President Ma to meet with Chinese President Xi in Singapore on Saturday; DPP presidential candidate Tsai accuses Ma of ‘jeopardizing’ Taiwan’s democracy by setting up the meeting without previous public consultation; protests over the ‘opaque’ negotiations behind the Ma-Xi meeting; the White House cautiously welcome the Ma-Xi talks; Tsai still in the lead in the polls; conflict between KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng surfaces. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► MA-XI MEETING
MA TO MEET XI IN SINGAPORE: The entire nation was taken by surprise on Tuesday night when news broke out that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore on Saturday, the first meeting of leaders from the two nations since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The Presidential Office confirmed the news shorty thereafter, followed by Beijing, sending shockwaves throughout political and media circles, both at home and internationally.
The revelation came at a politically sensitive time, just two months prior to the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan, prompting speculation that the meeting was a ploy to undermine the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) electoral chances by demonstrating Beijing’s “preference” for the Chinese National Party (KMT). Analysts said Beijing’s less direct but powerful interference into Taiwan’s democratic political process could backfire against the KMT and its presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫), given the growing “anti-China” sentiment in Taiwan. Others said President Ma took the initiative in a bid to “write his name in the history books.”
To ease public fears, Ma, whose approval ratings are below 20 percent, pledged that both sides would neither sign any agreement nor issue a joint statement following the meeting. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said he was not aware of the meeting until reporters reached him for comment late on Tuesday.
The two leaders will address each other as “mister” and avoid the words “country” and “president,” Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said in Beijing, adding that the meeting was a “pragmatic arrangement agreed upon on the basis of the ‘one China principle.’”
The Presidential Office was forced to announce the plan early after the Chinese-language Liberty Times ran an exclusive on Tuesday evening. Taiwan and China had planned to make simultaneous announcements at 10am on Wednesday, the United Daily News reported.
WHAT WILL MA TELL XI: Beijing’s military threat to Taiwan will be covered” in the upcoming Ma-Xi meeting as the high-level talks aimed to “reduce hostility or solutions to problems with military means,” Ma said on Thursday. Ma said he would also bring the concerns over the limits imposed by China on Taiwan’s international space “as many NGOs have complained.” The South China Sea dispute is not on the agenda, Ma said. Ma and Xi will each deliver a five-minute speech before a 50-minute closed-door meeting on Saturday afternoon, followed by press conferences arranged separately for the two leaders. Secretary-General of the Presidential Office Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), Deputy Secretary-General of the Presidential Office Hsiao Hsu-tsen (蕭旭岑), National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Kao Hua-chu (高華柱), NSC adviser Chiu Kun-Shuan (邱坤玄), Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) and MAC Deputy Chairwoman Wu Mei-hung (吳美紅) will accompany Ma at the meeting.
MA DEFENDS MEETING: President Ma held a press conference on Thursday to play up his upcoming meeting with President Xi and fend off the outpouring of criticism and doubts. Ma cited an internal survey by the MAC — needless to say, the sampling and methods of the said survey were not discussed — indicating that 76.6 percent of respondents would favor a meeting between cross-strait leaders that is held with reciprocity, dignity, and transparency. The Ma-Xi talks will be “a milestone meeting to improve cross-strait relations” and “the first step toward normalization of meetings of leaders from both sides” with the purpose of strengthening peace and maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, Ma said. Ma emphasized that the meeting will be carried out under the principles of “reciprocity and dignity.” Ma brushed off questions on reciprocity as he would fly to Singapore to accommodate Xi’s schedule, saying that “whoever my counterpart is meeting before or after the meeting is none of our business.”
Both sides have been working on the high-level meeting for more than two years, with the finalization of schedule depending on the availability of the leaders based on their itineraries, Ma said in response to questions about why the meeting was taking place abruptly with elections approaching. Ma said there would be no “backroom deals.” “I am willing to report to the legislature. The MAC did and will again brief lawmakers. The government has demonstrated the utmost sincerity in this matter,” he said. The full text of Ma’s press conference is available here.
DPP legislators asked MAC Minister Andrew Hsia on Tuesday whether the government had intended to conceal the matter from legislative oversight as Hsia left out the significant matter in his briefing to the legislature after his meeting with Zhang in China last month. Hsia said he did not think reporting to the legislature was necessary due to lack of “concrete conclusions.”
TSAI ON MA-XI MEETING: DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has described Saturday’s meeting between presidents Ma and Xi as an “ambush” conducted through opaque negotiations “in a hasty and chaotic manner” and therefore “detrimental to Taiwan’s democracy.” As President Ma’s term as president will soon be ending, he “absolutely should not be allowed to promise something that he cannot be responsible for to gain political reputation for himself,” she said. The DPP said it does not oppose meetings between Chinese and Taiwanese leaders as long as Taiwan’s sovereignty is safeguarded and reciprocity and dignity are upheld.
Responding to Tsai’s criticism, President Ma told his press conference on Thursday that he “could not understand at all Tsai’s remarks about the alleged damage to Taiwan’s democracy,” adding that the meeting would lay the foundations for the development of cross-strait relations for the benefit of “any future president” and the next generation. KMT chairman and presidential candidate Eric Chu praised the meeting as “bringing relations based on the ‘1992 consensus’ to the next level and helping reduce animosity between the sides.” Chu urged the DPP to “refrain from opposing anything relating to China.”
