The government is preparing to give Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) a rousing send-off on Tuesday when he leaves for Nanjing, China, and a “historic” meeting with his counterpart, Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍). The average Taiwanese will be much less sanguine.
Despite repeated promises to lay out exactly what the talks will cover before he leaves, Wang remains as vague as ever, albeit while dropping hints about what might be discussed. This, combined with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) increasing mentions of ensuring conditions are right for him to be able to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), has made many people very nervous.
Wang’s latest bon mot came on Wednesday, when he said he would not raise the possibility of a Ma-Xi meeting. The caveat is that if the other side raised the issue, it could be discussed.
If the topic were to arise, Wang said he would tell his hosts that the council believes the APEC leaders’ summit would be the most fitting place to meet. This is because the touchy question of official titles could be avoided, since summit participants are referred to as member economies, not nations, and address each other as “leader,” he said.
Not to quibble, but there are enough holes in Wang’s remarks to sink a cruise liner — much as there often are in Ma’s pronouncements.
One, the “I will not raise it” tactic is a farce.
Two, left unsaid was that the summit Wang mentioned is the one scheduled for Beijing in November this year. Ma has just two chances left to attend one of the annual APEC summits as president.
Three, yes, APEC members are called “member economies,” not nations, because Hong Kong is not a nation. It was a British colony when it joined APEC in November 1991 — the same time as Taiwan (as “Chinese Taipei”) and China. All three entered as “regional economies.” However, in any photograph or media report on summit activities, leaders are referred to by their official title, including Hong Kong’s chief executive, rather than just as “US leader Barack Obama” or “Chinese leader Xi Jinping.”
Four, China has been unwilling to have the president of the Republic of China take part in the APEC summits since they became “leaders’ meetings” in 1992. This refusal is in part because it would reinforce the idea that Taiwan and China are separate nations and because the Taiwanese leader would be referred to as “president.” That is why Taiwan has to suffer through the farce of sending a “special envoy” ever since the US caved in to Beijing’s complaints in 1992 at the possibility that then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝)) could attend as an equal to then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民).
Five, titles matter; they are more than just honorifics. The issue of how officials and representatives from each side of the Taiwan Strait refer to one another has bedeviled cross-strait talks since the first one in Singapore in April 1993. This is why the government has made such a fuss about “a breakthrough” when Wang and Zhang met briefly on the sidelines of last year’s APEC summit in Bali and used each other’s official titles to greet one another. It is why Wang said on Jan. 28 this year that he would be “disappointed if the TAO does not address me using my official title” during his trip to China.
In the past, Ma said that any meeting he might have with his Chinese counterpart would depend on three conditions: The country must need it, the public must support it and the dignity of his office must be respected.