Beijing’s role in Ma-Wang strife

By Parris Chang 張旭成  / 

Sun, Oct 06, 2013 - Page 8

For weeks President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has relentlessly sought to purge Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). To the chagrin of Ma, who also serves as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), his attempts to strip Wang of his party membership to deny him his speakership have been rebuffed.

Ma has accused Wang of improper influence and meddling in a court case involving Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and condemned Wang’s alleged lobbying as “the most serious infringement in the history of Taiwan’s judiciary.”

However, Ma’s exaggerated emphasis on legality and morality rings hollow because Taiwanese regard his moral judgements as highly selective.

When Ma was mayor of Taipei, he was indicted by a prosecutor on a charge of corruption — accused of pocketing office funds — although he was acquitted.

On Aug. 16, 2007, then-KMT caucus whip Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) and a group of KMT legislators paid a visit to then-prosecutor-general Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明) to have him urge the prosecutor to refrain from appealing Ma’s not-guilty verdict. Ma has never criticized the lobbying by Tseng and the legislators.

Why is the president so desperate to get rid of Wang? In public, he prevaricates; the moral and legal reasons he gives do not reveal his intentions. He seems to be in control of the political landscape, but he is insecure and has tried to subdue or oust potential rivals and challengers from the KMT. It is obvious that Wang is a target. He lost the race to be KMT chairman to Ma in 2005, but still commands influence and is in a position to check the president’s power.

There is a compelling reason for Ma to think Wang must go; it has something to do with Beijing. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) Beijing has apparently mapped out its policy agenda on Taiwan and set up a timetable for implementation.

First, Beijing called for a cross-strait service trade agreement, which was signed in June, but is yet to be approved by the legislature. Then, it called for a commodities trade agreement and several other agreements on banking and financial cooperation, to move further toward cross-strait economic integration.

Beijing has been pressing Ma to attend cross-strait political talks and establish representative offices in each country, a lead into a cross-strait peace agreement that will ensnare Taiwan in the “one China” framework.

The Chinese leadership appears to be displeased that the legislature has not yet reviewed and approved the service-trade agreement and has so informed Ma’s government. In addition, Beijing has also conveyed its “concern” to Wang through an intermediary, but he has been unable or unwilling to railroad its ratification, because he must respect due process and Taiwan’s law.

Ma’s government initiated the agreement on June 21 at Beijing’s behest, without prior consultation with the legislature or Taiwan’s business community. The smaller enterprises, which will be hit hard by the inroads of Chinese capital and service industries, are outraged by the government’s negligence and have demanded that the agreement be carefully examined to safeguard their survival and to protect Taiwanese workers.

Ma is in a great hurry. He is known to be angling for a trip to China to attend the APEC summit in Shanghai next year and a historic meeting with Xi. Beijing has not yet agreed, but has hinted that right “conditions” must exist beforehand. An anxious Ma has taken steps to meet Beijing’s demands.

One such step is his acceptance of Beijing’s “one China” framework. Former KMT chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄), former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起) and several other ranking KMT officials were dispatched to Beijing to deliver the message to Xi on June 13.

Previously, the KMT conducted cross-strait negotiations under the so-called “1992 consensus” in which both Taipei and Beijing maintained different interpretations as to what “China” meant. By ceding to the “one China” framework, the government will embrace unification and abandon Taiwan’s sovereignty. During the meeting, Wu also stated that the KMT opposes Taiwanese independence and will conduct negotiations according to a special relationship, which is not country to country.

Another move that Ma made was to have Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Lin Join-sane (林中森) initial the service trade agreement on June 21. Ma was hoping for its speedy and smooth passage, but it has not happened that way. He wrongly attributed the delay to Wang and believed that a new speaker would obey his bidding.

The campaign to purge Wang risks to ruining Ma’s presidency and wrecking the KMT. Despite being president, he behaves like an executioner. His use of the information obtained through alleged illegal wiretapping by Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming’s (黃世銘) office is repugnant. Ma is faced with a record-low approval rating. There is also growing criticism within the KMT.

With the seven-in-one elections to be held in October next year and the general elections in 2016, many KMT leaders — and Beijing — are apprehensive that voters could reject KMT candidates next year and vote the KMT out of office in 2016. Beijing has much at stake and is in a position to manipulate the political dynamic.

Beijing could, despite Ma’s objection, persuade and support a high-profile candidate like Sean Lien (連勝文) to run for Taipei mayor. The Chinese will repeat their tricks from last year’s general elections.

When the trade agreement comes into effect and with the establishment of representative offices in Taiwan, Chinese agents will work their way deep into Taiwan’s grassroots. They will be well placed to compromise Taiwan’s democratic process. Beijing is also recruiting “fellow travelers” in the DPP and is trying to influence the selection of the party’s Taipei mayoral and presidential candidates.

Beijing is seeking total control. For Taiwan to stay free and independent from communist China, people should keep an eye on Beijing’s plotting.

Parris Chang is professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University and the chief executive of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.