TSAI DOES NOT RULE OUT MEETING WITH XI: DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen said on Thursday that she would not rule out meeting President Xi in future — under the conditions of respect, dignity, transparency and non-involvement of politics. She added that the DPP would not mobilize supporters to participate in a protest against the meeting on Saturday.
US’ RESPONSE TO MA-XI MEETING: The White House on Tuesday gave a cautious welcome to the announcement of the Ma-Xi meeting.“We would certainly welcome steps that are taken on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to try and reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. But we will have to see what actually comes out of the meeting,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau also said the U.S. welcomed the steps of both sides of the Taiwan Strait in recent years to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations, and encouraged both sides to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect. Another source from the State Department who requested anonymity said there was “hope and expectation” that the meeting would produce “no surprises.” Ma said on Thursday that the U.S. “did not play any role in making the meeting happen” but that it was informed of the plan in advance.
MA-XI TALKS SPARKS PROTEST: Representatives and supporters of “third force” political parties protested outside the legislature on Wednesday against the Ma-Xi meeting, calling for Ma’s recall. Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), chairman of the New Power Party and a leader of the Sunflower Movement, blasted the meeting as “sabotaging Taiwan’s democracy and ‘selling out’ Taiwan’s sovereignty” with its lack of oversight and transparency.
► PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
TSAI URGES KMT TO REFRAIN FROM ‘FOUL’ MEANS: Following the release of a survey by the Chinese-language Apple Daily on Monday, which indicated that Tsai continued to enjoy a significant lead over her two presidential rivals with a 40.3 percent rating, Tsai urged the KMT to refrain from using “foul means” during the election campaign to tilt the election in its favor. Support for KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu stood at 18.6 percent, only 1.6 percentage points better than the 17 percent for the KMT’s former presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) early last month.
CHU UNVEILS CAMPAIGN SLOGAN: KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu on Sunday unveiled the logo and slogan “One Taiwan” for his campaign to highlight the unity, tolerance and comprehension required to solve Taiwan’s problems. His choice of design, however, triggered discussions about its implications of “one Taiwan, one China,” and accusations of plagiarism due to its resemblance to Tsai Ing-wen’s campaign material.
SECURITY MEASURES: The National Security Bureau has designated three teams from the Special Service Command Center to ensure security and personal protection for the presidential candidates from the KMT, DPP and People First Party. Operations will commence following the registration of the candidates with the Central Election Commission on Nov. 24.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday that it did not recognize or accept a ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that it could hear a case brought by the Philippines against China over disputed territory in the South China Sea, because Taiwan had not been invited to participate in the arbitration. Separately, Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said on Tuesday that it would be extremely challenging logistically to implement Eric Chu’s plan to turn Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島), located in the Spratlys, into a tourist destination. Chu said on Monday that if were elected, he would consider launching regular flights to Itu Aba to allow Taiwanese to visit the nation’s territory in the Spratly Islands. Chu has also proposed developing Itu Abu for ecotourism.
CHU-WANG TENSIONS: Tensions between Eric Chu and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng had surfaced despite the facade of unity following Chu’s replacing Hung Hsiu-chu as the KMT presidential candidate last month. Wang’s recent absence from several rallies for KMT candidates was interpreted as a gesture to express his grievance over Chu’s “lack of respect” and resistance to placing Wang at the top of the party list of legislator-at-large candidates.
The KMT’s delays in finalizing the list following its amendment of internal regulations last Wednesday to open door for Wang’s pursuit of legislator-at-large seat in the next legislature — allegedly in exchange for the support of KMT’s pro-localization faction led by Wang — has prompted concern by some KMT lawmakers. Dozens of them launched a petition last Friday calling for the party leadership to prioritize his candidacy for legislator-at-large. Wang said on Tuesday that he proposed thanking Chu and discussing overall plans on stumping for the party’s candidates with him face to face, but the meeting “was not arranged.”
MEDIATEK URGES LIFT OF BAN ON CHINESE COLLABORATION: MediaTek Inc, the world’s No. 2 handset chipmaker based in Hsinchu, said on Monday it would adopt an “open attitude” toward collaborating with Chinese chipmakers in pursuit of more growth opportunities amid rising competition, and urged the government to ease the ban on Chinese firms. MediaTek’s statement came after China’s state-backed conglomerate Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd expressed a “strong interest” in acquiring the company and in developing a comprehensive chip supply chain in China.
► MILITARY AND SECURITY
US FRIGATE SALE: The White House is to inform U.S. Congress early next month of its decision to sell two Perry-class frigates and other military items to Taiwan, DPP Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said on Tuesday, adding that the vessels have not been mothballed and that Taiwan would not have to pay to initiate the reuse of warehoused vessels.
US SUPPORT FOR TAIWAN’S INTERPOL BID: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its gratitude on Tuesday for unanimous passage by the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday of a bill in supporting Taiwan’s participation in the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) as an observer, adding it would continue to seek support from the U.S. Senate for the bill.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang, Serena Chuang and staff members. Comments? Leads? You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.
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