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MJ -- Ma Ying-jeou
Hello I'm Anjali Rao in Taiwan. My guest today is the former mayor of Taipei and the man many believe could be the next president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou. This is Talk Asia!
As chairman of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang party, Ma Ying-jeou supports closer links with china, a stance which has seen him go head to head on numerous occasions with the pro-independence leadership.
MJ: Economically the mainland is an opportunity. But politically it could be a threat. What we should do is to maximize the opportunity but minimize the threat.
Though many focus on Ma's political accomplishments, others admire him for his movie star looks and all round squeaky clean image, something that has lately taken a battering!
MJ: that's not really an embezzlement! This is a special allowance for public relations...I believe that I have done nothing wrong.
AR: Chairman Ma welcome to Talk Asia!
Now you've just finished your last term as mayor of Taipei. A lot of people say you've now got your eye on the presidency. So do you?
MJ: Well I got my eye on my party's reform and hoping we could regain power in 2008.
AR: Is it something that would be on your personal, political agenda though, an ambition that you have?
MJ: Well certainly I wouldn't exclude the possibility but at the moment it's very important to reform the party first to make the party clean, upright and more competitive in order to make our candidate also competitive and most importantly to win.
AR: The governing party though the Democratic Progressive Party or DPP has had two successive terms. Do you think that the KMT stands a chance at the next polls?
MJ: Well I think our party's popularity is getting higher compared to what we were before and the corruption scandals and the low competitiveness of the DPP administration has seriously weakened their ability to continue their administration.
AR: Still though you talk about the corruption scandals surrounding the ruling party. But it covers the political spectrum here doesn't it, you yourself have also come under some accusations of embezzlement of government funds?
MJ: Well that's not really an embezzlement this is a special allowance for public relations and more than 6,500 government officials have that and we all use that funds according to the method we are told to follow. So at the moment I believe that I have done nothing wrong and so far, no charge has been brought against me.
AR: You say that you don't think that you did anything wrong in the controversy surrounding you but do you worry it would at least taken a toll on your...you've got this very clean image do you think that might bring some damage not only to yourself and your own political aspirations but also to those at your party at the ballot box?
MJ: Some. But most people still believe that I'm uh clean and upright person because I have been kept that name for many many years. And I'm probably the person who donated the most uh property to public charity or public interest and I've engaged in those things for more than 2 decades. I have donated blood for 174 times. So I think a lot of people believe that I'm still very clean.
AR: How would Taiwan be different if the KMT got into power?
MJ: The KMT is probably the only party that can regain Taiwan's vitality economically. You know in the last 7 years Taiwan has undergone the most difficult economic time in half a century. For the fist time in 2002 we experienced negative growth of our economy. In the last 6 years our per capita GDP only gained only 700, whereas South Korea has gained more than 5000.
AR: I assume you're talking about the deterioration in part due to the DPP's less than cozy relationship with mainland China. How would that relationship, the one with the mainland, be different under the KMT?
MJ: First of all, the Chinese communists obviously are a threat a security threat to Taiwan because there are 800 missiles on the mainland targeted against Taiwan. On the other hand, the Chinese mainland itself is also an opportunity for Taiwan because each year more than 4 million trips were made by Taiwanese to the mainland doing business, living there or studying.
And our trade with the mainland last year have already exceeded 100 billion US Dollars. Mainland China and Hong Kong together bought about 40% of our exports. And that contributes to our economic growth. So economically the mainland is an opportunity. But politically it could be a threat. What we should do is to maximize the opportunity but minimize the threat.
At the moment if we want to go from Taipei to Shanghai we still have to go through Hong Kong. That trip, indirect trip would take almost 7 hours. But if we take direct route the flight only takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. If this cannot be changed, Taiwan's economy will remain in Taiwan as a local market instead of regional springboard. We have to make Taiwan open and pragmatic in order to regain our economic vitality.
AR: But back to what you were saying about China being a threat. If it is such a threat, why does the KMT keep blocking the arms sales, the US arms sales to Taiwan that the DPP has been long been fighting for? You keep shooting them down so to speak.
MJ: We, the opposition, agree to purchase the reconnaissance anti-submarine plans which have been approved. We also appropriate money for the feasibility study of whether to purchase 8 diesel engine submarines from United States. In other words, we didn't block it. We only choose those weapons that will be used most efficiently for our genuine defense needs.
AR: Your party is clearly more China-friendly than the DPP. If you were to come to power at the next election, would that give Beijing significantly more control over this island?
