Xi-Ma meeting could shake up Taiwan's election, impact ties positively: Experts

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) will be meeting Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Nov 7, 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) will be meeting Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Nov 7, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING - The historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Saturday (Nov 7) could shake up the Taiwanese presidential election next January and also produce long-lasting implications on cross-strait relations, say analysts.

Depending on what the meeting yields, the analysts believe it could alter the chances of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the presidential election on Jan 16, which DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen is expected to win.

Mr J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior non-resident fellow with the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, believes the KMT sees the need to "shake things up a bit" as it enters the last leg of the presidential campaign with a substantial handicap.

"So a willingness on the KMT's part to take a risk - and this is a risk - as it breaks a promise by Ma in 2011 that he would not meet a Chinese president while in office unless there was a necessity and public support for such a meeting to occur," said Mr Cole, who is also editor-in-chief of the website www.thinking-taiwan.com.

 

The Xi-Ma meeting, as it is called in China, is the first between top leaders across the Taiwan Strait since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949 and will take place amid Mr Xi's state visit to Singapore to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations this year.

It is viewed as a step higher than the 2005 meeting between Mr Hu Jintao and Mr Lien Chan in their positions as chiefs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the KMT respectively.

Another political observer Gerrit van der Wees said Mr Ma is "trying to turn the tide" in the Taiwan presidential elections, given that KMT chairman and candidate Eric Chu still lags behind Ms Tsai in opinion polls.

The KMT's last-minute switch of candidate on Oct 17 from Ms Hung Hsiu-chu to Mr Chu did not help improve his opinion ratings, and his poll ratings have stayed at around the same level as that of Ms Hung, said Mr van der Wees, who is from the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a Washington-based advocacy group of Taiwanese Americans who support independence for Taiwan.

 

He said Mr Ma wants to pin Ms Tsai down on the cross-strait situation, and restrict her future room for manoeuvre by concluding or agreeing with Mr Xi that cross-strait "stability" cannot be guaranteed unless she agrees to embrace the 1992 Consensus of "one China, different interpretations".

"In our view, the present 'peace and stability' is only artificial, as it is predicated on the fact that Ma Ying-jeou has given the PRC the impression that Taiwan is inexorably drifting in its direction," Mr van der Wees told The Straits Times.

"As is very clear from opinion polls, that is simply not the case: the Taiwanese prefer democracy and freedom."

But Chinese observers believe the upcoming meeting would result in positive impact on cross-strait ties overall.

Cross-strait expert Wu Nengyuan from the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences said the meeting itself is a signficant outcome that sends a strong signal to the international community that both sides of the Taiwan Strait upholds the "one China, different interpretations" consensus.

 

"From China's perspective, Xi wants to send a message to all political parties and leaders in Taiwan that the key to maintaining cross-strait peaceful development is this consensus and an opposition against Taiwan independence," he said.

"Without this political cornerstone, cross-strait relations could go down the wrongpath."

Cross-strait expert Chu Jingtao of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes the Xi-Ma meeting could pave the way for more high-level exchanges between both sides.

"Going forward, leaders of both sides could hold meetings on mainland China or Taiwan. There could also be meetings between high-ranking officials such as their premiers, vice-premiers or parliamentary chiefs," he added.

"There may not be any agreements or joint statement, but this meeting will be a historic breakthrough. Having leaders of both sides sitting together to discuss common issues such as economic development and exchange views on ways to advance peaceful development will have a milestone effect on cross-strait relations," he told The Straits Times.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement about the meeting between the leaders from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.  

kianbeng@sph.com.sg