Six years after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) entered office, Taiwanese have realized that Ma has a bizarre sense of justice, historical understanding and foreign policy direction, as well as a distorted national pride.
In a long list of diplomatic incidents during the past six years, the embattled president has always tried to deflect public scrutiny about his weaknesses and incompetence in domestic affairs by resorting to hawkish positions and disproportionate measures against other countries.
This approach has resulted in two effects. First, Ma has been temporarily able to shake off his weak image and improve his dire approval ratings. Second, public attention has shifted from domestic policy failures to international affairs, particularly if nationalist sentiment is running high at the time.
No example is more evident than the dispute between Taiwan and Japan over the National Palace Museum exhibitions in Tokyo and Kyushu.
Some exhibition posters bore the title “Palace Museum, Taipei,” to refer to the National Palace Museum, omitting the word “national.” Ma described the Tokyo museum’s handling of the exhibition as “unacceptable,” instructing all offending posters to be replaced and the exhibition to be postponed.
First lady Chow Mei-ching’s (周美青) scheduled visit to Japan, during which she was to attend the opening of the exhibition, was subsequently postponed.
While the posters in question were made by a media sponsors group controlling the Asahi Shimbun and other media outlets, rather than the Tokyo museum, the Ma administration insisted that Japan had “hurt the feeling of the Taiwanese” and something has to be done, in much the same way that Beijing told Japan the feelings of Chinese had been hurt on issues regarding the Japanese Imperial Army’s atrocities prior to and during World War II.
The same resolution and iron-fisted policy can also be seen in Taiwan’s maritime conflict with Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which the nation claims, in which Taiwan sent Coast Guard Administration vessels to confront the Japanese Coast Guard.
In Taiwan’s row with the Philippines over its coast guard personnel shooting and killing a Taiwanese fisherman last year, Ma recalled Taiwan’s representative to Manila, froze the hiring of Philippine migrant workers and levied a series of sanctions at Manila, saying that the Philippines must offer a sincere apology or else the incident “would never end.”
Ma can earn the respect of Taiwanese if he acts as aggressively in the face of never-ending challenges from the country most hostile to Taiwan — China.
While he has guarded the word “national” like the last oasis in the desert against Japan, when it comes to Beijing, he accepts being referred to as “mister,” rather than “president,” and prohibits the display of national flags during Chinese officials’ visits.
Ma has said that a proposed meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at an APEC summit in their capacities as “leaders of economies,” rather than heads of state, would be the best possible opportunity for a meeting.
He has also repeated that the relationship between Taiwan and China, according to the Constitution, is not “state-to-state,” only to tell Taiwanese that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country.
The president loves to admonish people for judging him by single incidents, yet when they look at his long-term performance, they are likely to discover the president has two faces.