Will Taiwan Waste Another Four Years as a Rudderless Ship Under Ma Ying-jeou

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Tuesday March 27, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwan's recent US beef/ractopamine scandal with its intimations of a quid pro quo backroom deal adds to the mounting realization that the nation, under the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, has been a rudderless ship. It is not that the ship of state does not move; rather it finds itself continually blown this way and that, forward and backwards by the conflicting directions, hot air currents, and excuses that emanate from the presidential office. Ma took office in May 2008, yet never has so little been done by a president who entered with so many advantages. Instead of hoped for progress, Taiwan's ship of state has tossed to and fro as it tried to respond to multiple changing winds. Those winds include misinterpreted and misapplied mandates, leadership by platitudes, inept plans from inexperienced staff, the belief that the essence of responsibility is finding someone to blame, word games, and finally insulting hood wink strategies dictating that the best way to escape unfulfilled promises is to make newer more grandiose ones. This has been Taiwan's past four years under the winds of Ma-speak.

No president could have asked for more than to be elected to office as Ma with 58 per cent of the vote and control of 75 per cent of the Legislative Yuan. If such a president had had at least a smattering of well thought out plans for the country then progress for Taiwan would have been a slam-dunk affair. Unfortunately the crucial word in the previous sentence is IF. Unfortunately Ma's team seemed to bask in the glorified presumption that all would get better simply because good-boy Ma was president

Start with Ma's infamous 6-3-3 promise, the cornerstone of which was a false easily expected 6 per cent GDP; that 6-3-3 promise was the real hoped for basis of the people's election mandate that the economy would subsequently improve under Ma. To the publics chagrin, Ma misinterpreted his 58 per cent win as agreement with what was in his heart i.e. that he should move to realize his father's dream of Taiwan being acquired by China. So stuck has Ma been in this dream, that even now with the GDP for 2012 dropping below 4 per cent to a disastrous 3.5, Ma still only visualizes and talks of his desired Zhongua MinzuXa phrase revitalized for the Republic of China (ROC) by the infamous Yuan Shikai in 1912 when Taiwan was part of Japan's Empire. Although Ma peppers his speeches with Taiwan centric words during election campaigns, the people are beginning to realize that Ma would choke if he had to speak of a Taiwan Minzu.

The winds of Typhoon Morakot (2009) exposed another problem, the lack of planning and readiness of the Ma administration. Platitudes could not solve or blow away the problems of that disaster and though the weather was sought to be the chosen scapegoat; it made a poor choice.

ECFA brought the next changing winds. Ma's administration boasted that ECFA (pushed through without the help and/or scrutiny of the Legislative Yuan) was their baby, the longed for economy solving break-through; it would rescue Taiwan. But then when the GDP continued to drop and rescue did not materialize, the public raised concerns that Taiwan's sovereignty was being sold out instead. So, the wind and sales pitch changed. ECFA was there but it was only a shell; nothing had really been decided on. There was no sell out, and after originally ignoring the Legislative Yuan and the people, Ma-speak dodged responsibility and passed the responsibility buck back to them.

However, it is the US beef scandal that has more clearly exposed the duplicity of Ma-speak; the problem was not only in beef, but at the same time the H5nv chickens and bird flu also came home to roost. Despite protestations that public health was Ma's main concern, the dangers to that public health were put on hold until after Ma was assured re-election. With the delay of the scandal, that mysterious phrase "wait till the boss steps down" directed the wind of blame. In addition, Ma's team tried to further pass the buck, this time to the previous administration.

Beef restrictions had been put in place under Chen Shui-bian. Then, in 2007 a memo was sent that Chen considered changing the restrictions; that consideration was never carried out. Now 5 years later the public has been asked to believe that the current flip-flop of the Ma administration is the result of that consideration that was never carried out. What happened in Ma's last four years? Was the Ma administration asleep at the wheel? Did they feel duty bound to do what Chen considered? Finally Ma declared that there was no back room deal for US support of Ma's re-election. But ironically, immediately after the election Raymond Burghardt, the Director the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), showed up on Taiwans doorstep like a bill collector seeking a long overdue bill.

New prominent conflicting winds of direction appeared with the word games that Taiwan must deal with and that Ma asks the people to believe. The fake 1992 Consensus should be accepted because though it is fake, Ma does not know how to talk to the People's Republic of China (PRC) without it. An obvious question is why does not the Ma administration create a new consensus; put it to China and Taiwan's Legislative Yuan for approval, but then that would mean that the Ma government would have to take action and accept some form of responsibility. That cannot be.

The word games continued; Ma said that public health is most important; and that there is no time line for accepting beef but his minions know that he wants the sell out to be completed before he officially takes office in his second term in May, 2012. The latest game is Wu Po-siung's statement of "the one country and two areas."

In the eight years of his presidency, Chen Shui-bian never had the advantages that Ma had. The Legislative Yuan that has always been controlled by Ma's party did not act as a loyal opposition party. Progress was difficult, however, Taiwanese could nonetheless be assured that they knew where their country stood and that its flag would be respected; the flag was never hidden when any foreign visitors came, even if, or particularly if they came from the PRC. The opposite has been true under Ma.

Now, the PRC's China International Contractors Association seeks to join the International Federation of Asia and West Pacific Contractors Associations (IFAWPCA) but they have made a list of requirements for their participation. These include that Taiwan, a founding member, cannot use the name Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan and that the ROC national flag not be flown or any other national emblems shown. Taiwanese officials could not attend in any capacity etc. etc. Is this a taste of what Ma-speak means that things will be completely different by 2016 when Ma is done? Should Taiwanese fear the expunging of anything Taiwan related in Ma's new world?

Premier Sean Chen is the one who has to take the blame for and explain all Ma-speak. He has no power to influence it, but that is standard for Ma's minions and the reason why there will never be significant progress under Ma. The main and only responsibility of Ma's staff is to take the blame when danger threatens. Ma's secretary took the fall for putting some illegal .5 million US$ in Ma's account because Ma would never do such. So Sean Chen must explain all, it is unlikely that he will survive the upcoming first year of Ma's second term.

In 2008, Ma won by 2,213, 485 votes; in 2012, as more people began to understand the duplicity of Ma-speak, he won by only 797, 561 votes. That would be by only 427, 973 votes if votes for James Soong are considered votes against Ma. Ma-speak now tries to claim that a drop from 2,213, 485 to 427, 973 is a new mandate of confidence. Taiwan's ship of state is in trouble. Even if any chance favorable winds would appear on the horizon, they will not benefit a rudderless ship. Expect gusts of platitudes and promises, but progress, now that is a totally different matter.