Mon, Sep 26, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The first lady and her silent trips

First lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青) threw out the first ball at a Major League Baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday. She was invited to open the game after the Dodgers organization discovered that she is a keen baseball fan who attends games and supports the sport in Taiwan.

This was the first time a first lady has opened a game at Dodger Stadium. However, Chow kept an extremely low-profile after her pitch, preferring to watch the rest of the game from a private box and avoid the press. She continued her six-day trip, including visits to several Chinese-language schools, in the same fashion.

The Los Angeles visit marked the latest example of Chow’s quiet public persona over the past three years. She has actively shunned the limelight and avoided the press, whether undertaking charity work, accompanying President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to events, making foreign visits or going on diplomatic trips.

Following her husband’s election in March 2008, critics and the public speculated about how Chow, a highly educated and accomplished career woman, would redefine the role of first lady. Since then, she has won praise for quitting her job as a bank lawyer to avoid potential conflicts of interest and devoting herself to charity work.

The 58-year-old first lady has worked closely with several charities, including the Taiwan Red Cross and World Vision Taiwan, and also promoted art and culture as an honorary director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and other troupes.

However, her insistence on maintaining a low-profile has wasted numerous opportunities to raise Taiwan’s international profile and promote charitable organizations.

In 2009, Chow accompanied Ma for the first time on a foreign visit to diplomatic allies in Central America. That trip was dubbed “a trip of silence” by many media outlets because she made no speeches and declined to give interviews. The local media has dubbed her “Mrs Cool” for the poker-face she always maintains in front of the cameras.

Although Chow has traveled regularly on charitable and cultural missions and embarked on the first trip by a Taiwanese first lady to Russia, reporters have been given little opportunity to cover her trips.

By refusing to issue public statements and making little if any effort to attract media attention, Chou has in effect downplayed the significance of her trips and the role she appears to enjoy most, that of spokesperson for charitable organizations and performing arts groups.

With her signature black shirts, blue jeans and lack of make-up, Chow is not a typical Taiwanese political spouse, and her image as a down-to-earth and independent first lady has oftentimes made her seem more charismatic than her husband.

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with Chow’s decision to maintain a low-profile life, even after becoming first lady, it would make more sense for her to take advantage of the media exposure she attracts to get her message across to a bigger audience.

The nation would benefit more from a first lady who not only has her own voice, but knows how and when to use it.

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