There are many interpretations about the significance of the meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), and whether you think it was a success or not depends largely on what you think were the goals and conclusions of the two leaders.
Ma is an open book. Throughout his second term he has been distracted, preoccupied with efforts to secure a meeting with the Chinese president. Last year he had people running around trying to arrange a meeting during the APEC conference that Beijing hosted, but after those talks fell through he thought there was no hope left for a cross-strait summit. When Xi finally agreed to meet him, he was overjoyed.
Outside observers initially assumed he was doing this for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), to boost its chances in the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections.
It turns out that this was an overestimation of Ma and his motivations: He was not doing it for the party, he was not doing it for KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫); he was doing it for himself.
Ma said he spoke of the “1992 consensus” and “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” during the meeting, as well as the Republic of China (ROC) and the ROC Constitution.
However, in his public comments in Singapore he only mentioned the “one China” principle, leaving out the “each side having its own interpretation” bit, but then, it is something he frequently leaves out of his speeches.
Pundits have pontificated about why Xi decided to meet with Ma at this point in time, having refused an APEC get-together, and when Ma is a lame duck with just a few more months left in office.
Is Xi feeling the heat from protests against China’s actions in the South China Sea and in need a friend? Is he playing the China card, offering an endorsement of the KMT’s pro-Beijing policies in an attempt to help it win the January polls? Or is he expecting the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to win the polls and move the nation away from Beijing’s influence, and therefore taking pre-emptive action to prepare for a new framework with which to deal with a new government?
From what we saw at Saturday’s meeting, Xi does not have the slightest interest in how Taiwan might help Beijing in the South China Sea, and he certainly does not need Taiwan to cooperate in any way concerning the situation there.
It would also seem that the KMT’s election chances were not the focus of the talks. From what was said in the meeting and remarks at China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun’s (張志軍) news conference, Xi and Zhang were more concerned about emphasizing the “1992 consensus” under the “one China” principle, and the idea that peaceful development of cross-strait relations means the two sides must hold a joint political foundation consisting of the consensus and opposition to Taiwanese independence.
According to Zhang, Xi had said that without the “ocean pacifying pillar” of that foundation, the cross-strait process would meet choppy waters during the course of its peaceful development.
Zhang detailing China’s stance during his news conference proved to be another misstep by Ma.
Regardless of whether the Ma-Xi meeting will restrict the choices of Taiwan’s next president, China has already achieved an international public relations coup. Even if DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wins in January, and even if she wants to maintain the “status quo,” she is likely to find the nature of that “status quo” has changed as a result of the Singapore meeting.
Tsai will need to try much harder to get the message of Taiwan’s autonomy across if she wants to undo the damage caused by Saturday’s dog-and-pony show.
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