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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times KMT buys into manipulation of Ma

KMT buys into manipulation of Ma

On Wednesday last week, former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) met in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), in the latter’s capacity as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Ma’s title of former president was not mentioned in Xi’s speech at the meeting or in news reports by official Chinese media, nor was there mention of his other title, former chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The only title attached to Ma’s name was plain old “Mr.”

Xi used the meeting to preach a message of unification.

He said that “the difference in political systems does not alter the reality that both sides of the strait belong to one China and one nation” and that “external interference cannot hold back the historical trend of national reunification.”

By “external interference,” Xi meant the support given to Taiwan by the US and other democratic countries.

Shortly before Taiwan’s presidential election in January, an interviewer from German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle asked Ma whether he trusted Xi, to which Ma said that when it comes to cross-strait relations, you have to trust the other side.

In light of Ma’s response, it comes as no surprise that he would be willing to act as a political tool and help Xi in his quest to promote unification. On the other hand, the KMT, which hurriedly distanced itself from Ma in the run-up to the election, now approves of Ma’s visit to China, so it is the KMT that seems to have changed its attitude.

Xi invited Ma to “come here often,” showing how pleased he was with Ma’s help in promoting unification.

A foreign media report said that Ma was seen “sobbing” on five days out of his 11-day visit. As well as getting deeply involved in his dramatic role, Ma was moved to tears by his nationalistic sentiments. Not forgetting what Ma said before the presidential election, Xi was of course keen to meet Ma and praise him for his patriotism and his contribution to “China’s national rejuvenation.” Xi said that he highly appreciated Ma’s efforts in this regard.

Ma did not disappoint his host. Referring to the worn-out “1992 consensus,” Ma said it was a consensus arrived at in 1992 by both sides of the Taiwan Strait to each express verbally that they both adhere to the “one China” principle. Ma intentionally left out a key difference: that each side has its own interpretation of what “one China” actually means.

This amounts to a retreat from the longstanding standpoint of the KMT and its “pan-blue” allies. Ma’s new version echoes Beijing’s position by narrowing the “1992 consensus” into a “one China” mantra.

Taiwanese do not actually care about the word games played by Xi and Ma. In the past few general elections, statements along the same lines have proven toxic at the ballot box and been rejected by the mainstream.

Xi used the media’s focus on Ma’s visit to restate the CCP’s political framework for Taiwan. In addition, China’s provocations in the Taiwan Strait, its expansion of gray zone conflicts, its infiltration of Taiwan and its increased efforts to pressure the ruling party and woo the opposition have all continued as before, or even more so.

Some foreign media, including the New York Times, said that Xi’s apparent show of goodwill toward Ma is actually a strategy to set conditions for interactions with the incoming administration of president-elect William Lai (賴清德) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). After winning the presidential election, Lai urged China to engage in dialogue instead of confrontation, but China was unmoved by Lai’s overture and has continued to pressure Taiwan militarily, economically and diplomatically.

Xi’s motives for meeting with Ma can be seen more clearly when placed in a broader regional context. On the same day as their meeting, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a meeting to bolster efforts to expand the US and Japanese-led Indo-Pacific alliance. Of course, this is a thorn in China’s side.

Ma’s visit saved a bit of face for Xi. International experts said that the timing of the meeting between Ma and Xi was no coincidence, but was Beijing’s attempt to show that it has not been isolated at a time when the US is upgrading its alliances in Asia.

From Ma’s point of view, the meeting is equivalent to being endorsed by the CCP’s top leadership. It signals that he has taken over from former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) as China’s main agent in Taiwan.

Xi can also use Ma to constrain the KMT. The KMT’s central leadership distanced itself from Ma around the time of the presidential election. It did not let him give a speech or appear on the stage at its final rally on the eve of the election.

However, it has not distanced itself from Ma’s visit to China. When Ma returned to Taiwan on Thursday last week, plenty of KMT legislators greeted him at the airport, as if they wanted to follow Ma on his path of “trusting Xi.”

Sure enough, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) announced on the same day as the meeting between Ma and Xi that a delegation led by the KMT’s deputy chairman would attend the next Straits Forum or Cross-strait Youth Forum. These forums are major “united front” dramas laid on by China, so the KMT’s high-level participation makes it look like a support group.

It is also rumored that China plans to extend a series of invitations to Taiwan’s opposition parties, including inviting Chu to lead a delegation of KMT legislators to visit Beijing in June to give added impetus to “KMT-CCP cooperation.”

China is thought to have deliberately sought out KMT legislators because Taiwan’s combined opposition parties have more legislative seats than the governing DPP. The idea is that as long as it can promote pro-China policies in the Legislative Yuan or even restart negotiations on the shelved cross-strait service trade agreement, it can create a subversive effect in Taiwan.

The KMT’s central leaders have neither confirmed nor denied news of Chu’s invitation, strongly suggesting that they want it to happen.

As for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), although it has not been included in recent visits to China, it has voiced its approval of the meeting between Ma and Xi, while accusing the DPP of continuing to focus on confrontation. The TPP’s attitude is thus also in line with what the CCP regards as politically correct.

Beijing continues to pressure Taiwan, and its “peaceful unification” tactics are only aimed at weakening the ability of Taiwanese to distinguish friend from foe. The opposition parties should be clear about this, rather than being tempted by the prospect of an invitation to meet top Chinese officials and follow Ma’s path of “trusting Xi.”

Although exchanges and dialogue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are important, one side should not have to surrender to the other or impose restrictions on itself.

Taiwan’s subjective opinions were not presented during Ma’s meeting with Xi. When Ma blurted out the words “Republic of China,” it was just a feel-good moment — an imagined victory for the KMT. This kind of dialogue is in line with the CCP’s propaganda, and suits the purposes of China’s “united front” offensive.

From China’s perspective, “Mr Ma” has shown his “loyalty” to the great cause of national reunification, and if organizations and individuals from Taiwan want to visit China for “exchanges and dialogue,” they must not deviate from Ma’s political line of “trusting Xi.”

From Taiwan’s perspective, only unity between the ruling and opposition parties can give it greater strength to cope with the threat posed by China. If the ruling and opposition parties head in different directions, or if they are tempted by Beijing, using Ma as a lure, to go to China to be told what to do, they would be picked off one by one.

The KMT was eager to distance itself from Ma before the election, but now has gone back to following Ma. A political party that has a reputation for swinging back and forth and wanting to cozy up with China while also posing as being pro-US would again be rejected by the mainstream in Taiwan.

Translated by Julian Clegg

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/04/16

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