China-Taiwan meet may hurt KMT

SUMMIT BACKLASH: Taiwanese protesters marching towards the Presidential office in Taipei on Wednesday. They say Mr Ma's meeting with Mr Xi in Singapore tomorrow is a sign of Beijing's intereference.


    Nov 06, 2015

    China-Taiwan meet may hurt KMT

    A HISTORIC China-Taiwan summit this weekend is likely an attempt to boost Beijing's image ahead of elections on the island, but one that could alienate voters wary of China's meddling, say analysts.

    Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will meet in Singapore tomorrow, in what will be the first face-to-face between leaders since the end of a civil war in 1949.

    The surprise summit will come less then three months before presidential elections in Taiwan that the ruling China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) is expected to lose.

    "This is a powerful initiative and its objective is obvious: help as much as possible (KMT candidate) Eric Chu in his presidential bid," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

    Decades of distrust have left the coastlines on either side of the Taiwan Strait bristling with weaponry - much of Taipei's supplied by the United States.

    Mr Ma's 2008 election marked a change in ties, with a softer, more conciliatory approach he sold to the electorate as a way to bolster prosperity on the island.

    Trade and tourism have boomed during the rapprochement, but Taiwan's feisty and independent-minded voters are increasingly wary of the warmer relationship.

    Islanders have looked askance at Beijing's authoritarian handling of Hong Kong, where promises of steadily increasing democracy made ahead of its 1997 return to Chinese rule have proved hollow.

    Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has traditionally favoured the declaration of full independence, looks set to be the beneficiary of the growing China scepticism.

    "The whole event could very well backfire against the KMT, Eric Chu and China, as many Taiwanese voters are going to have a negative reaction against this... more powerful interference in their domestic affairs and democratic political process," Prof Cabestan told Agence France-Presse.


    "Electorally, I think (it) makes the probability of a DPP landslide... larger," Nathan Batto, an assistant research fellow at Taiwan's Academia Sinica's Institute of Political Science, said in a blog post.

    Mr Batto added the meeting would make the already concerned electorate "uneasy".

    Around 50 protesters from opposition political parties gathered outside the parliament building in Taipei on Wednesday morning as the parliamentary speaker was briefed on details of the summit.

    Public reaction online and on social media was mixed, with some saying the meeting was long overdue but others accusing Mr Ma of selling out Taiwan.

    DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen has said if she is elected she will seek to maintain the "status quo" - she has not defined her policy, but it is taken to mean de facto independence that is never formally declared.

    Supporters say stopping short of formally declaring a breakaway allows Taiwan to benefit from China's booming economy but maintains the self-governance many Taiwanese hold dear.

    The KMT has questioned exactly how she will achieve this, particularly given the voices in her own party clamouring for an explicit split.

    Any move towards formal independence would likely spark an aggressive - possibly armed - response from Beijing.

    Meanwhile, Mr Ma has defended his China-friendly strategy as having achieved peace in the region and the KMT has warned that a vote for the DPP would destabilise relations.

    The White House gave a cautious welcome to the announcement of a meeting between its major rival, China, and regional ally Taiwan, saying it was glad of steps to reduce tensions.

    Taiwan has said that no agreements or joint statements would be signed, a move analysts say is designed to assuage nervous voters.

    "The coming Taiwanese elections add to the political risks for both sides," said John Ciorciari, assistant professor at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy.

    "Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping are doubtless concerned that their summit will help Tsai Ing-wen expand her lead as the Taiwanese electorate drifts away from the mainland."