Friday, June 20, 2008

One Month Ago the KMT Stepped Up and the DPP Stepped Down

One Month Ago the KMT Stepped Up and the DPP Stepped Down
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 20, 2008

Inauguration Day May 22, 2008

As of today, the Ma administration has been in office exactly one month. By the same token, the DPP has been in the opposition for one month.

For the Ma administration, there was no honeymoon period. Soon after it took office, six-hour long lines formed at gas stations. The repercussions from the Diaoyutai ramming incident are still being felt. One month has whizzed by, with hardly a day of peace. Yin Chi-ming's oil price hikes, Chen Chao-min's remarks on the 319 Shooting Incident of 2004, Francisco Ou's green card controversy, and Chen Wu-hsiung's fertilizer hoarding issue have all provoked demands for their resignations.

The Liu cabinet has been in office less than a month. Yet there have been calls for four cabinet members to step down. What exactly is the problem? Must the Liu cabinet learn the hard way, by means of "shock treatments?"

Since the Ma administration took office, the political landscape has changed. The public need no longer listen to endless static about "love of Taiwan vs. a lack of love for Taiwan," hate speech about "Taiwanese vs. Chinese pigs," "elimination of Chiang influences and de-Sinicization," and "rectification of names and the authoring of a new constitution." Political differences may not have gone away, but at least they are not longer drawing blood. The greatest consolation the second change in ruling parties has granted the people is liberation from never ending Blue vs. Green confrontation. The focus of public debate has shifted from "Taiwan independence" and "Taiwanese, not Chinese" identity politics to public policy issues. No longer is the government using controversies to divide the community. Instead, the community is setting the agenda. The public no longer has the uneasy feeling that its leaders are manipulating them. Instead the public is setting the agenda, and politicians are following their lead. Examples include oil prices, cross-strait issues, and the stimulation of domestic demand.

The Ma administration took office one month ago. Since then, one crisis after another has exploded in rapid succession, in unprecedented fashion. Major earthquakes are often accompanied by powerful aftershocks. If these crises are not handled properly, they can seriously damage the Ma administration's image. But if they are handled well, or considered handled well in retrospect, the Ma administration's stock may rise. The Ma administration took advantage of the Boao Forum to play the Vincent Siew card. It ordered the ROC Coast Guard to escort a private fishing vessel, the Quanjiafu, allowing it to circumnavigate Diaoyutai island. These are miraculous achievements. On the other hand, annoucing a gasoline prince increase at 5:45pm and failing to preempt the hoarding of fertilizers amount to shooting itself in the foot. Furthermore, the green card controversy was from beginning to end, a crisis of the Ma administration's own making. Ma administration crisis management turned out to be crises managing the Ma administration. More than one political appointee put his foot in his mouth, including Premier Liu Chao-hsuan, who said that that "giving up one's green card constituted a personal sacrifice." Obviously somebody forgot to tighten the screws.

Let's review the crises which have exploded since the DPP stepped down last month. The DPP has seized the initiative and has been setting the agenda. But it has failed to deal with the issues in sufficient depth. It has generated plenty of thunder, but little rain. Take cross-strait issues. Taiwan's opening to the mainland is a fait accompli. But the DPP has no idea how to deal with this macro trend. All it knows how to do is to deny the existence of the 1992 Consensus. It is unable to explain how it reached its conclusion. Take the Diaoyutai ramming incident. All it can do is accuse the Ma administration of being wishy-washy, of being suddenly soft then suddenly hard. It is unable to deny that the ROC Coast Guard circumnavigated the island, shattering a three decade old psychological barrier. Take the green card issue. It was later discovered that at least 22 DPP political appointees had dual citizenship, and that three "ambassadors" have green cards, including Representative to Japan Koh Se-kai, who has a "Sakura Card." The DPP has nothing of substance to offer on cross-strait and Diaoyutai issues. On the green card and other issues, the only dirt it has been able to dig up blew up in its own face. If the Ma administration ever learns how not to trip over its own tongue, the DPP may run out of issues to demagogue.

A month long ordeal, consisting of one crisis after another, all part of a larger struggle between the newly empowered KMT and the newly disempowered DPP. Major storms generate large waves. How will they impact the KMT and DPP's profit and loss columns? We will learn the answer only after the storm is over and the dust has settled. For example, the final verdict on cross-straits relations will depend upon the aftermath of the various summit meetings. The final verdict on the Diaoyutai ramming incident will depend on its impact on the national psyche. The final verdict on the government's policy of stimulating domestic demand will depend on its domestic political and economic consequences. In other words, on which party has dealt with these matters in greater depth. Whose impact will be greater, and who will emerge the victor, will be subject to the test of time.

The KMT government's greatest achievements one month into its term are: 1. A clearer sense of national identity, diminished frictions between community groups, and increased political stability. Amidst the hubbub, a quieter, more peaceful society has emerged. 2. Direct cross-strait transportation links and the confrontation over Diaoyutai have forced Taipei, Washington, Tokyo and Bejing to display greater flexibility, in theory as well as in practice. Important changes have already taken place. Taiwan will become more visible, and its status less rigidly defined. It need no longer be defined as a pawn in a "cross strait" or "Taipei, Washington, Tokyo" strategic struggle. It can now be considered a player in a "Taipei, Washington, Tokyo, Beijing" strategic scenario. Meanwhile, the KMT government faces major challenges. How will it achieve economic growth and social justice in the face of inflation and rising oil prices? How will it achieve its goal of an Asian Pacific economic and political platform?

The DPP may find it difficult to define this month's crises as grist for its mill or as its opportunity for a comeback. Once the KMT's fever has broken, the shock effect of these events and issues may help it find its way, eliminate blind spots and avoid dead ends. The Ma administration has been in office for only one month. Yet the DPP has been demanding that it step down. Such unreasonable demands, once discredited, will become less and less convincing over time. Therefore, the DPP had better redouble its efforts to find a new strategic objective. Guerrilla warfare and harrassment tactics may not be sustainable in the long-term.

For the past month the air has been thick with smoke. Some people consider it appalling that the new administration has descended into such chaos in only one month. Others see things differently. Others consider it fortunate that the Ma administration has been able to confront so many critical issues during its first month in office. Some are concerned about chaos. Others are wallowing in undisguised Schadenfreude. The DPP is probably rubbing its hands with anticipation at the prospect of a political atmosphere choked with impenetrable smoke. The KMT is probably working hard to ensure that the dust settles.

Over the past month, the air has been filled with smoke. The KMT government has repeatedly enacted the Chinese parable about the "Father and Son Riding the Mule to Market." No matter who rides or doesn't ride the mule, someone has condemned it. Will the KMT eventually find its way? Over the past month, the dust has gradually settled. The DPP however has seized on every opportunity to demand someone's resignation. Is this how it intends to fufill its role as an "opposition party with experience in governance?"

2008.06.20 03:23 am












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