Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-Jeou Meeting: Easy to understand but difficult to resolve Taiwan Issue!; By B
C3S Paper No. 0199/2015
Ever since President Xi has come to power, there have been at least since 2013, some speculations about Xi-Ma meeting. The ground work was done by Wang Yu-chi, minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), and Zhang Zhijun, Director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) of the People’s Republic of China at the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali. Two years down the line, as Ma says the meeting has ‘fructified at an opportune time, but nobody expected it to happen so soon. Both sides have been working to address some of the pertinent issues pertaining to the intricacies emerging out of the status of Taiwan and as how to handle these if there was a meeting.
Both sides reached a consensus that the meeting should take place in a neutral country; Hong Kong and Macau owing to the ‘One Country Two System’ tag wasn’t agreeable to Taiwan. Secondly, China dropped the official notion of addressing Taiwan leadership as ‘local authorities’ and agreed to use the term ‘leaders of both sides’ instead. They officially agreed to address each other as ‘Mr.’ rather than addressing by their designations. For China to address Ma Ying-jeou as President Ma, would have been unacceptable as China considers Taiwan inalienable part of China not a separate political entity. And finally, both sides did not issue any join statement or declaration for the same purpose.
Moreover, the meeting was agreed because both sides have acknowledged the 1992 consensus which says that the ‘mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China.’ It has been this consensus, under the framework of which, cross-Straits engagement has been possible and has been deepened to unprecedented level during Ma’s regime. These achievements were flagged by Ma Ying-jeou in his opening remarks when he said that over the past 66 years, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have developed under different systems, and that both have been able to shift from military confrontation to cooperative exchanges was not an overnight achievement. According to Ma, ‘Over the past seven-plus years, the two sides have concluded 23 agreements, and have created 40,000 student exchanges, 8 million annual cross-strait visits, and US$170 billion in two-way trade.’
As far as the impact of Xi-Ma meeting is concerned, it is difficult to assess it at this point in time, for it was high on symbolism rather than the substance. Both the leaders stuck their guns to their stated positions, already in the public domain. If Xi reiterated the desire for a one big happy family and sent stern warnings to the divisive forces on the Island, Ma sounded alarms bells on Mainland’s military posture towards the Island, the need for peaceful dialogue between the two, as well as Taiwan’s desire to participate in the global as well as regional economic groupings.
Nonetheless, the meeting is unprecedented and historic as the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Kuomintang (KMT) leaders were shaking hands after Mao Zedong-Chiang Kai-shek handshake in Chongqing in 1945 amidst the lingering fear of a civil war, which ultimately happened and Chiang forced to retreat to Taiwan in 1949. The meeting may also pave way for unprecedented dealing at the highest level between the two, provided the KMT remains in power, which again would be a herculean task in any given democratic system. Xi proposed that Taiwan may join the AIIB and ensured that China will not block its entry. It has been widely reported in the Chinese media that Taiwan will be entering with the nomenclature of Zhonghua, Taipei (China Taipei); the ambiguity [between the People’s Republic and the Republic of China] has invited some angry responses and criticism of the government by the netizens on the Mainland.
However, the main motive behind the meeting as people in Mainland and Taiwan have been debating is to lend support to the KMT and offer s stern warning to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lead by Tsai Ing-wen who is likely to wrest power from the KMT in 2016 January presidential elections according to reports. Knowing that there is a divide between the aboriginal Taiwanese and those who have come from the Mainland with the retreating KMT, Tsai has been quick to criticize Xi-Ma meeting saying that Ma has failed to guarantee the ‘right to choose’ to 23 million strong Taiwanese. She has also accused Ma for giving in to political preconditions set by the Mainland, an obvious reference to 1992 consensus. It is the 1992 consensus, which has been the premise of this meeting, and the people on Mainland have been supportive of their leader’s action, for they opine that it is extremely important to extend a helping hand to the KMT and weaken the DPP, for the later has never accepted the1992 consensus and advocates secession.
It is obvious that if Xi-Ma has convergences as far as ‘One China Policy’ is concerned, Tsai-Xi has diametrically opposite views on the same. Tsai certainly will try to drive home maximum advantages from the non-substantive Xi-Ma meeting. Therefore, has the Xi-Ma meeting strengthened or weakened her hands, only the outcome of January elections will tell. If successful, will she take the ‘cause of Taiwanese independence’ and run the risk of Mainland using the force for unification, or will she accommodative to Ma’s ‘flexible diplomacy’ as well as cross-strait policy of consensus, and carry forward Xi-Ma legacy by seeking engagement at the highest level? Well, it appears simple, but as Taiwanese leader Ma says, the issue may be simple to understand but difficult to resolve!
(Prof. B R Deepak is Professor of China Studies at the Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own. He could be reached at email@example.com)