Ma’s personality and leadership style also contribute to his predicament. Even though the legislature has been controlled by the KMT with a working majority, Ma as the president and chairman wields little influence on the lawmaking body. This is due to lack of regular contacts and consultations between Ma and the KMT legislators.
Some of them are seasoned and knowledgeable, but they complain that Ma does not respect them and often treats them as simple rubber stamps. Hence they have grown wary of Ma. He has been widely criticized for his arrogance in power — he trusts and deals with only some of his cohorts; consequently, he has isolated himself, is out of touch with reality and has no knowledge of what the people need and want.
Foreign journalists who write about Taiwan are apt to dwell on Ma’s accomplishments in cross-strait ties. Thus far, Taiwan has signed a landmark trade pact — the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) — with Beijing, including 17 agreements to lift cross-strait tariffs on goods and investment barriers. A service trade agreement has been initialed, but not yet reviewed and ratified by the legislature. Both the opposition and KMT legislators have serious reservations about the agreement, which would allow China’s capital and huge service industry to enter Taiwan’s market and could adversely affect thousands of Taiwan’s small and medium-sized enterprises.
If Ma believes that close economic ties with China can invigorate Taiwan’s struggling economy, then he has been proven wrong, as Taiwan’s economy has hardly improved.
The ECFA and the liberalization of cross-strait trade and investment have undoubtedly benefited a small number of fat cats and owners of China-based Taiwanese companies, but overall, ordinary people have suffered from the rapid, huge flight of Taiwanese capital to China, as their real wages have decreased and more than 1 million blue-collar and white-collar workers have lost their jobs.
Moreover, Taiwan is paying a heavy political price for China’s imagined economic concessions. The ECFA is modeled on the economic agreement between China and Hong Kong — the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement — and is based on the “one China” principle. This principle will erode and weaken Taiwan’s sovereign status, and will eventually transform Taiwan into a special economic zone of China.
Since Ma came into office in 2008, Taiwan has progressively tilted toward China, as he has been conscientiously pursuing a policy unification with Beijing in close and active collaboration with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). His recent acceptance of a “one China” framework is the latest indication of the KMT policy to move toward unification. This would further explain the rationale behind his efforts to retain the KMT chairmanship. As the position extends until 2017, Ma would be in a position to set and direct the cross-strait agenda after he steps down from the Presidential Office in 2016. Regardless of which party is in power after 2016, Chairman Ma would be able to visit China and hold formal meetings with Xi to forge a new cross-strait relationship.