Ma Ying-jeou's "Do Nothing" Promises Deceive Taiwan

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Saturday June 25, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

A recently released WikiLeaks cable revealed yet another set of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou's strange and vacuous negative promises that in effect define him as a "do-nothing president," that is, a president who attempts to be a good little boy that will sit in the corner vis-a-vis the US-China-Taiwan triangular relationship and not rock the boat or try to offend anyone. This latest revelation, dated March 20, 2009, a year after Ma's taking the presidency referenced three promises Ma made through staff to American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt. Ma's first set of three strange, empty "do nothing" pledges were made when Ma had become president. Both sets of promises demand closer examination for they not only reflect Ma's characteristic avoidance in taking an accountable position on anything but they also imply an obtuse simple-mindedness on the part of anyone who accepts his words as noteworthy.

Ma's first set of promises are well known; he said that would not seek unification with China, he would not declare independence and he would not attack China. These appear safe and non-confrontational at first glance, but the gist of the first two has been well exposed by Nan Fang Shuo a former supporter but now critic of the President. Shuo put it this way. Ma is playing deceptive word games; he tells the independence people that he will not seek unification and he tells the unification people he will not seek independence, but he purposely avoids saying anything about what he will do, or what are his own "core values" (if he does have any). That Ma's third promise even needed to be put forth or expressed, strains credibility. In that promise, Ma pledged that under his leadership, Taiwan, a nation of 23 million people, would not attack China, a nation of 1.3 billion people. Even if Taiwan had nuclear weapons, which it does not, such an attack borders on absurdity. The last so-called "megalomaniac" who expressed such a fantasy was Chiang Kai-shek. Why does Ma feel obligated to express such?

However, it is the next or second set of promises that not only betray Ma's wishy-washy aim-to-please character but also the questionable intelligence or goals of the U.S. State Department, an entity that has appeared happy to receive such vapid assurances. Ma promised that Taiwan would not ask for a certain kind of transit just to show that the US would grant it, that Taiwan would not ask for certain weapons systems just to show the US would sell them and that Taiwan would not insist on certain names, just for domestic political considerations. Since Ma regularly speaks internationally from one side of his mouth and domestically from the other, one wonders who is in on the word games here, the speaker, the listener, or both. Ma of course is playing off of the Bush administration's past criticism of Chen Shui-bian and the surprises it felt when Chen did not go along with the micro-management style of the US State Department. Ma is stating that he will not be a "trouble maker," he will comply with the US micromanagement style and have "no surprises."

While Ma's promises of what he would "not do" seemed to please the US State Department and certain pundits who care little for Taiwan in the above mentioned triangular relationship with China, the promises still raise other questions. Why should the US need such satisfaction? Taiwan is a verified democracy and a long time ally of the United States, why should Taiwan have to forego the respect and natural expectations granted to such? As Taiwan faces an ever increasing military threat from China, why should Taiwan's president want to deny assistance? Again without any core values, is Taiwan under Ma content to be a good little boy that will sit in the corner and accept any names given it, shall we say province of China? This is not repairing relationships, it is becoming a "do-nothing" lap-dog of the US and China.

That such discourse exists between two supposedly mature governments is surprising, but more surprises have come. Ironically, a year after the set of pledges Ma made to Burghardt, a befuddled Burghardt was in Taiwan looking for an explanation on the US quandary and surprise as to why Ma did not deliver on one of the few things he said he would do. Ma had made an agreement that Taiwan would buy US beef in many shapes and forms but then, surprise, surprise, Ma reneged. If the US State Department had been really attuned to Ma and Taiwan, it would have realized that Ma remains a complacent do-nothing president. He is OK on things he says he will not do, but when it comes to what he says he will do, things start to crumble. One of Ma's evident failures here is that after four years he still has not come close to delivering on his disastrous 6-3-3 promise. On the beef scandal, Ma was finally caught in his word games, for after he told the US he would buy their beef, he then told the Taiwanese he would not buy what they perceived as tainted beef. Taiwan must now ask itself, does it want another four years of a "do nothing" president who specializes in what he will not do but avoids accountability in saying specifically what he will do in developing and protecting his country? Dump the negative do-nothing word-playing Ma!