Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ma Ying-jeou interview on BBC: A tissue of lies?

Thanks to cleverClaire, we now have a transcript of the Ma Ying-jeou BBC "Hardtalk" interview the other day (part one, part two, part three).

The interview begins with Ma conceding that China is a threat to Taiwan. The discussion then moves to the KMT's refusal to support the arms purchase. Ma defends the KMT with his first lie:

Ma: But the anti-missile, uh, missile plan was vetoed by a referendum the president pushed in March two years ago. You know it's a, he didn't, if he really want it, he shouldn't have put it in a referendum. But it was vetoed.
Totally untrue, of course. The referendum was overwhelmingly supported, but failed to gain enough votes to be valid. It wasn't "vetoed." Ma then claims that the public did not support the arms bill.

And you have to understand that the original price tag was 18 billion US dollars, and when the news came out, those people, according to the opinion polls, were opposed to it.

Polls vary. It would be truer to say that the public was split on the issue. But the public is not split on the issue of purchasing anti-missile missiles. It wants to. It's just that the KMT would rather have Chinese missiles be unopposed than do something that might benefit Taiwan and the DPP. But I digress...

Kudos to the host for this wonderful comment:

Host: Joseph Wu, the chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei, he said that your party has blocked the expansion of the defense budget on 40 separate occasions.

Not many westerners have been willing to say that out loud. Forty times! Next comes the second lie:

Host: But what you have also done is take up valuable time. We began this interview with you saying, absolutely yes, Taiwan faces a serious threat from China. You don't have time to play with.

Ma: Now actually the arms purchase program was approved by President Bush in April 2001. But the DPP government didn't make any action until 2004. They delayed the process for three years.

This is a lie that Ma has uttered before and the Taipei Times has already published the comprehensive refutation.

However, given the lengthy bureaucratic process for submitting weapons purchase requests -- an average of 22 months -- it is unlikely that the MND could have submitted a budget request any earlier than mid-2003. In order to expedite the procurement of systems that were deemed vital to national defense, the president ordered the MND in July 2003 to submit a special request for the three weapons systems included in the budget.

As it was not until 2003 that a special budget was first proposed, it is not clear what Lien is referring to when he cites "a figure of NT$280 billion" offered in 2002.

Finally, a former senior Pentagon official said that Taiwan "did not decide to pursue the PAC-3 until spring of 2003, after discussions with senior US officials," while it was impossible for the Taiwanese navy to submit a budget request for submarines until 2003, as the US navy did not even release its independent cost estimate for the subs until December 2002.

Lien then claims in his letter that "the `explanations' of the [MND] have been no more than a few sporadic brief pages and slides."

Yet according to media reports and the MND, Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) has personally met with every legislator in the Legislative Yuan, and has also briefed each legislative caucus on the issue at least once.

The MND was also responsible for printing brochures and charts regarding the special arms budget, which were distributed to the public, and has even erected billboards outside of military facilities explaining its position on the special arms budget.

Despite this high-profile offensive by the MND, the KMT legislative caucus has successfully blocked the special budget 26 times since it was first submitted. Each time, the obstruction occurred in the Procedure Committee, not the Defense Committee, which would normally be responsible for carrying out a debate about the bill's pros and cons.


In other words, the bureaucracy on both sides, cranking normally, takes a couple of years to process the entire budget request -- the US did not even provide a price for the subs until Dec of 2002, after which the Taiwan side had to process the arms purchase request, a process taking nearly two years. Mayor Ma is lying.

The KMT rationale for the purchases keeps shifting. The high price has always been an issue, but the KMT has also claimed that a pro-independence party can't be trusted with the weapons. This is all despite the fact that all the weapons in the package were originally requested by the KMT government prior to the DPP taking power. It is basically redundant to use the words "KMT" and "hypocrisy" in the same sentence.

The interviewer went after Ma:

Host: So you are not oppose to, when you say, yes we blocked the measures of the proposals for spending the military budgets 45 times, you don't regard that as a delay?

Ma: No, because we want to make sure that all the items we are going to purchase are really suitable for Taiwan defense. We should not spend an, wasted any money on arms that will not help us defend ourselves.

Host: What if you end up saying that on the day China invades?

Ma: Well, if you said anything the government propose should be accepted by the opposition party, that's not democracy. The opposition party has a responsibility to make sure that no money is wasted on a reasonable arms purchase.

