Thursday, November 05, 2015

馬習團: Evening Media Round Up


All the international media is entirely correct. This pony and dog show in Singapore does indeed herald a new era in China-Taiwan relations: the Tsai Ing-wen era, when China will have to adjust to dealing with a DPP administration which the US will, I expect, reluctantly come to support more and more as tensions grow between Beijing and Washington. Things are changing in Asia, and Xi is attempting to signal to neighboring states as well as to domestic audiences that he is flexible enough to change with them (see below).

NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Today a couple of my students said they were happy to think about Ma shaking hands with Xi. Apparently there was a legend running around the PTTs (internet bulletin boards widely used among students) last year which talked about Ma's Handshake of Death -- shaking hands with Ma was certain to be followed by bad luck. Apparently Ma shook the hands of the pilots of the Apache helicopter he rode in, which was the first one that crashed. Other examples were given, but I can't remember them.

A friend remarks: Ma and Xi splitting the dinner bill? So... they're going Dutch in homage to Taiwan's colonial roots..."

Straits Times: KMT hoping for Boost. Extensively quotes J Michael Cole, a "Taipei-based analyst".
To boost KMT's chances, cross-strait expert Chu Jingtao of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes Mr Xi may promise more room for Taiwan in the global arena to counter the long-running grumbles among Taiwanese over the island's limited involvement in multilateral initiatives.

Asked if the meeting may have come too late, Dr Chu said: "It's hard to predict the election outcome. The Taiwanese people, and also the Americans, know that an unstable cross-strait situation is not good for anyone."

But some observers believe the CCP is already preparing for the event of a DPP win by trying to protect the progress in cross-strait cooperation since the Beijing-friendly KMT took power in 2008.
I love that last paragraph -- Beijing is "protecting" cross-strait cooperation as if the DPP were a threat. It is Beijing's threat to annex Taiwan, not DPP resistance, that threatens the China-Taiwan relationship. Beijing can have good relations any time, merely by ceasing to threaten to Taiwan.

FocusTaiwan: President hopes meetings will become regular.
Taipei, Nov. 5 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said Thursday that his upcoming "historic landmark" talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will mark the first step toward making such meetings a regular occurrence between the leaders of the two sides and will help further improve cross-Taiwan Strait relations.
The Diplomat: Shannon Tiezzi rounds up What We Know So Far. It's ok until the end, where it suddenly veers into KMT/CCP propaganda territory:
While the KMT has refuted charges that the Ma-Xi meeting is an attempt to shore up support before the election, there’s little doubt that Beijing wants to use the meeting to showcase its vision for cross-strait relations. One of the points of the meeting, according to Zheng, is to solidify the 1992 consensus as the “common political foundation” of the relationship. The 1992 consensus, in which both sides agreed there is one China, while remaining ambiguous on which government represents “China,” has never been accepted by the DPP. Beijing had repeatedly painted acceptance of the 1992 consensus as its bottom line for cross-strait relations, and will look to use the Ma-Xi meeting to drive that point home.

Zhang also took a more overt swipe at the DPP, saying that years ago, when the cross-strait relationship was “on the verge of a crisis” thanks to the “provocations of ‘Taiwan independence’ splittist forces,” a meeting of the top leaders from both sides would have been hard to imagine. Zhang was referring to is the cross-strait tensions that came under the leadership of the only DPP president to date, Chen Shui-bian.
Again the tensions that occur without any cause. Wouldn't it be great if the sentence had read "the tensions ramped up by China during the Chen Administration." The 1992 Consensus never existed, it is merely a cage to imprison the DPP. That needs to be in there to properly contextualize the 1992C. The common political foundation of CCP-KMT talks is not the 1992C but China's desire to annex Taiwan.

New Bloom: Two Days of Empty Words
And in the roughly two days since news broke, we have largely seem empty words from the Ma administration in which the Ma government insisted that Taiwan’s rights would not be compromised through the meeting. Yet the Ma government as well as Ma himself have attempted to occlude any specifics of the complex diplomatic dance by which Ma and Xi are to meet as equals without acknowledging each other as sovereign heads of state, though the details that media has managed to pry from the Ma administration are quite ridiculous. Ma and Xi will address each other solely as “Mister,” for example, in order to avoid the complicated question of how Chinese and Taiwanese high government officials should address the other which has been an obstacle to holding cross-strait meetings in the past. Significantly, in all this, China has only ever been referred to by Ma as well as officials as “the mainland,” not as “China”, or as “mainland China.” Furthermore, attempts by Mainland Affairs Congress to obfuscate issues were quite borderline at times, insisting that the situation was perfectly clear where “the leader of Taiwan is the leader of Taiwan and the leader of China is the leader of China”—when, of course, what is not clear at all is what the relation of the leader of Taiwan to the leader of China would be in this meeting.
Frozen Garlic on the public reaction -- Frozen Garlic has turned out a string of excellent posts at a furious pace, wish he'd do that more often. Read the whole post, but his critique of the polls:
There is some fuzzy public opinion data that suggests the population is generally supportive of high level contact. The Mainland Affairs Council has been claiming that 80% of the population expressed approval to a meeting of leaders done with appropriate respect. I don’t know where that number comes from, but they do regular surveys. They could be cherry-picking a specific result and this concrete Ma-Xi meeting may or may not satisfy the hypothetical condition of mutual respect, but we probably shouldn’t dismiss this datum altogether. Apple Daily had an online poll yesterday that was running about 70% in favor of the meeting when I checked last night. (I can’t find a link.) However, voluntary online polls are always problematic since supporters or opponents can flood the poll with responses if they wish. Today Apple has a telephone poll up that shows the opposite result: 53% oppose the meeting while only 38% support it. Be careful with this number, though. The two options were, “I don’t support it. President Ma will leave office soon, so handling cross straits affairs should be left to the next president,” and “I support it. It will help cross straits relations.” The sample size is only 420, so this has a sampling error of about 5%. Apple’s polls are also voice-recorded, and they tend to be a little less consistent than polls from other organizations using human interviewers. The Pollcracy Lab run by the Election Study Center also did a quick internet survey yesterday and found that 64% of respondents supported the Ma-Xi meeting. Again, take this number with some reservations. The sample size was only 275, and this was a non-random sample. I have no idea what the margin of error is for this type of survey. However, unlike most media internet surveys, it would be very difficult for supporters or opponents to infiltrate and sway these results. The ESC gets email addresses from telephone respondents (in other surveys), and the Pollcracy Lab sends out invitations to participate in an internet survey to people on this list. Thus, while this is not a random sample, neither is it a self-selected sample. (Note: I am an adjunct faculty member at the Election Study Center at NCCU, but I am not involved in the Pollcracy Lab project. I learned of this survey on my Facebook feed.)
I polled a couple of my classes anonymously. My students were fairly divided with majority not in favor of this meeting, and a clear majority thinking it would not help the KMT, so I suspect Froze is right and there might well be majority support, though the reasons will vary across groups (lots of us support this meeting because we see it as bad for the KMT). Froze also spends much time talking about the excellent reaction of Tsai Ing-wen, which, as many observers have noted, is calm, prepared, and critical of Ma's action from the perspective of Taiwan's democratic development. One of the many sources of KMT failure is its objection to democracy, and to take democracy into its own identity. The KMT remains very much the party of a small circle of crony elites run by a Big Man. Meanwhile when Tsai speaks, she speaks from a robust and growing democratic identity shared across Taiwan -- no one in the KMT can do that at present.

Like many, Frozen Garlic noted that Tsai's calmness shows that the KMT claim that only it can handle cross-strait relations is hollow; Tsai obviously can (indeed, she has experience in that government department). Public opinion polls support her on this.

FocusTaiwan carries the government denial that the South China Sea will be touched on at the meeting. Many people fearing some kind of joint statement on it that aligns Taiwan with the China claims. Ma claimed he will ask for more space for Taiwan in international organizations. It seems that at best he will come home with another hollow gain, like observer status at WHO, which the public will laugh at, or ask why he couldn't have done that sooner.

Ralph Jennings in Forbes argues for three potential outcomes:
3. The two sides reach an invisible understanding. Ma will step down next year due to term limits. Per opinion polls, the next president will be Tsai Ing-wen, who advocates a rethink of today’s friendly dialogue with China. But Tsai’s party has poor relations with the Communists. Ma and Xi might set a course for informal party-to-party ties even when the Nationalists aren’t in power. Their back channel would sidestep Tsai’s government to give economic goodies to Taiwan’s skeptical public, giving the Nationalists a better chance at the presidency in 2020.
Of course they will have back channels. I sure hope they use them to give "economic goodies". Ma's economic arrangements have done nothing but damage Taiwan's interests for the sake of big business and of course, to help China, and we can expect more of the same, which would harm the KMT even further. China's leaders are not free traders but zero-sum mercantilists. China will never make concessions that meaningfully benefit Taiwan.

MAC suggests that cross-strait leader meetings be institutionalized. That would be great. It will be fun watching Tsai Ing-wen calmly deflecting slights from Beijing in an empty meeting, which all of Taiwan will feel as a slight to itself. Ma Ying-jeou will never have an affectionate nickname like 小英 ("little Ing"), a moniker widely used among her supporters.

