Ma Administration: Don't Let Mere Technicalities Undermine the Big Picture
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 18, 2009
The Ma administration has been in office for a year and a half. Mere technicalities have repeatedly undermined many of its major policies. They have clouded the essential issues, and even ignited heated controversy. President Ma Ying-jeou was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. He spoke in an earnest and measured manner about his views on cross-Strait developments. And yet a simple "s" at the end of the word "decade“ generated pointless controversy. Unfortunately this example is all too typical.
Cross-Strait disputes are complex. They involve pain and sorrow dating back four hundred years. Taiwan's political climate is unique. Reunification and independence stand at loggerheads with each other, generating voluminous rhetoric over cross-Strait issues. Any political leader aspiring to high office must trot out his own set of arguments, and use them to rally public support. Blue Camp advocates of reunification and Green Camp advocates of independence are unable to sway each other. Under the circumstances, maintaining the status quo has become the common denominator. Reunification is something for the distant future. Independence, on the other hand, is a pipe dream. Most people think independence is not even worth discussing, because the Republic of China's national sovereignty is well-established. Reunification is an issue because many people have powerful apprehensions about reunification.
During President Ma's interview, he earnestly addressed the question of why the public on Taiwan doesn't want [immediate] reunification?" He spoke to the American media, but in fact he was speaking to Beijing. He wanted Beijing to hear and understand the true feelings of the public on Taiwan. As far as Mainland China is concerned, reunification is the most important national goal. Its timing can be postponed. But the goal is non-negotiable. In the past, the public on Taiwan considered the Mainland too impoverished and too restrictive. Now Mainland reforms and liberalization have transformed it into an economic powerhouse. Yet many people on Taiwan still refuse to reunify. Why? Ma Ying-jeou said "We (people on Taiwan and people on the Mainland) don't even know each other that well." As he explained, opening cross-Strait exchanges will help promote Mainland China's economic freedom, and even political freedom. This is an historic opportunity. "I want to create a situation where the two sides could. . . see which system is better for the Chinese culture, for the Chinese people."
Put plainly, Ma Ying-jeou said that what the public on Taiwan wants before it considers reunification, is democracy. Mainland China may be close to having a free market economic system. But it is still a long way from having a democratic political system. Local elections were instituted during the "Two Chiangs Era." Direct presidential elections were instituted during the Lee Teng-hui era. Two changes in ruling parties have taken place. The Republic of China is no longer a party-dominated authoritarian nation. Legislators may blast administration officials. Ordinary citizens may protest. Amidst the chaos, there is ordered freedom. Democracy has become synonymous with sunshine, air, and water. It is indispensable.
Such an informative interview, and yet the Presidential Office failed to issue a press release. The domestic media had to quote the Wall Street Journal. Note Ma Ying-jeou's key statement, "Whether there will be reunification as expected by the mainland side depends very much on what is going to unfold in the next decades. Note how carefully the President stressed reunification "as expected by the mainland side," and not "as expected by the Taiwan side." And yet, the opposition DPP blasted him. They accused Ma Ying-jeou of embracing "ultimate unification." They mocked the President's "poor English grammar." Ma Ying-jeou agreed to an interview with the foreign media, out of the best of motives. But he was drowned out by wave upon wave of criticism and ridicule over mere technicalities.
The President agreed to an interview with the foreign media. It was hardly the first time a news report differed with the facts. So the question is, why does the same problem keep happening, again and again? Ma Ying-jeou likes to speak English, and his English is not bad. But critics have suggested that need not use English from beginning to end. The President agreed to an interview with the foreign media, in his capacity as the President of the Republic of China. The interview was conducted within the Republic of China. For him to conduct the interview in Mandarin would hardly be impolite. If anything, it would underscore his status as the head of state. It would underscore a head of state's respect for and belief in his own nation. Most importantly, it would avoid misunderstandings when the foreign media transcribes such interviews.
Furthermore, when the President agrees to an interview with the international media, he is speaking as a representative of the nation. He is speaking as the President of the Republic of China, rather than as an individual. As part of his Presidential duties, he should issue a press release. It is his duty to his countrymen. Each time the President makes a statement, he has an obligation and responsibility to the people. Otherwise, how can the people monitor his performance? How can they know whether his words are consistent with the national interest? This was so during the Two Chiangs era. This was so during the Lee Teng-hui era. This was so even during the Chen Shui-bian era. Only Ma Ying-jeou, out of whatever special considerations, or austerity measures, or baffling personality quirks, has thinned out the ranks of the Presidential Office so drastically. No matter how austere one might want to be, one surely needs at least one or two interpreters. President Ma Ying-jeou himself was a translator. Surely he knows how important this work is. If the Presidential Office has no one to perform translations or write press releases, surely the Government Information Office can assume responsibility for international PR, or assign this task to the Central News Agency.
Ma Ying-jeou got his start at Chiang Ching-kuo's side. He should have learned a little something from him. Yet he doesn't conduct interviews in Mandarin. He doesn't issue press releases. These are a technical problems. But they reflect a more important problem. Does Ma Ying-jeou really understand the importance of interviews with the international media? Does the Presidential Office understand that not issuing a press release for presidential interviews, may result in the president's words being misunderstood? Does it understand that this is a dereliction of duty? The Presidential Office needs to realize that press releases of the President's interviews are official documents, and that one day they will become part of the historical record.