Friday, February 11, 2011

Commentary on Ma from here and there

Feb 10 brought two commentaries, one on Ma's Middle of the Road approach from the INPR in Taiwan, the other from across the Strait. First, on Ma's Middle of the Road Approach:
Perhaps, leaving aside the identity controversy is a temporary solution. However, the status of the state is left unresolved. Due to the fact that Ma simply froze the status quo, the society remains at the mindset when the DPP left the governing position: “Taiwan” and “China” are opposing concepts,and the Republic of China has not been fully integrated with Taiwan. In strengthening cross-Strait commercial relations, Ma proposed "three no's"—no unification during his term in office, no pursuit of de jure independence, and no use of force to resolve differences across the Strait. However, such policy did not ease the public’s concern regarding Taiwan’s future. Arguably, the DPP’s criticism of such policy is only to be expected. For the Pan-Blue camp, the middle path reflected in Ma’s policy lacks ideal and foresight. Effectively, the policy does not reflect the core value behind Republic of China nor does it incite enthusiasm within KMT’s staunch supporters, causing the incumbents to be out of touch with them.

From the recent polls regarding “independence or unification,” the size of Ma’s core supporters has experienced a significant decrease since assumption to power of Ma. Such decrease is greater than the one experienced by during the DPP rule before. Although the middle voters are hard to grasp, they are generally more critical of the governing parties, providing momentum behind the pendulum effect. From their perspective, the KMT presented a new image with the slogan of “We are Ready” two years ago. However, the administration records of Ma’s government for the past two years have been disappointing, falling short of their expectations. Accordingly, the middle voters are shifting toward the Pan-Green camp, and this is evident in the recent poll.

It is reasonable for the opposition, whichever party that may be, to pursue the middle road. The DPP downplayed its traditional platforms and portrayed itself as a rational and responsible party. It did not leave grounds for the KMT to attack. Due to the poor government performance coupled with its sensible proposals, the DPP gained the support of voters in the middle ground. Interestingly, the KMT also pursued the middle road despite such strategy was unfavorable to itself. KMT believed that the policy that was successful two years ago in winning the Legislative Yuan and the Presidential Election would be viable in this election. Since Ma was in power, the approval rate for the President and the Premier rarely reached 40%. That such a low approval rate is able to buttress the KMT’s middle road is highly questionable.
The analysis makes clear that a Middle of the Road position is a pro-Taiwan position, not a pro-ROC position. To move to the Middle of the Road Ma had to make pro-Taiwan noises during the election, which he did, and sometimes still does. But as a KMT politico, you can't have a pro-ROC and pro-Taiwan position simultaneously while pretending to seriously mean that you're in the Middle, which appears to be what the writer of this piece is trying to say. Taiwan's politics represent that strange example where the Middle cannot be held by politicians of one party (the KMT) because it is too full of inherent conflicts. DPP politicians can maintain a Middle position because everyone knows that their homage to the ROC is mere wink wink lip service to a convenient political fantsy -- but KMT politicians have to pretend they actually support Taiwan. Tougher position to operate from, because in Taiwan's overwhelmingly pro-Taiwan electorate you can't pretend on the issue of whether you support Taiwan.

Meanwhile catapulting the propaganda from across the Strait, the China editor of the Asia Times writes:
While from the beginning Ma has been criticized by the opposition for "betraying the island's sovereignty and interests", it is obvious that the majority of Taiwanese people have benefited from closer economic ties with the mainland. This is evident in that in local elections in the past two years, cross-strait rhetoric was not used to solicit voters. This perhaps has boosted Ma's confidence in his policy toward mainland China.

Now, a confident Ma wants to clarify the legal grounds for the development of cross-strait relations. At the tea reception, he said the word "China" is often used in (Taiwanese) government documents, which is not in accord with the "1992 Consensus". Therefore, Ma demanded that all officials refer mainland China as "the other side of the strait" or "the mainland", instead of "China".


Beijing would welcome such explicit clarification by Ma. For Beijing, as long as Taiwanese authorities recognize that the island is part of China, whatever that China is, the territorial integrity of China is maintained. In other words, the possibility of Taiwan's independence is reduced. At present, Beijing's policy toward Taiwan is to foster and develop economic integration with the island and patiently wait for political reunification. Time seems to be on Beijing's side.

However, Taiwan is a democracy. Ma's attitudes and intentions are one thing, those of the voters may be quite another. Given Hong Kong's example as a semi-autonomous territory, Beijing's carrot policy may win quick cheers and applause, but much more effort is needed for it to win people's hearts and minds.
Lots of problems here -- he's wrong to claim that cross strait trade has benefitted ordinary people. The one thing everyone agrees on is that the benefits of cross strait trade have not trickled down to hoi polloi. I thinking everyone is misreading Ma's public comments on officials referring to China as "the mainland." Government officials and publications already do that and did it throughout the DPP era in many offices.

I think rather Ma is talking to the general public, which is starting to shift to the use of "China" instead of "the mainland" slowly over time. Many of my friends have reported noticing this. Ma cannot directly order people not to speak truth. But he can send out public signals overtly aimed at A, but intended for B. I think we're seeing that dynamic at work.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Marc said...

The INPR report meshes with my thoughts. I think maintaining the so-called status quo increasingly has the effect of keeping Taiwan in a political coma. And you know, when you're in a coma, anyone can mess around with you!

OzSoapbox said...

Coming from overseas it's quite natural to refer to China as China and Taiwan as Taiwan.

Anyone from Taiwan who ventures off overseas is going to have people wondering what they are talking about if they refer to China as the mainland.

The rest of the world uses 'China' and 'Taiwan' and in the greater global scheme of things, squabbling about what to refer to China as seems stupidly petty.

Why aren't the government worried about stabilising my freaking beef noodle prices first!?

Anonymous said...

I have heard a lot of foreigners from many countries scoff at this kind of political posturing as Quixotic and delusional in the pretense of maintaining a claim to China.

Dixteel said...

Those foreigners are making it more complicated than necessary. It's much simpler: Ma is a moron.

Michael Turton said...

But Dix, if we don't make it complicated, what will we write about?

Anonymous said...

My 2 cents here, or should I say my 2 NT$-
many English news articles, especially those written by Taiwan-based writers, describe China as mainland China. Also, some business articles decribe Taiwan and China as the "greater China region."

There've been several times when instead of saying "dalu" to refer to China when speaking to Taiwanese, I've used "zhongguo," and I've been corrected [by the other person saying "dalu"].
I'd say there's still a significant amount of identification with China.


Taiwan Echo said...

OzSoapbox: "Why aren't the government worried about stabilising my freaking beef noodle prices first!?"

China didn't give that instruction.

But even if China does, the gov doesn't know how to.

Taiwan Echo said...

Michael:" but KMT politicians have to pretend they actually support Taiwan. Tougher position to operate from, because in Taiwan's overwhelmingly pro-Taiwan electorate you can't pretend on the issue of whether you support Taiwan."

It would be even more difficult when the election approaching. China already recognized the popularity of Tsai after the 5-city election, which supposedly would force them to prepare for the possibility of Ma being replaced by Tsai in 2012. In that case, it would mean that they have very little time to make use of Ma for the annexation, which, logically, would be followed by a much harsher squeezing on Ma before the 2012 election. Ma would force much stronger conflicting pushes: push from China for speedy annexation which could piss off voters in Taiwan, and push from voters to stand for Taiwan's value which would anger Beijing.