The central committee of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) claims that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) heartily approves of the outcome of the forum held by the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Shanghai on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21, and that he was kept fully informed of the talks as they progressed. The KMT says that five civil servants who attended the forum were recommended to do so by the government, and that there is no question of the party leading the government as far as the forum is concerned.
At the same time, former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) has been making strenuous efforts to make it clear that there is no rivalry or jealousy between himself and serving KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄).
Somehow, the more clarifying the KMT and Lien do, the less credible they seem.
First, the rivalry between Lien and Wu is a proxy engagement for that between Lien and Ma. Antagonism between the Lien and Ma camps has been going on for a long time — from the 2004 presidential election campaign and the protests following the “319” shooting incident that occurred on the eve of that election, through their competition for the KMT chairmanship, to the question of who would attend November’s APEC forum in Lima. At the recent KMT-CCP forum, the rivalry raised its head again, by proxy, over the question of who would enter the venue alongside Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and who would sit at Hu’s right-hand side. Actually, the sight of Wu and Lien competing for the Chinese leader’s affection was rather nauseating.
Secondly, does Ma really think a lot has been gained from this round of KMT-CCP talks? Wu seems very pleased with himself on account of the favors he has won from China, claiming that they are “the real beef.” Why, then, have the Mainland Affairs Council, the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) all rushed to pour cold water on China’s pledges? SEF Deputy Chairman Kao Koong-lian (高孔廉) and Minister of Economic Affairs Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘) have both cautioned Taiwanese doing business in China not to be overoptimistic about the Chinese side’s promises to provide them with 130 billion yuan (US$19 billion) in funding and to buy US$2 billion in Taiwan-made display panels. Kao and Yiin advised Taiwanese investors in China to rely on their own strengths. To illustrate their point, they raised the examples of China’s earlier promise that the China Development Bank and Huaxia Bank would extend loans totaling 50 billion yuan to Taiwanese businesses, but potential borrowers were unable to secure the loans because the lending conditions were too strict.
Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆), a KMT legislator who used to be in the Ma camp, said: “Taiwanese investors in China all say they can see what’s on offer but they can’t get their hands on it.”
So Wu must have had mixed feelings when he returned to Taiwan. The cold-water treatment from the government has put Wu in his place.
Originally, the KMT was staking all hope for Taiwan’s economy on China, but things have not worked out over the past few months, and orders for Taiwanese goods for delivery to China and Hong Kong plunged 45.38 percent in November compared with the same month in 2007.
If truth be told, the KMT is well aware of China’s empty promises, but does not dare to say so openly. For example, it does not care to mention the fact that China’s conditions for making loans to Taiwanese businesses have been far from generous all along, giving Taiwanese investors the impression that China is only using the offer of funding to gain control over markets. With their latest funding offer, for example, Chinese are demanding that those seeking to borrow ask the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland — a group used by China to keep tabs on Taiwanese investors — to act as guarantor.
An earlier example was that, while Taiwanese businesspeople found it hard to get loans from Chinese banks, the Chinese side did not agree to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on fiscal oversight that would allow Taiwanese banks to operate in China. Evidently, China is keen to see Taiwanese companies take their money over there, but not so happy to allow Taiwanese banks to make money from Chinese customers. Now, just as the MOU is finally about to be signed, China’s offer of loans for Taiwanese businesses looks like an effort to get in first and grab the good banking clients before Taiwanese banks set up shop. As a result, shares in Taiwanese banks fell immediately in response to China’s offer.
Oblivious to China’s schemes, Wu is still living in the midst of Ma’s and Vice President Vincent Siew’s (蕭萬長) old pipe dream that China can be the answer to all Taiwan’s problems. Like rustic Granny Liu in the Rongguo Mansion in the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber, Wu is wide-eyed, full of praise for his hosts and imagines he has found a great benefactor for Taiwan. As for Ma, he may be slow on the uptake, but even he must have noticed by now that something is not quite right.
And there is another reason for the cold-water treatment.
The government gave the nod for five officials from the Cabinet-level CEPD, including the CEPD deputy minister, to go to China to attend the forum even though the law forbids it. Wu got a status boost and upstaged Lien by having these officials in his retinue, and it looked as though Wu, as KMT party chairman, was leading the way, with the government following along behind. When, in the middle of the forum, the CEPD delegates held a separate meeting with Chinese officials, Wu did not mince his words, calling the meeting “a chat on the sidelines” and claiming that it was of no significance as far as policy was concerned. On the other hand, he said that having government officials on hand was a good thing for the forum. Wu behaved as if he were the one making the decisions and Ma’s government was there to carry them out.
During the previous round of talks between Hu and Wu, Wu and KMT Secretary-General Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) listened with satisfaction as Hu, whose party really does lead the government, mocked Ma by saying that negotiations between the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and the SEF were one track in cross-strait affairs, and the KMT-CCP forums were the other. As if that were not discomforting enough, when Yiin was asked recently by a legislator whether the government had a veto over decisions made at the KMT-CCP forum, he did not dare to give a straight answer. As a result, even some KMT legislators have gotten upset, saying that it is not right for the party to lead and the government to follow.
Meanwhile, Ma has not neglected to play footsie with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by inviting it to join future forums. Ma’s flirty attitude puts his reputation as “Mr Nice Guy” in a whole new light.
Ma has probably noticed how many DPP mayors and county commissioners have paid visits to China since he took office, as well as how they offered flowers to ARATS Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) after he was knocked to the ground and besieged in his car by DPP supporters during his visit to southern Taiwan in October. Perhaps Ma has drawn the conclusion that the DPP and its allies can now be used to his advantage.
If the DPP were really to join the KMT at the next forum, putting all parties from both sides of the Taiwan Strait around the negotiating table, cross-strait dealings would no longer be an us-and-them affair. This might fit in well with Ma’s position that Taiwan and China are two regions of the same country, but the DPP’s backers in the Taiwan Society (台灣社) would be none too happy about it, so the DPP will surely make its excuses and decline Ma’s invitation.
Ma was right to douse the flames following Wu’s China visit, but if he thinks the DPP wants to cozy up to China the way the Ma, Wu and Lien factions in his own party do, he is making a big mistake.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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