After his dreams of a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to naught, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made a big deal about setting up a meeting between former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) and Xi. However, little came of it.
In their brief encounter at the Boao Forum for Asia on China’s Hainan Island last week, Siew told Xi about Taiwan’s willingness to participate in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The meeting between the two lasted a mere 45 seconds and Siew was only rewarded with a nod from Xi accompanied by: “OK, OK, OK.” That is a cold, cold shoulder.
The bank is part of Xi’s “one belt, one road” policy, referring to his Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives to connect China with European and Asia-Pacific economies. The bank would help build domestic demand, while promoting China’s diplomatic and economic agenda internationally. It is also a direct challenge to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which are dominated by the US, the EU and Japan.
The AIIB is focused on infrastructure development, which is different from the aims of the ADB and the World Bank to reduce poverty. The AIIB’s investment capital of US$100 billion is not large and it will not necessarily be able to compete with the other two institutions. However, it is clear that Beijing has found a way to extend its growing economic clout into geopolitics to enable it to meet the EU and the US on an equal footing. This is also why the US, Japan and many EU member states are largely adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
The AIIB’s operations are to focus on Chinese banking circles. The problem is the Chinese financial system is flawed, while corruption and other irregularities are rampant. For example, former Bank of China governors Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川) and Dai Xianglong (戴相龍) were charged with corruption in 2012 and last year respectively. In January, Bank of Inner Mongolia vice governor Yan Chengshe (延城涉) was implicated in a major corruption case, and last month, Dai was investigated by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and his son, Dai Chefeng (戴車風), is also suspected of serious economic crime. How could such a country take on the major role of Asia’s financier?
As for Taiwan, the AIIB might pose an investment opportunity, but the question of whether to participate is complex. It involves such issues as under what name Taiwan would participate and on what conditions. In addition, it is only after Ma has expressed Taiwan’s willingness to participate that the Cabinet will start to invite ministerial representatives to discuss the issue. This is developing into a repeat of how the service trade agreement was handled.
Ma is leaning heavily toward China and he will never learn. Leaving aside the issue of whether he is a lame-duck president and if it is appropriate for him to make such a major decision, the least that can be demanded is that the ministries and government agencies engage in comprehensive and cautious discussion, evaluation and planning, and consultations with the opposition to build a consensus and inform society at large in an open and transparent manner before making a decision.
The president must not be allowed to continue his closed-door dealings that preclude Cabinet, legislative, party and public oversight. If Ma continues to do as he pleases without informing anyone, the nation could well face another wave of anti-Ma protests.