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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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Are Taiwanese blind followers of their leader?

Ma Ying-Jeou certainly hopes that is the case when it comes to the proposed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) which he wants the Taiwanese people to accept without questioning. [Must-read link!] I think the Taiwanese people who voted for Ma as president did so because of their willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt on his ability to govern the country. However, these people are running out of patience after a recent incident involving cartoon characters which were designed to promote the ECFA but which ended up insulting the Taiwanese instead.

Other than the above linked questioning, I also found a brief report by Peace Forum, 兩岸三通直航與台灣經濟 (translation: Cross-Strait Three Links, Direct Flights, and Taiwan's Economy), citing the results of an opinion poll drawn from a pan-blue dominated samples that should alarm the Ma administration.

And since Ma said in his recent interview with the Common Wealth Magazine (天下雜誌) that "我們不能忽視民意。其實民主政治不也就是這樣?" ("We cannot ignore public opinions. As a matter of fact, isn’t that what democracy is all about?"), I would like to quote this excerpt from the Peace Forum report:
[...] 四、兩岸三通之進程,取決於談判型式的共識,而非單純經濟考量

三通談判型式與過程的政治含意已遠高於經濟的影響,明顯地,台灣政府若不接受「一個中國」原則,那麼在中國的思考裡,台灣政府幾乎可以被確定會被排除在談判的框架之外。中國明顯的意圖是,將台灣政府的功能邊緣化,而台灣政府是台灣人民以民主的方式選出,台灣政府邊緣化,台灣民主也將不具實質意義。以台灣民主弱化作為代價,來換取禍福未定的經濟利益,是否值得?

不同於單對企業民調,台灣智庫曾於2006年1月8日發表了一份有關國人對兩岸經貿關係的民意調查。其中,在兩岸關係上,對於中國要求兩岸協商以「一中原則」為前提,有65.2%受訪者不贊成政府接受中國的條件,贊成者為只有21.9%。

在這份民調取樣上,顯示47.3%有大專程度以上學歷,同時政黨認同上也出現國民黨(27.6%)、民進黨(11.1%)、親民黨(1.3%)、台聯(1.3%)的分配(其餘為無特殊政黨偏好),在取樣偏藍的情形下,「一中原則」為前提,仍被台灣大多數民眾否決,再次顯示,國內「三通」爭議源於階級利益差距,而非政治立場差異。
According to this opinion poll conducted by Taiwan Thinktank and published on January 8, 2006, even KMT supporters had doubts about Taiwan’s economic strategy if it were negotiated under the “one China principle.”

Before learning the ugly details about the characters being portrayed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), my original title to this post was:
A question for Taiwan’s pan-blues: Do you prefer the advice of comic clowns to that of economic experts?
The clowns to whom I'm referring are the MOEA's two cartoon characters, Mr. EC and Ms. FA, discussed in this article. (Don’t miss my comment there.)

I originally thought the two characters, Mr. EC and Ms. FA were merely two “cheerleaders” (which I preferred to call clowns at that time) created to promote the KMT government's plan to sign an ECFA with China.

But the next day, more news broke out about the two cartoon characters: A male character named Yi-ge (一哥) and his female counterpart Fa Sao (發嫂). (click link for image)
The comics portray Yi-ge as a 45-year old Hoklo-speaking man from Tainan City who works as a salesman in an unspecified traditional industry. According to his profile, Yi-ge is a vocational school graduate who speaks “Taiwanese Mandarin” and knows very little about the proposed ECFA. He is content being a follower in all things, but when it comes to protecting himself, he “goes all-out.”

“For example, if he were ever accidentally short-changed by a clerk at a breakfast restaurant, he would do almost anything to get the money back, even if it is just NT$5,” the description says, adding that he was the kind of person who talks tough but never takes action.

His profile also says that he lacks the sensitivity for danger, lives life in a carefree manner and never cares to improve himself because he has a steady job. He has had some conversations with his colleagues about the ECFA and even though he knows nothing about the subject, he is worried about losing his job once the pact is signed.

