Mon, Jun 15, 2009 - Page 8 News List

A man we thought we knew: Ma Ying-jeou

By Li Kuan-long 李坤隆

Everybody has their own opinion on the issue of unification or independence. I would personally support whatever is good for Taiwan’s future. I cannot take catchphrases like “betraying Taiwan” or “being unified” emanating from southern Taiwan seriously, because the separation of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is real and no one will be able to change this situation in the short term. However, having observed the actions of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — someone we thought we knew — since he came to power, we are becoming increasingly suspicious and feel that we no longer understand him.

While Ma now seems to be advocating the use of simplified Chinese characters, I seem to remember that he was firmly anti-communist before his election.

Since taking office, Ma has been leaning toward the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as can be seen in many things, from his statement on the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre to his plans to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement with China.

This may be the trend of the times and Ma may not have a choice, but this does not mean that Taiwanese should learn only to recognize traditional Chinese while writing with simplified characters, because there is a thin line between this and unification — or, rather, being unified.

If this continues, it will raise serious concerns for Taiwan’s future.

In ancient China, the standard for unification included standardized wheel width for carts and a standardized script. Today, Ma is promoting simplified Chinese without receiving any goodwill from Beijing.

This is not far from unification as seen by ancient Chinese — how can we not be worried?

Certainly, Ma must believe that he is on the cutting edge, just as former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) thought history would remember him for proposing in 1995 that Taiwan “boldly go west.”

Ma seems to have forgotten that he is the nation’s leader, and that his every word and deed have direct and enormous, even lethal, impact.

Especially when a public consensus has not been reached on the matter, Ma’s proposal is almost certain to trigger a backlash.

After the DPP destroyed its own reputation, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was able to regain cities and counties in the south, but Ma’s proposal will give the DPP good leverage and affect moderate voters’ views of his stance on Taiwanese sovereignty.

As time passes, this will affect moderates’ trust in Ma. Since he plans to take over the KMT chairmanship, it is conceivable that the KMT’s advantage in the south would have been completely eroded by the time the year-end local government elections are held.

And, more importantly, many swing voters probably feel that they understand Ma less and less, and this lack of understanding is likely to create distrust. After all, a majority of voters have a bottom line regarding unification and independence — Taiwan and China can grow closer economically and culturally, but politically a clear line must be drawn.

Ma may see an acceptance of simplified Chinese characters as part of cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges, but it constitutes a form of political recognition.

If Ma insists on moving forward before people’s doubts have been dispelled, he would be wise to stay north of the Chuoshui River (濁水溪).

Li Kuan-long is a lecturer at the Kaohsiung campus of Shih Chien University.

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