The British government is mostly ignoring Ma Ying-jeou's visit to London. As mayor of Taipei, Taiwan's capital, Mr Ma is officially on a trip to encourage business and investment. The trade minister, Ian Pearson, had agreed to meet Mr Ma purely "in his capacity as trade minister", a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. There would be no discussions of a political nature.
Such delicacy is understandable. For in his other, more important, public capacity, Mr Ma is chairman of Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese nationalist party, and linear heir to Chiang Kai-shek, who fought and lost to China's mainland communists in 1949.
Taiwan has rejected Beijing's claims to sovereignty over the island ever since. Mr Ma is leader of the opposition to President Chen Shui-bian and is tipped to replace him in elections due in 2008. That makes him a very political figure indeed.
Tisdall's article is a night-to-day improvement over his last effort on this one. Read how well he balances out the two sides in the Taiwan independence debate. First he describes Mayor Ma's positioning of himself:
In an article this week, Mr Ma cast himself as a pragmatist in contrast to the pro-independence Mr Chen, who he accused of "rocking the boat" in regional waters.
"Neither unification nor independence is likely for the foreseeable future and therefore the status quo should be maintained," he said.
He warned that Taiwan must stay on its guard. "While it seeks to defuse tensions ... Taiwan should also demonstrate its determination to protect itself by maintaining adequate defensive capabilities."
Next, Tisdall then gives the pro-independence response to Ma's self-serving nonsense. This is a far cry from many reporters who give a bare-bones pro-KMT take, softening or eliminating anything negative, like this article does, or worse, permit Ma to control the interview. Tisdall correctly identifies that the KMT is blocking the arms bill -- more than 40 times, now --
That assertion may strike Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive party as ironic, given the KMT's long-running parliamentary obstruction of a proposed multimillion-dollar US arms package....and even better, points out what a hypocrite Ma to talk about a status quo that his party is actually busy undermining:
Taiwanese sources suggested that high-level fence-mending visits by KMT leaders to the mainland last year, in defiance of government policy, also raised questions about the party's commitment to the status quo.
Tisdall does make one error:
Beset by falling poll ratings and setbacks in local elections, the Taiwanese president's stance on China has notably hardened.Chen's position hasn't hardened at all -- this is the same position he has had his whole career as activist, legislator, mayor, and President. I can't help but point out that constitutional reform and going slow in China were also the position of the KMT government prior to Chen. The former government even wanted to enter the UN, albeit under the ROC moniker. In fact, the National Unification Council was defunded by the KMT and its allies. The US reaction was hasty and extreme, and Chen's handling of the situation, incompetent. But nothing earthshaking really happened -- except the reaction from the US, which was the real news.
Mr Chen proposed, in speeches last month, abolishing long-standing unification guidelines and seeking UN membership as the "Republic of Taiwan". And he highlighted the dangers of becoming economically "locked in" with China.
"The ultimate decision on Taiwan's future must and will be made by the 23 million people of Taiwan of their own free will," he said. It was imperative to consolidate Taiwan's national identity, national security and national interests.
Tisdall did take the opportunity to correct an earlier misapprehension. The last time he wrote on Taiwan, he thought that the US was "legally bound" to defend the island. Apparently someone has explained the sad reality to him:
The American rebuke will underscore Taiwanese worries that as China's power grows, long-held assumptions that, in extremis, the US would support the island militarily may no longer hold true.
Taiwan must accept it is on its own, General Hu Chen-pu, a senior defence ministry official, told the Taipei Times last week.
He said: "The US has never promised to come to Taiwan's aid ... [and] we can never be sure it would render us assistance."
All in all, considering how awful the international media normally is, this article isn't bad at all. Good job, Simon. Hope to see many more.
[Taiwan] [Ma Ying-jeou] [Trade] [UK]