Tag Archives: Ma Ying-jeou

Two Gentleman Of China

WHEN XI JINPING and Ma Ying-jeou meet in a hotel in Singapore for 20 minutes on Saturday, the diplomatic sensitivities require both men to address each other plainly.

Neither man will formally acknowledge the other’s official title at what will be the first meeting between the presidents of China and Taiwan ever and the first between the leader of the Communist Party and the Kuomintang (KMT) since Mao Zedong, at Washington’s prompting, reluctantly met Chiang Kai-shek in 1945  to try to resolve the civil war they had been fighting for 20 years.

Were they to be speaking in English, they would address each other as Mr Xi and Mr Ma.

Their encounter will be a landmark occasion, but its significance lies in the fact that it is taking place at all, not in what might be said or achieved, which is likely little. There will be no agreements signed and no joint statement afterwards. Indeed, the two men will hold separate press conferences.

That said, the meeting is a bigger gamble for Xi than Ma as he is injecting himself into Taiwanese domestic politics. Ma has to step down next year after completing two terms as president during which he has pushed for closer ties across the Straits of Taiwan. Eric Chu, the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate in January 16’s election of his successor, is trailing the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, who is not trusted in Beijing.

The KMT dumped its original candidate, the unpopular Hung Hsiu-chu, barely three months ago in an effort to close the gap with Tsai and Xi will hope his meeting with Ma will boost Chu’s efforts.

The risk is that the opposite happens if Taiwanese voters, who handed the KMT a punishing defeat in last year’s local elections, perceive the meeting as an unwarranted meddling in domestic affairs.

Regardless of the electoral impacts, it looks to this Bystander’s eye that the closer integration of Taiwan and the mainland will slow whichever candidate wins the presidency. Tsai is campaigning to reverse Ma’s policy and Chu has said the even though he favours continuing to increase economic cooperation, he would pursue it incrementally and at a slower pace than Ma.

Every Chinese leader since Mao has wanted to reunify what Beijing regards as its renegade province with the mainland. With the hollowing of Taiwan’s economic base, its brain drain and ever diminishing diplomatic recognition around the world (although the crucial support and protection of the United States remains), doing nothing and saying less might be Xi’s better bet.

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China-Taiwan Trade Pact Stirs More Protests

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been on the streets of Taipei to protest again against a trade deal between China and Taiwan agreed late last week that will cut export tariffs and ease cross-Strait investment restrictions. The agreement is in line with Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s policy of pursuing closer ties with China and comes after several rounds of talks started last year.

Objectors say it will bind Taiwan and China too closely economically creating a relationship that would be like that between China and pre-reunification Hong Kong. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party wants a referendum held on the deal, formally known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.

Taiwan gets more out the agreement as it stands than China. Chinese tariffs on more than 500 Taiwanese products, including car parts, petrochemicals and fruit, will be cut immediately and abolished within three years, roughly double the number of Chinese products that will get similar treatment from Taiwan. But the test for Beijing’s motives would be whether it will now let Taiwan pursue free-trade agreements with other countries.

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Taiwan’s Opposition DPP Recovers Ground

The gains made by the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan’s local elections at the weekend were an eye-opener for President Ma Ying-jeou’s governing Kuomintang. Its policy of pursuing closer ties with Beijing were an issue with voters. They worry that it will make the island too dependent on China and that opening up to cross-Straits investment and trade risks local job losses, especially in small businesses. The KMT’s handling of Typhoon Morakot also harmed its vote.

Ma himself will face voters in the 2012 presidential election. The weekend’s results boost the DPP’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, as an increasingly likely candidate to run against him and confirm her party has put its heavy defeats in the 2007 legislative and 2008 presidential elections under disgraced Chen Shui-ban behind it..

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Taiwan’s Ex-President Chen Detained

The detention of Taiwan’s ex-President Chen Shui-bian on corruption allegations turns what had started out as another episode of a soap opera into a serious drama.

Chen stands accused of money laundering and illegally using 14.8 million Taiwan dollars, about half a million U.S. dollars, of a special presidential fund. He denies the allegations which he says are politically motivated.

Strongly nationalist, Chen says his successor Ma Ying-jeou, who campaigned on promises to expand ties with Beijing and put relations with the mainland on a less confrontational footing, has had him detained to curry favor with Beijing. He is, he has said, “a sacrifice to appease China.”

His arrest came at the end of a landmark visit by Chen Yunlin, the highest ranking official to visit the island since 1949. Beijing and Taipei signed a number of trade and communications agreements during the visit which was also marked by a series of unruly anti-Beijing protests.

Following a court hearing, interrupted when Chen had to go to hospital for treatment after being jostled on his way into court, the former president can now be detained for four months in prison, though he has not been formally charged.

Chen’s eight years as president were marked by a succession of corruption allegations against his family and advisors. His son-in-law was charged in 2006 with insider trading on the stock market and then jailed for seven years. That politically damaged the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, a point probably not lost on Ma’s Kuomintang ahead of next year’s local elections.

Note and update: This post was written before Chen started his hunger strike, but publishing gremlins delayed its posting. (We have had the offending gremlin 404’d.) After five days without eating, Chen has been taken from his prison cell to hospital suffering an irregular heartbeat.


Filed under Politics & Society, Taiwan

Ma Picks A Harliner To Steer Taipei-Beijing Relations

Taiwan’s president elect Ma Ying-jeou has made the curious choice of a hardliner to lead the Mainland Affairs Council, the cabinet level agency in charge of relations with Beijing. The China Post has details of the announcement.

Ma, whose election was seen as bolstering rapprochement with Beijing, has named Lai Shin-yuan, a former lawmaker of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, to the post. She is also politically close to former President Lee Teng-hui, who infuriated China in the 1990s by advocating Taiwanese sovereignty.

While curious, it will not be an accidental appointment. Ma may be moving to put  expectations of a quick and far-reaching rapprochement with China on a more realistic basis.

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Ma Wins Taiwan Presidency

Given the party leadership’s preoccupation with the pro-independence disturbances in the west, the election results to the east will be a relief of sorts.

Taiwan’s voters elected the Harvard-educated Ma Ying-jeou, the opposition Kuomintang party candidate who favors closer commercial and political ties with China, as president to succeed the strongly pro-independence Chen Shui-ban. Two referendums calling for the government to work for the island’s entry into the U.N. also failed.

Thanks to its sweeping victory in parliamentary elections in January, the Kuomintang also controls two thirds of the seats in the legislature. None of that will necessarily mean that Ma will drive many or even any rapid changes in the relationship between Beijing and Taipei, which Beijing still considers to be a renegade province — and certainly not while Beijing has unfinished business in the far west.


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