Since coming to power, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has used “opening up” and “deregulation” as excuses to lean heavily toward China.
It has also invited renowned intellectuals to Taiwan in the hope that they will endorse this approach.
To the government, Japanese global strategist Kenichi Ohmae, who recently visited Taiwan, fit the bill. The government must have been pleased to hear him propose some sensational ideas on the cross-strait relationship. Pro-unification media outlets promoted Ohmae’s ideas in an attempt to push a Taiwan blinded by China fever further toward the edge.
Ohmae likes to talk about the cross-strait relationship, often making astonishing and contradictory comments.
The talk he gave on this visit was no exception; as a result, no one knows if he came to endorse the government’s economic and trade policy or to criticize its pro-China tendencies.
Ohmae used to work at the renowned consultancy McKinsey & Co. He is a prolific writer, and this has given him stature as an analyst of international financial and economic trends.
He is also a frequent visitor to Taiwan and has written much about cross-strait economic and trade issues.
His stance has mostly been pro-unification, suggesting that the two sides speed up economic and trade integration. This gives the impression that he is uncritically pro-China, but this is not the case.
Even so, his analyses have frequently been proven wrong by events.
His most contentious idea was a bold prediction in his 2002 book The Emergence of the United States of Chunghwa that China and Taiwan would unite in 2005. In 2009, however, Taiwan and China are still independent countries.
In 2001, before coming up with his Chunghwa theory, he predicted that China would collapse — an idea well received by then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Two years later, however, Ohmae changed his mind, publishing The Emergence of the United States of Chunghwa. In a short period of time, his views did an about-face: Instead of predicting China’s collapse, he began to praise it.
His recent visit was also filled with contradictions, generalizations and grand predictions based on fragmentary evidence. This time he said Taiwan has less than a year to use its experience and other advantages to move into the Chinese market because the “window of opportunity has almost closed,” while also blaming the previous government for letting an opportunity slip through its fingers.
An enthusiastic Ma welcomed this analysis and bragged that he had initiated a series of measures to improve cross-strait relations aimed at rapidly completing everything the previous government neglected to do.
But has Ma really found a soul mate in Ohmae? No.
Ohmae may have scared Taiwan by saying it only has a year left to make use of its advantages, but later, when he met with Taiwanese reporters, he said it was inappropriate for Taiwan to lean toward China. He said that although cross-strait relations and direct links have brought many business opportunities, the Chinese economy, while large, still only makes up one-quarter of the global economy at most.
He also warned that as Taiwan looks to the future, it must consider cooperating with the five biggest economic entities and that government and business must avoid leaning too closely toward China. He also warned that Taiwan must not remove all restrictions on Chinese investment lest China buy up Taiwanese businesses at will.
Ohmae’s ideas may be contradictory, but a careful look at his analysis of the Chinese economy allows us to conclude that he is one of its cheerleaders. Even so, despite praising China in this way, Ohmae knows that caution is necessary.
The Ma administration, on the other hand, has thrown all caution to the wind with policies that pay no attention to looming dangers.
Ohmae once jokingly said: “I’ll give you Aso if you give me Ma Ying-jeou,” implying that he would rather have Ma as Japan’s leader than Prime Minister Taro Aso — an indication of how much he likes him. The irony is that this jesting may have provided a solution to Taiwan’s problems: If Ma steps down, Taiwan may have a chance to ride out the crisis and move toward a more secure future.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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