Fri, May 13, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Chen will have to be both patient and prudent

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

Amid an emergence of "China fever" sparked by the visits to China by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), and the growing confusion in the pan-green camp over the direction in which President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is leading the country, Chen has given extensive media interviews.

While reiterating that "everything is under the government's control," Chen lashed out at former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and the die-hard independence activists, who have criticized him for failing to safeguard Taiwan's de jure independence by reconciling with the pan-blue leaders.

It is understandable that Chen wants to establish his legacy in the reminder of his second term. But that aside, what is more valuable is the style of leadership that he might leave for the country.

The art of leadership is to maintain sufficient forward momentum to control events and steer public policy without losing public support. An idealistic leader will not hesitate to do something that is unpopular. But a smart idealist will carefully measure pubic opinion before he does so and will develop a strategy to persuade the electorate.

Since Beijing has been taking advantage of pan-blue leaders' visits to promote its "one China" principle and the so-called "1992 consensus," Chen has introduced several strategies to set the limits for Lien and Soong.

The public response so far has been the result of a lack of effective and systemic handling of cross-strait interaction. It has not only generated growing pressures for the Chen administration, but has created uncertainty about the DPP's campaign for tomorrow's National Assembly election. Chen's leadership will be severely jeopardized if more prudence and patience are not incorporated. Chen stands at a critical historical juncture in terms of leading the country to bridge domestic divisions and the cross-strait divide, while at the same time safeguarding the nation's sovereignty, dignity and democratic achievements.

Defining Lien's and Soong's "journeys" as just a "prelude" to the eventual and necessary "government-to-government negotiations" between him and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), Chen and his government must tell the public and the world what the stakes are and what approach they plan to take.

Confidence-building and domestic unity are key, given that the country is split by "China fever" versus "Taiwan first." But Chen must try to control the tempo of cross-strait dynamics.

What Chen needs right now is spin control and the ability to manipulate key issues. Persuasion and candid communication are two necessary mechanisms to educate the public on the seriousness of the situation and to eliminate confusion.

As a national leader, Chen should also understand there is a vital synergy between issues and image. Rather than a presidential stand on the issues creating a desired image, the desired image was first identified, then issues were selected based on how best to promote that new image. By throwing out key issues and creating a public arena for discussion, the president can control the pace and the extent of policy making based on the majority's opinions. Image has molded and directed the political agenda, not the other way around.

Chen must foresee the changes in Taiwanese society. As he lowered his voice, he raised his ratings. When he attempted to cross party lines to advocate a balanced resolution on essential social and economic legislation, he moved into the ascendancy. The pan-blue camp could not find any excuses to politicize such a moderate move. However, he must be seen to be consistent, not flip-flopping on issues.

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