President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has proven that it is incapable of governing. The economy is a mess and popular resentment is seething. In spite of all this, in his recent Cabinet reshuffle, Ma chose to keep Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) and ministers responsible for economic and financial policy in their posts, while replacing those in charge of national security, cross-strait and foreign relations. Such a reshuffle does not make any sense.
Members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who care about cross-strait relations are oddly polarized in their assessments of the Cabinet changes.
Some DPP members who in the past loudly called for their party’s cross-strait policies to follow Ma’s and accept that China and Taiwan are two areas of the same country are perturbed by the appointments of Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) minister and King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) as the nation’s US representative, given the wide gulf between the two men in terms of qualifications and experience. These legislators feel that the appointments of the mature, experienced King to the US post and greenhorn Wang to the cross-strait job show that Ma takes relations with the US much more seriously than those with China.
Others in the DPP say that Ma appointed Wang to replace Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), who was appointed in 2008 as MAC head to be a “brake pad” to avoid excessive haste in furthering cross-strait ties, because he is a close and trusted team member. These critics interpret this change as a warning that Ma is eager to engage in political negotiations with Beijing based on the “one China” principle.
Commentators who seek to defend the president’s choices say both assessments are wrong. They say that Ma will continue to follow former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi’s (蘇起) strategy of staying friendly with the US while maintaining peaceful relations with China, and that the Cabinet and diplomatic appointments are simply tactical adjustments.
This argument is very unconvincing. King is the central figure among Ma’s trusted advisors, as well as his most indispensable strategic weapon. King also swore that he was not interested in becoming a government official. If the appointments were just a tactical adjustment, why would Ma find it necessary deploy his most powerful asset?
King’s appointment to Washington shows the Ma administration attaches great importance to relations with the US, but that does not mean that Ma thinks relations with China are unimportant. Even the US does not dare to underestimate China’s importance, and Ma even less so. Appointing Wang as the government’s go-between with China is indeed meant to win Beijing’s trust, but that does not mean that the government intends to take its China-friendly policies all the way to signing a cross-strait peace agreement. Sending King to Washington does signify a major strategic change of direction, but the direction is neither of the ones described above.
The strategy that Ma adopted when he took office in 2008 was not one of staying friendly with the US while maintaining peaceful relations with China. To the contrary — its aim was to get friendly with China while keeping ties with the US on an even keel.
Ma came to office just as the US sank into a world-shaking financial crisis. Meanwhile, China was thriving. People were predicting that China would replace the US first as the engine of global economic growth, and eventually as the world’s most powerful nation.