Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) met in Beijing on Wednesday in what marked the high point of Wu’s six-day visit to China.
The two party leaders swapped niceties about earthquake relief in front of the cameras before meeting behind closed doors in a one-hour summit lauded as historic by the international press.
Putting aside media hyperbole, the meeting was not so significant in the grand scheme of things because Wu traveled to China in his capacity as party chief and was not authorized to negotiate or sign anything on behalf of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government.
This followed Ma’s announcement early last month when, in a bid to establish his authority, he said that the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) would be the main conduit for cross-strait talks under his administration, and that party-to-party contacts established by former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) during his 2005 trip to China would take a back seat.
As the SEF delegation is due in China in just under two weeks to talk about and possibly sign a deal on charter flights and Chinese tourists, one may be forgiven for wondering what the point of Wu’s trip really was.
The simple answer is there was no point, other than to give Beijing a fresh propaganda coup and soft-soap Taiwanese and anyone else willing to pay attention into believing that China has only good intentions. Why else would Hu dangle the carrot of WHO participation as he did on Wednesday, and say things like China “cares about and respects” Taiwanese?
Wu’s hastily arranged visit was China’s way of showing Ma who’s boss.
Hu’s shrewdness is not to be underestimated, as his cross-strait machinations are far more sophisticated than the no-nonsense threats of his predecessors. He is fully aware that Ma promised many things — direct flights, Chinese tourists, enhanced international space and a peace treaty — in his election campaign, all of which were predicated on the goodwill of Beijing.
Ma’s promises handed the cross-strait initiative to China and Hu, allowing him to make concessions on items that will foster goodwill with Taiwanese — such as direct flights — while stalling on issues that involve sovereignty.
But while the KMT has been very open about the details of the fictional “1992 consensus,” Beijing — though it agreed to restart talks based on this “agreement” — has remained silent on the definition of what it believes was “agreed to” in Hong Kong 16 years ago.
There has been no mention of “one China, different interpretations” from the Chinese side and no recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty.
But then Hu knows that in this game of shadow boxing he can afford to sit back and wait for the Ma administration to make sacrifices in its haste to meet election promises.
Ma made it clear during his inauguration speech that he is willing to compromise the sovereignty of his beloved “Republic of China” in the search for short-term and questionable economic gain.
For all of Beijing’s recent friendliness, it will be interesting to see how much Ma and Taiwan really get in return.