Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou shares experience at book-signing session

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou (front row, in blue shirt) seen with attendees of his book-signing session at the Singapore Book Fair at Capitol Singapore on Wednesday (5 May). (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Even after stepping down from Taiwan politics’ hottest seat in 2016, Ma Ying-jeou continues to be a magnetic presence.

The former Taiwan president was in Singapore on Wednesday (5 June) for a signing session for his book “Memoirs Of My 8-year Presidency: 2008-2016” held at the Singapore Book Fair at Capitol Singapore.

A 200-strong audience crowded into the book fair’s outdoor exhibition area to catch a glimpse of the 68-year-old, who remains the only Taiwanese head of state to have met China’s President and Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping.

While Ma steered clear of any political analysis during the session, he still managed to keep the crowd enthralled with anecdotes from his political life during his 20-minute speech.

“There are three reasons for releasing this memoir,” he said in Mandarin. “The first is to document the history of Taiwan during my governance. The second is to share my governing experiences. And the third, most importantly, is to let me have a chance to critique how I fared during my presidency.”

Meeting with Xi Jinping in 2015

Not surprisingly, the only political event Ma touched on during his speech was the momentous meeting he had with Xi at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel in 2015.

He described the lengths to which both sides went in side-stepping the many political landmines during their meeting, which was the first time leaders from China and Taiwan had met since 1949.

“We agreed that we should not address each other as president or Communist Party general secretary,” he said. “We eventually settled on calling each other ‘Mister’.

“I had wanted the meeting to be held at the NOL Building for symbolism, because it was where the Wang-Koo Summit was held. Unfortunately, it was undergoing renovation then, and we eventually decided to hold the meeting at Shangri-La.”

The Wang-Koo Summit in 1993 brought together Wang Daohan, then-chairman for China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and Koo Chen-fu, then Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation chief. The two reached several breakthrough agreements to further cross-strait economic, cultural and technical exchanges.

Anecdotes from presidency

Ma also shared amusing incidents from his time in power. He told of the time his government handed out vouchers to Taiwan residents to help them cope with the global financial crisis of 2008.

“We found out that a total of 71 wanted criminals also came down to get the vouchers,” he said. “Well they were welcomed to receive the vouchers, but we were also happy to arrest them on the spot.”

Finally, he revealed his political philosophy as he concluded his talk, saying that he had always believed in the collective sharing of experiences.

“It’s the sharing of our experiences, of our expertise, and of our compassion, that is the best way of uniting people. I have always believed in this,” he said.

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