With public approval ratings that have sunk to levels even below those of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) at his nadir and assailed by both the pan-green and pan-blue camps over his government’s execrable performance in recent months, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) ongoing trip abroad could revamp his image. However, based on his performance in New York, where he made a brief stop earlier this week, that is unlikely to happen.
Foreign trips are a tried, tested and, above all, convenient opportunity for struggling national leaders to garner support by reaching out to overseas compatriots and brushing elbows with influential figures.
However, Ma, whose approval ratings are approaching single-digit figures — in striking contrast with his 90 percent support rating in his re-election as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman last month — did not feel that it was necessary to reach out in this way.
On arriving, Ma was greeted by American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt and later met with several high-ranking US officials. However, when it came to interacting with overseas Taiwanese, he skipped it completely. He instead chose to dine with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, an organization for people who have no connection whatsoever with Taiwan. Of all the people he could have met while in New York, this is the group he chose to spend time with.
One can only guess at the reasons, but one thing is certain: public dissatisfaction with the Ma administration is now such that even the blue camp is unlikely to welcome him back with open arms, which leaves him with only organizations of overseas Chinese who have never lived in Taiwan and whose association was created when Taiwan was under Japanese rule.
It is also possible that his entourage was seeking to protect him from the protests that were expected to erupt during his visit and that did materialize, both during his dinner with the association and later at New York University.
Apprehensions were such that even the press corps that accompanied him on his visit was not allowed to attend the dinner. Instead, reporters were told to go shopping. Journalists — even those in the pan-blue media that have always stood by Ma — were disgruntled. It seems that the media, at least the Taiwanese media, is now something to be dreaded by the Ma administration.
Given all this, it is tempting to conclude that Ma did not embark on his foreign trip to improve his image with the electorate, but rather to run away from the mess at home, just as he did on Aug. 3 when an estimated 250,000 people protested on Ketagalan Boulevard over the abuse of cadets in the military. Instead of facing the heat, Ma scurried away to Alishan.
As he is wined and dined by overseas Chinese and foreign leaders, smiling and behaving as if everything is fine, the nation’s military is facing one of its most serious crises. Such is the severity of the situation that a real leader, someone who actually takes to heart the fate of the country, would have canceled his trip abroad to take charge of the domestic situation.
Ma’s indifference and his callousness in the face of the public’s suffering are traits that even his wife, Chou Mei-ching (周美青), has mentioned in public. Now he has gone beyond that and is failing to meet his responsibilities by running away.
Some pan-blue media outlets have begun asking in their editorials how Taiwan can possibly endure three more years of this administration, whose performance, especially during Ma’s second term, now threatens the nation with catastrophe — the Taipei Times seconds that question.