The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is facing its first real crisis since taking office in May last year. Criticism of its mishandling of the disaster created by Typhoon Morakot is coming from every quarter, both from the pan-green camp and traditionally blue villages hit by the catastrophe. The international media, which made Ma its darling, is joining the fray, with CNN International holding a public vote on the question: “Should Taiwan’s leader stand down over delays in aiding typhoon victims?”
In a further sign of media bungling, the Government Information Office (GIO) retracted a request that the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club instruct correspondents who signed up for a press conference with Ma today to submit their questions to the GIO prior to the media event — which the club adamantly refuses to do.
Amid all the domestic finger-pointing and rising dissatisfaction, another political storm that threatens to buffet Ma is silently brewing across the Taiwan Strait. For the majority of Taiwanese who favor independence and the many who favor the “status quo” over annexation by China, this development might come as a surprise — but as they say, you stand where you sit.
Incredible as it may sound, a growing number of Chinese academics are arguing that Ma is shifting on the “one China” policy he is alleged to be adhering to.
In an op-ed published in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online last Tuesday, Jian Junbo (簡軍波), an assistant professor at Fudan University in Shanghai and visiting scholar at Aalborg University in Denmark, wrote that Ma was an “opportunist” who “lack[s] foresight and strategy, with hesitation and self-contradiction manifest in his Mainland policy.”
Jian said that Ma and his aides “have been saying that Beijing should recognize the realities across the Taiwan Strait — that there is the People’s Republic of China [PRC] on the mainland and the [Republic of China] in Taiwan.”
Later, he writes that when we carefully examine his remarks on cross-strait relations, Ma sounds more like former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) — who pushed for state-to-state relations across the Taiwan Strait — than someone who adheres to the so-called “one China” principle. Jian concludes that if Ma is really interested in the public’s best interests, he must realize that world leaders cannot allow themselves to be swayed by public opinion. In other words, Ma should be dictatorial, just like the leadership in Beijing. The op-ed closes with a veiled threat, stating that if Ma makes the mistake of allowing the 23 million Taiwanese to decide their own fate, China’s 1.3 billion people also have a right to decide the future of the Taiwan Strait.
Such articles reflect a growing impatience in elite circles in China as Ma, however much power he wields over the executive and the legislative branches, maneuvers between his policy objectives and the friction that is inherent to a democratic system. His handling of the Morakot disaster will likely make it far more difficult for him to push his China policies, especially at a time when the public trust that allowed him to forge ahead with little opposition has evaporated. As such, Ma may be forced to tread more carefully — and slowly — on his cross-strait policies, which is certain to result in further accusations across the Taiwan Strait that he is wavering, an “opportunist” who cares more about his re-election than achieving unification.