Thursday, August 27, 2009

轉載: President Ma's Apology Tour馬總統的道歉之旅

Many here can't help but wonder: Given his mismanagement of the typhoon response, how would Mr. Ma perform in an even more serious crisis—say, a showdown with China?

更多人不禁要問: 如果政府連風災都無法有效處理,面對更大的危機時,如與中國攤牌,他如何能夠做好危機管理?

August 2009
President Ma's Apology Tour
by Jonathan Adams
Posted August 25, 2009

As satire, the YouTube video now circulating in Taiwan may be over the top. But for many here, the real-life spectacle of Taiwan's top government officials on an "apology tour" has been almost as ridiculous.

The YouTube video, which has logged more than 144,000 views, superimposes the heads of President Ma Ying-jeou, his vice president, premier and two Cabinet ministers onto Chippendales models, dancing to the South Korean boy band tune "Sorry, Sorry."

The video mocks Taiwan's government for their repeated, ritual apologies in recent days, for what critics across the political spectrum here say was a slow and disorganized response to Typhoon Morakot—the island's deadliest storm in at least 50 years.

As of Aug. 24, the death count from the storm stood at 292, with 385 more missing and presumed dead. Most were buried alive by mudslides or swept away by torrential rivers. (截至8月24為止,死亡人數為292,但還有385個因為土石流失蹤,而且很可能已經罹難.)

Critics say President Ma's government failed its people by waiting three days to fully mobilize the military, declining to declare a state of emergency, passing the buck in the first few days after the typhoon, and showing a cold attitude toward victims.

I got an earful of such sentiments while spending a few hours last week in Cishan, a small southern Taiwan town that's become a staging area for relief efforts.

"If the government's reaction had been more quick, not so many people would have been lost," said Li Hui-ming, 36, from Minzu Village, where about 25 people were killed in a mudslide.

Displaced villagers credit Taiwan's robust civil society for filling the gap left by the government's poor job mobilizing resources. Buddhist relief organizations took the lead by rapidly opening shelters, feeding, and tending to the displaced. Money and donations streamed in from private citizens all over Taiwan.

And thousands of volunteers—including many students on summer vacation—went to affected areas to help. I met a bar owner from Tainan city, for example, who donated his Jeep to drive supplies in and out of the disaster zone.

Chang Chiung-fang, who's studying for a Masters' in psychological counseling, came from Taipei to volunteer at a Taoist temple outside Cishan that's become a shelter for typhoon refugees. "Actually, the government hasn't done a lot for these people," said Mr. Chang, 29. "This temple and civic organizations have helped them."

Nearby, Dahu Balavi, 58, a representative of the Minzu villagers, was clear about who deserved gratitude. "This temple has given us shelter and food, we thank the temple a lot—but not the government."

Why the government's lackluster performance? The question has been hashed and re-hashed in recent days here.

Preventative measures fell short. A government project is mapping out landslide-prone areas, and the emergency center had the authority to force villagers to evacuate. That didn't happen. "The government should have done better, and I hope they take this as a hard lesson," said Sue Lin, a professor in the department of environment engineering at National Cheng Kung University.

Ms. Lin urged the government to focus on better educating citizens in vulnerable areas about flooding and landslide dangers, and holding regular evacuation drills.

Another problem was organization. The typhoon response was coordinated by an ad-hoc emergency center that's led by a rotating group of Cabinet members from various ministries. That meant fractured leadership at a time when Taiwan most needed unified command.

But many here say the fundamental problem was Mr. Ma's character. His cautious, lawyer-like demeanor may make him a good administrator. But it also makes him a weak, ineffectual leader in a crisis.

"People say he tends to do everything by the book, but doesn't know how to command," said George Tsai, a political scientist at Chinese Culture University who supports Mr. Ma's party. "They wanted to see a quick response, and for him to show his compassion." (馬總是"依法行政",不知如何領導統御)

Mr. Ma could have taken charge of the typhoon response by declaring a national emergency and fully flexing his authority as commander-in-chief. Instead, his school-marmish insistence that disaster laws should be followed to the letter left the Cabinet in charge.

But like Mr. Ma, his Cabinet is seen here as stocked with "goodie-goodie," Confucian-style scholars who are short on communication and leadership skills.

The president added insult to injury by appearing to blame some victims themselves for not heeding warnings to evacuate landslide-prone areas. "He said we didn't listen, but the problem was they didn't tell us anything—there wasn't any warning," said Minzu Village's Mr. Li.

