Wednesday, November 04, 2015

馬習團 Round Up

Somewhere on the East Coast, all is calm. But not anywhere else in Taiwan today.

Since this Ma-Xi circus stormed through late last night, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed my Twitter feed so much. For a politics junkie, Twitter is basically intravenous heroin.

As everyone not living in a rift valley on Pluto knows, Tuesday night the news leaked that President Ma of the Republic of China on Taiwan and President Xi of the People's Republic of China are meeting on Saturday in Singapore. The outside media has been all over the "historic" meeting of the two leaders of the two "rivals". BBC, which is likely to become even more pro-China now that the United Kingdom has become a Chinese state-owned enterprise, announces: Taiwan and China to hold historic summit in Singapore. Reuters did a much better job, with an article of some depth. The Guardian had a strong piece with good quotes from J Michael Cole.

No one in the international media is willing to say the truth, that this is a meeting between leaders of two expansionist Chinese parties, not between rival governments, and any "reconciliation" between them can only take place over the dead body of Taiwan's democracy.

While the world media was talking about a historic meeting, all us local observers were LMAO. My man from Seattle put it best in a laconic comment in my message box: "It's nice of Ma to stump for Tsai Ing-wen". But all of us, myself, Frozen Garlic,, and many others all had the same reaction: this will hurt the KMT. Frozen Garlic had an insta-reaction which was quoted in the international media...
What is more likely is that this trip will create a strong backlash in Taiwanese society. Many people will be very uneasy at the prospect of an unpopular lame duck president trying to fundamentally change the status quo in the last few months of his presidency. Ma simply does not have any popular mandate for cross-straits negotiations right now. The more he tries to accomplish, the larger the backlash will be. Ma might assume that a picture of him shaking hands with Xi will be a powerful image for KMT campaign ads, but I suspect he is misjudging the electorate. I would not be at all surprised if that photo does not show up more frequently in anti-KMT ads, facebook posts, youtube videos, and tweets. Instead of symbolizing the success of the KMT’s strategy for dealing with China, I believe that photo will come to symbolize Ma’s insistence on putting his personal interests (ie: his legacy) ahead of the national interests.
Another long time observer remarked on my Facebook:
We have to remember that this party has failed miserably for years and never learns from those mistakes. I see no reason not to believe that Ma believes this meeting will help the KMT in the coming elections. He lives in a bubble and knows in his heart he has done right by Taiwanese;only they just don't know it. There is no 3-dimensional chess strategy here. Neither Ma nor Xi understand the public but operate on opaque principles known mostly to themselves.
A longtime resident remarked to me that "Ma had single-handedly refocused the election on China" -- at a time when it was becoming increasingly local. Frozen Garlic called this Nationalizing the Elections and opined that it will hurt nationalist candidates in the elections, since the KMT had been working on localizing its legislative candidates to increase their chances of victory.

Ko Wen-je, the Mayor of Taipei, said that such a meeting should have been the result of a social consensus in all of Taiwan society. Ko has the entertaining habit of saying what many think, as he is in this case. What Ma's decision shows is a contempt for Taiwanese civil society and Taiwanese feelings, as well as democratic procedure -- the government is bound by its own laws to inform the legislature of major decisions like this, but the legislature was kept in the dark. Taiwanese have incorporated democracy into their social identity, and do not like it when their democracy is threatened or belittled. They won't like this.

The news has two other effects I'd like to highlight -- one is that it pushes news of KMT Chairman and Presidential candidate Eric Chu's visit to the US beginning Nov. 10th into the background. The other is that it has now wiped news of the KMT's increasingly nasty internal divisions, the latest news of which has Legislative Speaker and KMT heavyweight Wang Jin-pyng, unofficial leader of the Taiwanese KMT, promising to campaign only for his people in the legislatureThe Ma camp was allegedly upset with Eric Chu, who is looking increasingly Machiavellian. Was Chu informed that his president was meeting with Xi? I think not, for Wang Jin-pyng already said he heard it on the news.

Note that in certain sectors of the KMT, those most supportive of former KMT candidate Hung Hsiu-chu and thus currently disaffected, a Ma-Xi meeting would be strongly supported. Ensconced in his ideological bubble and eager for a legacy moment, Ma seems to have ignored the wider implications for the elections... From outsiders I often hear how incompetent KMT elites are because the choices they've made recently made little sense for the upcoming elections. But for the crowd at the top of the KMT, you can explain many of their seemingly inexplicable actions if you recall that the prize in this game of thrones isn't the Presidency or even the Legislature, but control of the KMT itself, the Church of the Mainlander Identity, in their eyes the real ROC.

The stock market rose and business groups were of course happy to see Ma and Xi in a dance. Everyone knows that the cross-strait agreements have been good for big firms (and organized crime), and immediately government spokespeople began making noises about the services pact, which is good for the DPP since the public hates it.

Meanwhile the internet is already filling with responses, some parodic, some serious. President Ma has been promising, since he was candidate Ma, that he would never meet the President of China -- the videos of him saying it again and again all went viral, as reported by the pro-KMT UDN (video of 2011 Candidate Ma making that promise, with subtitles). All promises now broken. The Presidential Office has promised it will make no joint statements or similar, but many are expecting that Ma and Xi will make some noise about the 1992 Consensus. Let's not forget -- because the media will never report it -- that the basis for KMT-CCP relations is not the 1992 Consensus but China's desire to annex Taiwan to China. The 1992C was invented to imprison the DPP. Longtime US Taiwan expert Shirley Kan explains how the differences over the 1992C can be reconciled here.

US State Department briefing on this is below, but it seems intuitively obvious that the US was caught by surprise and thus, made the usual noises -- which as a longtime observer noted, give the appearance of endorsing the meeting. Some on the net are saying this was actually initiated by Xi Jin-ping, not Ma, because Xi is concerned about the KMT's losing position in the elections. UPDATE: US was informed of whole process, not caught by surprise.


QUESTION: Can I change the topic, Taiwan?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course I’ll go to Taiwan.

QUESTION: Yes, that the president of Taiwan, President Ma, and the Chinese president, President Xi, will have a meeting in Singapore this Saturday. Do you have any comment on it regarding the peace and stability in region?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We welcome the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. The United States has a deep and abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The benefits that stable and positive cross-strait ties have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the United States, and the region have been enormous. We encourage authorities in Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect.

QUESTION: Are you aware of it in advance?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Are you aware --

MS TRUDEAU: We’re aware of those reports. I’m not going to speak specifically of those reports, but I will say that we are – we welcome --

QUESTION: So, I mean, are you aware of it before the news release or you just --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to discuss sort of our political dialogue on that.

QUESTION: So what are the expectations or concerns that United States might have out of the meeting?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe cross-strait issues should be resolved peacefully in a manner, pace, and scope acceptable to people on both sides of the strait. We have welcomed the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years. I’m not going to speculate in advance of this. We’ve seen the reports. We’d welcome all steps.

QUESTION: So is it good timing from U.S. perspect – is it good timing for --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we welcome all steps, so it’s always good timing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is it going to have any impact on the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak on that. The U.S. has a very strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan in terms of military matters. I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense.

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Anonymous said...

Overheard at the Xi-Ma Meeting:

Xi: So, would you like to take home a Confucious Peace Prize? We have an extra.

Ma: Is it from you?

Anonymous said...

Jesus wept, Taiwan. Has your "领导人" not a shred of dignity? Xi is on a long-planned state visit to Singapore this weekend, a city-state the CCP regards as an extension of Greater China, and Ma has been summoned like a vassal. The BBC meanwhile, appears to have outsourced its coverage to Xinhua: Eurghh!

Grant said...

I'm also fairly certain Japan was taken by surprise.

I also don't see how this will save the KMT. My worry is though they might sign some sort of secret agreement to have "peace".

Anonymous said...

Professor Victor Mair, the linguist and sinologist, well known in that field, often cited, praised your pun of Ma Xi circus at Language Log, sort of. Honestly it took me three days to figure out your pun.

Michael Turton said...

Hey that's cool! Thanks!