Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ma Interview in Taipei Times

The Taipei Times published an amazing interview with President Ma yesterday. It was amazing that the Taipei Times asked tough questions, and that they were permitted by Ma, who invariably gets softball questions from fawning reporters. It's a long interview, and it gives a good look at the evasive, defensive, and arrogant side of Ma that we in Taiwan often see, but rarely appears in English. Sometimes its just comical:
TT: Does Taiwan depend on China too much economically?

Ma: It has been so since the former DPP government and our economic growth rate increased rapidly during that period of time.
...and that after an election campaign when he blasted the DPP for mismanaging the economy. The stock market began tanking a day after Ma was elected, indicating what the big boys really expected from the new president....

The discussion was dominated by references to the incoming CECA pact enables PRC companies to enter the Taiwan banking market, among other things. The purpose of this is not economic growth (that is the excuse) but political integration (as I discuss a couple of posts below this one), an understanding indicated by the questions from the Taipei Times reporters...
TT: You said during the presidential campaign that all major government policies must be supported by public consensus and that referendums are one option in soliciting public opinion. Are you now ruling out referendums as an option?

Ma:
Do you think direct transportation links are a major issue? Many polls show that 60 percent of the public supports the initiative, but do you think it is necessary to hold a referendum?

A referendum is an option, but it is not the only option. Referendums are time-consuming and expensive. A referendum costs about NT$300 million [US$8.8 million], or NT$500 million to hold. It also takes time to promote. If the government were to hold a referendum for every major policy, it would be very hard for the government to operate. We simply cannot hold a referendum because some people are against a government initiative.
Note that in the first paragraph Ma's "answer" consists of two questions, while in the next paragraph he deliberately exaggerates and misinterprets the question -- none of the questioners is advocating a referendum on every major policy or because "some people are against" a government program. The exchange over the CECA and sovereignty is especially amusing, as the reporters attempt to get an answer out of the President, and he refuses to supply one, instead evading or answering with questions, a common pattern through the interview.
TT: Is there any risk involved in signing the CECA? Will it belittle Taiwan’s sovereignty?

Ma
: What do you mean by belittle Taiwan’s sovereignty? Do you mean that Taiwan will be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] or controlled by the CCP? I want to be clear on your question.

TT: Chinese President Hu Jintao [胡錦濤] has said that they would push for the CECA with the condition that it is under the framework of “one China.”

Ma:
Then what framework do you think we should accept?

TT: Then, Mr President, do you mean you will accept the “one China” framework?

Ma:
The Republic of China [ROC] Constitution was enacted in 1946 and implemented in 1947. The communist China was not yet established. It was not established until 1949.

There was only one China when the ROC Constitution was enacted. So the ROC Constitution was not for “two Chinas.”
But as the reporters point out, President Hu of China has already sad that the CECA framework will fall under the One China policy of China. Hence Taiwan can't sign CECA without affirming that framework, as Ma knows. He also knows that these questions would not be directed at him if he were a DPP candidate, since the DPP went to great lengths to preserve the island's independent sovereignty, whereas Ma has done nothing but downgrade it since he came into office. That is why the CECA framework worries the pro-Taiwan groups -- and that is the issue Ma will not address.

Indeed, the Taipei Times paired the Ma interview with complaints about CECA by pro-Taiwan academics. For example:
EU Study Association director Steve Wang (王思為) questioned the legitimacy of an economic treaty with China, including what title and status Taiwan would hold in such an agreement.

“Can the government guarantee that Taiwan will be on an equal footing with China and not be reduced to an administrative region? The government has yet to fully explain to the public the pros and cons of a CECA,” he said, suggesting that the agreement undergo a legislative review or a referendum before ratification.

Wang criticized the administration for telling the public that signing a CECA with China would secure economic advantages and comparing the agreement to the formation of the EU.
I've been discussing how Freedom House's error in not forthrightly confronting the Ma Administration when it visited the island before has paid off for the Ma Administration, and lo and behold, Ma once again validated himself by referring to Freedom House's silence in rebutting his questioners. Despite the skepticism of some of you readers out there, criticism from outsiders has a profound affect on the Ma government (being a good Chinese nationalist Ma could care less what the locals think). Freedom House needs to hit the Administration harder.

