The meeting in Beijing between former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was the first summit between leaders of the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since Xi took office earlier this year. Prior to Wu’s departure for Beijing, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) called him in for a special meeting. Wu presumably received his blessing to communicate Ma’s stance on cross-strait relations with Xi.
For years, the CCP has been making concessions toward the KMT, but it is starting to make its impatience known. China has begun pressing Ma to start repaying Beijing for its covert assistance in winning him his second term in office, and is demanding that some progress be made on initiating cross-strait political talks. Ma had no option but to respond to these demands, but to Taiwan’s detriment, he has evidently gone too far in what he has offered.
The biggest difference between this summit and previous ones is that past cross-strait discussions have been conducted under the so-called “1992 consensus,” whereas this time, they took place within the “one China” framework (一中架構). The “1992 consensus” was purportedly that China and Taiwan belong to one China, but that each side had differing interpretations as to what “China” means. When the phrase “one China” was used in the abstract context of the “1992 consensus,” it was not really remarked upon in Taiwan or internationally. However, now that Ma has seemingly abandoned the idea of the “consensus,” the international community may well interpret the two sides’ apparent acceptance of the “one China” framework as an indication that Ma and the KMT have resolved to embrace unification.
If Taiwan as well as the international community recognize the “one China” framework, then Taiwan’s very sovereignty and claim to nationhood cease to exist. By accepting the “one China” framework, Ma has shown that he opposes Taiwanese independence. China can now breathe a sigh of relief: Ma has taken the bait, the general principle has been established and, for China, Taiwan is now essentially in the bag.
Taiwan and China are set to agree to sending representatives to and establishing representative offices in each other’s countries. Ma has said that these offices would operate on the understanding that cross-strait relations are not state-to-state relations, but are rather based on a special relationship. That these representative offices are to be established is undeniably a major development, but it is difficult to say whether it is going to be good or bad for Taiwan.
With Hong Kong, China initially set up Xinhua news agency’s Hong Kong branch as a kind of outpost, and then renamed it the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This paved the way for bringing the former British territory into its fold. On the surface, this liaison office was merely China’s representative office in Hong Kong, but to all intents and purposes, it had dominion over the Hong Kong government, and Beijing used it to control the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong affairs. Over time, the business community and the public came to take note of the mood of the liaison office.
Will Taiwan go the way of Hong Kong after China’s representative office opens here? This is extremely likely, given the Ma administration’s attitude to Taiwan’s sovereignty and its lackadaisical approach to running the country. Taiwan, then, has just bought passage on the Unification Express. Unless the opposition parties — the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union — can stand up to this, or the public gives the KMT a rap on the knuckles via the ballot box, cross-strait relations are on the verge of an irreversible process that will not only be disastrous for democracy in Taiwan, but also for democracy in China.