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Feb 20, 2009

Dissecting the Ma interview

Taipei Times leads today with an exclusive interview of Ma Ying-jeou. Everyone has different interests, and I prefer to let someone else cover the economic aspects of the interview, but I'm going to focus on some of the sovereignty issues:

Taipei Times: Do you think Taiwan is a normal country?

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九): The Taiwanese people elect their own president and legislature and govern themselves. Do you think that is normal or not normal?
Frankly, I have to agree with his answer; I'm one of those that believes Taiwan is a free and sovereign country, independent from the People's Republic of China, despite the lack of international recognition. Though that is not exactly Ma's position.

But here is where Ma's clear willingness to divorce policy from reality become more clear:
TT: Then, Mr President, do you mean you will accept the “one China” framework?

The Republic of China [ROC] Constitution was enacted in 1946 and implemented in 1947. The [PRC] was not yet established. It was not established until 1949.

There was only one China when the ROC Constitution was enacted. So the ROC Constitution was not for “two Chinas.” [emphasis mine]
So, assuming the translation is clear and that Ma did not misspeak, our president accepts that there are in fact two Chinas, the ROC and PRC, though there was only one when the constitution was written. Yet Ma insists on a One China policy that clearly contradicts the reality he just outlined.

And I think this is exactly the line the follow up question should have taken. Does the PRC exist? Is the PRC just an illegitimate bandit government illegally controlling ROC territory? What boundaries does the president think the ROC has? If the constitution of the ROC is so clearly in conflict with reality, why shouldn't it be revised? Etc. These are the questions that Ma will have only ridiculous answers to.

Instead, the interviewer directs to what I consider relatively irrelevant questions.
TT: But do you think Hu’s “one China” refers to the “ROC” or the “People’s Republic of China”?

No matter what he thinks, we think “one China” refers to the ROC. This is what we insisted in 1992 and we have never changed that position since.
I mean, come on. What do you think Hu's one China refers to? Weak.
TT: But does the explanation that “one China” refers to the ROC conform to the international reality?

If we do not interpret it this way, do you think we should say “one China” refers to the “PRC”?

Do you remember when former [US] president George W. Bush talked to Chinese President Hu Jintao on March 26 last year, Hu said over the telephone that both sides of the Taiwan Strait accept the “one China” principle but have different interpretations of “one China.” That is what we call “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.” That is the only interpretation according to our Constitution.
I say again, I don't care if we get formal recognition from other countries, so long as Taiwan is not controlled by Beijing and so long as we can have practical relations with others; but Ma's constitution-focused answers should prompt the question, "Isn't the constitution in clear contradiction with both reality and the will of the people, since neither mainland Chinese nor Taiwanese want the ROC to rule the mainland? Shouldn't the constitution be amended?"
TT: But apart from Taiwan’s allies, all countries think Beijing is the only representative of China.

: If we agree with those countries, there is no room for Taiwan to survive.
I think this answer is fascinating because, assuming Ma is well intentioned and doesn't want to sell out Taiwan or see unification, this answer reveals half of what Ma thinks -- that this "One China = ROC" policy is in fact the only realistic policy Taiwan can adopt.
TT: Some say that we are too naive on the “one China” issue. It’s not a matter of confidence, but a matter of international reality.

If we refuse to sign agreements, our products will be taxed with higher tariffs in mainland and local industries will not survive. Is this less naive?
I consider the question unfocused and the answer evasive. In my mind, the questions reveals the biggest problem with the green's attacks on Ma's 'One China' policy. We can't win the argument by saying "Hu says A, but we say B, and most people believe A." Because most people in Taiwan will just say, "who cares?"

We have to say "This whole argument is absurd" and expose the true ridonkulous nature of the KMT's position instead of allowing the PRC position to enter the picture. If anyone's talking about the PRC position, it should not be about their explanation of "One China," but rather their unwavering determination to force subordination on Taiwan, like it or not.

And here is Ma's best and most convincing answer, I think. Emphasis mine:
TT: Will there be any supplementary measures to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty and national interests if the CECA is signed?

Take the agreement on cross-strait direct flights, for example: What did we lose by signing the agreement? We opened eight airports [to the flights], while mainland opened 11 airports and later upped it to 21 airports for cross-strait direct flights.

What did we lose? Did we consider it a domestic route? Or is it a special air route? Did we say that Taiwan became part of the PRC after signing the agreement? No, we never made such claims.

