Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on May 20, 2008
A lot of Taiwanese are counting on Ma Ying-jeou, who took office today as Taiwan’s president, to boost economic ties with China. But Ma knows that the vast majority of ordinary Taiwanese also don’t want him to do anything to disrupt the status quo in which Taiwan is a de-facto independent country. How is Ma going to manage to balance the two demands? He gave some hints in his inaugural address today. First of all, he made sure to use Taiwan’s official name, the Republic of China, several times, a nod to the Communists that he recognizes the island’s links to the mainland. Ma talked about “our common Chinese heritage,” another gesture to Beijing, and spoke about the Sichuan earthquake, saying all Taiwanese “offer our deepest condolences to the earthquake victims and pay homage to the rescue workers.”
Ma also went out of his way to praise Chinese President Hu Jintao - or, as Ma called him, pointedly dropping his counterpart’s official title, Mr. Hu Jintao - saying that when it comes to cross-straits relations, “his views are very much in line with our own.” Added Ma: “People on both sides should do their utmost to jointly contribute to the international community without engaging in vicious competition and the waste of resources. I firmly believe that Taiwan and mainland China are open-minded enough to find a way to attain peace and co-prosperity.” Ma talked hopefully about measures to improve ties, such as the launch of direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland this summer and his government’s decision to open Taiwan for the first time to large numbers of mainland tourists.
But Ma also made it clear he doesn’t intend to move quickly to change the basics of the cross-straits equation: “Under the principle of ‘no unification, no independence and no use of force,’ as Taiwan’s mainstream public opinion holds it, and under the framework of the ROC Constitution, we will maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.” Unlike Chen Shui-bian, Ma’s independence-minded predecessor, Ma figures that the Taiwanese can keep that status quo going for a while by at least talking about the possibility of moving closer to the mainland at some point down the road – if China moves toward democracy. “We care about the welfare of the 1.3 billion people of mainland China, and hope that mainland China will continue to move toward freedom, democracy and prosperity for all the people,” he said. “This would pave the way for the long-term peaceful development of cross-strait relations.” (Emphasis added.)
In an indication of just how long-term that development is likely to be, Ma boasted in his speech about the way Taiwan’s democracy has developed and alluded to the lack of progress in the mainland’s political reform. “On the day of Taiwan’s presidential election, hundreds of millions of ethnic Chinese worldwide watched the ballot count on TV and the Internet. Taiwan is the sole ethnic Chinese society to complete a second democratic turnover of power. Ethnic Chinese communities around the world have laid their hopes on this crucial political experiment. By succeeding, we can make unparalleled contributions to the democratic development of all ethnic Chinese communities. This responsibility is ours to fulfill.”
It must be a huge relief for the leaders in Beijing to have someone in the Presidential Palace in Taipei who at least pays lip service to their concerns. That’s a big improvement over where things stood with Chen Shui-bian. So while they might not like his talk about maintaining the status quo, Ma is likely to enjoy a nice cross-straits honeymoon, as the media on both sides focus on the upcoming news about direct flights and mainland tourists.