Sat, Dec 08, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Intentions behind Ma’s new ‘noes’

By John Lim 林泉忠

Last month, former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Culture and Education Foundation held a seminar to mark the third anniversary of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015, entitled: “Where now for the cross-strait relationship?”

At the powwow, Ma delivered a speech that caused a momentary stir in political circles. Ma proposed a “new three noes” policy: no exclusion of the possibility of unification, no independence and no use of force.

The question of whether Taiwan and China would ever “unite” touches upon the most hotly contested topic in domestic politics: the cross-strait relationship and the nation’s status.

However, it is not simply a question for Taiwanese to discuss among themselves in a political vacuum. China makes an explicit claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, while the US has a large degree of influence over the nation’s security.

By proposing that Taiwan should not exclude the possibility of unification, Ma has tossed a hand grenade into cross-strait politics.

When analyzing the repercussions of his speech, the changing relationship between Taipei, Beijing and Washington should be examined from three interdependent perspectives: The socio-political situation in Taiwan, the effect of Beijing’s “big stick” Taiwan policy and the deterioration of US-China relations since April.

During the course of Taiwan’s transition to democracy and the localization movement in the 1990s, the Qiandao Lake incident in 1994 was a true watershed moment that resulted in an almost 180° shift in Taiwanese attitudes toward the nation’s status and identity.

Prior to this, during the authoritarian party-state era, there was almost a universal belief among Taiwanese that they were “Chinese” and that Taiwan was “China.”

However, after the incident, when 24 Taiwanese tourists were kidnapped and murdered by three Chinese in the Qiandao Lake scenic area in China’s Zhejiang Province, identification as “Taiwanese” entered the mainstream and China began to be seen as a separate country.

Taiwanese who identified as “Chinese” were reduced to an insignificant minority almost overnight. Ever since, appeals for Taiwan to unify with China have largely fallen on deaf ears.

The last time that unification with China was advocated as a formal policy during a presidential election campaign was in 1999. Then-vice president Lien Chan (連戰) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) floated the idea of a “confederation” system between Taiwan and China as a “transitionary” concept. Lien’s unification scheme poisoned the KMT’s campaign. After that, the party’s subsequent presidential candidates have made sure that the party never again advocated a pro-unification cross-strait policy.

This included Ma, who during his 2007 campaign proposed a policy of “no unification” as part of his original “three noes” formula to stay on the right side of public opinion and attract centrist voters.

On the campaign trail during the run-up to the Nov. 24 nine-in-one elections, the KMT’s six main mayoral candidates scrupulously avoided making any reference to Ma’s “new three noes.”

Responding to a question from a reporter, Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), who became Kaohsiung mayor-elect, said: “Now is precisely not the time to talk about unification or independence.”

Han’s reply made it clear that there has been no discernible change in attitude toward unification or independence in Taiwanese society.

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