It's sad to look back. Nearly a year ago, in March, Taiwan expert Bob Sutter wrote a piece discussing the future of Taiwan:
Teaching a graduate seminar on contemporary Taiwan, I was asked by a student, “Will you be teaching this course in the future? Isn’t Taiwan over?”
Sutter then went on to outline all the advantages and possibilities of the new Ma presidency. In light of all this verdant possibility, what a colossal failure Ma has been so far....

16 comments:

Thomas said...

I read this with much amusement and disgust. Any other national leader would be raked over the coals for such shoddy responses.

I am particularly impressed with the Taipei Times though. I like how they keep asking the difficult questions about CECA and about referendums. Ma evades a question, then TT brings the focus back on the question that he did not answer, then he evades again. TT doesn't press him enough I think, but I guess they have to avoid being too hawkish if they want more interviews. And I am not sure they necessarily had to press him more. Because he evades the same questions more than once, what he doesn't say is not lost on the reader, but emphasised.

The only thing that I thought TT should have pressed him on that they did not is his claim that it is too difficult to hold a referendum. There have been several proposals to amend the referendum law to bring down the threshold of voters required to validate the referendum. The KMT now has the ability to amend the referendum law by itself, making holding referendums less pointless.

TT also could have noted that referendums are more binding than opinion polls, therefore they do serve a purpose when it comes to sensitive issues.

A side thought: Ma/KMT did most promoting of the direct flight/direct shipping agreements when the economy was doing relatively well. What effect will the current downturn have on his lobbying for a CECA? It is hard to lobby for more involvement in China when the downturn in China is one of the factors that is so weighing on Taiwan's exports.

Macca said...

Did you notice that at around the midway point in the interview he bizarrely changed from referring to China as 'the mainland' and started saying 'communist China'?

He generally talks nonsense, but he never commits that ultimate slip of the tongue, referring to China as...er...'China'.

Arthur Dent said...

Ma: It has been so since the former DPP government and our economic growth rate increased rapidly during that period of time.

That's priceless !! Do you think the ordinary Taiwanese person can see the disconnect between Ma's pre and post election positions? This is absurd .. Ma is framing himself as the Denier In Chief - he takes no action but has to gently introduce soft panda like words that beguile Taiwanese into believing that he won't sell out the country. Which one do you think is his priority? 1. meeting dady's dying wish of unification or 2. actually working for the majority of his country's citizens who don't want unification?

Dixteel said...

I read a little but just couldn't bear to read it in full details anymore...a lot of stuff he said are just so...twisted.

But it's good Taipei Times gave us another taste of what Ma truly is. When Ma was interviewed by Hard Talk in UK a few years ago, I already got a taste of Ma and dislike the way he thinks...for some reason I even feel that the Hard Talk host is more Taiwanese than Ma.

Anonymous said...

Ma is an idiot.. chinese ocupant who is bringing the war upon taiwanese. i will no wounder when because of his politics someday taiwanese will rise against chinese ocupants.. but that will be a same day when PLA will land in Taipei.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to note how Mr. Ma calls China "the mainland" in the first half of the interview, then calls it "communist China" in the second half.

He also makes it explicitly clear that 'China' means the ROC. How can this not mean that the KMT is planning to retake the mainland?

Richard said...

The interview is so... unbelievable. Especially this part:

Ma: Then what framework do you think we should accept?

It comes off as so weak, and just doesn't really know what he's doing. Either that, or he's so arrogant in that the thinks that the One China framework is the only acceptable framework under which cross-strait relations will happen. In that case, that's real bad news.

Anonymous said...

I was glad to see the interview. I don't read Chinese and most of the time when Ma speaks in English he's being given softball questions by liberal western reporters.

One positive thing I noticed was that Ma frequently used "Taiwan" to refer to Taiwan. Is that common amoung pan-blue politicians simply because "Taiwan" is so much easier to say that "Junghuaminguo", or is it something Ma does more than other pan-blues?

When I first read the article I did notice the comment about the economy improving under Chen. The statement was startling enough that I wondered if it was a bad translation (but no, the interview was in English).

