It is unlikely that next week’s visit to Washington by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), the likely successor to Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) as Chinese president and secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party, will have any significant impact on Taiwan relations, an academic says.
“I have no high expectations for the visit,” Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, told a roundtable briefing on Thursday.
He said that it was largely a public relations visit for Xi to prove that he was prepared for leadership, could handle the US and could “hold up well” next to US President Barack Obama on the international stage.
“It is an opportunity for him to get an official relationship going, that’s what he is here for,” Lohman said.
However, he said things would have been very different if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had won last month’s presidential election.
Lohman said that the US taking a position on the Taiwanese elections — despite strong denials from the White House that it had favored President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — could be seen as a “first victory” for Xi’s visit.
Lohman said that of all developments over the past six months, Ma’s re-election would have the greatest impact on the visit.
“Imagine if the DPP had won the elections, this would be what this visit was all about — the Chinese talking to the Americans about getting your guys in control there and us offering assurances,” he said.
“It would have been a much different visit if Tsai had won. This visit is part of the overall cooperative atmosphere that the US wants to promote and that would have been undermined if Tsai had won,” he said.
There could be no question, Lohman said, that both China and the US preferred Ma.
As it is, there will be a major effort to show that the US-China relationship is in good shape, Lohman said.
However, in truth, he said, the relationship was not good, because Beijing and Washington had many different interests.
“Let us not confuse atmospherics — handshakes and smiles and meetings and dialogue — for a genuinely good relationship,” Lohman added.
Derek Scissors, a research fellow in Asia economic policy at Heritage, said it was quite likely that nothing much was going to happen during the visit.
“This doesn’t mean it is trivial. It’s just not going to accomplish very much,” he said.
Asked which Taiwan issues would be raised, Lohman said: “The election turned out the way both sides wanted it to turn out. Both sides will use their standard talking points on arms sales to Taiwan.”
“Had the election turned out differently, the conversation could have been more contentious, and could have gone back and forth, but having said that, if we do make another arms sale, if we make good on the F-16C/Ds for example, the Chinese will protest just as vociferously as they would have otherwise,” he said.
At another briefing on Xi’s visit held on Thursday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, senior fellow Bonnie Glaser said that following Ma’s re-election there was “great confidence” in Beijing that it would continue to manage its relationship with Taiwan well.
She added that while Beijing officials remained concerned about US arms sales, they were not as “panicked” about the future of the cross-strait relationship as they would have been if the election had gone the other way.