“Nobody can separate us; we are blood brothers, brothers of which if our bones were broken we will still be hung together by our tendons.”
THE ABOVE WAS Xi’s opening statement in the publicized meeting between the two leaders. Xi’s entire five minutes speech consisted of only one theme: We are culturally, ethnically, and most importantly, politically Chinese. Xi aggressively put forward this rhetoric, disregarding the possibility that it may enrage the Taiwanese public as they watched live from hundreds of miles away. Many have suggested Xi agreed to the meeting to salvage KMT’s waning popularity. It would seems, then, to be incredibly stupid that Ma swallowed Xi’s words, and responded by asserting a “One China Principle” without any two interpretation qualifier. Clearly, while Xi hammered on with words of brotherly love, broken families, and Chinese on both straits (兩岸中國人), Ma spoke nothing against Xi for the sake of Taiwanese. In Ma’s statement, there was no emphasis on “Taiwan” but instead, his statements matched with Xi’s by claiming that we are descendants of the yellow emperor (炎黃子孫) and are all of the Chinese race.
All along, Beijing has always been coherent with its political stance which is Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Communication between both sides is usually led by the State Council of Taiwan affairs (國台辦) or Mainland Affairs Council (陸委會), or through the Straits Exchange Foundation (海基會) and ARATS(海協會). Therefore, how is it that Xi’s statements during the meeting differ from usual statements? This is the first time both side did not expound through the lower-ranking officials but face-to-face. Such a symbolic change means we can clearly identify who is authority, since it is the figure-head of both “states” that are engaging in a dialogue. Yet, this meeting only proves one thing: Ma certainly caved in, and never did he intend to meet Xi on equal footing. This does not come as a surprise to most Taiwanese, but it does come as a surprise if this is China’s strategy to influence the 2016 Presidential election. What were they thinking? Is it that China is still misinformed about Taiwan, or is that a political message of greater meaning belies this pre-arranged meeting?
A new grand narrative has been formulated in the meeting; the status quo is now One China. All along, the status quo has always been about China, and never about Taiwan. Yet, this meeting seem to disregard that Taiwanese will be irritated by the rhetoric of “One China”. In fact, after the meeting, there were hardly protests or adverse reactions against Ma–or at least less than expected. As a result, to the confused international community, it may seem like Taiwanese are welcoming of the meetings, but the actual fact is that Taiwanese believe that the democratic value, which they are trying to safeguard against China and KMT, is more powerful a weapon against them. They will show China and the KMT that regardless of whatever dialogue and wherever country they engage in, ultimately, Taiwan can vote the KMT out of Taiwan. The unusually calm attitude the Taiwanese have shown actually belies the maturity Taiwanese democracy has achieved over the span of these few days. This is a breakthrough, and it certainly makes me wonder if Ma and Xi expected this.
Recent polling ratings. Photo credit: SET
Recent polls by SET shows that Tsai’s ratings has increased after the meeting. If the meeting was meant to help the KMT, why is it that results are showing that the strategy has backfired? This thus brings us to another possible conclusion, and that is Ma and Xi never expected the meeting to salvage the KMT situation. Maybe, it was all about Xi proving that he still has the power, to keep things under scrutiny. To begin, Xi never intended to give Ma the authority to agree on anything, because if there were to be an agreement, it would mean they are both in the capacity to negotiate. Why would China want to negotiate with Taiwan, which it deems an inalienable part of it? From the carefully drafted statements of both “leaders” to Taiwan and the world, China will never allow Taiwan’s independence, the “leader” of Taiwan knows that, and Taiwan needs to know that as well. Also, since it is understood that this meeting most probably would not affect the presidential election, it seems to be a clear political message Xi is giving Taiwanese: It does not matter who you choose to vote for as president, ultimately, power lies with China.
The unusual silence from Washington and Tsai’s weak abstract rebuttal to the Xi-Ma meeting seems to amplify Xi’s message further. This meeting is China’s method of warning Taiwanese that independence can never be realized. Therefore, it isn’t that Xi is looking at swaying the electorate, but simply Xi playing God to Taiwan and asserting his influence in the eyes of the international community. Ma certainly did him a favour by calling out to the world that both China and Taiwan are part of the great Chinese race. It is Xi’s method to proclaim himself as a powerful man, though ironically, he fell two rankings to become the 5th most powerful man in Forbes’ recent analysis. We might remember, Xi’s successful business trip to the UK, Singapore compliantly hosting the meeting, the successful estanlishment of the AIIB, and other international events that took place in the last year are all his achievements.
Why the need to proclaim how powerful he is? It can mean that Xi is feeling nervous about Taiwan. After all, Xi has put in a lot of effort in securing his prominence and power since his inauguration. The Taiwan presidential election’s outcome seems to be fixed, and this will definitely deal a blow to Xi’s legacy. How will it then reflect back to the people in China? If there is any possible way to deal with “what ifs,” it would mean that Xi takes the initiative to put the message out first. The fact that the meeting ended peacefully, gained historic prominence, and made Xi the first to break the ice with Taiwan’s leader, has enough credibility to protect Xi’s reputation and legacy, irregardless of the results of the 2016 presidential election. In fact, Global Times pronounced that “the Taiwan problem is no longer a problem” after the meeting. If anything, blame would be fully attributed to Ma, for his failure of first consulting the Taiwanese public in meeting Xi.
We analyze too much from the point of view of the elections. If this meeting meant to salvage the election, then Eric Chu at the very least should have been brought into the conversation or hinted at, but he was nowhere to be seen. If this meeting meant to lock Tsai Ing-wen into committing to a status quo referring to One China, Taiwanese did not demand much answers from her. Therefore, it might be that this meeting was not meant to help Ma and the KMT in Taiwan. Maybe it is meant to help Xi secure his present influence in both China and the world, and to further isolate Taiwan from the international community.