Recently, there has been a series of demonstrations held in Taipei, with various groups taking to the streets in protest against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration for their poor handling of the controversy surrounding imports of US beef that contain residue of the lean-meat drug ractopamine.
Following his re-election in January, and before his second term in office has even officially begun, Ma has managed to aggravate and inflict a lot of disasters on the nation. While the price of everyday goods has continued to rise, there has also been an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among pigs in Kinmen, while there is evidence to suggest that outbreaks of avian influenza have spread as a result of an alleged cover-up.
All these problems have demolished the public’s faith in the Cabinet headed by newly appointed Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) and its promise to bring peace of mind to everyone. However, it is the US beef issue that has provoked the most anger among the public.
These issues have also exposed the true and unappealing face of Ma and his administration. The president and his team have been exposed as lacking transparency and wavering and backtracking on key issues — the US beef issue is the clearest example of this.
The government claimed to have made no commitments to the US regarding beef imports. It also said that it has set no timetable to resolve the issue and no predetermined policy positions, but this is all plainly untrue. The truth of the matter is that, during a meeting with American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt on Feb. 1, Ma said in connection with the beef issue that officials in the incoming Cabinet would “take new approaches to their work” — a clear hint that Taipei was willing to make concessions on the issue.
The government has so far convened three meetings of experts and promised to respect professional knowledge, communicate with the public, safeguard people’s health and so on, but not a word of this is genuine. The government is just leading the experts and the general public up the garden path.
The false nature of the government has not just been expressed in the way it keeps discarding its promises — saying one thing, but doing another — but also by the fact that it does not shy away from misrepresenting the US beef issue and misleading the public. The government says that only 29 countries ban the controversial leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine, but that is a lot less than the figure of 160 countries given on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Web site. The government has also said that only a fairly small percentage of Taiwanese say they would mind if the ban on US beef was lifted, but that stands in sharp contrast with the results of opinion polls carried out by media and the Democratic Progressive Party.
What raised people’s suspicions even more was that the Government Information Office did not hold a press conference to announce its policy change on this important and widely talked about issue. Instead, only a press release was issued late in the evening.
The president has avoided talking about the issue in public, preferring to handle it behind closed doors. Cabinet ministers and department chiefs are obliged to play along with this scheme, so when confronted with questions, they try to dodge the issue, each giving their own version of events.