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Ma mentioning Taiwan's official name with Xi deliberate: Academics

04/11/2024 04:45 PM
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Former President Ma Ying-jeou (center) speaks at a press briefing at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport following his return from China Thursday. CNA photo April 11, 2024
Former President Ma Ying-jeou (center) speaks at a press briefing at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport following his return from China Thursday. CNA photo April 11, 2024

Taipei, April 11 (CNA) Former President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) seemingly inadvertent mention of Taiwan's official name during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Beijing Wednesday was likely a deliberate political play, academics have suggested.

"As I see it, it was intentional," National Chengchi University Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies Professor Wang Hsin-hsien (王信賢) said of Ma's initial use of the "Republic of China" (ROC) to refer to the wider concept of "the Chinese nation."

Ma quickly corrected himself, and his office later described his use of the two similar-sounding yet politically distinct terms as "purely a gaffe."

Yet given Ma was reading from a script, the supposed slip-up was more likely a contrived attempt by the former Kuomintang (KMT) president to score political points back home, Wang Hsin-hsien said.

Wang Hung-jen (王宏仁), a professor of political science at National Cheng Kung University, agreed that the incident had been preplanned.

By referencing the ROC - an entity that Beijing remains technically at war with - Ma hoped to appear "not too weak" next to Xi, Wang Hung-jen said.

Meanwhile, Xi's mentioning of the so-called "1992 consensus" was a reassertion of his "bottom line" to Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Wang Hsin-hsien said.

The pair's emphasis on the "consensus" was consistent with the motif of the historic 2015 meeting between Ma, then Taiwan's president, and Xi in Singapore, Wang Hung-jen said.

The consensus was a tacit understanding reached in 1992 between the then-KMT government in Taiwan and Beijing. It has been consistently interpreted by the KMT as an acknowledgment by both sides that there is only "one China," with each side free to interpret what "China" means.

The DPP has never acknowledged the "1992 consensus," arguing that Beijing allows no room for "China" to be interpreted as the ROC and that acceptance of the consensus would imply agreement with China's claim over Taiwan.

During Xi's speech, he repeatedly used the terms "Chinese nation," "Chinese culture," and "youth exchanges," which Wang Hsin-hsien said were currently the main focus of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Taiwan policy.

The CCP's definition of Taiwanese independence includes attempts at desinicization, including alienation from Chinese nationalism and Chinese culture, which explains why Xi repeatedly brought up those terms in his speech, Wang Hsin-hsien said.

CNA photo April 10, 2024
CNA photo April 10, 2024

Wang Hung-jen said Xi's rhetoric was directed at the "China-loving unification-minded forces" in Taiwan, while his special emphasis on the youth and students was likely because they were more impressionable.

Chao Chun-shan (趙春山), an honorary professor at Tamkang University Graduate Institute of China Studies, described the phrase "Zhonghua" (中華)- used in Chinese for "ROC" and "the Chinese nation" - as a "magic word" between Ma and Xi.

If China is to "rejuvenate" the Chinese nation, identification with "Zhonghua," a term indicating a general relation to Chinese civilization, will be key, Chao said in an online program.

Rejection of the term would indicate a lack of national or cultural ties between China and Taiwan, rendering any political arrangements between Beijing and Taipei futile, Chao said.

Conversely, acceptance of "Zhonghua" as a middle ground on both sides of the Taiwan Strait would provide a politically viable alternative for Beijing, Chao said.

According to Chao, Wednesday's meeting between Ma and Xi was sending a message to Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德), who will take office as Taiwan's next president on May 20, that "the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the same nation under "one China."

Meanwhile, Ma's rhetoric demonstrated both sides having different interpretations of "one China" was still possible, Chao added.

If the DPP can learn from this and adjust its cross-strait policy accordingly, there will be a chance to promote peace under the incoming administration, Chao said.

However, if the DPP continues to be ambivalent toward such concepts, Beijing will continue to view it as an outsider, Chao added.

(By Lee Ya-wen and Sean Lin)

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