We should have confidence in ourselves. Communist China has its own assertions and we have ours. We cannot force it to accept our assertions at this stage and it cannot force Taiwan to accept its ideas either. As to how the international community perceives the [“one China”] issue, it depends on the stances of different countries. Some countries agree with us, and our allies won’t think Taiwan becomes part of communist China when it signs an agreement.

Those who are familiar with international relations know that major countries recognize the CCP as the only legitimate government of China when establishing diplomatic ties with communist China, but when it comes to the relations between communist China and Taiwan, those countries do not consider Taiwan a part of the PRC. There are several models adopted by different countries in this matter....

Does the US need communist China’s agreement to send someone to Taiwan? No, they don’t. So you need to understand that although these countries do not recognize us officially, they do not deny us, either. If they denied us as a country, why would they send people here and develop relations with us? The US sold weapons to Taiwan. Does the US think it is selling weapons to a ghost country?
So, again assuming Ma is anti-unification, he thinks One China is not only a necessary policy, but adopting a One China policy incurs no practical damage at all and gives Beijing no additional control at all.

Whatever the merits of Ma's argument, and whatever his secret thoughts on unification, I think we should treat this as his position -- that the One China policy is both necessary and beneficial with no negative side effects. That way we can both argue the merits of these claims and point out the absurdity of the whole "One China" formulation.

Now for the most comic answer:
TT: Does Taiwan depend on China too much economically?

It has been so since the former DPP government and our economic growth rate increased rapidly during that period of time....

So far we have not seen any attempts by communist China to force Taiwan to do things we cannot accept and we wouldn’t have to accept it if they did so.
Ha! In other words, "Yes, but what are you gonna do and what's the harm to sovereignty so far?"


NJ said...

President Ma agree with ROC constitution but accept that there is currently 2 China in this world but insist on ROC one china policy that is there is only one china in this world and that china is Republic of China. This is self contradicting.

Ma said that Taiwan is a country but according to ROC constitution, Taiwan is only one of many states that included Mainland, HK, Macao, Taiwan, Tibet under the country Republic of China.

But what do one expect Ma to say?
ROC actually perished in 1949 and the whole ROC constitution is really unsuited for Taiwan.

IMO, Taiwan de facto has gained sovereignty in 1949 whose official title is Republic of China.

Tommy said...

In the last answer you highlight, I think you overlook a key point.

"Ma: It has been so since the former DPP government and our economic growth rate increased rapidly during that period of time."

Ma admits that Taiwan depends on China too much economically. He also links this dependence to economic growth.

There are two major contradictions here:

1) Ma says Taiwan is currently too dependent. So why does he want to increase that dependence more?

2) Assuming that additional dependence will bring about additional growth, which is what he is implying, how can we reconcile this with the current fact that Taiwan's excessive dependence on exports, a huge chunk of which go to the PRC, which is currently not buying Taiwan's products, is exactly why Taiwan is in the mess it is in at the moment.

Overdependence is not bad. It leads to growth. Which is why Taiwan's export economy contracted over 8 percent in the last quarter.

His thinking is obviously so brilliant that it defies the ability of mere mortals to understand.

Raj said...

Overdependence is not bad. It leads to growth. Which is why Taiwan's export economy contracted over 8 percent in the last quarter.

Is it overdependence? So many other export-driven economies are crashing. Isn't it more down to how Taiwan balances exports, domestic demand, etc?

Tommy said...

"Is it overdependence? Isn't it more down to how Taiwan balances exports, domestic demand, etc?"

Yes and yes. Overdependence because it is not good to be overreliant on any market. Balance is the main reason, however, Ma saying that he will make it easier to trade with China will necessarily make the unbalance worse unless measures are simultaneously taken to rebalance the economy. Ma and the KMT have not shown any inclination towards doing this.

This is why both questions get a yes answer.

skiingkow said...

The 1992 "Consensus" smoke-screen continues with PandaMa in this interview.

PandaMa's job is to "normalize" the fact that the KMT are compromising Taiwan's sovereignty in a death by a thousand cuts approach. How many times have they bowed to PRC pressure to betray this ridiculous notion that Ma Ying-jeou actually cares about the sovereignty of this nation.

- Domestic import for the Pandas
- non-international status for flights to China.
- Dropping "National" from the title of the museum.
- etc.

What PandaMa 'says' and what the government 'does' are two different things. Any acceptance of PandaMa at face-value shows grave naivety, in other words. Can we please put to rest any stray notion that he may actually care about Taiwanese sovereignty?