The exposure of plans by President Ma Ying-jeou's right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government to purge the Taiwan Democracy Foundation starkly confirms the accelerating "convergence" of Taiwan's human rights standards with the authoritarian People's Republic of China under restored KMT rule.
During its six years, the TDF has built an enviable reputation in public diplomacy by engaging wide range of research and educational activities to promote Asian democracy and human rights awareness and by participating actively in the global promotion of democracy and improvement of human rights.
Given President Ma's formal expressions of support for human rights and the political clout of TDF Chairman and KMT Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pying, it was widely expected that the foundation would continue to operate relatively autonomously and thereby display that Taiwan's most precious asset of democracy would not be devalued by the return of KMT governance.
Such illusions were shattered last week when "Next" weekly reported that the Office of the President planned to purge TDF President Lin Wen-cheng, who is close to Wang, and deputy executive directors Maysing Yang and Tung Li-wen, both of whom are linked with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
The pro-KMT United Daily News further reported Sunday that an unnamed "senior presidential official" had denounced the TDF for providing assistance to "Tibetan independence" advocates and Chinese democratic movement activists and accused Yang of "even having a certain degree of contact with Cuba."
The senior presidential official told the UDN that "if we don't deal with this, there will be problems in relations between the United States, mainland China and Taiwan!"
The senior presidential official also complained that the TDF had "used government money" to "mobilize" the New York-based Freedom House to "attack" the KMT government.
Whether the denial by a presidential spokesman Sunday that the changes were politically motivated is credible will only be confirmed on June 23, but it was noteworthy that the presidential spokesman did not rebut the justifications related by his superior, which certainly displayed both "political motivation" and a deep antipathy for the TDF and its democratic agenda.
His remarks manifested ignorance of the fact that the TDF, along with Washington's National Endowment for Democracy and innumerable other human rights groups, have for years assisted Dalai Lama and other Tibetan rights groups, Chinese democratic and human rights activists and human rights defenders in Asia and around the world in keeping with the mainstream international community's hopes of improving human rights conditions in the PRC and other authoritarian states.
Indeed, this diatribe, including its denouncement of "Tibetan independence," sounded more it came from a mouthpiece for Beijing's Chinese Communist Party regime than from the mouth of an official in a democratic country.
No less interesting was the clumsy claim that the TDF has "entered into connections with Cuba" which could "cause trouble" for relations with the U.S.
First, it is difficult to see why the TDF's support to Cuban democratic forces (which like its support to democrats in China, Tibet, Burma and other lands is fully vetted by the Legislative Yuan and the Ministry of Audit) could possibly upset Washington, especially since the current Democratic administration of President Barack Obama is openly attempting to both promote the normalization of ties with Cuba and encourage its democratic evolution.
It was furthermore astounding that the unnamed presidential official, who presumably accompanied President Ma to attend the June 1 inaugural of El Salvadoran leftist President Mauricio Funes, failed to notice that Funes had used his inaugural speech to announce his decision to immediately recognize Cuba and that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised no objection whatsoever to this action.
It is possible that this "senior presidential official" has yet to notice that the current U.S. president is named Obama and not Bush, but a more likely explanation is simply that the intended purge has nothing to do with Washington.
Instead, Ma and his acolytes clearly intend to muzzle Taiwan's voice for democracy in order to curry favor with the PRC, whose CCP leaders are undoubtedly displeased with virtually all of the TDF's activities.
Finally, the misplaced fury expressed by the unnamed senior presidential official over the TDF's ties with Freedom House, which has actually been soft on the Ma government, hints that the KMT government intends to cease the TDF's promotion of democracy at home as well.
Coincidentally, the presidential official exposed his party's hubris by claiming that the TDF was "using the government's money" in apparent disregard of the fact that funds allocated by our elected Legislature belong to Taiwan taxpayers and not to the KMT.
In sum, these flimsy excuses confirm that the KMT's drive to purge "democracy" out of the TDF reflects the KMT's own resurfacing authoritarian character and that Ma "loves democracy and human rights" no more than the legendary Duke of Sheh loved dragons.