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September 7, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright September 7, 2008. Used by permission.


Allegations about money-laundering by former President Chen Shui-bian, his relatives, and his acquaintances have been front page news for three weeks, and, on some TV stations, occupy the first 30-40 minutes of the news hour. As might be imagined, this is also a hot topic on the political talk shows, day after day after day. New reports continue to surface about alleged improprieties, ranging from misusing government funds, to opening shady accounts in Swiss banks and tax havens like Liechtenstein and Aruba, to buying mansions and other properties in the U.S. The media hounds are now hot on the chase of Chen’s daughter (Chen Hsing-yu 陳幸妤), trying to goad her into outbursts that play well on the evening news and YouTube.

Is the fact that Taiwan’s former president is suspected of corruption newsworthy? Obviously. Do these allegations merit a thorough investigation? Definitely. If the evidence warrants it, should indictments be filed? Unquestionably. Is this the most pressing issue facing Taiwan? That’s another matter entirely.

To a certain extent, the saturation reporting of the Chen story reminds one of the second of Sunzi 孫子’s Thirty-six Stratagems (三十六計), namely “Besieging Wei to Rescue Zhao” (圍魏救趙), which is based on events during the Warring States Era, when the Qi general Sun Bin 孫臏 (d. 316 BCE; considered a descendent of Sunzi) attacked the Wei capital of Daliang in order to distract Wei troops from the siege of the Zhao capital of Handan (the exhausted Wei army was eventually ambushed and defeated).

Why employ such a strategy?