The Taiwan Citizen Conference on National Affairs was a prime opportunity for the government and opposition to work together to find a way to salvage Taiwan’s sinking economy, yet President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) decided at the last minute not to attend the opposition-sponsored event. Instead he called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet ministers and economic officials. It was yet another case of politics over pragmatism, as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) each did their own thing on Saturday. Political standoffs and grandstanding, however, are the last things Taiwan needs right now.
Of course Ma was not duty bound to attend the conference, but his presence would have gone a long way toward easing political tensions. He could have met DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), heard the opposition’s ideas about political and economic issues and exchanged opinions with academics. Regrettably, Ma is not quite that noble. He blamed his absence from the conference on the poor political atmosphere in the wake of DPP legislators’ disruption of Premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) report to the legislature on Friday.
Of course, had Ma gone to the conference, it could have turned into a forum for denouncing his government’s policies, which would have been embarrassing for him and the KMT. Nevertheless, such a meeting would have given Cabinet ministers and KMT legislators a prime chance to defend government policy. Heated debate between government and opposition could have generated new ideas and alternative strategies. Surely that would be better than the parallel universe events that took place — Cabinet members racking their brains in the presidential office and coming up with the same old tired cliches, and a crowd of opposition figures mouthing off at their conference, their vehemence matched only by their impotence to affect economic policy.
Ma’s absence from the conference highlights the complete lack of trust between the government and opposition. The public would like to see Ma and Tsai talk face to face, but such a meeting remains a distant prospect, unlike his government’s burning desire for more talks with their opposites in Beijing.
Despite the 1,500 Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan, Beijing’s insistence on its “one China” principle and its refusal to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty or Ma’s status as president, the Ma administration has been in constant communication and consultation with the authorities in Beijing. But Ma refused to meet Tsai at a venue about 1km from his office. How absurd.
Whether the conclusions of the Taiwan Citizen Conference on National Affairs would become part of the government’s policies was not important as the symbolic opportunity the conference provided for Ma and Tsai, who are both rational people, to meet.
Such a meeting could have marked the start of a new and relatively harmonious period in Taiwanese politics, so what was the harm in trying? But it looks like the KMT prefers that politicians continue to waste their time and energy on infighting, even though everyone stands to lose. Ultimately, Ma must be held responsible for the continuing Cold War that divides the pan-blues and pan-greens.