In a videoconference with Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) on April 16th, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made several statements on how under his leadership Taiwan was steering through a sea of change.
Regrettably, all evidence points toward Taiwan ending up shipwrecked on the rocks under Ma’s leadership.
Ma said that he is achieving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and enhancing Taiwan’s position in the world through a “tripartite national security framework,” which consists of three elements: institutionalizing of rapprochement with China, making Taiwan a model world citizen and strengthening the nation’s defense capability.
However, Ma falls short on all three points.
On the first point, there seems to be stability on the surface, but Ma’s rapprochement does not have a firm foundation: It is built on the loose sand of the so-called “1992 consensus.” Ma highlighted this “consensus” in his speech, and even called it “a critical anchoring point for Taiwan and China to find common ground on the otherwise intractable issue of “one China.”
According to Ma, the essence of the “consensus” is that in 1992 negotiators on the two sides agreed to talk in Hong Kong under the moniker of “one China, different interpretations.”
This idea is hotly disputed in Taiwan, with then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) having emphatically denied that there was ever such a consensus.
Moreover, in spite of this consensus China has continued its buildup of missiles across the Strait and has yet to renounce the use of force against Taiwan.
However, even more telling is that China has used the lull and quiet across the Taiwan Strait to move aggressively in other areas of conflict in the region, such as the South China Sea, and the conflict over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) with Japan.
It has also devoted resources to the repression of people in Tibet and East Turkestan. Is that the kind of China that Taiwan would want to have rapprochement with?
The second point of making Taiwan a model world citizen is closely related to enhancing the nation’s international presence. There has been little progress on this front since Ma took office in 2008. Ma’s crown jewel in this area is the nation’s participation in the WHO, but that consists mainly of the token presence of Taiwan’s health minister in the annual World Health Assembly, and not by any substantive participation of Taiwanese medical specialists in the WHO’s day-to-day affairs.
There have also been some feeble attempts to join the International Civil Aviation Administration, but those have run headlong into opposition from China. When Ma traveled to Rome to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis in March, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested vigorously, and told the Vatican to break its ties with Taiwan.
All these are clear indications that China is not willing to allow Taiwan to have any international presence.
Ma’s third point was strengthening the nation’s defensive capabilities. Even on this issue Ma is lagging behind: Under his presidency, defense spending has dropped to below 2.2 percent of GDP, prompting US observers to question whether the Ma government is doing enough to bolster its own defense.
Instead of Ma’s fuzzy navigation through his nebulous sea of change, Taiwan needs a change of course toward a clear “Taiwan consensus,” which would emphasize its presence as a free and democratic nation, and its right to be accepted by the international community on an equal footing.