- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: China Chiller
- Official Title: President of the Republic of China
- Government: Well-established democracy
- Years Left in Office: To 2012; re-election possible
- Political Classification: Center-right
- Education: BS, MS, PhD in Law
- Age: 71 (born July 13, 1950)
Ma Ying-jeou Facts and Information
- Ma Ying-Jeou is the President of Taiwan, a close ally and trading partner of the US
- Ma has greatly improved relations with China, the first leader of Taiwan to do so since 1949
- That being said, Ma has not given in to all Chinese demands wholesale, and still is an ardent nationalist
- That being said, Ma is an advocate of a strong Taiwan; he is just not an advocate of full independence
- Ma has been mostly focusing on rallying the Taiwanese economy, of which opening relations with China plays a big part
Ni hao ma? Ma? Oh yes, on the other side of the ocean from China is the small island of Taiwan and the main man there is Ma, Ma Ying-Jeou. Even though Taiwan pales in comparison to almost everything China, rest assured that Ma is making Taiwan as relevant as possible with a new found respect that he hopes the International community will recognize. How is Ma going to do that? Good question.
President Ma Ying-Jeou has been a major player in the Taiwanese Nationalist Party since the early 1990s. Under the first directly elected president Lee Teng-Hui, Ma was his Justice Minister (1993-1996). From there, he went on to defeat former President (and current world’s number one bastard) Chen Shui-Bian for Taipei City Mayor in 1998. He did such a kick ass job that he was re-elected for a 2nd term (with 64% of the city’s votes, no one’s complaining am I right?). In 2005, Ma ran for the Nationalist Party’s chairmanship and won with 72% of the votes. This guy only knows landslide victories. In 2008, he announced his bid to run for president. Due to the allegations concerning then president Chen’s family of misappropriating millions of dollars in government funds coupled with the declining World Economy, Ma secured the Taiwanese Presidency with 58% of the country’s votes, another landslide victory.
To help everyone understand more about Ma, one can refer to his predecessor Chen Shui Bian and his eight years as president. Chen emphasized a grassroots campaign, to remind everyone that Taiwan and everything about it is sacred. On the international front, Chen was all over the place, from pissing off the Chinese with constant “Taiwanese Independence” talks to infuriating the United States to the point where military sales were actually decreased…because the US for decades has supplied the island with armaments, and it has been largely thought that the US would come ‘save’ Taiwan if the Chinese were to ever attack it. While pissing off everyone who was anyone, Chen felt it necessary to throw cash to the 20 some countries (a rapidly shrinking number, BTW) recognizing Taiwan and waged a diplomacy battle with China, which yielded very little.
(Side note: former President Chen Shui Bian and his wife are currently rotting in jail after being convicting of multiple massive fraud, corruption, and abuse of power charges during their time in politics. Ew. It appears in hindsight that Chen & Co. mostly used the Taiwan independence issue to keep international relations stirred up which distracted anyone from looking to closely at their own sordid situation.)
Since taking over the top Taiwan slot, Ma has been the main man, and he has expanded Taiwan’s international trade and focus to encompass much more than just a strong relationship with the US…namely, he has opened the Taiwan relations with motherland China more-so than any previous leader of the island. He opened up direct transportation links to China, has signed the Economic Cooperation and Framework Agreement with China, invited very high profile Chinese leaders short of the Chinese Communist Party to Taiwan, and allowed Chinese investing in Taiwan.
In short, everything that Chen did during his administration against China, Ma has reversed it. China, in the meanwhile, has eased up on Ma, allowing him multiple transit stops traveling around the world (something which former Taiwanese presidents were refused repeatedly), granted Taiwan observer status in the World Health Organization and has increased Taiwan’s participation in the APEC meetings.
