The latest Nelson Report contains more insight on the Ma inaugural address. My comments in brackets:


TAIWAN…President Ma was inaugurated this week, an event witnessed by a large and varied US delegation, and his speech was much anticipated as an indicator of how he intends to pitch the political/diplomatic relationship with “the Mainland”…and with the US.

We note in the Summary our sense of the letter personally delivered to Ma by a representative of Obama, that it reflects a sophisticated understanding of the language and nuances required in the cross Strait relationship for all three players…Washington, Taipei, and Beijing.[MT: the neglect of Japan and other nations is not just a Ma problem. Japan is also a player here, potentially a big one. More on that in a moment.]

US-Taiwan relations under Ma’s predecessor can best be described as “difficult”, and as we reported at the time, they frequently sank to the level of toxic.

The net is that friends of Taiwan, regardless of their political persuasion, have every reason to be concerned that the loss of trust may have fundamentally altered the equation between Washington and Taipei.

Ma knows all of this, of course, and it will be interesting to see if his administration take advice suggesting a more sophisticated approach to making friends in Washington, one which includes a more serious focus on who is actually able to deliver help, and not just throw bombs.[MT: Haha. Washington is going to be very surprised when its love of Ma is returned with contempt.]

In any event, we asked a senior US observer for an informed reaction to President Ma’s speech:

“The first task of any such speech is to do no harm. Don’t make any big mistakes and don’t offend anyone, for that can define the future. President Ma certainly fulfilled that goal.[MT: the "senior US observer" really missed one here. First, the Japanese were miffed that Ma didn't mention them. And second, Ma deeply offended his core aboriginal constituency with his comments on the "Chinese race," along with many on the pro-democracy side.][UPDATE: Max Hirsch at Kyodo has a great piece on the Japanese take on all this. A quote:

Despite reports last week that Ma would pledge to bolster ties with Japan and reiterate his support for the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance in the speech, he made no mention of Tokyo.

''Some Japanese delegation members were disappointed by the omission and aired complaints to President Ma,'' says a Japanese official on condition of anonymity.

Namely, delegation leader Takeo Hiranuma, who serves in Japan's powerful House of Representatives and leads a pro-Taiwan caucus, politely rapped Ma after the speech.

''If you are reelected in four years, I hope you'll clearly mention Japan in your next inaugural speech,'' Hiranuma told Ma, according to Taiwan's Government Information Office and the Japanese source. UPDATE: This is now revealed as a translator error -- Hiranuma merely asked him to make his next inaugural speech in Japanese.]

[Nelson Report continued]
One could take slight issue with some of his formulations about cross-Strait relations (sovereignty is an issue), but there were no medium or big mistakes at all.

At best, a speech should be very inspiring. It should reshape the mental outlook of the listener. Barack Obama’s speeches come to mind, but Obama is a very high standard to reach. And there are other considerations.

Ma’s speech, I am told, was written by a group. A group product is never completely satisfactory. Second, an inauguration speech has a different job from a campaign speech. Third, this speech came at the end of a long series of campaign speeches, so it’s hard to be too much better.

There is, I am sure, a cultural dimension here. American listeners may expect more from their politicians as speakers than Taiwan audiences. The language that Ma used may be as satisfying for a Taiwan audiences as that Obama uses for an American one.

One potential task of an inaugural speech is to lay out a detailed program or detailed vision. Ma chose not to do that, and that is fine. It would be interesting to compare it in length to Lee Teng-hui’s 1996 inaugural and CSB’s two speeches. But after all the speeches and policy papers he had provided on a variety of subjects, the length was just right.

It certainly was right for the crowd, which had been waiting for a long time, listening to often deafening music.

An essential task of an inaugural speech is to reassure the various constituencies and stakeholders of a society. On the whole he did this very well. To the business community, he said, a KMT government will reshape economic policy to adapt to globalization (I hope he is truly serious on this).

To the international community: Taiwan will not be a trouble-maker. To the Taiwanese majority: in terms of my upbringing, I am as Taiwanese as you are and will not betray your interests.[MT: but Ma clearly said that sovereignty is not important, a gross betrayal of Taiwanese interests. And further, there is the problem of Ma's concept of "the nation" as a distinctly Chinese polity.]

I was particularly pleased that he began with his stress on making the Taiwan political system work better for Taiwan citizens. This is a crucial challenge and cannot be ignored.[MT: since the KMT is the chief architect of its problems, it is hard to see Ma making progress here.]

The section on cross-Strait relations wasn’t particularly new, which is fine. There were two important elements. One was to make an appeal for improving cross-Strait relations by referring to Hu Jintao’s own recent statements. That is probably appropriate because it will be Hu who will have to make the strategic choice to engage Ma.

The other is to talk about how the Republic of China and Taiwan have been intertwined. That is important because it is a reminder of the reality of the ROC and Beijing’s need to face that reality at some time and in a way that is acceptable to the people of Taiwan.”

A shorter, but also informed take on Ma’s speech by an observer on the (now minority) DPP side of the discussion…let’s listen to see how the new Opposition might approach the handling of issues like sovereignty in the coming months:

“I must say that on first reading I find Ma’s speech interesting in three respects: first he mentions the relationship with the US in one short sentence, albeit with an emphasis on how the US is ‘our foremost security ally and trading partner,’ but then goes on at great length about the relationship with ‘mainland’ China.[MT: Yep. Ma placated the US but he identified with China. Can anyone guess which direction he's moving?]

I realize this is all traditional territory for the KMT, but it does strike my ears as overwhelmingly focused on the relationship with the ‘mainland.

I was particularly struck by the sentence, ‘In resolving cross-strait issues, what matters is not sovereignty but core values and way of life.’

Sovereignty doesn’t matter in resolving cross-strait issues? A lot of people are going to ask, ‘What, is he giving away the farm already?’

Second thing that I find interesting is the emphatic ‘Chineseness’ of the speech - the emphasis on the whole overseas Chinese community, Chinese values, the Chinese nation.

Apparently a KMT Legislator who is an aborigine walked out of the speech and held a news conference when Ma said in the Chinese text, but not the translation as given, that ‘we are all Chinese people’.”


Affairs with China proceed apace — Kyodo News is reporting that China and Taiwan plan to open representative offices in their respective capitals to facilitate the burgeoning exchanges. Bruce Stokes has a piece in the National Journal on policy changes associated with Ma. As a piece of analysis it is thoroughly conventional and not very useful — it even repeats the “Harvard-trained lawyer” nonsense — but it does provide some insight into the way that many US analysts view Ma. I’ll be examining it in detail when I have time today or tomorrow.