Fri, Nov 07, 2008 - Page 8

A letter to President Ma

Mr President,

Since you took office on May 20, you will no doubt have seen that the popularity of your policies and the public’s belief in your leadership have fallen considerably. Of course, in a democratic climate where very few media are impartial or objective it is hard to engage in constructive debate about complex policies in such a way to build genuine consensus. Just ask US president-elect Barack Obama.

Leading a country is a massive responsibility that comes with great recognition and honor but can also lead to shame and ignominy. A lack of information means that many citizens will no doubt judge you based upon the limited exposure they have to your ideas, and they are of course not aware of all the factors that may influence your decisions.

That being said, citizens are entitled to expect their president to actively lead and represent their country well. What separates former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt from US President George W. Bush and Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) from Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) is that the former saw their leaderships as duties that required sensitivity, restraint and intelligence, while the latter regarded their tenures as podiums for grandstanding, protecting personal business interests and lining their pockets. The former were refined, active and firm; the latter were crude, passive and aggressive.

In March, 57 percent of eligible voters chose you to protect their country and their interests and above all to act with the utmost respect for, and loyalty to, a nation they most commonly refer to as Taiwan. They heard you say you would protect “Taiwan” and they remember that you promised things would improve under your administration. Over 500,000 people recently gathered in Taipei to ask you why they haven’t.

A president needs to passionately love her or his country, the evidence of which is in their words and deeds. I have no doubt that you love a country, but I fear it is not the country beloved by at least two-thirds of the population who see in this native soil an inherent sovereignty. Instead, your prioritizing of the Republic of China (ROC), downgrading Taiwan to a region and your insistence on using the phrase “mainland” rather than “China” suggests an attempt to “re-Sinicize” Taiwanese.

After 12 years of rising identification with the “Taiwan country brand” it seems that Taiwanese are now being asked to once again regard their nationality as “Chinese” while retaining “Taiwanese,” “Hakka” and Aboriginal as their “local” identities.

Your conscientious observance of the ROC Constitution implies that you wish to lead as a model Chinese citizen in Taiwan.

If you insist on regarding Taiwan as a “local” part of the ROC, then you will at least need the ROC Constitution to be affirmed by voters through a referendum.

The Taiwanese have never been given the opportunity to vote for their own Constitution. This means that the existing document, and all its rules and institutions, have no popular mandate. Is this why there is little rule of law and heightened instability in this democracy?

Though you might wish otherwise, the name and identity of this nation are still undecided. The fate of democracy and freedom in Taiwan rests upon whether you are able to show sensitivity to this fact and respect the cultural heterogeneity of this, your sovereign country.

With my deepest respect, Sir.

Ben Goren