Okay, let us end the silly name-calling and focus on what needs to be done to prevent further erosion of the economy. Solutions for the future, not “I told you so” or hollow promises and calls for patience, are what the situation calls for.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration officials have had more than four years to demonstrate that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is better for Taiwan’s economy than was the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — claims that, along with the vow of clean governance, were major factors in Ma’s 2008 election. So far, his administration has failed to provide any convincing evidence that this is the case.
Defending his poor performance to date, Ma has argued that Taiwan’s poor economic showing is the result of the global financial downturn of 2008 and the eurozone crisis. While there is no doubting the impact that the global economic downturn has had on Taiwan’s performance, Ma conveniently omits that soon after he came into office, the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) faced a similarly difficult situation amid the recession sparked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. While Chen could — and should — have done more for the economy, it simply shows that external factors cannot be cherry-picked for the sake of convenience.
Both administrations have done poorly on the economy. So what can be done to fix that should be the focus of both parties as they look to the future. Merely focusing on GDP growth, or comparing such figures with other countries in the region, comes far short of what is required of our leaders.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that the future cannot — should not — be characterized by more economic dependence on China. Laudatory remarks notwithstanding, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), increased Chinese tourism and further investment from China have not yielded the benefits promised by Ma. In fact, narrow focus on China alone has prevented the real changes that need to be brought into effect to modernize Taiwan’s economy, which includes measures to prevent the further rush-out-the-door of foreign private equity to a concrete strategy to attract the foreign talent that a small country like Taiwan cannot afford to continue ignoring.
If there is one country that should be the object of greater attention as a potential remedy to Taiwan’s nearly anemic economy it is not China, but Japan. For one thing, foreign direct investment from Japan will inevitably result in high-tech transfers that, for many years to come, will be unimaginable for China to provide. Despite its own economic troubles, Japan remains a major innovator and as such, investment in Taiwan will be a net benefit. China steals, mimics and reproduces, adding no developmental value through its investment here.
Beijing’s violent reaction in its dispute with Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) has made a large number of big Japanese firms reconsider their investment in China and to look for regional alternatives. Such a trend creates tremendous opportunities for Taiwan, provided that its leadership does what it takes to seize the bull by the horns.
One stumbling block to achieving this is Ma’s ill-concealed animosity toward Japan, though greater forces could undermine his ability to prevent progress. Among other things, the KMT will need to prove that it can resurrect the economy before the next presidential election. Failing that, and its image severely damaged by the Lin Yi-shih (林益世) scandal, the KMT will run out of ammunition come 2016. With Ma barred from running for a third term, whoever runs for the party will want to be able to use the economy card to have a chance at being elected. Consequently, if a move closer to Japan, or away from China, is seen as a good strategy, Ma could quickly be sidelined.