During the recent APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) met with former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) envoy to the summit. Speaking about a timetable for cross-strait political negotiations, Xi emphasized that the problems caused by long-term political disagreements between Taiwan and China must eventually be resolved and that these problems cannot be left to future generations. Xi also said that leaders from both sides can meet and exchange ideas on cross-strait issues.
These are the most politically significant statements on cross-strait issues Xi has made since coming to power. Xi’s comments about how problems cannot be further avoided shows that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities are extremely eager to start political negotiations with Taiwan. Also, Xi’s special emphasis on leaders from both sides being able to meet leaves a lot of room for us to imagine the possibility of a meeting between Ma and Xi at next year’s APEC summit.
The APEC summit is the only meeting organized by international organizations that Taiwan attends at the national leader level. As a result, when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in office, various approaches were attempted to secure chances for Chen to attend as Taiwan’s national leader. In 2005, Taiwan and China discussed the possibility of a meeting between Chen and former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) during that year’s APEC summit. However, because both sides were unable to come to a consensus on what “one China” meant in practice, Chen refused to attend as a regional representative of “Chinese Taipei,” and the possibility of a meeting between Chen and Hu vanished.
Now, the cross-strait political situation has gone through even bigger changes. In June this year, Ma authorized former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), during a visit to China, to accept Xi’s proposal of a “one China” framework. The Ma administration has kept on emphasizing the so-called “1992 consensus,” so much so that there is no chance of “each side having their own interpretation” of what that means. Judging from the way Siew mentioned the “1992 consensus,” while Xi only talked about the “one China” framework during the APEC summit, it is clear that the CCP’s stance toward “one China” is strengthening.
Ma’s low approval ratings and the doubts surrounding the illegal wiretapping scandal that pitched him against Legislative Speaker Wang Jyn-ping (王金平) have seen Ma once again lose badly here at home politically, and he has been forced to temporarily seek peace by backing off. However, given how obsessed Ma is with his legacy, we have to be extra cautious of Ma making abrupt moves when it comes to cross-strait issues.
The political implications of Ma sending Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) along to the APEC summit are self-evident, just as the CCP’s attempts to organize a meeting between Ma and Xi during next year’s APEC summit have long been an open secret in both Taiwan and China.
However, the CCP is not giving away any free lunches and Ma is unlikely to recklessly sign a cross-strait peace agreement with China. As a result, the biggest likelihood is that the KMT and the CCP will use a joint declaration to reach an interim political agreement before the next APEC summit. When that happens, Xi will enter the next APEC summit as leader of “one China” with its protectorate called “Chinese Taipei,” represented by Ma. Once this happens, there will be no turning back for Taiwan.