-bien has led Taiwan for so many years. Impartial prosecution of him should help redeem some of the credentials of democracy with the Chinese people at large.

Another Political Watcher

November 24, 2008 10:12 AM

Excellent observation by Political Watcher.

As for Bruce Einhorn, better not put your foot in the mouth again. You should be reporting, not editorializing especially what you don't know much about.

Allen

December 9, 2008 3:49 AM

this article is ridiculous. Chen is to be proved a criminal, Clinton just had a not-apropos relationship with that girl.

XiaoLangGuo

December 12, 2008 7:25 AM

Chen is a Taiwanese politician. Of course he's corrupt. But at least he promoted democracy and Taiwan's independent place in the world while in power.

Yet another example of banana republic farce; the mainland stands by smiling as the KMT and DPP slap-fight one another like schoolgirls.

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