President Chen deafeningly silent, but we all can still see

By David Ting, Special to the China Post

“Silence is golden/But my eyes still see.” These are the lines from a love song which evoke a deja vu: What has happened in Taiwan in the past few days and the deafening silence of President Chen Shui-bian about the incident bear out the truism of the lyrics.

“Silence is golden” is literally true in this case, because it involves money, NT$1 billion, to be exact. It all started last week, when a political earthquake shook Taiwan like 921, with strong aftershocks that have left the people dumbfounded.

Although the epicenter is still unclear, the people’s eyes “still see.”

They have seen NT$1 billion (US$30 million) disappear from the bank account of two unscrupulous Taiwanese businessmen, Chin Chi-ju and Wu Si-tsai, who were paid by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to buy diplomatic recognition from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The money was supposed to be cashed only after the deal was sealed.

This infamous “dollar diplomacy” has been in practice for years to win diplomatic allies that are desperately needed to give legitimacy to this diplomatically-isolated country.

The foreign ministry has a secret budget for that purpose. What went wrong this time was that no deal was struck but the money disappeared from the bank. Who took the money? Was it a scam? Or was there a collective corruption involving high-ranking government officials?

Foreign Minister James Huang apologized for the debacle, bowing low to the nation before national television. But he said he was just following orders from his boss, Vice Premier Chiou I-jen, who he said referred to him the two diplomatic brokers and ordered him to wire the money to a joint personal account in Singapore held by Chin and Wu. That happened in September, 2006. It was against common sense as to how tens of millions of U.S. dollars could have been given to private individuals without proper safeguard and protection. Chiou’s role in the whole bungled affair is questionable. Although he said “sorry” to Huang many times for embroiling him in the trouble, and he quit the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to appease his angry comrades baying for his blood, his trouble appears to have just started. Chiou, who is President Chen Shui-bian’s top policy wonk, is suspected of not telling the whole truth regarding the scandal. At first, he said he did not know Chin and Wu, saying they were introduced to him by “a good friend.”

When pressed to disclose the identity of his friend, he revealed that it was Vice Defense Minister Ko Cheng-heng who is a member of the president’s inner circle.