On Lunar New Year’s Day, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) paid a courtesy call to former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and took advantage of the occasion to consult with Lee on national policy.
Over the years, Lee has made significant contributions to Taiwan’s democracy, its relations with China and its international standing, and he has often spearheaded original approaches to key problems. Any advice he might offer should, therefore, be useful for Taiwan in this difficult period. The problem is that Taiwan may have fewer options now that Ma has taken the country down the blind alley of the “one China” principle.
Lee expressed his concerns over Taiwan’s economic development, and urged Ma to boost the economy by promoting exports. Lee said the key to Taiwan’s continued economic progress is for the country to keep its competitive edge. If this can be done, the standard of living will gradually improve.
Lee’s advice hit the nail on the head. The Ma government recently issued consumer vouchers to encourage spending and stimulate the economy, and this measure has produced a certain effect over the Lunar New Year holiday. However, Taiwan’s economy is export-oriented. Even taking the multiplier effect into account, the NT$88 billion (US$2.6 billion) short-term surge in domestic consumption can be no more than a temporary shot in the arm for the economy as a whole. This measure alone cannot overcome the difficulties and revive the economy because Taiwan relies on international trade for its economic well-being.
Even with regard to overseas trade, Ma’s line is fundamentally different from that of Lee. Lee reportedly told Ma that, for the sake of Taiwan’s integration and position in the global economy, he does not oppose fostering relations with China. At the same time, however, he said that Taiwan’s prospects cannot be based entirely on the development of the Chinese market. Rather, Taiwan must develop its own economy of its own accord.
Since Ma took power, he has pinned Taiwan’s economic hopes on the Chinese market. However, his policy to open the nation to Chinese tourism has failed and the opening of direct cross-strait transportation links has not produced the desired effect. This leads to concern over the prospects for opening Taiwan to Chinese financial capital. With China busy with its own economic troubles, Ma’s China card has lost its efficacy.
Despite the Ma administration’s focus on the Chinese market, Beijing remains strongly hostile to Taiwan and still intends to annex it. The focus of the government’s economic policies on China will certainly sabotage Taiwanese independence and sovereignty, and it is this that causes Lee’s concern about the Ma administration’s cross-strait policies.
Ma accepts the fictional “1992 consensus,” does not deny Beijing’s “one China” policy, is unwilling to advocate Taiwanese sovereignty and independence and fears disobeying Chinese requests. This weak approach means that over time, even if Taiwan were granted observer status at the World Health Assembly, Taiwan would stop seeing itself as a sovereign state. In turn the international community would view Taiwan as a subordinate region of China. Taiwan would wither and become a part of China. This is the Ma administration’s most serious policy mistake.
Lee has pointed out a blind spot in the Ma government’s economic and cross-strait policies. However, no matter how effective the medicine, it will be useless if ignored. If Ma were to earnestly take Lee’s advice and change his policies, it would be a blessing to the nation.