Rumor: Ma will accept “One China”

Tsou Ching-wen 鄒景雯, a senior reporter at the Liberty Times, reported today that Ma Ying-jeou is considering accepting the One China principle – without the usual statement of “each side with its own interpretation” – at the news conference tomorrow, when he will announce the consensus positions of the two sides. Ma has promised that he will not sign any agreement, promise to sign any agreement, or issue any joint communiqué. However, Tsou reports that Ma is considering issuing a press release, and the press release would include a statement of consensus principles. China has asked that the press release mention the “One China principle” while the ROC position thus far has been to insist on the 92 Consensus. The difference is that the latter includes the phrase “each side with its own interpretation.”

This rumor is credible for two reasons. First, Tsou is the reporter who broke the news of the Ma-Xi meeting on Tuesday night. She has good sources, and she has been ahead of everyone else on this story. Second and more important, the media asked MAC Chair Andrew Hsia 夏立言 whether Ma would accept the One China principle, and Hsia did not deny it.

In this video, starting at the 1:00 mark, the reporter says, “On the question of whether to include the One China principle in the post-meeting summary of consensuses, Hsia said, “On this part, wait until tomorrow and we will have further comment, ok?” The reporter in the background asks, “Are you really still negotiating these things?” Hsia responds, “On the final details, we are still communicating with them.””

This is potentially a big move. Essentially, the ROC government position would be moving to the “One China with the same interpretation” 一中同表 position that Hung Hsiu-chu proposed earlier this year. That position had so little support in Taiwan society that the KMT was forced to back away and retreat to the less offensive 92 Consensus. Eric Chu pronounced her to be out of step with mainstream public opinion, her support in the polls fell to the low teens, and the KMT eventually replaced her as its nominee. If the government does take this step tomorrow, it will be doing so in defiance of clearly established popular opposition. This would also a violation of the spirit of his promise not to issue a joint communiqué or promise to sign any agreements – a promise that isn’t even a week old! He would be putting the ROC on record in a very public way in an effort to try to confine it to a particular course.

I really hope this is a groundless rumor.

[Edit: Here is the story. It basically reiterates the version of events laid out in the Liberty Times piece and in the TV clip.]

12 Responses to “Rumor: Ma will accept “One China””

  1. Shane Says:

    Assuming Ma actually insists the “92 Consensus” (which is highly doubtful; I think deep down Ma likes the One China Principle better), the negotiation should occur before he agrees to attend the meeting. Once the meeting was scheduled, the ROC side had lost all of its leverage. China knows that Ma can not risk cancelling the meeting so it would take advantage of this great opportunity.

    This is a perfect example of a long time debate in Taiwan: is Ma stupid, or is he selling Taiwan off in his own smart way?

  2. Alan Says:

    I hope the same, too.

  3. joequant2013 Says:

    Since each side is doing their own press releases, Ma and the KMT will figure out some language that’s politically acceptable in Taiwan. They aren’t political idiots.

    I think two things are being missed by this analysis:

    1) This is not designed to influence the election, but is intended for the post-election DPP government. At this point, everyone including Beijing figures that Tsai Ying-Wen is going to win the election, and the DPP is likely to get a majority of the seats in the Legislative Yuan. The main purpose of the Ma-Xi meeting is to come up with some negotiation framework that Tsai and the DPP can use once they get into power.

    Without a Ma-Xi meeting, it would have been impossible for the DPP to negotiate a framework for negotiations, and we’d be spending the next five years trying to get to where we are not. With the meeting, you have a framework that the DPP can accept, and that saves you about five years of trying to negotiate protocol.

    I think that Tsai “gets the hint” so she and the DPP haven’t attacked the meeting, and so the DPP is not likely to make this a major election issue. The big fight is not going to be directed at the KMT (since everyone believes they’ve already lost the election), but an internal fight within the DPP about what to do.

    The main impact is that I think that it will give some life to “third force” candidates. If the DPP isn’t going to campaign hard on this issue, then third force candidates will.

    2) This meeting would have been impossible had Hung still been the KMT candidate, and the fact that this meeting has happened has put Hung’s ouster in a completely different context. One problem is that Hung is ended up being much too much of a unificationist for this meeting to have happened without causing everyone to scream at the KMT. The other more serious problem is that Hung was clearly not a “team player” and pretty clearly didn’t have the political skills to avoid political landmines.

    The big question that I have is “who knew what and when?” It’s inconceivable to me that Eric Chu didn’t know, and it’s very hard (although possible) for me to believe that Wang Jyn-Ping didn’t know. The big question is how much the Hung know and when did she know it. It would have been remarkable if Hung had been kept completely in the dark about this, but if she did know, then her reaction to this might have been the thing that made her unacceptable as a candidate.