Turton uses the word "defensive" for Ma and I think that's a good description. I didn't pick up so much on the "arrogant" side Turton mentions, and the "evasive" side seemed no more or less than your average American politician.

As one who pays attention to American national politics, I was surprised by Ma's style and apparent lack of technique. He just didn't seem very smooth. It leaves me wondering if it's the fact of English being his second language, some cultural difference in how culture is played, or just the difference in talent that you get when you have 23 million people to choose your politicians from instead of 300 million. (I hope our American president will remember that they only beat out 300 million to be our leader, while Hu beat our 1 billion. In that context, Obama is a big fish in a small pond and he should not underestimate the competition).

claudiajean said...

Ma said it was expensive to hold a referendum cos it would cost NT$300 million. Well, it's about the same as he spent on hiring people to simply distribute the consumer vouchers. It's OK to spend that kind of money (taxpayers') to boost his popularity but NOT to make a significant decision on the country's future. What a great governor.

Gerd said...

Thanks for pointing out this remarkable interview. I think I never read an interview before, where the interviewee so obviously avoided to answer most questions.

Just for fun I counted the question marks (?) in the interview: 32 - 23, and guess who won?!
Yes, the interviewee succeeded in asking more questions than the interviewers!!!

Taiwan Echo said...

"criticism from outsiders has a profound affect on the Ma government (being a good Chinese nationalist Ma could care less what the locals think)."

Right on, man. I've noticed that:

(1) Ma seems to care much more about international opinions. As a President he has submitted articles to many news agencies (well, in his name, so he said), even submitted one article as "exclusive" to many agencies.

(2) The interviews he took, averaged 1~2 per month after his inauguration, increased to 6~7 times in December, 2008.

STOP Ma said...

.
.
.
"Sutter then went on to outline all the advantages and possibilities of the new Ma presidency. In light of all this verdant possibility, what a colossal failure Ma has been so far...."

PandaMa has always been a colossal failure with respect to leadership -- even before his presidency. Why would anyone expect any differently during his presidency -- or after, for that matter?
.
.
.

Dixteel said...

"(I hope our American president will remember that they only beat out 300 million to be our leader, while Hu beat our 1 billion. In that context, Obama is a big fish in a small pond and he should not underestimate the competition)."

Actually someone in KMT brought out this point recently as well. Some people think that since China has bigger population their leader will definitely be stronger because you can select from a larger pool. But I find this logic to be false if you think it more carefully.

Looking at it another way: If there are 2 piles of stones. One pile is smaller but contains 50% of diamond, and larger pile contains 10% of diamond, you still have better chance of picking out diamond in smaller pile. In another words...it also depends on the quality of the pool you are in.

Another thing is that US has 200 or so years of democratic system, while Taiwan only has a few years. So if you compare how their leaders think and speak during tough interviews, you will for certain find the US politicians to perform better. It's not just the number of population but the amount of experience and heritage. And China has 0 democratic experience so if you put Hu under a tough interview he will probably perform very poorly.

Although that does mean we should underestimate Hu, of course...after all under his leadership in Tibet during the 1980 many Tibetan are killed under his iron fist. So yes...his ruthlessness is probably not questionable.

Anonymous said...

I love how Ma is deeply entrenched in 1970's thinking. I don't know any other leader who really believes China is still "Communist".

David said...

The New York Times has published a transcript of its recent interview with President Ma. There is a notable difference in the tone of the interview and the type of questions asked. The only subject that is pursued with any vigour by the interviewer is the judicial process in Chen Shui-bian's case.

Robert R. said...

Looking at it another way: If there are 2 piles of stones. One pile is smaller but contains 50% of diamond, and larger pile contains 10% of diamond, you still have better chance of picking out diamond in smaller pile. In another words...it also depends on the quality of the pool you are in.

The quality of the pool you're in will come from 2 parts: the inherent quality of the people in the pool, and how they've learned & developed as a consequence of their environment. While the latter holds some merit, the former can be rejected outright.

And while you're talking about numbers in the hundreds of millions, the 4th (or 10th) best [potential] leader in the world will not be that much worse than the #1 leader. (do they have T-shirts?)

And, finally, China may be selecting from a bigger pool, but they're selecting for different traits than a democratic leader... and in ways that may be good only for the CCP and no one else.