Many people ask why the National Security Council (NSC) handled the Taiwan-US beef protocol instead of the Department of Health (DOH) or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The NSC later said it became involved because it was a matter of national security.
Now that the issue has gained notoriety, the Consumers’ Foundation (消基會) has expressed firm opposition to easing beef restrictions and both pan-blue and pan-green legislators reject the NSC’s and the Presidential Office’s handling of the case.
The US has now issued a strong response. Failure to resolve the issue might have an impact on Taiwan-US trade and economic ties, visa exemptions for Taiwanese and possibly, in some way, more serious concerns such as defense.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) may hold three-quarters of all legislative seats, but the outcome of legislative negotiations has resulted in stronger controls on US beef imports, overturning the original protocol. This is tantamount to rebellion and means the legislature is drawing a line in the sand, while also dealing Su a sucker punch. However, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will suffer most — with the situation spinning out of control, his authority as a leader will be dealt a severe blow.
Ma pays a great deal of attention to his image and stresses the importance of communication and compromise, but shows a glaring lack of skill in both. Despite cross-strait communication and compromise, the KMT has a hard time communicating with Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Likewise, his close circle of confidantes may be outstanding academics, but they don’t understand social dynamics and they lack political communication skills.
The US beef issue has resulted in a huge political hiccup, but Su’s highhanded manner is causing widespread discontent, even within the blue camp. When the government gave the green light to US beef imports, Minister of Health Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) almost resigned. The legislature was not informed in advance, was not consulted during negotiations, and after the signing, was required to support the decision. Neither the opposition nor the pan-blue camp was willing to endorse the protocol and once the public protested, they went on the attack.
Had the NSC conducted a comprehensive assessment prior to its decision, it would have produced a report to persuade the public and legislature and allay concerns. The decision to fully relax restrictions on US beef imports was not based on an expert assessment, which highlights the NSC’s incompetence. The controversy is a longstanding one and if Su was not aware of its seriousness, then he was negligent.
When Su was forced to report to the legislature, he talked about national security and national interests. His condescending attitude annoyed and failed to convince legislators. This highlights Su’s ignorance; he should shoulder responsibility for the beef debacle.
The government’s weak response to Typhoon Morakot was a wake-up call for Ma after his presidential election victory, while the KMT setback in recent local elections created a sense of urgency. This is the chance Ma needs to carry out wide-scale party reform. The legislature has moved against the beef protocol and Ma has lost face at home and abroad. The only way for him to turn things around is to learn his lessons. Otherwise, cross-strait talks on an economic pact with China will prove to be another disaster.
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