Did The Associated Press (AP) really misquote President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in its exclusive interview with him on Tuesday?
That’s what the Presidential Office said, with Ma calling an impromptu press conference on Tuesday night to argue the case. Ma said that in the interview, he did not link cross-strait political talks to a second term if he were to be re-elected, nor did he set China’s implementation of democracy and respect for human rights as a precondition for Taiwan’s unification with China.
Anyone who cares to take a look at the interview transcript can come to their own opinion on whether AP put words in Ma’s mouth, or merely made a reasonable deduction based on Ma’s remarks.
While Ma sought to correct the section of the interview in which AP quoted him as saying “any political union would require Beijing to adopt democracy and respect for human rights,” a closer look at the transcript has many people wondering where exactly he was misquoted and whether it warrants a correction.
In the transcript Ma responded to AP’s query that “I think what I heard you say was that a truly democratic system of government in the mainland is the only way that the Taiwanese people will engage in a conversation about unification” by saying: “I think that will help.”
Even though Ma added that “there’s no guarantee how long it would take for the people of Taiwan to believe it’s time to do so” and cited opinion polls showing that a majority of Taiwanese favor the status quo, it is nonetheless beyond belief that he would take the liberty to suggest that Taiwanese would want unification with China were Beijing to embrace democracy and respect for human rights.
Whatever happened to Ma’s campaign pledge on respecting the right of Taiwanese to determine their own future? In a growing trend, polls conducted by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center have shown that more people in Taiwan identify themselves as Taiwanese (52 percent as of June), compared with those who consider themselves Chinese (3.8 percent as of June).
Ma also said he did not in the interview connect cross-strait political talks with a second term.
A closer look at the transcript, however, clearly shows Ma responding to an AP question — “if economic issues are resolved during your second term, during that term, you might move on to political questions?” — by saying: “As I said, it depends on how fast we move, whether these issues are satisfactorily resolved.”
It is therefore reasonable for the AP to quote Ma as having “suggested that those political talks could start as early as a second four-year term if he wins re-election in 2012.”
On Tuesday night, Ma stressed that what he said was that “the government would not start political talks with China before it completed negotiations on economic issues.”
However, that very statement rings a horrifying tune to the ears of many. After all, at what point will the Ma government determine that economic issues have been resolved? Has the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in June borne fruit for Taiwan or improved Taiwan’s economy? What about the trade imbalance between China and Taiwan?
Neither the legislature nor Taiwanese voters have authorized Ma to represent the country in moving on to political talks should economic issues be taken care of in his first term.
In view of Ma’s latest comments — regardless of what corrections he seeks to make after the fact — one can’t help but feel pessimism regarding the future of Taiwan under his China-friendly governance.
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