However, on the other hand, Beijing has hinted that the “right” conditions must exist before the trip can materialize. Would Xi seize the opportunity to extract huge political concessions from Ma? What Xi wants most is Ma’s firm pledge to begin cross-strait political dialogue soon, as he indicated to Siew in Bali in October last year.
The dialogue on cross-strait political ties — concerning Taiwan’s future political status and international participation, confidence-building measures and a peace agreement — would be extremely complicated and time-consuming.
However, Xi seeks to set the train in motion while Ma is in office and create an irreversible, irrevocable framework to lock Taiwan into the “one China” cage that could not be undone even if the DPP were to return to power in 2016.
Can and will Ma make such concessions? No one knows yet. Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) may provide clues when he meets with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) in Nanjing from tomorrow until Friday. They met briefly at the previous APEC meeting, but this time is to be their first substantive talk on the development of cross-strait relations. It is too early to say whether the Nanjing dialogue would become a preliminary meeting to prepare for a future Ma-Xi summit and at what political costs to Taiwan. Indeed, Beijing’s approach toward Taiwan has changed so much and so quickly that it seems to be catching observers in both Taiwan and abroad dangerously off-guard.
Parris Chang is a professor emeritus of political science at Penn State University and chief executive of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.