It is not often that one thinks of former US president Bill Clinton and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) having much in common, but they do prove the value of a legal education when it comes to quibbling over semantics.
Asked during a recent interview with the Chinese-language Wealth magazine if he was seeking a place in history, Ma replied: “I have never said that I care about my place in history. What I care about is history’s judgement of me.”
One of the most infamous lines from Clinton’s 1988 grand jury testimony about the Monica Lewinsky affair immediately came to mind: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” A less well-known, but equally pertinent semantic quibble from his testimony was: “It depends on how you define ’alone.’”
In Clinton-speak, Ma appears to be redefining “a place in history.” He is not worried about earning a place, he just wants to be able to design the seat.
Perhaps he should take heart from the example of another US president, Richard Nixon, who was reviled for decades after he resigned rather than be impeached, only to find himself shortly before his death being hailed for his foreign policy expertise.
After all, foreign policy is where Ma hopes to make his mark — since his domestic and economic policies have proven such duds, although, unfortunately, he is one of the few who does not consider it to be foreign policy, but “regional” policy.
Not coincidentally, much of Ma’s interview with Wealth focused on his desire for a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and what significance this would have on cross-strait relations.
For the first time, he said that Taiwan and China should reach agreement on a stable framework for future dialogue and negotiations in a summit meeting between the leaders of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The foundation for such a framework would be the “1992 consensus,” he said, showing a disdain for accuracy, historical or otherwise.
Ma, like most in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the apparatchiks in Beijing, continues to ignore the fact that the “1992 consensus” is a fake. There was no such consensus reached during the November 1992 meeting in Hong Kong between China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and the Straits Exchange Foundation.
He also appears to have forgotten his own words. In an interview with the Chinese-language Central Daily News after the 1992 talks, Ma, who was then Mainland Affairs Council deputy chairman, said “the talks in Hong Kong fell short of success at the last moment,” ie, no agreement was reached.
In 2000, then-KMT lawmaker Su Chi (蘇起) said he made up the term “1992 consensus” in 2000, when he was the council’s chairman, to encourage the idea that “each side has its own interpretation on the meaning of ‘one China’” to alleviate cross-strait tensions.
Yet Ma told Wealth that the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle should be agreed upon and solidified so that both sides of the Strait can establish a “highly stable framework” for dialogue.
He also displayed, again, his willingness to do away with titles, as if that was the only thing holding up cross-strait development, reiterating that the best place for the leaders of Taiwan and China to meet would be at an APEC summit because “we would attend as leaders of an economic entity, and not as president or prime minister of a country.”
He must not have heard, or read, Beijing’s repeated statements that “a meeting of the two sides’ leaders is a bilateral issue and should not take place on an international occasion” and there would not be such a meeting at this fall’s APEC conference.
Reading Ma’s quotes from the Wealth interview brings the realization that the president is living in a world of his own, depending, of course, on what the meaning of the word “world” is.
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