Posts Tagged ‘Ma Ying-jeou’

Ma and the peace agreement

November 10, 2011

Wow.  This election is boring.  Two months before election day, and it is really, really cold.  And now, a lightning fast reaction to a story that is two weeks old.

In stating that he is open to negotiating a peace treaty with China, Ma Ying-jeou made a either a horrible campaign mistake or a responsible policy statement.

Politically, it is clear that Ma’s support took a hit in the polls almost immediately after he introduced this issue into the campaign.  One never knows for sure exactly why these numbers go up and down, but it’s hard to avoid connecting the dots in this case.  Experience tells us that nothing matters in Taiwanese elections as much as the China issue.  Four years ago, Ma managed to diffuse suspicions that he was a unification advocate, or at least he managed to convince people that he wouldn’t actively pursue unification.  The No Unification, No Independence, No War slogan was quite powerful.  In the same way that Chen Shui-bian used the DPP’s Resolution on Taiwan’s Future to neutralize fears that he would pursue a radical course, Ma assuaged fears that he would be the opposite sort of radical.  However, by suggesting that he would negotiate a political settlement with China, Ma has stepped away from his moderate stance.  This is important, because the moderate position is where most of the electorate resides.  The Election Study Center’s most recent data point shows that about 60% of the electorate wants either to maintain the status quo and decide about unification or independence in the future or simply maintain the status quo forever.  One of the big advantages of incumbency is that the challenger is usually seen as the riskier choice, since voters have a hard time imagining what she would be like if she actually were the president.  In a stroke, Ma made himself into the dangerous candidate.

One of the more curious aspects of this case was Ma wondering why everyone reacted so suspiciously.  After all, Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, and Tsai Ing-wen have all mentioned the possibility of a peace agreement at one point or another.  Why hasn’t anyone accused them of acting dangerously or pursuing unification?  Well, when different people say the same thing, it doesn’t always mean the same thing.  The classic case is Nixon in China.  Richard Nixon spent the 1950s and 1960s building a reputation as the United State’s premier anti-communist.  Even within the Republican Party, no one was more anti-communist than Nixon.  When Nixon suddenly announced that he was visiting China in 1972, no one doubted that he was being soft on communism or naïve about Mao.  If Eugene McCarthy, who demanded that the USA pull out of Vietnam immediately, had won the 1968 presidential election and then announced that he was going to visit China in 1972, the reaction would have been very different.  There would have been uproar about surrender to communism.  Nixon could do it; McCarthy couldn’t have.  To give an example from Taiwan, many people have noted that in the 2000 presidential election, the formal policy positions on China of all three candidates were basically the same.  Did that mean that people understood Chen, Lien, and Soong to have the same stance?  Of course not!  They had each been associated with a particular stance for years, and their supporters had quite different ideas about what the proper relation with China was.  Ignoring the policy statements, voters judged Chen to be on the independence side of the spectrum, Soong to be on the unification side, and Lien to be closer to the middle.  Moreover, the voters were right to ignore the platforms.  Subsequent events showed that Chen actually leaned to the independence side while Soong and Lien clearly located themselves on the unification side of the spectrum.[1]  When voters reacted differently to almost exactly the same statements by the three candidates, they were wise to do so.  It is no wonder if people today think that when Ma is moving toward unification when he proposes a peace agreement.  He has a long history of Chinese identity, pro-unification activities, and he is supported by people who share those values.  Likewise, it is no wonder that people might react differently if Lee, Chen, or Tsai say exactly the same thing.

(I don’t really think Ma doesn’t understand this.  Whining about how unfairly the other side treats you is part of the political game.  It is all fodder for your side to chew on so you can tell yourself that the other side is completely unreasonable.)

Raising the idea of a peace agreement is almost certainly a vote loser.  However, the policy-oriented democrat in me sees a certain value in it.  Assume that Ma is planning to win the election and seek a peace agreement.  He has a certain responsibility to tell voters that before the election.  If Candidate Ma denied he would do any such thing and then President Ma turned around and did it, it would almost certainly be met with outrage and might cripple his presidency.  It certainly would lack legitimacy.  However, re-elected President Ma can tell voters that he told them about his plans, asked for their support, and got their votes, so seeking a peace agreement has a democratic legitimacy.[2]  Think about ECFA.  No matter how much the DPP protested, Ma always had a trump card.  In the 2008 campaign, he had run on the idea that he would pursue closer economic ties with China, and he won the election with 58%.  He could simply reply that he was fulfilling his campaign promises.

