Over this week, the chairpersons of the two major political parties in Taiwan both spoke to foreign press and representatives on cross straits relations.
On Monday, Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou, who is also the chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), spoke to reporters from Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Figaro. According to a report that later appeared in German state media Deutsche Welle (DW), President Ma said he “wanted to learn from the way West and East Germany handled bilateral relations,” but that the framework of “One Germany, two states” was not applicable to Taiwan.
During the interview, President Ma said that he wants to learn from the example of dialogue between the two Germanys that culminated in the Basic Treaty between the two sides in 1972. He mentioned that by the end of his term in office, he plans to establish reciprocal representative offices between Taiwan and Mainland China. However, Ma stressed that these offices, while having the functions of embassies, “are not actually embassies” and will not mean official diplomatic recognition by both sides.
He further said that the cross strait relationship is neither a state to state relationship, nor two entities within one state, but a “never before seen relationship,” and that Germany’s framework of mutual diplomatic recognition does not apply to Taiwan. Regarding internal opposition to his policy of warming ties with China, DW’s report claims that Ma still believes closer ties with China is the “only option” for Taiwan, and student demonstrations such as the Sunflower Movement would not affect Taiwan’s politics in the long term.
The DW report originally claimed that President Ma wanted to “learn from Germany’s experience so as to achieve unification.” While DW has since issued a correction retracting the words “achieve unification,” the statement has caused considerable controversy in Taiwan. Spokesperson for the Office of the President Ma Wei-kuo (馬瑋國) dismissed the statement as a misquote fabricated by DW and that Ma did not say closer ties with China was the only option for Taiwan (DW has not retracted the statement on China being the only option). The Office of the President has disclosed what it claims is the actual text of the interview on its website.
Regardless, President Ma’s critics have pointed to his interview and subsequent mess as signs of his pushing for China leaning policies but yet refuses to heed the people’s opposition to them, and accused him of further throwing away Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) kicked off a celebration of its 28th anniversary with a foreign diplomats’ dinner, where Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen also met with foreign representatives and spoke on cross straits relations. To her audience, which included Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan Brent Christensen and head of other de facto embassies, she said that the DPP will prioritize the stability of the Asia Pacific region. She also said that the DPP will actively engage with China, and do so on a consistent, responsible, and predictable manner.
Taiwan leaders has had a long tradition of announcing landmark policy changes during interviews with foreign press. In 1986, President Chiang Ching-kuo, during an interview with Washington Post chairwoman Katherine Graham, announced he was lifting Taiwan’s four-decade long martial law. In 1999, President Lee Teng-hui said in a Deutsche Welle interview that Taiwan and China has a “special state to state relationship,” which President Ma Ying-jeou rejected in an interview with Sol de Mexico, saying that it was instead a “special non-state-to-state relationship.” Taiwan’s public has reacted tumultuously in each of those cases.
(Feature photo of President Ma Ying-jeou, responding to press questions during the Sunflower Movement, by Voice of America)