...but I think Ma had a good comeback. It's always a delight to hear a KMT spokesman talking about democracy. Must make the White Terror victims turn over in their graves.

Next the interviewer attempts to pin the slippery Chairman Ma down:

Host: In the spring of 2005, China passed an anti-session law, which clear commits China to using, I quote, "non-peaceful means"...[Ma: That's right.] in any response to a Taiwanese declaration of independence. Now, do you regard China's passing of that anti-session law as a fundamental break with the status quo that has existed for decades across the strait of Taiwan?

Ma: I was the first one among Taiwan's political figures to come out to oppose that. Actually I start opposing that as early as December of 2004. I said, this move is entirely unnecessary and unwise. It will definitely provoke strong reactions of Taiwan and it's why when it was passed on 14th March 2005, I together with another 12 local government leaders called a press conference and oppose that openly. I think they have misunderstood Taiwan's public opinions. Actually not the majority of Taiwanese people support de jure independence. The majority supports maintaining the status quo.

Note how Ma is on-message and evasive. He doesn't directly answer the question -- he just "opposed" the Anti-Succession law. In a skillful use of time, he gets to the third of his lies, that the Taiwan public doesn't favor de jure independence, when of course they would, if China didn't point missiles at them. Ma deftly uses this question to segue to that last comment, claiming that the Taiwan public doesn't support de jure independence.

Observe also how cleverly worded that is -- by using the term "de jure" Ma gets the listener to miss the fact that he has just admitted that the Taiwan public supports independence: because that's what the current status quo is -- it is de facto independence. Ma is working to create a rhetorical space in which the KMT can claim to support the status quo without supporting independence, and thus paint the DPP as warmongers supporting a minority position. Rather than move the KMT to the middle, Ma is attempting to move the middle over to the KMT. Reconfiguring the pro-independence center is a clever rhetorical move, and I hope the DPP comes up with a strong counter.

Next, Ma gets all evasive as the interviewer attempts to pin him down:

Host: Let me stop you there, if I may, just for a moment. Can I take you for what you have just said, in your strong opposition to what Beijing did, you therefore supports President Chen, when he said, that Beijing has broken the status quo, and we in Taiwan, must therefore take certain political measures.

Ma: Well, I think the status quo, I think maybe different sides have different expectaions, or what constitutes status quo ...

Both sides have different ideas of what constitutes the status quo! Ma simply cannot say that China has violated the status quo with the Anti-Succession law. So he has to squirm his way out. But the interviewer won't let him get away with this:

Host: Now President Chen wants to get rid of, dissolve, unification council or unification guidelines, do you?

Ma: Uh, actually, when he was inaugrated in 2001, he said that he will not do that because he believes, this is, what constitutes status quo.

Host: Yes. The point is China has broken the status quo.

?Ma: Well, but uh, he did say that again in 2004. And that pledge was not only made to the people of Taiwan, but to the rest of the world as well.

Host: But precisely comes back to my point. Would you agree that the anti-session law passed by Beijing has changed everything?

Ma: Oh actually, I don't think that is anything new. Because the PRC has always said that it wants to use force against Taiwan, if Taiwan goes into independence. They only put that into a form of law. This is what we oppose because, I don't think the PRC is that law-abiding to a point that they need a piece of law to get the authorization to use force against Taiwan.

The interviewer understands the issue perfectly. It is Ma who has to dance around in an attempt to avoid looking like the complete hypocrite he is. The interviewer then nails him:

Host: I'm a little bit uncomfortable because your position basically is Beijing's position.

Ma: No. We oppose anti-session law, as I said very clear and I will ....

Host: ... anti-session law isn't a big deal because it simply formalized what we already knew with Beijing's position. What you really don't like is President Chen's reaction.

Ma: That is why I said it's unnecessary and unwise to do that. That when status quo has been in place for such a long time, there is no need for Beijing to do that. Again, the mainland affairs council, the mainland affairs uh, the guidelines have been there for 15 years. There is no point to change that. So that's why both sides have changed the status quo to some extent. That is why we are opposed to that.

So in the end Ma does admit that "both sides have changed the status quo to some extent." First he evades, then he denies, then in the end his compelled to admit that the truth. Kudos also to the interviewer for forcing Ma into this position and for stating that the KMT serves Beijing. It is very refreshing to read an interviewer who understands that the KMT's position on Taiwan's future is irrational and indefensible, and its cooperation with Beijing is despicable.

