by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Gencat/Public Domain
A NUMBER OF pan-Blue politicians have been implicated in the scandal regarding Taipei clinics violating vaccine priority order, to vaccine individuals accused of being allowed to skip the priority order because of their elite status. Among those vaccinated include former vice president Lien Chan, former legislator and Taipei mayoral candidate Ting Shou-chung, and former legislator Chang Hsien-yao, who was also a past secretary-general of the Straits Exchange Foundation. All three are KMT politicians.
Some of these vaccinations took place at the Good Liver Clinic and Dianthus Clinic in Taipei, with some vaccinated under the auspices of being “volunteers” at the Good Liver Clinic, though some vaccinations took place elsewhere, such as at the Cheng Hsin Hospital where Lien Chan was vaccinated, or in Kaohsiuing in the case of Chang Hsien-yao. Both clinics are run by prominent and well-connected doctors. Those that were vaccinated reportedly only had to provide their National Health Insurance cards.
Indeed, one notes that scandals regarding the Good Liver Clinic and Dianthus Clinic first emerged after reports that Chang Rong-wei, the brother of current Yunlin county magistrate Chang Li-shan, was vaccinated despite not being on the priority list. The Chang siblings are both KMT politicians, with Chang having also formerly served as Yunlin county magistrate. Chang’s vaccination took place shortly after his release from jail in June on corruption charges, having originally been given an eight-year term for graft in 2018, following a one-year jail sentence in 2005 on vote-buying charges.
By contrast, fewer members of the pan-Green camp have been implicated in charges that they violated vaccine priority order. The exception to this seems to be Ting Yi-ming, an advisor and former spokesperson of the Executive Yuan. Ting was relieved from his position as a spokesperson in 2020 after making false statements about the use of American ractopamine-treated pork at an award-winning beef noodle restaurant, but retained as an advisor. That being said, the CECC has defended Ting as in the eligible vaccination category.
Such charges do not reflect well on the KMT, which has long been accused of being a political party that sees itself above regular Taiwanese, and whose members have historically enjoyed an elite, privileged status. This goes back to authoritarian times, in which KMT party members constituted an economic and political elite that ruled over Taiwanese society, despite the party’s reputation for severe internal corruption.
The KMT’s reputation for wealth precedes it in modern times, as well. Before the party assets probe launched by the Tsai administration, to investigate assets that the party retains from property seizures or from party-run enterprises during the authoritarian period, the KMT was routinely accused of being the world’s richest political party. Likewise, given the party’s pro-unification politics, many of its politicians hope to facilitate the unification of Taiwan and China because of their business and political ties with China—despite the political costs for Taiwan.
Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je has been accused of not only trying to pass the blame for the scandal to subordinates, but also to try and deflect blame to the central government, such as claiming that issues regarding vaccine allocation stemmed from unclear policies by the central government. Ko currently claims that the Good Liver Clinic and the Dianthus Clinic violated vaccination orders mandated by the Taipei city government and will be fined, while insisting that the central government did not issue orders specifying that those vaccinated were not eligible. Similarly, Yunlin county magistrate Chang Li-shan claims that she was justified in vaccinating her brother because they live together and she is the head of Yunlin’s COVID-19 response, despite that the family members of medical personnel were not eligible to be vaccinated when the vaccination took place.
To this extent, one notes that Ko has also tried to divert blame for the scandal onto Kao Chia-yu of the DPP, claiming that Kao was the one who originally advocated for the Dianthus Clinic receiving vaccines. Kao responded that she initially put the head of the Dianthus Clinic in contact with the Taipei city Department of Health, but that subsequent communications were conducted directly between the Dianthus Clinic and the Department of Health, while Ko claims that Kao continually contacted the Taipei city Department of Health to advocate on behalf of the Dianthus Clinic. For its part, the Dianthus Clinic also has stated that it primarily conducted communications directly with the Taipei Department of Health.
Either way, questions have also been raised about how the Good Liver Clinic, which only has a capacity of 101 individuals, so easily received a total of 1,150 doses of vaccines. It has been noted that the head of the clinic, well-known doctor Hsu Jin-chuan, was a former mentor of Ko’s when Ko was also a doctor at the National Taiwan University Hospital. As such, Ko has also been accused of cronyism in a manner similar to established KMT practices.
Although the Taipei city government launched an investigation into the vaccine allocation scandal, it has been accused of attempting to cover up the facts. According to Taipei city councilor Lin Yin-meng, an independent formerly part of the NPP, the investigation reportedly has been kept confidential by the Taipei city government, with city councilors only provided a five-page condensed version. To read the more detailed version, city councilors are only allowed to read within a designated room for thirty minutes and must leave if they have not finished, and they are not allowed to take photographs or take notes. To this extent, backlash against Ko is likely to be inflamed by the scandal.
The scandal does not reflect on the pan-Blue camp then, whether this be Ko Wen-je’s TPP or the KMT. However, it perhaps should not be surprising that the pan-Blue camp has failed to break from its longstanding corruption, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consequently, the KMT has been criticized because of its alleging the dangers of the AstraZeneca vaccine to attack the Tsai administration, as the only vaccine that Taiwan originally had access to. This was used as part of broader attacks on the Tsai administration, alleging that the Tsai administration’s vaccine acquisition status had been a failure. Chang Hsien-yao was particularly strident in his criticisms of the Tsai administration over AstraZeneca.
Yet KMT party members have evidently proved willing to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca nonetheless, including Chang. If it is politically savvy, the DPP will leverage on the incident not only to respond to attacks by the KMT, but to bolster confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, seeing as the KMT only alleges dangers with the vaccines in order to attack the DPP.