The annual meetings of China’s rubber-stamp parliament are eagerly watched by officials, academics, pundits and others for portents of the year(s) ahead. Speeches at China’s National People’s Congress and comments made on the sidelines are parsed, deconstructed and turned backward and forward in hopes of figuring out: “What do they really mean?”
Decoding Beijing’s utterances can be as difficult as deciphering the oracle bones at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum. A couple of messages this week, however, appear to be crystal-clear.
The first addresses the long-hoped-for — by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) at least — meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). Ma administration officials, including the Mainland Affairs Council, have been hoping that this year’s APEC leaders’ summit in Beijing would provide an opportunity.
China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) Vice Chairman Sun Yafu (孫亞夫) said on Tuesday that Beijing had ruled out an international setting for the potential meeting, but was open to holding it in a third location. However, the meeting’s agenda would have to be defined in advance, he said, indicating that Beijing was not interested in getting together “just to shake hands.”
Two days later, Sun’s boss — ARATS Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) — was even more succinct.
“I personally think that the core matter of the meeting is that everyone must see the ‘1992 consensus’ and ‘one China’ framework, that both sides belong to the same family and share a common ‘China dream,’” he said.
ARATS is just pretending to be open-minded by throwing Ma and the KMT a morsel with the “need to agree on the ‘1992 consensus,’” given that the foundation of the KMT and Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rapprochement over the past decade is a shared reliance on a piece of propaganda dreamed up by a KMT hack in 2000 just before the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took power in Taipei.
It does not take a seer or a code breaker to get Beijing’s message: Forget about an APEC confab and be prepared to follow Beijing’s version of “one China.”
Yet, as obtuse as ever, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) on Thursday said that “despite differing opinions, the council believes that APEC is still the ideal place for Ma and Xi to meet.”
People in Hong Kong appear to be quicker on the uptake than Wang. At least, they have been quicker to parse the message delivered by National People’s Congress head Zhang Dejiang (張德江) on Thursday in an address to congress delegates from Hong Kong.
According to the delegates, Zhang said “importing” Western-style democracy for the 2017 election of the territory’s next chief executive could lead to “disastrous” results. He said that candidates would have to “love” China, abide by Hong Kong’s Basic Law and not damage “the motherland’s sovereignty, safety and future development,” or the China-Hong Kong relationship.
One delegate said Zhang said copying a foreign electoral system could become “a democracy trap.”
Hong Kong democracy advocates have been pushing for open and public nominations for candidates for the post, as opposed to the selection of one candidate by Beijing-stacked committees. Beijing’s response is that while it may be willing to allow universal suffrage in the territory, it will continue to cherry-pick the candidate.
Beijing’s tea leaves are there for everyone to read: Zhongnanhai is never going to allow Xi to meet with Ma on equal terms because to do so would be to acknowledge Taiwan’s sovereignty; it continues to equate democracy with catastrophe, and it is only interested in working with those who share “a common ‘China dream.’”