If futures were built on promises, Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would be the envy of the international community — prosperous, dignified and safe from harm.
Sadly for Ma, running a country requires more than slogans designed to meet a moment’s requirements — statesmanship calls for vision, action and consistency, all qualities that our promise-prone president, after more than two-and-a-half years in office, has yet to show us he possesses.
While it would be unfair to expect politicians to deliver on every promise they make or to turn every slogan shouted at a podium into reality, they should nevertheless meet minimum standards of consistency. In other words, for promises to be part of a vision, they should be followed through with action, commitment and resources.
Ma’s promise to create an all-volunteer military by 2015 — a laudable, albeit costly idea — is one example of a plan that is unlikely to come to fruition as a result of lack of commitment and funding. The Ma administration’s vow to submit the text of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed with China last year to the WTO also looks like an empty one now that the “early harvest” list has come into force without the global trade body having seen the documents.
What Ma has delivered so far is a long list of promises, the implementation of which has left much to be desired and which do not appear to be part of an overall plan. In fact, his only consistency has been his inconsistency, with slogans thrown cheaply about depending on the nature of the audience being addressed. By dint of repetition, Ma has succeeded in undermining his credibility in the eyes of Taiwanese, who by now could be forgiven for taking a cynical view of his vows.
In this context, it is difficult to take Ma at his word when, during his New Year speech, he promised that the future of Taiwan would be determined by the 23 million Taiwanese. Was this just another remark in passing, intended to pacify an increasingly suspicious polity, not to mention the nation’s allies?
Had Ma shown consistency in his commitment to Taiwan — not the Republic of China, but Taiwan — such remarks could have been taken at face value. As he has failed to demonstrate such consistency, however, we can only conclude that these comments were once again empty and tailor-made to fit an immediate need — in this case, the realization that his chances of getting re-elected in 2012 are looking increasingly dim.
Ma’s commitment to Taiwanese can be weighed by contrasting his current rhetoric with that of periods when his administration was speaking from a position of strength, rather than weakness, as appears to be the case at present.
When his government was riding high, Ma’s rhetoric was filled with hubris and did not emphasize the right of the Taiwanese to determine their own future. One example is the way the administration turned down perfectly legitimate calls for a referendum on the ECFA. The government knew best, its hold on power was unchallenged, therefore public opinion was easily discarded.
Ultimately, inconsistency is a sign of weakness, evidence that the leadership does not have a clear idea where it is going, or how to achieve its objectives. This leaves the Ma administration exposed to exploitation by Beijing, which, unlike the Ma Cabinet, has been extremely consistent when it comes to its Taiwan policy.