Transitional Justice Conference in Taipei

An International Conference on Comparative Studies in Transitional Justice was held at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei today. It featured speakers discussing the experiences of transitional justice in East Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Mongolia as well as Taiwanese academics. 

The conference was organised by Taiwan Thinktank and its chairman Chen Po-Chih (陳博志) made the welcoming remarks. He related the story of talking to a taxi driver in Taipei which I thought was a very nice parable. The taxi driver said to him,"Why do you need to worry about transitional justice? Those things are in the past. Now we have democracy and a free press. We should just look to the future." Chen responded by saying, "What if someone hit your taxi and left a dent in it. If they said to you, 'Don't worry about the dent. It's in the past. Think about the future.' Would you accept it? Of course not because there would be no justice.  

The opening remarks were then given by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁總統). He emphasized the issue of the KMT's assets as a key to transitional justice. The KMT's assets are like a mirror revealing a monster (國民黨的不當黨產是一面照妖鏡), he said. [Article in Chinese, see Yam News]

Former Prime Minister of East Germany, Dr. Lothar de Maiziere, then gave the keynote address. He spoke about the period of transition from the end of Communist rule in East Germany to German reunification. I think one of the most notable things that he said was that once the Communist regime collapsed the people rapidly seized control over the government's files. They also formed "round tables" to oversee the work of the transitional government. 

Next there were three panel discussions. These provided the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the countries in Eastern Europe and also for Taiwanese experts to offer their opinions on how this relates to Taiwan. 

The conference was well organised and there was a good range of speakers. However, they could have been a bit more strict on the time allowed for speakers and to have more time for questions and active debate and discussion. Admittedly language does make it difficult as none of the speakers spoke English as their first language. The last panel session featuring all Taiwanese speakers was conducted in Mandarin. Headsets providing simultaneous translation were available. 

Overall I thought the conference provided an excellent insight into how some other countries have tried to achieve transitional justice. However, I think this also highlighted Taiwan's failings. Also the Taiwanese speakers seemed overly focused on the issue of party assets and I see this as only one part of transitional justice. There are other important issues such as prosecuting perpetrators of past crimes, releasing records of the past and how to achieve reconciliation without creating further divisions in society. 

Something that concerns me is whether the academics were merely expressing their anti-KMT sentiments rather than going deeper into the issue. The DPP, although they have faced many obstacles, could have done more. The DPP might have strong principles about democracy and justice, but just like the KMT it is a party that serves the interests of big business. 

The cynical might be inclined to say the current noise about the party assets issue is simply motivated by the upcoming elections. In the closing moments of the conference Calvin Wen of the Taiwan Green Party had a couple of minutes to put forward an alternative perspective that was not flattering to the DPP. Opposing the KMT doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with the DPP. However, perhaps it will only be when KMT's assets are returned to the people and Taiwan's democracy becomes more stable that these views will finally get the kind of political space they deserve.

13 thoughts on “Transitional Justice Conference in Taipei

  1. Quoting a taxi driver story just makes him sound like a typical blogger.

    Do you really think that the DPP will, once it gets its hands on the KMT’s assets, really give it to the people? Your faith in humanity surpasses mine, I think. It’s an election thing: vote for us and we’ll give you money. The DPP’s Lee Ying-yuan used a similar strategy when he ran for Taipei mayor, saying if he was elected everyone would get all the money back they paid in tickets when Ma was mayor.

  2. Like I said, it is easy to be cynical and think this is all about the elections. However, if you look at the bigger picture it is a very important issue for Taiwan. You can’t just ignore the problem because the DPP is using it as an election issue.

    Ideally an independent commission would be established to take control of the KMT’s assets and decide how the funds should be used.

  3. An “independence commission”? I’ll believe that when I see it. Or do you mean “independent” like the NCC or CEC? I also believe that if the issue couldn’t help them in elections, we wouldn’t see all of this “transitional justice” rhetoric from the DPP. How much have we heard from them on the subject over the past 8 years?

    I’d take them more seriously on the issue if I didn’t feel that they were just abusing it for election purposes and in some aspects just making the problem worse by purposely exacerbating the issues involved for short-term gain.

  4. Please remember that the flipside of the DPP using this is an election issue is that the KMT has all these assets which give it an unfair advantage in elections.

    I am also a little cynical about the DPP’s actions, but it is still a very important issue that can’t be ignored.

    Yes, I mean an independent commission like the NCC or CEC.

  5. Independent? CEC members are currently picked by the DPP, though the opposition wants to change it to party-proportional, something the DPP is so afraid of that they would rather lock the doors of the legislature and let the budget be stalled than give in on the matter. The NCC membership is party proportional, but the DPP wants things back to the good old days when the GIO wielded that power under the ruling party, and is doing its best to reign the NCC in from its “independent” status by firing commissioners for “serious crimes” like having their son drive their car.

