What to do when the going gets tough?
A popular proverb whose origin is attributed to Joseph Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” It usually means “When the situation becomes difficult, the strong will work harder to meet the challenge.” But another interpretation could be, “When the situation becomes almost impossible, those who are truly strong are wise enough to pull out, rather than being totally decimated.”
We are not sure President Ma Ying-jeou will be one of the tough in the common interpretation of the idiom or in the other, when Tsai Ingwen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party, is all set to boycott Taiwan joining the Beijing-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
President Ma announced his decision to get Taiwan to join the AIIB as a founding member in an exclusive interview with The China Times on March 26, a mere five days before the applications for founding membership were to be closed.
He argued that Taiwan has to be a member so it may play the role of peacemaker and provider of humanitarian aid in the new investment bank which is considered to rival the American-led World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank.
He said Taiwan’s participation will help it join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Of course, Taiwan has to join. Even Tsai knows it full well. That’s why she didn’t say her Democratic Progressive Party is deadly opposed to it, but is trying to boycott it to show Uncle Sam she is siding with him, for he frowns on Taiwan wanting to jump on the AIIB bandwagon like John Bull.
Tsai said Taiwan’s participation in the AIIB is a major undertaking that must be professionally assessed and then endorsed by the pubic and parliament.
There are disputes over the name under which Taiwan would join, modality in joining and the risks after joining. These disputes have to be settled by consensus before Taiwan decides to join, she explained, adding “negotiations for joining have to be transparent and under legislative oversight.”
Were what Tsai has proposed ac- cepted, Taiwan can hardly join the AIIB. She wants this “great undertaking” to go the way of the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, which was signed in Shanghai on June 27, 2013, and has since been stalled in the Legislative Yuan. The agreement has to be reviewed only after a Statute Governing Oversight on CrossStrait Agreements is signed into law, but the parliament has yet to starting reading its draft. Nobody knows if and when the agreement can go into force.
On the question of Taiwan’s designation in joining the AIIB, however, President Ma set a guard against the DPP attack by saying only that “the name issue will have to be resolved first if we’re to join,” but added “We should join as a country.” The opposition party’s line is, “There will be no entering the AIIB, if Taiwan’s national dignity is not maintained.”
So, the Ma government has ruled out “Taipei, China,” the designation Taiwan, a founding member of the Asian Development Bank, was forced to accept. Taiwan prefers “Chinese Taipei,” under which name Taiwan was made to stay in the International Olympic Committee in 1960 and joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1991.
What semantic difference is there between “Taipei, China” and “Chinese Taipei”? Politicians insist that the former signifies the government in Taipei is under the government of the People’s Republic of China, while the latter means the Taipei government is a Chinese one. Politicians may sincerely believe there is such a subtle difference, but the man in the street regards it as an inane or silly word play that serves no practical purposes.
‘So long as it catches mice’
Can you honestly say that “Taipei, China” is a derogatory term degrading Taiwan’s national dignity whereas “Chinese Taipei” does not “dwarf Taiwan?” Why don’t opposition politicians try to emulate Deng Xiaoping, who was pragmatic enough to quip, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice”? They shouldn’t mind Taiwan being called “Taipei, China” or “Chinese Taipei” so long as Taiwan is admitted to the AIIB as a founding member.
The trouble with President Ma is that he isn’t pragmatic enough. Born in Hong Kong as the son of a mainland Chinese Kuomintang apparatchik, Ma always backs down when opposed by DPP poli- ticians who never fail to charge him with selling out Taiwan to China. He has a DPP phobia.
The “going” or the situation is getting tough for President Ma now. He wants Taiwan to join the AIIB before he steps down in May next year. Time is running short, and the chances are that Tsai certainly will see to it that Taiwan can’t join to make sure she will win the presidential election in 2016.
Now, is Ma going to act like one of the “tough” or people who are strong and get going or become fully engaged and work harder to meet the challenge? Or is he going to act like a really strong man, wise enough to retreat rather than being obliterated?
Ma is wise, though not wise enough to be as pragmatic as Deng Xiaoping. On the other hand, he isn’t tough. He looks like a pushover. But the bullied, when pushed to the wall, may revolt.
There is a saying that a baited cat may grow as fierce as a lion. Would President Ma try to bear out that wise saying by facing down all opposing politicians for the good of Taiwan? It will be a Parthian shot of sorts before the end of his term.