Will Time Reveal Ma's Legacy or Will Tsai's Administration Start from Square One?

Will Time Reveal Ma's Legacy or Will Tsai's Administration Start from Square One?
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
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Out with the old, and in with the new. For the fifth time, the Taiwanese were able to cast their votes to decide the next president of the Republic of China. The people have spoken and they chose Tsai Ing-wen.

Starting from now, Ma Ying-jeou will be a lame duck president, waiting for the end of his term. Though with extremely low public support, Ma has left a legacy that lays the foundation for Taiwan’s future cross-Strait relationship.

On multiple occasions, Jerome Cohen, law professor at New York University and senior fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has said that Ma could be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize:

“…if [Ma] could build on his impressive cross-strait record by finalizing additional agreements without prejudicing the island’s security and democracy, he should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.” -Jerome Cohen, Thinking-Taiwan

Jerome Cohen. Photo Credit: Outreach for Taiwan

This remark has shocked many people due to the low public support, but Cohen continues to explain why.

Prior to Ma’s administration, Chen Shui-bian’s administration has had a strong notion of Taiwan independence. Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young said, ”Many of Taiwan’s friends in the US administration and in Congress are increasingly frustrated that excessive partisanship here has become an obstacle to Taiwan’s security.” This strong sense of Taiwan independence has led China to refuse dialogue with the Chen administration. Many people in Taiwan saw this as a missed opportunity to improve the country’s economy.

After Ma took office, he has worked hard to warm the relations across the Strait. Through time and with much opposition by DPP, the Ma administration was able to sign the Economic Cooperative Framework Agreement along with direct flights to and from China.

As of right now, time has told that during Ma’s administration the island’s GDP has seen a steady growth.

Photo Credit: Screenshot taken from National Statistics Database maintained by Taiwan’s Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS)

However, Cohen’s statement is predicated on creating these agreements without prejudicing the island’s security and democracy; the island’s security and democracy is just what the Taiwanese people have feared for in the past four years during Ma’s second term. Such fear was a primary cause of the Sunflower Movement and its Legislative Yuan Occupation, as students feared the new Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) would endanger Taiwan’s security and the citizens’ livelihood. There are Taiwanese academics on both sides of the debate; some stating the dangers of opening Taiwan up against China while others argue that this open relationship is unavoidable if Taiwan wishes to prosper. With such differing analysis of Ma’s actions, in the end, only time will be the judgement to the impact of Taiwan’s close relations with China.

Will Tsai and the DPP be able to maintain this growth?
Photo Credit:RT/ 達志影像

A Time article showed students from China openly displaying their disdain for Taiwan’s democracy. “It’s a joke,” said Harmony Chen, a 24-year-old film studies student from China’s Eastern Zhejiang province. “Politicians in Taiwan always lie to the people, but the people believe them.”

As democratic countries understand, this is the price of democracy. A politician running for office can only have words and their records to convince their constituents, but once they step into office, these promises may not be as easily kept or enacted.

With DPP’s landslide win across both the presidential and legislative branch, there are still concerns whether unanimous control over the democratic process would corrupt the Taiwan dream of an improved economy and livelihood that DPP has promised its constituents.

In the past, DPP has opposed close ties with China, but now that many of these trade agreements have been laid down by the previous administration, will DPP attempt to undo these ties and start from square one?

If ties with China were once again frozen, this would discourage other countries and international companies from making investments in Taiwan because the island’s internal strife is an indicator of the government’s instability. However, if the Tsai administration is able to assess the ties that have been created with China and provide proper oversight to future dialogues between Taiwan and China, a neighbor with rich history and questionable motives, then Ma’s legacy will live on and would prove his place in Taiwan’s history.

Terry Guo, one of Taiwan’s most successful entrepreneurs, told CW Magazine that peace and security is the number one way for a steady economic growth. Prior the election, Guo also said that the new president must not focus just on small wins within the nation, but keep his or her eye on the prize: GDP growth.

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

With Ma leaving the presidential office in May, only time can tell if Ma’s legacy is worth a Nobel Peace Prize. With Tsai’s inauguration in May, she will have to respond to the people’s votes not just with people’s increased standard of living, but numbers showing growth in GDP and a sustainable path to Taiwan’s prosperity beyond her time in office.

Edited by Olivia Yang