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Listen to the voice

Ma Ying-joke, inveterate poseur

By Jerome Keating
Thursday, Aug 07, 2008, Page 8

‘Looking through his phoniness, even the pan-blue media has referred to Ma as a little white rabbit who does not want to get his paws dirty. If one had to choose a placard for Ma’s desk it would read: “The Buck Stops Elsewhere.”’

Western media pundits in search of quick dramatic story lines have always glossed and glamorized President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九); few have observed him long and close enough to see the reality beneath the surface.

For example, they always tout him as the brilliant Harvard lawyer. While he did attend Harvard, he never passed the bar in the US or in Taiwan. He is spoken of as being a glamorous mayor of Taipei, but few can list any real concrete accomplishments during his eight years in office.

True, gloss is easier than doing one’s homework, but this is why such reporters feel surprise when more and more people express a different conception of Ma. Some have started to refer to him as Ma Ying-joke.

There is the reality that despite all the hype of his bold new leadership and projections for dramatic economic growth, the promises quickly fizzled out. What is left is the realization that Ma Ying-joke is all palaver and no performance.

Being president of a nation with diverse global demands is different than being mayor of a city. In the past, when all he needed was showmanship, Ma talked out of both sides of his mouth and took every opportunity to strike a pose while city structures kept Taipei functioning. Now, when it is time to go beyond image and really deliver, Ma is lost and longs for the old days when the need for a cult figure among many Mainlanders could carry him on.

It is barely two months into Ma’s presidency and already a pathetic pall is seen settling over the country; some are beginning to wonder if Taiwan even has a president.

These are troubled times for Taiwan. It stands between two hegemonies, China and the US, and each has its own script for the nation to carry out. Taiwan needs leadership that can navigate between the conflicting demands of these hegemonies while preserving the nation’s dignity and sovereignty. Unfortunately, Ma seems to think that such navigation simply means trying to placate both and mouthing the words that all is well. Then he sticks his head in the sand like an ostrich and hopes the troubles will go away.

Ma has never been one for responsibility or action. In the past, most of what he achieved was handed to him on a platter by his family or the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). To take a personal stand is new for him. It means running the risk of error and possibly alienating someone, which would harm his image.

Instead of responsibility, what Ma really wants is to be a ceremonial president. Then he could bask in adulation and photo opportunities.

Ma was hoping that the China panacea would take care of things, but that doesn’t seem to be panning out. The great China tourist boom has gone bust in less than a month. Even before it started, good analysts predicted that it would be a drop in the economic bucket. Mediocre analysts and news reports that swallowed the Ma hype are now left scrambling for excuses.

When dealing with China, instead of taking responsibility for creating a new national strategy, Ma resorts to the fictitious “1992 consensus,” a dated piece of KMT fabrication. At least then if his strategy fails, or if it ends up surrendering Taiwan to China, Ma hopes he will not personally be held to blame.

When important issues present themselves, Ma says: “That’s the premier’s job.”

For the upcoming Olympics, Ma has tried his best to avoid confrontation. He first dodged the issue and accepted China’s designation of Taiwan’s place in line, saying it was no big deal. Then there is the matter of using Zhonghua Taibei (Chinese Taipei 中華台北) or Zhongguo Taibei (Taipei, China 中國台北), both of which denigrate Taiwan. Ma claims that after two months of negotiations he has accomplished a great diplomatic coup: He has gotten China to accept what it had agreed to ages ago.

And now that this is done, Ma says he has achieved a “diplomatic truce” — that is, a truce until the next time China decides to violate its agreements.

But Ma is not worried; for him this is all part of his not being a troublemaker. Supposedly it was the previous administration that was the troublemaker because it would not be the pony boy to China and the US.

Former US president Richard Nixon also sought the approval of the public and wished to portray himself as a strategic leader. Who can forget the way Nixon tried to convince Americans with his statement, “I am not a crook”?

Picture Ma with the same tone saying “I am not a troublemaker” and you will see a resemblance. But Nixon, despite his failings, was not afraid to act. Ma, instead of facing the powers confronting Taiwan, prefers to leave the action to others.

Looking through his phoniness, even the pan-blue media has referred to Ma as a little white rabbit who does not want to get his paws dirty. If one had to choose a placard for Ma’s desk it would read: “The Buck Stops Elsewhere.”

This is not something that can be cured by a change of heart; it is too deeply ingrained. Image could carry Ma when all he had to do was pose and throw out promises and platitudes. Make no mistake, Ma is a calculator. Unfortunately, he has chosen to surround himself with adoring Cub Scouts and manipulators.

With little substance, and no true care for or identification with Taiwan, Ma lacks a vision that is Taiwan-centric. He speaks and dreams of returning to the China-oriented mindset of the KMT and tries to emphasize Taiwan’s identity as part of a Zhonghua minzu (Chinese nation 中華民族).

