MA-XI MEETING: US was told about talks, official says

‘STRONG STAKE’::A senior US State Department official said the Singapore meeting ‘is consistent with the direction’ Washington has encouraged the two sides to move in

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Fri, Nov 06, 2015 - Page 3

Taiwan and China informed the US in advance of the official announcement that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) would meet tomorrow in Singapore, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel said on Wednesday.

There had been speculation that the announcement came as a surprise to Washington.

Answering questions following a speech in New York on US-Asia policy, Russel said the news of the meeting was “subsequently leaked to the press — not by us.”

“My first reaction was that the meeting was consistent with the direction that we have encouraged both Taipei and Beijing to move in,” he said. “That is, direct constructive engagement with a view to promoting cross-strait stability and economic opportunity for both sides — to be conducted with the spirit of dignity and respect.”

However, he said that since first hearing of the meeting he had “seen a lot of press in Taiwan raising questions about the timing and potential political impact” on the Jan. 16 elections.

“It is very hard to know whether this meeting is going to have any impact or effect on the elections — and if it did, what that impact would be,” he said. “Would it help the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] or the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party]? I genuinely don’t know.”

The US would wait and see “how the conversation goes and whether the discussions between the two leaders continues the positive momentum of the last several years that has seen the relaxation of tensions,” he said.

The US does not take sides in Taiwanese politics, but it “does have a strong stake in Taiwan’s thriving democracy and the US also has a strong stake in Taiwan’s economy and its economic diversification,” Russel said. “Because we have our ‘one China’ policy, the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, we care greatly about Taiwan’s security and the stability of the Taiwan Strait.”

Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush on Wednesday said the Ma-Xi meeting would mark a “major shift” in cross-strait relations.

“Taiwan politics is the wildcard here,” Bush said in an article published by the Brookings Institution, where he is director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

“In the next two weeks, we are likely to see a fierce struggle between the Ma administration and the DPP opposition to define the significance of the Ma-Xi encounter for Taiwan’s future,” he said.

Bush said that it is premature to speculate on the meeting’s impact on the January elections, but he wonders if Ma hoped to improve the KMT’s chances in the elections as well as consolidate his legacy in building cross-strait cooperation.

Bush also asked why Xi agreed to the meeting, noting that Taipei had announced that it would result in no agreements and no joint declaration and that no political talks would occur.

“This is appropriate since the work of concluding agreements between the two sides has ground to a halt, not least because of politics in Taiwan,” Bush said.

The Singapore meeting is expected to greatly increase interest in KMT Chairman Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) visit to Washington next week.

Asked if anyone from the White House would meet with Chu and if there was any concern that such a meeting might impact the elections, White House spokesman Josh Ernest on Wednesday said: “I’m not aware of his upcoming visit. But let me see if we can follow up with you for a reaction to those plans.”

However, US Department of State press relations director Elizabeth Trudeau said: “We welcome KMT Party Chairman Eric Chu’s visit and look forward to discussing a wide range of issues with him, just as we did with DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in June.”

“The United States will not take sides in the election. The outcome of Taiwan’s election is a matter for the people of Taiwan to decide,” she said.

The Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) on Wednesday released a statement expressing “deep concern” about the Ma-Xi meeting.

“The fact that the plans for the meeting were kept under wraps until the last minute is symptomatic of the undemocratic ‘black box ‘approach the Ma government has been following,” it said.

“It is inappropriate for a lame duck president to engage in such a meeting,” FAPA said. “A truly fruitful and productive meeting between the leaders from the two sides can only be held in due time, after Taiwan itself has reached a broad consensus on future cross-strait relations in a transparent and open political process.”