Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to push Ma off the fence

Reality has finally made inroads into one small corner of the cross-strait relationship. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) under Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has begun to distance itself from its anachronistic unification fantasy. This is a victory for the pan-green camp.

Although even the KMT itself seems torn over whether or not it has changed its policy toward independence, one thing is clear: Ma has had to publicly walk away from his previous "eventual unification" remarks and embrace "maintaining the status quo" as his party's raison d'etre.

This is a development that should be welcomed by anyone with a stake in the future of Taiwan. Because what it shows is that the Chinese Communist Party's pipe dream -- that come 2008, the KMT would be swept back into power and unification would be assured -- is simply unrealistic.

Strangely enough, the KMT's slide away from unification is actually part of its strategy to regain power. It seems obvious enough that the ad taken out by the KMT -- and personally approved by Ma -- in a pro-independence newspaper was meant to assuage fears that the KMT was planning to give up the shop should it return to power.

This is a fear shared not just by "dark-green" independence activists, but also by "light-green" and "light-blue" moderates alike -- in other words, by the vast bulk of the Taiwanese electorate. Ma knows that his party can't return to power by appealing merely to the fringes of the pan-blue camp. Poll after poll has shown the Taiwanese to be ultimately pragmatic: They like things pretty much as they are, and grow wary when politicians talk about dramatically altering the cross-strait balance.

In this sense, Ma has shown himself to be a rather shrewd political operator -- far more so than his predecessor, or even the recent leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Ma appears to sense that, by moving the discussion away from issues that polarize people, he can capitalize on the mistakes of the administration as well as on the frustration people now feel with politicians of all stripes because of their small-minded bickering.

Still, although the give-and-take between different KMT officials illustrates the growing acceptance among the pan-blues that Taiwan is better off when it keeps China at a distance, it also offers an opportunity for the pan-green camp.

Whereas a fossil like former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), a staunch unificationist who was willing to abase himself by publicly paying homage to his minders in Beijing, seemed to have no problem demonstrating precisely where his loyalties lay, Ma is happiest when he straddles the proverbial fence.

Therefore, the best strategy for the DPP is to plug away at the "Ma waffle." After all, the recent ad controversy demonstrates quite clearly that the man equivocates so much that even the leadership of his own party doesn't know his views. So go after him. Make him commit on every issue that can be named. Even children know that those who try to please everyone only end up pissing off most people.

There is little use in the DPP continuing with its current strategy of "getting tough with China." This only alienates an important ally -- the US -- and plays into the hands of Ma, who will continue to claim the moral -- and electoral -- high ground by issuing a series of pleasant-sounding platitudes.

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