Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - Page 8 News List

‘Mr Teflon’ cooking up a sticky concoction

By Cao Changqing 曹長青

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has often been referred to as “Mr Teflon” because accusations and criticism against him never seem to stick. However, since being elected president, all the policies he has been cooking up in the political kitchen have been sticking to the pot: The stock market is falling, oil prices are skyrocketing and the public is complaining.

Now Ma has announced that he won’t use the presidential jet for his visit to Latin America, instead opting to travel on a regular China Airlines (CAL) flight. A fine show and true to Ma’s style.

It is probably unheard of in world history for a head of state to travel on a regular airliner, because the safety of a head of state is a matter of national interest. In addition, a presidential jet is equipped with emergency communications systems that would enable the head of state to take immediate command of the situation should a national crisis occur.

This is why any normal country provides its head of state with a private jet. Even Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic US presidential candidate, traveled on a private jet during his visit to Europe.

Ma also gives no consideration to the inconvenience he is causing for regular CAL passengers. The extra security checks his trip will necessitate are a hassle, and who wants to be on the same flight as someone who might be the target of an attack?

And once he is off the ground, he would be leaving the nation to fend for itself. What if a major national crisis occurs? This is a possibility for which every country must be prepared.

How would Ma take command on a regular flight or a chartered airliner? Should the other passengers serve as his advisers or should one of the foreign pilots?

But then maybe this is none of Ma’s concern, since he has portrayed himself as taking the back seat. In this case, being a couch potato on the plane, without the need to make any decisions or be informed about issues of national concern might suit him.

Taiwan is often considered one of Asia’s wealthiest countries, and not even the falling stock market has caused that reputation to slip. But when the international community finds out that Ma is traveling on a regular airliner because he wants to save money, anyone who doesn’t understand his showmanship might think that Taiwan is so poor that it can’t afford a presidential aircraft. That would really damage Taiwan’s reputation.

And even if we look at this issue from the perspective of frugality, Ma will only be traveling with CAL as far as Los Angeles. After that, he will have to charter flights from foreign airlines. Not only will that be inconvenient, but there is also no way to guarantee that it would be cheaper than using the presidential jet.

If Ma’s main consideration is saving energy, then why not just take his bicycle? A four-year return trip and he would not even need to cover up his incompetence by saying that he is taking the back seat. In fact, he could say that he has been working hard on the front lines of Taiwan’s diplomatic effort.

Anyone who likes to put on a show does so to cover up inability. Someone who really is capable would have no time to put on shows — they would be too busy dealing with important issues. What achievements will putting on a show bring?

Cao Changqing is a writer based in the US.

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