    3) Personalities matter. There is a tendency in electoral analysis to assume everything is constrained by statistics and general political forces, but this meeting would not have been possible with Xi being Xi, and Ma being Ma. Also what happens next is going to critically depend on what Tsai Ying-Wen does. In some sense, Tsai is making the first big decision of her Presidential administration, and I’m looking forward to see how she handles this.

  4. James Says:

    Agree with point #1 about this meeting intended for a DPP government, but I don’t think it’s to come up with a “framework that the DPP can accept.” If anything, the framework will be something designed to constrain a DPP administration — perhaps re-defining the “consensus” to be “One China” without the separate interpretations (something the DPP would never accept), and in return the PRC will throw in things like membership in the AIIB, One Belt One Road projects, etc. If the DPP administration doesn’t declare support for the new consensus (in the inauguration speech, for example), then cross-strait talks come to a halt, Taiwan gets shut out of all the aforementioned initiatives, and Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies probably start switching to China, among other punishments.

    • Les Says:

      Perhaps Hung was informed of the meeting, and that it would occur under pre-conditions in line with her One China, Same Interpretation policy, that got her to bow out quietly. She’s enough of an ideologue to put the dream of unification ahead of her own career ambitions.

      • joequant2013 Says:

        Except that she didn’t bow out quietly. She had a chance in late September to bow out quietly because of health reasons, and decided not to do that. In any case, if she was told about the meeting after everything had been prepared and played no role in them, this would have been extremely remarkable.

        The thing is that Ma and Chu are going to be spending the next month trying to convince people that they didn’t “sell out” Taiwan, and they are good enough politicians so that they are likely to succeed.

        It would have been a disaster had Hung still been the KMT nominee. She doesn’t know when to shut up.

  5. joequant2013 Says:

    The DPP has not accepted “92 consensus” but has not rejected it either. The standard term that the DPP has used is that they will not reverse any agreements previously entered into.

    It’s also not clear at this point what Beijing’s bottom line is but the thing about this meeting is that it shows that Beijing has some flexibility. It may be sufficient for the DPP to not reject one China and keep saying “status quo.” The fact that Xi is calling himself “the leader of the Mainland” is extremely significant.

    The important thing is that you have a basic framework for these discussions. Once Tsai Ying-Wen gets elected, she will be the “leader of Taiwan” who can discuss these issues on an equal basis with the “leader of the Mainland.” More importantly, ministers and government officials from both sides can meet directly under the Ma-Xi formula. The DPP was never going to agree to party-party talks.

    At that point, people can argue over the other issues. Without the meeting, there would be no basis for every arguing about these issues.

    Also it is designed to constrain a DPP administration, but not into explicitly accepting “one China” but rather it does constrain a DPP administration into changing the constitution and abolishing the ROC.

  6. joequant2013 Says:

    One other significant thing is how this is being covered in the Mainland news media….

    Basically, it’s not. The main coverage is over Xi’s trip to Singapore and Vietnam, and the Ma meeting is buried almost as a footnote.

  7. frozengarlic Says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Joe. You are making a lot of good points. I certainly agree that Tsai is facing the first major decision of her presidency, and I also am eager to see how she handles it. However, I also agree with James that Ma’s fundamental purpose is to constrain Tsai, not to enable her. As you say, she has not officially accepted or rejected the 92 Consensus (though she effectively rejects it on the stump in nearly every speech she makes). There is a certain degree of ambiguity that allows everyone the flexibility to pretend that no conflict exists. I am concerned that Ma will make a more specific statement and force Tsai to explicitly reject the One China principle. This can only raise tensions, hurt Taiwanese business interests, and cause Chinese leaders to lose face. Ma once called the 92 Consensus something to the effect of “a masterpiece in ambiguity.” I’m hoping he bequeaths that ambiguity to the next president.

  8. frozengarlic Says:

    By the way, Ma said the phrase “92 Consensus” this morning at the airport, so maybe that is an indication that this rumor is false.

  9. joequant2013 Says:

    The actual statements had “92 Consensus” “status quo” “one China” but as understood at the 1992 meeting, and Ma seemed to state one China, different viewpoints repeatedly in verbal statements.

    Ma and Xi realize that they can’t force Tsai into a corner without it backfiring. The only way they could do something is if Tsai fumbles. Hung fumbled because she was new, but Tsai has been nominee long enough so that it’s unlikely to say something stupid.

    The other thing is that things are less ambiguous than they seem. The fundamental bottom line of Beijing appears to be no constitutional changes to the flag and the national name. Tsai is unlikely to challenge either, because she can’t.

  10. Ma-Xi Meeting: It Cuts Both Ways | Thinking Taiwan Says:

    […] Nathan Batto, an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Political Science, Academia Sinica, observed, a […]

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