President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday he was hopeful China’s next rulers would maintain improving relations and that anointed Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s (習近平) understanding of cross-strait issues would help keep economic cooperation on track.
Ma, in his first interview with foreign media since he won re-election in January, also said the two sides would continue to build closer economic, financial and trade relations before tackling thornier issues, such as political or military dialogue.
Ties would progress even after a broad reshuffle of the top Chinese leadership, Ma predicted. Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) is expected to retire as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief at the CCP National Congress later this year and as president in March next year, completing the transition to a younger generation headed by Xi, now Chinese vice president.
“Xi Jinping has had past experience in Fujian so his understanding of Taiwan is very deep,” Ma said, referring to the Chinese province directly across the Taiwan Strait that has close cultural, business and trade ties with Taiwan.
Xi served as an official in the province since 1985, rising to governor from 2000 to 2002.
“Based on what has happened over the past four years between us and China, current relations are mutually beneficial. So we do not expect cross-strait ties to have significant changes due to the leadership change,” Ma said.
Ma stressed his formula for Taiwan-China relations in his first term has been to handle “pressing matters before less pressing ones, easily resolved issues before difficult ones, and economic matters before political.”
Catchphrases aside, Ma’s policies of economic rapprochement and opening to China are widely interpreted as having eased the potential of Taiwan becoming a geopolitical flashpoint and he now declares relations at their most stable in 60 years.
Nevertheless, he could face pressure in his second term from the new Chinese leadership for more action on political links.
“They will exert some pressure. If they push and they don’t get, there will be fewer economic concessions,” said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a China politics expert at City University in Hong Kong. “I think it’s a very typical carrot-and-stick situation. If there’s a breakthrough, there’ll be more economic goodies. If not, there will be a cooling down and fewer economic goodies.”
Perhaps mindful of the potential for such pressure, Ma conducted his interview with caution — emphasizing the economic progress made and opportunities for more ahead, but being circumspect on more sensitive questions like the ouster of Chinese politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) or the contentious political election in Hong Kong.
Asked about blind activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), whom China recently allowed to travel to the US to study after a diplomatic row between Beijing and Washington, Ma said Taiwan was concerned about rights in China, particularly in light of there being 1 million Taiwanese in that country.
“We hope the mainland [sic] can face some of the issues that have happened in the past and can treat dissidents well. We are looking at this from the point of view of kindness, not based on Western human rights values, but traditional Chinese values,” Ma said.
Both sides were already in talks about an investment protection agreement that included some guarantees for individual safety and freedoms, he said.