Friday, June 12, 2009

Ma’s first year evaluated

On May 20th, the one year anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration, the president said he would not rule out a peace agreement or a military confidence building measure with China on the pre-condition that China removes its missiles targeting Taiwan. Nevertheless, economic and trade issues remain the focus of his policies toward China. During his international news conference, he stressed that future relations across the strait should be decided by the 23 million people of Taiwan.

Ma said during his term as president, his administration would build a solid foundation for peace and prosperity for both sides of the Taiwan Strait and all his policies will be based on the concept of “no reunification, no independence and no use of force.”

“What’s going to be the future between Taiwan and the mainland should be decided for our part by the people of Taiwan and maybe in future generations. I don’t think conditions are ripe for making a decision,” said Ma.

He noted that Chinese leaders have undergone a process of change, especially regarding their strategies toward Taiwan. He said the change of attitude is the only way for the both sides to reach consensus on peace and prosperity, but he acknowledged there are still many challenges ahead. Ma defended his approach to rapprochement with the Chinese mainland, saying Taiwan’s sovereignty has never been sacrificed in all the agreements reached between the two sides of the strait since he took office a year ago.

Ma’s comments were in response to the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who took to the streets on May 17th with opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leaders to protest Ma’s friendly China policies. Ma said his government is doing its best to improve relations across the strait and tensions between Taiwan and China have been eased. He said his administration’s next task is to conclude an ecnonomic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China to avoid Taiwan being sidelined. The ECFA will focus on customs duty, trade and arbitration, and economic accords.

A Taipei-based China Times editorial highlighted the president’s 180 degree policy change to rapprochement from the former DPP administration leading to direct talks, direct flights and less restrictive investment regulations for Chinese investments in Taiwan. As a result, Taiwan can now participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei,” which the paper lauded as an historic breakthrough for Taiwan. However, the paper criticized Ma’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) for its lack of domestic reform measures and for the unwillingness of senior party officials to hand power to the younger generation.

The United Daily News examined Ma’s first year performance and praised his cross-strait reconciliation policy, but also warned of consequences. The expansion of cross-strait interactions will result in the direct collision of two divergent political systems with similarly divergent interests, thus dredging up conflicts. According to the paper, it does not bode well to hurriedly sign many agreements without making sure necessary measures are aligned.

The proposed ECFA with China is one way to maintain Taiwan’s economic competitiveness, said the paper, but cautioned that the free trade agreement itself is a double-edged sword. Some industries are likely to benefit from it while other weak industries may suffer. Ma’s administration should be amply prepared to balance the pros and the cons, the paper cautioned.

The United Daily News also noted that Chinese investments should be monitored carefully to ensure that the security of Taiwan’s capital market is not put at risk. As for Ma’s ambition of promoting six new industries (biotech, green energy, tourism, healthcare, refined agricultural, and cultural creativity), unlike the United States, Taiwan is a small open economy with limited resources. Ma needs to set priorities for each of the industries and not focus on all six areas simultaneously, said the paper.

Overall, several opinion polls have marked an improvement in Ma’s approval ratings. The pro-DPP Liberty Times carried an opinion poll conducted by the Global Views Survey Research Center in mid-May showing 38.9 percent of Taiwanese approve of Ma’s performance after a year in office, while 48.6 percent said they are not happy with Ma’s governance. This was Ma’s highest rating since polls conducted at the time of his inauguration. The China Times’ survey showed 56.1 percent approval of Ma and 33.5 percent disapproval. The United Daily News survey gave a 52 percent approval rating, with 33 percent disapproval.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.