On Monday, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), in his capacity as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sent a message to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) congratulating him on his election as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman.
In the message, Hu addressed Ma as “Mr Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT’s Central Standing Committee” and expressed the hope that both parties would work for cross-strait peace, political mutual trust and “begin the glorious revival of the Zhonghua minzu [中華民族, Chinese nation].”
In line with common courtesy, Ma responded with a message in which he expressed the hope that “the two sides comply with the will of the people,” consolidate cross-strait peace and advance cross-strait development and prosperity. Ma then suggested this four-pronged principle: “look at the reality, build mutual trust, put aside disputes and create a win-win situation.”
The KMT government was quick to hail the exchanges as the first time in 60 years that the leaders on both sides of the Strait had publicly corresponded with one another.
But a closer look at Ma’s message is enough to make more sober observers bury their heads in their hands with embarrassment and disbelief — and wonder how Ma, custodian of the sovereignty of the Republic of China (ROC), can bow to the Chinese authorities to the point of self-humiliation.
First, the obvious objectionable material: While Hu referred to himself as CCP general secretary, Ma made no mention of his party status, or any other status. In line with China’s calendar, Hu signed off his message with the year 2009, whereas Ma sidestepped the general Taiwanese practice of placing the country’s name, Chunghua Minkuo (中華民國), before the year of the republic, the month and day. Instead, he simply wrote “98 (2009) July 27.”
KMT spokesman Lee Chien-jung (李建榮) said Ma didn’t include a title because he would not become KMT chairman until September. As for the matter of the date, Lee cited the Presidential Office as saying that this manner of notation had been common practice for Ma since he took office in May last year, before adding that the number “98” obviously referred to the ROC calendar.
With such condescending, disingenuous language, Ma and the KMT are treating the public like fools. Granted, out of “consideration,” Ma did not address himself as “president of the Republic of China” because Hu did not call himself “president of the People’s Republic of China.” But this does not mean that Ma could not have referred to himself as “KMT chairman-elect.” Instead, in his dealings with his spiritual superiors, Ma has become titleless — neither president nor party chairman.
As to the date, the deletions were deliberate and all the more demeaning for it. Not only did the more formal use of Chunghua minkuo disappear, Ma could not even bring himself to use the common abbreviation minkuo.
These are the symbolic manifestations of Ma’s rhetoric. The public can now begin to better understand what “looking at the reality” and “diplomatic non-denial” amount to in practical terms.
The exchange in correspondence between Ma and Hu may well mark the first public exchange of messages between the leaders of Taiwan and China in decades. Disappointingly, however, Ma has failed again to uphold the nation’s dignity, and this time he has supplemented his enthusiasm for unilateral compromise with an air of toadying that can only delight Beijing.