Ma’s policies bring uncertainty

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠  / 

Fri, Apr 06, 2012 - Page 8

When it comes to the possibility of cross-strait political negotiations during President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) second term, recent incidents illustrate the uncertainties and dangers behind such a sensitive subject.

Immediately after Ma won his re-election bid on Jan. 14, some US-based academics suggested that more consideration should be taken if the conditions were not met for cross-strait political talks in Ma’s second term. Beijing exerted pressure for talks on political issues two years ago, but such attempts were rejected by the Ma administration. However, Beijing has never given up on its efforts.

Despite his earlier pledge not to negotiate political issues with China if he was re-elected and to continue his current stance of “economics first, politics later” and “easier issues first and harder issues later,” since beating Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Ma’s latest cross-strait moves have resulted in mixed reactions at home and abroad.

First, Ma sent former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) to Beijing, where he raised the issue of defining cross-strait relations as “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” at a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) on March 22.

Though the concept is not new, it was the first time that Ma made it “official” to his Chinese counterpart. In the past, Ma has always highlighted the notion of the so-called “1992 consensus” — defined as “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” — as the foundation of cross-strait relations under his administration.

Beijing’s initial response to the new formula was negative.

Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesman Yang Yi (楊毅) did not mention anything about the “one country, two areas” concept, except to repeat the importance of maintaining the “one China principle” and elaborating on the idea that “both sides of the Strait belong to one China.”

Yang also stressed that cross-strait relations are not state-to-state relations.

In his meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Lee Keqiang (李克強) at the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, China, on Sunday, vice president-elect Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) called on both Beijing and Taipei to shelve their differences, while prioritizing “improving the livelihoods” of the people on both sides of the Strait. Wu also asked Beijing to allow more room for Taipei’s participation in the international community. TAO Director Wang Yi’s (王毅) follow-up emphasized consolidating “political trust” in cross-strait relations.

After four years of fast-tracking cross-strait economic relations and Beijing’s “campaign” to get Ma re-elected, what need is there for further consolidation of “political trust” if political negotiations are excluded at least by the Taiwanese government in the next four years? What is the major hurdle to cross-strait political talks? And what is the rationale behind Ma pushing the concept of “one country, two areas” into cross-strait relations?

It is evident that Beijing expects some “payback” from Ma following his re-election. Chinese leaders were willing to play Ma’s game of upholding the so-called “1992 consensus” during the presidential election for the sake of ensuring Ma’s victory, but the fact is, Beijing has never endorsed the concept of a “1992 consensus.” Beijing has only one definition of “one China,” and China and Taiwan are both part of it.

So when Ma tried to test the water by having Wu float the constitutionally defined “one country, two areas,” Beijing took the cautious approach of ignoring such a move. The reason is simple: There is no way Beijing would ever accept “one China” as “the Republic of China.”

Hence, the irony is that, if Ma insists on maintaining his policy of “economics over politics,” why would he rush to define cross-strait relations in accordance with the Constitution before he is even inaugurated?

After Beijing poured cold water on the “one country, two areas” formula, Wu dared not bring it up again in front of Lee at the Boao Forum.

One possibility is that it was an attempt by Ma to distract public attention from his government’s poor handling of major domestic issues, such as the US beef issue and public dissatisfaction with the rise in fuel prices. Another possibility is that it was to create some bargaining chips when facing possible pressure from Beijing for political talks in the future. It could be seen as Ma’s effort to “pre-empt” Beijing’s pressure for political negotiations.

The problem is, it demonstrates Ma’s flip-flop decisionmaking style, as well as a huge lack of transparency when it comes to crucial issues related to cross-strait relations.

This constitutes uncertainty and danger.

Liu Shih-chung is director of the research center at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.