The more than 1,100 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan are less of an impediment to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) than whether talks would be backed by the people in Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said.
Any meeting would be contingent on Ma being present in his capacity as president of the Republic of China, he said in an interview at his office in Taipei on Thursday. While not ruling out an engagement with Xi before the end of his term in 2016, Ma said conditions are not yet ripe.
“The most important factors are whether the country needs it, whether the people support it, that we can meet with dignity — those are the things that will make it possible,” Ma said of a meeting with Xi. “There are conditions yet to be created.”
For Ma, who has seen his popularity slide since his re-election last year, the challenge is to balance his drive for improved relations with China with concerns in Taiwan that closer ties will lead China to dominate its smaller, democratic neighbor.
Ma, 63, said that many of those concerns were misplaced, with some in 2010 having derided the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement to reduce barriers with China as “sugar-coated poison.”
Taiwan will maintain curbs on the inflow of Chinese workers and restrict investments in sensitive industries, he said.
Ma saw his personal disapproval rating rise to 70 percent in May in a poll by Taipei-based cable news network TVBS.
Ma may need more time before a Xi meeting as “there has always been concern that he is going to sell Taiwan to China,” said Peter Kurz, Citigroup’s Taipei-based head of research. “From my standpoint it would be a very positive development. To any extent that there is reduction in cross-strait tension and political risk, it is positive.”
The opposition would not support Ma meeting Xi if he was presented as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rather than Taiwan’s president, said Liao Da-chi (廖達琪), director of National Sun Yat-sen University’s Institute of Political Science.
“China won’t accept Ma as a president making a meeting in the remainder of his term difficult,” Liao said.
Under the Ma administration’s closer economic ties with China, Chinese tourists spent NT$292.6 billion (US$9.8 billion) in Taiwan from 2008 till June 30 this year. Last year, more than 2 million Chinese tourists visited, making up 43 percent of leisure visitors.
“Since 2003, China has been our biggest trade partner and export market,” Ma said. “More and more people can see that liberalization is a path Taiwan must take.”
Ma said Taiwan hopes to conclude a trade-in-goods pact with China by the end of this year.
By the end of last year, there were more than 1,100 short-range ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan from China, according to the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress.
Ma said the removal of those would not mean much militarily as the projectiles are mobile and could just as quickly be brought back.
It’s China’s refusal to accept Ma as a sovereign leader and meet him on those grounds that is an obstacle to talks.
“Our relationship with mainland China is very subtle. We don’t have a state-to-state relationship and we do not view mainland China as a foreign state,” Ma said.
However, under the ROC Constitution, “we are of course a sovereign nation,” he said.