Person of Interest: Ma Ying-jeou, President of Taiwan

 “Truth is paramount and triumphs over falsity. Guilelessness is paramount and triumphs over craftiness.”                                                               


        (Photo: Office of the President, Republic of China, Taiwan)

                                      by David Parmer

On July 20, 2013, Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou was re-elected as president of Taiwan’s ruling KMT (GuoMinDang) party. Ma ran un-opposed, but the heavy voter turnout was taken by some as a sign of approval for the job he is doing in his second term as president. Elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, Ma has had a steady and ever-advancing rise to power.

       Some highlights:

  • Born in Hong Kong July 13, 1950
  • National Taiwan University 1972, B.A. Law
  • New York University 1976, L.L.M. (Masters in Law)
  • Harvard University 1981 S.J.D. (Doctor of Law)
  • Office of the President of Taiwan 1981
  • Minister of Justice 1993
  • Mayor of Taipei 1998
  • Chairman of KMT Party 2005
  •  President of Taiwan 2008
  •  President of Taiwan 2012 (Second Term)

President Ma is known, and will probably be remembered for his pragmatic handling of relations with the Beijing government.  While standing his ground on areas where there are basic differences, he has taken a long-term and pragmatic approach toward relations with the mainland.

Since 2003 the mainland has been Taiwan’s chief trading partner. Bloomberg reported that Chinese tourists spent an estimated $9.8 billion from 2009 to the present. Direct flights which eliminated the necessity of circuitous routes required in the past have certainly positively impacted cross-strait relations and trade.

In a Foreign Press Center briefing on July 22, 2013 in Washington, U.S Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Russel observed:

“…we respect and admire the progress that has been made in cross-straight relations under President Ma Ying-jeou’s tenure. We think that the dialog that he has fostered provides benefits to people on both sides of the strait as well as to the region and others in terms of promoting stability and promoting prosperity.”

 When President Ma was re-elected to the KMT presidency last week, he was congratulated by Xi Jin Ping in his capacity as head of the Communist Party of China and not as her President. And this underlies the problem, for a meeting to take place between the two leaders, President Ma would have to be recognized as a head of state, and officially Beijing sees Taiwan not as a state, but as a breakaway province. Diplomats have artfully resolved more thorny issues than this with subtle artifice and carefully-worded statements, so maybe before his term is over in 2016, Ma Ying-jeou might meet the president of the PRC in Beijing.

Whatever the outcome, he will surely be remembered as the KMT leader who did the most in 60 years to bring Chinese on both sides of the strait closer together.