That the Chinese-language China Times recently printed a story containing rumors and unsubstantiated claims presented as fact should come as no surprise to people familiar with Taiwan's media.
But the latest example, on Feb. 22, when it quoted "unnamed aides" of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou (
First, it resulted in Euro News correspondent Sergio Cantone canceling his trip, losing Taiwan the chance for some valuable news exposure in 27 European countries. Second, it helped Ma avoid something that has been conspicuously absent in the buildup to the election -- an independent examination of his policies.
The fact that the interview would only have been broadcast in Europe and that few people here would have paid any attention to it did not seem to bother the Ma camp as it sought to protect their man from genuine scrutiny. But it needn't have worried, because there is already evidence that Ma doesn't hold up well when the questioning gets tough.
Who can forget Ma's famous lapse during his appearance on the BBC's Hardtalk program in February 2006? When driven into a corner by host Stephen Sackur about his belief in "one China" and unification, Ma resorted to patronizing language, accusing his inquisitor of not being "familiar with Chinese and Taiwanese affairs."
Or, on a visit to the Brookings Institution in March 2006, when the then KMT chairman was asked what he intended to do about bridging the political divide in Taiwan and bringing about political reconciliation, Ma -- presumably taken off guard -- proceeded to deliver an unrelated discourse on Taiwan's relations with APEC, much to the bemusement of the 150 or so high-profile guests in attendance.
But Ma is equally fallible when speaking at home, as his wishy-washy, incomplete responses to the promptings of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rival Frank Hsieh (
This weakness may have also been behind Ma's decision to dodge Hsieh's numerous invitations to hold a real debate, which, contrary to Central Election Commission-organized talking shops, would have given the candidates the opportunity to really question each other and explore one another's presidential platforms.
It is easy to appear competent when one is given an easy ride. But being president of a country -- especially one in such a precarious position as Taiwan -- is not an easy job. It requires a decisive person, capable of making tough decisions.
Ma, who had a privileged upbringing, has never endured real hardship or had to fight for anything in his life, save perhaps the chairmanship of the KMT.
So how do voters know he has got what it takes to defend the nation's sovereignty from the very real internal and external threats it faces if he is elected president? The simple answer is that on the present evidence they don't, and after March 22 it will be too late.
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