Ma Ying-jeou: a Peace Treaty, and a Referendum, definitely, maybe

On October 17, Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou suggested that there could be a peace treaty with China within a decade, provided that there was “a high level of support from Taiwan’s public”.1)

Two days later, oppositional Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairwoman and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen told a press conference that

a peace agreement with China would not necessarily guarantee cross-strait peace and security. Using the 17-point peace agreement Tibet signed as an example, Tsai said that despite promises to ensure genuine autonomy, freedom of religion and Tibetan culture, the Chinese occupation of Tibet only brought repression on the Tibetans, their religion and culture, forcing the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959.

Ma then accused Tsai of downgrading Taiwan’s status as a sovereign country, by comparing it with the Sino-Tibetan agreement, which had been one between a central and a local government.

This looked like a game with partly2 reversed roles – the president upholding the banner of Taiwan’s sovereignty, and the opposition leader belittling it. In fact, Tsai had reminded the president of how China views Taiwan – which, after all, is exactly the way it  viewed Tibet, half a century ago.

But by Thursday, one day after Tsai’s press conference, the president himself apparently felt a dire need for a pit stop, and moved to reassure voters over his proposals for a peace treaty with China, saying it would only be signed if it was first approved in a referendum. Channel News Asia noted that observers have so far tended to believe a peace treaty is a rather remote prospect, because it will involve difficult questions, such as who should sign the agreement on either side.

And not only who, but who in which capacity, I’d like to add. If Ma trusted the polls, which seem to show him clearly ahead of Tsai Ing-wen, he may not have triggered this debate. Early this month, Wong Chong Xia (黃創夏), in an article for the KMT-leaning China Times (中國時報), had warned that the pan-blue camp better led by more than ten per cent in the polls to make sure that voter turnout wouldn’t bring about pan-green election victories after all.

On October 19, China’s Global Times quoted a UDN (blue-leaning) opinion poll as showing Ma’s support rating at 43 per cent, some nine per cent ahead of Tsai Ing-wen, his “US and British-educated” rival.

Formosa (美麗島電子報), an internet news website, criticized Ma for not planning before acting on something as big as a peace agreemeent3).

Since his preace talks deliberations eight days ago, Ma had

managed to make a joke of his own proposal and give the DPP not only tremendous election momentum, but huge momentum for referendum law reform,

notes A-Gu, who translated some of the Formosa article. And very much to Wong Chong Xia’s chagrin, Ma Ying-jeou, the should-be winner, still acts the opposition leader,  following Tsai “right at her bottom”.

But it looks as if even that can’t be done steadily.

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Notes

1) The Voice of America (VoA) added a somewhat sloppy review of cross-strait relations and their history to its report, apparently with some input from AP and AFP.
2) The reversal would only have been only partly anyway, because Ma explicitly kept to the KMT tradition of regarding Tibet from a “Chinese central government’s” perspective.
3) Formosa’s vice chairman is Wu Tsu-chia (吳子嘉), whose political leanings I don’t know, but who doesn’t seem to care which side will like or dislike a news story, so long as it may be considered a story anyway.

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Related

If Tsai doesn’t play the ‘Race Card’…, July 5, 2011

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6 Responses to “Ma Ying-jeou: a Peace Treaty, and a Referendum, definitely, maybe”

  1. Speaking as a Brit, my experiences with political parties that promise referenda on sovereignty are somewhat, shall we say, mixed . . .

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  2. … and it may be laudable, in that light, that Ma backtracked within the same week, rather than years later. However, fewer people in Britain will believe that David Cameron has taken orders from mainland Europe, than people in Taiwan will believe that Ma Ying-jeou has taken orders from mainland China.

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  3. JR, you could have a fun time imagining what might happen if everyone switched places. Thing is, some of the people I know in Taiwan who are the most fervently pro-independence when it comes to Taiwan are also the most fervently pro-unification when it comes to Europe. The typical right-wing criticism of the touchy-feely left that they are all for assertiveness so long as it does not happen at home comes to mind.

    For all the bloviating of Norman Tebbitt, the two situations are obviously not the same. This might change, however, if Merkozy suddenly decided to point the force de frappe at London as a reminder not to upset the status quo in what British independence extremists call the “English Channel” but which is known to all patriotic Europeans as La Manche!

    That said, the position of Cameron (i.e., making pro-independence noises which he cannot ever really follow through on) is very reminiscent of Dr. Tsai. The same goes for Labour’s we-feel-your-pain-and-aren’t-all-those-Eurosceptics-so-silly approach to their pro-European constituency which then somehow managed to be forgotten after every election. In reality, the UK has only really had one approach toward Europe, just as Taiwan has only ever really had one approach to the mainland (i.e., the status quo), whoever has been in charge, and it hasn’t worked out too badly.

    It does, though, suprise me to see that there are rumours of Germany planning to re-negotiate the Lisbon treaty due to the excessive burden that it places on the German state, particularly in light of the bail-out. This is because it was exactly the promise to renegotiate Britain’s postion in Europe was exactly the policy that was identified as the most lunatic, impossible, and unworkable of the Conservative party’s manifesto pledges towards Europe.

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