For Mr. Li and others, President Ma's "apology tour" has been too little, too late—a transparent attempt at political damage control long after the real damage has already been done.

Many here can't help but wonder: Given his mismanagement of the typhoon response, how would Mr. Ma perform in an even more serious crisis—say, a showdown with China?

Mr. Adams is a Taiwan-based journalist.

延伸閱讀: Taiwan's typhoon

The political stormAug 20th 2009
From The Economist print edition, After its dismal handling of the disaster, the government, too, is covered in mud

Monday, August 24, 2009

轉載: Taiwan’s Leader Faces Anger Over Storm Response

while the post-Morakot posturing makes for great political theater in Taiwan,
the outside world is watching to see whether the episode will affect Mr. Ma’s
efforts to bring Taiwan closer to China.

Taiwan’s Leader Faces Anger Over Storm Response

Published: August 23, 2009 (漢文翻譯見此)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Flags are flying at half-staff during three days of national mourning to honor those killed by Typhoon Morakot two weeks ago. But anger, not sadness, remains the prevailing sentiment across Taiwan as President Ma Ying-jeou grapples with his worst political crisis since taking office last year.

Despite repeated apologies for a slow response to the storm — which left at least 650 people dead or missing after record rain caused huge landslides — Mr. Ma has been kept busy warding off the skeptical news media and his political opponents, and calming furious survivors.

“The government is sorry,” Mr. Ma said Saturday. “It failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect you.”

Political analysts and even Mr. Ma’s allies in the governing Nationalist Party worry that Typhoon Morakot could become his “Katrina moment,” a blot on his legacy and perhaps an irreversible turning point just 15 months into his administration. But while the post-Morakot posturing makes for great political theater in Taiwan, the outside world is watching to see whether the episode will affect Mr. Ma’s efforts to bring Taiwan closer to China.

Mr. Ma won office, in part, on a platform of improved ties to the mainland, but the pace of rapprochement has unnerved some voters who are mindful that reunification is the stated goal of the Communist Party in Beijing, even if it means sending the People’s Liberation Army across the Taiwan Strait.

Since taking office, Mr. Ma has scored points by bolstering economic ties, starting direct mail service and liberalizing travel between Taiwan and the mainland. But those opposed to closer relations say the president’s inaction in the days after the storm, including an initial rejection of foreign aid, suggests that he is increasingly beholden to Beijing, a charge he and his political allies say is absurd.

Even Mr. Ma’s decision to accept emergency supplies from the United States, Taiwan’s staunchest ally, produced hand-wringing among those who questioned why military insignia on American aircraft were masked.

To make matters worse, during a news conference on Tuesday Mr. Ma suggested that the main task of Taiwan’s army should be prevention and rescue. “But now our enemy is not necessarily the people across the Taiwan Strait but nature,” he said, adding that an order for 60 American-made Blackhawk helicopters would be cut by 15, and the savings used to buy disaster relief aircraft.

Adding fuel to speculation over his true intentions was the government’s failure to apply last week for membership in the United Nations, a largely symbolic gesture that has occurred annually since 1993.

At the other end of the spectrum, advocates for closer ties between the two longtime enemies say that those aiming to thwart reunification are using the typhoon to their advantage.

Su Hao, an analyst at the government-run China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, blamed CNN for publishing an online survey last week in which 82 percent of respondents said Mr. Ma should resign for his sluggish response to the storm.

Even though the poll did not claim to be scientific, Mr. Su accused the network of acting at the behest of the White House. “The U.S. government has always taken the stance of supporting the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” he said, a reference to the ambiguous state that defines Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China, and its democratic political system.

Meanwhile, it was difficult to find anyone sympathetic to Mr. Ma’s predicament last week. On Saturday, during a memorial service for typhoon victims and a stop at a shelter for displaced residents, Mr. Ma’s remorseful bows and vows of speedy reconstruction did little to assuage the protesters. “How would you feel if your family members had died?” one woman yelled, according to The Taipei Times. “If you cannot do the job well, let someone else do it.”

Chao Yung-mau, dean of the school of social sciences at Taiwan National University, said he was not hopeful that Mr. Ma could regain public confidence, especially if reconstruction and recovery efforts flag in the coming weeks. “I don’t have enough confidence to think he will bounce back,” he said. “I’m pessimistic about his situation.”

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party has not been shy in exploiting Mr. Ma’s misfortunes. Last week, opposition legislators said they would consider introducing a vote of no-confidence. Members of the Control Yuan, an investigative branch of the government, have begun an inquiry into whether misconduct by high-ranking officials warranted impeachment. Mr. Ma has said he will consider shuffling his cabinet; three senior aides, including his defense minister, have offered to resign.

In interviews last week, even supporters described him as aloof, indecisive and inclined to technocratic language. Some suggested he was too proud of his law degree from Harvard and perhaps too eager to show his English fluency to the foreign media. “He’s had too much of an easy life and doesn’t really feel other people’s pain,” Chen Ping-hui, 50, said as she made dumplings at a Taipei restaurant.

In an interview, one of his advisers, Lin Hou-Wang, described Mr. Ma as intelligent and hard working but at times too conciliatory. “All his life he’s been so civil and so polite, a Mr. Nice Guy well liked by everybody,” said Mr. Lin, a philosophy professor at National Taiwan University who also helped Mr. Ma during his successful campaign for mayor of Taipei. “You could say he does not have enough training dealing with adversity.”

Chou Chia-cheng, 70, a retired banker who voted for Mr. Ma, said Taiwan’s politicized media and power-hungry opposition were magnifying his missteps. “I’m not sure I’ll vote for Ma again, but we should let the man finish the job,” he said. “The truth is, it rained a lot. I just think Ma got unlucky.” ("他只是運氣不好" 謎之音:繼續鄉愿吧! 都這樣還有人覺得馬只是運氣不好)

extended reading:
Postcard from Cishan, Time
MORAKOT: THE AFTERMATH: Foreign-media focus not welcome news for Ma

Saturday, August 15, 2009

轉載: Death Toll Is Still Rising After Storm in Taiwan 颱風侵台之後,死亡人數仍然上升中(含部份翻譯)

His wooden qualities have been thrown into stark relief in recent days as he has tried to console storm victims.

When a weeping man who described himself as a supporter complained that he had been repeatedly blocked by bodyguards, Mr. Ma did not hide his annoyance. “Now you’re seeing me,” he told the man.

對一個哭泣著聲稱是他的支持者,卻一再被護衛隔開,[按:指見到馬哭泣著說"見你一面為什麼這麼難?"] "你不是見到我了嗎?" 馬先生說,不掩他的厭惡.

Compounding the public’s anger, Mr. Ma made remarks to a British television station in which he seemed to blame typhoon victims for their own misery. “They were not fully prepared,” he said. “If they had been, they should have been evacuated much earlier.”


Death Toll Is Still Rising After Storm in Taiwan
Published: August 14, 2009
KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan — President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan said Friday that the death toll from Typhoon Morakot, which pummeled the island with three days of rain last weekend, would probably reach 500, far higher than the 117 confirmed deaths announced the day before.

During his address to a national security meeting in the capital, Taipei, Mr. Ma described the storm as the most devastating in half a century and conceded that the reconstruction work might be “even more difficult and cumbersome” than the rescue efforts, which some have criticized as too slow. He said the typhoon caused $1.5 billion in damage and left 7,000 people homeless.

Mr. Ma’s estimate of a much higher death toll dovetailed with the accounts of survivors who have told of scores of homes and their occupants being swept away by rock and mud when waterlogged mountainsides gave way Sunday morning.

The president, who was sworn in 15 months ago, has been facing growing public impatience over his handling of the typhoon’s aftermath. Some critics have chastised him for underestimating the devastation and for not immediately requesting international assistance. Almost everywhere he has gone in recent days, Mr. Ma has been confronted by grief-stricken and frustrated people who have said his government could be doing more.

On Thursday, the Taiwanese cabinet reversed an earlier decision and said that it would accept foreign aid, including the heavy-lift helicopters needed to carry excavation equipment deep into the mountains. Compounding critics’ cynicism about the government’s performance, the Foreign Ministry said the rejection of foreign help was actually a typographical error in documents it had sent abroad.

週四,台灣內閣推翻之前的決定表示願意接受外援,包含可載重直升機等深入山區. 拒絕外援引發公眾批評政府救災不力,外交部宣稱這是打字錯誤.

Officials have strenuously defended their efforts, saying that the rainfall, amounting to more than 80 inches, exceeded all predictions and that the remoteness of many affected villages had made recovery efforts especially complicated. On Tuesday, three members of a rescue crew were killed when their helicopter slammed into a ravine.

“The government has not shirked its responsibility,” Mr. Ma said Friday. “We will overcome every difficulty and complete this mission.”

The early criticism, expressed by anguished family members and broadcast on national television, has emboldened members of Taiwan’s vocal political opposition, which has dispensed with any reluctance to exploit the challenges facing Mr. Ma.


Sisy Wen-hsien Chen, a political commentator, lobbed the ultimate insult by suggesting that Mr. Ma’s post-disaster performance had paled in comparison with that of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China, Taiwan’s rival, during the Sichuan earthquake last year.

[不過最新的批評來自支持馬先生的]時事評論陳文茜小姐表示馬先生在災後的表現與溫家寶去年川震後的表現相形見拙(paled in comparison)

Mr. Wen received high marks for exuding compassion while rescue operations were under way, even as his government quashed any public debate over whether poorly built schools had led to the high death toll among students.

Harvard-educated and prone to wonkish utterances, Mr. Ma is not known as a good communicator. His wooden qualities have been thrown into stark relief in recent days as he has tried to console storm victims.

When a weeping man who described himself as a supporter complained that he had been repeatedly blocked by bodyguards, Mr. Ma did not hide his annoyance. “Now you’re seeing me,” he told the man.

Compounding the public’s anger, Mr. Ma made remarks to a British television station in which he seemed to blame typhoon victims for their own misery. “They were not fully prepared,” he said. “If they had been, they should have been evacuated much earlier.”

Ms. Chen, the political commentator, said that the president added insult to injury by using detached language like “they” to describe people enduring great trauma. “Mr. Ma doesn’t know what to do when people kneel down before him,” she said.

Wang Sing-nan, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, was even harsher. “If the presidential office was flooded, President Ma wouldn’t know how to save anyone,” he said.

The typhoon struck at a delicate time for Mr. Ma, who has been struggling to steer Taiwan and its export-heavy economy through rough times. He has also incurred the wrath of many for aggressively pushing closer ties with China.

Although the freewheeling Taiwanese news media have taken considerable pleasure in the president’s travails, most coverage has focused on a rescue operation that involves 38,000 soldiers and about 380 helicopters.

Officials have estimated that as many as 2,000 people are still trapped in remote areas with limited food and water.

At least 380 of the dead are believed to have been in Hsiao-lin, an isolated village high in the mountains of southern Taiwan that has been severed from the outside world. In recent days, more than 15,000 people have been airlifted from Hsiao-lin and other communities cut off when landslides and rushing water destroyed roads and bridges.

“They’re all dead, I know it,” said Zhou Gan, 45, who was waiting at a staging area as helicopters dropped off survivors and picked up supplies.

Since Monday, Ms. Zhou, who was not in Hsiao-lin when the storm struck, had been waiting in vain for word from her 80-year-old father. “At this point, I just want to go back home so I can find his body,” she said through tears.

Recovering the dead from beneath 50 feet of rubble, however, might not be feasible. On Friday, Yang Chiu-hsing, the magistrate of Kaohsiung County, said villagers were suggesting that the remains of those buried by a huge landslide in Hsiao-lin be left undisturbed.

Then, he said, a public memorial should be built on the site where 170 houses once stood.

Kuanying Yu contributed reporting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

轉載: Taiwan President Is Target of Anger After Typhoon 颱風之後,台灣總統成為人民憤怒的箭靶

Chen Tai-sheng, who trudged out from his mud-soaked village two days ago,
said the president should spend less time touring the country and more time
orchestrating rescue efforts. “This is a war, not a political campaign,” Mr.
Chen yelled.

颱風過去好幾天了! 早就錯失救災的黃金72小時,即使美國等國際紛紛伸援(The United States is "very concerned" about the situation but has not received a request for aid from the Taiwanese government, Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday.),卻被馬政府婉拒,由外交部宣稱:現階段無此需求.一開始就接受的只有來自對岸的人道援助(府院黨決議 歡迎大陸人道救援). (這時候了還在"黨")

"[救災]是戰爭,不是政治競選" (“This is a war, not a political campaign,” ),馬政府心態,國民黨嘴臉, 請台灣民眾一定要記得!


Taiwan President is Target of Anger After Typhoon
Published: August 12, 2009
CHISHAN, Taiwan — If President Ma Ying-jeou thought he might be treated presidentially on Wednesday as he toured a center for survivors of last weekend’s typhoon, he was mistaken.

The moment he stepped onto a soccer field that had been doubling as a landing pad for rescue helicopters, Mr. Ma was besieged by angry villagers who accused his administration of moving too slowly to help those still trapped in the mountains near here. As they hurled insults at him, the skies opened and Mr. Ma quickly became drenched to the skin, all of it captured live on television.

“Save us, people are dying,” the villagers yelled while holding aloft handmade banners that read “The government doesn’t value human life.”

Chen Tai-sheng, who trudged out from his mud-soaked village two days ago, said the president should spend less time touring the country and more time orchestrating rescue efforts. “This is a war, not a political campaign,” Mr. Chen yelled.

Typhoon Morakot, one of the worst natural disasters to hit Taiwan in 50 years, is also turning into an unpleasant political experience for Mr. Ma, the former mayor of Taipei who was elected last year by a respectable margin but whose popularity has been steadily dropping.

The storm, which killed at least 67 people across Taiwan
and left scores missing, has turned into the kind of test that can make or break a political career, or in the case of Mr. Ma, provide fodder to the opposition — and irresistible images to a voracious press.

On Monday, during an earlier tour of his waterlogged nation, Mr. Ma was seen promising a bulldozer to a man who was searching for the body of his father. Two days later, after failing to persuade officials to make good on the pledge, the man, Lee Yu-ying, was forced to rent his own equipment to dig out his father’s mud-encased car.

“What kind of help was that?” Mr. Lee asked TVBS, a cable news channel.

As with most natural disasters, there has been plenty of blame to go around. When the extent of the storm’s wrath became clear on Sunday, Mr. Ma criticized the country’s water resources agency for ineptitude and accused the national weather bureau of failing to predict rainfall that soaked some parts of the country for three or more days.

On Tuesday, the president of the government’s investigative arm, the Control Yuan, said he would look into whether agencies or officials had a role in the extent of devastation.

“If no corrective measures are taken we will impeach them, impeach them and impeach them until they do what we want them to do,” said Wang Chien-hsuan, the agency’s president.
(至於王建煊當時人在哪裡呢? 請看:包括國民黨榮譽主席連戰、國民黨主席吳伯雄、總統府秘書長詹春柏、監察院長王建(火宣)、陸委會主委賴幸緩、海基會董事長江丙坤等昨都出席這場慶祝酒會,中時電子報報導指出,「現場氣氛熱烈」。)

Most everyone here has been stunned by the ferocity of the typhoon, which dumped more than 80 inches of water in some places, swelling rivers that washed away bridges and spurring landslides that buried entire villages.

A weekend of typhoons claimed two dozen lives in eastern China, Japan and the Philippines, but Morakot had its deadliest impact on the isolated hamlets that dot the mountains of southern Taiwan.

Rescue officials, cut off from dozens of communities, have been unable to estimate the number of the dead or missing. Residents who have made it out alive, however, suggest that the figures could be well into the hundreds.

Li Jing-rong, 50, a farmer from Hsiao-lin, a village of 1,300 set deep within the craggy folds of Kaohsiung County, said the most densely settled part of town was erased by a wall of rock and dirt that narrowly missed his home.

“No one could have survived that,” he said.

He said that at least 600 people, including his parents, were swept away around 6 a.m. on Sunday. The survivors from his end of the village, about 40 people, scurried to an open area and then spent three days waiting in the rain before helicopters arrived on Tuesday. He said a separate group of 30, including his brother, were waiting for help in another valley.

I wish the government would work faster because they have nothing to eat,” he said after confronting the president.

Throughout the day, as sunshine alternated with soaking downpours, helicopters thundered in and out of Chishan Middle School’s sports field. During the morning, the helicopters picked up supplies. By afternoon, they were returning with muddied and barefoot villagers from a town called Minzu.

They were for the most part the dark-skinned citizens of Taiwan known as aborigines, the indigenous mountain-dwellers who have sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the island’s more recently arrived Han Chinese ruling class.

As the survivors scurried across the grass, rotors whirling above their heads, a crowd of people, some weeping and wailing, surged forward to meet loved ones, or to ask about those still unaccounted for. “Have you seen my mother?” one woman screamed again and again. No one responded.

The injured were bundled into ambulances; taxis and minivans took away everyone else. During the quiet between the arrival and departure of each helicopter, people worried aloud about the unrelenting rain or complained that too many boxes of instant noodles were being delivered to those huddling outdoors without access to water or stoves.