A coup for Ketagalan Media which hosts a piece from the extremely sharp, extremely professional Gwenyth Wang: The Ma-Xi Summit Double Edged Sword. The last two paras rock:
Furthermore, China would like to create an atmosphere internationally that Taiwan is on China’s side, especially with tensions rising with the United States and Southeast Asia over the South China Sea. National Taiwan University Political Science Professor Tao Yi-feng commented in an op-ed that the KMT’s prospect in the 2016 election is not of Xi’s concern. Rather, Xi aims to portray China as a “peacemaker” in the region by having a historical Ma-Xi meeting while steering the direction of ties to be more aligned with China’s interests.

For President Ma, he vows to deliver cross-Strait peace and reduce the uncertainty in the relations between Taiwan and China. However, as Taiwan-China relations develop, no change can be single-handedly decided by the leaders. Rather, the people must have the final say. Ma and Xi might hope to “institutionalize” the 1992 Consensus by the historical meeting; however, what they really need do is to take into account the vibrant Taiwanese civil society and the growing Taiwan identity that is steering the island away from the bridge built by President Ma.
ChineseWhy did Xi meet Ma? Regional politics. Good point -- too much analysis is looking at this only from the cross-strait perspective.

REFS: SCMP Says Taiwan's MAC suggested timing of meeting. Times of India blog on the meeting. Video: J Michael Cole on Al Jazeera spanking a Beijing political warfare propagandist, with Jonathon Fenby. KMT argues that Xi has "virtually accepted" the One Country, Two governments formula.

FOR AMUSEMENT PURPOSES ONLYTIME is so freakishly stupid, it's no wonder everyone reads blogs and forums. "Taiwan's Founder?" Absolutely shameful. Precious space in a major media organ, and all they can do is urk up rank nonsense. I can name at least 50 locally-based writers who do 10X better work. Though saying nothing is rather appropriate, considering what's going to happen at the MaXiMeet. It's interesting to compare how thin and silly the listicles TIME produced (one here) even though they do cite the awesome Willy Lam, compared to the meaty stuff produced practically anywhere else.

A European Taiwan observer summed up the TIME piece on the Founder of Taiwan as well as how much the media has changed in the last decade, and especially since the Sunflowers: "Actually, most of the media reports were fairly good. This stupid above used to be norm."
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an angry taiwanese said...

I used to read Time magazine to learn English. It did improve my vocabulary and reading a lot. However, it did not really open my eye and I still remained as an ignorant brain washed Taiwanese. I have stop reading it long ago, because not only its content is shallow but also its English is dull.

Dan Stevenson said...

Hi Michael. Super informative post - thank you yet again.

You mentioned earlier following Twitter. Can you share with your readers the main handles and hashtags that you follow? With things heating up in the run-up to the election, not the least of which this Saturday's meeting, the news cycle is going to get even more real-time.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the first step in a coup d'etat - even Ma can't be so stupid as to believe this meeting will boost the KMT's election prospects. Ma'a total disregard for due process, and opacity, and the secrecy surrounding this meeting and its content and outcome is of grave concern. Xi of course cares nothing for due process of any sort - no checks and no balances where he comes from. Watch out for develpoments after 01/16/2016 when the KMT has been thrashed at the polls - there's still until July 2016 for Ma and his cronies both here and in China to cause Taiwan some serious grief.

Anonymous said...

Apropos "economic goodies", I have had extraordinary conversations with otherwise very well-educated and sensible mainlanders in which it was claimed that China had given 'great benefit' to Taiwan by allowing access to her markets (post-ECFA) . When I countered that, by the same logic, the US had offered 'great benefit' to China by allowing China access to *her* markets, I was told that, no, this was simply trade.

At one time I thought this was simply wholesale acceptance of the official narrative, but I'm coming round to believing that, in fact, it is a logical weakness common to the PRC leadership (and one shared by the KMT). I think there really is a belief that lots and lots of mainland tourists is a gift to all (rather than narrow interests clustered around landlords and concession-holders, at the cost of the general populace who have to put up with all of the externalities) and that deals struck on behalf of national champions (state-owned on one side, or both) are appreciated by the people who end up, one way or another, paying for it all.

We've seen it here in Hong Kong, repeatedly and relentlessly. It is to the enormous credit of the Taiwanese that they are, in the main, not fooled. And it is a precious, precious freedom they have in their right to say 'no'. And, most important of all, they know it.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan people need to vote KMT out of Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Tsai is going to have a miserable four years in office as a lame-duck president of the soon-to-vanish ROC. Kudos to Ma and Xi for setting Taiwan on a course for reunification with mainland China in 2019.