  6. I don’t really want to have an argument about this. I mean a body that is at arm’s length from the government and theoretically independent. I realise in reality it is very difficult to create an institution that doesn’t have some politics involved in appointing its officials.

  7. I think that was a pretty lame taxi story by Chen, but almost all of them are. Anytime somebody has to relate their experience with a taxi driver in an attempt to show us that they are in tune with ‘the people’, my estimation of their credibility goes down several notches.

    And in any case, I agree with the driver. By obsessing about the dent that some hit and run person did, and who he could never bring to account, he is missing out on fares and money he could be earning to fix the dent.

    Same with KMT assets. It’s a clear political tool by the DPP. I doubt they even care about getting the assets back–if they don’t, it’s always something they can use to stir up voters when the elections roll around. And even if they did get them back, why should we believe they would return them to the people? The DPP has shown itself to be just as corrupt as the KMT.

    The real danger about ‘transitional justice’ is that it just becomes revenge politics, with no justice whatsoever. And from what I’ve seen in Taiwan, my guess is that is what will happen here.

  8. Same with KMT assets. It’s a clear political tool by the DPP. I doubt they even care about getting the assets back–if they don’t, it’s always something they can use to stir up voters when the elections roll around. And even if they did get them back, why should we believe they would return them to the people?

    Of course. We should refrain from seeking justice because, well, the future is unforeseeable.

    The DPP has shown itself to be just as corrupt as the KMT.

    Quite right! For example, they’ve shot thousands of people in Taiwan, plundered the local farm and irrigation associations, shut down magazines and papers they don’t like, set up sweetheart 18% interest accounts and special funds to buy the bureacracy’s loyalty, connected themselves to gangsters so they can control elections at home and conduct assassinations in the US, forbidden the locals to speak their language, and sent thousands of aborigines who had served in the Japanese army off to die in China.

    Yep, damn the DPP! They ARE just as bad as the KMT.

  9. Newsflash: CKS died on April 5, 1975. This is no longer your daddy’s KMT, so practically everything you’ve mentioned is irrelevant now.

    The DPP is not connected with gangsters? Whatever it is you’re smoking, save some for me next time I’m down in Taichung.

    I’m all for seeking justice, it’s just that in this case, the motivation is not ‘justice’, but the furthest thing from it. I’m sure the DPP would use all that money to buy parks, cataract operations for old ladies, free cotton candy for all the kids, and fuzzy bunny habitats.

  10. Franc, many of things I mentioned — and many I did not — are still issues. Like the 18% interest, the farm and irrigation associations, the protection of the murderers….the list is long. The DPP has none of these. The idea that it is as corrupt as the KMT is laughable.

    I’m sure the DPP would use all that money to buy parks, cataract operations for old ladies, free cotton candy for all the kids, and fuzzy bunny habitats.

    Any way you cut it, those assets have to be returned to the people and government of Taiwan from whence they were stolen. And yes, Franc, they just might use it to buy parks — if you would take a ride out of Taipei once in a while, you might notice the massive rise in land reserved for parks all over Taiwan during the period of localization that has been ongoing since LTH initiated the programs in the 1990s and the DPP extended them. Been to Ilan? DPP administrated for so many years, it has great parks. As for fuzzy bunny habitats, I’m sure there is no need to point out the rise in the amount of land set aside for national park and reserve development since Taiwan has democratized.

    I have no idea whether or how the assets will be returned. Or how they will be used once returned. Maybe the DPP will loot and pillage them. But it is certain that the KMT has not used them in any way beneficial to the island, whereas we already know that whatever its faults, the DPP does at least aim at benefitting the locals.

    Michael

  11. Seriously, the ill-gotten gains of the KMT are a legitimate issue. But it’s difficult to see any solution, at least domestically driven, that all sides could accept. What about outside arbitration? Say someone like George Mitchell?

    I’d also be interested in knowing what it was that Calvin Wen said that got the DPP so riled up.

  12. Seriously, the ill-gotten gains of the KMT are a legitimate issue. But it’s difficult to see any solution, at least domestically driven, that all sides could accept. What about outside arbitration? Say someone like George Mitchell?

    I think that ultimately the DPP will permit the KMT to sell them down and make them disappear, then claim a few tokens — you know, the compromise type of solutions that are so common here. There’s no way, unless the DPP gains a legislative majority, that it can force the KMT to hand them over, so what else can it do?

    An arbitrator would be a neat solution. But then there’s the enforcement issue….

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