Xi-Ma meet, a mere photo opportunity

Xi-Ma meet, a mere photo opportunity

The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore last week was historic. This is the first time that the leaders of China and Taiwan are meeting since the Communists’ victory in the civil war in 1949, when defeated Kuomintang (KMT) forces fled the mainland. On the face of it, the Xi-Ma meeting was symbolic rather than substantive; no agreements were signed and no joint statement emerged from the meeting. The only visible outcome of the carefully choreographed event was the high-profile cross-strait handshake and plenty of upbeat rhetoric. Some have dismissed the Singapore meeting as just a lot of hot air and a photo opportunity.

The meeting is widely believed to be a political signal aimed at upcoming elections in Taiwan. Ma’s party, the KMT, is slated to lose to the anti-China Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The KMT is facing a tidal wave of public criticism for its ‘cosying up to China’ during Ma’s two terms as president. Indeed, China-Taiwan cooperation has touched unprecedented levels over the past eight years; some 23 agreements were signed in this period. Investment and trade has grown and China has emerged the largest investor in its ‘Renegade Province,’ as Beijing refers to Taiwan. Ma’s opponents accuse him of abandoning the cause of Taiwan’s independence. With the DPP making this the focus of its campaign against the KMT, Ma is seeking to draw attention to the gains achieved from cooperating with China. He is expected to hold up his meeting with Xi as evidence of stable relations with China that were achieved during his presidency. China, which is wary of a possible DPP victory, will be hoping that the Singapore meeting will convince Taiwanese voters that cooperation with Beijing is good for Taiwan’s future.

While high-profile handshakes capture world headlines, by themselves they are unlikely to allay apprehensions. If China is keen to signal its peaceful intentions to Taiwanese voters, it must end its habit of military muscle-flexing that it engages in periodically whether vis-à-vis Taiwan or its other neighbours. China’s neighbours are suspicious of its intentions because of its intimidating tactics and unilateral steps to assert sovereignty over disputed land borders or maritime boundaries. No amount of feel-good handshaking will build confidence in such circumstances. However, the handshake at Singapore holds out promise. Xi could take this further by initiating top-level dialogue with Taiwan. Importantly, his government must show sensitivity to Taiwanese sentiments and voter choices. That would go a long way in winning hearts in Taiwan.
DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)