Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dipping the Toe in the Water: President Ma of Taiwan Ponders the Preconditions of a Meeting with PRC President Xi Jinping

  On July 26th in an interview with Bloomberg News , the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou stated that in regards to any potential meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping would be determined by three major conditions.  "The most important factors are whether the country needs it, whether the people support it, that we can meet with dignity--those are the things that would make it possible", Ma said regarding as what he sees as preconditions of any sort of meeting.  Looking as these conditions in a bit more depth will show that there is perhaps a diplomatic  rationale behind Ma's answer to the question posed by Bloomberg, and it could perhaps damage Taiwan's interests in the long term.

I. "Whether the country needs it"  vs "The Greater Good"  
Leaders of countries tend to choose their words carefully, as most realize that what they say will be heard, analyzed, and digested by interested parties--constituents, the media, political allies and opponents alike, as well as parties who have a vested interest in the mind set of a head of state.  While perhaps it is of no importance that President Ma stated the needs of the country before weather the people support it in his statement, it is worth commenting on.  "Whether the country needs it" could be applied in very broad and abstract terms.  For example, the President could determine that the needs of "the state" could super cede the desires of its population, a "you'll thank me later" type mindset.  President Ma has shown in both words and actions that he does hold a traditional Kuomintang mindset of Taiwan being a part of a "Greater China".  As a result, the opportunity for him to promote a "Greater China" that consists of over 1.2 billion people could perhaps be of higher importance than a high level of support among the mere 23 million people who reside in Taiwan, many of who do not support his views of a Greater China, could play a role in the thought process of how far Ma is willing to go to in order to promote the idea of a meeting with the Chinese leader. Furthermore, there appears to be no real incentive for Taiwan to enter the realm of political discussions with China at this time considering the PRC's position that such talks would not be of a state-to-state nature. Any talks that would be held between Taiwan and China under this premise would likely encode Taiwan as part of "China", a notion that could have a detrimental impact on Taiwan's ability to negotiate with the PRC in any future potential talks. (More on this aspect later)

II. "Whether the people support it"  vs. Math and Time 

In 2011, President Ma floated the idea of a potential peace agreement with the PRC that was largely met with opposition from the Taiwanese population.   The reason for a potential peace agreement being dangerous for Taiwan is a simple one: It would likely encode wording that states Taiwan is a part of "China".  Considering that nearly 98% of the world's governments recognize the People's Republic of China as being the sole legitimate government of a Chinese state, Taiwan would likely be dealt a diplomatic death blow in its ability to claim that it is a separate sovereign state apart from the People's Republic of China.  While President Ma was quick to place the idea back into his pocket, the reality is that any such summit between leaders of Taiwan and China would likely include at least some conversation about an official peace agreement.  With nearly 70% of  Taiwan against a change in the status quo, the ability for President Ma to have such a meeting with President Xi before his second term concludes at the end of 2016 is nearly impossible if the Taiwanese public's opinions are taken into consideration.   President Ma has repeatedly stated that according to The Republic of China's Constitution, China proper is not considered a separate country from Taiwan, therefore not considering the PRC as separate from Taiwan.  If peace negotiations were to begin under such pretext, the gap between China and Taiwan would be considerably smaller than if Taiwan were to insist that it was a sovereign nation separate from China.

"I'm Waiting" 

III. "Meeting with Dignity" vs. Current State of Affairs 

For over forty years the People's Republic of China has done a masterful job of diplomatically isolating Taiwan from the international community to the point of absurdity.  From large scale objectives (making states who recognize China sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan) to the smallest (in 2008, the  small African country of Malawi, upon switching recognition from Taiwan to China, was "asked" by the PRC to pull thirty students studying Mandarin Chinese in Taipei, and relocate these students to Beijing for their Chinese studies).  Under current Chinese foreign policy, it would seem improbable that China would agree to Taiwan's precondition that President Ma be referred to as "President", rather than simply the chairman of the KMT.....right? If President Ma is in fact looking to ask China to dance before his term ended, perhaps it was because China was showing a little leg from across the room.  Consider the following:

"Xi last week sent a message of congratulations to Ma on the latter's re-election as KMT chairman.  The English-language report carried by the official Xinhua News Agency described Xi as top leader of the Communist Party of China, not as the country's president. (emp added). 

By China shrewdly playing with titles,  it appears that Beijing  is attempting to placate Taipei by  placing  Ma and Xi on equal ground by basis  of their political titles, simply by removing the title of President.  While this act alone is not enough to give Ma the "dignity" that he sees as a necessary precondition for political talks, it could be the precursor of more subtle actions from Beijing to Taipei in order to superficially raise Taiwan's status in such talks, as well as lower Beijing's (if only for appearance sake) to make such talks a reality.

Xi has kicked the idea of a peace summit with Taiwan back across the Strait--a politically savvy move indeed  


While the possibility of a summit between Presidents Ma and Xi is unlikely at the present juncture, it cannot be dismissed.  President Ma has shown over his tenure to be someone who holds traditional Kuomintang doctrine of a greater China in high regard, as well as a desire to cement his legacy as the ROC President who brought Taiwan and China closer than any time since 1949.  The fact that Ma also stated that the more than 1,100 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan would be less of an impediment to a meeting with President XI than weather talks would be supported by the Taiwanese shows that he would be willing to enter into talks with not a gun pointed to his head, but rather 1,100 missiles, does not bode well for his claim in which he desires to meet with dignity with the PRC.  Ma should be careful when dipping his toes in the water---as there appear to be sharks circling within, and they smell blood.

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