Daily Bloom is the shortform blog of New Bloom, covering breaking news events as they occur in real-time. 

Symbolic Meeting?

IN 2007, Ma claimed that he would not run for party Chairman if he were to be elected President. The idea of being both, a statesman and party chairman, would have been too uncomfortable to the public as a reminder of the deceased Chiangs, given that Chiang father and son held both positions. Later on, reneging on his promise, Ma ran for party Chairman and won.  Another time in 2011, Ma said that if he were to be re-elected, he would not meet with China’s president. At the press conference held yesterday, Ma’s justification was that: “I said I would not meet with China’s President in China, but now, it is in a third country in Singapore; I did not say I would not meet him there.”

The historic meeting is set to take place tomorrow in Singapore, at the famous Shangri-la hotel (香格里拉大飯店). As civic groups in Taiwan gather today to protest against the meeting as well as the trade pact, a group of students from Democracy Tautin (民主鬥陣 have purchased tickets to Singapore to scrutinize what Ma would be doing. As to whether there will be an attempt to protest against this meeting on Singapore soil, it is uncertain because the laws of Singapore would forbid them to do so.

So, what will the world be looking forward to today? According to William Stanton, director of the Centre for Asia Policy at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, he said: “People will look carefully at who proffers his hand first, who makes the first move forward to shake hands…”Do they have a hug? Who initiates? What’s the body language? Does Xi frown? Does Ma look at his feet? Do they stare at each other directly? This thing is going to be analysed to death.” In addition, what will they wear? What food will they have? How will they arrange to be seated? All of these little actions will be scrutinized by the world, attestng to the meeting’s significance. Nonetheless, some argue otherwise, that the meeting will have little impact on the elections since Ma is a lame duck that can do little to salvage his party’s waning popularity, and that the imbroglio KMT has created with replacing Hung Hsiu Chu with Eric Chu will only deepen the KMT unpopularity. We might take a look.

The Carrot or Stick Approach

MANY EXPERTS and scholars take the view that the meeting that is going to take place tomorrow will not have too much of an impact on Taiwan. Some argue that if the meetings took place earlier on in Ma’s tenure, it might have had some influence. However, it is important to point out that people seem to overlook the fact that Ma and Xi do not actually need to communicate face-to-face to get messages through.

Obviously, this meeting has been arranged not for Xi to pat Ma in the head for his 7 years of hard work in bringing Taiwan closer into China’s political grip, but to salvage what China deems a threat to his plans to engulf Taiwan politically. Polls have suggested that the KMT will lose not only the presidential elections, but also the legislative one. To put it bluntly, KMT has destroyed its chances to the point of no return that it has to seek out China’s help. Therefore, not only should we scrutinize how Ma will perform, but strategically, it is necessary to examine what Xi and Beijing has to offer Taiwan at this meeting. Of course, it is Xi and not Ma that will be playing the bigger role in this meeting. But will Xi surprise us?

All along, China has treated Taiwan with the carrot and stick approach. Will China proceed to threaten Taiwan or offer economic incentives? It seems to be that economic incentives have not won the hearts of the youths in Taiwan, given that the Sunflower Movement, a movement against the supposedly economic incentives of the CSSTA trade bill, has successful led to a wave of civic activism. It will be important to analyze how China will utilize economic prospects to influence the presidential election in 2016.

Back in 1996, the scare tactic used by China during Lee’s US trip seemed to have back-fired in the way it instead heightened Taiwanese sentiments for independence. From then on, Beijing has tended to avoid using scare tactics as its blunt diplomacy, although the missiles targeting Taiwan has not decreased but increased over the years. The military parade held in September only proves further that China has never backed down from invoking threats in a subtle manner. In both soft power and hard power diplomacy, China has sophisticatedly manuevered its way up the ladder.

The success of China’s diplomacy can be seen in the willingness of western countries to join the AIIB and Xi’s recent trip to the UK which concluded with trade deals worth billions. China’s involvement with the unresolved disputed territories in South China Sea goes further to show that China’s military is gaining traction and foothold within the Asia Pacific region. All of which are threats to Taiwan in various ways. These threats are telling Taiwan that even western democracies are caving into China’s political grip, and that China’s military is capable enough to secure a presence in the South China Sea. This may be the message Xi is trying to convey to the Taiwanese electorate ahead of 2016 elections.

Economic bargains have always been China’s biggest leverage upon Taiwan. Thus, one cannot help but wonder if the decision to acquire Micron by Tsinghua Unigroup, controlled by Tsinghua University in Beijing, which counts President Xi Jinping among its alumni, or if stocks rose upon the breaking of the news of Ma-Xi meeting coincides with sending a positive message to the Taiwanese electorate. If a Ma-Xi meeting were to happen, then, is it Taiwan’s economy only stands to gain?

It is interesting to point out that many Taiwanese are actually quick to correlate this factor with the Ma-Xi meeting. Moreover, as of now, there has been no notorious statements issued by China that have raised hackles with regards to the sovereignty issues of Taiwan; hence, in the eyes of many, it is hard to find any fault with the meeting, apart from that it is politically sensitive. What does Beijing have to offer then? As noted by Brian Hioe, Ma’s meeting with Xi will largely be for show, but what kind of show? Will China be wise enough to avoid issues about sovereignty and simply offer peaceful initiatives and economic incentives?

Namely, the fact may be that by arranging avoiding explicit discussion of issues of sovereignty, Ma and Xi could redefine what is means by “status quo” in Taiwan, giving the KMT a context in which in can regain confidence and send Tsai Ing-wen into a deadlock where international relations is concerned. Would this actually impart a positive view of the meeting among Taiwanese?

A New “1992 Consensus”?

THE 1992 Consensus is, in fact, close to a quarter of a century old.  1992 was twenty-three years ago.  As such, is it really surprising that the 1992 consensus is not accepted by the majority of Taiwanese today?  In this light, despite Ma Ying-Jeou’s claim to date that there will be no political decisions made at the summit, if anything substantive materializes from the upcoming Xi-Ma summit, it would be aimed at producing something like “beyond” the 1992 Consensus that would creating a new reference point for cross-strait relations.  Because if the 1992 Consensus was ultimately a fictional construct, it ultimately came to have political reality as a reference point by the ROC and PRC governments for the cross-strait status quo.

This is the impossible dilemma faced by Tsai Ing-Wen, for one, in that Tsai faces the uphill challenge of producing something which is not the 1992 Consensus, but will not be utterly disrupting of cross-strait relations.  But on the other side of the fence, with even the KMT, we see the vague awareness of a need for something which is “beyond the 1992 Consensus.”  An awkward attempt at this was, of course, former KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-Chu’s attempt to move from “one China, two interpretations” to something she puzzling called “one China, same interpretations”, and touted as an “advanced version of the 1992 Consensus.”  Though Ma Ying-Jeou may not be a political wingnut in the mold of Hung, he probably also realizes the need to create something which advances beyond the 1992 Consensus, or at least updates it to the present.

This will certainly provide grounds for the necessary attacks Eric Chu needs for his final two months before the big day of elections. As to how much will affect the choices of the electorate is uncertain, but we may note well that the Ma-Xi meeting coincides with Eric Chu’s upcoming trip to the US.

All Too Coincidental?

MAYBE THE US is waiting to see how the Ma-Xi meeting proceeds. If all goes well, the symbolic message to the Taiwanese electorate would seem to be that the KMT is the only party capable of dealing with both China and the US, something which the DPP has failed to perform during its 8 years of administration.

Is the US really supportive of this meeting? There are mixed messages from Washington’s response, but since the US has claimed that it will not intervene in the 2016 election, it will hardly be wise for the US to claim a stake here. Furthermore, during one of the state department briefing which occured after news of Ma-Xi meeting occupied the media, the US once again answered questions with ambiguity.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We welcome the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. The United States has a deep and abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The benefits that stable and positive cross-strait ties have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the United States, and the region have been enormous. We encourage authorities in Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect.

QUESTION: Are you aware of it in advance?

MS TRUDEAU: We’re aware of those reports. I’m not going to speak specifically of those reports, but I will say that we are – we welcome —

QUESTION: So, I mean, are you aware of it before the news release or you just —

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to discuss sort of our political dialogue on that.

QUESTION: So what are the expectations or concerns that United States might have out of the meeting?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe cross-strait issues should be resolved peacefully in a manner, pace, and scope acceptable to people on both sides of the strait. We have welcomed the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years. I’m not going to speculate in advance of this. We’ve seen the reports. We’d welcome all steps.

Indeed, the US is careful in treading the line here. One might wonder that such ambiguity may serve as a warning to the DPP as well as a sign that the US is interested in knowing the outcome of the meeting between Ma and Xi before they decide to proceed with further actions.  Would the US actually shift sides and cater once again to the KMT by giving Chu the warmest welcome on this “coincidental” arrangement?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We welcome the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. The United States has a deep and abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The benefits that stable and positive cross-strait ties have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the United States, and the region have been enormous. We encourage authorities in Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect.

QUESTION: Are you aware of it in advance?

MS TRUDEAU: We’re aware of those reports. I’m not going to speak specifically of those reports, but I will say that we are – we welcome —

QUESTION: So, I mean, are you aware of it before the news release or you just —

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to discuss sort of our political dialogue on that.

QUESTION: So what are the expectations or concerns that United States might have out of the meeting?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe cross-strait issues should be resolved peacefully in a manner, pace, and scope acceptable to people on both sides of the strait. We have welcomed the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years. I’m not going to speculate in advance of this. We’ve seen the reports. We’d welcome all steps.

Will the Ma-Xi Meeting, In Fact, Scandalize the Taiwanese Community?

LASTLY IT IS important to stress that this is no longer just a “Ma” game, but a “Ma-Xi” game. Are both Ma and Xi living in their own bubble? The real threat, however, is that if a “new’ consensus which might emerge from the meeting were to be persuasive enough, the Taiwanese community may not be as scandalized as one would have thought they would be because of this meeting.

What is the reasoning here then? If Ma and Xi were to portray a sincere and unprovocative scene, avoid sensitive sovereignty talks, focus on cross-culture and economic exchanges, they might avoid scandalizing the public if they are successful in putting on the facade is that both are speaking on equal footing. In the year since the Sunflower Movement, the public is used to daily movements and protests against Ma, and people are all too used to Ma’s ineptitude. If there is anything scary in political society, it would be political apathy.

Of course, if the meeting does not touch on sensitive “political issues,” it should be clear that this empty rhetoric has pre-arranged and the public should not fall for the ruse. Yet, it would be too optimistic as of now to think that this meeting would serve no good to Ma and his party. In spite of everything, if the meeting goes well it may be the necessary “exposure” to seem like Ma is engaging on behalf the Taiwanese public with China. It may be that many commentators are over-estimating the Taiwanese public’s capacity to view the meeting critically.

Maybe the tears might fall later, but as of now, it is too early to whine over what has past. What Taiwanese should do, is to gather the necessary momentum it has amassed since the dawn of the Sunflower movement, and make sure they jump on every opportunity the KMT finds to sell Taiwan’s sovereignty piece by piece—through whatever means.

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Author: Minmin
Photo Credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Biography: Minmin studied for her BA at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, specializing in theoretical and international politics in relations to Taiwan.