ad info

TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

OCTOBER 30, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 17

Give This Guy a Break!
Critics have been too hasty in declaring Chen Shui-bian's tenure a failure

Chinese premier Zhu Rongji once called Chen Shui-bian's presidency a "joke." Outside China, conventional wisdom increasingly seems to agree. Since Chen's election in March, Taiwan's stock market has plunged by more than 30%, a slide that pundits say represents a vote of "no confidence" in the President's abilities. Chen's approval rating, meanwhile, has fallen to less than 40%, from a high of 77%. His Premier, Tang Fei, resigned after less than half a year in office.

COVER: Clash of the Japanese Titans
The country celebrates a bygone era as teams managed by two legends do battle in the national championship
The Wizard: Seattle Mariners relief ace Kazuhiro Sasaki made a remarkable debut in America's Major Leagues

THE PHILIPPINES: High-Stakes Gamble
Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo faces an uphill struggle as leader of the movement to oust President Joseph Estrada

TAIWAN: Unjustly Accused
Commentator Sin-ming Shaw argues that President Chen Shui-bian is doing better than the headlines would have one think

STOCK MARKETS: What Goes Up ...
As pundits vie to interpret the wild rollercoaster ride of most share indexes, one thing is clear: the New Economy is ailing
Viewpoint: If it keeps you awake at night, don't own it

MEMORY: Recall and the Middle-Aged Mind
Fortysomethings have a hard enough time watching their waistline and hairline go; now it's their memory. Bookstores, health-food shops and websites are awash with products that claim to sharpen the aging brain. Do they work, and should you try them? Plus: test your memory
The Brain: How memories form
Alzheimer's Disease: When it's not mere forgetfulness

CINEMA: Asia's Storymaster
Hong Kong director Tsui Hark encapsulates two decades worth of technique and worldview into Time and Tide

INNOVATORS: Money and Finance
Wheels of fortune

TRAVEL WATCH: Surfing in the Sky: The Net Takes Flight

Chen is taking heat for everything. The economy is in the doldrums. A banking crisis is looming as problem loans pile up. The delicate relationship with Beijing has stalled, and no one can control the Vice President, Annette Lu, who pokes China in the eye at every opportunity. (In an official report, Beijing recently called the Taiwan situation "grim.") All of this adds up to a sense that Chen has squandered the promise of his election, an opinion shared, apparently, by his close adviser, Lee Yuan-tseh. A Nobel laureate, Lee said recently that the President "talked too much without giving the people a clear direction where he was going."

So is Chen toast? Is his presidency a disaster? Not at all. The slump in Taiwan stocks has more to do with global worries over the declining earnings of semiconductor companies than with Chen. Taiwan's stock-market index is packed with technology stocks; so is NASDAQ in the U.S., which has also dramatically declined since March. The market is simply saying that if Silicon Valley isn't doing well, neither should Taiwan's tech stocks.

On the political front, it's true that Chen's minority Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been slow to get up to speed. One reason for that is the Kuomintang (KMT), the DPP's rival, which dominates the legislature and has tended to put partisan interests above those of the nation. But the DPP's emergence as Taiwan's ruling party has already helped heal the most divisive social and political wound on the island: the rift between Fujian-dialect-speaking locals and the Mandarin-speaking mainlanders who have dominated local politics for a half-century. The topic of schism is no longer prominent in public discourse.

As for the economy, Taiwan does indeed face serious problems. But Chen hasn't been idle. In a departure from past KMT policies, Chen is promoting bank mergers to help shore up the weakest institutions. And he says he will lift many restrictions on foreign banks wishing to compete in Taiwan. Although capital is still over-regulated, the question is no longer whether financial reforms will come, but when and to what degree.

Chen is waffling on some economic issues. But his hesitance is often understandable. Taiwan, like many other places, is grappling with a dual economy: one part is old, inward-looking and inefficient; the other is new, knowledge-intensive and globally competitive. By letting the New Taiwan dollar find its own, lower level and by lifting regulations governing capital flows to China, Chen could encourage Old Economy companies to revive themselves by relocating to the mainland. But China isn't making it easy. Beijing recently said it would take stock of the political views of potential investors from Taiwan, particularly their level of support for Chen's DPP. The threat was later quietly dropped, but a sense of uncertainty had been sown. The reality is that both sides need each other. It is China, not Taiwan, that could face devastating unemployment after joining the World Trade Organization.

Is Chen handling the cross-Strait relationship well? Beijing clearly does not think so. But by now, even the mainland's most stubborn hawks must know that war against Taiwan is a non-starter: it's impossible to define victory in any way that makes sense.

Chen said recently he was proud to be a Chinese, a signal to Beijing that he is willing to be conciliatory. The communists, however, apparently want him to genuflect more unambiguously. China should know that putting a timetable on reunification is unwise as long as Taiwan's people are not ready for it. Chen knows his constituency better than Beijing and is calculating that he needs to proceed slowly. Chen can do better at his job, yes, but during his first six months in office he has not done badly. In the U.S., Bill Clinton didn't exactly light up the scoreboard in his first two years, but his performance improved considerably. Give Chen a chance. The conventional view about him is simply unfair.

Sin-ming Shaw is a visiting scholar at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University

Write to TIME at

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.