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Xi-Ma Meeting Unwinds Risks in Cross-Strait Relations

Nov 17, 2015

On Nov 7, President Xi Jinping and Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou met for the first time in Singapore, amid worldwide attention. During the meeting, both sides expressed concern about the prospect that the cross-Strait status quo may be interrupted should the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) get elected to office in the upcoming 2016 election in Taiwan. With this in mind, the two leaders emphasized the importance of the 1992 Consensus with a view to forestall any new disruption in cross-Strait ties like that caused by the former DPP leader Chen Sui-bien.

President Xi said the meeting was essential to prevent that historical tragedy from repeating itself, and to prevent the fruits from peaceful development of cross-Strait ties from being lost again. This is a direct and sincere appeal, in a sense, to the DPP, which has been ambiguous about its stance on the 1992 Consensus. Furthermore, Xi adopted an open and pragmatic approach to the DPP. During the meeting with Ma, Xi emphasized his hope that all political parties and social organizations would accept and adhere to the 1992 Consensus. No matter what their past political propositions may be, as long as they recognize the historical facts of the 1992 Consensus, uphold its core content, China is ready to engage with them. Through this open-handed outreach, the Chinese president is appealing to the DPP to uphold the 1992 Consensus in the interest of peace and stability of the region, in particular across the Strait.

Back in March, Xi stressed the indispensable role of the 1992 Consensus in cross-Strait peace and development during a meeting with CPPCC members. He pointed out that, if the common political foundation enshrined in the 1992 Consensus should be eroded, the mutual trust across the Strait will evaporate, and cross-Strait relations will be drawn back to the old path of turbulence. The warning was meant to appeal to the DPP, but the message has so far gone unheeded by the DPP. Xi reiterated the message because no one wants to see disruption in cross-Strait relations, or turbulence in the region. Some may dare to ask: If the DPP dismisses or goes against the 1992 Consensus, will tensions flare up across the Strait?

Ma Ying-jeou is well versed in the political intricacies of Taiwan, and is familiar with the temperament of DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen, not to mention the US’ high stakes in the Asia Pacific region. He has expressed unequivocally the concerns of bypassing or even denying the 1992 Consensus, and cautioned Ms Tsai against the illusion of maintaining peace and development in cross-Strait relations while bypassing the 1992 Consensus. His word of caution fell on deaf ears. On the contrary, she gave tacit support to Lai Ching-te, DPP member and mayor of Tainan, who has been advocating “Taiwan independence” in an unveiled challenge to Beijing. Tsai, by denying the existence of the 1992 Consensus, is apparently setting the stage for challenging the ultimate bottom line of cross-Strait relations, at least as a future option. Back in 2000, Chen Sui-bien loosened up on his stance and recognized the 1992 Consensus, which was met with strong opposition from Tsai, then the chair of the Mainland Affairs Council. Later, Chen hardened his stance on cross-Strait relations, which severely imperiled cross-Strait relations and undermined the peace and stability of the region.

In spite of her claimed desire to preserve the status quo, Tsai has been circumventing the 1992 Consensus, and her stance on denying that understanding remains unchanged, while Ma is conscious that preserving the status quo serves the interests of the US and other countries in the region. Ma made the case for this position during his visit to the Mainland Affairs Council in April this year, yet to no avail, as the DPP led by Tsai practically has written off Ma as a “caretaker president”, and is determined to make Ma a lame duck during his remaining term. Ma cannot stop the DPP from pushing for “Taiwan independence” under the table, or creating “two Chinas” or “One China, One Taiwan”, nor can Ma enforce his propositions for cross-Strait relations during his tenure. In order to promote the peace and stability of the region, Ma reiterated the 1992 Consensus during the meeting with President Xi. Ma’s repeated assurance of adhering to the 1992 Consensus is meant as a reminder to the people in Taiwan that an administration turning its back on the agreement or pushing for Taiwan independence will rock the boat and even derail the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.

After the Xi-Ma meeting, Tsai claimed that she would be willing to meet with the mainland leader, but she knows very well that mainland leaders will never meet with pro-independence officials from Taiwan. In the meanwhile, she is leading the campaign against the Kuomingtang (KMT) on the grounds that the party is unable to defend Taiwan. Admittedly, Tsai is a seasoned politician and an adept campaigner.

To his credit, Ma conducted himself with propriety at the Xi meeting, and his reaffirmation of the 1992 Consensus indicates his deep concerns about the prospects of DPP leadership it the party wins in 2016. The DPP then accused Ma of “selling out” Taiwan, which is untenable as Ma didn’t say or do anything that may compromise the dignity of the people of Taiwan. The misguided accusation is a veiled attempt to manipulate public opinion against the KMT so as to gain ground in the “parliamentary and presidential elections”. Back in 2000 and 2004, to its regret, the DPP failed to win a parliamentary majority though they carried the day at the “presidential election”. If the DPP has won both, its leaders would have embarked on “de jure independence”, which they see as eventually leading to full independence of Taiwan. Eric Chu, the chairman of the KMT, scorned the DPP’s indiscriminate allegations against the KMT as a “DPP is always right, others are always wrong” philosophy. Chu also said that the Xi-Ma meeting is a positive development, and appealed to the DPP to reconsider its “anything but P.R.C.” policy.

In sum, the Xi-Ma meeting reaffirmed the fundamentally important role of the 1992 Consensus in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, including that it underpins the status quo of peace and development. It provides guidance to the future development of cross-Strait relations. Also, it indicates a high level of consensus between the incumbent leaders of both sides of the Strait. As long as the next leadership of Taiwan upholds the 1992 Consensus, the peace and stability in the area will be maintained. Any attempt to the contrary constitutes a blatant challenge to cross-Strait relations, and it will definitely be met with counteractions from the mainland.

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