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President Ma, thank you for almost answering my question

Cardboard President Ma

How Taiwan president Ma addressed the foreign press

The other day, the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents‘ Club welcomed President Ma Ying-jeou to an international press conference. All members had the right to raise questions. After asking you, dear readers, I decided on one that I found especially important. Watch how Ma replied.

Cardboard President Ma

(No, this is not the real Ma on the photo. It’s a cardboard version at the Presidential Office. Although I would love to ask him if he likes my Doraemon shirt.)

Human rights in Taiwan: Suggestions that must not be forgotten

The question I decided to ask had been suggested in a comment by David Reid, an Australian blogger with a long interest in Taiwan.

It’s about the state of human rights in Taiwan and the government’s promise to voluntarily reach UN standards. Taiwan has ratified the United Nations‘ human rights conventions, even though it cannot be a UN member. To show they are serious, the government in early 2013 invited an international group of reknown human rights scholars to review Taiwan’s first Human Rights Report and draw up suggestions on how to improve.

Human rights: Nowak, Wu, Ma

I met with the experts in Taipei. They told me that they were basically simulating an official UN Human Rights Council assessment, and that they had direct access to all kinds of civil rights groups during the process, taking their suggestions and complaints into account. They said they never had a comparable opportunity anywhere else, since usually the official UN assessments take place in Geneva and not on the ground. They praised the open and transparent way in which the Taiwanese government had structured the process.

Still, they did come up with a long list of suggestions (82 points) where Taiwan should revise its laws and regulations to better adhere to internationally accepted human rights standards, as laid out in the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

You can download the complete Concluding Observations and Recommendations at the Ministry of Justice’s website. There, you’ll also find more background information.

Some time has passed since then, so I decided the time was right to find out what the government plans to do now, or if the list is going to end up in some office drawer. Also, I wanted to take the opportunity and remind my reporter colleagues of the subject.

So when, unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to ask Ma the very first question at the press conference, this was it:

Mr. President, earlier this year your government has invited a group of international human rights experts to come to Taiwan and review the human rights situation in Taiwan. They came up with a list of more than 80 suggestions on how to bring Taiwan’s laws more into line with international human rights standards. Very detailed. My question is: Which of those suggestions will you implement in the near future?

This is how the president replied (video):

As I somehow expected, Ma evaded mentioning any specific measures or areas with a need for improvement. He is media-savvy political professional, after all, and (like German chancellor Merkel), these guys really know how to duck questions they don’t want to answer.

Still, what I am taking away from his answer is:

  • Ma is familiar with the subject and was immediately able to come up with some relevant numbers and data
  • There will be an implementation report at some point in the future that I am looking forward to

Ask English, reply Chinese: The complete Q&A

After my first question, the Q&A went on. Ma, however, realized that despite his English ability, which is usually regarded as excellent, the original plan was to answer all questions in Chinese. So mine was the only question that got an English answer.

After he had originally been very fond of giving English interviews to the international press, Ma adopted this strategy after he felt being misquoted in an Associated Press interview in 2010.

Watch more videos of Ma Ying-jeou speaking English

So this is how the rest of the event played out. Most reporters focussed on Ma’s China policy and subjects like peace talks, political negotiations, military threats, and the trade and services agreement with China. However, there were also questions about gay marriage and Taiwan’s energy and nuclear policy.

You can jump directly to each question using the links in the video description.

Read more about the human rights reports

These are some texts I wrote about the human rights experts‘ visit to Taiwan:

About me

I am a German reporter living and working in Taiwan. Read more English posts on this otherwise mostly German blog. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, and Google Plus.

English posts you might want to have a look at:

Klaus Bardenhagen

Klaus Bardenhagen


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