Ma Ying-jeou’s presidential discourse

In a China Quarterly paper published last year (with the title “Chen Shui-bian: On independence”, which was supposed to be a play on Mao’s ‘On’ series), Will Lowe and I analysed all of CSB’s speeches in the first 6 1/2 years of his tenure (~2500). Our findings strongly suggested that CSB was not a serial independence monger. His discourse, especially after re-election, was dominated by Taiwan identity, but these expressions (by our definition) did not relate to sovereignty or constitute independence markers. Furthermore, we argued that the ‘fluidity’ of his rhetoric could largely be explained by the identity of the primary audience he was addressing, e.g. independence groups overseas were exposed to a lot of sovereignty language, while economists heard only about the economy.

With Eliyahu Sapir I am currently writing up a similar analysis of Ma Ying-jeou’s presidential discourse for a special issue of the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs. I can’t give away too much at this point, but I can share a couple of visual representations of Ma’s speeches (~2000). The first graph shows the proportion of Ma’s speeches that contained indicators in each of four categories, Chinese identity, Taiwan identity, the economy and pro-democracy. This graph doesn’t control for external events as the CSB paper does and its not spectacularly informative. But it does show that around two thirds of Ma’s speeches between May 2008 and August 2011 were ‘on the economy’, which was the most popular topic. At the start of his tenure, around 40% of speeches contained markers of both Chinese and Taiwan identity, but quickly diverged thereafter. By mid-2011 around half of Ma’s speeches contained references to Chinese identity, but less than a third Taiwan identity markers. Also declining in prominence is language associated with democracy. A little less than one third of speeches at the beginning of his tenure made reference to democracy,  falling by half by summer 2011.  Data for the paper will present a more detailed and nuanced picture, but the birds eye view is that Ma consistently emphasizes the economy, began with an equal emphasis on Chinese and Taiwan identity (which quickly and consistently diverged thereafter), and democracy is progressively less emphasized over time.

One of the other main findings of the CSB paper was that a lot of the variation in Chen’s speeches could be attributed to the identity of the audience to whom he was delivering the talk. In colloquial terms its known as playing to the crowd, it is also consistent with spatial politics models. The upshot is that political actors, be they CSB or Ma Ying-jeou, have different constituencies to engage, different stakeholders with varying preferences to win over etc, and one of the ways they can do so is by telling ’em what they want to hear. The chart below shows the proportion of speeches dedicated to each category, for 10 different audiences (for the curious, details are in the CQ paper). Again this is rough and ready, but we can see that Ma has substantially different emphases in speeches to different audiences. For instance, when talking to foreign media (fmed) Chinese identity is by far the most salient message. By contrast, when talking with business people and organizations (econ) the vast majority of what they get to hear is about economics. Sovereignty is only salient in New Year’s and National Day speeches (ndny), and to a lesser extent when Ma addressed foreign allies (alli).

There’s lot’s of fun stuff in this paper, I’ll try and post something more substantial once I’ve done some more work on it. But remember this is the analysis of speeches (not campaign ads etc.), and the timeframe doesn’t go up to the recent campaign period. Ma’s presidential discourse has been dominated by the economy and Chinese identity; it doesn’t surprise me that he would feel the need to do a bit of remedial work on Taiwan identity during the last part of the campaign.

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