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What a ludicrous dispute the ECFA manga controversy is!

Monday, August 3, 2009
By Joe Hung, Special to The China Post


If there's any more ludicrous dispute than the one currently going on between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, we don't know what is. The only good news is that it seems to have come to an end.

The contemptibly and amusingly vain dispute was kicked off by some brainless spin doctor from the ministry that is trying whatever it can to promote an economic cooperation framework agreement between Taiwan and China, which is designed to bring more benefit to the former than the latter but is greatly opposed by the pro-independence opposition party that professes not to have anything to do with our giant neighbor. The ministry's maestro of propaganda came up with a manga comic, with two caricatured figures talking about what is dubbed in Hoklo as “Echo-huat,” which is made to sound like ECFA, the abbreviation of the pact Taipei wants to sign with Beijing before the end of this year, if at all possible.

One of the figures is named Yi-ge in Mandarin. Literally it means First Brother. But it is basically equivalent to “echo” in Hoklo, which means a better or more chance. “Huat” in Hoklo is pronounced “fa” in Mandarin. The other figure, Fa-sao in Mandarin or Huat-so in Hoklo meaning Lady Rich, enlightens First Brother on the benefit of the ECFA. One clever catch, at least the clever adman so believes, is: if “so” or “sao” is dropped, the combination of the two names reads like “Echo-fa” which he wants the viewers to associate with “a better or more chance to get rich” with the conclusion of the ECFA.

Cartoons are often used in ads. But by and large children are the audience targeted. For a serious matter like the ECFA, admen certainly should target eligible voters, educated middle-class people in particular. (We are certain some of them who are in their 20s love manga.) By putting out the cartooned figures who chat about the ECFA, the MOEA is insulting sway voters it hopes to win in the event of a likely referendum on the ECFA that the opposition party is trying to call. The voters are not look-alikes of First Brother, a nincompoop hailing from Tainan who speaks Mandarin with a heavy Hoklo accent and can't even express himself well. We can only wonder if the authorities are attempting to dissuade voters from supporting its pet agreement.

Even more ridiculously far-fetched, however, are the charges Cheng Wen-tsan, spokesperson for the opposition party, is pressing against the ministry. He identifies First Brother as a native of the home county of disgraced former President Chen Shui-bian, who is standing trial for forgery, corruption and graft, and money laundering.

Cheng has conveniently forgotten Yiin Chii-ming, minister of economic affairs, is a native of Tainan. Of course, it's impossible for the author to tell Cheng of the true identity of the caricatured figure.

Well, Cheng claims Lady Rich, a well-learned polyglot and a female smart aleck Hakka, is a know-all and a heralding angel of the riches Taiwan is expected to acquire after the ECFA is signed. His imagination is just as wild as that of the spin doctor of the ministry, if not wilder.

The DPP apparatchik characterizes the manga as racist, class-conflicting and culturally discriminating to top his charges of causing insult to the people of Tainan. He demands that the cartoon be withdrawn in three days. Otherwise, he threatened, the opposition party would request the Control Yuan to impeach the MOEA for dereliction of duty. Needless to say, the charges are off the mark. The comic strip, though immensely stupid, isn't racist and culturally discriminating at all. There is no conflict of classes in a free, open and classless Taiwan, where upward mobility is available to anybody who is talented and capable.

And DPP leaders have join joined in the fray to support Cheng. Su Huang-chih, magistrate of Tainan, and Yeh Yi-tsin, a veteran lawmaker and a confidante of former first lady Wu Shu-chen, are bringing pressure to bear on Yiin.

Yiin rightfully wasn't apologetic, albeit he must have personally approved of the cartoon. In response to the charges, he quipped those who oppose the manga must be “too ideologically correct” and are politicizing the entire episode. Opponents are all likely to be partisans who faithfully toe the opposition party's ideologically correct line of hating China and whatever action the ruling Kuomintang takes to improve relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

There can be little doubt that the opposition party is politicizing the cartoon in an all-out effort to nip the ECFA in the bud. On the other hand, Yiin may be an avid manga fan like Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan, who is facing a parliamentary election which his Liberal Democratic Party is almost certain to lose on August 30. Aso's love for cartoons has gotten him into trouble quite a number of times in the past, though it isn't a main cause of the expected defeat in the election that will end an almost uninterrupted 50-year rule of Japan by his conservative party.

Our most serious concern is that an opposition party which can do nothing but parrot the anti-China mantra may come up with an idea to stop the government from signing the agreement, which it alleges is a sellout of Taiwan. We are afraid this farcical tragedy, which is now experiencing an intermission, will linger to affect Taiwan in the year to come.

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