Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ma Enigmatic on Cross-Strait Ties

Kathrin Hille at the Financial Times reports on Ma's return to Taipei:

Back in Taipei on Wednesday, Mr Ma received thunderous applause from his own camp and biting criticism from the DPP. But the picture of what he stands for remains remarkably blurred.

Mr Ma conveyed the message that he would deal with cross-Strait relations in a pragmatic manner, in contrast to the ideological approach for which the KMT blames Mr Chen.

If the KMT were to return to power in 2008, he said, it would restore adherence to the “Five Noes” - a series of promises not to move towards formal independence that Mr Chen made in 2000 but has since discarded.

Moreover, said Mr Ma, a government led by him would start talks with China on a peace accord covering the next 30 to 50 years, strengthen cross-Strait economic exchanges including allowing direct flights, and push for more cultural exchanges across the Strait.

None of these ideas is new – some were proposed by US scholars back in the 1990s, others were raised by Mr Chen and his rivals when he campaigned for the presidency in 2000, and still others were put forward by the incumbent during the past two years.

And Mr Ma has remained non-committal about how far he is willing to go to please China. Over the past few months, he has named eventual unification with the mainland as the country’s long-term goal, but also stated that since Taiwan is a democracy, independence cannot be excluded as a political choice.

When members of the KMT’s Central Standing Committee appealed to him on Wednesday to arrange a China visit as soon as possible, Mr Ma politely refused and said he would leave dealing with Beijing to Lien Chan, his unpopular predecessor as KMT chairman.

“Visiting China would be more appropriate for me after we see some concrete results on the issues the KMT and the Chinese leadership agreed upon last year,” he said.

Hu Jintao, China’s president, received Mr Lien with red-carpet treatment in Beijing last spring. After the meeting, the KMT said the two sides had agreed on a number of points, including increasing cross-Strait exchanges, improving conditions for Taiwanese businesses and students in China, and discussing how Taiwan could be granted more participation on the international stage.

So far, Beijing has done little to follow up on these pledges.

“It would be too risky in terms of domestic public opinion for Ma Ying-jeou to go to China now,” said George Tsai, a veteran scholar of cross-Strait affairs at Taiwan’s Chengchi University.

But he added that Mr Ma has emerged as potentially more acceptable to Beijing.

“The fundamental objective of eventual unification is shared. Therefore Beijing may think that they should grab this opportunity to create a trend in Taiwan that cannot be easily reversed.”(emphasis mine).

This is a great improvement over much of Hille's previous work. It not only recognizes that nothing of substance happened in the US, but that Ma's ideas are old too. For example, it was Soong who proposed the 30-50 year security arrangement between Taiwan and China, in a somewhat vaguer format, during the 2000 election. She stll can't entirely get rid of the old animus against Chen Shui-bian, calling him "ideological" -- ironically, of the two, Ma and Chen, Chen is by far the most pragmatic. It is actually Ma, dominated by the idea of unification and mainlander contempt for Taiwan and love of China, who is the more ideological. Also, it should be noted that Ma isn't running against Chen in 2008. Someone else will be Ma's opponent. The focus on Chen in the foreign and even local media may well be a blessing for the DPP -- because Chen will step down, leaving the field clean for his successor.

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