Welcome to Taiwan Insider, a new weekly feature on Thinking Taiwan. Prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang and staff members, the Insider will be published every Friday, providing an overview of the week’s most important political developments in Taiwan for decision-makers, academics, and journalists.
MA STILL PURSUING MEETING WITH XI JINPING: In an interview with European media outlets Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), Le Figaro and Allgemeine Zeitung, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he hoped Beijing will set aside “unnecessary concerns” and remained optimistic that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平)) could meet at this year’s APEC summit in Beijing in November.
China is worried that Ma’s presence at the summit would create a “false impression” that China has abandoned its “one China” principle, according to Ma. Ma argued that he and Xi could meet without using their official titles and thus avoid political controversies.
Meanwhile, Ma said his policy of “one China with different interpretations” has received the support of more than half of the public. That assertion was subsequently heavily criticized by the opposition.
On the subject of a Ma-Xi summit, Richard Bush of the Brookings Institution wrote on Thursday that many issues needed to be addressed for this to materialize, but that it was still be possible if Beijing wanted to advance its Taiwan policy.
“… if Beijing were willing to signal to people in Taiwan that it is seriously willing to take on the issue of the ROC, even symbolically, the best way to do so would be to agree to a Xi-Ma meeting in Beijing on the edges of APEC, which is what Taiwan has sought all along,” Bush wrote.
Taiwan Brain Trust CEO Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), former director of the Democratic Progressive Party’s Department of International Affairs, argued that Ma could be eyeing a meeting with Xi in a third country rather than in Beijing during the APEC summit.
Whether that will be possible comes down to how the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fares in the 9-in-1 elections in November, Liu said. If Ma is able to sustain his power after a successful campaign, Beijing could consider accepting the offer of a Xi-Ma meeting in, e.g., Singapore, Hong Kong, or Kinmen, he said.
MA’S UNIFICATION COMMENTS: President Ma’s interview with European media once again landed him in hot water as the Deutsche Welle Chinese Website quoted him saying that he expected Taiwan and China will set up representative offices on each other’s territory before he leaves office in 2016. Ma added that the unification of East and West Germany would serve as an inspiration for his effort in achieving the eventual unification of Taiwan and China.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition camp bombarded the Ma administration over those comments, saying that Ma had “finally shown his true colors” as an unificationist.
An English-language DPA article on the same joint interview with European media, did not report on Ma’s comments on unification. Commenting on the matter, Deputy Foreign Minister Vanessa Shih (史亞平) told lawmakers on Thursday that Deutsche Welle did not attend the interview and that it may have misquoted the report by DPA. Ma said that Taiwan can learn a lot from the German unification experience, but never made a reference to unification between Taiwan and China, Shih said. (More on the misquote here.)
Presidential spokesperson Ma Wei-kuo (馬瑋國) reiterated on Thursday night that Ma had been misquoted. The Presidential Office published the full English text of Ma’s meeting with reporters.
According to Ma, the meeting was not an interview, but rather a “chatting session.”
Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle Chinese Website director Philipp Bilsky admitted the report was mistaken and said it had since been revised, the Central News Agency reported.
This was not the first time that a Ma interview with foreign media created controversy. In fact, it almost always does. Over the years, Ma has accused El Sol de Mexico, The Associated Press, CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, among others, of misquoting him. Every time, Ma spoke English.
BURGHARDT VISIT AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEA: American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday for a four-day visit (Sept. 24-28), during which he is scheduled to meet with politicians and businesspeople, including President Ma. Burghardt had last visited Taiwan in December 2013.
In his meeting with Burghardt on Sept. 25, Ma urged all claimants in the South China Sea to use his East China Sea Peace Initiative as an example to set aside territorial disputes and work out a solution. Ma reiterated that the Republic of China’s position on the South China Sea had not changed since 1947, suggesting that Taiwan would not abandon the so-called nine-dash line as its South China Sea claim.
Former AIT director William Stanton had told a forum the previous week that Taiwan should abandon the nine-dash line to differentiate the basis of its claims in the South China Sea from those of China.
NO PORK, NO TALK? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sept. 22 dismissed concerns that a ban on imports of U.S. pork containing the feed additive ractopamine was a major trade irritant that could affect the U.S.’ position on Taiwan’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“Pork is not a priority issue to be discussed between Taiwan and the U.S.,” Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Kao (高振群) said at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee. Kao said the ministry had expressed its wish to Washington that the pork issue should not top the list of trade issues.
NOT LOSING ALLIES: Foreign Minister David Lin (林永樂) on Sept. 22 told the legislature that Taiwan was not losing diplomatic allies to China. Lin was responding to claims by DPP lawmaker Tsai Huang-liang’s (蔡煌瑯) that Taiwan could lose as many as six allies, including the Vatican, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, to China. Lin said that Taiwan has maintained close and stable ties with all of its 22 diplomatic allies.
