Improved Domestic Policy Must Follow Improved Diplomatic Relations
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
August 23, 2013
Summary: President Ma's "He Yi Project" state visits may not have won him much public support. But Ma seems pleased with the results. These diplomatic missions may have helped President Ma regain some of his former confidence. But they are unlikely to diminish public dissatisfaction over his mishandling of domestic affairs. The President should take heart and redouble his efforts on the domestic front. He should now ensure that the public feels the same improvement in domestic affairs.
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President Ma's "He Yi Project" state visits may not have won him much public support. But Ma seems pleased with the results. For example, he said Taipei-Washington consultations on economic and security matters are "even better than before the severing of diplomatic relations." These diplomatic missions may have helped President Ma regain some of his former confidence. But they are unlikely to diminish public dissatisfaction over his mishandling of domestic affairs. Diplomatic relations have been normalized and improved. The President should take heart and redouble his efforts on the domestic front. He should now ensure that the public feels the same improvement in domestic affairs.
Before his visit, President Ma's approval ratings hit rock bottom. He was unable to implement policy. He was heckled wherever he went. The Hung Chung-chiu case led to the resignation of two defense ministers in one week. It is no exaggeration to say that for President Ma each day went by like a year. It was under these conditions that he chose to lead a delegation on overseas visits. He chose to try his hand at diplomacy instead of domestic policy. From a political perspective, it was indeed necessary.
President Ma noted several achievements of his visits. It was the first time an ROC president visited Haiti. Ma attended the inauguration of Paraguay's new president Horacio Cartes. He visited the three Caribbean "Saint" nations: St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Now that Ma has completed these visits, all that remains is to visit our African allies Sao Tome and Principe. This will round out his tour of all 23 allied nations.
Consider what he accomplished during his visits. While transiting New York he visited the CCBA, the New York University School of Law, and the 9/11 Memorial. Previous transits through the United States were deliberately low-keyed. In that respect, this was indeed something of a breakthrough. Breakfast with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also carried symbolic meaning. Ma visited Haiti, Paraguay, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Saint Kitts and five other countries. Overseas Chinese gave him a warm welcome. Heads of State offered him every hospitality. Compared to being heckled everywhere back home, he must have felt extremely grateful.
But a head of state's accomplishments cannot be based entirely on diplomacy. If he or she is strong on diplomacy and weak on domestic policy, that means an imbalance. In fact, if one looks closely, Washington did not allow President Ma to do whatever he wanted on the streets of America. He was not allowed to attend public meetings with American officials, or to call upon them. He was not allowed to hold interviews with accompanying reporters. He did not make citizens of the ROC particularly proud or happy. Enthusiastic interaction with friendly nations, the issuance of joint communiques, and the signing of treaties departed little from diplomatic protocol. These allies are located far from the ROC. Their reception may have been enthusiastic. Their treatment may have been respectful. But to the public they remain rainbows in the sky.
Firming up bilateral friendships is the least a head of state can do for his country. The reception President Ma received during his visits was an improvement. But what did it do for the country, really? Such visits cannot be for the benefit of the president alone, so he can bask in glory. They must yield concrete results. In this sense, the public experienced little benefit. President Ma became concerned about the approaching typhoon and returned to Taiwan early. That too was necessary. He had no choice but to personally defuse those bombs that might blow up in his face.
For starters, regarding matters of state, President Ma has often criticized the opposition DPP for a lack of good faith, for sidelining the constitutional framework, and for undermining the legitimacy the National Affairs Conference. This suggests that Ma has the desire to convene a National Affairs Conference. But domestic issues have clearly degenerated to where every issue leads to deadlock. President Ma is impotent in the face of vicious ruling vs. opposition party power struggles. He does not even bother to seek public support. His response to the prospect of a National Affairs Conference remains lukewarm. How should the people feel when they witness this?
Now take Control Yuan President Wang Chien-hsuan's civil war with 19 Control Yuan Members. This involves the Five Powers Constitution and the right to retain or abolish the Control Yuan. The opposition DPP already advocates abolishing the Control Yuan. Such political storms cannot be dismissed as "tempests in a teapot." The president has argued that "The Control Yuan must exercise its powers independently." He has said he cannot interfere in its internal workings. But the Control Yuan president and the Control Yuan members are presidential nominees and appointees. Wang Chien-hsuan has already said half the Control Yuan members are beneficiaries of political rewards. Yet President Ma's only response was a phone call from abroad. His reaction left an impression of excessive timidity.
The Tai Po protests have also gotten out of control. The crowd actually made its way into the Ministry of the Interior and rioted all night. The hidden problems cannot be evaded. They include Wen Lin-yuan, opposition to the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant, and the Hung Chung-chiu case. Recent social protests have led to both quantitative and qualitative changes. They have led to public allegations that "The people do not trust the government!" and even to bold calls to "Dismantle the government!" Faced with the situation, does President Ma have the wisdom and courage to resolve intensifying social protest?
President Ma sought relief in diplomacy. But the only one who experienced relief was him. As head of state, Ma must be able to bring relief to the people. He must have the ability to dissolve people's suppressed anger. President Ma must act now. He must proceed full speed.
2013.08.23 02:52 am