With his popularity at an all-time low, it was almost inevitable that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration speech would be weak and dry. Still, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was not at all pleased to discover that, “over the past two decades, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been defined as ‘one Republic of China (ROC), two areas.’”
This definition did not do much to please Beijing, either.
What displeased Beijing was not the idea that the two areas were on an equal footing, but that they were placed under the ROC heading. Not long ago, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), through former KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), agreed that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait both belong to “one China.” As Beijing sees it, Ma’s speech was a great step back from the Wu-Hu agreement.
The KMT has always stressed that it and the CCP had reached the so-called “1992 consensus,” saying the spirit of this “consensus” was to “seek common ground while reserving differences” and that it was the foundation for cross-strait exchanges.
Not only do the political systems differ between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, despite the three main parties being diametrically opposed to each other in terms of values and national identification, their ability to “seek common ground while reserving differences” has been crucial to the development of almost miraculously enthusiastic cross-strait trade and cultural and social exchanges since 1990. The government and opposition parties in Taiwan have stressed this ability, and Beijing also brings it up frequently.
At the meeting between Hu and former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) on April 29, 2005, Hu advocated building mutual political trust and respect and the need to “seek common ground while reserving differences,” and when he met with Wu on May 28, 2008, he reiterated the same phrase.
The Ma administration is hoping that while they go on “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” they will be able to maintain the current “status quo”: no unification, no independence and no use of force. This is very different from Beijing’s view of what “seeking common ground while reserving differences” means, namely that it develops in stages, and the next stage will be to resolve those differences and move toward unification, because when the existing joint cross-strait development matures, it will be time to resolve differences.
Then, on June 12, 2010, just over two years after Ma took office, Hu changed his tune at another meeting with Wu, saying that he “sincerely hope[s] that the two parties will consider the long-term interests of the Chinese nation and create even better conditions for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations by improving mutual trust while seeking similarities and dissolving differences.”
When Ma won the presidential election in January this year, Beijing felt that differences could be further resolved, from two different angles.
First, Beijing feels it made a great contribution to Ma’s electoral win in the face of his low approval ratings and that Ma therefore should offer China something in return. On March 15, Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) director Wang Yi (王毅) stressed that “mainstream cross-strait public opinion” bringing Ma his win was not accidental, but had been consolidated through the shared cross-strait struggle over the past four years. “Shared cross-strait struggle” stands for “KMT-CCP cooperation.”