Is KMT headed for a repeat of historic meeting in Singapore? The China Post Columnist

China President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou shaking hands at Shangri-La hotel on Nov 7, 2015.
China President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou shaking hands at Shangri-La hotel on Nov 7, 2015. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

By Daniel Bauer

The China Post / Asia News Network

This week my eyes have been riveted on the ongoing tussle that former President Ma Ying-jeou appears to have gotten himself into with Hung Hsiu-chu, chair of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Some may prefer a reverse in the order of those names. Who got into what with whom?

The argument, of course, was over the troubling question of the so-called "1992 Consensus," the alleged agreement "between the two sides," or something like that, about the meaning of "China."

For years, some have regarded the consensus as an unofficial peace treaty between the KMT and the People's Republic of China. The two say they agree there is only one China in the world. Our side adds the proviso, "with each side entitled to its own interpretation of China." The other side is silent on that. Amnesia? Rejection? A spat, followed by silence in a family?

The media likes to label the consensus "a tacit understanding." Hmm. An unspoken agreement. Not between equals, say our friends in Beijing. They may offer us the smile of a big brother, but they do not consider, and for their agenda, dare not consider, that the Republic of China is a legitimate government.

No one expects earth-shaking insight here into a political obstacle, but I may be able to offer a personal word worth, oh, maybe about two cents. I am wondering if the lessons from the last presidential election, after Singapore and the big handshake, ever sunk in for the KMT. Nearly a year has passed. Has the KMT learned anything since those two events?

About a month before our presidential election last December, then president Ma Ying-jeou made history by flying to neutral Singapore to meet with a man who is not neutral about anything, Chinese President Xi Jingping. The two men spoke together. Then they dutifully held hands in what was supposed to look like a friendly handshake.

Imagine you are watching the scene on news video. The hand in hand pose lasts a full minute. Flashbulbs pop everywhere. Ma in particular is beaming. He has just scored a touchdown, he has just slam dunked. He looks like he is saying, "See what a wonderful thing I've done!"

In comparison, President Xi resembles a slightly dazed sphinx. It is not that his smile is not genuine. It is. It's more as if he looks doubtful about all this fanfare. With his dour, slightly downturned smile, his expression suggests he knows something Mr. Ma and the people of Taiwan do not know. (The two leaders addressed each other as "Mr." remember.)

In addition to the photos and handshake, other events occurred before Taiwan voted for its new president.

Chou Tzu-yu, a teenage singer from Taiwan was shamed by authorities (and apparently also her manager) into a public charade of sorrow. Her sin? She had held her country's flag in public. The singer was compelled to apologise. She looked down at her prepared script as if she were a prisoner of war, and said, "I am proud to be Chinese."

It is impossible to know how many votes this cheap bullying of a school girl won for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the election, which virtually threw the KMT out of office, but I doubt DPP devotees cried into their beers about it. It's hard to cry when your candidate takes 56 percent of the popular vote.

You have to wonder what the meeting in Singapore was meant to accomplish. Surely Xi Jinping knew the KMT was headed for trouble in the election so soon to come. Did he imagine the beating would be that bad? (The bullying of the singer had not yet happened.) Did he have any real idea of how out of touch Ma and the KMT were?

Which finally brings us to what we have now. The new chair of the KMT is all wound up about another word (and possibly a handshake?), this time in Beijing. Is Ms Hung in touch with current mainstream opinion in Taiwan? Does she remember Singapore? What about the 56 per cent figure? This time around, it is Ma who looks brave. Reportedly, he is insisting that the chair of his party use the phrase "two interpretations" in person with President Xi. Doubt exists as to whether he himself used the phrase in Singapore.

The photo and fanfare with friendly President Xi sure did wonders for the KMT back here in Taiwan, that's for sure. It was a real game-changer.

Now we are anxiously waiting the pictures Hung Hsiu-chu will bring us. Will they be another version of Singapore 2015?

* The writer is an associate professor in the English Department at Fu Jen Catholic University.