BBC Interview: Ma Ying-jeou struggles for “Independence”

One day before publishing the interview with DPP chairwoman and presidential nominee Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the BBC made a rare interview with Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), with questions asked by the BBC’s Rachel Harvey,  available online. The interview had been conducted at the presidential office on June 3.

Ma reiterated that more countries would be willing to improve their trade relations with Taiwan, once Taiwan improved its trade relations with China.

The reason behind this is that many countries have noticed the logic: that is to say, with the mainland willing to improve relations with Taiwan, they will ask themselves, if they can do it, why can’t we? That is the sort of benefit it is having.

Harvey also asked Ma about fears that stronger ties with China could erode Taiwan’s distinct identity. Those fears were understandable, weren’t they, she asked.

It’s worth to push the “pause” button at 1’26”. Ma’s face seems to be taking an expression of disgust, as he leans back before replying:

I… ah… wo bu xiang xin zhe zhong xianxiang… [I do not believe that this will affect our autonomy. (我不相信這种現象會影響到自主性)].

It’s hard to say independence in other words, without sounding ambiguous. “Autonomy” is only one possible translation for 自主性 (zì zhǔ xìng). Other possible translations would indeed be independence or liberty.

On another question, practically the same he had been asked by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur in 2006, Ma’s reply was much less vigorous this month, than five years earlier.

Harvey: You talk of the positive influence that you hope Taiwan might be able to have on mainland China through this relationship. I’m puzzled though as to how this can be an equitable relationship when China is pointing missiles at Taiwan. How can you negotiate [Harvey manages to put some of the same consternation into her voice as Sackur did five years earlier] with that implicit threat hanging over the relationship?

Ma acknowledged that China had steadily increased the number of missiles, and that those could reach Taiwan, even though Beijing claimed that they were not targeted at Taiwan. Taiwan wasn’t in a position to engage in an arms race with the mainland, “nor do we want to”. But “we absolutely cannot isolate ourselves”, he added, criticizing his predecessor Chen Shui-bian without naming him. The years prior to his presidency had isolated Taiwan from the rest of the world, and had even made some feel that Taiwan was a “troublemaker”.

We do not want to be a troublemaker. We want to be an enabler of peace.

Apart from the video’s 1’26”, where Ma almost stumbled into English, Harvey asked her questions in English, and Ma, who is a fluent speaker of English, replied in Chinese.

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Related

» President reaffirms ROC National Security Strategy, Taiwan Today, June 16, 2011
» Tsai Ing-wen’s BBC Interview, June 17, 2011

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