After attending last week’s APEC summit in Beijing as President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) representative, former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) said the treatment that the Taiwanese contingent received at the event in no way belittled Taiwan. What he did not mention, however, was whether Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) handling of the summit suggests that the nation is at risk of becoming another Hong Kong.
When Siew met with the leaders of China, the US and Japan, he received equal treatment only from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. That meeting was conducted as it should have been, with the leader and the leader’s representative regarded as being on an equal footing.
One can understand US Secretary of State John Kerry’s manner toward Siew — He was polite, referring to Siew as a former vice president of Taiwan. Still, Siew was there attending a leaders’ summit, and by rights his opposite number should have been US President Barack Obama, not Kerry, who was there to attend the ministerial meetings. Nevertheless, there is no great harm in this, since Kerry does not want Taiwan to become another Puerto Rico.
The Chinese side, on the other hand, defined Siew by his role in the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation — of which he is chairman — and had him bring a group of business tycoons to his audience with Xi. If the US side’s actions did not belittle Taiwan, this certainly did. This treatment occurred before the leaders’ meeting and after Xi had received Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英). Beijing’s intent in behaving like this is clear as day: It wants Ma to be regarded as a local regional head.
When Siew met Xi, Ma was not mentioned, and at an evening banquet, the former vice president was introduced simply as “Mr Siew,” with no official title at all. This all seemed fairly equitable, but when the two men started talking about the so-called “1992 consensus,” it became clear that all that goodwill was a trap.
If there ever was such a thing as the “1992 consensus,” then why did Siew not mention it the year after its supposed inception while he was chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development and represented former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) at that year’s APEC leaders’ meeting? Or when former council chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) hit former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) with the “two Chinas at this stage” (階段性兩個中國) idea?
Under former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) reign, when China was a closed book to the majority of the world, Western leaders had to rely on official photographs and rankings of senior Chinese Communist Party cadres to construe the rise and fall of government officials. If one applies some of these techniques to assess photos from the APEC leaders’ meeting in Beijing, one can infer what may have been going on in the heads of some of those in attendance.
In one image, Xi is shaking hands with Abe — one of them has a thunderous look on his face, while the other looks decidedly uncomfortable. Neither man is looking the other in the eye.
In a photo of Siew and Abe, both men are standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling broadly.
In a joint photograph of Xi and Siew with their wives, the gap between the two men is as wide as the Taiwan Strait. Xi is smiling, but it is evident that it is insincere, while Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), seems to be keeping her distance from her husband, too, although she is closer to him than Siew, who is standing close to his wife, both of whom are sporting quite reserved smiles.
A lot can be worked out about what happened in Beijing from analyzing those three photographs.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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