Flush with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) blessing, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) led a delegation to Beijing to meet Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) on Thursday.
Though the Ma administration denies it, Wu’s mission is more than just the delivery of messages about Ma’s position on cross-strait political dialogue.
The Presidential Office is expected to establish a direct communication channel with Xi’s office. However, why such a meeting took place so early in Xi’s reign deserves in-depth analysis.
On the surface, the Wu-Xi meeting would appear to be similar to the meeting between then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and then-Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in 2005, which not only established close personal ties between KMT and CCP leaders, but also made the KMT-CCP forum the premium agenda setter on cross-strait policies.
From Taipei’s perspective, if the Wu-Xi meeting is successful in establishing a direct Ma-Xi communication channel, it would undermine the importance of the KMT-CCP forum.
However, Beijing would probably maintain multiple cross-strait channels to facilitate its “divide and rule” strategy against Ma and KMT factions.
What underlies this Wu-Xi meeting is a sense of urgency from Beijing’s side that the “1992 consensus” is insufficient to serve as a political basis for cross-strait negotiations on various political issues, such as Taiwan’s international space, military confidence-building measures and a peace agreement.
What China wants from Ma’s administration is to establish a common understanding of the “one China” principle and swiftly remove the barriers to cross-strait political negotiation.
However, Ma’s response to this is shaped by two conflicting trends as a result of cross-strait economic and social integration since 2008.
Since 2008, Taiwan and China have signed 18 agreements, including the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).
Moreover, Taiwan’s government has unilaterally lifted various restraints on China’s professionals, journalists, students and tourists visiting and living in the country. As a result of this opening-up, integration between China and Taiwan in the social, cultural and economic arenas has intensified and become institutionalized.
This observation is supported by the fact that last year alone, 2,001,941 Chinese tourists and 228,772 Chinese officials and professionals visited Taiwan; 17,454 Chinese students studied in the nation; a total of US$12.8 billion was spent by Taiwan in outward investment to China and about 40 percent of the nation’s exports went to China and Hong Kong.
Yet, not all economic benefits attributable to cross-strait integration are trickling down to the average Taiwanese.
Most agreements signed between China and Taiwan are not properly implemented. For example, revenue derived from Chinese tourists is generally reaped by China and Hong Kong tour operators under the “one dragon policy.”
Ma’s government even complained that not a single leading economic fugitive has been extradited to Taiwan from China, while many famous Taiwanese movies have been censured by China.
The high intensity of cross-strait interactions together with a lack of perceived benefits jave made Taiwanese more apprehensive about their future.