THE DPP AND CHINA: DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said in remarks delivered at the reception party for the 28th anniversary of the DPP’s founding on Sept. 23 that the DPP supported Taiwan’s participation in the TPP and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), adding that the party’s priority was the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and across the Taiwan Strait.
“Our efforts of engagement also include seeking to establish constructive dialogue with China. Our engagement with China will be consistent, responsible, and predictable, not only to the international community and to China, but most importantly, to the people of Taiwan,” she said.
HEALTHCARE FOR CHINESE STUDENTS: One day after DPP Chairperson Tsai said that the DPP did not oppose the inclusion of Chinese students in Taiwan in the National Health Insurance — a highly contested issue in the past — a proposal that would grant full health coverage for Chinese students in Taiwan passed a legislative review on Sept. 24.
Tsai said the DPP would not oppose the proposal, primarily because of humanitarian concerns.
Once it clears committee review at the Legislative Yuan, the proposal will require cross-party negotiations over some disagreements before it goes to a plenary, the Taipei Times reported.
MOBILE PHONE SECURITY: Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said on Tuesday that the government would study whether to ban the use of Chinese-manufactured Xiaomi smartphones in three months’ time in light of alleged security risks.
Jiang made the remarks before the National Communications Commission on Wednesday said it had finished testing two questionable Xiaomi mobile phones, which reportedly could send users’ information to company servers in Beijing.
SUBS: Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson David Lo (羅紹和) said on Monday that Taiwan has not giving up on procuring submarines, but is also working on a domestic program to build its own diesel-electric subs.
Lo was responding to an article in Defense News saying that Taiwan plans to build new destroyers, frigates, corvettes and submarines in a 20-year modernization program to replace its aging fleet. Citing an unnamed source, CNA reported that the Navy is scheduled to unveil the program by the end of the year.
MORE SPIES? More espionage cases were unveiled this week, with a retired colonel detained on spying charges and former director of Taiwan’s defense mission in Washington reportedly involved in an extramarital affair with … a Chinese spy.
Chou Chih-li (周自立), a retired Air Force colonel, was detained on charges of violating the National Security Act for handing over classified military information to China after his retirement.
The MND on Wednesday denied a local media report accusing Army Major General Li Hsien-sheng (黎賢聖) of spying for China. According to spokesperson Lo, the ministry has found no evidence to support claims of wrongdoing by Li. The Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily reported on Wednesday that Li, who was removed from his post in Washington in July after failing to pass at least five lie-detector tests in April and May, was in a romantic relationship with a female Chinese spy during his posting in Washington.
MISSILES PARTS ON PLANE: China Airlines and airport police on Sept. 24 seized missile parts which were said to resemble missile warheads at China Airlines’ Taiwan Air Cargo Terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the China Post reported.
Formosa TV reported that the 28 missiles, sent by the Air Force in Kaohsiung, were AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air missiles.
Taoyuan International Airport staff and airport police suspended shipping of the 2,500-kilogram cargo, which was to be sent from Taoyuan to Los Angeles and then to New York City after custom X-ray inspection found that some items resembled missile warheads. Airport authorities asked the MND sign a recognizance before the equipments could be shipped.
The missile parts were neither explosive nor dangerous and did not require further documentation, the MND said in a press release on Wednesday, adding that the equipment was being sent back to the U.S. manufacturer for routine maintenance. This was not the first time such equipment was being sent to the U.S. for that purpose, it said.
CHINESE VESSELS: National security authorities and the military have rejected a company’s application to use Chinese vessels on a renewable energy project off the coast, citing security concerns. A DPP legislator was the first to cite concerns over the matter.
TAIPEI & TAICHUNG: Opposition candidates maintained their comfortable leads against their opponents from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the battleground constituencies of Taipei and Greater Taichung, according to two polls conducted by the Apple Daily.
In Taipei, Non-partisan coalition candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who is backed by the pan-green camp, enjoyed 33.9 percent support, about 9 percentage points ahead of KMT candidate Sean Lien (連勝文), with 24.8 percent. Independent candidate Neil Peng (馮光遠) was a distant third at 1.6 percent, with 39.7 percent of respondents still undecided.
A victory for Lien, son of honorary KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), would guarantee the KMT’s governance of the capital for 20 consecutive years, with President Ma and incumbent Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) overseeing the city for eight years each.
In Greater Taichung, where re-election seeking Jason Hu (胡志強) of the KMT has governed for 13 years and which the DPP has designated a “must-win” constituency, DPP candidate Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) was enjoying a double-digit lead in the latest poll, or 37.5 percent against 27.4 percent. However, 35.1 percent of respondents remained undecided.
The pan-greens’ leads notwithstanding, many political analysts believe the KMT can still win both cities in the November elections, as most undecided voters tend to be pan-blue supporters who are keeping their preferences close to their chests. Needless to say, this could also be a strategy to ensure a high turnout among pan-blue voters on election day.
That’s it for this week!