Can Ma Ying-jeou Make the Crumbs of His Mole-hills Look Like Mountains?

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Wednesday February 11, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As the first year of Ma Ying-jeou's presidency nears completion, Ma, his cabinet and his spin-masters are desperate for some sign, symbol, or semblance of success, but the picture is looking bleak. When it comes to dollars and cents and spending power, no amount of media hype and exaggeration, no amount of pictures in the paper, no promises, platitudes or dreams can change the hole in the nation's economic pocket and the lack of dignity the people feel as Taiwanese. And so while President Ma Ying-jeou, if we can still call him president, pretends that all is working out as he planned, one is reminded of a variation of an old nursery rhyme.

Little Ma Horner

Sat in a Corner

Eating his Moon Cake Pie

When he stuck in his thumb

All he got was a crumb

Yet he said what a good boy am I.

This is the situation as Ma searches for a crumb to justify himself. Where will he find that crumb? Not in the economy, it is heading south with no hope of redemption. Ma had promised that he would take the nation from a growth of 5.7 per cent under Chen Shui-bian to six per cent. After six months in office, by his own admission, Ma said it would be lucky to reach 2 per cent growth. A think tank has estimated it at less than one per cent (0.89). And now the word on the street is that the nation's economy will shrink some 11 per cent. There are no crumbs there.

Then there is unemployment. Ma said he would reduce it to 3 per cent. At last estimation it had risen to 5.1 per cent, the highest in the past five years. Better skip unemployment.

What about the promise of the average income being NT$30,000 a month, as broken promises go, it fails also. When you don't have a job, what difference does boasting about what salary you dream you will be making?

Well what about the pandas? Under Ma's direction, the nation has poured out millions of US$ dollars to refurbish a building so he could claim we had pandas in our zoo. The media did a panda mania blitz and millions of more dollars were budgeted for each of the next five years. These millions were spent so that Taiwan could get into the field of panda research. Panda research is that what Taiwan needs? When people don't have jobs and the economy is tanking Ma's government is spending money trying to be an expert on panda research? Will they try to prove that pandas can survive outside their natural environment? The cost of research that would be done is in the double digits of millions of US$ dollars; all blown on getting pandas. Pandas are not the crumb that Ma wants to highlight.

After spending the panda millions, Ma is also spending on a feasibility study of building a bridge from Kinmen to China. With more millions at stake, any decent Taiwan citizen must ask, how is a bridge from Kinmen to China going to help the job market in Taiwan? Perhaps with a bridge, the 20 million or so unemployed in China will be able to come across and transit to look for jobs in Taiwan proper. That does not sound appealing. Or perhaps this is Ma's way of defending Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy by building a bridge so that China's tanks will be able to roll right in? Better leave the costly bridge to Kinmen on the drawing board; no crumbs to boast about there.

So is anything working? There is the Maokung Gondola begun when Ma was Taipei Mayor and completed under Hau Lung-bin, but that is a fiasco also, another Ma project that is going nowhere. When Ma and Hau got stuck for an hour on a mal-functioning cable car on opening day it must have been an omen. Ma and Hau were there for all the photos on opening day, but they failed to show up for the photos of all the erosion that had weakened the pillars and caused the shut down. It must have been too cloudy that day for Ma.

While on the topic of erosion, in Ma's first year nearly a dozen human rights organizations and scholars protested about the erosion of justice and human rights in Taiwan under Ma so there won't be any crumbs on what great things Ma is doing for the people.

OK but Ma did open the doors to China; he lifted the cap on investment, so Taiwanese could make millions there. What's that? That's not working out either? As a matter of fact in less than six months the government has reversed its position. A government organ, "The Taiwan Journal" says that they are now "pulling out all stops in an effort to lure businesses home." Going out, coming back, is there a consistent plan here?

In a desperate effort to get something going Ma's government has tried a voucher program. NT$3,600 was given to each eligible Taiwanese to spend this year. About 90 per cent of the money up was picked up, but there are questionable opinions on whether the process will do any good long term or not. However, in the process of giving out the money NT$11 million (roughly US$ 325,000) went missing. Minister of Interior Liao Liou-yi says he will cover that loss. Has he done that yet? That is something for a good reporter to follow up on.

There must be some crumb that Ma can claim that he is a good boy, and there is. He claims that he has brought about a great thaw in the relations of China and Taiwan. His spin-masters are flooding the media with how tensions have been reduced and even foreign pundits are chiming in. But have they?

This is the crux of the matter. One must remember that the cause of the problem of tension between Taiwan and China is China, was China, and has always been China. (An exception can be made for the idiotic moments when Chiang Kai-shek promoted the fantasy that he would invade and retake China.) Ma on the other hand in search of and in need of some success has gone out of his way to placate China. Claiming this crumb, he even longs for an additional crumb that China will allow him to brag about being a one-time observer in the World Health Association (WHA).

Is there a Great Thaw? Has Ma brought peace to the Taiwan Strait? No, at the expense of Taiwan's dignity, all he has done is to placate and appease China temporarily. As others have commented, his claim to have brought peace to the Taiwan Strait is like that of Neville Chamberlain's claim to have brought "Peace in our Time," with the Munich Agreement. China for the moment now has vast problems of its own in unemployment giving Ma has a reprieve in which to boast, but tension will return whenever China wants more and does not get what it wants. And Little Ma Horner, well, he can go back to his corner.