Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), will soon take over as Chinese president. Lien Chan (連戰), on the other hand, is a former vice president of Taiwan and a former chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) who now carries the title of “honorary chairman.” Consequently, people are wondering why the up-and-coming Xi gave a relative has-been like Lien such a grand reception when he headed a delegation from Taiwan to Beijing earlier this week.
The leadership lineup that emerged from the CCP’s 18th National Congress in November is putting greater emphasis on “united front” work, while weakening the role of the party’s Central Politics and Law Commission.
The main target of the CCP’s united front tactics is, of course, Taiwan, which has not yet been brought into the fold.
Before and after the 18th National Congress, Xi has been busy consolidating his power within the party. He is due to take up the post of president when the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference hold their annual meetings this month, but before then he must make some impressive achievement in national affairs.
China has failed to scare off Japan in the two countries’ dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkakus in Japan, and the dispute has reached a deadlock.
Since Xi is not sure what to do about the Diaoyutais, the next-best option for him is to achieve something with regard to the “great cause of unification” by doing some united front work on Lien and Taiwan. Xi also knows that he can rely on Lien to appear when he is summoned.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also gave his approval to Lien’s visit, saying he was optimistic that it would be a successful one.
Xi wants to achieve something impressive, so he has to go beyond what outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has done to date.
Xi scored a point when Lien laid out his new “formula” for cross-strait relations, namely “one China, cross-strait peace, mutually beneficial integration and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Lien’s real intent is revealed because his formula starts off with “one China” — abandoning the “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” formula that Ma advocates.
Given that Ma briefed Lien in person before he departed for Beijing and said he was optimistic about the mission, one has to wonder whether Ma told Lien to make this change, or whether Lien is betraying the Republic of China of his own accord.
Ma has some explaining to do.
Lien also said that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should work toward establishing a balanced, equal and effective political framework for cross-strait relations.
However, China’s reaction when Taiwanese director Ang Lee (李安) won an Oscar on the very same day, and profusely thanked Taiwan for its support, was not encouraging. Chinese media reports on the topic cut out the word “Taiwan.”
This censorship highlights the true nature of China’s so-called “balanced and equal” relations with Taiwan, but when it comes to repressing and downgrading Taiwan, China is indeed highly “effective.”
Why is Lien so happy to let Xi squeeze out his last drops of remaining value? It is a matter of give and take.
Lien took his son, KMT Central Standing Committee member Sean Lien (連勝文), along with him to meet Xi. It is reminiscent of how then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) took his son, Jiang Mianheng (江綿恆), along with him to take part in the 2001 Fortune Global Forum in Hong Kong.
Jiang Zemin used the occasion to introduce his son to senior figures in multinational companies before he stepped down as president.
While Jiang once boasted about “getting rich quietly,” Lien is more discreet. Although his delegation included a number of big business bosses, making people wonder whether there was not some kind of collusion going on between politicians and businesspeople, Lien did not mention anything of the sort.
However, what was talked about in private may be a different matter. For example, a report in a pro-unification media outlet before Xi and Lien had their meeting quoted a source in Beijing as saying that Xi would tell Lien that China would like to see the two sides of the Taiwan Strait cooperate on exploiting resources and prospecting for oil in the South China Sea.
No such thing was mentioned in public reports of their meeting. The issue may well have been discussed during closed-door dealings.
China cannot beat Japan, but it can make up for it by getting Taiwan involved, and, having used Taiwan to put pressure on Japan, it could then turn around and catch Taiwan off guard. That would have serious implications for the nation’s national security.
Lien also has some explaining to do now that he is back.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg