Taiwan post office’s political message stirs opposition


TAIPEI, Taiwan — An opposition lawmaker on Wednesday blasted a move by Taiwan’s post office to stamp a slogan on outgoing mail in support of President Chen Shui-bian’s contentious campaign to win a seat for the island in the United Nations.

The furor created by the decision to place the slogan “U.N. for Taiwan” on selected items of domestic and international mail underscores the island’s sometimes uneasy transition from the single party dictatorship of the past to today’s flourishing democracy.

Wu Yu-sheng of the main opposition Nationalists said the government of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party had no right to impose its views on Chen’s initiative, due to be put before voters in a referendum next March.

“The government cannot force the public to promote the initiative,” Wu said.

The issue of the U.N. slogan came to light on Tuesday when an American English teacher living on the island complained to Taiwanese media about the use of the stamp on a letter he had sent to his fiancee in the United States.

The American, identified only by his surname Talovich, said the placement of the slogan without his permission was a clear violation of freedom of speech, as it did not reflect his position on the U.N. referendum.

While a clear majority of Taiwanese want the island in the U.N., the Nationalists and the DPP are bitterly divided over what name it should use in pressing its application. They are supporting competing referenda in support of their claims.

The Nationalists want to use the official title of Republic of China, which connotes fealty to the concept of a single China championed by the party.

By contrast the DPP favors the “Taiwan” name because it accords with its position that the island should be formally independent, distinct from the Chinese mainland.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. The future disposition of the island – either as an independent entity, a part of China, or something between – is by far its most important political issue.

In a statement on Tuesday, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung Tuesday stressed the importance for Taiwan to become a member of international organizations, but was ambivalent about whether the post office should continue using the U.N. stamp.

“The agency in charge can decide what to do next,” he said, according to a Cabinet press release.

In its own reaction to the controversy, the post office said it was carrying out the orders of the government, and apologized for any inconvenience it had caused its patrons.

“If senders express their wish against having the U.N. stamp on their mail, the post office will respect this and act accordingly,” it said in a statement.

Taiwan’s gradual transition to democracy began in 1987 when President Chiang Ching-kuo, son of iconic strongman Chiang Kai-shek, ordered the end of four decades of martial law.

The first direct election for the presidency were held in 1996, and four years later Chen was elected to his initial four-year term, ending a 50-year-long Nationalist monopoly on power.