Fallout from Ma interview: probably zero.
Echo Taiwan has covered this latest Ma interview well, but I wonder if we shouldn't draw slightly different conclusions. For one, I think it rhetorically strikes just the note those more moderate voters, especially the moderate blues who gave him the majority in 2008, want to hear, especially in the first paragraph. Take a look for yourself [English version]:
Q: Many people have misgivings that your cross-strait policy is overly slanted toward China. What's your response?
A: Over the past year tension and confrontation in cross-strait ties have abated. But we still have a long road ahead. Crisis lurks everywhere, so we need to proceed with extreme caution. But we need to walk down that road. We don't have an alternative. This is neither surrender nor accepting a diminished status. We take a road based on the preconditions of protecting the sovereignty of the Republic of China and defending Taiwan's dignity.
My platform of no unification, no independence, and no military confrontation is supported by 80 percent of the public. No unification does not mean that we rule out the option of unification, but that we will not discuss unification within my eight years in office. Since it will be impossible to find an answer within these eight years, it does not make much sense to discuss this matter at all.
I often jokingly say that not a single country in the world has declared independence twice. We became a sovereign, independent country as early as 1912. What we really need to do is to oppose a military solution, to put cross-strait issues on hold and launch exchanges and dialogue. They (China) don't want to fight a war either.
Even though some of these methods (employed by China) seem to be a campaign for unification, of course we need to be careful, but we don't need to stand completely still just because of that. I believe that if we take a step-by-step approach, we can be successful. The opposition parties do, of course, stress opposition – they oppose whatever we do. But if you take a closer look at the nine agreements that have already been signed (between Taiwan and China), there is not a single one that says, "one country, two systems," "peaceful unification," or "one China." It's all very neutral stuff.
Q: You have pledged no unification, no independence, and no military confrontation as long as you are in office. But have you ever considered that the fast pace and high level of the exchanges might be conducive to unification in the future?
A: It depends on how you define "conducive to unification." Will the signing of a cross-strait ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) be conducive to unification?
Does Taiwan want unification? That decision must be made by the Taiwanese people. Of course, all the people must express their opinion. We definitely need to hold a referendum. But we have not yet come to that point. Is it necessary to call a referendum just because we sign an agreement on tariff reductions? If we hold a referendum on everything, the government will be paralyzed.
So this breaks down into three parts. First, a demonstration of the tight rope Ma is trying to walk; he claims the one China (the Republic of China) is sovereign and independent, while portraying the opposition's position as a joke. Not that the DPP needs much help to look like a joke nowadays. He also portrays his agreements as practical and completely non-political, downplaying that they have been negotiated under an understanding of adherence to "One China."
His answer to the next question is assertive and positive, so it is framed very well and will not attract much of a negative reaction.
His final answer shows that Ma is really in a tight spot. He cannot say anything more about the option for future Taiwan independence from "mainland" China; more telling, he can neither admit nor deny that his policy is encouraging or hastening unification, since a statement in either direction would damage his reputation either at home or in China. So he has to ask for your definition of "encouraging unification," without providing either his own definition or an answer to the question..
So while his answers here confirm Ma's goal of taking Taiwan toward a future of unification, though without formal agreements on that over the next 8 years, I think he avoided politically damaging language. As usual, different media will focus on the answers they love (or hate).