For President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is something he has been preparing for since his re-election in 2012, and a matter of securing his “historical legacy.”
Ma had hoped to meet Xi at the APEC summit in Beijing in November last year. However, his plan was undone by last year’s Sunflower movement and allegations in August from then-Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) that deputy minister Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) was a Chinese spy; a case that was later dismissed by the courts.
However, Ma pressed on.
The Chinese-language newspaper the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) broke the news that Ma and Xi are to meet tomorrow in Singapore in an exclusive story published online late on Tuesday. The meeting is one that the international community will undoubtedly scrutinize.
Since 2012, Ma has intended to achieve a historic breakthrough in Taiwan-China relations, and arranging a personal summit with the Chinese leader has become his greatest preoccupation.
In early 2012, Ma sent then-vice president-elect Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to the Boao Forum in China to test the waters. Beijing responded by raising the stakes.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi (王毅) told Wu that the Ma administration must shore up “mutual political trust” before further dialogue.
In March 2012, Ma sent former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) to float the principle of “one country, two areas” (一國兩區) to then-Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), which earned Beijing’s plaudits for being a sound basis for political relations.
In November 2012, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its 18th National Congress, which inaugurated Xi as China’s new head of state, and also resolved to call on the Ma administration to join with Beijing to “make reasonable and sensible accommodations in the cross-strait relationship” that would navigate “the extraordinary circumstances” of a disunited China.
Wang said the meaning of the National Congress declaration was a renunciation of the “two Chinas” (兩個中國) as well as “one China, one Taiwan” (一中一台), which made it clear that the CCP message’s intended recipient was the Ma administration.
Therefore, Ma considered 2013 the crucial year to secure a summit with Xi. In April 2013, Ma abruptly declared that he would not promote “two Chinas,” “one China, one Taiwan,” or Taiwanese independence as his China policy, a statement believed to have been made in order to establish the so-called “mutual political trust” perceived by the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
In June 2013, Ma sent Wu to see Xi, to deliver “Ma’s seven points,” which were a direct response to Beijing’s demand that Taiwan recognize the so-called “1992 consensus” and to renounce Taiwanese independence as the precondition and the foundation to political relations.
The so-called “1992 consensus,” a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) said in 2006 that he had made up in 2000, refers to a tacit understanding between the KMT and the CCP that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.
Wu even responded to Beijing’s “one China framework” (一中框架) with an identical phrase that substituted one character of the word “framework” with a synonym (一中架構). At the conclusion of the meeting, Xi lauded his dialogue with Wu as a “highly significant” one.
At the same time, the Ma administration began to float the idea of a summit between Ma and Xi to the media, while former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) met Xi at the 2013 APEC summit in Indonesia, where Xi told Siew that the political differences between Taiwan and China “cannot be handed down from generation to generation.”
Ma had hoped that the 2013 APEC summit would break the ice for him and lead to meeting Xi at last year’s APEC summit in Beijing, where he hoped he would attain his historic breakthrough.
However, although Beijing expressed interest, it also insisted on styling the meeting as a KMT-CCP summit, rather than a state visit between the president of the Republic of China (ROC) and the president of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In an interview conducted in December last year with the Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan, a publication with strong ties to Beijing, Ma unequivocally said that he would not visit China as the KMT chairman — which was tantamount to rejecting the party-to-party model Beijing offered — and clearly asserted that he had different ideas about how to bill the proposed meeting.
For its part, Beijing was concerned that if Ma participated in the 2014 APEC summit as the ROC president, it might lend legitimacy to “two Chinas,” and it reportedly indicated that Ma should instead visit China as the KMT chairman, or that Xi should meet Ma on Kinmen.
According to an allegation disclosed to the press during the Chang scandal last year, a proposed summit between Ma and Xi on Kinmen had been tentatively scheduled in August last year, before being scuttled due to influences exerted by “international variables.”
Xi last year stated for the first time that “one country, two systems” is the bottom line of China’s Taiwan policy.
Since Ma’s attendance would inevitably be read as an endorsement of that line, Xi’s statement was at the time believed to have driven the nails into the coffin of a Ma-Xi summit.
However, Ma persevered and by dint of secret negotiations he will tomorrow achieve the meeting that he so devoutly wished for.
Only time will tell what promises — if any — were made under the table during those talks.
The question now is: At what price to Taiwan did Ma secure his “personal legacy?”
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