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After the Xi-Ma meeting, now that it appears tensions have cooled down, it may be that now is the time for post-mortems. We might ask ourselves, then, how important was the Xi-Ma meeting anyway?
Actually, it is important to note the means by which evaluations of the Xi-Ma meeting roughly falls into two camps. The first camp are those who insist that the Xi-Ma meeting does not mean very much, will not change anything about present circumstances, and thus can be disregarded as a sideshow. The second camp are those who attribute greater importance to the Xi-Ma meeting, as marking a shift from the previous 1992 Consensus even if the meeting claimed on the surface only to be preserving the 1992 Consensus, and that the media spectacle in itself may have very real consequences.
Yet it is that the international world has largely ruled the Xi-Ma meeting to be of importance, if we are to take stock of the vast amount of media coverage of the Xi-Ma and the large number of analysis which have appeared in past days. However, we might also note, is it that anxiety belies the position that the Xi-Ma meeting is of no importance? We might note that many commentators may simply be hoping the meeting to mean nothing, in order to make way for the smooth accession of Tsai to presidency.
Probably there is no need to be so anxious. Regardless of anything, a Tsai victory seems likely. And if it may be that the public response to the Xi-Ma meeting was more lukewarm than many hoped for, the meeting only goes to demonstrate the KMT’s disconnect from present political reality in Taiwan. Actually, we might speculate as to whether the argument that the meeting meant nothing belies that Tsai aims to also meet with Xi in the future, once president, and so would like to downplay present events in order that a future meeting with Xi would not be so controversial for herself.
Indeed, if we are judge as to divide reactions from Taiwanese civil society and the Taiwanese public, if it is that a “united front” of forces also critical of the DPP in some respects has arrayed themselves behind Tsai Ing-Wen in the sense that she would be better than a KMT president, that “united front” may already be fragmenting prematurely. And given how inevitable a Tsai victory appears, perhaps it should, because as with every other elected party or politician, Tsai will be in need of oversight in the presidency.
More to the point, was the Xi-Ma meeting actually significant though? It is hard to judge, as the KMT realizes that claiming something new came out of the meeting would be probably backfire. Seeing as that the KMT had to arrange the meeting in secrecy, for fear of public backlash, then declare that it would happen as a fait accompli, the KMT went into the meeting claiming that no significant political decisions would be made, probably realizing that the lack of transparency in their decision-making was already quite visible. So it is not surprising that the KMT even if the KMT was trying to accomplish the establishment something new with this meeting, they would have to do so in the name of the status quo, that is, in the name of what already existed.
Whether it is or not that this meeting has established anything will actually be an object of contestation from here on out. We might remember the way in which the “1992 Consensus,” a fictional construct coined by Su Chi in 2000, eight years after claimed fact, took on political reality on the basis of it being repeated endlessly in the media and by government officials. If any significant changes occurred as a result of the Ma-Xi meeting, it will be through the KMT simply acting as though there were changes, but without out saying so explicitly, and always being sure to always use the language of there being no status quo.
And so by acting as though there are changes but without saying so would be the way to enact changes. Indeed, even Ma came out of the meeting acting largely as though the meeting were not really anything particularly special at least during the press conference which followed, but rather normal course. If Ma had been exuberantly triumphalistic coming out of the meeting, Ma would probably have seen more public censure. In this sense, however, the significance of the Xi-Ma meeting may lay precisely in its insignificance.
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 former resident of Taipei, Taiwan.