Saturday, February 18, 2006

Taipei Times on Ma

The Taipei Times has an article on Ma Ying-jeou that argues that his move toward the pro-independence center of Taiwanese society, if sincere, will actually further the cause of Taiwan independence. I loved this tidbit about the phone call:

Ma has already set the bar for peaceful unification so high on a number of occasions that Beijing will be tearing its remaining hair out at the knowledge that he is not turning out to be the capitulationist that former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and other hardliners wanted. Little wonder then that the KMT has already been forced to admit to a "please explain" phone call from anxious Chinese apparatchiks.

and the explanation:

Taiwanese can be expected to back Ma for the next presidency if he continues with this approach. It may yet turn out to be the biggest gift Taiwan could hope for.

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is a stellar example of a politician whose overwhelming popularity during his presidency allowed him to drive an agenda that was consistent with the interests of the support bases of both the KMT and the DPP. Notwithstanding some subsequent and predictable backtracking, Ma has now sucked up overwhelming support from the average KMT supporter, and he likes what he tastes.

With Ma at the helm of the KMT, we may witness a new cycle of Lee-style nativization, not on the basis of nationalist slogans and ethnic awareness, but more on the basis of Ma's "let's all be friends" style of politicking and a new purging of immoderate elements on the pro-China extremities of the party. If Ma can thereby heal the tension that hardliners attempted to exploit with calls to violence at the last presidential election and so pull off a reconciliation between pan-green and pan-blue voters, he will have ironically stuck the knife deeper into Beijing's agenda. He will have done this by rallying Taiwanese around unificationist rhetoric whose goals are (to Ma) so noble and (to us) so outlandish that Beijing simply cannot deliver on them. Ma has now demanded of Beijing the impossible: accountability for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, demilitarization of the Taiwan Strait, democratic reform and genuine respect for Taiwanese sensibilities.

The interesting question is what Ma is aiming to do with a presidency that will be far too short for him to achieve his ultimate goal of a unified, civilized Chinese state.

Let us assume for the moment that Ma is elected president -- and that his apparent goodwill to the pan-green voter is sincere. If his stint in office is successful, his KMT successor will need to emulate him and defend Taiwanese self-determination.

Otherwise, a humbled and reconfigured DPP will probably replace him, either in four years or eight. Any of these options would surely make supporters of Taiwanese self-determination of all colors shiver with pleasure.

Of course, the question that will weigh on everyone's minds for the next two years is: is Ma sincere?

2 comments:

James said...

That editorial is surprisingly on, though maybe only because Taipei Times editorials are usually so preachy.

I agree completely that Ma's idea of unification is unrealistic and virtually impossible to achieve, and actually, if you look at the Greens, there's no one on their side that is moderate enough to be elected president that would do anything like declare "formal" independence. It would be an interesting Taiwan where the foreign policy position was not the main issue of the national election.

Michael Turton said...

Coming to power tends to induce pragmatism, especially here, so I don't think the fireeaters in the TSU would actually declare independence. It is hard to imagine how a TSU guy could ever get elected President in the first place though.

I agree completely -- it should would be nice to have an election that is about the local issues of the island, and not about its political status. But the main difference between the DPP is just that -- otherwise they are both center-right nationalist parties with not much difference between them. Even when there are local issues, they are actually KMT party-state vestiges -- seizing its illegal assets, getting rid of the 18% interest rate, privatizing, etc.

Michael