As a democrat, I believe that elections should have consequences.  By putting the possibility of a peace agreement out in the open, Ma has made it very clear what those consequences could be.  Responsible.

On the other hand, as a democrat, I believe in winning elections.  Ma’s actions have made that less likely for him.  Stupid.

[1] Actually, there probably was a mistake in those popular judgments in 2000.  Soong is probably more moderate than Lien.  However, in 2000 Soong was commonly evaluated as pro-unification, probably because he is a mainlander, while Lien was judged as more moderate because of his position as Lee Teng-hui’s protégé.  Lien subsequently made a complete break with Lee and took a much more pro-unification stance.

[2] There is a third way.  In addition to (1) telling the voters and then doing it and (2) not telling the voters and then doing it, Ma could opt for (3) not telling the voters and not doing it.  The third way would simply be continuing his present policy.  Apparently Ma wants to change his present policy so much that he is willing to risk losing the presidency.  Either that or he simply miscalculated the potential impact of announcing a major change in China policy.  Or maybe I am overreacting.

campaign trail: Chu in Yonghe

November 26, 2010

Last night, I went to see Su Tseng-chang in Wanhua, right next to the Longshan Temple.  There was not too much available space, but it was all completely packed.  It is hard to estimate crowds in irregular spaces; my best guess is 3000, give or take 500.  The crowd was pretty enthusiastic, which was not terribly surprising.  There wasn’t a lot of speaking; most of the evening was filled by musical performances.  Su Tseng-chang was the only person to give a full-fledged speech.  He didn’t say much new, so I won’t bother to report on it.

Tonight I went to Yonghe to see Eric Chu.  Well, technically I think we were in Zhonghe.  The event was in the 823 Park, which is right on the border between the two cities.  The site was extremely small, but it was filled to capacity.  Since President Ma was coming, they established a security perimeter.  I think there were probably 1000 people inside the perimeter and 500 outside.  Again, I couldn’t see the whole crowd from one single angle, so this estimate is not very precise.

The crowd was equal to DPP crowds in its level of enthusiasm.  This is the first time I have seen that from a KMT crowd this year.  Also, I really like events held in Yonghe for one simple reason: everything is in Mandarin!

The speakers were really slamming Tsai for her divided attention.  As one speaker put it, she wants to be mayor, party chair, and run for president.  Chu spent several minutes stressing how important the first mayor of Xinbei will be in establishing all the precedents.  He concluded: a mayor has to focus all his attention on these problems, and he can’t afford to divide his attention.  It’s a good point; I think Chu could have made it much more forcefully.  At any rate, Wu Nai-ren 吳乃仁 didn’t do Su or Tsai any favors by suggesting that they could still run for president.

Ma Ying-jeou was the most interesting speaker tonight.  He spent about 80% of his speech talking about national issues.  First, he talked about the KMT’s record on economics.  He gave the economic growth stats again (GDP growth of 9.98%, unemployment rate of 4.92%), but he also talked about the KMT’s record in managing the economic crisis.  He was particularly proud of the fact that not one bank failed.  Next, he spoke about diplomacy, concentrating on the EU’s recent decision to allow Taiwanese enter without a visa.  Taiwanese can now visit 96 countries visa-free, and this is a big improvement over the Chen era.  Finally, he spoke about his record in national security.  Ma said that there are two powderkegs in East Asia: the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait.  The Korean Peninsula is as volatile as ever, as we have seen in the past few days.  However, Ma stressed that he has successfully lowered tensions across the Taiwan Strait so that a similar event is highly unlikely here.  (There were other points, but those are the three that I remember most clearly.)  He ended this by asking the crowd which political party had performed better.  “I can’t hear you.  Louder!!”

He eventually said a few things about Chu, but he never talked about local issues for Taipei County.  I was a bit surprised by this focus on national and party issues.  I’ve heard Ma speak several times this year, and he has never been so focused on national issues.  I’m really not sure why he shifted gears tonight or whether that will help or hurt Chu.  But it clearly is a different message.

The event ended at 8:20.  They had another event, but that is still quite early to end.

When a campaign thinks they are going to win, they give off a different vibe than when they think they are going to lose and are just putting on a brave act.  Right now, it looks to me like the Su, Tsai, and Chu camps all think they are going to win.  The Hau camp isn’t so sure, though I don’t think he thinks he is clearly going to lose.  But he doesn’t exude the confidence that the other three do right now.  (Don’t ask me to justify this feeling; it’s just a feeling I have.)