A recent interview in Newsweek by KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou has caused some discussion among Taiwan blogs. There’s plenty of interesting stuff both in the interview, and the backtalk.
ADAMS: The DPP lost a lot of ground to your party in the recent elections. Are you pleased?
MA: We did well, but not because the KMT has really improved itself. Rather, the DPP has become so corrupt, and so inept, that people have lost confidence in them.
I think he’s spot on here. Despite the fact that I mocked him for this comment in an earlier post, it has some interesting implications. Firstly, Ma has only been Chairman for 6 months, so can’t really claim to have yet molded the KMT into what he would like – hence the KMT “hasn’t really improved”. Secondly, the implication is that he thinks change is necessary – which has got to be a good thing.
Under your leadership, the KMT seems well positioned to reclaim the presidency in 2008. How would your party change Taiwan’s relations with China?
The DPP is somewhat handicapped by their ideology. They have to keep a distance from mainland China. They have been very timid, very conservative and very reserved in pushing ahead a productive policy toward the Chinese mainland. If the KMT is able to get back in power, we will open up direct flights with the mainland in two years.
Again he’s right. The DPP are keen on stuff like direct links and improved (up to a point) economic links – but because China requires adherence to ‘One China’ as a precondition to talks, things are stalled. The KMT has no such idealogical problems (although the inherent bizarreness of their One China policy is worthy of a separate post), and so improved economic ties with China is one of their biggest assets.
Beyond economic links, what is needed for unification talks with China to begin?
Actually, the mainland is not pushing unification anymore. They don’t want to see de jure independence for Taiwan, but they are not talking about [unification]. Their hands are full. But if Taiwan makes a provocative move, they would be left with no choice but to use force. So the most important thing for Taiwan is to maintain the status quo, not to provoke the mainland, but increase trade and investment and to relax cross-Strait relations.
This answer along with a couple of follow-up questions (where Ma dodges the arms purchase issue, and eventually says he doesn’t really expect unification in his lifetime) get to the core of his (and so the KMT’s) position on China. His position can be summarized as:
- Adhering to their version of ‘One China’ will allow the KMT to promote economic links with China much more easily than the DPP.
- The KMT is only pursuing economic links. They plan to ‘maintain the status quo’ when it comes to political links.
- They believe that China is only interesting in stopping independence – and doesn’t care about progress towards unification. This means that there is no serious threat to Taiwan based on KMT policy, and they can plan their defense policy accordingly.
These points throw up a lot of questions (most notably “While China is only talking about stopping independence now, does Ma really think this will be true in the future -when there is a KMT government for example?”), but are interesting because it’s the clearest definition of a KMT position that I’ve heard in some while [*].
I suspect Ma understands that adhering to ‘One China’ by itself is a vote-loser. However, adhering to ‘One China’ while giving clear promises of the resultant economic benefits and promising to protect Taiwan’s existing sovereignty is (if he can convince people) a big vote-winner. If Ma succeeds in explaining a clear and sensible China policy over the next couple of years, I don’t think the next election will even be close.
Michael took issue with how the interviewer was being so easy on Ma. There were no really searching questions, and the whole interview was a chance for Ma to talk about his position in the way he wanted. While that is true, that doesn’t make it a bad interview; the lack of understanding outside Taiwan of the position of the two main camps is huge – and so there is a need for the Blues and the Greens to try and articulate their positions better in the Western press. Ma did this clearly and eloquently.
Jason follows up this point by lamenting the inability of the DPP to explain their position in a similar manner. Good relations with the US are more important to the DPP than they are to the KMT, and yet the DPP seem to either not care about Western opinion or to be genuinely incapable of explaining themselves to the Western press in a sensible manner. If an equivalent interview with President Chen was run alongside this interview with Ma then it would provide an excellent overview of the main political positions in Taiwan. Yet I don’t see this happening.
A good example of this imbalance was the 2004 post-presidential election chaos: It was the KMT who opened up their HQ to CNN to shoot footage of the protests (while ‘explaining’ the situation to the reporters), it was Lien & Soong who held a press conference in English for foreign journalists to air their grievances, and it was Lien who (ghost)wrote an article in the IHT for international consumption. What did the DPP do to promote their views in the international press?
The KMT has outdone the DPP in terms of media relations in an era when they’ve had a weak, uncharismatic bad communicator as their chairman at the same time as the DPP have had a clear leader and a fairly clean image. What is going to happen now that the KMT has a charismatic Western-friendly leader, and the DPP are a mess with noone in control?
You can hardly blame the Western press for bias when only one side is trying to talk to them.
* Lien Chan never got much beyond “Trust me. I’ll work out a good deal for the KMTTaiwan”, while LTH’s government was always kinda conflicted on the issue. You have to go back to the Chiang dynasty’s adherence to a ‘the only good communist is a dead communist’ position for any real clarity.