Being rude about the French is one of the perks of running this Blog but, for once – and doubtless not the last time – we have been totally upstaged by an editorial in the Taipei Times, the writer of which seems slightly less than enamoured by our Gallic partners.
Headed, "French perfidy must be challenged", the framing of the piece is France's pressure on the rest of the EU into lifting the arms embargo on China.
It invites readers to remember that Christine Deviers-Joncour - the erstwhile mistress of former French foreign minister Roland Dumas whose tell-all books played a serious role in clarifying details of the scandal surrounding the kickbacks involved in Taiwan's purchase of Lafayette frigates in the early 1990s - once wrote a book about herself called The Whore of the Republic.
Says the Taipei Times, "the former lingerie model's right to this title is now under severe challenge from France's defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who last week said - and you should probably reach for your sick bags now - 'France has the strictest, most stringent rules applying to the sale of weapons of the European Union and probably in the world.'"
Its response to that is delightfully robust, citing the American writer Fran Lebowitz, who once said: "To the French, lying is simply talking."
The editorial continues, and we cannot improve upon it:
In Taiwan, we know about French arms sales - principally how they are manipulated so that everyone in on the deal can pocket huge wads of cash at the taxpayers' expense. According to Dumas himself, the sum involved in the Lafayette case was US$500 million with People First Party Chairman James Soong's then office, the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) secretariat general, acting as bagman. What could Alliot-Marie's "strict rules" be? Perhaps she means a strict scale of bribes.There it ends but, putting this Blog somewhat into the shade, there is a little note at placed under the piece. It reads: "This story has been viewed 4332 times" … and counting.
The English poet Coleridge, of Ancient Mariner fame, once said that "Frenchmen are like grains of gunpowder, - each by itself smutty and contemptible, but mass them together and they are terrible indeed."
How well the arms embargo case illustrates this. The desire to sell arms to a tyranny like China is smutty and contemptible indeed. But when those who have influence can persuade the government to do their bidding, the result may quite possibly be terrible - France conniving at the destruction of a liberal democracy simply to enrich its "merchants of death" and their politician friends.
President Chen Shui-bian broached the issue twice on Thursday, and it is a shame that he was not a little stronger in his condemnation of lifting the EU arms ban. The plain truth is that for purely commercial motives, France is prepared to collude with the Chinese dictatorship in the stamping out of Taiwan's liberties. It is an ugly and shameful state of affairs and this ugliness and shame must be brought home with far stronger language than Chen has so far used.
Deeds, as well as words, should also be considered. The arms ban is EU-wide, but the pressure to lift it is almost entirely driven by France, with a little help from the Germans. Taiwan should let it be known that should the ban be lifted it will immediately act against French interests in Taiwan and will subsequently do the same thing with any other EU country that sell weapons to China.
What sort of actions should be taken? The immediate cessation of visa-free privileges and an astronomical raising of visa fees, the closing of cultural institutions, the ending of scholarships for French students, refusal to grant or renew French nationals alien residency, refusal to accept documents authenticated by the French government, the severing of air agreements - most of these measures are quite feasible and were used against South Korea in the early 1990s.
But Taiwan should go further and impose a massive tariff, say 100 percent, on all goods made by French companies; the proceeds, such as they might be, should go to the defense budget. That this violates WTO protocols bothers us as much as the UN bothers US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. That the French might retaliate makes us laugh. Let them double the price they pay for information technology if they want; much of it simply cannot be sourced elsewhere. Taiwan, however, will survive more expensive Louis Vuitton bags.