Prospects for cross-strait relations during President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) remaining time in office could be limited as China appears to have pegged the odds of a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) victory in January’s presidential election as being very low and begins to bring forces to bear on Taiwan to sway votes in favor of the pro-China camp.
The meeting between KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), the first meeting between leaders of the two parties in 10 years, was held in Beijing early this month. Chu came away with nothing.
Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) did not conclude his first meeting with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) with wins either. Their meeting on Saturday last week in Kinmen was their first, but the third meeting between the chiefs of cross-strait affairs since February last year.
The Hsia-Zhang negotiations on a long string of issues resulted in nothing concrete, except for a vague timetable for Chinese tourists to use Taiwan as a transit point to travel to other countries.
Another issue touted by the MAC as a major achievement was a pending deal to introduce water from China to Kinmen, even though it was delivered with a political tinge. Zhang said: “We are of the same family and we all drink water from the same river,” raising concerns of dependence on China for water and possibly even electricity supply.
Worse yet, the protest Hsia said he lodged to Zhang at their closed-door meeting against the inclusion of Taiwan in China’s imminent national security law, under which Taiwanese would be obliged to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity or face legal responsibility, was of no avail, because, Zhang responded, the draft law was in line with China’s consistent policy. Hsia agreed to let the matter be left at that.
The possibility of Taiwan joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as an ordinary member and being treated with dignity and equality has become more ambiguous since the Hsia-Zhang meeting. It was the first time the bid was put on the table since China rejected Taiwan’s application to become a founding member in March, but Hsia did not take the opportunity to bring up the sensitive issue of nomenclature.
Hsia said one of the reasons he did not do so was because it was not an issue between two sides, but rather a decision that would involve all founding members. What a flimsy excuse.
No substantial progress was made on other issues, including negotiations on a trade in goods agreement and the establishment of representative offices on both sides, which Ma pledged to achieve during his tenure. Even on issues of concern to Kinmen residents — seaborne garbage originating from China, sea sand quarrying and illegal fishing by the Chinese — there were no concrete solutions or even timetables to address the problems.
Apparently, there is not much to be expected from cross-strait negotiations in the short term. Instead of offering Ma what he wanted to achieve, China seems to be holding off on those issues as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with either the Ma administration or a new administration after next year’s election. China is biding its time.
In doing so, China has conceptualized what it has repeatedly warned of repercussions for Taiwan if the so-called “1992 consensus,” the formula that embraces the “one China” principle, is not complied with by a new administration. For the Ma administration, these sorts of meetings were nothing but a formality to show that cross-strait exchanges were continuing as usual. China is more than happy to remind Taiwan that departing from what China wants will come at a price.
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