It goes without saying that cross-strait relations always constitute one of the major issues in Taiwan’s presidential elections. As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) unveiled its presidential primary process and DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced her candidacy, which could be followed by the entrance of another DPP heavyweight, former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), the presidential campaign is heating up as the latest polls show that both Tsai and Su are trailing incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) by a slight margin.
As most analysts indicate, cross-strait policy is the Achilles’ heel of the DPP. Recent moves made by Ma and his administration toward China also revealed the government’s attempt to cool interactions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In his most recent interview with the Financial Times, Ma reiterated that there is no timetable for cross-strait political negotiations nor would he discuss the issue of unification with China during his presidency.
In addition to highlighting his achievements regarding cross-strait peace, underscoring his principle of maintaining the “status quo” of “no unification, no independence and no war,” and pushing for cross-strait exchanges under the so-called “1992 consensus,” Ma also emphasized the fact that the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “do not recognize each other’s sovereignty, but also do not deny each other’s governing power.”
While Ma seems to incorporate a two-handed strategy to sell his cross-strait policy “scorecard” and define cross-strait relations in accordance with the current ROC Constitution, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) has been playing the role of bad cop since last year, as manifested by her several statements criticizing Beijing’s continued military threats against Taiwan and stressing Taiwan’s “core interests” of maintaining its own rights of deciding the future.
Ma also repeated in his New Year address that the future of the nation should be decided by the 23 million Taiwanese. Those views have been advocated by the DPP for decades and Ma only endorses them during elections.
From an electoral perspective, it’s natural for Ma to identify potential attacks the DPP would make during the presidential campaign. The fact that Ma’s China-centric policies and his steps to forge 15 agreements with Beijing fail to take into account both geopolitical and democratic procedures -constitutes the pan-green opposition’s main criticism.
After successfully signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China last year, Ma refused to accept Beijing’s immediate pressure for negotiations on political issues. Upset by Ma’s passivity on political talks and his affirmation of the ROC’s sovereignty and democratic right to decide the country’s future relationship with the PRC as an attempt to bolster his re--election bid, Beijing is caught in a dilemma on whether to give in to Ma’s election strategy and wait for his second term to start political negotiations.
What separates a great political leader from a politician is the consistency of his words and deeds. Former DPP president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has been accused of being “inconsistent” on his policy toward China and being too preoccupied with electoral calculations. From this angle, Ma seems to be following in Chen’s footsteps.
Ma once said that “eventual unification” is the KMT’s goal.
Bending to domestic pressures, Ma revised his stance and added the new characterization that “independence is one of the options for Taiwan’s future.”
In the 2008 presidential election, Ma pledged that the future of Taiwan should be decided by Taiwanese, but refrained from mentioning it after he took office. Ma was a strong defender of the democracy movement involved with the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident when he was mayor of Taipei, but since he became president, he has rarely criticized Beijing’s violations of human rights. When Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, Ma did not echo world leaders’ calls for the immediate release of the human rights hero.
Internally, Ma insists on the ROC’s sovereignty and says Beijing also accepts the so-called “1992 consensus” of accepting “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.”
Now his newest articulation is “neither side denies the other’s governing power under the ROC Constitution.”
This is not only a case of wishful thinking, but also a false description of how the PRC has been treating Taiwan unequally in the international arena. When the Philippine government deported 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to the PRC following the “one China” principle, the Ma administration blamed Manila and failed to ask the Chinese government to return those Taiwanese back to Taiwan.
All in all, Ma has been less than resolute when it comes to safeguarding Taiwan’s national dignity and sovereignty. In the face of re-election pressure, Ma is once again, putting on a “green” mask.
Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.
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