The Law School Magazine The New York University School of Law


A Chat with Ma Ying-jeou

Printer Friendly Version

In a landslide victory last spring, Ma Ying-jeou (LL.M. ’76) was elected president of Taiwan, winning in part on his campaign pledge to finally clean up the government. (In 1996, Ma had been dismissed as justice minister after investigating allegedly corrupt Taiwanese government officials.) Ma also had vowed to support the Dalai Lama’s firm stance on Tibetan autonomy, and to strengthen relations between Taiwan and mainland China.

But the political acumen of this former chairman of his Kuomintang Party and mayor of Taipei may be rivaled only by his good looks and appeal: According to one poll, Taiwanese women declared Ma the man other than their husband whom they would most like to have as the father of their children.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Taiwan, Ma attended the National Taiwan University. Moving halfway around the world in order to continue his legal career, first at NYU and then at Harvard, opened doors for Ma—personal as well as professional. While earning his LL.M. degree at the Law School, Ma became engaged to fellow Taiwanese classmate Chow Mei-ching (LL.M. ’76). The couple married in New York and had two daughters. Kelly graduated from Brown University in May; Lesley is a 2005 graduate from NYU’s master’s program in museum studies and lives in New York City. Chow Mei-ching became a successful lawyer for a Taiwanese bank.

NYU Law Professor Jerome Cohen, who was Ma’s professor at Harvard in the late ’70s, interviewed the president in his Taipei office just days after his inauguration.

What steps are you contemplating with respect to economic cooperation with the mainland? Direct flights on weekends to the mainland began in July. We are also considering a comprehensive economic agreement covering investment guarantees, avoidance of double taxation and setting standards for high-tech industry.

Have you seen changes on the mainland with regards to human rights? Compare [this spring’s] Sichuan earthquake to the Tangshan earthquake of 1976. Back then, the mainland sealed off all information channels and refused aid from the United Nations. Taiwanese planes carrying food to the mainland were shot down by jet fighters. You can see how much they have opened up.

Back in the 1970s, when you were a student at NYU, we couldn’t get mainland people to come to the States. And now people from Taiwan and the mainland are on university campuses everywhere. One of my campaign promises was to let [mainland] university students come to Taiwan. I would like to see more young people cross the Taiwan Strait so 20 years down the road we will see them as the leaders of their respective societies. Education is the best way to bring the two sides together.

How has the advanced legal education of the kind you got at NYU influenced you as a leader? My studies taught me about the ideas of constitutional democracy—freedom, human rights and rule of law. Those are probably the most important that have influenced me in the days since I left the United States.

As you know, Hong Kong and Tibet have taken unique paths toward autonomy. What formula might work for Taiwan? Beijing has tried to apply the “one country, two systems” formula to Taiwan, but with frustrating results. My election generated the opportunity for the two sides to interact, and Beijing now understands that they must trade with and invest in Taiwan, and let Taiwan have a presence in the international arena.

There was a debate in Taiwan as to whether your wife should leave her 26-year career after your election. She did resign when you became president. What does this mean for Taiwanese society? For the last 26 years, Mei-ching has remained my sounding board without ever stepping into my office. She worked at the International Commercial Bank of China, now Megabank, and even though Megabank has government stocks [totaling] less than 50 percent, there’s a slight chance that her bank’s loan to a government enterprise might present a conflict. We must consider the political realities. Taiwanese society still thinks of the wife of a president as someone who has to give up her career. But think about the hypothetical situation where she is president. Should I resign [from my bank job]? It’s a double standard.

Your daughter Lesley, another NYU grad, is also building bridges with the mainland through art. [Lesley has worked with Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang on his spring exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.] My daughter [is] much like my wife: independent and not much interested in politics. She chose to stay in the United States, even during my inauguration.

I hope we’ll see you at NYU despite the fact that U.S. policy bars Taiwan’s president from making public appearances in the U.S. When I visit countries in Central or South America on diplomatic errands, maybe I can change planes in New York. I will let you know.

2008 Features

2008 Home