Taiwan: A Harsh Look at Four Years of Smoke and Stagnation Under Ma Ying-jeou

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Wednesday November 02, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As Taiwan's presidential election approaches, hardly any Taiwanese need to be reminded of Ma Ying-jeou's infamous and miscalculated pledge of 6-3-3 of 2008. So now with the 2012 election two months away, and the 6-3-3 promise and other unfulfilled promises under his belt, Ma is crafting a new promise; he is promising a Golden Decade. A Golden Decade? The full ramifications of this new promise boggle the mind, especially from a man who has consistently lived on borrowed time and consistently ignored the hopes of past unfulfilled promises by trading them instead for new unfulfilled promises.

Where does one begin? Start with the miscalculated 6-3-3 of 2008. That promise was made when Taiwan's GDP hovered between 5.5 and 5.7 percent in 2007 and Ma's boy scout economic advisors felt that 6 per cent would be easily achievable during his first four years as president. When the economy started to tank, Ma recast the promise to say he meant 6 per cent by 2016 and not 2012. Is even that credible? Taiwan's 2011 GDP is approaching 4.7 per cent and 2012 is predicted to be 4.5 per cent; that hardly bodes well. In harsh terms, despite the country already wasting four years on Ma, he is now asking for another four. If those four prove as disastrous as Ma's first four, Ma will still be long gone with a comfortable pension in 2016, but the country? That will be a different story and its problems will be more than just the economy.

Cross-examine Ma's promise of a Golden Decade with the lack of fulfillment above. If the first five years of 6-3-3 fall far short of the 5.7 per cent GDP of 2007, then the first five years of the Golden Decade will not be golden but rather leaden dross and Ma again will be long gone before the first five years of that decade are over.

Are there other Ma promises? Few recall that in 2005, as Chairman of the Chinese National Party (KMT), Ma promised to divest the party of its ill-gained assets. That promise (made six years ago) is just one more added to the dustbin of unfulfilled promises under Ma. The profits from the few properties Ma sold were not turned over to the people; they were simply put in the KMT war chests to keep KMT politicians in office. That is not divesting, that is liquefying assets.

Then of course there was the other famous 2005 promise to help arm the nation. After blocking arms budgets and purchases for three years in the Legislative Yuan so that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would not get credit for them, Mas KMT has finally gotten approval in 2011 for upgrades to the nation's air force. Six years is a long time for Taiwan to only get upgrades in the end.

Go further and examine why it is said that the past four years under Ma have been smoke and stagnation. Ma's campaign team claims that of the 400 policies proposed by his administration in 2008, 90 per cent have been fulfilled. That translates into 360 fulfilled promises, but can anyone name at least even 25 of those 360 fulfilled promises? And further, voters must ask are they really better off than they were four years ago because of these alleged 360 fulfilled promises? Is housing more affordable? Are jobs more plentiful? Have jobs stayed in Taiwan instead of going overseas to China? Has the average person's yearly income increased or is it at a lower level than that of four years ago? Has ECFA made a difference for anyone but a few rich? Is the wealth gap widening instead of shrinking? This is why many now look at Ma's four years as smoke and stagnation.

Ma claims he has brought peace to the Taiwan Strait, but all he has done is allow China to feel confident that it need only wait for the apple to fall into its hands. Hidden also in the smoke of Ma's promises is his new talk of a possible peace treaty with China in ten years. A peace treaty over what war? The KMT/CCP Civil War ended in 1949. Why does Ma dredge up a war from the past that did not involve Taiwan? How even can Ma speculate on this dredged up war when he will not be in any office in ten years? Further, he is unclear on this vague promise. It was first to be a treaty, then a peace accord and now? Then there is the additional ambiguity of whether Ma sees this accord as state to state, or party to party or region to region and whether it must be under the "one China" principle that China always insists on. Will Ma invoke the fabricated and bogus 1992 consensus? This is more than smoke and stagnation; it is smoke and clear cut danger for Taiwans sovereignty.

Finally, Ma has tried to escape his slippery conundrum by saying he would first seek a referendum of the Taiwanese people. But the Referendum Law with its "birdcage" restrictions has already demonstrated how the people are deprived of any say and Ma's party has thus far not only both refused to let ECFA be judged by referendum but his party has refused all attempts to reform the Referendum Law. Ma began his presidency with the best of all possibilities, a Legislative Yuan where his party the KMT controlled 75 per cent of the vote. After four years of smoke and stagnation, the people of Taiwan cannot afford to waste another four years on Ma.