Fri, Jan 08, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : First it was US beef, then an ECFA

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) endured possibly the biggest setback of his political career on Tuesday when, after months of to-ing and fro-ing, the legislature finally came around to re-imposing restrictions on certain US beef products.

Not only was the move a slap in the face for the executive — which had negotiated the deal with the US — it was also a severe blow for Ma as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman. KMT legislators put on a show of defiance in passing the amendment, while also laying down the law for the executive on future handling of beef imports.

The reversal not only humiliated Ma, but also made him look weaker than ever.

One would have been hard pressed, however, to notice this latest blow to his credibility, as Ma on Tuesday refused to accept any of the blame for the beef debacle, attributing the problem solely to bad government communication with the public.

While lack of communication is partly responsible for the current shambles, the biggest objection for most people was the manner in which the protocol was negotiated.

In striking the deal in secret, the government ignored the possibility of negative public reaction, seeming only to be concerned about what it could get in return from the US for lifting the ban. Washington had been stalling on several issues to get the ban lifted, but to fail to take into consideration the reaction of the public and the legislature was a fatal miscalculation.

Ma cannot blame legislators for this, as they were only bowing to pressure from the public, who remain ill-informed about the safety of US beef.

It was the government’s task to ensure people were informed before they announced the protocol, not negotiate the deal behind closed doors and try to explain away any fears after more US beef was allowed to enter the market.

The failure to translate the protocol into Chinese was another big mistake as this left many feeling that the government had something to hide.

Ma’s reluctance to take the heat for his administration’s latest disaster is understandable as his popularity is already at rock bottom, but the government’s passiveness throughout the whole episode has been breathtaking.

The protocol was signed in October and came into effect in early November, by which time there was already substantial opposition. But there were few serious attempts to douse the flames during the ensuing months, with the executive apparently believing the fuss would die down.

What is even more unbelievable is that the government now looks as if it is going to make the same mistakes with its planned economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China. Despite all its efforts, most people still have no clue what the pact will contain.

The most surprising thing is that all this is happening under the watch of a man who previously placed so much importance on communication.

It is no wonder, with his popularity at its lowest ebb and his authority similarly plunging, that Ma recently brought his communications guru King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) back into the fold.

The way things are going, Ma will need all King’s media savviness if he is to stand any chance of rescuing things in time for 2012.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top