Ordinary people do not find their livelihoods improving. Salaries have stagnated for a decade. The most visible impact of more open ties with China, which include a free-trade agreement, has been property speculation in anticipation of a flood of mainland money.The first two sentences are largely correct. The last one is largely wrong. Property speculation in Taipei is largely due to the fact that, as this blog has ceaselessly observed (whatever on earth do people think I write for?), expensive Taipei apartments are now tax shelters. The China Cargo Cult is just the excuse for building all those tax shelters. Moreover, the most visible impact of open ties with China isn't the Taipei property bubble -- the writers with that claim have merely revealed their Taipei-centric thinking -- but the hordes of nasty, spitting, pushing, arrogant, tetchy Chinese tourists creating ever more ill will between locals and those who anticipate being their overlords, as Chinese tourists constantly remind us. Thank you, Beijing and Ma Ying-jeou for send us this golden shower of tourists, so many of us knew the joy it would bring.
Yet Mr Ma’s leadership is also to blame. He has failed to paint a more hopeful future, with sometimes hard measures needed now. Worse, he frequently tweaks policies in response to opposition or media criticism. It suggests indecisiveness.Ma has failed to paint a more hopeful future? Well, except for 6-3-3. "The Golden Decade." The claims that ECFA would result in many new Free Trade Agreements. The tourism bonanza claims. The ECFA bonanza claims. Readers will no doubt be able to add their own. Ma has not in fact failed to paint a more hopeful future; the problem is that the hopeful futures he paints are rank nonsense to any intelligent listener. Even stranger is that the best criticism The Economist can come up with is "indecisiveness?" Don't they read the local papers? Remember when you searched Google in Chinese and the first suggested term for Ma Ying-jeou was "incompetent"? Remember all the criticisms from all quarters that Ma is aloof, out of touch? Ma's problems date all the way back to typhoon Morakot and have been extensively documented in the local and foreign media (Asia Sentinel, Apr 2010, post Morakot, Aug 2009). "Indecisive?" The only indecisiveness here is The Economist's criticism....
Public anger first arose in June, when Mr Ma raised the price of government-subsidised electricity....Public anger with Ma long predates the electricity price rises. It goes back to Morakot years ago, as I just noted, when his handlers let him out of their control and he said all sorts of silly things while giving the appearance that he didn't give a damn about what happened and overseeing a dilatory and incompetent government response. The claim about June is wrong on its face; the electricity price rises date from [use Google to find out, the Economist writers didn't]. Here, let me cite an article about it...
Following the announcement of hugely unpopular rises in the price of government-subsidised electricity, Mr Ma said on May 1st that the rises would be implemented in stages.I got that from some rag from the UK, let me think, oh yeah.... The Economist, May, 2012. Taipower applied for the electricity price rises in... April (my post). Public anger about the electricity prices dates from April, not June.
And public anger? Where's the beef? Remember how peeved the public was over the beef issue? No mention of that here either, yet that UK rag I was just talking about had a piece on public discontent on it in March. Do we not read our own magazine?
But let's go ahead and list all those things not appearing in here that different segments of the population are upset about. Income inequality. The bogus capital gains tax. Taiwan's low ratio of wages to productivity, among the lowest in Asia. The utter failure of ECFA, which has provided no identifiable benefits for the population. Note that all these ignored political issues are part and parcel of the neoliberal looting of Taiwan's economy that The Economist has always been a cheerleader for. Not part of our ideological structure! Better ignore them! Moving Taiwan much closer to China, something that has angered people all across the political spectrum, also vanishes from this piece.
The Economist writers end by making the rookie mistake of imagining that the bickering among the KMT signals something new...
Cracks are starting to grow in the KMT façade. Recently Sean Lien, a prominent politician,......especially strange when the first paragraph of the piece refers to KMT "infighting." The Economist team first fails to properly contextualize this claim. Sean Lien is the son of Lien Chan, the powerful KMT politician and failed former KMT Presidential candidate, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the KMT. The context is important because as correctly contextualized pieces have noted, Party elites, including Lien Chan, have long disliked Ma Ying-jeou. No cracks are appearing; rather, these fault lines are always there and show up regularly as senior party members bicker amongst themselves. The interpretation offered here is completely incorrect. Nothing new is going on.
Finally, the orgy of pan-Green delight at The Economist apparently turning on its longtime fair-haired boy is disgraceful. As one of the sharpest observers of Taiwan politics I know observed privately, the translation used on the political talk shows, 無能的笨蛋, incompetent idiot, is wildly overblown. But the Liberty Times also ran with a very similar claim that is also much too strong. As my friend observed, associated with the Liberty Times is the Taipei Times and a corps of very fine translators. Apparently LT was so interested in taking a shot at Ma that they decided to ignore this resource. Never mind that criticizing Ma as incompetent is pointless; the public had no faith in his ability but re-elected him anyway. The "bumbler" label is a sideshow of a sideshow.
Sadly, in its glee the pan-Green media missed the point. The ultimate failure of The Economist's piece isn't its errors of fact, key omissions, and tepid criticism of its long-fawned over golden boy. It's their highly ideological selection of bumbler to describe Ma. A bumbler is one who acts clumsily, but with positive intention. But did Ma have a positive intention on ECFA? Or was his purpose merely to draw Taiwan closer to China irrespective of the obvious negatives? Did Ma merely bumble to failure on the capital gains tax? Did the upward revision of the property tax assessment, unchanged since 1987, disappear from the political discourse due to Ma's bumbling? Have we failed to obtain F-16s because Ma is a bumbler, or because he doesn't want them? One could go on all day with such questions, but I know your eyes are glazing over and your morning coffee is almost finished. By using the term bumbler to adumbrate the many such issues surrounding Ma's presidency, The Economist actually hides the severe problems with Ma while making a pretense of criticizing him.
UPDATE: Some excellent comments below. SY points out that UDN reports that Ma wants the Taiwan rep in the UK to lodge a protest with The Economist (link).
"....that Ma Ying-Jeou has requested the MOFA to have the Taiwan representative to the UK find a way to lodge "a proper protest" with The Economist ("要求外交部透過駐英代表處對「經濟學人」適度提出抗議") and to take a stand ("表達我政府的立場".)"... "to express his government's point of view" to The Economist. No doubt there will be a letter. David from Formosa thinks it may represent a watershed moment:
Compare the use of "Ma the bumbler" with the "Havard educated Ma", "Ma the peacemaker" and "Ma the popular, charismatic leader" memes that have dominated the international media for so long. The Economist may have broken the spell that has let Ma avoid a lot of much needed scrutiny for the last four and a half years._______________________
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