Nevertheless, Ma remains on message, and manages to parry the interviewer again:

Host: Um. The Taiwan Daily called the visit detestable and shameful and Taipei Times wrote this in an editorial, "today the nation's sovereignty," that is Taiwan's sovereignty, "is in the hand of the people. We have the right to decide Taiwan's future. If, under such circumstances, we allow Lien Chan to unite with the communist to sell out Taiwan, our descendants will laugh at our ignorance and naivety".

Ma: I don't think Mr. Lien is selling out Taiwan. He is only the opposition leader. He doesn't have that power. Only the people in power could sell out Taiwan. So I think they actually, uh, mistook Lien Chan for somebody in power.

That is a good riposte. But his next reply ends with another lie:

.....In other words, we hope to use these mechanisms to bring peace to the Taiwan Strait, instead of an arms race or confrontation, as the Chen administration has done.

Ma is on-message, and the message is that Chen is a madman who is confrontational with China. It is hard to see how Chen could be accused of starting an arms race, with Beijing adding 100 missiles annually to the inventory of terror weapons pointing at Taiwan, and the last major arms purchases all conducted under the KMT. Moreover, the weapons requested in the package were all originally requested under the KMT. For two decades the KMT armed forces requested submarines, and for two decades the US turned them down. Yet another example of a policy that the KMT supported but then opposed when the DPP advocated it.

Ma looked especially good in this section:

Host: Let me put it this way. we know that China is suppressing freedom of speech... [Ma: yes.] ... by closing down newspapers. They don't allow, for example, BBC online to be seen inside China. We know that , according to Amnesty International, there's dozens of people still in prison as a result of the Tiananmen Square over 15, 16 years ago. We know also, that in August 2005, one journalist working in China was arrested now faces charges of spying for Taiwan. Amnesty International expressed deep concern about that. Are you telling me that China and the Chinese authorities are people that you can do business with?

Ma: Well I think Great Britain also do business with China. Could you do business with China when they do all these human rights violations?

Host: But with respect, we don't have 700 missiles pointed at our island.

Ma: Well, no matter whether they are hostile or not, they are having some human rights violation that you disagree. But Great Britain still trade with them, recognize them, but they don't recognize Taiwan.

Host: But you need to trust Beijing in the way that we do not. They pose, as you said, a great military threat to you. So my question is, are you prepared to take the word of President Hu and other Chinese leaders in direct negotiations, which is what you seem to heading towards.

Ma: Well, if we don't negotiate with them, what can we do? We just build up our arms and prepare for war with mainland China? We certainly want to fight with, to negotiate a modus vivendi, that could give Taiwan peace, and then to give our people opportunity to seek friendship and cooperation with the Chinese mainland.

Are you aware that we are now trading with mainland at the amount of 70 billion dollars a month? Do you, are you aware that 4 million residents of Taiwan went to mainland China last year? Are you aware that we have more than 70 thousand Taiwanese businessmen currently investing in mainland China, creating about, around, uh, 10 million jobs there?

Bingo, Mayor Ma. The UK's shameful handover of Hong Kong, and its continued trade and military cooperation with China, means that it is not in a position to take the moral high ground (speaking of human rights violations, how about Iraq?). If I were Mayor Ma I certainly would have taken any British spokesman to task for those things. I like the way he zings the UK for recognizing a poisonous Communist government but ignoring the democracy that is Taiwan. A strong point and one which I have made myself on occasion. Ma handled this part of the interview extremely well.

Of course, the interviewer nailed him on the rebound:

Host: Well, that, that, that is President Chen's view. But your view is somewhat different, You don't believe...

Ma: No no no no no, we are...

Host: You don't actually believe in an independent sovereign Taiwan in the future, do you? You are actually believe in One China and unification.

Ma: No no no no no. You don't understand what these terms mean because you are not very much affa.. familiar with Chinese affairs and Taiwanese affairs. We support, we support Republic of China on Taiwan, which at the moment is independent from foreign interference. We elect our own president. We elect our own parliament. We are not ruled by foreign country.

