President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has recently made some major adjustments to his government’s national security, diplomacy and cross-strait affairs teams.
At a time when society as a whole is dissatisfied with Taiwan’s economy, and coming soon after a Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) proposal to dissolve the Cabinet, many people expected that Ma would replace at least some of the financial officials on his team.
However, Ma has shown once again that he has no regard for public opinion, and has instead left his senior finance officials in sinecure jobs, while putting his right-hand men in charge of the government’s national security and diplomatic departments.
It is therefore little wonder that these personnel changes have been criticized so severely by various sectors of our society.
Why is it that, while the majority of Taiwanese believe we cannot save the economy without dissolving the Cabinet, our leader still insists on not making any adjustments to his financial team?
Even Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien, himself a Ma appointee, says that the idea of dissolving the Cabinet is “totally in line with popular opinion.”
In essence, this highlights Ma’s way of doing things, which is characterized by a total lack of regard for public opinion.
Opposition parties have criticized this latest wave of personnel adjustments as being totally irrelevant to what really needs to be done.
What Taiwanese in general are more concerned about is the way in which the Ma administration keeps allowing senior finance officials to go on messing things up.
Top government officials seem to think that saving the economy is nothing more than a matter of holding meetings, shouting slogans and coming up with proposals.
In 2009, the economy hit rock bottom, and then the next year, it bounced back by more than 10 percent because the starting point was so low.
Government officials considered this an achievement worth boasting about, and maybe now they are trying to do the same thing again.
If our leaders have this kind of attitude, it is likely that the tough times Taiwanese have been enduring will go on being just as hard.
This is because the nation’s current economic woes are caused not just by short-term problems with the economic climate, but rather defects in the overall structure of the economy.
Other people believe that this latest wave of personnel adjustments is aimed at shifting attention from important matters by appointing new faces in areas that are under the president’s control, such as national security and diplomacy, to win back some of the confidence the public has lost in Ma.
Judging from some comments that have been made recently, this ploy may succeed to some extent, but ultimately it will fail to win the hearts of voters.
The reason for this is simple: The fact that Ma chooses to appoint his trusted aides instead of the most qualified people highlights his lack of self-confidence, and it also shows that he has nobody else available to fill these positions.
Perhaps the most ridiculous among the recent wave of personnel changes is the designation of Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairman.
Wang is only a little over 40 years old, making him the MAC’s youngest-ever chairman. It is not his youth itself that is the problem, but his lack of the expertise and experience that this important position requires, especially in face of a China that is putting Taiwan in an ever tighter spot.
This makes Wang’s appointment hard to accept. Even legislators from Wang’s own party — the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — have called him things like “parrot,” “little puppet,” “King Pu-tsung’s (金溥聰) private soldier” and “incapable of taking charge.”
Furthermore, the new Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman, former KMT secretary-general Lin Join-sane (林中森), has absolutely no experience in dealing with China or any kind of international negotiations.
This means that the foundation and the council, which are the two organizations directly responsible for Taiwan’s China policy, are now both to be led by unqualified people, and Ma may very well have ulterior motives for doing so.
Of all the recent changes in personnel, King’s appointment as the next representative to the US is without a doubt the one that has received the most attention.
As Ma’s closest ally, he is similar to Wang Yu-chi in that he lacks the professional practical experience needed for the job of Taiwan’s representative to our most important ally.
What makes it worse is that he knows nothing about diplomacy. King’s appointment is also contrary to the pledge he originally made about never becoming a member of the government or Cabinet. It is yet another example of politicians going back on their words.
Those involved in King’s appointment claim that he will help establish “noise-free” communication between Taiwan and the US.
However, many people have expressed all kinds of conjecture about the move, including suggestions that it is about strengthening Taiwan-US relations or that Taiwan is trying to get closer to the US while distancing itself from China.
As far as other personnel changes are concerned, they will not make much difference, because Ma’s “diplomatic truce” policy will continue unchanged.
Under Ma’s tenure, new appointments are just a game of musical chairs between right-hand men and puppets.
Notably, Lai Shin-yuan’s (賴幸媛) service as MAC chairwoman has acted as a fig leaf for the Ma government’s pro-China policies for several years, but she is not needed anymore. She is a has-been, and so is foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤).
After the Cabinet reshuffle, national security and diplomacy are now totally in the hands of the “Ma gang,” and a “puppet premier” is still leading the Cabinet.
With Ma in full control of the government, the Cabinet and the KMT, he can be sure that his wishes and decisions will be carried out in full.
However, even though his ratings in opinion polls are abysmally low and people are complaining that the officials who really should be replaced have been left in office, Ma clearly does not care what people think of him.
Instead, he is flying in the face of public opinion by appointing his own people to key positions that put them in control of the foreign relations strategy.
Apart from reflecting Ma’s habit of acting in complete disregard of public opinion, the Cabinet reshuffle also suggests that, considering his ambition to inflate his historical legacy, Ma may well use the remainder of his presidency to make some major changes in Taiwan’s relations with China.
People still remember quite clearly how King, while visiting the US just a year ago, said that Ma’s government would not rule out negotiating a cross-strait peace accord with China.
Any such agreement would lock Taiwan into some form of “eventual unification” framework, or at least take relations between Taiwan and China to a point of no return, and this is precisely what Ma has been trying to do all along.
On this front, King’s appointment as representative to the US could very well be aimed at getting the US not to obstruct Ma’s plan, or even to accept it.
The government may well do other things aimed at paving the way to the same end, such as amending the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例).
Taiwanese should be deeply concerned about any such development.
Translated by Drew Cameron