Thursday, July 03, 2008

Taipei’s deflecting strategy

With the Taiwanese stock exchange in a freefall and signs that Beijing may not be as indulgent on Taiwan as its negotiators had hoped, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is in a bind. A little more than one month into the presidency, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his Cabinet have proven incapable — or unwilling — to implement policies that under such circumstances could appease an increasingly restive population. While the global economic downturn, which is hitting Taiwan hard, cannot be blamed on the KMT government, the latter should nevertheless do more than simply call on Taiwanese to have “faith” — faith that things will get better, that the surge in Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan starting on July 4 will help improve the economy, and that better relations with Beijing will somehow make things right.

But in politics, faith is a dangerous commodity which can get depleted very rapidly — especially when people start losing millions of NT dollars in the stock market and when ordinary families start feeling the brunt of rising commodity prices and see that no action is being taken to help assuage the pain.

Seemingly without a clear strategy and uncomfortably dependent on the vagaries of the regime in Beijing, chances are that the full set of promises the KMT made during the presidential election will soon sound like a rhyme meant to put children to sleep. When that awakening occurs, and when discontent with the administration starts taking a shape other than dropping popularity polls, the government will either have to shift gear — and do so rapidly — or deflect attention elsewhere.

In an article titled "The oldest political trick in the book," published today in the Taipei Times, I explore the KMT’s possible use of that tactic, its historical precedents, and what this may mean for the nation’s future diplomacy.

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