Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, the two leaders from China and Taiwan today held the much-anticipated meeting in Singapore. Ostensibly, the two men agreed to promote cross strait peace by setting up a hotline between the Taiwan Affairs Office and Mainland Affairs Council, and expanding exchange programs for students.
Ma and Xi staged a circus show for all to watch, but for anyone from Taiwan watching, the entire proceeding will only serve as final proof that Ma and Xi’s Chinese Dream is as far from reality as darkness is from light.
The awkward two-minute handshake on the stage was meant to show the world that China and Taiwan now together strive to promote peace and prosperity for the “Chinese people from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.” Following the handshake, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told his Taiwanese counterpart, “Nothing can separate us. We are one family.” Xi took the world stage to openly include Taiwan into his “Chinese Dream.”
Still Stuck in 1992
In his brief opening remarks, Xi emphasized “we should take actions to show the world that Chinese people from both sides have the capacity and wisdom to revolve their own problems themselves.” His message centered on the notion of how “Chinese people” should work together towards a goal of rejuvenating the greater “Chinese nation.” Calling the people of China and Taiwan “compatriots,” Xi said they are “one family with blood that is thicker than water.”
Ma Ying-jeou, the leader of the 23 million of people residing in the territory of the “Republic of China,” echoed Xi’s remarks by rolling out the achievements made during his tenure. He noted the “unprecedented prosperity” between the two sides as evidence in the signing of 23 agreements over the past seven years, more than 400,000 cross-Strait student exchanges, eight million tourist visits and over USD$170 billion in trade. That all these achievements are possible is because of the “1992 Consensus,” which Ma said has been the foundation for the peaceful prosperity.
At the end of the day, the “historic” closed-door meeting merely served the purpose of reaffirming the 1992 Consensus, an old and tacit understanding between the KMT and the CPP that both Taiwan (aka the Republic of China) and China acknowledge there is only “one China” and both sides belong to this one China. Taiwan also claims the 1992 Consensus allows each side having its own interpretation of what that means, but China has never overtly agreed.
Before the meeting, Ma rolled out his talking points with his Chinese counterpart in front of hundreds of cameras, calling it the “five-point proposal” which outlined Ma’s vision of the cross strait development in the near future: consolidating the 1992 Consensus; lowering the state of hostility across the Taiwan Strait; expanding cross-Strait exchanges; setting up a cross-Strait hotline; and cooperating to achieve “national rejuvenation.”
From China’s side, there were no substantive changes to its positions. At the first press conference after the meeting, Zhang Zhijun, Director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told the world that the current cross strait relations are at the most peaceful and stable period since 1949. In response to Ma’s opinion on cross strait issues, Zhang announced Xi’s “four points,” which include consolidating the common political ground – the 1992 Consensus that Taiwan is part of China; deepen cross strait development; promoting welfare for compatriots from both sides; and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
As Zhang only took three questions from Beijing-friendly media and answered from prepared notes, most details of the meeting were revealed at Ma’s press conference. The only substance from Zhang’s remarks is that China welcomes Taiwan’s participation in “One Belt, One Road” economic projects (in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean rim), and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, under the precondition of “appropriate” arrangements. Zhang did not reveal anything more concrete.
At the third press conference presided over by President Ma, he first confirmed that people on both sides of the Strait belong to the Chinese nation and should work with each other to revitalize the Chinese nation. In response to media questions, Ma unveiled that they discussed about issues including a cross strait hotline, the two East Asian regional economic integration projects the RCEP and the TPP, and Taiwan’s international participation. Ma answered 14 questions altogether.
Despite the openness Ma tried to exhibit, many key cross strait issues remained unanswered. What is the appropriate title for Taiwan to expand its international space? How can two sides complete the cross strait goods trade pact without a proper legislative scrutiny from Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan? When asked about the missiles stationed across Taiwan on the Chinese side, Ma simply said that Mr. Xi reassured him the missiles were not deployed against Taiwan, and moved on
Pro-KMT paper UDN commentators and other papers also expressed disappointment that Ma did not mention “different interpretation,” a significant element of his “1992 Consensus”, during the press conference. That is tantamount to redefining what the 1992 Consensus means, and erasing Taiwan’s only leverage within this framework.
Sweet Chinese Dreams
Regardless the empty words flying across the conference table, their remarks conveyed an unspoken, implicit message. That message is “The Chinese Dream,” an idea squarely within Xi Jinping’s own personal agenda, and almost completely alien to the everyday lives of the Taiwanese people.
The “Chinese Dream,” a term put forth by President Xi, is a to build a prosperous society in China and realize national rejuvenation—which for China means rising to world power status. According to Xi, the Chinese Dream is “the dream of the people” and that “realizing the great renewal of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream for the Chinese nation in modern history.” The unspoken part of this rise to world power status is for China to redress all the wrongs it believes 19th Century Western imperialism lashed on China, including breaking Taiwan away from it. Boiled down, it’s just another way to say “unification.”
At the press conference, Zhang mentioned China’s century of humiliation and how that was ended only until Taiwan was “freed” from Japanese occupation. Zhang asserted that a deep sense of victimhood should be the driving force for all “Chinese people” from both sides to pursue a dream of “the great revival of the Chinese nation.” Such dream matters enormously in China, but is no longer relevant with Taiwan, where only 3.3% of people on the island identifying themselves as Chinese.
I previous argued that Ma and Xi might be making “two dreams on the same bed.” After watching three separate conferences where “Chinese people” and “the great revival of a Chinese nation” were repeatedly mentioned by the two sides, I came to realize that Ma, in fact, shares Xi’s “Chinese Dream.”
Xi and Ma put on a great show presenting how China and Taiwan are going to realize national rejuvenation in Chinese history. The meeting does hold a place in “Chinese history”. However, Ma with this meeting has locked himself in Xi’s agenda under a “Chinese” historical narrative. His citizens in the Taiwanese democracy have their own ideas.
Ma thought he was going to take cross strait relations to another level, however his performance at his meeting today only showed the public how far his vision is divorced from the reality in Taiwanese society.
But for their Chinese Dream, it is just that, a dream. The Taiwanese people is saying: “Good night, and good luck.”
(Feature photo of Singapore at night, by Holgi)
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