What’s wrong with Taiwanese political donations?

The Age last Friday put another cynical story about political donations on its front page. The gist of it is in the first paragraph:

A TAIWANESE-BORN businessman with close ties to his country’s disgraced former president paid for Kevin Rudd to travel business class to London and has donated $220,000 to the Australian Labor Party.

Julie Bishop followed this up yesterday with a call for a ‘full explanation’ of Kevin Rudd’s past privately-funded travel.

But what would a ‘full explanation’ contain?

Like most of the stories about political donations, this one is like a round-the-wrong way criminal investigation. No crime is identified, but the presence of a possible motive for crime is taken as prima facie evidence that a crime must exist.

The Age sent its journalists off on an elaborate join-the-dots search for an improper motive – Kevin Rudd and Labor are linked to Kung Chin Yuan, who is in turned linked to someone on corruption charges, with the insinuation that some otherwise obscure Taiwanese corruption scandal should taint Rudd and Labor.

I’d have thought a better starting point would be the Rudd government’s policies on Taiwan and China, and if there was something fishy there then the issue of possible explanations would arise.

This also intersects with the issue of foreign donations, which the federal government is seeking to ban. In my CIS paper due out on Thursday, I argue against the assumption that foreigners seeking to raise issues in Australia should be seen as improper or concerning.

Taiwan is an interesting case-in-point. It has a lot of diplomatic difficulties due to the desire of other countries, for economic and strategic reasons, to stay onside with the thuggish regime in Beijing, which does not recognise Taiwan as a separate country.

Taiwan needs to find alternative ways of getting its message across, and we should regard this as in-principle entirely acceptable. Building relationships with politicians in other countries is one obvious means of getting Taiwan’s side of the argument heard.

It would add another perversity to political donations law that it would favour the interests of a communist dicatorship over those of Taiwan’s imperfect but functioning democracy.

4 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Taiwanese political donations?

  1. I think you’ve missed one of the key points of the story. The “corrupt” former President here is on trial for stealing the very money that Kung donated. A few years ago one of the pro-China legislators who hates former President Chen claimed that Kung had invested the money in real estate in China based on that most reliable of sources, an anonymous one. Now it seems he actually put it where it was supposed to go.

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  2. Michael – It was a key point from a Taiwan angle, but confusing for the points I was trying to make here. Kung denies this was the source of the money, for reasons which are likely to have more to do with Taiwanese than Australian politics, but if it was the source it does let Chen at least partly off the hook.

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