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If it has been a longstanding trope to suggest that the CCP and KMT are like brothers, on the eve of the first meeting of an ROC president and PRC president, we might point to the strange set of similarities between Taiwanese president Ma and Chinese president Xi.
Both are, in a sense, “princelings” as the heirs of longstanding political families significant in the KMT and CCP. As president of their respective countries both are the chairmen of their respective political parties—or were, anyway. Ma, resigned his position as chairman of the KMT in order to take responsibility for the KMT’s defeat in past nine-in-one elections. But Ma is likely still the power behind the throne of current KMT party chairman and presidential candidate Eric Chu. And although Taiwan is now a democracy and no longer a one party regime ruled by their regimes—a highly imperfect one, albeit, it is that in this sense, Ma and Xi are the heirs of the KMT and CCP respectively.
Ultimately it was that the KMT was unable to weather the storms of the 1980s in order to maintain its political dominance in Taiwan, with the rising tide of the Taiwanese dangwai movement. During the same period of time in the 1980s, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the CCP was introducing market reforms into China in a controlled manner, hoping to develop the Chinese economy without unleashing political turmoil that would be beyond the CCP’s ability to control. 1989 saw the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations in China and 1990 the Wild Lily student demonstrations in Taiwan, but in spite of that CCP cracked down with force in Tiananmen Square, it was able to maintain its one party rule. The KMT had to relinquish one party rule and eventually allow for multiparty elections. Perhaps we can situate both China and Taiwan more broadly within a global set of transformations which occurred in the 1980s, however, it was that the CCP maintained power in a way the KMT did not.
Nonetheless, it is that today within the CCP and KMT alike, there is nostalgia for the good old ways. As we see in the rise of extremist candidates as Hung Hsiu-Chu, there are elements of the KMT who clearly hanker for the glory days of the party—never mind that those were the days of authoritarianism. And in China today, with the resurgence of Maoist ideology under the rule of Xi Jinping, we see that there are stalwarts who view the free market reforms of the Deng period as having led to excess and long for a return to the good old days when the East was red.
Ma Ying-Jeou and Xi Jinping are creatures of the same era, although Ma at 65 is slightly older to Xi’s 62. In the sense that Ma and Xi are both children of party members of the KMT and CCP respectively who lived through the glory days of the party, they may have inherited this sense of nostalgia. Indeed, if some attention has gone to that Xi is the son of Xi Zhongsun, a member of the first generation of the Communist Party leadership, and probably had his guiding views instilled in him by his father, less attention has gone to Ma’s relationship with his father. Although the elder Ma butted heads with his son sometimes quite furiously about his political career, Ma Ho-Ling, who died in 2005, was a man who went to the grave with instructions for the words, “Replace independence with gradual unification, strengthen China and work towards unification” to be placed on his funerary urn. Let no mistake be made about what Ma’s political views are regarding Taiwan-China reunification in this light.
Because what Ma and Xi may share in common is a sense of historical mission. As has been pointed out, after a disastrous last term as president, Ma may be so dead-set on accomplishing a meeting with Xi in order to secure a legacy as the one KMT leader who after seventy years was able to broker a public meeting with the president of China. It is likely a product of the KMT ideology instilled in Ma that he desires a meeting with Xi so strongly, although of course Ma will probably not accomplish the reunification of Taiwan and China some time in his remaining term.
As for Xi, Xi has vowed that Taiwan and China will be reunified by the end of his presidential term in 2020. Whether or not Xi will in fact accomplish this and whether or not Xi actually has any intention of accomplishing this is another question. But as a product of their similarities in background as heirs of the CCP and KMT respectively, and both parties having gone through turbulent periods in past decades that have led to nostalgia for past glory days, Xi and Ma may share a sense of historical mission. It must be remembered that “liberating” Taiwan looms quite large in CCP ideology as a historical task.
Though in truth, the meeting between Xi and Ma is largely an act of grandstanding, Xi and Ma being able to communicate privately any time they want, it may be that publicly meeting may lead to deeper collaboration behind closed doors. Certainly, Xi and Ma’s meeting would be a visible sign of collaboration to their respective parties. And this would be another danger coming out of the Xi-Ma meeting, if this signifies deeper CCP-KMT collaboration down the line.
Author: Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters/Johannes Eisele/AFP
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.