Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - Page 8 News List

AIT has nothing but praise for Tsai

By John Tkacik

After the DPP’s wins in the December 2009 elections, the AIT reviewed Tsai’s successes in retiring party debts and “managing the fallout” of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) corruption scandal. Speculating that Tsai could be the DPP’s next presidential nominee, the AIT reassured Washington that she was a “moderate leader eyeing a flexible China approach.”

This is how the AIT connected the analytical dots: “Her professionalism and international experience — she speaks fluent English — remain apparent as DPP Chair. She appears comfortable meeting foreign dignitaries and views relationships with Japan and the United States as particularly important to Taiwan. [Note: Tsai traveled to the United States once this year and to Japan twice. End note.] As MAC [Mainland Affairs Council] Chair, Tsai helped to promote a pragmatic cross-Strait policy and participated in talks with China to improve economic ties. At her recent policy briefing, Tsai said she intended to build a strong DPP support base in order to put forward a more flexible approach toward China.”

By February last year, the AIT telegrams said Tsai had “further consolidated her position as party kingmaker” and that “Tsai has won plaudits for her tireless campaigning.” For a woman who the AIT had said two years earlier was “not really excited about politics,” the AIT observed with admiration, “Tsai’s ability to push through her proposal on nominating candidates for the special municipality elections in Taiwan’s largest urban areas reflects her now unchallenged party leadership.” She had understood systemic weaknesses of her party and her “success has quieted [the] naysayers and has gained her the respect of party elders.”

Going through all these telegrams, I was struck by the absence of anything unflattering in the AIT’s descriptions of her. She obviously connects well with people. Several AIT cables made a point of noting “she has a wry sense of humor.” In one interview with an AIT officer, she said her first year as DPP chair was “like mandatory military service.”

By contrast, the AIT cables describing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), now running for re-election, are far more ambivalent. Ma is portrayed as “coming from a KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] mainlander elite family” possessing an “urbane sophistication and moderation,” a “corruption fighter” and a man “with a reputation as a telegenic, pragmatic, and clean politician.” However, the AIT’s analyses also are filled with disclaimers that some “both in and outside the KMT, have questioned his resolve and vision, and his ability to lead.”

On his election to the presidency in 2008, the AIT uncharitably observed that “his ability to win elections by wide margins is especially notable given his lack of grassroots political experience, standoffish attitude toward local political dealmakers, and soft leadership style.” It also shared the view of former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) that “because Ma was raised and educated in a wholly KMT environment, he is a ‘nationalist’ who identifies with the Republic of China [ROC], not Taiwan.” The AIT concluded one analysis by saying he is a “workaholic” and “he is well-known for his generally detached temperament and bland personality.”

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