Warm words, but both stand their ground

The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in pictures) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, say some analysts.
The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in pictures) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, say some analysts.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in pictures) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, say some analysts.
The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in pictures) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, say some analysts.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in pictures) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, say some analysts.
The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in pictures) and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, say some analysts.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

China, Taiwan leaders' historic meet lacks concrete pledges but seen as step forward

The atmospherics may be friendly and the words warm, but neither leader from opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait conceded an inch.

The result is that the summit, while full of symbolism, was short on substance, although it has great significance in the long-term political integration of mainland China and Taiwan, some analysts have said.

An example of how the two leaders - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou - stood their ground was their agreement at the meeting to uphold the 1992 consensus as the basis for cross-strait exchanges.

While Mr Xi stressed the one-China principle of that consensus, Mr Ma made clear to Mr Xi that the consensus was that the two sides agreed that there was one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that one China means.

For his part, Mr Xi gave little away.

Mr Ma had asked for more international space, particularly for Taiwan's non-governmental organisations to participate in international organisations, but Mr Xi's reply was that this would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

While Mr Ma raised the question of Taiwan joining the regional trade pacts Trans Pacific Partnership and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership together with China, Mr Xi appeared to be silent on this, according to a post-summit press conference given by Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) chief, Mr Zhang Zhijun.

Instead, Mr Xi said Taiwan was welcome to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and be part of the China-centred One Belt, One Road initiative for economic development along two modern-day Silk Roads, one by sea and the other by land.

Mr Ma also raised the issue of missiles installed along China's east coast opposite Taiwan.

"I told Mr Xi one of the major concerns is the Chinese military deployment on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait," Mr Ma told reporters at his post-summit press briefing. "This was the first time such issues were talked about between leaders of the two sides. At least I raised the issues, telling him Taiwan people were concerned about this, and I hope he would pay heed to this."

However, Mr Xi's reply was merely that the missiles were not targeted at Taiwan.

Professor Lin Chong-pin, former deputy defence minister and former vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), agreed with Mr Xi's response, noting that many of the missiles had a range beyond Taiwan island. However, he added that the expectation of the Taiwanese was that Mr Xi would make a "nice gesture" by moving the missiles further inland, away from Taiwan.

But, Prof Lin, now an adjunct professor at the National Defence University, added: "Despite the lack of concrete concessions made by Beijing to Taiwan, it's a very important beginning of government-to-government interchanges."

Noting that formal exchanges now took place only between TAO and MAC, he told The Sunday Times the summit could lead to other ministries having functional exchanges.

He had said earlier in an interview with Taiwan's United Daily News that the Xi-Ma summit signified the realisation of the "one state, two administrations" concept that was mooted by some Chinese scholars some years ago.

"The turning of the wheel towards (political) integration has begun and cannot be turned back," he told The Sunday Times.

But Prof Lin did not think that the summit would do anything for the ailing election campaign of Mr Ma's Kuomintang, which is expected to lose the presidential and legislative elections to the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) come Jan 16.

"The KMT is too weak," he said.

He also noted that voters' dissatisfaction with Mr Ma's administration was not because of his cross-strait or foreign policy, where he had been mostly successful, but because of poor domestic governance.

Agreeing that the summit will have little effect on the elections is DPP stalwart Frank Hsieh, a premier in the DPP government (2000-2008).

This is because DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen's response to the meeting has been moderate, having said that she would be willing to meet Mr Xi if she were elected president.

However, he pointed to the emphasis on the 1992 consensus as basis for cross-strait exchanges, saying this was meant to restrict the next Taiwan leader to this.

The DPP does not recognise the 1992 consensus and Ms Tsai has refused to comment on this, saying only that she supports the status quo and the peaceful development of cross-strait ties.

If Taiwanese support for the 1992 consensus were to rise because of the summit - it is now around 30 per cent - the DPP would be pressured over it, he said.

Over in China, cross-strait expert Xu Xue of Xiamen University said the significance of the handshake between the two leaders was far greater than what was discussed.

"Although one wore a red tie and the other a blue tie, in that moment, they were really Chinese," he said, adding that he was deeply moved by the scene. It signified that the two sides could create opportunities for peaceful development and Chinese had long desired peace, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Warm words, but both stand their ground'. Print Edition | Subscribe