The recent remarks by Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Lin Chu-chia (林祖嘉) regarding why the APEC summit this year in Beijing would offer the best chance for a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) revealed an inconvenient truth about the Ma administration’s political agenda — it tends to internalize cross-strait affairs.
Lin made the comments when he answered questions from foreign envoys in Taiwan at a Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing on developments in cross-strait negotiations.
A Ma-Xi meeting at the APEC forum in Beijing would leave “room for interpretation” by China that such a meeting is a “domestic affair,” Lin said.
This was a perfect occasion for the Ma administration to spread the message to the diplomatic corps of more than 60 countries that it welcomes a Ma-Xi meeting characterized as “Chinese internal affairs.”
One might argue that Taiwan reserves the right to have its own interpretation.
The problem is that it would not help Taiwan defend its sovereignty, because the Ma administration does not see such a get-together as a meeting between two heads of state, but as a “cross-strait affair,” which blurs the nation’s sovereignty.
Another reason Lin offered for the preference of Ma and Xi meeting at APEC is that Taiwanese have always wished to see the nation represented at the summit by their president rather than the president’s special envoy.
APEC is one of a very few international organizations in which Taiwan has been accepted as a full member — since 1991 — and therefore it is Taiwan’s most important connection to the international community, aside from the WTO.
Before preaching that the proposal is a win-win proposition for all, the government should gauge how much public support it can get for its plan to trade sovereignty for Ma’s potential meeting with Xi.
Taiwan is only able to participate in APEC meetings and activities on an equal basis with other APEC participants under certain conditions.
Among them are that its designation is “Chinese Taipei”; that it is represented at ministerial meetings only by a minister or ministers in charge of APEC-related economic affairs; and that its “foreign minister” or “vice foreign minister” may not attend APEC meetings, alongside other conditions under a memorandum of understanding on the membership of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong signed in 1991.
The terms were negotiated to address Beijing’s concerns over Taiwan’s participation in an inter-governmental organization, but China was not the only factor that determined whether Taiwan could join APEC.
An important factor was the economic leverage that Taiwan had in the late 1980s, which the 12 APEC founding members could not afford to neglect.
As former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) has said, APEC is an organization in which China does not make any decision alone and Taiwan’s economic stature matters more than a nod from Beijing in its decision on the presence of a Taiwanese president.
The 1991 memorandum of understanding, as well as the so-called “Seattle Model,” dating to 1993 when the US did not invite Taiwan’s president to the first informal APEC leaders’ summit in Seattle, already frustrate Taiwanese.
It is even worse that the Ma government seems ready to accept a new formula in which cross-strait affairs can be defined as China’s domestic affairs, while the current approach is at least better in the sense that Taiwan and China are equal at the international table.