Not long after taking office, and before having had time to get fully acquainted with his new job, the Straits Exchange Foundation’s (SEF) new Chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) led a delegation on a visit to China last week. One has to wonder why President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) wanted the visit to go ahead so soon. What is the rush?
China, in its increasingly habitual bossy fashion, took the opportunity to teach new boy Lin a lesson. During his meeting with Lin, Jia Qinglin (賈慶林), chairman of the National Committee of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference, mentioned four ways in which China wants to see further progress made in cross-strait relations — stronger trust, sounder foundations, more wisdom and greater courage. He also said that China hoped Taiwan would pursue fengxing (奉行), more positive policies toward China, to promote and deepen cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in various fields.
Jia’s choice of words was a good illustration of China’s haughty attitude, as well as the lowly attitude that Ma adopts in response. Up to now, the word fengxing had been used most frequently to talk about “implementing the teachings of the late premier” — meaning former premier of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Sun Yat-sen (孫中山). The word conveys a sense of respectfully acting in accordance with somebody’s will. Ma favors the idea that Taiwan and China are “two areas of one country,” so he sees the People’s Republic of China as his fatherland. That being the case, the “father of the nation” in Ma’s mind is no longer the aforementioned “premier.”
When Jia asked Lin to convey to Ma that Taiwan should pursue “more positive” policies toward China, of course what he really meant was that Taiwan should adopt policies that would “promote the early completion of Mainland China’s policy of the final unification of the motherland.” He was definitely not talking about helping Ma put Taiwan’s economy back on track. On the contrary, China has fixed its sights on the fact that the lame and limping Ma government desperately needs a helping hand from China. Ma has been talking about “pursuing the teachings of the late premier” for as long as anyone can remember, so when Jia tells him up front that he should “pursue more positive policies,” Ma knows full well that that is an order.
In his recent Cabinet reshuffle, Ma replaced quite a few ministers and other officials responsible for national security, foreign relations and cross-straits affairs, but he did not replace those responsible for finance and economics, although that is what the public wants him to do. That decision makes Jia’s overbearing attitude to Lin even more predictable. Neither Lin, in charge of the SEF, nor newly appointed Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) has any expertise in the field of China policy. Ma’s purpose in appointing people like these can hardly be to hold consultations with China on an equal basis. On the contrary, it is intended on the one hand to promote his China-friendly standpoint and on the other to accept whatever China wants. Ma’s rush to send Lin off to China even before he had settled into his new job shows plainly the role that Ma has in mind for Lin, who he described at the SEF’s handover ceremony as having a “clean slate.” Lin’s job is to accept whatever China wants, while Ma actively cooperates with China’s demands and gets Wang to carry them out.
When Wang had just been appointed MAC minister, he failed to even recognize a photograph of Jia. Now, with Wang in office, the Cabinet has suddenly adopted a policy of subsidizing Chinese students studying in Taiwan by giving them National Health Insurance coverage. This is something that China said long ago it would like to see happen.
Then there is the question of opening up Taiwan’s doors to massive investment from China. In his National Day address on Oct. 10, Ma announced that his government would relax restrictions on the investment of foreign capital in Taiwan’s industries and that in future deregulation would become the norm and barriers the exception. This announcement makes it clear that Ma’s government intends to implement what Jia called more “positive” policies toward China.
While Lin was in China, Yang Yi (楊毅), spokesman of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said that media organizations from both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be able to set up permanent offices in each other’s territory, and called on Taiwan to remove unnecessary barriers in this respect. Now everyone is waiting to see whether Ma goes ahead and implements this particular “positive” policy in the near future.
People had better be prepared. When Ma promised that his government would produce some positive results on the economic front within one month, and when he talks about his legacy, what he is aiming for is not economic prosperity and social stability for Taiwan and the well-being of its people. Rather, he is in a hurry to confirm his definition of China and Taiwan as “two areas of one country” and to do even more than he already has to consolidate a framework built around the “one China” principle, so that Taiwan will be firmly locked into it. That is why Ma does not care if people call him incompetent, heartless or ignorant, or if people complain that the government is only good at spending money and making workers pay the bill. This president, whose approval rate has sunk to below 20 percent, seems determined to turn his fortunes around by pursuing what Jia called more “positive” policies with regard to China.
For Ma, turning his fortunes around means making sure that the vast majority of people who are dissatisfied with his performance end up the losers, while he comes out as the final winner. What that means is that Ma will continue to do nothing to solve Taiwan’s most serious problems — economic depression, high unemployment and falling real wages. He will not do anything to save our labor and national health insurance schemes from bankruptcy or to stem the preferential welfare perks enjoyed by armed forces personnel, civil servants and teachers. Young people will still not be able to afford to buy homes or have children.
If life is hard for people in Taiwan, that is not a problem for Ma, because it will actually make people more psychologically prepared for unification with China. That suits Ma because he wants to keep on rushing headlong toward the goal of eventual unification, which he thinks will make him go down in history as a hero of the Chinese nation.
As time passes, China will anesthetize Taiwan with economic morphine. A Taiwan whose economy lies in tatters will be in no fit state to resist China’s economic extortion. As for Ma, he is set to enjoy a comfortable life paid for by Taiwanese taxpayers after he steps down. Ma must be laughing to himself to see how easily fooled Taiwanese people really are.
Translated by Julian Clegg