The much anticipated meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) turned out to be an anti-climax when Chen avoided addressing Ma using his official title during the meeting yesterday. The meeting was pushed forward from 4:30pm to 11am at the last minute to preempt a large-scale protest organized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The meeting was originally scheduled to last about 40 minutes and journalists, who could only watch the meeting live on China Television Co (中視), were taken by surprise when it lasted barely five minutes.
Presidential staffers explained that it was common for the president to only briefly receive visiting guests. They said the decision to move and cut short the meeting had a lot to do with what happened at the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei on Wednesday evening, when Chen, who was attending a banquet hosted by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), was stranded inside the hotel for hours because of protests outside.
During yesterday’s meeting, Ma made a brief speech, but Chen did not speak. While the public was curious how Chen would address Ma during the meeting, Chen avoided the thorny issue by simply saying Ni hao (你好, “how are you”) when Ma greeted him and “this [gift] is for you” when Chen presented Ma a painting featuring a galloping horse.
Since his arrival on Monday, Chen has upset DPP members and many members of the public by refusing to address Taiwanese officials using their official titles.
In Ma’s speech yesterday, he hailed the four agreements signed during Chen’s meeting with Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) on Tuesday. Ma also praised the achievements made during the two forums held on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the global financial crisis and cross-strait transportation links.
Although the Chiang-Chen meeting signified a giant step in cross-strait relations, there were still differences and challenges across the Strait, especially Taiwan’s security and international space, Ma said.
“I hope both sides will face up to reality, mutually not deny each other’s existence, work in the public interest and pursue peace in the Taiwan Strait,” Ma said. “Based on such a principle, I hope both sides can resolve their differences and augment bilateral cooperation.”
Commenting on the Ma-Chen meeting, former DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun said “it was abnormal” that the meeting had been shortened and its time changed at such short notice.
“I do not know how Ma explained such a change, but I’d interpret it as a reflection of Ma’s lack of confidence, in other words, it means our protest has been effective,” Yu said.
Ma is president and yet, with the last minute change of the time of the meeting, he had chosen to avoid hearing the voices of the people, which suggested the DPP’s demonstration had been successful, DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said.
KMT caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) defended Ma’s decision to advance the meeting with Chen, saying Ma was doing his best to maintain harmony in the nation.
“If the DPP provokes conflict while disregarding President Ma’s efforts and the expectations of all Taiwanese, I believe the DPP will be renounced by the public,” Lin said.
“Taiwan undeniably enjoys sovereignty, but the DPP should not take their freedom of speech for granted,” KMT caucus Secretary-General Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) said.
When asked for comment, Chao Yung-mao (趙永茂), a political science professor at National Taiwan University, said the Ma-Chen meeting indicated cross-strait relations still had a long way to go and that China’s sincerity toward Taiwan was limited.
“Beijing’s respect for Taiwan’s sovereignty is still not flexible,” Chao said. “Didn’t they say each side could have its own interpretation of ‘one China’?”
Chao said Ma should not have arranged to meet Chen because the meeting had caused tensions.Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), a political science professor at Tunghai University, said the meeting implied Taipei and Beijing had not come to a consensus on more sensitive issues.
“It was a compromise made under the pressure of domestic and cross-strait politics,” Wang said. “For Ma, the compromise was a damage control exercise.”
At the banquet hosted by ARATS at the Grand Hotel last night to thank the SEF, Chen expressed his appreciation for police and National Security Bureau members’ efforts to protect the delegation’s safety during the past four days.
“When we learned that the police had spared no effort, sweated and even bled in order to protect our safety, we were deeply touched and thankful,” Chen said, taking a bow on behalf of the delegation.
Acknowledging that some Taiwanese were opposed to the visit, Chen said “the development of a peaceful cross-strait relationship is the ultimate choice of people from both sides of the Strait.”
Chen and his delegation are scheduled to leave Taipei at 10:15am this morning.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG, FLORA WANG AND MO YAN-CHIH
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