Sun, Jun 03, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma's vision is but a straw man

With only a little more than three weeks left to find a running mate before the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) announces its presidential-vice-presidential ticket, former Taipei mayor and KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) last week began his presidential campaign by proposing a four-point plan on foreign relations which apparently will become part of his campaign platform.

In his speech, Ma depicted the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government's foreign policies in the past four years as "amateurish, capricious, dogmatic and based on brinksmanship." To be fair, if Ma's point was that the DPP's foreign policies were less than successful, it is hard to seriously refute him.

However, highlighting the DPP's weakness will not, by itself, be enough to win him votes. Ma needs to convince the public-at-large that he and the KMT can do a better job than President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the DPP.

As many people will acknowledge, the biggest roadblock to the country's international participation has been the sovereignty of Taiwan. Ma referred to the DPP government's decision to seek WHO participation under the name "Taiwan" as being too dogmatic. The underlying message seems to be that dispute over the country's name is nothing but a dispute over formality, which should be secondary to substantive participation in international bodies.

However, many would disagree with Ma that the dispute is merely over form rather than substance.

Instead, the fundamental disagreement between two sides of the Taiwan Strait is the status of Taiwan.

Without this fundamental disagreement, there would be no disputes over the name. To the DPP and its supporters, we are what we call ourselves. If we call ourselves and allow others to call us names such as "Chinese Taipei" in international bodies, then we are essentially conceding Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. To the KMT and its supporters, so long as we get to participate, the name under which we participate is of little importance.

However, it becomes more difficult for the KMT to sell this view once Taiwanese realize that pressure from Beijing is the reason why the KMT has adopted this position.

Even if Taiwan agrees to compromise on the name used in return for international participation, there is reason to doubt that China would approve Taiwan's participation at the international level. After all, it has been Beijing's longstanding policy to deny Taipei participation in international organizations, including non-political bodies.

This has much to do with the fact that as the Chinese government gains an increasing say in international bodies, its ability to obstruct Taiwan's ability to participate rises commensurately.

Under the circumstances, if Ma's idea of pragmatic diplomacy involves giving up more on the name issue, then despite all the talk, his view of foreign affairs would be a shallow one. For its part, his four-point proposal appears to be built on the "pragmatic diplomacy" of the KMT in the 1990s. However, cross-strait relations are an ever-evolving process. Neither China nor Taiwan is what it was 10 years ago.

It would therefore be naive to believe that a return to policies that may have worked 10 years ago is the way to run the nation's foreign affairs today.

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