Wed, Oct 10, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Making sense of Ma’s Cabinet picks

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

US President Barack Obama took office just a few months after Ma, and he led the way in kowtowing to China. Even some well-known liberal political scientists in Taiwan followed the trend by praising the China model. In their view, there was no longer any doubt that the “Beijing consensus” was superior to the “Washington consensus.”

Su, for his part, wrote the preface for the book 2050: Will China Be Number One? (2050中國第一?), whose authors said that the shift in global power relations had already begun.

It was against such a background that Ma declared in his first inauguration speech that he would work toward realizing a cross-strait peace agreement and a mechanism of mutual trust in military affairs between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The officials he appointed to coordinate his economic and political strategies included former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) and outgoing Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), who between them were in charge of cross-strait economic integration, as well as Su, who was tasked with directing the prioritizing of cross-strait relations over international diplomacy. This new order of priority meant building friendly relations with China while merely placating the US, not of keeping friendly with the US while maintaining peaceful relations with China.

Ma appointed Lai as mainland council minister as a way of placating the DPP and its allies in the pan-green camp, and as a “brake pad” to make up for Chiang’s excessively close ties to both political and business interests. As a result, quick moves were made to establish direct sea, air and mail links across the Taiwan Strait and to sign a cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), while the government delayed arms purchases from the US again and again. It initially turned down the offer of US military aircraft for disaster relief when Typhoon Morakot ravaged southern Taiwan.

Ma chose the sociable Jason Yuan (袁健生), who is neither equipped to carry out policies nor one of Ma’s trusted advisors, to serve as Taiwan’s representative to the US. Yuan’s function was to keep bilateral relations steady and socialize a bit if any problem cropped up. This shows that keeping friendly with the US while maintaining peaceful relations with China was just a slogan coined in response to pressure from the pan-green camp, and not a genuine policy.

This startegy looks familiar. When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took office in 2000, he made a pledge of “four noes and one without” — namely that, barring a threat of military force by China, he would not declare Taiwanese independence, change the Republic of China’s national title, include the doctrine of special state-to-state relations in the Constitution, promote a referendum on unification or independence, or abolish the National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines.

Chen took bold steps to open Taiwan up to China. He was keen for Chiang to join the Cabinet and for Siew to direct his overall cross-strait policy, and he appointed Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to head the mainland council to keep the pan-greens quiet. Ma is doing the same kind of thing, but of course it is an easier task for him.

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