A feeling of dread is enveloping Taiwan today as the public awaits this afternoon’s get-together at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
While the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and foreign pundits have waxed rhapsodical about the historical significance of the meeting, many Taiwanese have been far less sanguine, given the decades of lies, broken promises and twisted semantics that the two men represent on behalf of their governments.
The bumps in the road were clear even before Ma’s departure for the city-state, the latest being yesterday’s revelation that China has demanded recognition of its “one China” framework during the meeting.
However, Ma did himself no favors in his news conference at the Presidential Office on Thursday, with his convoluted explanation of how the meeting would not constitute him breaking a campaign promise made in 2011 not to meet with China’s leader if re-elected. His defense sounded as implausible as former US president Bill Clinton’s efforts to redefine sexual relations during a 1998 deposition.
He then sounded downright peevish when asked about Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) comment that today’s meeting would hurt Taiwan’s democracy, saying: “I have never understood what she is talking about. Where have I hurt Taiwan’s democracy?”
Many Taiwanese have never understood how Ma can proclaim that he seeks openness and transparency and is willing to communicate with dissenting voices, when his entire presidency has been built on doing the opposite. He has been unable, despite two stints as KMT chairman, to bring about oft-promised reforms of the party to make it more democratic, while his administration has spent seven years listening only to its supporters and shutting out critics.
The government’s position that announcing the meeting just a few days before it was scheduled to take place constituted informing the public is as absurd as its claim that the premier, Presidential Office secretary-general and the Mainland Affairs Council minister meeting with lawmakers behind closed doors on Wednesday to brief them on Ma’s Singapore trip constituted adequate legislative oversight.
How can Taiwanese trust a leader and government that promise that no backroom deals have been made for the meeting and that no political negotiations are to be conducted or any agreement signed, when the main plank underpinning their cross-strait policy is the so-called “1992 consensus,” a formulation that has been labeled as false by key players in the October 1992 talks in Hong Kong, and a term that was never heard of until eight years after those talks.
The KMT’s talk of “agreements” made at its meetings with the Chinese Communist Party as somehow being the same as government policy is also garbage.
It is exactly this kind of back-dating trickery that makes so many people nervous. Who can trust what Ma — or Xi — says later today, or in the days to come, when experience has shown that years from now they could claim something entirely different?
Beijing has a track record of playing fast and loose with treaties; just ask the Tibetans or Hong Kongers.
The fact that all the previous cross-strait meetings and negotiations have been carefully choreographed and stage-managed, with the issues and agendas clearly set, shows why there are and should be so many questions about the Singapore meeting.
Taiwanese do not feel they can trust Ma to, in his own words, “tell Mr Xi Taiwan’s current situation, so that he can better understand” it when formulating cross-strait policies, because Ma’s government has shown that it is completely out of touch with the nation’s “current situation,” especially with regards to China and cross-strait relations.
If Ma was really determined to ensure the welfare and happiness of future generations of Taiwanese, he would not be rushing off to Singapore.
Taiwan’s status in the world community is experiencing something really different; it’s being treated like a normal country. And not just a “normal” country, more like a valuable, constructive, democratic and generous country. This is not simply an artifact of Taiwan’s successes in combatting the novel coronavirus. It is a new attitude, weighing Taiwan’s democracy against China’s lack of it. Before I continue, I should apologize to the readers of the Taipei Times. I have not visited Taipei since the opening of the American Institute in Taiwan’s new chancery building in Neihu last year, so I was unprepared for the photograph
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