BEFORE HIS TRIP to Japan, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) unveiled his foreign policy white paper and suggested using a so-called "modus vivendi" to replace the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government's "inflammatory diplomacy."
Ma said Taiwan and China should engage in "mutual non-denial" in line with the so-called "1992 consensus," and that his party would uphold "maintaining sovereignty," "utilizing economic leverage," using "flexible names for joining international organizations" and promoting "equal footing and national dignity" to explore new ways forward in Taiwan's foreign relations.
Ma upheld his three noes policy -- no independence, no unification and no war -- during his visit to Japan and pledged that he would not engage in unification talks with his Chinese counterpart during his term as president.
Contrary to his earlier, ambiguous stance, Ma expressed full support for the US-Japan security alliance and promised to strengthen Taiwan's defense capabilities if elected.
That Ma blamed the DPP government for a "confrontational approach" to Beijing, thus playing down the threat posed by China to Taiwan's existence and security, surprised few observers.
Ma's sudden about-face on his Japan policy also reflected nothing other than a campaign strategy. He hoped to be rid of his anti-Japanese image. His emphasis on defending Taiwan also fails to explain why his legislators have blocked the arms purchase proposal that the administration of US President George W. Bush agreed to in 2001.
What concerns most people is Ma's use of the "1992 consensus" as a launch pad to resume dialogue with Beijing. There are contradictions in doing so.
Ma assumes that improving cross-strait relations will make China give Taiwan more international space and equal treatment. He argues that Taiwan and China should stop talking about "mutual recognition" and focus on ending "mutual denial."
Ma's wishful thinking fails to address the question of different definitions of "one China" by the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
There was no such "1992 consensus," yet the KMT thinks equating the Republic of China with "one China" will sit prettily with the CCP even as it equates the People's Republic of China with a "one China" of which Taiwan is part.
Beijing does not accept that the Republic of China is the same thing as "one China" and excluded its participation in almost every international arena during KMT rule.
The former KMT government enacted the National Unification Guidelines and established the National Unification Council in 1991. That government and the Chinese also engaged in dialogue in 1992 and 1993. The feeling between Taipei and Beijing should have been moderate. However, between 1992 and 1998, Taiwan ended diplomatic relations with South Korea, Saint Lucia, South Africa and the Central African Republic. Diplomatic warfare continued despite seemingly relaxed cross-strait relations.
How can Ma maintain Taiwan's sovereignty while engaging his Chinese counterpart in a discourse of "mutual non-denial"? The assumption that Beijing would give Taiwan more international respect and space if Taiwan improves cross-strait relations lacks political reality.
The cruel facts are that if Ma is elected next March, Beijing will still not allow Taiwan's bid for observer status at the World Health Assembly to succeed. The next president of Taiwan will be rejected transit in Washington en route to diplomatic allies in Central America. And despite having a new mandate, Ma will be prevented from attending APEC's economic leadership summit in October.