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Talking about justice and ambiguity in leadership changes in Northeast Asia

Updated On: Sep 12, 2006

This week is about leadership changes in Northeast Asia and its association with justice in Taiwan, strategic ambiguity in Japan and the unknown in North Korea

Some 200,000 people protested in the streets on 9 September 2006 Saturday to demand the resignation of President Chen Shui-bian to take the blame for the corruption scandals. This is probably the greatest challenge to Ah Bian since his re-election when he won sympathy votes for surviving a highly controversial assassination attempt on his life. Demonstrators chanted: 'Ah-Bian, step down!' while up to 4,600 riot police and some 600 barbed-wire barricades were deployed to prevent demonstrator’s access to the President.

The demonstration was organised by Mr Shih Ming-teh, a former aide of Mr Chen who has now turned on his former boss, collecting more than one million signatures to force him out and is ready to initiate round-the-clock sit-in outside Mr Chen's office until he steps down. Mr Shih’s petition enjoys tremendous support because of the extent of the corruption that plagued Chen. 

Chen’s son-in-law Chao Chien-ming was detained and later indicted on suspicion of insider trading and taking bribes. Chen’s public apology came too late to soothe public anger. His wife Wu Shu-chen is also under probe for allegedly accepting department store gift certificates in exchange for political lobbying efforts and favours. And Chen himself is being investigated for misuse of official funds as public prosecutors have found only half the funds for which Mr Chen's administration had officially declared receipts while those without are suspected of being funneled to illegal dealings.

While Taiwan’s agonies for justice are out in the open, Japan’s transition to new leadership is much more ambiguous. Abe, the now almost undisputed successor to Koizumi, has chosen strategic ambiguity in his tactics on mending Japan's ties with China. While supporting Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine, Abe has totally avoided questions on his own plans for shrine visits.

At times, he gives pro-China ties forces in Japan hope for the future, when he openly pronounced that "relations between Japan and China is one of the most important bilateral ties" in a speech delivered at the "Beijing-Tokyo Forum" on 3 August 2006. But on other occasions, he issues statements indirectly criticizingChina. For example, Abe said it is wrong for China to set the precondition that Japanese prime minister should not visit the Yasukuni Shrine for relations to improve.  Ambiguity is not necessarily a bad thing as analysts say this would enable Abe to shore up domestic support while looking for a way to make peace with Japan’s neighbours.

Abe’s arrival is a sign of Japan’s comfort and switch to unfettered use of its economic power and already formidable military strength to make its voice heard on the international stage. Encouraged by Southeast Asian meekness and dependence on Japanese economic strength and security participation and prodded on by its American patron, Abe’s direction for Japan is to put on an unprecedented display of power since the end of WWII.  Abe’s first priority as Prime Minister is to push for the amendment of Article 9 which prohibits Japan from exercising the right of collective defence. 

And in a bizarre turn of the situation in North Korea, recent events have fired up speculations that things are not going so well for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. First, he has rarely been seen in public since the disastrous missile test launches. Secondly, Kim has not made personal statements about Chinese and Russian punishments for North Korean disobedience, including Chinese reduction of oil supplies for not listening to their advice about missile launches provoking the international community. Instead, Kim has allegedly sought to convey his displeasure at his traditional allies through official spokespersons during their meeting with foreign ambassadors.

Then South Korean intelligence spotted Kim’s private train convoy preparing for a secret trip to China which was very publicly rebutted and denied by the Chinese Foreign Ministry which said they had no plans to invite the North Korean leader to Beijing. And now, in the latest spin in the continuing saga, Chung Hyung-geun, a Supreme Councilman of Hannara Party (conservative opposition) claimed, "Kim Jong-il has liver and heart problem, and is seriously diabetic, causing him to have a walking problem." Rumours also had it that two North Korean subjects are in Russia to test the effectiveness of some drugs for the Great Leader.  

If anything happens to Kim, Chung said, "For now, (first son) Kim Jong-nam is said to be a favorite, but his carefree life got him into trouble with Kim Jong-il. However, since China supports Kim Jong-nam, this could touch off something like 'war of princes.'" Succession issues in North Korean could vastly complicate the stalled six-party talks and encourage Abe to take an even more hawkish stance on defense. However, it could just be the very issue that could provide an excuse for cooperation and reconciliation between South KoreaJapan and China in the post-Koizumi era, if Abe takes a pragmatic stance on longstanding bilateral issues with these two neighbours.

Sources:

Taiwanese take to streets for anti-President rally (AFP/Straits Times, 9 September 2006)

Thousands of Taiwanese join anti-Chen march (Channelnewsasia, 9 September 2006)

Taiwan set for mass protest to oust president (Straits Times, 9 September 2006)

N. Korea:Kim Jong-il in bad health, serious walking problem (Yonhap, 9 September 2006)

Anxiety for "ambiguous tactics" Shizo Abe has resorted to (People’s Daily, 8 September 2006)

Abe's conservative lineage runs deep (Japan Times, 7 September 2006)

Abe looking to beef up defense posture (Japan Times, 7 September 2006)

Abe will try to set up summits with SeoulBeijing if elected (Japan Times, 7 September 2006)

Japan's Abe says no need for fresh war apology (Channelnewsasia, 7 September 2006)