In a breach of precedent, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) is scheduled to join Taiwan’s delegation to the APEC summit next month in Indonesia led by former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), sparking speculation that his trip was a prelude to cross-strait political talks.
Wang yesterday downplayed the significance of the move.
When envoys of Taiwan’s president have met with Chinese leaders at APEC events in the past, the Chinese leader was always accompanied by the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), so it is “natural” that a council minister should be a member of the entourage, Wang said.
Wang said he was not chosen to join the trip in his official capacity, but as an adviser to Siew’s delegation.
“I am to assist Mr Siew on cross-strait issues,” he said.
Wang denied that the purpose of his trip to the summit, where he is likely to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) when Siew meets with Xi and to have a meeting with TAO Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), was to arrange a meeting between Xi and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
“My trip to APEC has nothing to do with a Ma-Xi meeting or cross-strait political negotiation,” Wang said. “It is premature to talk about anything related to a Ma-Xi meeting.”
Taiwan’s participation in APEC is subject to the tripartite memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the question regarding China, Taiwan and Hong Kong’s seats in APEC signed in October 1991, when the three parties joined the regional economic bloc established in 1989.
Under the MOU, which prescribes that Taiwan is an economic entity named “Chinese Taipei,” as opposed to its recognition of China as a sovereign state, restrictions on Taiwan’s presence include that it be represented by executives — a minister or ministers in charge of APEC-related economic affairs at ministerial-level meetings — while its foreign minister or vice foreign minister must not attend APEC meetings.
APEC began to hold its informal leaders’ meeting in 1993, in which the MOU was not applicable. However, Taiwan has never sent its president to the summit, instead sending representatives to act as envoys.
Ma has designated Siew to represent him to this year’s summit on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8. Wang will be the first Taiwanese official not in charge of APEC-related economic affairs to be present at an APEC event.
Through the routine communication channels between the council and the TAO, China was informed of his planned attendance at APEC, Wang said, but he denied that he had sought approval from Beijing.
Wang would not confirm whether a Wang-Zhang meeting has been planned, but said he would only sit down and talk with Zhang “on an equal footing and while retaining dignity.”
If a meeting with Zhang were to be arranged, the issues would be restricted to cross-strait exchanges, including protection of China-based Taiwanese businesspeople and cross-strait representative offices, and the lifting of restrictions on cross-strait trade and investment, Wang said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) agreed with the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) assessment, saying that a meeting between Wang and Zhang could be “a trial balloon” floated by Ma to gauge public opinion on a Ma-Xi meeting.
The DPP yesterday said that any meeting between Taiwanese and Chinese officials — under the preconditions of transparency and reciprocity — would be welcome, but expressed concerns about the political implications and secretive agenda behind the meeting.
Addressing the issue on the sidelines of the DPP’s anniversary luncheon with the diplomatic corps in Taiwan, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said if Wang’s appearance at the summit was to be as a secret emissary and was granted on behalf of Taiwanese then the appearance “should be condemned.”
“The Ma administration should answer people’s concerns — whether it has negotiated a deal with the Chinese Communist Party to hold a meeting between Ma and Xi at the APEC summit in Shanghai next year,” DPP spokesperson Wang Min-sheng (王閔生) said yesterday morning.
Sovereignty and national interests “should not be a bargaining chip for a meeting between and Zhang Zhijun and myself,” Wang Min-sheng said.
The DPP was also concerned that the meeting would be used as an opportunity for backroom negotiations, the spokesperson said.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang