Ma marks three years in office

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am


Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday marked the end of his third year in office by trumpeting his government's effort to uphold its sovereignty, promote human rights and protect the environment.

Analysts said the remarks, in a high-profile speech in the southern city of Tainan, were Ma's attempt to canvass support from the pro-independence camp's traditional power base ahead of January's presidential election.

Ma, seeking a second four-year term, held a press conference yesterday at Tainan University, marking the third anniversary of his inauguration. It was the first time any president had held an anniversary news conference outside Taipei.

'In the past three years, we have signed 15 agreements with the mainland, and do any of these agreements fail to place Taiwan in priority and benefit the public?' Ma said at the news conference, which a group of university students also attended.

Ma - facing keen competition from Dr Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party - said some people had criticised him for selling out Taiwan to the mainland by signing those agreements.

'Can they tell me which of these agreements are pro-China and selling out Taiwan?' he asked, referring to the series of pacts - including tourism, direct flights, economic exchanges and joint cross-strait efforts to fight crimes - signed since he took office as president on May 20, 2008.

Ma said because of his mainland engagement policy, cross-strait tensions - escalated by his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian of the DPP between 2000 and 2008 - had been reduced. And with improved cross-strait ties, Taiwan had reached out to the world in the past three years, helping the island uphold its sovereignty.

Ma stressed the reason to improve ties with the mainland - a political rival since 1949 - was to seek peace and prosperity for the island. 'With no peace and prosperity, there would be no development for the younger generation,' he said, adding that while Beijing had yet to abandon the use of force against Taiwan, it had also brought forth various opportunities for the island.

Ma also spoke on the government's efforts to promote human rights, including revising and instituting laws that fit in with United Nations human rights conventions. For the sake of environmental protection, he chose to drop a prominent petrochemical complex project, a decision he believed would ensure Taiwan's sustainable development.

He also noted a gradual improvement of the island's economy since he took office, saying he believed the public would slowly enjoy the benefits brought about by such an improvement.

Analysts said Ma's speech was intended to solicit support from voters, especially those from Tainan and other southern areas, who traditionally supported the DPP.

George Tsai Wei, professor of political science at China Culture University in Taipei, said, however, that continuous and systematic contact with people in southern Taiwan was a must if Ma was to gain support from them. 'Otherwise, it would be a one-time political show,' he said.

'Ma also hopes to use the opportunity to canvass support from the young people or the so-called first-time voters, as evidenced by his giving his inauguration anniversary speech at the university.'

Besides giving the speech at Tainan University, Ma also arranged to have lunch with students there and attended a seminar to exchange views with another group of young voters.

About 1.3 million young people, who will have reached 20 years of age, will vote for the first time in the presidential poll on January 14. Both Ma and Tsai are aggressively courting this group of voters.