Over 500 guests, ranging from students to members of the international press, crowded into Town and Gown Monday afternoon to see Ma Ying-jeou, the former president of Taiwan, speak at an event hosted by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.
Ma spoke mainly about the country’s relationship with China, along with the rising power of that country.
CPD Director Jay Wang opened the event by highlighting the importance of diplomacy in politics, especially in what he calls “volatile and dynamic regions.”
After Wang, USC President C. L. Max Nikias introduced Ma, calling him a strategic thinker who “showed a special skill for listening.”
“20 years ago, our special guest was a rising star on the world stage — an optimistic mayor with a bold, dynamic vision,” Nikias said. “As he grew, so would Taipei. The Taiwanese also took notice, electing him president in 2008 and re-electing him four years later.”
Ma then spoke, stressing the importance of strengthening mutually beneficial relations between Taiwan and its neighboring countries.
“We are caught in the crosshairs of great power, between powerful nations,” Ma said. “The U.S. and China, the emerging power, which places Taiwan directly in the middle.”
Ma also said that when he took office, Taiwan’s relationship with the United States was at its lowest point. He said he worked to restore bilateral trust.
“My strategy was simple,” Ma said. “Build a peaceful relationship with mainland China, Japan and the U.S.”
During his presidency, Ma signed over 20 treaties with China in an effort to maintain a good relationship with the country.
However, Ma said the peaceful and prosperous status quo he worked so hard to maintain for eight years began to crumble after his administration ended. He described the time after his administration as a “cold winter.”
Willow Bay, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, moderated a discussion with Ma, asking him questions about his opinions on the “One China” policy, a policy that states that there is only one China — and that Taiwan is within it.
Ma remained optimistic about the future of Taiwan and China, explaining the necessity of maintaining peaceful relations between the two countries.
“The more [cultural] exchange [with China], the better,” Ma said. “Just to learn of each other.”
The conversation with Ma ended with questions from the audience. When asked about building a better future, Ma said exchange and study abroad programs for students were important to widen global and cultural perspectives.
Some students in attendance said they were grateful for the opportunity to attend this talk and get in touch with their cultural roots.
“He was funny and charismatic,” said Grace Kim, a sophomore majoring in communication who is Taiwanese-American. “It was cool for me to learn more about Taiwanese politics firsthand.”
Jared Yamasaki, a junior majoring in neuroscience, said he enjoyed Ma’s talk.
“I respect him so much more now that I’ve seen how he interacts, laughs with and talks to people like me,” Yamasaki said.