MJ: No. We will maintain the autonomy of the island, maintain our dignity, as a sovereignty, but we should improve relations with the mainland. We hope we can negotiate peace agreement with the mainland in order to maintain stability across the Taiwan Strait. And we also hope to negotiate a common market arrangement with the mainland in order to normalize our economic relations with the mainland. We also want to negotiate with the mainland in modus vivendi that could make Taiwan gain more international space for its international activities. We also hope to increase the cultural and educational exchanges with the mainland, to make the people, particularly the young people, to understand each other more. In other words we want to have a policy that will normalize the relationship between the Taiwanese and the mainland Chinese.
AR: The DPP favors independence from the mainland, which has said it would attack Taiwan if it were to declare statehood. The DPP is still going to be in power for quite some time yet, some 18 months at the time of this interview, do you think that their agenda is dangerous to Taiwan as a whole?
MJ: Yes I think they will endanger Taiwan's not only security status but also international status as well. Because most countries in the world now recognize the Chinese mainland and accept the One-China principle. I think we could adopt the policy that would on one hand really take care of the One-China principle, but on the other hand maintain Taiwan's dignity. What I said is that we maximize the benefit but minimize the threat.
Actually the things that I mentioned on the security issue, economic issue, on international space, have already been agreed upon between our party and the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, two years ago. They agree in principle on these issues, they are willing to negotiate with us. But just because we are in opposition, we're still not in a position to negotiate a true deal with them. But by the time when we come to power then we'll be able to do that.
AR: So you will you accept the One China policy then?
MJ: We're calling One China different interpretations. In other words we accept the One China principle but each side is entitled to interpret that content of the One China independently. We interpret that One China as a Republic of China, that's our official name. They don't have to recognize. We don't, we won't recognize them either, but we should not challenge the other side's interpretation so that we could shelve the issue for the moment. There's no chance that in our lifetime we could solve the sovereignty issue but instead we could manage that issue without making it explosive. So that we could shift our emphasis, our energy on other more urgent issues, on economics, security and educational culture things. And this is our strategy and I think it will work.
AR: Coming up what it means to be Taiwanese, Ma Ying-jeou shares his views.
AR: Welcome back to this edition of Talk Asia, with us today is Ma Ying-jeou, leader of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang party. Chairman Ma your family is from mainland China, you yourself were born in Hong Kong but you've lived in Taiwan now for a very long time. Do you see yourself as Chinese or Taiwanese?
MJ: Both. I was born in Hong Kong but I was brought up in Taiwan. Actually my parents came to Taiwan before I was born so biologically I was conceived in Taiwan, but when they went to Hong Kong I was born there. So I always joke I was made in Taiwan but delivered in Hong Kong. My family moved to Taiwan when I was only one year and three months old so I was brought up here, so I think I, we inherit the Chinese tradition but we live in Taiwan, so we're both. Both Taiwanese and Chinese.
AR: I imagine that it must be difficult for many people who live here, some of them see themselves as Chinese others see themselves as Taiwanese, how do you go about unifying a society that is so divided like that?
MJ: Well I think there are people who do have different perceptions of themselves as either Chinese or Taiwanese or both but I think that wouldn't really change our loyalty to Taiwan. You see Taiwan in history is a place for immigrants from all over the world. They have different, maybe different identities but that wouldn't hurt our unity as a people.
AR: What is the KMT's vision of Taiwan's international role?
MJ: It's very important for Taiwan to maintain its international contact. You know, we only have 24 countries that fully recognize us as a country. But we maintain trade with more than 150 countries, so we conduct our foreign relations in a very unorthodox way. For instance, our mission in Washington is not called the embassy but it is called Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, TECRO. Why? Because we can't maintain diplomatic relations with the US but we still have to maintain such a quasi-official relations in order to facilitate all the exchanges, political, security, cultural and economic ties with the US. So Taiwan has to conduct its diplomacy in an unprecedented, unorthodox way. But we still survive.
AR: Do you think that Taiwan will ever reunify with the mainland?
MJ: We don't know yet but at the moment it is not my party's policy to pursue that at this stage. Even the mainland.
AR: At this stage, you mean you might in the future?
MJ: No, in the future, nobody knows, whether the conditions whether will be right. Because Taiwan's future has to be determined by the 23 million Taiwanese, by their free will, at the moment the majority of Taiwanese favor the maintenance of Taiwan's status quo. Obviously before the mainland become democratic, free and prosperous, Taiwanese people will not be interested in this issue. Even the mainland today is not interested in pushing that because they know it is not ready yet. Nobody's ready and what they are doing now is to prevent Taiwan from going further in independence instead of calling for reunification. So at the moment the common interest on both Taiwan and the mainland is to maintaining the status quo without changing the status quo unilaterally. On that basis, I think peace could be reached.