One of Yi-ge’s acquaintances is Fa Sao, a 40-year-old Hakka from Hsinchu who works as a supervisor at an import-export company. She is described as an active, self-motivated and highly capable married woman who is fluent in English, Mandarin, Hoklo and Japanese. She is always hungry for knowledge and eager to learn more about money-management. Her profile suggests she keeps herself well-informed and is a keen observer of market trends. Fa Sao was recently promoted to company spokesman. Her knowledge of cross-strait trade has prompted her to learn all about the ECFA.
As it turns out, the comic strip was extremely offensive and derogatory. It described those who opposed the ECFA as stupid and unaware of current events, and it stereotyped people from the southern part of Taiwan (like myself) as “lower class.”

The Taiwan News published an editorial, KMT comics for ECFA insult Taiwan people, which points out that:
The most questionable claims and rationalizations cited by the Ma government to promote the pact are presented as incontestable facts despite intensive criticism by numerous independent economists […]

For example, the MOEA comic claims the implementation of the free trade agreement between the PRC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next January will render Taiwan exports to China uncompetitive compared to ASEAN products, implies "Made in Taiwan" goods will face "5 percent to 10 percent" tariff levies across the board and that Taiwan bosses will move factories to the PRC to "stay competitive."

In fact, most of Taiwan's exports to the PRC, especially in leading informatics and telecommunications sectors, face zero or very low tariffs, while the main product areas that will be affected are petrochemicals, which will have an edge on ASEAN makers due to lower transportation costs. Besides failing to consider that economic competitiveness can be obtained by other paths besides lower tariffs […]
Since I am a “lower class” southerner who “accidentally” speaks multiple languages and feels deeply insulted by the comic strip, I think it would be a good idea to examine Ma’s allegiance from a different angle, not from his US permanent residence / citizenship status mystery, but from how he named his children.

Ma’s real thoughts on Taiwan’s future role are revealed by how he named his two daughters: Lesley Ma (Ma Wei-chung, 馬唯中) and Kelly Ma (Ma Yuan-chung, 馬元中). This information is readily available from the Wikipedia article on Ma under the section about his Personal background.

For the benefit of English-only readers, the character means ONE AND ONLY, and the character means THE FIRST as in 元首 (the first of a nation i.e., the head of a state), or THE BEGINNING as in 元旦 (the beginning of a year, i.e., New Year’s Day), or A UNIT IN COUNTING MONEY as in 一元 (one Yuan). The third character of both of their names is , which means CHINA, or CENTER (but obviously Ma meant China in this context). By the way, China 中國 literally means the "central nation" or "middle kingdom." The ancient Chinese people must have thought that their country was at the center of civilization, whereas the ancient Greeks must have thought Delphi was at the center of the universe.

Ma did not name his second daughter after the character , which would refer to TAIWAN. He named both of his daughters after the character 中 (China) to show his one hundred percent loyalty to China.

Everything in Taiwan is changing swiftly but silently, just like the renaming of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall back to the dead dictator’s name. Are Taiwanese blind followers of their leader? If not, don’t wait until you wake up one day that your leader announces his title has been changed to a regional governor.

Refuse Ma’s push to sign the ECFA, and support only a clearly studied and proposed future economic plan for Taiwan through many forums to be organized by experts in the field.

Related reading:
In Chinese:
Taiwan Echo’s ECFA 漫畫說帖:一個撕裂社會、製造族群對立的文宣

Taiwan Echo, again, on the fake apology from Minister of Economic Affairs Yiin Chii-ming (但是這次,就讓我爽爽快快地幹個徹底吧!)

In English:
The View from Taiwan’s ECFA/China Investment Round Up, More on the ECFA’s Cartoons: Guest Post, and MOEA Exploits Ethnic Stereotypes to sell ECFA

The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato’s How to insult a people

Time Magazine’s Taiwan: How to Reboot the Dragon

An article in the Taipei Times mentions how MOEA minister Yiin Chii-ming's "apology" places the blame on others

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