Aijo Wu, a 23-year-old law student who has had no word from her extended family in the village of Taoyuan, was the last person to talk to Mr. Ma before his security detail whisked him away. She begged him to speed up the pace of the rescue efforts, but after he left she was less timid in her comments to reporters.

If there are 20,000 people stranded but the army is only using 30 of their helicopters, a lot of people are going to die,” she said. “I’m angry that the president won’t ask the outside world for help.”

David Yu contributed research.
Outcry Grows in Taiwan as Death Toll Rises
Slow Rescue Efforts, Lack of Information Draw Harsh Criticism

Saturday, August 8, 2009

轉載: Taiwan and China, Reunification by trade? (以貿易促統?)

這是經濟學人(Economist)的報導,提到中國與馬政府利用貿易(ECFA)促統. 台灣民眾醒醒吧! 更何況ECFA的負面效果不清,從政府文宣看來,電子業本來會損失3500億變成零,宣稱的會貢獻GDP1.65~1.72%的數據可信嗎?

民進黨:經濟學人警示 凸顯馬欺瞞
國民黨:簽ECFA 一天也不能等


Taiwan and China

Reunification by trade?Aug 6th 2009 | TAIPEI
From The Economist print edition

A plethora of free-trade deals is driving Taiwan closer to China

FREE-TRADE agreements (FTAs) are often contentious but rarely would one have as much strategic significance as that proposed between China and Taiwan. On July 29th Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, elected last year on a platform of liberalising business restrictions and easing military tensions with the mainland, said a China-Taiwan trade pact should be signed as soon as possible. The two sides have quietly concluded months of unofficial negotiations and Taiwan’s economy minister, Yiin Chii-ming, says he wants formal negotiations to start in October. The island is in a hurry.

Mr Ma is willing to take the political risk of tying a self-ruled democratic island economically to its giant authoritarian neighbour because of the rest of the world’s craze for free-trade deals. Taiwan has diplomatic relations with 23 countries. Most nations recognise China and fear to sign FTAs with Taiwan lest they incur China’s wrath. Already, says Huang Chih-peng, the director general of Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade, the world’s 230-odd bilateral or multilateral trade pacts are harming the export-dependent island’s economy.

Mr Ma is even more worried about what will happen next year when trade agreements between China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations—so-called ASEAN+1—take effect. Taiwan’s exports to China face tariffs ranging from 5% to 15% and its government fears that, unless they are lowered, the island will be left at a competitive disadvantage in the giant Chinese market. This disadvantage would greatly worsen if a planned ASEAN+3 were one day signed, embracing South Korea and Japan.

Economic benefits, political costs
A think-tank commissioned by the government said the proposed pact could increase Taiwanese GDP by 1.65-1.72%—more if services and investment were included. In addition, it argued, the pact could increase foreign direct investment by $8.9 billion in seven years and create around 260,000 jobs (though other economists said this was too high). The president wants an outline agreement in place before ASEAN+1 comes into force, with the details worked out and implemented bit by bit after that. An incremental approach, officials say, is needed because an immediate FTA would be too disruptive to Taiwan’s economy.

Disruptive is right, but not perhaps mainly to the economy. China still asserts that Taiwan is an integral part of the People’s Republic. Many Taiwanese, including the pro-independence opposition party, fear that the proposed accord is really a ploy by China to bring about unification by stealth. They also argue that once the pact is signed, there is no guarantee that China will not lean on members of other FTAs to keep Taiwan out anyway. In contrast, Mr Ma insists that the proposed pact would make it easier for Taiwan to sign free-trade accords with third parties.

“It is a suicidal policy that makes Taiwan locked into China,” says Huang Kun-huei, the chairman of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. In a sign of the popular unease raised by the pact, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has virtually no parliamentary clout, still managed to collect over 120,000 signatories to a petition asking the government for a referendum on it (though Taiwan’s high threshold for referendum participation means that such a thing may not get off the ground).

In fact, dramatic political shifts seem unlikely in the short term. Mr Ma has promised that when the deal is negotiated, the wording will not compromise the island’s political stance. And China-watchers think the increasingly sophisticated government in Beijing is not likely to make heavy-handed political demands in case this rebounds on Mr Ma and he is voted out of office in 2012 (the Chinese much prefer him to the independence-minded opposition). Nevertheless, in the long run China hopes that economic interdependency and goodwill will eventually encourage the island to return to the fold. The trade pact will be a test of whether that hope can be fulfilled.