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“It feels like this is the beginning of the end,” someone commented to me after hearing of the Ma-Xi Summit planned to happen in Singapore on November 7th. The eleventh hour meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou comes as a curveball, given that Ma is a lame-duck president and there is less than two months before presidential elections. Does the meeting represent the last, desperate attempts of the Ma administration to influence cross-strait relations before the end of Ma’s term? Certainly, that the meeting was announced with only a few days notice before it is slated to happen would represent that something very, very unusual is going on here.

If Ma’s meeting with Xi is a surprise, it follows in the footsteps of an earlier meeting between KMT chairman Eric Chu and Xi. The replacement of Ma with Chu as KMT chairman occurred last year after the defeat of the KMT in nine-in-one elections, with Ma resigning as a way to take responsibility for the KMT’s defeat. But Chu is popularly seen as something of Ma’s puppet, in that he is a member of the Ma-led “Mainlander” faction of the KMT and is still subordinate to Ma, who remains a powerful figure within the KMT. Chu has, of course, in the time since, become the presidential candidate of the KMT for 2016 elections.

When Chu met with Xi, the KMT attempted to play this up as a historic breakthrough in cross-strait relations—one which only the KMT and not the DPP could have accomplished, given the special historical relation between the KMT and CCP. Yet as it had been a long-term goal of Ma to become the first standing Taiwanese president to have a meeting with a standing Chinese president since the end of the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the PRC, the Chu-Xi meeting was seen then as something of a failure on Ma’s part—representative of that Ma would end his presidency as having failed to achieve this goal and having expended his popularity in pushing for unpopular cross-strait policies.

The other incident in the past year of a Taiwanese high official visiting China was, of course, Lien Chan’s visit to China on the occasion of the large military parade held in September. Lien’s visit to China was, in fact, condemned by even the KMT where it appears that Lien had decided on his own to go to China, in some way taking Taiwanese foreign policy into his own hands.

Both Lien’s visit to China and Chu’s visit to China would provoke strong reactions from the Taiwanese public. Which raises the question: What does Ma exactly intend to accomplish here? It is merely that as a lame-duck president with less than two months left in his term, now Ma sees it as that he can behave with complete abandon in total disregard of public opinion?

Even if Ma and Xi have both vowed that no real policy decisions will come out of this meeting, it is also true the meeting is probably meant more for show than anything. Ma and Xi can be in communication anytime they want—and there is no need to broadcast this publicly. It seems likely that Ma’s meeting with Xi is to further demonstrate that the KMT has a special ability to manage cross-strait relations which the DPP lacks, in a moment of crisis for the KMT before elections in which the KMT not only stands to lose the presidency, is more unpopular than ever before in history, and has questions about its continued viability, period.

Probably KMT’s hope is that the meeting would demonstrate, once again, the special ability of the KMT to conduct negotiations with the CCP in order to maintain cross-strait stability. In this way, Ma and Xi meeting would go towards suggesting that the KMT still has this continued raison d’être. That is, even if the KMT still looks very unlikely to win the presidency, there is still the need for the KMT to continue to exist for Taiwan to maintain cross-strait stability. And so Ma and Xi meeting would serve to establish a rationale for the KMT to continue to exist. No doubt, where members of the international press will descend upon the event and probably report quite wrongly that this meeting is a sign of improving China-Taiwan relations—coming in from afar with little knowledge of the past year’s events—it is that the meeting will in fact influence how cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China are perceived by the international world.

PhotoCreditUDN:林俊良Hung supporters scuffling with police outside KMT headquarters. Photo credit: Lin Junliang/UDN

It is also very likely that the historic nature of the Ma-Xi meeting would go towards stabilizing the internal crisis of the KMT. As evidenced in the Hung presidential candidacy and the struggle to oust Hung from her position of presidential candidate of the KMT, it would appear that dangerous deep-blue extremists threaten to take control of the KMT. But the historic nature of a Taiwanese KMT president meeting with a Chinese president might be viewed as a victory for the party as a whole and in that way be consolidating of the internal divisions which have emerged within the “mainland faction” of the KMT in wake of the rise and fall of Hung Hsiu-Chu. Actually, though, this might prove aggravating of the “Taiwanese faction” of the KMT in a moment which just saw tension over whether the leader of the “Taiwanese faction”, Wang Jinpyng, would be allowed to seek another term as legislator. So there would also seem to be something complicated going on with the KMT internally in the run-up to this meeting.

But Taiwanese civil society will not take this sitting down. Seeing as that Ma seems to have learned little lessons from the past year after the Sunflower Movement in attempting to continue pushing through unpopular cross-strait policies, we have seen eruptions of spontaneous protest every time this had happened. In the run-up towards this summer’s Ministry of Education occupation, for example, we saw spontaneous outbursts of protest against the Ma administrations decision for Taiwan to apply for the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank on March 31st—with over one thousand gathering outside of the presidential residence. This time will be no different—and no doubt, after the past year’s worth of continual protest, even the Ma administration realizes this at this point—just it does not care, or is laboring under the delusion it can shrug off mass protest from Taiwan’s young.

IMG_20150731_013145Demonstrators forcing their way into the Ministry of Education on July 31st. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Calls for action have already ensued from leading figures of civil society such as Huang Kuo-Chang of Sunflower Movement fame and rock star Freddy Lim, both members of the New Power Party, and condemnations by the Social Democratic Party and Free Taiwan Party. Huang Kuo-Chang and Freddy Lim are calling for a mobilization to be held this morning outside of the Legislative Yuan at 9 AM. Regardless of this morning’s action, seeing as Ma’s meeting with Xi is slated to happen over the weekend, no doubt the weekend will also see actions.

But the fight is on. Two months after the textbook protests have seen a a lull in action, following exhaustion, but it may be time for activists to mobilize once again. Taiwanese civil society will not go down without a fight.


Author: Brian Hioe
Biography: Brian Hioe (丘琦欣) is an M.A. student at Columbia University, a freelance writer on politics and social activism, and an occasional translator. He is a resident of Taipei, Taiwan.

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