Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Ma flying by the seat of his pants

By Jerome Keating

All politicians seek a catch word or phrase to use for spin and glorification of their policies. Ever since President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration, one phrase Taiwan and the world have regularly heard bandied about is “Ma’s flexible diplomacy.” What that means is anyone’s guess, but with the recent upheaval in Honduras things took a turn for the worse in finding an appropriate definition.

Previously, some had felt flexible diplomacy meant Ma’s willingness to assume any position that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wanted him to, in negotiations of course. Others had thought it was Ma’s convenient excuse for being able to claim he supported the Dalai Lama, but still chose not to invite him to Taiwan. Others in a more sarcastic vein explained flexible diplomacy as Ma’s ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth. Honduras changed all that.

Ma had in the works a second trip to Latin America to show his international acumen. Instead, Honduras exposed what has been a recognized problem with Ma both as a mayor and president. Continued wild promises, no matter how rosy, cannot cover a lack of planning and a lack of foresight forever.

Ma’s infamous 6-3-3 promise of Taiwan’s glorious future under him dissolved with the economy quickly tanking. When this promise was made in November 2007, shouldn’t someone on his vast economic team have had a handle on what was going on in the world? Of course all was euphemistically explained — Ma really needed eight years. In 2016, he will be long gone with the booty like former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Diane Lee (李慶安).

Flexible diplomacy may be catchy, but in reality it is proving to be another political euphemism, a euphemism to cover up a policy of making grand promises and then winging it, or in the more vernacular, flying by the seat of one’s pants.

Honduras is one of the few political allies Taiwan has and had been a major stop for Ma. Despite rumors of potential turmoil there earlier in the week, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) told reporters not to worry. No coup or troubles were going to take place in Honduras. As a matter of fact, Ma was looking forward to visiting Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and that was that.

Unfortunately, two hours before Chen spoke, the Honduran military had burst into Zelaya’s room in the middle of the night, arrested him and quickly exiled him to neighboring Costa Rica. So much for Ma’s team being on top of the situation.

Not to be dismayed, Ma praised his team for being flexible and able to quickly switch plans and cut short his visit by a couple of days, but is that really the case?

True, they were able to catch Ma’s plane before it even entered Honduran airspace, but then came the aftermath. Now it has been decided that Ma does not want to visit Honduras anyway. It was not a top priority — flexible diplomacy? Or just not wanting the hot potato?

The unraveling of the Honduras visit brought to mind Ma’s numerous other promises and how Taiwanese have such a short memory.

Does anyone remember how a year ago Ma touted his flexible diplomacy and how it would bring hordes of Chinese tourists to Taiwan? They in turn would cure Taiwan’s economic woes. We did see a lot of problems with the ill-thought out rush to tourism, but has anyone noticed how great the economy is as a result?

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