When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power eight years ago, I was in Washington serving as director of DPP representatives in the US. I received endless meeting requests from Chinese officials and academics closely connected to the government, military and the Chinese Communist Party.
By talking to these individuals, including Chinese experts on US politics, I learned that future appointments in such organizations as the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council (NSC) all serve as major indicators of the government’s future direction in cross-strait and foreign affairs policies. Eight years later, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is back in power and these indicators remain unchanged.
The declaration that cross-strait relations is a diplomatic priority from president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), makes his policy and staffing decisions more important domestically and internationally.
The complexity of cross-strait policy lies in debate over Taiwan’s domestic position, its national identity and its foreign relations strategy.
The new MAC staff should be able to help resolve domestic disputes and unify cross-strait and international strategy teams. The kinds of signals staff appointments may send to China and to the international community are also important.
One of Ma’s reasons for his appointment of Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) as MAC chairwoman is that her previous pan-green background can help expand public support for cross-strait policies.
In order to mollify opposition from within the pan-blue camp, Ma pointed out that the MAC is an executor of the government’s directives. Yet, if Lai is only an instrument of the government’s will and in agreement with Ma’s policies, how can she also represent the 5.44 million voters that do not support the policy of “one China with each side having its own interpretation?”
Ma declared that cross-strait negotiations will be re-opened on the basis of the so-called “1992 consensus.” Faced with US President George W. Bush’s concerned phone call on March 26, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has also reiterated that the so-called “consensus” will be the basis of negotiations. Lai, however, has openly expressed doubt over the so-called “1992 consensus.”
Aside from the DPP not supporting a “one China with each side having its own interpretation,” and questioning the so-called “1992 consensus,” having a head executor of China policies in Ma’s government who still refuses to embrace the core of its China policies makes it difficult for the public to have high expectations for this team.
The Lai appointment is most likely a surprise to Beijing. If China believes that Ma acted under pressure to increase public support, then it could reasonably assume that Ma’s policies have not received the support of the majority of Taiwanese.
Beijing may regard Ma’s cross-strait promises as genuine cooperation or as a deliberate move to play politics at home.
The only other explanation for this appointment is that Ma is responding to international fears that he is too close to China.
The change from actively urging dialogue at the end of March to a more cautious attitude as currently adopted by the US is not only related to the adulation following the meeting between Hu and vice president-elect Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), but has even more to do with Ma’s claims that cross-strait relations are more important than foreign affairs.