Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ma and Tsai, let the games begin! (Part I)

TAIPEI, Taiwan--President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) won 58% of the vote. Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won 57% of the vote. On May 18th, she became the 12th-term Chairperson of the DPP. On May 20th, he was inaugurated as the 12th-term President of Taiwan. Two peas in a pod? Hardly.

Let me start with the one I prefer out of the pair. A couple days before the DPP chair election, I attended a press conference for Tsai held by some young members of the DPP. I was happy to support her for the simple reason that her opponent was Koo Kwan-min (辜寬敏). I was indifferent to him until he made some rather offensive comments.

He said that the job of turning the DPP around should not be left up to unmarried woman, an insult to Tsai on 2 fronts. This was not the first time that he has made such remarks. In a reference to former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), he had said that running the country was not for people in skirts. Sure, he comes from a different era, as the man is in his 80s. But if he really feels that way, then he should be running to lead a democratic party, not the Democratic Progressive Party.

This was my 2nd time seeing Tsai in person. The 1st was during my college days when she made a trip to the US as Chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council. She spoke on cross-strait relations, first in English and then in Chinese. At the very beginning, she apologized for not being able to speak in Taiwanese, saying that she grew up in Taipei. It is a symbolic step as the DPP embarks on taking the middle road and widening its appeal that she is really the first chairperson who does not use Taiwanese at all.

This time, I made notes during her speech at the press conference (she even borrowed notebook paper from me). She was able to summarize just exactly why politics in Taiwan is so important to so many people. She mentioned that we live in a unique political environment due to our international status and that the nation’s future is a complicated one that requires constantly thinking and reacting strategically. It is also the responsibility of all Taiwanese people, and the youth in particular cannot afford to be ambivalent to Taiwan’s future. She also said that 20 years ago, people were protesting in the streets. Others were scared of politics. Now, members of the younger generation are sitting here and unafraid. Tsai ended by saying that while she is comforted by young people’s involvement, she also feels the pressure from those of us sitting one row behind her.

During the Q&A session, one reporter asked: now that young people have endorsed you, what are you going to give them in return? Tsai responded by saying that she would consider appointing a young deputy chairperson (she has yet to do so). She went on: What kind of party will I give them? I will give them a clean party, one that is cooperative and welcoming, one that includes women and rational debate, one that is aggressive on Taiwan’s democracy, and a party that respects all groups of people.

She won the chair election by a large margin, but it wasn’t always supposed to be that way. Acting chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) had first proposed to hold negotiations for the position. His reasoning was that bitter campaigning would cause further damage to the party after its defeat in the presidential election. I just could not understand this. The party that took to the streets to ask for direct elections of the presidency should, naturally, hold one for its own leader. In the end, though it wasn’t pretty at times, the DPP contest was fair and square.

Only a few days after President Ma’s victory, the notoriously-speculative media predicted that Tsai could run against Ma when he is up for re-election in 2012. It’s obviously too early to tell, but she may well have to win the Taipei mayorship in 2010. As if it were an unwritten stepping-stone, all of the directly-elected Presidents (Lee, Chen and Ma) have once served as mayor of the capital.

But first, Tsai will have to deal with mayoral elections in several counties and townships at the end of 2009, which will serve as a big test during her 2-year term. While she has already said that she can’t promise a home run, she has promised at least a single. If the DPP doesn’t do well in those elections, by tradition Tsai will very likely have to step down. And we’ll have to endure another bowing session by party leaders. Unfortunately, we’ve seen enough of those during the past 8 years.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keep your pants on, people.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--The talk of the town last week was a 9-member delegation of Chinese real estate developers coming to Taiwan. They made their way from the North to the South, and the media circus followed them every step of the way. The group was very gracious, even answering their stupid questions and smiling for the cameras. They were fairly good-natured. I’m sure that they’ve never seen a media like this before.

The DPP, of course, did not welcome the group and refused to meet with them. They accused the group of coming to play up the property market. But these people were not only housing developers but also looking into tourist spots, resorts, etc. Businessmen are political chameleons, and the victory by Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) certainly came as a welcome sign for them. I have no problems with them coming to check out the scene. Don’t we want people, Chinese or not, to invest in Taiwan?

But I do have a problem with our reaction--we’re almost begging them to come save us. Why does having 9 rich people from China give us so much hope? People in the tourism industry seem overly optimistic about closer relations with China. I’ve seen reports of travel agencies translating everything into simplified Chinese. Restaurants are printing menus with prices in RMB. Hotels are changing their bed sheets and bathrobes to welcome the anticipated Chinese tourists (what does that change really?). People are salivating at the thought of striking it rich when we open the flood gates, when we’re really just giving the Chinese government more reasons to swallow us up and more maneuvering room to screw us over.

And what about the rest of the world? Does the entire planet revolve around the Taiwan Strait? Is a minority of China’s population, the small percentage who can afford to travel, going to save our economy? Stanley Yen (嚴長壽), President of the Landis Hotels, said that we need to find some way to touch them beyond Taichung sun cakes and Alishan tea so that they would want to come back. Can we really compete with China in tourism? They certainly have more scenic spots due to their sheer size. There is another report of a wealthy group of Chinese women coming soon to Taiwan to have plastic surgery, breast implants, etc. Medical tourism? Now, that’s interesting!

Just as the KMT continues to revel in their Chinese party, Ma puts a screeching halt to the celebrations by tapping Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) from the Taiwan Solidarity Union as incoming Chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). She has single-handedly ruled the airwaves this week. If you had just stepped off the plane in Taiwan, you would think that the KMT just lost another election. After the press conference in which Premier Liu Chao-hsuan (劉兆玄) announced the 2nd wave of Cabinet appointments (including Lai), a woman comes running up to him as he is about to get into his car, leaving only the car door between this high-ranking official and the angry women. Apparently, someone has encroached on the KMT entitlement to the entire government of Taiwan. Supporters are calling KMT headquarters either in tears or in outrage that they’ve been betrayed by Ma. KMT legislators are already asking Lai to step down (before she even starts), concerned about how China will react.

I give Ma credit for thinking outside of the blue box. I think it was more a butt-kissing gesture to former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), since Lai is his protege. It’s also a consolation prize for those who didn’t vote for him. She may just be a puppet, as President Ma made it clear shortly after her appointment that he is still in charge of cross-strait policies. Premier Liu mentioned during his press conference that Lai agrees with Ma’s China policy. What is Ma’s China Policy? If it’s just the 3 No’s (no unification, no independence and no war), then it’s not all that revolutionary from President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) 4 No’s.

The 4 No’s were part of Chen’s inauguration speech in 2000. His first premier (1 of 5) was Tang Fei (唐飛), a military man and former head of the Ministry of Defense. I’ve always wondered why him, when rumors back then had Chen considering someone like Lee Yuan-tse (李遠哲). It may well have been to prevent a military uprising. The green picked a blue then, and now the blue has picked a green-ish. Eight years ago, Chen chose Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for the MAC Chair. She was the scholar who worked for former President Lee and was credited for the “state to state” relations theory. Tsai’s performance as head of the MAC catapulted her to stardom. Will Lai follow in her footsteps, or will she share Tang’s fate? He lasted 5 months.