On June 7 and 8, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary General Xi Jinping (習近平) held a two-day summit in California, during which Xi expressed his wish that the two countries could establish a “new type of relationship between great powers.”
Xi reminded Obama that the Pacific Ocean was big enough for them both.
Beijing has a two-fold intention here. First, it wants to promote China’s international status from just one of many powers to a “new type of great power” on a par with the US itself.
Second, it views the Pacific as merely the starting point in this new relationship and has its eyes set on replacing the US’ primary status in the Asia-Pacific region, with a new joint-primacy shared between Beijing and Washington.
This joint-primacy will naturally involve sovereignty issues over Taiwan and the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
Also, China is keen to avoid the global responsibilities it has inherited as a partner in the current order it shares with the US, preferring to concentrate its efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.
Competition in the region between China and the US is set to constitute challenges of increasing complexity for Taiwan and it must be careful not to become one of China’s core interests within this scenario.
Not one week after the Obama-Xi summit, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) met Xi in Beijing on Thursday and reiterated where the KMT stands with regards to Taiwan.
Wu said cross-strait relations were not state-to-state relations: they were a special relationship.
The KMT then brought up a seven-part proposal for promoting cross-strait ties, including furthering political, economic, financial and cultural exchanges and building a national identity.
Reading between the lines, the goals — and the problems of the proposal are as follows: First, the KMT wants to confirm to the new Chinese leadership and its own membership the idea of a political “one China” as an alternative way to solve the nation’s current economic malaise.
It does appear that the party is continuing along its well-trodden path of relying on China to get Taiwan out of its economic difficulties.
However, the question is whether such as solution is really that simple. Serious doubts have been cast on the continued economic reliance on China as the key to the nation’s economic woes.
According to a survey published in the latest edition of Forbes magazine, Taiwanese salary levels rose a paltry 0.9 percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010.
Yet this was the very decade in which Taiwan opened up most to China, when it was the most brazen and unguarded in its willingness to engage with China. A causal relationship between the two would be expected.
Finally, the “one China” framework has percolated through from the more substantial political and economic levels into the more esoteric levels of culture and national identity.
Dealings between the two countries benefit both sides and that national goals and interests are at the forefront when formulating policy.
However, it is difficult to see just how the allowances the KMT is making in these talks with Beijing are going to benefit Taiwan.
If the party is simply greasing the wheels for a better relationship with Beijing, the cost is likely to be too high.
Truth be told, the furthering of a KMT and CCP relationship is more about the ideological point of unification and little to do with improving Taiwanese national interests.
Margot Chen is a member of a think tank.
Translated by Paul Cooper