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China claims sovereignty over all of Taiwan. It insists on treating Mr. Ma as only a regional leader under Chinese political control, not as a chief executive of a sovereign country. That is what Taiwan is for all practical purposes, albeit not diplomatically recognized as such by the international community because of China’s decadeslong diplomatic blockade against Taiwan.

This poses a special challenge to Mr. Ma, whose policies reflect a generally pro-China sentiment. But most Taiwanese favor the status quo arrangement or de facto independence.

Mr. Ma’s approval rating among Taiwan voters has reached a historical low, at about 15 percent in some opinion polls.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.