Special to WorldTribune.com
Chairman Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on Nov. 7 summoned President Ma Ying-jeou of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan to a meeting in Singapore.
The international media has hailed the meeting historic, as it brought together the leaders of the PRC and the ROC for the first time in 66 years since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when the Communist army defeated the troops of Chiang Kai-shek and drove the Nationalist Chinese (KMT) regime to exile in Taiwan.
It is no secret that for years President Ma has anxiously sought a meeting with Xi.
Since 2012, Ma angled to attend the APEC summit scheduled for November 2014 to facilitate a leadership dialogue with Xi, hoping to extricate himself from deep political woes at home and salvage his presidency.
As the two sides were far apart on key political and security issues, and Ma was unable to deliver a cross-Strait peace agreement, which has been demanded by Beijing to terminate Taiwan’s special security relationship with the United States and negate the Taiwan Relations Act, Xi had to turn down Ma’s proposition.
On several occasions in the past decades, Chairman Jiang Zemin and other PRC leaders had rejected Taipei’s offer of a “government to government” dialogue on the basis of equality, instead they called for a meeting between the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT. Apparently, some Communist officials continued to harbor misgivings regarding the Xi-Ma summit at Beijing’s APEC – they were apprehensive that the international community could wrongly interpret such a meeting as Beijing’s tacit recognition of “two Chinas” – the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan.
But less than one year afterward, why has Chairman Xi changed tactics and decided to meet President Ma in Singapore?
Related: Beijing’s strategy to ‘buy’ Taiwan: Coerced unification without firing a shot, Feb 19, 2014
With the benefits of hindsight, Taiwan’s political contingencies, plus China’s internal leadership cleavages, appear to have prompted Xi’s power play to reset Beijing policy toward Taiwan.
The KMT’s crushing defeat in Taiwan’s nine-in-one elections in November 2014 was widely seen as voters’ repudiation of Ma’s pro-China programs aiming at promoting the cross-Strait economic integration and close political alignment.
Public opinion polls indicate that the anti-Ma and anti-KMT domino effect could extend to the presidential and legislative elections next January, which would drive the KMT out of national government and bring the DPP back to power and control both the presidency and the Legislative Yuan.
Beijing has much at stake in the changes in Taiwan’s power structure and the cross-Strait relations, hence Xi feels compelled to reset Beijing’s strategy to cope with contingencies in Taiwan.
Much to his chagrin, Xi learned belatedly of China’s dismal failure to win over the hearts and minds of the people in Taiwan.
Beijing’s strategy to “buy” Taiwan helps enrich only a handful of Taiwan’s business tycoons while alienating the masses, who have suffered from the flight of Taiwan’s capital and the relocation of production facilitates to China, resulting in high unemployment, and stagnant wages, particularly among the young.
Reportedly, Xi angrily upbraided the incumbent Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun, and cadres of other agencies that deal with Taiwan for their failures to gather intelligence and report about the “real” Taiwan, and to communicate with Taiwanese from all walks of life at the grass roots.
If sources in China can be trusted, Chen Yunlin, former TAO Minister and head of the Association of Relations across the Taiwan Strait, who was in charge of Taiwan affairs for decades, and some of his associates have been disgraced and under investigation for corruption and other wrong-doings in the midst of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.
An appointee and longtime follower of Chairman Jiang Zemin, Chen allowed himself to be wined, dined and enriched by supplicants among the KMT politicos and Taiwanese business elites; hence he and his associates were convenient scapegoats for the failures and setback of Beijing’s Taiwan policy.
Their purges enable Xi to map out a new approach toward Taiwan and place the policy operation under the control of the General Office of the Party General Secretary.
With Taiwan’s elections and the end of President Ma’s tenure fast approaching, Xi had to act, and act soon. He saw the Singapore meeting with Ma as a chance to shake up the outcomes of Taiwan’s elections.
As Beijing skillfully intervened in Taiwan’s previous elections and helped President Ma get reelected in 2012, with the collaboration of the Obama administration, Xi sought an encore.
Thus, during Xi’s state visit to Washington in September, he tried but was unable to persuade President Obama to undertake another joint effort to intervene in Taiwan’s democratic process to keep the KMT in power.
Without U.S. support, Xi decided to go it alone anyway. His game plan was to set up a meeting with President Ma at Singapore and, with Ma’s active cooperation, create an irreversible and irrevocable framework to lock Taiwan into the “one China” cage that could not be undone even if the DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen wins the presidency next January.
Not surprisingly, Xi called for ethnic solidarity and national unity at the Singapore meeting. He claimed that the people of the mainland China and the people of Taiwan are in fact one big family, and praised the Ma administration for strengthening the bonds since 2008. He stated that ending the political division between the two sides of the Strait is critical for the task of rejuvenating the Chinese nation and restoring to its proper place in the world.
Regarding the cross-Strait relations, Xi admonished Taiwan’s future government to “unwaveringly adhere to the common political foundation between the two sides of the Strait,” based on the 1992 consensus (i.e. one China principle) and opposition to “Taiwan independence”, lest “the ship of peaceful development will meet with great waves and even suffer total loss.” He warned that at present, the greatest real threat to the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations is the ‘Taiwan independence’ force [namely, the DPP] and its “splitist” activities. He sternly criticized the ‘Taiwan independence advocates’ who instigate hostility and confrontation between the two sides of the Strait, harm the state sovereignty and territorial integrity and undermine peace and stability.
On Ma’s part, he complied with the wishes of his counterpart by emphasizing his support for the consolidation of 1992 consensus and the one China principle as defined by Beijing. Many in Taiwan’s attentive public have accused Ma for being traitorous and having undermined Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Ma was widely criticized by Taiwan’s media for his eagerness to have a photo opportunity of a hand-shake with Xi, but failed to mention the Republic of China as the nation’s leader and thus wasted a rare chance to reinforce to the world the concept of separate governments across the Taiwan Strait, — to some, that was a major step backward for safeguarding Taiwan’s survival.
Likewise the DPP chairperson and the presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen took Ma to task for not mentioning the Republic of China and failing to speak of “democracy, freedom, and the 23 million Taiwan people’s right to choose freely.”
It would be premature to conclude that Xi has succeeded in obtaining Ma’s help to confine Taiwan’s future to the one China cage and deprive its citizens of their right to determine their destiny. This is because Taiwan is a democracy, and its people can and will decide the nation’s fate and future cross-Strait relations in the elections next January.
In the latest poll published by Liberty Times on Nov. 26, more than 59 percent of the respondents do not consider the Ma-Xi summit “helpful” to the KMT candidates, while only 19.27 percent of the respondents think otherwise. The poll also shows that the DPP presidential candidate Tsai commands the 47.86 percent of the public support, whereas the support for the KMT candidate Eric Chu and the People First Party James Soong is only 13.87 percent and 6.89 percent, respectively. There are clear indications that Chairperson Tsai who has campaigned on safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy and security will receive people’s mandate to become Taiwan’s next president.
A free, democratic and secure Taiwan in the heart of Asia is crucial to America’s security interests in the region. Hence, it is imperative for the U.S. to safeguard the ability of the people of Taiwan to determine their own future in the face of growing Chinese military threat.
Reports from Washington that the U.S. government will announce in mid-December a U.S. $1 billion worth of arms package to Taiwan, its first new sale in more than four years, represents an encouraging signal of renewal U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s security.
Parris H. Chang, professor emeritus of Political Science and former director of the Center of East Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University, is president of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.