Ma Ying-jeou's Impotency Bodes Ill for Taiwan

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Sunday January 18, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Like the kingdom of the Fisher King in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," Taiwan is suffering from a deep malaise. Its problem is that its president Ma Ying-jeou is impotent, impotent as a leader and impotent in his party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT); because of that he is impotent to make any long-term constructive contributions to the nation of Taiwan. He can only talk.

Ma watchers sensed this long ago. When Ma was mayor of Taipei City, they noted that the city had been run as a much tighter ship under Chen Shui-bian than under Ma. These thoughts were further confirmed in July 2005. At that time Ma became chairperson of the KMT and made his two empty promises, 1) that he would divest the KMT of its ill-gotten assets and 2) that he would push Taiwan's needed arms budget in the KMT controlled Legislative Yuan. Despite the fact that his party has always controlled the Legislative Yuan, he failed miserably on both counts.

The stalwarts of the KMT had been disappointed back in 2005 when Ma got enough of the young vote to beat out the challenge of Lien Chan for chairmanship of the party, but they bided their time. They knew they controlled the assets and money of the party, and they knew Ma not only couldn't touch them, but that he eventually would need them.

When the KMT won a veto-overriding two thirds majority in the Legislative Yuan in early 2008, one could see the return of their corrupting power even before the presidential elections. With veto-overriding power, it mattered little to them whether Ma won the presidency or Frank Hsieh. Though they preferred the weak Ma, whoever was elected would be a person they could override. It was with that in mind that shortly afterwards, four KMT legislators felt emboldened to storm Gestapo-like into Frank Hsieh's campaign offices, demand increased rental payment and start ordering people around.

So in March 2008, when pundits in the rest of the world oohed and aahed at Ma's rise to power and his becoming President, those who knew his weak character could see the hand writing on the wall. Seven months later, Freedom House would write an open letter highlighting this and how human rights were in danger of being lost in Taiwan because of Ma's lack of leadership and control.

Ma can only talk, and one way Ma seeks to hide his impotence, is to talk out of both sides of his mouth and on both sides of the fence. Some try to make this a virtue and state "Well at least he can claim that he is right 50 per cent of the time." Others call it a placating vacillation. Regardless, most soon realize that it means you cannot trust much of what Ma says. His words are empty; you must watch the end result.

When China was oppressing Tibet in March 2008, Ma declared that Taiwan should refuse to send its sports teams to the Olympics in a show of support for Tibet. A week later, Ma changed and was wishing the Taiwan teams well as they left for the Olympics and giving approval to the insulting name "Chinese Taipei."

Again in the presidential elections, Ma strove to gain the religious vote and firmly supported the Dalai Lama and freedom of religion, but when the Dalai Lama expressed the desire to visit Taiwan Ma (fearful of offending China) answered with a "Don't call us, we'll call you." The Dalai Lama's envoys were sent packing.

In issues with Japan, Ma has alternately stated he is ready to go to war with Japan over the Diaoyuti Islands and shortly afterwards professed that Taiwan and Japan have a long unshaken friendly relationship that should be built on.

On Taiwan's sovereignty, Ma claims to support it yet he hides the country's flag when representatives from China come. Is Taiwan, an area of China, a region, a state, a country? It all depends on when Ma speaks and to whom.

Ma's impotency is further revealed in the way he avoids responsibility and unpleasant decisions that might tarnish his fabricated image. Even the pan-blue media supported by Ma's party, refers to him as the "little white rabbit who does not want to get his paws dirty."

In sticky matters, Ma is quick to opt out and say "well that really belongs to the Constitution, or the judiciary or anyone else but me." Recently Ma's Minister of Justice shamefully condoned the flagrant breach of professionalism among Taiwan's prosecutors in a mocking skit. Ma's response was "I don't want to interfere." When Ma cannot avoid action, he lets others do his dirty work for him. On the one hand, his secretary still languishes in jail for laundering a half a million US dollars into Ma's savings account. On the other hand, Ma will use police power to take it out on those without power and position. When China's Chen Yun-lin was here, Ma unleashed 7000 police on protesting students.

If he isn't avoiding things, Ma will take credit where it is not due. In his New Years address he boasted how his administration had brought the Control Yuan up to speed. "In the past six months, the Control Yuan and the Examination Yuan have been rapidly brought back to normal operations, and the five-branch structure dictated by the Constitution is thus once again functioning as designed." What he did not say is that the reason that they had not been functioning as designed is because for more than three years the KMT had purposely blocked any appointments to those bodies. The KMT stymied justice in Taiwan for three years until they could fill the seats with their own people.

About the only real action that Ma has taken responsibility for is his running to China to solve Taiwan's problems. Ma has assembled a bunch of gullible Gee-whiz kids who when they are not fawning all over Ma, are providing him with half-baked schemes. They are the ones who convinced Ma that by opening the doors to China he could raise the nation's growth rate from 5.7 percent under Chen Shui-bian to at least six percent. Hence his infamous 6-3-3 promise. Unfortunately the Gee-whiz kids (lost in their own dreams of grandeur) had no idea of what was developing in the real world. Ma even admitted at a conference again in November 2008 that they were out of touch with reality and he will be lucky to reach even two per cent growth.

China continues now to pour out tainted products as its own national growth sinks in the shared global recession. Taiwan factories in China are closing. Social unrest there increases and threatens post Lunar New Year holiday highs. The numbers of promised Chinese tourists to Taiwan has failed to develop, but Ma insists his plan is working. Ma can only talk.

As a result, in addition to being subservient to the old guard KMT Ma is now also at the mercy of the People's Republic of China (PRC) to throw him a few crumbs. When those crumbs are thrown we are sure to hear Ma boasting.

Ma remains little more than a guppy, believing his own hype that he can swim with the sharks, and herein lies the real danger for Taiwan. Both China and US strategists willingly inflate his image and support his impotency because they know they can manipulate him. Knowingly or not, Ma has become the perfect shill for their agendas and at Taiwan's expense.

The hegemony of China certainly remains one of Taiwan's major problems, but Ma's impotency is even far greater. With his image-dependent psyche, his fakery and his need for self approval Ma can only depend on gloss. The Holy Grail of Taiwan's democracy and sovereignty suffers. There is no Galahad at hand and perhaps there should not be. Maybe instead of a person, the people of Taiwan should turn to themselves to strengthen their Taiwanese identity, culture, and institutions. They certainly should not rely on the talk of Ma.