The recent Cabinet reshuffle concentrated on cross-strait relations and national security. The public wanted new faces in financial and economic positions, but the nominees all lack relevant professional backgrounds, especially those appointed as the new Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairman, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman and Taiwan’s representative to the US. The government defended these appointments, saying they will be more capable of communicating President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) message. Does that mean their predecessors were not? What political agenda does Ma have here?
Over the next six months Northeast Asia’s political climate is likely to change. As things stand, US President Barack Obama could be re-elected, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will leave office and the Democratic Party of Japan could lose its majority in the House of Representatives.
While Northeast Asian politics are in a transitional stage, relations between Taiwan, China and the US are more predictable.
Even if Obama gets re-elected, it is widely acknowledged that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is unlikely to continue in her post. This means that the ascendancy of the US Department of State’s pan-Asian faction — friendly to Taiwan, Japan and the rest of Asia — over the pro-China faction within the White House’s National Security Council will probably end. It is likely US policy will return to being China-centric as it was when Obama first took office. This faction was behind Washington’s support of cross-strait political talks during the two US-China summits.
It is commonly believed that after the 18th National Congress Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), and Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) will follow a more consensus-based approach, but experience shows new Chinese leaders only gain total control after Chinese Commuist Party Central Committee Plenary Sessions are held, and Xi’s Taiwan policy will retain Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) hallmarks until the next rounds are finished in 2014.
To now send the new representative to the US, King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) — a close aide of Ma who said last year that Ma, if reelected, could sign a peace accord with China — is sure to arouse suspicion that Ma intends to work with pro-China Obama officials to capitalize on China’s internal restructuring in order to commence cross-strait talks.
Since his re-election, Ma has been preparing the way for initiating these political talks, through characterizing the cross-strait relationship as “one country, two areas” (一國兩區) and his “East China Sea peace initiative,” which included political talks between Beijing and Taipei. He has also mooted possible topics for discussion and established mechanisms for the talks. To nominate a yes-man to lead the MAC and send the person most familiar with the logic of Ma’s strategy to the US as Taiwan’s representative suggests that Ma has one objective: to commence cross-strait political negotiations and sign a “cross-strait peace accord” with China. Aware he may become a lame duck in late 2014, he is trying to speed the process up.
Ma may believe he has carte blanche to commence these political talks if he has the US’ blessing. However, as he defines Taiwan as an area of China, Taiwan’s international sovereignty will evaporate the minute he agrees to talks. Any disagreement would gift China the excuse to abandon cross-strait peace, as happened in 2000 between Israel and Palestine. More importantly, holding such negotiations without a “Taiwan consensus” or legislative oversight, especially given the recent agenda-driven nominations, is worrying.
Lai I-chung is an executive committee member of Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Drew Cameron