According to recent reports, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said in an interview with reporters from two Japanese newspapers — the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun — that he did not rule out the possibility of signing a political agreement on unification with China. This was a very surprising thing to read. The next day, the Office of the President issued a press release in which it denied this report and accused the Yomiuri Shimbun article of misrepresenting Ma and being a reflection of the reporter’s subjective bias.
As a Taiwanese, I would like to believe that Ma said no such thing. This article is not intended to discuss the rights and wrongs of independence or unification, but it must be said that countless opinion polls have shown that only a tiny minority of Taiwanese are in favor of unification. As a popularly elected president, how can Ma run counter to mainstream popular opinion by preaching to foreign media about his personal vision for the future? Perhaps we should remind Ma that, on the issue of unification or independence, the president has just one vote — no more and no less than anyone else.
Apart from this question of unification, the interview also touched on the issue of a peace agreement. However, until such time as China formally recognizes Taiwan, or the Republic of China, as a legal entity, there is really no legal basis for the two sides to engage in political negotiations. Neither Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation nor China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits has the authority to sign any kind of political agreement. Both of these bodies are non-governmental organizations that serve as proxies to handle functional cross-strait issues, so how could they deal with matters of sovereignty and the authority to govern? It is also not possible for Taiwan to sign any political agreements with the People’s Republic of China while using such titles as “Chinese Taipei” or “Taiwan, China.”
Recently some people have been advocating “two Chinas” or “one country, two governments,” a sign that some intellectuals have woken from their slumber and discovered that “one country, two systems,” which is a legacy of colonial times, is not an acceptable formula when it comes to relations between Taiwan and China. Evidently it has dawned on these writers that we need to work out some other kind of arrangement.
The accusation made by the Office of the President that the Yomiuri Shimbun interview report was subjective and biased also calls for comment. In the course of my career, I have made friends with some journalists from the mainstream international media, including the Yomiuri Shimbun, and I have much admiration for their professionalism and ability to self-regulate and delve deeply into the issue at hand. Their interview techniques are also very impressive, so it is hard to believe that the interviewers would simply make things up. It would be reasonable to infer that it was the overall context of what Ma said that gave the interviewers the impression that he has a missionary-like zeal for unification between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
It is not a good thing for a head of state to keep correcting and objecting to what others have said or written. Surely the right way for a head of state to interact with the international media is to make sure that he or she keeps public opinion in mind and focuses on the public interest at all times.