People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) claims that cooperation between the PFP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for the presidential and legislative elections in January failed because of the way in which President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) team handles issues. Soong said talks reached a dead end because Ma’s team did nothing when it had the chance to seal a deal.
Of course the reason for the failure is not that simple. There are too many examples of how Ma has wasted opportunities because of his hesitant approach to crisis management: the flooding caused by Typhoon Morakot, the misconduct of former representative to Fiji Victor Chin (秦日新) and the handling of falling banana prices are just a few examples.
However, it would be wrong to assume that Ma is always mild and indecisive. Although he is often indecisive in emergencies, Ma tends to make rash, poorly thought-out decisions when it comes to long-term national policies, which require more thought and consideration.
The earliest example of this was in 2008, before Ma had fully grasped the implications of domestic and international economies and Taiwan’s dependence on other countries in the international production chain. It was then that he decided that the Taiwanese economy could be immediately transformed by relying on China, without giving any thought to the effects of the financial crisis on Wall Street. That is why he proposed the much ridiculed “6-3-3” policy during his presidential campaign.
Next, Ma naively thought that opening up direct cross-strait links would have a massive effect and that he would be able to take advantage of China when it offered to forgo certain benefits relating to the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). That is why he set a deadline for Taiwanese officials to complete the agreement, which placed the nation at a strategic disadvantage and weakened its position in negotiations.
As a result, flag-of-convenience ships, which account for 97 percent of Taiwanese sea transport across the Taiwan Strait, were excluded from cross-strait links, causing gravel ship owners to protest. In addition, Chinese tourism to Taiwan has been monopolized by Chinese travel agencies, causing the number of Chinese tourists to drop drastically.
The government compounded these mistakes during the ECFA talks, with the result that the petroleum, upstream textile material, advanced precision machinery and LCD panel sectors were all excluded from the “early harvest” list, angering those business owners.
The government’s superstitious belief in the “Chinese tourism effect” has led to more airports being opened to international flights. At present, almost none of these are used and the situation is even worse than during the expansion of domestic airports under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
On Aug. 11, Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) proposed a new target, called the “54321 goal”: economic growth of above 5 percent, an unemployment rate of below 4 percent, income growth of above 3 percent, consumer price index growth of less than 2 percent and total private investment of more than NT$1 trillion (US$34.2 billion). It is clear that this is another promise that will not be kept.
The same situation can be seen in cross-strait politics, military affairs and diplomacy. As soon as he took office, Ma proposed a push for cross-strait peace negotiations and a military confidence-building mechanism. In less than a year he gave up on it, realizing that such a proposal generated little interest.