AR: After the break Ma Ying-jeou tell us what he thinks about the air of celebrity surrounding him.
AR: You're watching Talk Asia, our guest today is Ma Ying-jeou, Chairman of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang party.
Chairman Ma, you're it's fair to say, a very popular politician around these parts. And you've always had this air of celebrity about you. But on the other hand you're trying to be a serious politician how does that image sit with you?
MJ: Well I don't really know, I work very hard, I care about sports, health and I try to help people. And I really want to help people through a lot of charitable activities, and this is probably, how my image has been made.
AR: Because I'm sort of interested on whether it's been a help or a hindrance? I mean many people would say that sort of thing you know, could catapult your popularity no end, but then some other people have said that with you it's sort of perhaps overshadowed some of your political achievements.
MJ: True. For instance in the 8 years as a mayor of Taipei, I have accomplished a lot of things and really has upgraded Taipei to a international status never seen before. But in the memory of many Taiwan citizens, well sometimes they only think about my running, my swimming. Well you see, not very many politicians do that.
Because I attach a lot of importance to those. I require every Taipei student to swim, if they can't pass the test they won't graduate. Why do I do that? Because I think that is very, very important integral part of their education. They have to learn to do certain sports, and I hope that sports will accompany them for the rest of their lives. And I think sports is the answer to the two intractable problems of the 21st century. One is depression the other, the other is obesity.
I do have some vision, not only for the city, but for the country. And in the 8 years as mayor, I have made Taipei number one in terms of cyber-city, and we have the widest coverage of wireless and I have cut our trash by almost 60%. So make this city clean, safe and convenient.
AR: And it is undeniably an impressive track record that you had as a mayor of Taipei with your two back-to-back terms, but then you did come under a lot of flack didn't you for your handling of the SARS crisis in 2003. Do you think that those criticisms against you were justified?
MJ: SARS as you know is an unknown virus which nobody really know how to handle that. It came very quickly. In the, you know, disease is like AIDS. Took about 2 years to spread around the world. But for SARS only 2 weeks. So it moves so fast that people really were caught unprepared. But if you look back at the time we need to handle SARS, we haven't done that bad, compared to Singapore to Toronto, to Hong Kong and to other mainland Chinese cities.
AR: Politics in Taiwan can be a ferocious business. You know the world often sees these pictures of parliamentarians just losing their rag and brawling, hurling abuse and often objects at each other. Why do we see this happen so frequently just you know, the parliament descends to this undignified chaos here?
MJ: I think it is due to the lack of sense of rule of law. And sometimes even the sense of true democracy. As you know the number one rule of democracy is follow the majority. Now in our parliament, the KMT plus the PFP, the People's First Party, constitute the majority. But the administration sometimes does not respect that majority, and that makes things very difficult.
AR: But even for yourself, looking at what sort of a furious environment it can be, why did you decide that this was the path you wanted to follow?
MJ: Well you see ever since I was in high school I think I should really promote rule of law and democracy in Taiwan this is why I chose law as my career.
And people in Taiwan all know that I'm a man of principle. And I try very hard to eradicate corruption in Taiwan when I was justice minister. And I tried to suppress vote-buying in our elections. And I do a lot to make Taiwan not only more democratic, but also more respect for rule of law. Even today if I had a chance to make our candidate succeed in the next presidential bid, I certainly will also push a rule of law movement to make Taiwan's quality of democracy higher. To upgrade our quality of democracy. No doubt Taiwan is a democratic country, but our quality of democracy still needs a lot of refinement.
AR: You've been in politics for so many years now Chairman Ma. What sort of counsel would you give someone who wanted to follow this career path?
MJ: Be honest. Be honest with yourself, be honest with you know your fellow politicians. This is a rare quality of politicians. But integrity, honesty is still I think the most valuable quality for a politician. Don't think that politicians should cheat should fight each other all the time. People don't like that. People like to see honest persons. So I certainly will advise many young people who want to participate in politics, honesty is the best policy.
AR: Ma Ying-jeou thank you so much for your time today, it was a pleasure.
MJ: Thank you, thank you.
AR: And that's it for this edition of Talk Asia. Our guest has been Ma Ying- jeou, the former Mayor of Taipei and the leader of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang party. Thanks for watching, I'm Anjali Rao, I'll see you again soon!
Ma Ying-jeou, Chairman of Taiwan's opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)