Surviving Ma Ying-jeou's Final Two Years

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Sunday May 25, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Like the wayward ship in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Taiwan's ship of state remains trapped in the doldrums. Here, the fault for the ship's position is not linked to the death of any albatross; it lies clearly in the hands of its captain, President, Ma Ying-jeou. In Vietnam, Taiwan's businessmen currently suffer because they are repeatedly being mistaken for Chinese. Ma with his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has done little to dissuade this misconception. To the opposite he has constantly tried to convince outsiders and the Taiwanese themselves that they are joined to China under a zhonghua minzu (Chinese ethnic group) banner. Vietnam is one of the boomerang effects of such efforts.

On the home front, after six years, the economy still stagnates; again it is Ma's myopic vision. Here he thinks that only China, which Taiwan has already poured more than its share of capital into via investments, can rescue Taiwan. As all these difficulties mount the chief problem that Taiwanese are now faced with is how to survive the remaining two years of Ma's presidency with as little damage as possible.

Soul searching is in order. It is in order for all Taiwanese especially since they face the crucial city elections this coming November and those for the presidency and Legislative Yuan in 2016. There can be little doubt that Ma, a.k.a. the incompetent, a.k.a. the Bumbler, is a flim-flam man. One need only observe how Ma's spin-doctors and Public Relations pundits boasted that he has completed over 94 per cent of his campaign promises; contrast that then with that his rock bottom approval rating of 9 per cent. Some obvious questions arise. Does Ma believe Taiwanese are gullible fools? Were 94 per cent of Ma's campaign promises such that he would simply show up for work in the morning and therefore he fulfilled his promises? Or were the remaining 6 per cent of campaign promises ones that were so vitally crucial that 90 per cent of the people could not give him an approval rating?

Regardless of the spin, the people have to face the fact that they had consistently elected Ma to two terms as mayor and two terms as president. Soul searching is therefore in order by the electorate. The old adage rings out, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." And Ma has fooled the electorate not just once but so many times that they have to bear some responsibility. Ma's incompetence did not happen over night. One might try to blame the Peter Principle and say that it was only when he finally rose to the top level of his incompetence that his façade crumbled, but that is too easy an out. Still wherever the blame lies, it is water under the bridge; the damage has been done and the more important question now is how Taiwan can salvage Ma's last two years and face the coming elections.

In this, Ma's character must be addressed. Where does the heart of this lame duck really lie? Taiwan had just witnessed how Lin I-hsiung, a man who has clearly dedicated his life to Taiwan went on a hunger strike because of his belief that the 4th nuclear power plant was a threat to the island. Lin's beliefs appear well founded since no one in Ma's government despite the KMT majority vote wants to take responsibility for choosing to continue with the plant. But putting aside the issue of nuclear power for the moment, Lin was prepared to die for Taiwan. And Ma? Can anyone imagine any issue that the flim-flam man, Ma, would actually go on a hunger strike for to preserve Taiwan? Unification with China would seem to be the only issue that would touch Ma's heart, but not something to do with Taiwan.

In the current situation, Taiwan's problems with mistaken identity in Vietnam are clearly due to the Ma administration's insistence on the bogus 1992 Consensus and that there is only one China with different interpretations. Ma likewise insists on keeping the name of the Republic of China with its outdated 1947 Constitution. The rest of the world, however, operates out of a totally different policy and thought than Ma. For it, there can be only one China just as there can only be one of anything. This does not mean that Taiwan is a part of China but that if Taiwan wants to get in the United Nations or have any national recognition, this mid-sized nation has to do it under a different name than the Republic of China. Ma will not face that.

So what paradigms does Ma operate under and where is Ma's heart? The answers to this again come with other questions. Where would Ma go when he retires in two years? Despite all his zhonghua minzu claims, he won't be welcome in China unless he bring Taiwan to China as a Quisling like gift. Would he stay in Taiwan like Lee Teng-hui? Such chances are minimal. Disliked by many even in his party, (he did, among other things try to throw Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng out) and lacking a strong Taiwanese identity like Lee, Ma could easily become a pariah.

Ma could go to Hong Kong where one daughter is or he could even go to the USA. There, there is a precedent. Zhang Xueliang, ring leader of the Xian Incident (1936), surprisingly chose to end up in the USA. Zhang certainly was one who wanted to be a hero for China's unification. After the Xian Incident, he ironically found himself spending 53 years in house arrest and most of that in Taiwan. Freed 3 years after Martial Law was lifted in Taiwan and free to find a place for retirement, Zhang chose Hawaii instead of a hero's welcome in China. Ma will be much younger than Zhang when it comes time to choose, and he may have other options, but wherever he goes, the flim-flam man will be running out of people he can fool.

Here in Taiwan certainly, awareness of Ma's deception is increasing. Ma consistently states that he will not move closer to China unless the people wish it. Yet despite these statements, despite only a 9 per cent approval rating and despite the recent Sunflower Movement clearly saying to slow down and back off from linkage with China, Ma still moves in the opposite direction. To paint Ma as an Ah-Q figure would almost seem an insult to Ah-Q; Ma is far more calculating. This is what Taiwanese must fully realize and assess. They need to constantly question where is Ma's heart, and what must be done in damage control. The next two years will not be easy. ***

*** (Footnote: While these articles are critical of Ma, they will prove to be prophetic and on target as results of the 2014 and 2016 elections will bear out.)