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Xi Jinping pushes the wrong formula at the wrong time

Xi Jinping pushes the wrong formula at the wrong time

In his September 25 reception of a delegation of unification-friendly Taiwanese politicians including Chairman Hsu Li-nung of the New Alliance Association and New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming, Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently thought he had the perfect venue for reiterating China’s favorite prescription for what ails the country and the problem of its ‘wayward province’ of Taiwan: “One Country, Two Systems.” Right venue? Maybe… Right time? No.

Xi’s revival of the formula, originally crafted by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 as a way to incorporate Hong Kong into the PRC, came just as protests of China’s plan to rig the voting for the area’s chief executive were picking up steam. It was the first time Xi has mentioned ‘One Country, Two Systems” to anyone from Taiwan, and his timing could hardly have been worse.

On the surface, Xi’s remarks would seem to indicate that the long years of rancor and hostility between China and Taiwan could finally be drawing to an end, but there were hard undertones to the message. Xi declared that “in working toward unification of the country and resolving problems facing the people of China, our position is resolute, and we will never compromise or waiver.” The intent was clear: for anyone who opposes or obstructs or tries to delay the progress of unification, there will be no quarter – or ‘no tolerance,’ as Xi phrased it.

Xi went on to outline what unification implies. There was no mention of the 1992 Consensus, and he also shifted the thrust of the statement on unification adopted in last year’s 18th Party Congress. That declaration said representatives from Beijing and Taipei should first work out a rational and friendly agreement on the special political relationship that exists between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Once that was done, they could start implementing mutual military confidence-building measures and eventually move toward signing a peace accord between the two sides. Even when these three steps have been taken, the declaration noted, it will not mean that the two sides have been fully ‘unified.’

Now, however, in the Xi statement as amended September 26 by Yu Chengsheng, the Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, there is no mention of the three preliminary steps. Instead there is a quantum leap to ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and ‘Unification.’ The change harks back to 2009 and Hu Jintao’s Six Points proposition to Taiwan, which included firm adherence to the 'one China' principle; strengthening commercial ties including an economic cooperation agreement; promoting personnel exchanges; stressing common cultural links between the two sides; allowing Taiwan's 'reasonable' participation in global organizations; and negotiating a peace agreement."

While the Ma Ying-jeou administration and China have signed a pact on economic cooperation (ECFA) and there have been cultural and personnel exchanges, China’s interference in Taiwan’s foreign relations activities continues unabated and the two sides are still far from ready to negotiate a peace agreement.

Xi made it clear that unification is Beijing’s ultimate goal, yet appeared to soften the tone somewhat with a hint at flexibility. He said that before applying the ‘two systems’ formula, Beijing would "fully consider the actual situation in Taiwan and listen to opinions and suggestions from both sides of the Taiwan Strait to reach an arrangement that will fully address the interests of our Taiwanese compatriots.”

Looked at in the light of recent events in Hong Kong, however, Xi’s words appear empty and meaningless, and reactions in Taiwan to the revival of One Country, Two Systems have been overwhelmingly negative.

In a statement released hours after Xi’s meeting with the Taiwanese, Ma Ying-jeou flatly rejected Xi’s proposal, saying it was "unacceptable" because it would cost the island its sovereignty. The statement noted that Taiwan - as the ROC - has been a sovereign country for 103 years, and "the government insists on maintaining the status quo of no reunification, no independence and no use of force" as well as the "1992 consensus that allows the two sides to have a separate interpretation of the term ‘China’".

In Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, DPP caucus whip Tsai Chi-tsang said, “What is happening in Hong Kong now shows that ‘one country, two systems’ is a failure. Beijing should try to solve the problems in Hong Kong first, because its handling of the political situation in Hong Kong is a slap in its own face.”

DPP spokesperson Huang Di-ying expounded on Tsai’s remarks. “We understand that different people might have different interpretations of history, but China must not overlook the universal values of democracy and rule of law,” he declared. “Taiwanese insist on making cross-strait exchanges only on the basis of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The DPP insists that the future of Taiwan should be decided solely by its 23 million citizens.”

For now, Taiwan and the rest of the world are watching to see how Xi handles Occupy Central and related protests. Ma Ying-jeou has advised Beijing to use “a delicate hand” in dealing with the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong. In remarks to the KMT, Ma has said, “If the mainland authority can handle this appeal with a delicate hand, it can help to narrow the mental gap between people across the Taiwan Strait and benefit cross-strait relations.” Conversely, he warned, a harsh response would “alienate the people of Taiwan and damage cross-strait relations.”

Beijing’s abandonment of promises made in the 1997 handover has already done considerable damage to its image in Hong Kong and around the world. One Hong Kong University poll indicated that more than 85% of young people in the region have no confidence in “One Country, Two Systems.”

For Taiwan the stakes are high, and so is the pressure. China’s population dwarfs Taiwan’s by a ratio of 50:1 while its 2014 GDP and defense spending are estimated to outpace Taiwan’s by 20:1 and 15:1 respectively.

Xi Jinping’s advocacy of “One Country, Two Systems” is already setting off alarm bells all over Taiwan, and the Ma Ying-jeou administration would do well to keep in mind China’s approach in handling Chen Shui-bian and his independence-minded government: “Throw off your illusions and get ready to rumble!” The world is watching events unfold in Hong Kong, and Taiwan could very well be next.

Updated : 2021-05-06 22:09 GMT+08:00