And now for something completely different: I got flipped a version of Michael Fahey’s commentary in the South China Morning Post, and a version of that now appears here. Compare this to the two pieces in the post below this one:


Taiwan’s conservative new president Ma Ying-jeou began his term with burst of symbolic activity and bland rhetoric intended to move Taiwan, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, out of the cold war.

Minutes after being sworn into office at the colonial-era Presidential Office on a muggy May morning in Taipei’s decrepit west side, Ma sped across town where an arena full of supporters waited for his inaugural address in air-conditioned comfort. Later in the day, president Ma and his guests sped at 275 kilometers per hour down to Kaohsiung in Taiwan’s deep south for a banquet and fireworks to celebrate inauguration of Taiwan’s third democratically elected president. As a successful ad had promised during the campaign, Mr. Ma was ready to take office.

While Mr. Ma dazzled Taiwan with his speed, his rhetoric plodded. But this was intentional and minded to persuade its distance audience in Beijing. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Ma failed to affirm Taiwan’s sovereignty explicitly. Nor did he reaffirm his striking commitment late in the presidential campaign to the principle that Taiwan’s future must be decided by its 23 million people.

Instead, Mr. Ma argued that Taiwan and China’s differences are not over issues of sovereignty but rather core values and way of life. For Mr. Ma, Taiwan’s core values are the Confucian values of benevolence, righteousness, diligence, honesty, generosity and industriousness. Its way of life is what Mr. Ma earnestly hopes China will soon achieve: freedom, democracy, and prosperity

In other words, Taiwan and China share a common Chinese heritage and one day may share a common political future. In the meantime, Mr. Ma, who promises maintaining a Taoist status quo of no independence and no unification, agrees with president Hu Jintao of China that the two sides can set aside their differences on sovereignty and negotiate on the basis of the 1992 Hong Kong consensus—a much-debated and probably fictitious agreement to disagree invented by the head of Ma’s national security council.

As intended, China found these sentiments comforting, and replied late last week by echoing Ma’s appeal to the common interests of the Chinese people. While both sides continue to sound discordant notes—China’s references to the touchy subject of unification and Ma’s emphasis on the legitimacy of the Republic of China—these are messages intended for internal consumption. More importantly, both sides are building a common rhetorical framework based on the 1992 Consensus and an inclusive conception of a Chinese heritage that can encompass the polities of both China and Taiwan under one Heaven.

Beijing was probably also reassured by Ma’s coded comments on the crucial issue of US weapon sales to Taiwan. While the large visiting US delegation may have heard a commitment to purchase arms, Ma in fact imposed three conditions on weapons sales—they must be reasonable, necessary, and defensive. These conditions echo the key vocabulary that Ma’s KMT mobilized over the last eight years to justify using its legislative majority to block budgets for arms purchases dozens of times. If Mr. Ma fails to upgrade Taiwan’s defense, Taiwan’s opening to China will become a tilt toward China.

While prospects for ending the anachronistic cold war across the Taiwan Strait are now realistic for the first time in 60 years, Mr. Ma’s presidency faces two major challenges. The first is obvious—Mr. Ma has staked his presidency on China’s willingness accommodate Taiwan with a less hostile foreign policy and normalized economic relations. Given China’s vastly improved understanding of Taiwan’s internal politics and sensibilities evidenced in a remarkable statement by the Taiwan Affairs Office recognizing the desire of the Taiwanese to be “masters of their own house” (dangjia zuozhu), Mr. Ma may well win this bet.

Mr. Ma’s second challenge is perhaps less obvious. While the world is watching his opening to China, Taiwan elected Mr. Ma to fix Taiwan’s economy. This will not be an easy task. Taiwan’s economy is undergoing a wrenching shift from isolated, export-oriented manufacturing powerhouse with a protected, largely socialist domestic economy to a knowledge and service-based part of the global economy.

As in other economies, that shift has caused profound dislocations in Taiwan’s internal economy that Mr. Ma and his allies in Taiwan’s media has successfully portrayed domestically and abroad as being the result of his predecessor’s incompetence and obstinate refusal to open up to China.

Mr. Ma’s domestic policies—centered on old-fashioned gigantic infrastructure projects—will be executed by a team of brainy technocrats from Taiwan’s top universities, many of whom served in past KMT administrations. As in other Chinese societies, Mr. Ma and his team axiomatically believe that enlightened rulers with the right moral stuff can direct and control the economy. This view of government worked fairly well under Mr. Ma’s mentor Chiang Ching-kuo during the 1970s and 1980s when Taiwan, sealed off from outside world and under martial law, pumped out cheap manufactured goods to the US. But if Mr. Ma’s brain trust cannot guide Taiwan’s economy through this painful period of transition, or if his advisers’ technocratic instincts are not sensitive enough to the electorate’s deep unhappiness over rising prices and stagnant salaries, Mr. Ma’s biggest challenge will not be China, but Taiwan’s internal discontents.


Some excellent observations in there from a very smart watcher of Taiwan affairs.