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.
Anxiety can be detected by the conflicting attitudes toward Taiwanese identity and the nation’s future.
Surveys conducted last year found 54.3 percent of people identify themselves as “Taiwanese only,” another 38.5 percent as “both Taiwanese and Chinese,” and less than 4 percent of people identify themselves as “Chinese only.”
At the same time, several surveys show that a great majority of Taiwanese people (61.6 percent) prefer “maintaining the status quo,” more than 15 percent prefer “independence,” and only about 10 percent prefer “unification.”
On the other hand, a survey by Emerson Niou this year shows that about 52 percent of Taiwanese anticipate that Taiwan and China will be unified in the near future.
The discrepancy between Taiwanese preference and expectation toward their future deserves attention.
One plausible explanation about conflicting Taiwanese attitudes is that cross-strait social and economic integration since 2008 has made it impossible for Taiwanese to feel they control or choose their own future.
Taiwanese perceive their country as less autonomous and more dependent on China for its social and economic development.
China’s influence is perceived as so omnipotent that it makes Taiwanese turn inward to consolidate their “Taiwan identity,” while at the same time reinforcing their preferences for the “status quo.”
Cross-strait integration not only sharpens the distinction between Taiwanese identity and Chinese identity, but also institutionalizes the distinction between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments.
As hoped by Ma’s government, cross-strait integration has moved from “mutual non-denying de facto jurisdiction” to “mutual recognition of de facto jurisdiction” through the 18 cross-strait agreements, as well as the incoming agreement on establishing the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) representative offices in China and Taiwan.
Of course, China does not want to confirm the Ma government’s de facto administrative jurisdiction in Taiwan, preferring to use semi-official agencies to undermine the Taiwanese government’s authority.
Yet that these semi-official agencies are authorized by the Taiwanese government and accepted by the Chinese authority makes it more likely that China has already tacitly consented to Taiwan’s exclusive administrative jurisdiction.
Indeed, Beijing’s “Anti-Secession” Law enacted in 2005 indirectly acknowledges that the Taiwanese government has its own administrative jurisdiction until its unification with China, even though the law proclaims that Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to China.
What China wants to see through cross-strait integration is Taiwanese changing their minds and preferring unification.
A lapse of administrative control in Taiwan, from Chinese perspectives, is desirable given that “one (sovereign) country, two (administrative) systems” is still China’s policy with Taiwan.
Therefore, the unintended consequence of cross-strait integration, which consolidates separate administrative jurisdictions between China and Taiwan, is tolerable to China as long as it helps influence Taiwanese society.
What China does not want is “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” created as a result of Taiwan’s participation in international affairs and organizations.
So far, in all important international organizations where both China and Taiwan are members or observers, Taiwan’s participation is based on a status of non-state and de-sovereignized entity.
Intensive cross-strait integration from 2008 as a result of Ma taking office has not offered much leverage for Taiwan to expand its international space.
Taiwan’s observer status with the World Health Assembly (WHA) is under annual invitation by the WHO secretary-general, acting under the auspices of China’s secret 2005 memorandum with the WHO Secretariat.
Leaked contents of this memorandum demonstrate that China assumes the position of Taiwan’s host country at WHO-sponsored meetings.
In the case of the nation’s accession to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement, the Taiwanese presidential office and central government ministries are listed in the attachment, but are referred to a separate WTO resolution which explicitly categorizes them as “having no implication of sovereignty.”
In other words, Ma’s achievement in expanding the nation’s participation in international organizations has, on the contrary, confirmed that Taiwan accepts its non-state and de-sovereignized status in the international community.
Ma has indirectly reinforced China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
Therefore, the unintended consequence of cross-strait integration since 2008 is the following:
First, institutionally speaking, a process of sharpening the distinction in administrative jurisdiction between China and Taiwan, in conjunction with a process of “de-sovereignizing” the nation in international affairs.
Second, in terms of cultural attitudes, Taiwanese identity continues to grow stronger, not only in the number of people who support it, but also in terms of their strength of attachment.
At the same time, Taiwanese will increasingly feel that unification with China is inevitable, even though they are acting as a sovereign entity in a democracy with limited options.
In light of these two conflicting trends, what are their implications for the nation?
If cross-strait integration continues to expand as China plans, firstly, a de facto “one country, two systems” will emerge, given that Taiwan is de-sovereignized internationally while its administrative jurisdiction is consolidated through cross-strait functional agreements.
Secondly, the “1992 consensus” will be abandoned in the case of cross-strait negotiations on political and military matters, as well as on the issue of Taiwan’s international space.
Thirdly, even if the “1992 consensus” is not abandoned for negotiations on economic and functional matters, it will be replaced by a common understanding of the “one China” principle.
Without this, China’s economic concessions will become less likely.
Finally, the dilemma for Ma and Xi is that any redefinition of the “1992 consensus” in line with the “one China” principle that enhances the inevitability of unification would prompt Taiwanese to strengthen their feelings of a Taiwanese identity and preference for the autonomous “status quo.”
Ma understands the electoral consequence of this growing trend in support of Taiwanese identity, so he is opting to stall China’s proposal for official political dialogue and negotiation.
However, the question is, how long can China wait?
David Huang is a research fellow at Academia Sinica.
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