On Nov. 7, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) summoned President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to a meeting in Singapore. The international media hailed the meeting as historic, as it brought together the leaders of the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for the first time in 66 years, or since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the Communist army defeated the troops of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and drove the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime to exile in Taiwan.
It is no secret that for years “Mr Ma” has anxiously sought a meeting with Xi. Since 2012, Ma angled to attend the APEC summit in November last year to facilitate a leadership dialogue with Xi, hoping to extricate himself from deep political woes at home and salvage his presidency. As the two sides were far apart on key political and security issues, and Ma was unable to deliver a cross-strait peace agreement — which has been demanded by Beijing to terminate Taiwan’s special security relationship with the US and negate the Taiwan Relations Act — Xi had to turn down Ma’s proposition.
On several occasions in the past decades, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and other Chinese leaders had rejected Taipei’s offer of a “government-to-government” dialogue on the basis of equality, instead they called for a meeting between the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the KMT.
Apparently, some CCP officials harbored misgivings regarding the potential APEC meeting in Beijing — they were apprehensive that the international community could wrongly interpret such a meeting as Beijing’s tacit recognition of “two Chinas” — the ROC and the PRC.
However, less than one year later, why did Xi change tack and decide to meet Ma in Singapore? With the benefit of hindsight, Taiwan’s political contingencies and China’s internal leadership cleavages appear to have prompted Xi’s power play to reset Beijing’s Taiwan policy.
The KMT’s crushing defeat in last year’s nine-in-one elections was widely seen as voters’ repudiation of Ma’s pro-China programs, which targeted promoting cross-strait economic integration and close political alignment. Public opinion polls indicate that the anti-Ma and anti-KMT domino effect could extend to the presidential and legislative elections next month, which would drive the KMT out of national government and bring the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) back to power and control of both the presidency and the Legislative Yuan. Beijing has much at stake in changes to the nation’s power structure and cross-strait relations, hence Xi felt compelled to reset Beijing’s strategy to cope with contingencies in Taiwan.
Much to his chagrin, Xi belatedly discovered China’s dismal failure to win over the hearts and minds of Taiwanese. Beijing’s strategy to “buy” Taiwan helps enrich only a handful of Taiwanese business tycoons, while alienating the masses, who have suffered from the flight of capital and the relocation of production facilitates to China, resulting in high unemployment and stagnant wages, particularly among young Taiwanese.
Reportedly, Xi angrily upbraided China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) and the cadres of other agencies that deal with Taiwan over failures to gather intelligence and report about the “real” Taiwan, and to communicate with Taiwanese from all walks of life. If sources in China can be trusted, former Taiwan Affairs Office minister Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), who is also a former head of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and some of his associates have been disgraced and are under investigation for corruption and other wrongdoing amid Xi’s anticorruption campaign. An appointee and long-time follower of Jiang, Chen allowed himself to be wined, dined and enriched by supplicants among KMT politicos and Taiwanese business elites; hence he and his associates were convenient scapegoats for the setback of Beijing’s Taiwan policy. Their purges enable Xi to map out a new approach toward Taiwan and place policy operation under the control of the General Office of the CCP general secretary.