US academic John Copper's recent commentary ("China's choice for Taiwan's next leader," June 14, page 8) argues that Beijing prefers Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) over Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for president.
This is an example of how pro-Beijing talking points are taken up into the academic discourse on Taiwan and then returned as "analysis."
Copper states that DPP foreign policy has failed, and that Beijing would prefer Hsieh, who belongs to this party. Apparently, collective amnesia has fallen over the academic world.
As the blog Foreigner from Formosa pointed out the other day, the KMT's record was one of total diplomatic failure -- the KMT lost more allies than the DPP, lost them at a far greater rate and lost the recognition of every single major power.
I should add that the KMT also voluntarily withdrew from the UN, and coined that odious term "Chinese Taipei." By contrast, the DPP has not lost any major countries, and the rate of loss has slowed.
Copper also fails to observe that under the DPP a widespread perception has grown that Taiwan is a nation in itself that is different from China. There are now Taiwan studies departments at major universities overseas. This is one positive accomplishment of DPP foreign policy that gets little play in the media or in academic discourse.
Further, the DPP has worked with pro-Taiwan, pro-democracy groups overseas, groups that the KMT attempted to suppress. Copper criticizes DPP relations with the US, forgetting that the KMT blew up its relations with the US in an astonishingly stupid assassination and weapons theft scheme in the US in the 1980s. Clearly, if the preference is for foreign policy klutziness, the KMT wins hands down.
Copper goes on to say that Ma has publicly criticized China's human rights record and is aware that there is little support in Taiwan for China annexing it.
It is absolutely crucial to understand that Ma's base of support is the "deep blues." As the Australian-based Taiwan expert Bruce Jacobs noted in this paper a few months ago, whenever Ma is in trouble, he moves closer to this base.
So, either Ma has comprehensively fooled his own supporters, or Copper has misread him. Moreover, Copper misses the key point that Ma's criticisms of Beijing and support for democracy are for foreign consumption only.
At home Ma has expressed the hope that the KMT Youth Corps will produce another [Chinese President] Hu Jintao (
More importantly, when faced with the same choices that Hsieh faced, Ma chose to serve the authoritarian regime that Hsieh opposed, first allegedly as a student spy, and then later as secretary to dictator Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Ma's support for democracy is entirely a construction to snow foreigners.
Finally, Copper's position that Hsieh is preferable to Ma depends on the assumption that Ma can stand up to Beijing. But the one thing that Ma has never shown in his long career as servant and scion of the KMT party-state is a political and moral spine. Ma's famous "pragmatism" is largely indecision and an instinct to avoid strong answers to hard questions.
No, when faced with pressure from Beijing, Ma will cave. Much sooner than Hsieh, who is both tougher and smarter than Ma.
Despite Copper's misreading of Ma, it is important to note that there are grounds for Beijing to prefer Hsieh.
With the pan-blue camp likely to continue to control the legislature and the DPP the presidency, governance will continue to be paralyzed. Beijing prefers that, since good governance tends to strengthen Taiwanese independence, as well as rebut one of Beijing's most important propaganda themes: Annexing Taiwan would be an act of discipline for an obstreperous and immature child.
Copper's failure to identify this real and fundamental problem of Taiwan's governance, caused largely by the intransigence of the pro-China parties, is simply one more way in which his analysis is dominated by the themes supplied to international media and academic discourse by the pro-China side.
Tanzi, Taichung County
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