1989 / 8月
Theresa Sung /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Phil Newell
Last year was the first National Development Seminar since the lifting of martial law. Because the scope of speech had been greatly broadened, the NDS came under serious fire. The level of criticism increased from previous years, when the seminar was sometimes ridiculed as "the great political ritual" or "hitting at air," to discussions of the very existence of the meeting itself.
This year, the National Development Seminar was held again. Attacks by public opinion decreased, however. Yet the scale of reports in the media devoted to the seminar also shrank. Is the NDS in the wilderness? What will become of it?
On July 10 of this year, the National Development Seminar opened at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Those in attendance received the same enthusiastic reception as in previous years. The opening and closing ceremonies were attended by government ministers, as in the past. Only Foreign Minister Lien Chan, who was out of the country, was substituted for by the vice-minister.
Nevertheless, psychologically there was a great difference among those in attendance from overseas. Most had already heard of the severe criticism incurred last year. Therefore, they were extremely prudent. Chang Shao-ou of the public health and welfare committee indicated that all the attendees "did their homework," with some giving background data and slides when they spoke. The attendance rate was 100 percent.
The members of the other committees didn't dare to lag behind. Hwang Wei-yuan of the communications and transportation committee, who had returned to the ROC in 1980 to serve for three years, understands the expectations of the domestic audience toward the NDS. Therefore, not only was he concerned with ordinary affairs of the country, before returning to the ROC he read background materials in detail out of fear that in speaking he would be caught out of touch with the situation.
Isaiah C. Lee of the labor committee returned one month ahead and gave classes at the Kaohsiung Medical College Hospital. He said, "I took this opportunity to teach on one hand and learn on the other, to study the domestic labor system and the labor insurance issue. On days off I even went to the Lung Fa Temple to observe." He believes that to come home for three days of conference it is necessary to prepare at least three months.
Though those in attendance were diligent, it seems like the seminar no longer has its old attraction for the media. After the lifting of restrictions on newspapers, papers doubled in size; but news of the NDS, in contrast, decreased, and was moved to the back pages. One had to look carefully even to find it.
"The fundamental reason is the domestic environment has changed," is the analysis of one reporter.
The National Development Seminar was begun in 1972. At that time the government had just withdrawn from the United Nations. The Chinese Communists were attempting to isolate the ROC and win over overseas scholars. Therefore, the government decided to hold the NDS to increase the understanding of overseas scholars toward the national situation, and also to bring together the wisdom and experience of scholars home and abroad to quicken the pace of national construction. This could achieve the dual goals of a political call to action and getting outside advice.
Those attending the NDS were used to the freedom of speech abroad, and brought new viewpoints and an atmosphere of the free discussion of politics. The NDS became a "free speech holiday." However, in recent years, politics and society have liberalized. Especially after the lifting of martial law, the scope of speech is broader, and legislative bodies are performing in ways quite different from the past. Moreover, not only do ROC scholars often attend international conferences, foreign talent has continuously returned to the ROC to serve, so interchange between home and abroad is rich. The level of domestic construction planning has been raised greatly. It is therefore extremely difficult for attendees to say anything surprising or "newsworthy."
As for the issues raised by each committee, the expectation of people at home was that the scholars would raise concrete, feasible ways to solve problems facing the country, and not just state general principles. "The planning ability at home is already international standard. Therefore, the suggestions we raise must be in how to solve problems, and not in what problems will be faced," argues Hwang Wei-yuan of communications and transportation.
However, it was inevitable some scholars would be off the mark. The crux of the domestic problem, as stated by Fang Ta-cheng in the summary report, is: "The government has the intentions but not the capability. All matters are restricted legislatively, judicially, and by interest groups. The only way is to seek accommodation." This situation has led to a gap between theory and practice in the suggestions even of domestic scholars, not to mention overseas scholars long abroad. How can there not be a gulf?
In terms of immediate impact, the NDS is likely to leave many disappointed, but the aftereffects are not easy to ignore. As Premier Lee Huan noted in his closing remarks, "This is not an ending, but the beginning of a new stage of action." The cogeneration plan passed by the Executive Yuan last year, the lifting of newspaper restrictions, the passing of an election and recall law, the establishment of an environmental protection agency, and many other important policies were either produced or promoted by the suggestions of scholars at the NDS. Further, there are a large number who come to the ROC to invest, open businesses, or serve because of their participation in the NDS.
Over the last 17 years, the NDS has invited over 3,000 scholars from home and abroad to attend. After they have returned to their homes in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, overseas scholars have formed 26 friendship associations, bringing together high-level intellectuals abroad to continue to offer suggestions to the government and assist in bringing in new technology, systems, and viewpoints, becoming important human resources for national construction.
Because the NDS was centered on a political call to action, it has slowly changed into "specialized interpellations" over the past few years. Whether or not the preparations prior to the event were complete, people involved were or were not appropriate, or the methods did or did not allow substantial effectiveness, all directly influenced the quality of the suggestions. Furthermore, many issues involved different areas of specialized knowledge. For example technology transfer also touched on law and economics, and could not be decided only by technology specialists. If in a given day two or three cross-committee topics could be arranged for scholars to freely choose to attend, this could produce broader results.
This year, because the NDS opened on the heels of the Tienanmen massacre, the focus of the seminar transcended Taiwan for the first time in 17 years. "Let us maintain peace, and go out from this limited space of 36,000 square kilometers, and in the great efforts to promote the inevitable coming of democracy and freedom to China, let us actively devise ways to play a leading role," pleaded Fang Ta-cheng. Perhaps transcending Taiwan will be a new lease on life for the NDS.
Looking at the future direction of the seminar, this year three questionnaires were handed out, separately undertaking a survey of the attitudes of those in attendance, the organizers, and the media as to the functions and ways to improve the seminar. The Executive Yuan will have a meeting to reflect on these.
In line with the pattern of two years at home and one abroad, next year there will be no NDS in Taiwan. The third Chinese-American Academic and Professional Convention will be held in New York. The government will have ample time to think seriously about the future of the National Development Seminar.
This year the politics and foreign affairs committee was cancelled. Premier Lee Huan specially held two "national affairs meetings" in its stead.
The 1989 National Development Seminar was held in the Grand Hotel in Taipei.
It's usually not easy to see a minister, but not at the NDS. The photo shows Minister of the Interior Hsu Shui-teh (first at left) exchanging views with scholars in some spare time.
Since the increase in legislative interpellations and the broadening of the scope of speech, the NDS doesn't get the attention from the media it did in days gone by.
The mainland question was the focus of the general meeting this year. What repercussions will their voices have?
Scholars get to see what's wrong as well as what's right and offer suggestions on how to rectify problems.
On-site observation activities are another part of the NDS.