Thursday, June 19, 2008

NY Times Ma Interview

An interview with Ma Ying-jeou starts with an interesting reference to technical standards:

He also called for direct sea and air cargo links across the Taiwan Strait, regularly scheduled passenger flights, the drafting of common technical standards and the creation of a system to resolve commercial disagreements.

Why would the 'international' president Ma want to bind Taiwan to China's technonationalist efforts to create special standards for China? There are plenty of more specialized examples (WAPI, CDMA), but just think for a minute about how China has developed its own special version of the Internet. Furthermore, while China may have an interest in protecting its vast internal markets from foreign competition by developing its own indigenous technical standards a la Japan, Taiwan, as an integral part of the global IT supply chain, would be ill-served by common standards with China unless the Taiwan's strategy is to withdraw from international markets to focus in the China market.

Mr. Ma ran on a platform of strengthening the Taiwanese economy through a warming of relations with the mainland while insisting that he would not talk with Beijing about reunification.

This is a grave distortion of the platform that Ma ran on in Taiwan. Take a look at the the Ma-Sieuw campaign site. First of all note the campaign slogan: Taiwan Moving Forward (Taiwan xiangqian zou). Above this slogan is a logo that reads "Ma-Sieuw in 2008" with the '8' replaced by a map of Taiwan.

The Taiwan-first theme is strongly reinforced in the Policies sections of the site which kicks off with three sections on economic policy: infrastructure, industry, and taxation. None of these say anything about "strengthening the Taiwanese economy through a warming of relations with the mainland." Instead, his infrastructure section is about spending US$81 billion on projects such as the Taoyuan Air City, modernizing Taiwan's moribund fishing ports (never mind that the fish are all gone), and yet more industrial and software parks. Or in the section on finance and taxation policy, Ma says in a campaign ad that "633 is not just a number, it is our promise to Taiwan." 633 refers to the Ma campaign promise that under the Ma administration, Taiwan would enjoy 6% annual GDP growth, less that 3% unemployment, and an average national income of US$30,000. Not a word about China.

Wikipedia's summary of Ma's economic platform is far more accurate:

Since selecting Vincent Siew as his running mate, Ma Ying-jeou has announced that the focus of his election campaign is the recovery of Taiwanese economy. ... He also labeled Siew as the would-be "chief architect" to revive the economy, because of Siew's solid economic background.

While Ma's opening to China was certainly an important campaign issue, it was never presented to the Taiwanese people in the way that the New York Times consistently presents it to its international readers.

Mr. Ma also repeated his demand that China remove the more than 1,000 short- and medium-range missiles that it has aimed at Taiwan. Their removal is needed before any peace talks can begin to end the legal state of hostility that has persisted since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, he said. China has threatened the use of force to achieve political reunification.

“The idea is quite simple: we don’t want to negotiate a peace agreement while our security is under the threat of missile attack,” Mr. Ma said.

This a KMT canard. There is no legal state of hostility across the strait unless you believe that the KMT and the CCP are still fighting the Chinese civil war. Ma's 'peace accord' means a peace deal between two political parties, not two sovereign states.

Mr. Ma conducted the interview in flawless English

Flawless? Ma's English is certainly good, but hardly flawless. At least the NYT didn't revisit the sourceless 'Harvard-educated lawyer' myth.

The Times should be commended for the next few paragraphs that give an unusual amount of space to a DPP rebuttal in which it is correctly noted that China previously rejected an almost identical offer by the DPP administration because China ddidn't like the DPP's "broader vision of Taiwanese sovreignty."

Despite the framing of this formulation as an indirect quote from a DPP legislator, I have a great deal of trouble believing that a Taiwanese politician came up with this phrase in either Chinese or English. But just for the record, let's stop pussyfooting around and tell the world what the DPP's "broader vision" has been and is: Taiwan is an independent and sovereign country whose future must be decided by the 23 million people of Taiwan. Why is it so difficult to present this simple truth to NY Times readers?

Next we lapse into uncritical Chinese nationalist formulations of current events.

Lately Mr. Ma’s energies have been focused on smoothing out a diplomatic conflict that caught him by surprise — a surge in tensions with Japan over a June 10 incident in the group of disputed islands that the Taiwanese call the Diaoyutai Islands, where a Japanese coast guard vessel sank a Taiwanese sport-fishing boat. Although Japan administers the islands, which it calls the Senkaku Islands, China and Taiwan argue that they belong to the Chinese people.

Chinese nationalists claim that the islands belong to the "Chinese people." This propagandist formulation needs special critical attention now that Taiwan and China are using it as a code word for a Chinese polity in which Taiwan loses its sovereignty just as Tibet did. Also, when asked what country the islands belonged to in Taiwan, Ma said "Taiwan", not the "Chinese people."

Protesters in both mainland China and Taiwan have demanded a formal apology from Japan.

Another howler. A few extremist protestors in Taiwan have called for a formal aplogy. The whole incident is a mad effort to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment in Taiwan in an intentional effort to derail close Taiwan-Japan relations in recent years that offend Chinese sensibilities. It also probably served the political aim of removing Taiwan's former pro-independence ambassador to Japan who did far too much to improve Taiwan's relations with Japan during his tenure.

The issue is especially delicate for Mr. Ma, who has long argued that the islands legally belong to the Chinese people.

For crying out loud! Not the Chinese people again. What Ma argued just the other day in Taiwan was :

3. SOUNDBITE: (Mandarin) Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan's President:
"Our position is that the Diaoyutai Islands are Taiwan's territory. They belong to Taiwan."

The Presidential Office's "Four-point Statement" from 12 June states:

The Diaoyutai islands are territory of the Republic of China. Geographically, the islands are affiliated islets of Taiwan and are under the jurisdiction of the Dasi Village of Yilan County's Toucheng Township. [my emphasis]

I would bet good money that Ma's doctoral dissertation also makes no mention of the "Chinese people" in this context. So what is the source for Ma's having long argued that the islands belong to the Chinese people?

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