TAIWAN: Foreign-media focus not welcome news for Ma

International newspapers report on the public's negative opinion of President Ma in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot

Taipei Times
Sunday, August 23, 2009

By Loa Iok-sin

Taiwan received tremendous attention from foreign media in the past week; however, this was not the kind of focus the government wants, with President Ma Ying-jeou becoming the focal point of criticism for his administration's slow reaction to Typhoon Morakot.



"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 New York Times wrote in the opening paragraph of a story titled "Taiwan president is target of anger after typhoon," published on Aug. 12.

"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," it wrote.



Al-Jazeera reporter Steve Chao, who was sent to disaster areas in Kaohsiung County, said last Saturday that while he could not decide whether all criticism on the government's rescue efforts was accurate at the time, "we are aware of at least two communities that were not so much ignored, but did not receive aid fast enough."



"Some of the survivors were forced to live on water that they could find for themselves before aid arrived," he said.

The Reuters news agency quoted local political analysts as saying that "increased pressure on Ma, who was elected in 2008, could drain support for his [Chinese] Nationalist Party [KMT] in city and county elections in December."



In the opinions section of the Wall Street Journal, a piece dated Monday described the political crisis as "Ma Ying-jeou's Katrina moment."



In a story titled "Political crisis in Taiwan after disaster brought by Typhoon Morakot," the French newspaper Le Monde wrote on Friday that Ma was being "criticized for the slow rescue efforts, initial refusal of foreign aid and his lack of compassion as he toured the disaster-torn villages," adding that Ma is trying to fight back to avert a political downfall.



CNN even conducted an online poll -- though not intended to be a scientific one -- that asked the question: "Should Taiwan's leader stand down over delays in aiding typhoon victims?"



As of Aug. 16, 82 percent of respondents had voted "yes."



Prior to Morakot, Ma had often been portrayed in a positive light by international media.



When Ma was inaugurated in May last year, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported the news with a story titled "'Mr Handsome' is the new president of Taiwan."


For its part, Agence France-Presse wrote that the "Harvard-educated former mayor of Taipei" vows not to launch an arms race with China, raising "hopes of better relations across the Taiwan Strait."


Soochow University political science professor Lo Chih-cheng said that this new criticism from the international media was helpful.

"The government doesn't seem to care much about what domestic media and the public think, but only cares about what foreign media say," Lo said, adding that this could be one way to get the government's attention.


"You see, Ma only gave an interview to CNN, not any local media," Lo said. "[Premier] Liu Chao-shiuan referred to criticism by local media as 'non-professional comments,' but has any official made similar remarks about foreign media reports?"



Political commentary show host Lee Yang-chau said in her TV show aired last week that the CNN poll was an "act of interference in domestic politics."



Former Government Information Office official at the nation's representative office in Toronto, Kuo Kuan-ying, who earlier this year was recalled and fired after publishing derogatory articles about Taiwan, called CNN "a tool of imperialists from beginning to end."



"CNN has always stood with the imperialists," Kuo told reporters during a gathering of New Party members.



"It did so during the uprising in our country's [sic] Tibet happened and now it's like that again in the Province of Taiwan [sic]," Kuo said yesterday. "It's malicious."