As he faces China’s leader across the long wooden table, a gigantic mural of tall mountains, valleys and temples as a backdrop, there are two ways of looking at the significance of this pudgy envoy and what his presence there means for the future of Taiwan.
The first is to regard former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) as a threat. The man no longer has a position in office, nor did Taiwanese elevate him to some position with their votes. No, Wu is like a shadow, operating behind the scenes and free, it seems, of the restraints that apply to elected party officials or government figures.
Across from him sits Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) and a few CCP cronies. Wu and Xi are heading a KMT-CCP summit in Beijing, the first since Xi’s ascension to the leadership. Wu is accompanied by former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起) — a Beijing regular — KMT Deputy Chairman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and former KMT vice chairman Chan Chun-po (詹春柏). This is, we are told, the first meeting to be held under the “one China” framework rather than the so-called “1992 consensus.”
As expected, Wu said everything that Beijing wanted to hear, and in the days that followed last week’s meetings, the CCP promised a whole new series of measures to win the “hearts and minds” of Taiwanese. The whole affair touched on politics, on Taiwan’s status and future, and went well beyond what the government has dared to venture since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) stepped into the Presidential Office in 2008.
Viewed from this angle, Wu the emissary could be part of a diabolical behind-the-scenes deal between the KMT and the CCP, perhaps to prepare the terrain for Taiwan’s annexation by its determinedly authoritarian neighbor.
Perhaps. But the other way to look at Wu and his retinue suggests something else. A little more than five years into Ma’s administration, and the best that China can do to discuss Taiwan’s political status is to welcome a delegation of “has-beens,” who, with the exception of Hung, have no direct hand in government policymaking. Wu (73), Su (63) and Chan (71), or another typical envoy, former vice president and KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), 76, are hardly the future of Taiwan — or of the KMT, for that matter — while Hung, at 65, only has a few years left in politics.
Despite all the pressure from the CCP, the signs of impatience, the threats, all they get is this, a group of envoys from which Taipei immediately distanced itself, whose views it said were not reflective of the administration’s official position?
It is worth considering the possibility that the KMT-CCP summits, alarming though they may be to supporters of a free Taiwan, are nothing more than a means for Taipei to deflect pressure from Beijing, mere crumbs to give the CCP the illusion of progress, that it is making headway, when in fact they are little more than a stopgap measure, a way to win time.
Taiwanese themselves should be relieved that rather un-influential dinosaurs, and not elected government officials, are conducting this kind of unsavory business. They should find comfort in the fact that the government, along with its semi-official creation the Straits Exchange Foundation, is sticking to economics, just as Ma had promised. And with less than three years left of Ma’s second and last term, that is unlikely to change, as the KMT and Ma’s successors know very well that any policy that departs from that promise, that threatens Taiwan’s democracy, freedom and way of life, will cost them dearly, perhaps even the Presidential Office.