The recent US beef controversy, with its intimations of a quid pro quo backroom deal, adds to the mounting realization that the nation, under the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), has been a rudderless ship.
It is not that the ship of state does not move; rather it finds itself continually blown this way and that, forward and backward, by the conflicting directions of the hot air currents and excuses that emanate from the presidential office. Ma took office in May 2008, yet never has so little been done by a president who entered with so many advantages. Instead of the hoped-for progress, Taiwan’s ship of state has tossed to and fro as it has tried to respond to multiple changing winds.
Those winds include misinterpreted and misapplied mandates, leadership by platitudes, inept plans from inexperienced staff, the belief that the essence of responsibility is finding someone to blame, word games, and finally insulting hoodwink strategies dictating that the best way to escape unfulfilled promises is to make newer, more grandiose ones. This has been Taiwan’s past four years under the winds of Ma-speak.
Start with Ma’s infamous “6-3-3” campaign pledge, the cornerstone of which was an elusive 6 percent annual GDP growth; that “6-3-3” pledge won Ma the election in the hope that the economy would subsequently improve. To the public’s chagrin, Ma misinterpreted his win with 58 percent of the vote as agreement with what was in his heart — that he should move to realize his father’s dream of unifying Taiwan with China.
So stuck has Ma been in this dream, that even now, with GDP this year set to drop below 4 percent, Ma still only talks of his desired Zhongua Minzu (中華民族). Although Ma peppers his speeches with Taiwan-centric words during election campaigns, people are beginning to realize that Ma would choke if he had to speak of a Taiwan Minzu.
The winds of Typhoon Morakot in 2009 exposed another problem — the lack of planning and unreadiness of the Ma administration. Platitudes could not solve or blow away the problems of that disaster and though the weather was the chosen scapegoat, it made a poor choice.
The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) brought the next changing winds. Ma’s administration boasted that the ECFA (pushed through without the help and/or scrutiny of the Legislative Yuan) was their baby, the longed-for economy-solving breakthrough that would rescue Taiwan. However, when GDP continued to drop and the rescue did not materialize, the public raised concerns that Taiwan’s sovereignty was being sold out instead.
So, the wind and sales pitch changed.
The ECFA was there, but it was only a shell; nothing had really been decided on. There was no sell-out, and after ignoring the Legislative Yuan and the people, Ma-speak dodged responsibility and passed the responsibility back to them.
However, it is the US beef controversy that has more clearly exposed the duplicity of Ma-speak; the problem was not only with beef, but at the same time avian flu came home to roost. Despite protestations that public health was Ma’s main concern, the dangers to public health were put on hold until after Ma was assured of re-election. With the delay of the scandal, that mysterious phrase “wait till the boss steps down” directed the wind of blame. In addition, Ma’s team tried to further pass the buck, this time to the previous administration.