However, Ma’s white flag against the Chinese isn’t totally up just yet. During his inaugural address, Ma vowed there would be “No reunification, no independence and no war,” during his 4 years as president. Like his predecessor, Ma has continued to voice opposition to Chinese missiles pointed towards Taiwan. When asked by China to expand direct flights to Taiwan, Ma refused, citing security issues. When a $6 billion dollar arms package by the Obama Administration was pushed on Taiwan, many figured Ma would refuse or re-negotiate for a smaller package. Ma, on the contrary, accepted the package. To Taiwan’s credit, the largest free standing army in the whole world is right next door in China, so having a couple of high tech, sophisticated defensive weapons systems is probably a good thing!
So what is Ma’s deal with the China deal anyways? Wasn’t he one of the biggest China supporters in the Kuomintang? Well, yes, but Ma has always been a leader of the people, for the people….and that means ALL the people. He has been famous/infamous for maintaining a balance of “sides.” The event which stands out most and signaled a change in his attitude towards China was after their highest government leader visited the island in 2009 and signed a bunch of accords and recognitions with Taiwan. Things were fine and dandy between the two nations but average Joe Taiwanese citizen was pissed off. Upon the departure of China’s leader, almost 500,000 protesters, backed by the opposition party, staged a violent protest with police. Tensions had never been higher! Ma has to contend with the opposition, their supporters and their view that Taiwan should never be a part of China. It was shortly after this event that Ma reaffirmed his “No reunification, no independence, no war” vow.
One thing is very clear about this cat: his composure. Even when facing his fiercest critics, Ma maintains his cool and never has broken character under pressure, something his predecessors could not do. And he is going to need to keep his cool when dealing with a stagnant economy, declining popularity of his political party at the local level, and continued tight-rope walking with the increasingly assertive and confident Chinese government.
There is a saying in Taiwan that ‘One Horse (Ma) will remain First.’ That could not be truer for Ma. On January 2012, Ma was re-elected to a second term as President of Taiwan with 51.6% of the popular vote. In addition, his Nationalist Party retained the majority in the Legislature. Seen as a referendum on his very open policies to China, Ma’s victory reaffirmed the notion that the majority of people in Taiwan want stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait versus mainland China.
During his second term, Ma will press for increased social reform with his “Golden Decade” plan. A bevy of issues will be addressed in this plan, from wage disparity to island-wide infrastructure improvements to the rock bottom birth rate that Taiwan currently possesses, at 0.9 births per couple, it is the lowest in the World. That’s not even a single person. And you thought France and Italy were bad!
In the China department, expect Ma to further open the door to mainland Chinese interests, albeit carefully. Recently, constraints against mainland Chinese people were lifted, expanding the quota for Chinese people to visit Taiwan. While the first stage of ECFA was met with tremendous resistance from the opposition, the economic boon from it was big for Taiwan. While there are no provisions in place for the second stage of ECFA, look for Taiwan and China’s government officials to be back at the negotiating table to further expand this agreement.
On the subject of Chinese-Taiwanese sovereignty, expect Ma to continue walking a fine line between appeasing China and reasserting de facto Taiwanese sovereignty. While Ma has earned a second term, the fact that he lost 7% of the overall vote between his two presidential elections means that much more Taiwanese are against or uncomfortable with his China policies.
Whether or not Ma’s policies of opening Taiwan up to China (and the World) and the territorial tightrope he walks with China will reap long-term benefits, some things are certain. Ma’s continuing diplomatic efforts with China and the rest of the world has brought a sense of stability to the previously tense Taiwan Strait situation. Ma has already earned a reprieve on his open policies towards China, which will only benefit Taiwan positively and increase its sagging competitiveness. As China continues to become the economic juggernaut of the 21st century, Taiwan’s position as the next-door-neighbor to the giant will likely reignite its economic situation and this ‘Asian Tiger’ may roar once again! Of course, Ma and the rest of the leadership have to worry what costs in terms of independence must be paid to the Chinese piper for this growth and future political stability. Good luck with that Ma! Bring it on home Ma!