Deciphering Xi’s recent meetings

By Lai I-chung 賴怡忠  / 

Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - Page 8

Following his summit with US President Barack Obama, Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) met with former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) last week.

An analysis of the Xi-Obama summit shows that China was well prepared in terms of the summit’s timing and issues. As a result, Xi clearly outshone Obama at the event and made a strong argument for the US ending its arms sales to Taiwan.

There are several signs that, based on the results of the Xi-Obama summit, China held the Xi-Wu meeting to pave the way for its future Taiwan policy. We cannot exclude the possibility that the meeting might have been a “de facto” summit for high-level political dialogue disguised as non-governmental exchanges. The meeting might prove as significant as the 2005 meeting between former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and then-Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). The Xi-Wu meeting might become the Lien-Hu meeting of Xi’s administration, his first opportunity to display his own strategy. This is something that Taiwan must prevent.

Wu’s visit to Beijing last week did not include a KMT-CCP forum. His visits to China since 2008, with the exception of those for KMT-CCP forums, have been full of political messages. A trip in June 2009 focused on exchanges between the KMT and CCP based on “Hu’s six points” issued at the end of 2008. Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was reluctant to offer a response, Hu was apparently confused and issued another six points just to clarify his previous ones.

During a visit in April last year, Wu told his Beijing hosts that Ma planned to define Taiwan and China as “one country, two areas.” The remark caused a lot of controversy in Taiwan and Ma immediately distanced himself from Wu. However, since Ma sent Wu to meet with Xi, instead of Lien, it appears that the “one country, two areas” proposal had not been a misstatement by Wu.

Ma even sent his close aide former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起) to Beijing to supervise Wu’s delegation — a clear sign of the political sensitivity of the trip.

The pivot of Xi’s Taiwan policy lies in pushing for political dialogue and negotiations. The Chinese also believe Ma is likely to become a lame-duck president after Taiwan’s seven-in-one elections next year, so they do not expect much from him after that point. Beijing believes that if it really wants to accomplish something with Taiwan, action needs to be taken by the middle of next year. That gives it about a year, so the pressure on it regarding the Taiwan issue is huge.

That is why Xi urged Obama during their summit not to sell arms to Taiwan. It is also why there are rumors that China plans to allow Ma to attend the APEC summit in November next year in Shanghai to push for a meeting between him and Xi.

It is clear that Xi’s remarks at his meetings with Obama were part of Beijing’s carrot-and-stick tactic used to push Taiwan toward political talks.

If Ma refuses such talks, Xi would press the US harder on the arms sales issue. If Ma agrees to talks, Xi will allow him to attend the Shanghai APEC summit. The question is if Ma can resist such temptation and pressure. Will the chance of Ma being allowed to go to the Shanghai summit be sufficient to make Taiwan’s opposition remain silent on this issue?

The Xi-Wu meeting might also lead to the establishment of a new mechanism to replace the one established by Lien and Hu, thus displaying the particular features of China’s Taiwan strategy under Xi. Given that Ma had publicly endorsed Wu as his envoy and will recognize the result of his talks with Xi, it was no wonder that Xi proposed a four-point statement that might come to make up the political consensus between Ma and Xi.

Over the past eight years, Taiwan has been haunted by the “1992 consensus” backed by the Lien-Hu meeting. At the KMT-CCP forum last year, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Jia Qinglin (賈慶林) proposed the idea of “two sides [of the Taiwan Strait], one country.” Will the Xi-Wu meeting lead to more such terminology that abuses Taiwan?

After meeting Xi, Obama said his administration strongly supports the improvement in cross-strait relations that has taken place in the past few years and he expressed a hope that the process would continue in a way that would be acceptable to both sides. He also expressed disapproval of China’s push for political talks with Taiwan, and that is a valuable asset that Taiwan should work to consolidate.

The end results of the highly political meeting between Xi and Wu at this moment in time might cause the US position to collapse. This is a risk that me must not underestimate.

Lai I-chung is an executive committee member of the Taiwan Thinktank.