by Yu Hsuan
The victory of the Communist Party taking over mainland result in the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist party, Kuomintang (KMT) to Taiwan in 1949. Both sides claim themselves the legitimate government of the great China, and no leaders have ever met in person ever since.
Thus, it was a historical moment when president Ma Yingjeou, the leader of Taiwan and formal anchor of KMT, met his Chinese counterpart, president Xi Jinping in Singapore this month, which signified a closer relation between both sides, better or worse.
The improvement of cross-strait relations has been on the way after Ma took over presidency. During his two terms, president Ma has devoted in opening up exchange opportunities for both side for the sake of economic development. No less then 23 agreements were singed with PRC, including direct flights; bilateral trade is worth more than 170 billions dollars annually; numbers of university exchange and tourist to the island have greatly increased. Ma has successfully converted KMT, originally anti-China party, into China’s ally on the island.
If building warmer relations with China brings certain positive outcome, why the summit in Singapore spurred massive criticism in Taiwan? What does it signified for the future of the island?
The event was announced to public only three days before the event. The whole island was in shock. KMT had again, after sunflower movement last year, undermined the power of democracy. Such Black-Box movement had spurred protest in the capital. Most importantly it signifies a game-change strategy.
Taiwan is going to hold its presidential election on 16th January next year. The summit would for sure have great influence on the result. It was thus arranged in a sensitive timing.
In his second term of presidency, Ma and his party gradually lost hearts and trust of the public. Not only his supporting rate dropped to a single digital. But in 2014 local election, KMT lost by historic proportion to its opposition party Democratic Progressive Party – DPP. Moreover, on October 17th KMT replaced the presidential candidate, Hung Hsiuchu with the party chairman Eric Chu in order to stimulate the supporting rate. Unfortunately such move only has marginal influences so far.
A recent poll demonstrates the DPP candidate Tsai Ingwen gained two fold of supporting rate than Mr. Chu. So it can be argued that KMT desperately needs some assistance, and China does not hesitate to reach out her hand.
It is because the security issue specifying on the Cross-Strait policies always has huge leverage on presidential elections. China clearly knows the influences over Taiwanese people, thus the meeting shows that only with the KMT can Taiwan Strait issue remain in the status-quo, which means relative peace and opportunities for further economic development, comparing with the pro-independence DPP. As China has consistently emphasized that any move of independence on the island would trigger the military invasion.
Otherwise, if the meeting were for the purpose of institutionalization of the meeting and of the enhancement of the cross-strait relations as Beijing had announced, Beijing would have made more logical choice to meet with the Ma’s likely successor Tsai or plan to meet the future president without any precondition.
To answer the second question, it is now hard to judge how much positive influence this summit would grant to KMT. The last presidential election showed, a stable cross-strait policy gained Ma another term in the office, KMT might gamble this big chip on the table again.
However, let’s not forget that it is during his second terms of presidency that protest over The Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement turned out to be outrage sunflower movement, where students occupied the legislature to oppose the under-the-table produce of passing the agreement. Also the turmoil within the party has resulted in a split of spirit. KMT is hard to present an unified core value in front of public.
Even with China’s help, KMT is now on a tough way to win the election next time. No matter how much it would change the game, one thing is sure about the Ma-Xi meeting – Ma has become a president that lobby for his party.