Ma Ying-jeou positioning himself ‘as broker of cross-strait ties’
Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou is continuing to pursue his own agenda in cross-strait relations in what may be a bid to succeed ex-Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan in brokering ties, analysts say.
His recent plan to visit Hong Kong showed that hoped his cross-strait legacy would not be undermined by his successor, Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, they said.
Earlier this month, Ma sought permission to visit Hong Kong on Wednesday to speak on cross-strait relations and his historic meeting President Xi Jinping in Singapore in November.
His request to travel abroad – which is required by Taiwanese law of former presidents within a certain period of their leaving offices – was rejected by the Presidential Office due to concerns that Ma only left office within a month, especially as Hong Kong had no security cooperation with the island.
While there was heated debate in Taiwan over whether the rejection had deeper political motivations by the DPP administration, some local media said the major concern of the Tsai government was that Ma’s Hong Kong speech would complicate Tsai’s cross-strait policy and her dealings with the mainland.
Some DPP lawmakers also noted that Ma’s touting of the “1992 consensus” and his cross-strait achievements only served only to hurt Tsai.
“It would create more trouble for President Tsai” in handling cross-strait relations, DPP lawmaker Chen Ting-fei said. Her DPP colleagueGao Jyh-peng added: “Ma obviously wanted to use the ‘1992 consensus’ and the ‘one China’ framework to restrict the new government.”
In a video speech at the Hong Kong event on Wednesday after his visiting plan was rejected, Ma said the consensus had led to eight years of warming cross-strait ties, and he believes it should remain as the foundation of peaceful development of cross-strait relations in the future.
The consensus refers to an understanding made in 1992 between the two sides that there is only one China, whose definition can be left open for separate interpretation by each side.
It was reached that year at a meeting in Hong Kong by representatives from the mainland and the then governing KMT. The DPP say they played no part in a decision that does not represent their views.
Tsai, who defeated the KMT by a landslide in January’s presidential election, has declined to acknowledge the consensus by name.
In her inaugural speech on May 20, she acknowledged only that a meeting took place in 1992 during which both sides attempted to seek common ground despite their differences.
Instead, she pledged to maintain the cross-strait status quo in line with the constitution of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s official title – which carries the “one China” content. But Beijing found her speech “an incomplete test paper,” and has exerted pressure on the Tsai government since then by slowing down cross-strait exchanges and suspending existing official communication channels with Taiwan.
Analysts said the refusal to allow Ma visit to Hong Kong not only put the media spotlight on the former president, but also Tsai’s predicament in the face of growing pressure from the mainland because of her cross-strait stance.
“Tsai has already come under pressure for not responding directly to the 1992 consensus,” said Lau Siu-kai, vice chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies. Ma’s comment on the consensus would only serve as a huge embarrassment to the DPP, said the former head of the Hong Kong government’s Central Policy Unit.
Some analysts said Ma might want to use his cross-strait experience, including his historic meeting with Xi, to win himself a key place in brokering cross-strait relations, or even replace Lien Chan as the key man of cross-strait affairs.
Lin Chuan-chung, a researcher of contemporary history at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, said the planned visit to Hong Kong was Ma’s first step to stage a political comeback. “He hopes to take over from Lien Chan to broker cross-strait relations.”
There is no need for Ma to become a second Lien Chan
Wang Kung-yi, Tamkang University
Lien, whose fence-mending historic visit to Beijing in 2005 while he was KMT chairman, has appeared to have shied away from the media spotlight recently.
Julian Kuo, a political science professor at Taiwan’s Soochow University, said Ma was “able to fill in at this moment” with Lien appearing to move away from public attention.
But not all analysts concurred. “Ma has in the past eight years already built up his status through his cross-strait diplomacy and there is no need for him to become a second Lien Chan,” said Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University.
“The mainland has also recognised him as the person who had actually consolidated the foundation of the 1992 consensus, in which Lien had no real power to do so because he was not the president,” Wang said.