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Taiwan Political Dissent Rises but New Generation of Leaders Is Slow to Emerge

December 07, 1985|JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A few months ago, China's top leader Deng Xiaoping revamped the Communist Party Politburo in an effort to install younger leaders capable of running the country after his death. But on Taiwan, no such changes are in evidence.

Despite his continuing health problems, Taiwan's President Chiang Ching-kuo, 75, the son of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, has yet to put into place a younger generation of successors who can take control of the Nationalist Chinese regime when he dies.

In fact, to fill vacancies, he has often turned to members of his own generation. When Taiwan's premier--the second in command--suffered a stroke last year and became unable to carry on in his job, President Chiang chose Central Bank President Yu Kuo-hua, 71, an associate of the Chiang family since its days on the mainland and the family's trusted financial adviser, to be the new premier. Last February, Chiang brought back from Japan a veteran diplomat who is 76 years old to be the new secretary-general of the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party).

Chiang's regime has managed to survive two acute political crises during the past year. Taiwan's former intelligence chief was found guilty of involvement in the plot to murder Chinese-American writer Henry Liu, and the island's leading financial institution collapsed. Despite these difficulties, the Nationalists got about 70% of the vote in the Nov. 16 election, roughly the same as in other recent elections.

Political Stagnation

But now Chiang is faced once again with the longstanding problem of overcoming political stagnation here.

The Nationalists have had considerable success in bringing ethnic Taiwanese into the party. Their ranks include increasing numbers of young, highly educated technocrats attuned to the economic development of Taiwan, which in 1984 was the world's 15th-largest trading nation. But political analysts here agree that power still remains in the hands of the older generation of Nationalist officials who came with Chiang and his father from the Chinese mainland in 1949, after their defeat by the Communists.

Complaints about the malaise in leadership here are pervasive, both among ordinary people and within the ranks of the Nationalist Party. "The present Cabinet is the weakest in the past 40 years," one Nationalist official confided after obtaining assurances that he would not be quoted by name.

Despite intermittent crackdowns, the Nationalist Party these days is generally willing or constrained to allow increasingly robust political debate on Taiwan. During the recent election campaign, some political opponents attacked Chiang and his family and urged public scrutiny of the family's finances.

Criticism Now Allowed

"Ten years ago, a person who said Chiang Ching-kuo should disclose his assets was put in jail. Now, citizens can criticize Chiang Ching-kuo," said Daniel Huang, chief editor of Care magazine, an opposition publication that examines Taiwan's treatment of political prisoners.

As a result, visitors who cross the Taiwan Strait to compare the regimes of China and Taiwan find a startling contrast.

On the Chinese mainland, political change is more visible in the top leadership than it is in the way ordinary business is conducted from day to day. On Taiwan, the reverse is true. A sense of energy and dynamism can be detected far more readily in street-level political ferment or within the lower levels of the government than it can within the regime's top leadership.

During the past two years, the Nationalist regime's political opponents (known as tangwai, Chinese for "outside the party") have begun to function more and more openly in the fashion of an organized political party. They hold meetings and rallies, try to draft joint position papers and attempt to coordinate candidates' efforts at election time.

Meanwhile, dissident magazines have begun to publish muckraking stories about financial shenanigans on Taiwan, about the Henry Liu case, and even about President Chiang's Russian wife and his children.

Limits to Dissent

The Nationalists have tolerated political dissent, but only up to a point.

In the first half of this year alone, authorities banned well over 100 issues of opposition publications. More importantly, the regime has continued to maintain martial law on the island. As a result, the formation of new political parties is prohibited and the opposition's actions remain under the scrutiny of the Interior Ministry.

The official rationale for martial law remains essentially the same as it has for decades. The government says martial law is made necessary by the threat from the Communist regime on the mainland.

"We are faced still with an enemy that makes no secret of it, they would like to take us over, whether by a 'one-country, two-system' formula, by united front tactics or whatever," Dr. Chang King-yuh, director general of Taiwan's Government Information Office, said recently.

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