Public support for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has hit a low ebb and last Saturday’s huge demonstration to protest against his policies helped articulate that discontent only one day before his second-term inauguration.
In his swearing-in speech, Ma listed what he called the three legs of national security and the five pillars of national growth.
The “three legs” refer to cross-strait relations and in this respect, Ma has not made any changes to his previous position: Over the next four years his government will give priority to domestic policies; it will maintain stable development of relations across the Taiwan Strait; and it will continue to engage in economic and trade negotiations with China.
Ma outlined his “five pillars of national growth” in the opening part of his speech. The pillars are: economic growth, social justice, low carbon emissions and green energy, culture as a source of national strength and the cultivation of talent.
He said that Taiwan’s economic growth prospects are closely linked to regional economic integration and that the nation must change its protectionist mentality to create an open economic environment. These tasks are by no means simple and implementing them will require clear communication and careful coordination — not strong points in the Ma administration.
As Southeast Asian countries speed up their efforts toward economic integration, Ma’s government has failed to propose a comprehensive strategy for Taiwan to integrate into the global economy. Ma’s expectations rest on the country being able to speedily complete follow-up talks within the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), expediting economic cooperation agreements with Singapore and New Zealand and using the next eight years to fully prepare for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) membership.
However, Singapore and New Zealand are not Taiwan’s main trading partners and the eight-year preparation period for joining the TPP extends well beyond Ma’s present term in office. Furthermore, he has failed to outline any plans for promoting economic integration agreements with the US, Japan, the EU, ASEAN and other important trading partners during the next four years.
Regarding cross-strait relations, Ma’s remarks show that his perspective has not changed since his first term in office, so we are unlikely to see any major breakthrough in this key issue.
Prior to Ma’s inauguration, Chinese government officials and academics said they hoped Ma could strengthen mutual trust on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, especially by expressing the standpoint that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China.” However, Ma did not make such a statement in his speech. Moreover, he adjusted the “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” formula to that of “one Republic of China, two areas.” That is probably not what the Chinese government wanted to hear.
Ma’s attitude to cross-strait exchanges and his dialogue on democracy, human rights and the rule of law appeared too conservative and passive. He did not present a strategy for Taiwan to act as a beacon of democracy and he did not suggest any role for Taiwan’s government in this respect. He only said that he hoped civic groups from both sides would promote these things.
Regarding political reform and human rights safeguards in China, Ma simply stated that he hoped China would gradually allow greater popular participation in the political process and steadily improve its human rights situation and strengthen the rule of law. He said nothing about any active role that Taiwan’s government should play in cross-strait exchanges and negotiations.