It’s not so strange for Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to receive the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon from President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Nor is it strange for Ishihara to visit ex-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) during his visit to Taiwan. However, it is interesting that Ishihara plans on attending the inauguration of president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Ishihara’s political stance is very friendly to Taiwan while being anti-China, as he has made clear in the past.
But Ishihara’s plan to attend Ma’s inauguration is noteworthy.
Is Lee’s shadow lurking behind Ishihara? While Lee’s popularity has declined in Taiwan, he remains popular in Japan.
More importantly, Ma immediately met with Lee after winning the presidential election. Receiving Ma with eagerness, Lee even stated he would not hesitate to travel to Japan for Ma if only he were younger. With Lee’s support, it then becomes logical for Ishihara to attend Ma’s inauguration.
More importantly, Ma’s respect for Lee can forge not only a bond with Japan, and dispel Japanese distrust, but Lee may also become Ma’s only possible advisor if Ma should be confronted with problems of national politics.
After all, no one on Ma’s team has had experience in running the central government, and Ma can hardly go to Chen for advice. Lee is thus the best option.
From this angle, Ma’s decision to bear the displeasure of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and appoint former Taiwan Solidarity Union legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) as chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council is obviously done with Lee in mind. Lai now guards Ma’s major weakness — the issue of cross-strait relations. This is tantamount to Ma placing himself in the hands of his opponents, but it is also a means of displaying his goodwill. This is also the reason why Ma is downplaying the so-called “1992 consensus” and subscribes more to “one China, different interpretations.”
Such an interpretation is really the “special state-to-state” approach, as coined by Lee. Ma’s return to Lee’s path during his term as the chairman of the KMT is not only a matter of practical consideration, but also a matter of authority. Ma’s appointment of Lai effectively severs the “party-to-party” mechanism built during the Chinese Communist Party and KMT economic forums. Authority to direct the cross-strait fate has shifted from party back to state.
During an interview with Global Views Monthly (遠見雜誌), Lee emphasized that the Straits Exchange Foundation was established at a politically advantageous juncture — and that it is now the time for government-to-government contact. Now Ma follows Lee’s path, and Lee scratches Ma’s back — so Lai’s appearance is of course entirely reasonable.
Chin Heng-wei is editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly.
Translated by Angela Hong