President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is still relatively fresh into his second term as head of state, yet already he seems to be circling the wagons in a hopeful last-ditch defensive effort to fulfill a final fantasy. His post-election approval ratings have continued to sink and now hover at the dismal range of 15 percent. All these should be signs that he needs to switch gear and work together with the opposition rather than isolating himself. Instead he has chosen the opposite path and is resorting to new, desperate and unusual measures in his Cabinet reshuffle.
The issue of course is not that Ma needed to reshuffle his Cabinet; that could be expected. It is rather the areas that he chose to reshuffle as well as those he chose in the reshuffling process. This is what causes consternation and worry. Ma has put the economic dreams promised for Taiwan on hold and replaced them with newer and greater dreams and fantasies, to wit, resolving the age-old Taiwan/China cross-strait conundrum.
King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) secretary-general and the man who both created Ma’s image and ran his major election campaigns, has been rewarded with the crucial position of the nation’s chief representative to the US — Taiwan’s closest ally.
Jason Yuan (袁健生), whom King is replacing as chief representative to the US, has been brought back and now occupies the unlikely position of National Security Council secretary-general.
In the area of cross-strait relations, the inexperienced Lin Join-sane (林中森) — former KMT secretary-general — is to replace long-term Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤). National Security Council adviser Wang Yu-chi (王珛琦), another trusted Ma aide, is being moved up to take over as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairman, an area where he also has little experience. So what is happening? Why are all these changes taking place in the political arena instead of the changes needed to improve the nation’s economy?
The economy? Whatever happened to concern about Taiwan’s failing economy and Ma’s infamous “6-3-3” promises? Ironically, all those pledges are now on hold amid all this reshuffling. The challenges of how to jump-start the economy, how to solve the growing unemployment rate and how to stop the decreasing income value still remain.
Yet Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) — Ma’s principal “yes-man” — who is responsible for the economy, remains in position. He recently survived a no-confidence vote in the Legislative Yuan, only because of the KMT’s majority vote.
So as the nation watches as Ma closes the wagon circle, while switching priorities to cross-strait relations with his Cabinet reshuffle, an obvious questions follows: Exactly what criteria were used in selecting the personnel for the reshuffle?
Unfortunately the key reason given for the selection of candidates has been neither their competence nor their expertise. Instead, the unsettling basis for selection has been that of loyalty to, and membership of, Ma’s inner circle. Such reasoning begs the question that if Ma’s message and policies are nothing more than pipe dreams, hopes and fantasies, then no matter who the messengers are — or how close they are to Ma or how well they convey the message — the end result will still be the same empty promises.
Ma has never been known as a man of accomplishments. Ma’s history as mayor of Taipei, as well as his first term as president, remains one of image over content, style over substance and one where unfulfilled promises are replaced by new ones. This is what worries people most about Ma’s new Cabinet changes and shift of direction. If improving the economy within four years has proven too daunting for Ma, his switch to solving and dispensing the cross-strait conundrum within three years — and with the help of inexperienced people — is not going to bring progress.
Yet Ma has sailed in, convinced that this new area is the one where he will finally make his mark. Ma’s dreams and confidence are not shared even among many of his own pan-blue cohorts and the most vocal critic has been Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien, who has made no excuses for branding Ma’s record in power as “incompetent.” Ma has certainly not fared any better in the pan-green camp.
One cannot but also wonder whether leaders in the US and China are inwardly chuckling or are actually embarrassed at Ma’s appointments.
On the US side, its leaders have parlayed and worked with their “undecided” perspective on Taiwan since World War II — how could they possibly think that Ma’s new tack will suddenly resolve the multitude of issues?
As for China, how will that nation, which has made no secret of its hegemonic ambitions to pull Taiwan into its sphere, react? How will it view Ma’s dreams?
Finally of course there are the people of Taiwan. While China and the US may feel that Ma’s inexperienced appointees give them more leeway to decide matters between themselves, what about the Taiwanese? Certainly the democratic people of Taiwan will not want to continue to be left in the cold where they remain dependent on Ma’s “yes-men.”
Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.