If this were a Greek drama it would end in Ma’s betraying Taiwan and all the while claiming it was for Taiwan’s own good. Let us hope there are stronger voices left.

Jerome Keating is a Taiwan-based writer.



Listen to the voice

Falun Gong collects 1.3m signatures

By Loa Iok-Sin

Thursday, Aug 07, 2008, Page 4

“China often tells other countries to keep their hands out of its domestic issues, but human rights are values without borders.” — Lee Sheng-hsiung, former secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights

With support from more than 1.3 million people around the world, human rights activists yesterday urged the Chinese government to fulfill its Olympic promise by stopping persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG) launched a worldwide signature campaign in January to raise global awareness of China’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and to pressure Beijing to stop the repression.

The campaign ended on July 20, the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the persecution of Falun Gong members in 1999.

“After just six months, we’ve successfully collected signatures from more than 1.3 million people in 127 countries around the world. Although they come from different social classes and backgrounds, they all did something just,” said Theresa Chu (朱婉琪), a US-based human rights lawyer and a coordinator for CIPFG’s signature drive.

Taiwan contributed the highest number of signatures, with more than 640,000 people, Chu told a news conference in Taipei yesterday.

“The situation has only become worse as China prepares for the Olympic Games in Beijing,” she said. “A large-scale ‘clean-up’ was launched last December.”

Figures released by Amnesty International and the coalition showed that 8,037 Falun Gong practitioners were arrested between December and last month, with the number of arrests hitting 1,799 cases in May and 1,819 in June, Chu said.

“The Chinese are proud of having the opportunity to host the Olympics — but as long as there are people who cry during the long, dark nights, China does not have anything to be proud of,” Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) told the news conference.

Tien has long been an active supporter of Falun Gong.

“We hereby call on China to fulfill its Olympic promise and stop its persecution of Falun Gong followers before the Games begin,” she said.

When China was granted the right to host the Olympics in 2001, it promised the International Olympic Committee it would improve its human rights record.

“China often tells other countries to keep their hands out of its domestic issues, but human rights are values without borders,” former Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Lee Sheng-hsiung (李勝雄) said.

“Article 1 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’” Lee said.

“As a permanent member of the UN [Security Council], the People’s Republic of China should strictly follow this principle,” Lee said.

Aside from the Falun Gong, the Chinese government should also stop repressing Protestant and Catholic churches, Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims in Xinjiang, he said.

“Instead of trying to control all religions in the country, the Chinese government should learn to respect each religion’s traditions,” Lee said.

Listen to the voice

Paying lip service to democracy

Thursday, Aug 07, 2008, Page 8

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) paid tribute to “democracy pioneer” Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) on Tuesday, making a pilgrimage to Chiang’s tomb in his latest attempt to establish some democratic credentials.

Chiang, who founded Taiwan’s first political party and fought for social advancement during the Japanese colonial period, deserves his place in history and is rightly praised for his devotion to making Taiwan a better place, but it is strange that someone like Ma should develop such an attachment to him.

Chiang’s prominence as a historical figure has much to do with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) efforts to create a connection with Taiwan and manipulate history in its favor — playing up Taiwanese resistance to Japanese rule while downplaying resistance to the KMT.

The way Ma has grabbed on to Chiang’s coattails for his own benefit thus makes sense.

If Ma valued democracy, why did he not join the legions of Mainlanders who worked with dangwai activists in their struggle against the authoritarian KMT, and why did he oppose every small step taken toward universal suffrage during the nation’s transition to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s?

Ma argued against the lifting of martial law in 1987, and opposed in 1992 the repeal of Article 100 — which classed non-violent advocacy of communism and Taiwanese independence as sedition. Ma was also against holding popular elections for president and defended the lengthy sentences given to dissidents in letters to foreign governments.

Ma’s professed love for Singapore’s style of government is also indicative of how much respect he has for democracy.

Perhaps his recently developed respect comes from a belated sense of guilt about the fame and fortune this institution has brought him.

It is safe to say that Ma would never have risen to such lofty positions as KMT chairman and Taiwanese president were it not for the advent of democracy, because a weak individual would not have lasted long in the party of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

If Ma really wants to pay homage to the people who sacrificed so much to put him where he is, he could meet some of the hundreds of living former political prisoners in Taiwan who suffered for their beliefs.

Ma could pay a visit to someone like Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), a man who lost most of his family in the fight for democracy, or even open up the KMT archives to let the public understand all that went on during the White Terror era.

Ma cannot do such things because it would create a backlash within the conservative elements of his party who still wield considerable power and could possibly threaten his government. Unlike former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), Ma has no significant power base in the party and so cannot do anything significant on this front. It is also questionable whether he wants to do so.

For now, he remains stranded on his ideological tightrope, paying faux respect to “safe” figures like Chiang Wei-shui while leaving huge doubts about his sincerity in the minds of the public.


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