EDITORIAL: Mixed messages get lost in the mix

Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - Page 8

Top officials frequently bemoan the public’s lack of understanding of government policies and goals. However, they have no trouble at all identifying who is at fault. It is the public, of course, not officialdom.

This appears to be the main thrust of Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) comments in an interview with the BBC’s Chinese-language service this week, where, among other things, he complained that people do not understand the impetus behind the free economic pilot zones plan.

The plan is really a model for Taiwanese-Japanese cooperation in finance and technology that will allow both nations to compete globally with their Chinese peers, he said, adding that those who think it is aimed solely at enhancing economic cooperation with China have “failed to recognize the strategic value” of the proposal.

Perhaps the public has failed to recognize the potential for links with Japanese companies because the focus of the government’s promotion of the zones has been how they will help the effort to join the nascent Trans-Pacific Partnership and other such pacts, and because most of the examples of ventures sought for the zones are Taiwanese or Chinese companies focused on the China market, such as building healthcare facilities to tap the Chinese health tourism market.

Japan has rarely been mentioned. Actually, about the only time countries other than China are mentioned is when officials promise that the zones will help Taiwan maintain its place on the global stage.

Globalization and internationalization are very close to the hearts of Jiang and the rest of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. Ma et al pontificate about keeping up with international trends and brag about gaining admittance to international organizations or attending presidential inaugurations with other world leaders. The only time they are not rhapsodizing about maintaining an international presence is where it counts, vis-a-vis China.

Jiang also made that point in the interview when talking about the government’s push for a meeting between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at an APEC summit. He said the Chinese are worried that the APEC idea is “an attempt to use an international event to elevate Taiwan’s international profile.”

Where could the Chinese ever have gleaned that idea? It looks like the government also has a problem getting its message across to Beijing.

Once again, in the Ma administration’s version of reality, it is not the message or the messenger that is the problem, it is the target audience. If the audience would only listen and try to understand, there would not be any misunderstandings.

The problem is that the administration spends too much time complaining about how unreceptive — and unappreciative — its audience is and too little time asking itself what it is doing wrong in presenting its programs and proposals. That the administration has an abysmal track record in keeping its promises does not help with the trust gap either.

However, the understanding gap works both ways, as Jiang showed when asked about the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong and the push for democratic elections in the territory. He said that the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities were handling the issue at a scheduled pace, but Hong Kongers expected the leaders to adapt to meet their expectations.

The idea that the public would think the government should meet its expectations appears far-fetched to Jiang. However, this is not the first time he has shown that he does not understand the concept, as his comments about the Sunflower movement and other protests attest.

He seems to have forgotten that government, like communication, is a two-way street. Unfortunately, he is not the only elected official or bureaucrat to have done so.