United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 23, 2016
Executive Summary: The Tsai government should view the Soong Xi meeting as treading on thin ice. The Tsai government has upped the ante on cross-Strait relations. If it fails to win back its ante, it will lose even more than it has. This will leave Beijing in an even more advantageous situation. Beijing should take advantage of this situation. It should not treat it as a provocation, but rather as goodwill gesture from Tsai. If it does, James Soong's visit to APEC may become a surprise hit. The “meet and greet” may be regarded as James Soong's personal victory. Will it become a victory for Tsai Ying-wen? That depends on the remaining pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
Full Text Below:
The Soong Xi meeting is a jigsaw puzzle.
James Soong set out on the 15th. On the 16th, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Mainland State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwan's participation at APEC requires conformance with the One China Principle and the related Memorandum of Understanding. He did not say that James Soong conformed to the One China Principle or the Memorandum of Understanding. His wording suggested that Soong did not. Apparently Beijing failed to discourage Soong from attending.
Ma Xiaoguang also said "The Taiwan authorities do not recognize the 1992 Consensus. Therefore the two sides cannot possibly engage in any real and meaningful interaction". The Mainland realized that some form of unavoidable contact would take place. Therefore it immunized itself in advance by stipulating that any interaction “would not be real and meaningful”.
The “meet and greet” took place in the arrival lounge. James Soong sought out Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping did not seek out James Soong. Before the meeting, the green camp revealed its calculations. If Xi Jinping responded to James Soong's overture in an unseemly manner, he would become an international laughing stock. He would also anger the public on Taiwan. Therefore Xi Jinping would probably not ignore Soong outright. Most of the Mainland media dismissed the prospect of a Xi Soong meeting. But naturally Xi Jinping was not about to lose his composure.
The TPP has been badly shaken. The Beijing sponsored RCEP and FTAAP have stolen the spotlight. Xi Jinping suddenly became the star of the Lima conference. For Xi to deal with James Soong by blocking him, rejecting his overtures, or totally ignoring him, was unthinkable. Xi may have concluded that Tsai Ing-wen and James Soong were attempting to take advantage of him. But he knew that under such circumstances he must nevertheless observe the social niceties. Therefore characterizing the Soong Xi “meet and greet” as a “Soong Xi summit” is gross exaggeration.
The Soong Xi “meet and greet” left no photographic record. The two sides met behind the scenes. The bottom line was “No photos”. Beijing insisted on this. It had no desire to publicize the encounter. One can only speculate, but photographs were probably not the only thing that the Mainland rejected behind the scenes.
The size of the lounge resulted in a Soong Xi “meet and greet”. But the Tsai government remains far from Beijing on matters of policy. The political foundation established by the 1992 Consensus, the one China principle, opposition to Taiwan independence, and one China, different interpretations, has collapsed. James Soong said he asked Xi Jinping to "look after Taiwan's small and medium enterprises". This was virtually a case of “lan jiao cheng qing”, i.e., prostrating oneself before the sedan chair of a high official to plead one's case. Also, before the conference, while he was still in Taipei, James Soong proclaimed his support for the one China principle, his opposition to Taiwan independence, and his support for the concept of a “one China roof” covering both Taiwan and the Mainland. After he arrived in Lima however, he told reporters he would only discuss economics and trade, and that they must not be confused with politics.
Was this chess move by Tsai and Soong a one-time event? Or can we expect more of the same? Is Tsai Ying-wen using James Soong as an overt or covert cross-Strait go between? Will Beijing decide to play along and use Soong as a cross-Strait go between? This is a serious matter. James Soong may be Alibaba. But even he must shout “Open sesame” before the door will open. Will the two sides continue to abide by the 1992 Consensus? Or will the Mainland demand recognition of the one China principle and opposition to Taiwan independence as well, as a prerequisite for restored cross-Strait relations?
The APEC scenario showed the Tsai government suing for peace. It also featured Beijing in the role of Jiang Taigong, who dangled his fish hook three feet above the surface of the water, to ensure that any fish that he caught actually wanted to be caught. Tsai Ing-wen used James Soong as her calling card, just as Chen Shui-bian once used James Soong as his stepping stone. In 2005, Beijing played up the Lien Hu summit, while playing down the Soong Hu summit. James Soong's "sincere" alliance with Chen Shui-bian alienated Beijing. James Soong made the red green trial balloon at APEC possible. Beijing may decide to strike while the iron is hot, and play Tsai Ying-wen's game.
If so, Tsai Ing-wen will have to overcome a number of difficulties. Difficulty One. She is using James Soong to pave the way. But whether he can do so, depends on Beijing. Difficulty Two. When James Soong's role in paving the way becomes more apparent, how will the green camp and Taiwan independence elements react? That is something Tsai Ying-wen will have to deal with. As matters stand, Beijing may accept James Soong. The question is whether Taiwan independence elements will find it acceptable.
The Tsai government should view the Soong Xi meeting as treading on thin ice. The Tsai government has upped the ante on cross-Strait relations. If it fails to win back its ante, it will lose even more than it has. This will leave Beijing in an even more advantageous situation. Beijing should take advantage of this situation. It should not treat it as a provocation, but rather as goodwill gesture from Tsai. If it does, James Soong's visit to APEC may become a surprise hit.
The “meet and greet” may be regarded as James Soong's personal victory. Will it become a victory for Tsai Ying-wen? That depends on the remaining pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.