(From Radio Free Asia)
The weekend’s historic meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and his Taiwan counterpart Ma Ying-jeou, the first since the end of a civil war between their parties in 1949, appears to have had little effect on support for the island’s opposition party ahead of presidential elections in the spring, opinion polls revealed on Monday.
Xi met briefly with Ma behind closed doors on neutral ground in Singapore on Saturday, the first bilateral meeting at this level in 66 years.
Xi’s ruling Chinese Communist Party and Ma’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party were bitter foes during a civil war that flared up after the defeat of Japan in World War II, and the KMT government fled to the island from Chongqing after losing to Mao Zedong’s communist forces.
Ma hailed the summit as the culmination of two years of delicate diplomacy amid “extremely complicated” political, economic and military realities for both sides.
“I had the very strong feeling from today‘s meeting that we should really value this and find ways to work around our problems, and not allow them to affect our overall direction,” Ma told reporters.
“I think that Mr. Xi feels this way too, so we are going to focus on the big picture, not the details,” he said. “I hope that we can agree on an overall direction that will benefit both Taiwan and mainland China.”
Big lead for Tsai
But Tsai Ing-wen, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP’s) presidential candidate, held onto a big lead in opinion polls immediately after the summit, local media reported on Monday.
Tsai has accused Ma of trying to revive his party’s flagging fortunes after a string of electoral disasters, with the last-minute announcement of the meeting with Xi last week.
But Taiwan’s Cross-Strait Policy Association found that 48.6 percent of 1,014 people surveyed still supported Tsai on Sunday, while just 21.4 percent backed KMT candidate Eric Chu.
Meanwhile, 46.8 percent of respondents said they didn’t think Ma protected or maintained Taiwan’s sovereignty and interests during the meeting with Xi, compared with 32.9 percent who said he did.
And a second poll of similar size carried out by scholars’ group the Justice Association found that 32.7 percent would vote for Tsai, while 21.1 percent backed Chu.
U.S.-based political commentator Wang Juntao said the significance of the summit was largely a symbolic one.
“The first [achievement] is that they have a channel for high-level communication, and the second is that the two leaders were able to meet on an equal footing,” Wang said.
“That means that [Beijing] effectively recognizes Taiwan as a political entity.”
He said Tsai’s weak point remains her policy on cross-straits ties, however, as the DPP campaigns on a moderately pro-independence platform.
“In terms of the future, it has basically set the tone for, and placed severe limitations around Tsai Ing-wen, when it comes to her policy on mainland China,” Wang said.
Yang Liyu, retired professor of East Asian Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey agreed, saying that Ma has tossed Tsai something of a curve-ball.
“Tsai Ing-wen now has two big problems, which I have discussed with her,” Yang told RFA. “The first is that that she won’t recognize the 1992 communique [on cross-straits relations agreed by officials from both sides].”
“And the second is that she won’t give up any notion of independence for Taiwan,” he said. “From Beijing’s point of view … that is no basis for any sort of peaceful development of ties.”
No military threat?
He said the summit had yielded two main fruits for Taiwan.
“The first is that Taiwan can apply for membership of international bodies in an appropriate manner, including [Beijing’s] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road [Central Asian security] initiative,” he said.
“The second is that there will be no military threat unless Taiwan seeks formal independence.”
Closer economic ties with Beijing under Ma’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party have sparked a growing public backlash in Taiwan, expressed in last year’s student-led Sunflower movement which occupied government buildings in protest at a proposed bilateral trade deal.
Taiwan has been governed separately from mainland China throughout the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), and since the KMT nationalist regime fled to the island in 1949.
Many of the democratic island’s 23 million residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and there is broad political support for de facto self-rule, if not formal independence.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
Copyright Radio Free Asia