President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) “manifestly failed” to improve relations with the US, Japan and other Asian powers as he moved Taiwan closer to China, the US-Taiwan Business Council said yesterday in an analysis of the Nov. 29 election results.
It said the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had suffered a “historic defeat” at the hands of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and independent candidates.
“Food safety scandals, stagnant wages, high property prices and an overarching view that Taiwan’s economic fortunes are adrift contributed to the KMT’s defeat,” council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said.
He said these local issues could also be tied to Ma’s focus on improving relations with China.
“The US-Taiwan Business Council has praised President Ma’s policies that seek to normalize cross-strait commercial relations and improve cultural exchanges,” Hammond-Chambers said.
However, the council also agreed with Ma that this policy approach had to be taken hand-in-hand with improved relations with the US, Japan and other Asian powers, he said.
“President Ma has manifestly failed to accomplish this goal, as rhetorical decelerations of strong relations is not the same as identifiable policy wins,” Hammond-Chambers said.
He said the one-sided nature of Ma’s external relations had left an overriding impression that Taiwan’s trajectory with regard to China had prioritized the powerful business and technocratic elite over the general populace.
“Many in Taiwan, particularly young singles and young families, feel that they have been disenfranchised,” Hammond-Chambers said.
He said that Ma would have to move decisively to correct the trajectory of his party and point it in the right direction if the KMT was to win the next presidential election.
“We should expect much maneuvering between now and the start of the Chinese New Year on Feb. 19, including a new premier, a new Cabinet and a new KMT chairman,” Hammond-Chambers said.
He said Beijing had invested more than six years in Ma’s government, “only to see the effectiveness of that decision challenged in these elections.”
“It is essential to recognize that China loomed large over the 2014 elections and that any decisions China makes in 2015 to represent its interests in Taiwan will be placed under a microscope in the debates leading up to the 2016 presidential election,” he said. “We are likely to see a steady uptick in tensions, punctuated by terse Chinese statements in support of its own equities. We are unlikely to see any new cross-strait initiatives, at least through May 2016 when Taiwan’s next president takes office.”
Hammond-Chambers said the US could do much to improve the likelihood of a “good outcome” in Taiwan.
“The US should consider several steps in 2015 to bolster Taiwan’s democratic process and telegraph clearly to Beijing that the US is not a disinterested party when it comes to cross-strait relations,” he said.
He said Washington should launch bilateral investment agreement negotiations immediately; accept Taiwan’s letter of request for new F-16 C/Ds to ensure that Taiwan has the advanced fighters it needs; send the submarine program notification — which has been sitting at the US Department of State since 2008 — to the US Congress; and send several Cabinet-level officials to Taiwan next year.
“The US needs to act now to head off the prospect of a steep spike in cross-strait tensions,” Hammond-Chambers said.