Ma cleverly evades getting pinned down by bringing up the Republic of China -- which he is compelled to think controls all of China. It's too bad the interviewer didn't have the time to nail Ma on all the contradictions involved in that. It is shameful that Ma finally evades by accusing the interviewer of not knowing what he is talking about -- like a Fundamentalist claiming that "you don't know the Bible!" For the interviewer has at last reach the core beliefs that constitute Ma's mainlander identity.

The interviewer then took one last crack at Ma:

Host: No, I understand that. But you have in the past been confusing. You said your ultimate goal is unification with mainland China but you also said it's an issue that should be settled by Taiwan's 23 million people. And then you said it's an issue that should be settle by both sides of the strait. [Ma: No no no no no.] So which is it?

Ma: Ok. What I have been saying is that, Taiwan's future should be decided by Taiwanese people. This is a consensus of all the people in Taiwan, and they are...

Host: what about people from the other side of the Taiwan Strait?

Ma: Listen to me. There are 3 options before us, independence, status quo , and unification. And at the moment, the vast majority of the people support status quo. And only about 15 to 20 percent people support either independence or unification. So at the moment I think we should maintain status quo. And we oppose any unilateral change of the status quo. But in the future, when conditions are right, if Taiwanese people have some other thought, they could still make that decision according to their free will. This 100 percent democratic.

Here it is plain: you can't on one hand argue that Taiwan is part of China, but deny that anyone in China has a right to have a say in the final disposition of Taiwan. Ultimately Ma's position is riddled with self-contradictions, because it is a belief about self-identity, something imbibed from birth and not to be questioned, not a position arrived at by consulting values that one has held as an adult, and that is comprehended in a rich way. Note again, though, that Ma attempted to divide Taiwan's "future" into three positions, annexation, status quo, and independence, as if these were three different positions -- in reality there are only two positions, annexation and independence, the status quo being a temporary state created by circumstances that could change at any moment. Bottom line: Ma cannot claim that the Taiwanese have the right to decide their own future -- and at the same time argue that Taiwan is part of China. Ma may be blind to how completely incompatible his position is with real democracy, but the rest of us aren't. Either he will have to give up the people's right to choose, or give up his belief that Taiwan is part of China. I suspect when push comes to shove the veneer of democratic values will collapse. He came of age, after all, a servant of the dictator Chiang Ching-kuo, nurtured in the bosom of the KMT party-state.

All in all, although Ma looked terrible at times, he did manage to hold his own in a couple of places. He was able to conduct the interview successfully in English, present the KMT line and stay on-message throughout, and get a few lies past the interviewer without being called on them. It is doubtful that locals will recognize the lies he told; instead, they will note with approval that he is good-looking and speaks English well, and appeared on the BBC like any serious politician. I think that despite the preparation of the interviewer, who knew his stuff, Ma came away looking pretty good. I wouldn't rate this a great victory for Chairman Ma of the KMT, but it was, all in all, a qualified success.

2 comments:

STOP_George said...

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Ma: Well, if you said anything the government propose should be accepted by the opposition party, that's not democracy...


I wish more people would pin Ma down on this "democracy" moral-ground card that he's playing now. One merely has to point to recent actions by the KMT (2 ballot boxes in the referendum, the rioting (and Ma's reaction) to the 2004 election, the "truth committee", etc.). The KMT, to any foreigner from a democratic country, are pathetically transparent to the contempt they have for democratic ideals.

Also, I wish the interviewer would have brought up the fact that Ma did not participate in the 3/26 anti-secession protest rally. In fact, he even significantly downplayed the numbers of the event. Where were Ma's ideals against the anti-secession law then? He did admit, afterall, that China has changed the status quo.

Great summary and analyses, Michael! I disagree with your conclusion, however. I think this made Ma look really bad. Anyone in the DPP should take notes while watching this interview and realize how incredibly easy it is to catch Ma in a contradition. So he called the interviewer on Britain's moral high-ground. How difficult is that, for chrissakes! He's had 2 years to prepare for that comeback. It wasn't exactly an "ouch!" moment for me. The interviewer, at that point, got a bit sloppy and walked into that one. In fact, it even sounded as though Ma was itchingly prepared for that situation.

As for the effect that the interview will have on the Taiwanese -- probably little, as you say. However, I really do hope the DPP are taking notes.
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chinny said...

another thing i want to say is that the host was quite impolite since that he kept interrupting Ma during the interview and this should not be consider as good hosting manners