Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Ma leaves behind fruitful legacy in Taiwan

By Ji Ye (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-14 07:59

Ma leaves behind fruitful legacy in Taiwan

CEO of Germany's iF International Forum Design GmbH, introduces a Bleutooth air speaker made by Aswy Electronics Co. Ltd., to Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou (R) at the 2015 COMPUTEX TAIPEI at the Taipei World Trade Center in Taipei, Taiwan, 02 June 2015.[Photo/IC]

Taiwan residents' overall satisfaction rate with Ma Ying-jeou's eight-year tenure might be just 23 percent, according to a recent poll in Taiwan, but 47 percent of them seem satisfied with the way he handled cross-Straits relations. Chen Shui-bian, Ma's predecessor and former Democratic Progressive Party leader, got 21 percent when he left office in 2008.

The poll does signify the temporary public frustration with Ma's performance. But political legacies aside, he helped put cross-Straits ties on the track of peaceful development, and that was the highlight of his tenure. Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's new leader, should follow in the footsteps of Ma, rather than doing the opposite.

Thanks to Ma's unequivocal adherence to the 1992 Consensus that the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China, the heads of cross-Straits affairs on both sides met 11 times and signed 23 agreements ranging from trade cooperation to civil aviation since 2008.

The dividends following the implementation of the economic cooperation framework agreement, as well as an increasing number of mainland students and tourists studying in and visiting Taiwan, have not only contributed to the island's economy but also boosted grassroots exchanges across the Straits.

He also made laudable progress in enhancing mutual political trust. Just one month after the Singapore meeting between Mr Xi Jinping and Mr Ma in November 2015, the first such meeting since 1949, the heads of cross-Straits affairs on the two sides held talks on a new hotline.

Ma's performance on the economic front was not as impressive. In 2008, he had promised a growth rate of more than 6 percent, an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and per capita GDP of $30,000 by 2016.

Apparently, he failed to deliver his promise because of the ongoing global economic slowdown. The widening income gap, rising unemployment rate and increasing cost of living dealt a major blow to Taiwan residents' faith in the economy and led to Kuomintang 's defeat in the January election.

Still, it would be unfair to "compliment" Ma as a "diligent do-gooder" who tried hard but failed to make a difference. The fact, however, is that people from both the mainland and Taiwan have enjoyed arguably the best eight years of cross-Straits ties since 1949 thanks to his pursuit of peaceful development in line with the one-China principle. And Ma, who managed to lead the island on behalf of the down-and-out Kuomintang in 2008, should not take the primary blame for his party's unimpressive governance, because apart from the pro-independence DPP, he was struggling to deal with the divisive Kuomintang and the factious legislature at the same time.

Ma has succeeded in bringing Taiwan closer to the mainland and boosted the hopes of reunification by enshrining the 1992 Consensus in cross-Straits ties.

Yet his successor Tsai Ing-wen resorted to rhetorical ambiguity after assuming office in May and thus put cross-Straits relations at a new crossroad. Now with the direct communication mechanism between the heads of cross-Straits affairs on the two sides at the risk of being suspended, Tsai should make the right decision of carrying on the fruitful exchanges of the past eight years.

The author is an associate professor at Collaborative Innovation Center for Peaceful Development of Cross-Straits Relations.

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