Ma Ying-jeou's hopes are likely nothing more than wishful thinking

Recent talks may have lulled Taiwan president into believing Beijing is closer to accepting the island's sovereignty, but reality is far from that

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 4:46am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 4:46am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has described as "extraordinary" landmark meetings last week between a Taiwanese government envoy and his mainland counterpart in Nanjing and Shanghai.

But Beijing's concessions during the unprecedented encounters on the mainland fell far short of recognising Taiwan, which it regards as a rogue province, as a sovereign body.

The talks between the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office director Zhang Zhijun and Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council chairman Wang Yu-chi were no doubt a historic breakthrough in cross-strait relations. As the first high-level government-to-government talks since the People's Republic of China was created in 1949, they attracted much attention both at home and abroad.

Notably, Zhang addressed Wang by his official title during the meetings, and Wang was also allowed to use the title to pay tribute to the late Dr Sun Yat-sen, who founded the republic.

At Sun's mausoleum in Nanjing - the Nationalists' capital before they fled to the island after being defeated by the Communists - Wang publicly declared Taiwan's official title - the Republic of China - saying Sun had established it 103 years ago.

Wang's remarks at the memorial square would have been impossible without Beijing's concession. A visibly heartened Wang told reporters later that they had obtained the mainland's tacit approval beforehand to do so.

Since then, Ma has played up the "extraordinary significance" of the Zhang-Wang talks in the peaceful development of cross-strait ties.

Some Taiwanese analysts have regarded the historic meeting as the mainland's show of respect for Taiwanese as part of the family. Others believe the event signalled the mainland's acceptance of Ma's proposal for mutual non-denial of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Ma has long believed his proposal would help solve the complex political problem between Beijing and Taipei. "The principle of mutual non-recognition of sovereignty and mutual non-denial of jurisdiction between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is the only way to push cross-strait relations forward," he once said.

But mainland scholars say some in Taiwan have over-interpreted the events. They acknowledge that the meetings represented a milestone, but say they did not mean Beijing would accept the mutual non-denial of jurisdiction.

"No need to exaggerate the [talk's] political significance," said Liu Guoshen , head of the Institute of Taiwan Research at Xiamen University. "The communication channel to be set up is only between the council and the office."

Zhang and Wang agreed to set up a permanent communication system that would complement the semi-official bridge between Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and the mainland's Association for Relations across the Straits.

On Monday, Fan Liqing , spokeswoman for Zhang's office, confirmed that the system was only for communicating between the council and the office. Worth noting was Fan's reluctance to address Wang by his official title, describing him instead as the "person in charge".

Also, to Taipei's disappointment, Zhang rejected a suggestion for Ma to meet President Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum to take place in Beijing in October. Ma has long hoped for a meeting with Xi to help him burnish his legacy of improving cross-strait ties before his term ends in 2016.

But Zhang's snub greatly reduced the possibility of a Xi-Ma talk. Beijing has stressed that such a talk, if any, could be held only within cross-strait territory and not at an international venue that would create the impression of two Chinas.

Meanwhile, Xi was to meet Kuomintang honorary chairman Lien Chan last evening in their second dialogue since Xi became the Communist Party leader last year.

Lien's office spokesman Ding Yuan-chao said Xi would shake the hands of each of Lien's 80-member delegation in a show of the importance of the exchange. This was contrary to speculation that the Zhang-Wang meetings would lessen the importance of meetings between the parties and other proxies.

Despite all that Ma has made of the recent developments, Beijing has not - other than establishing a new communication system and giving permission for some political manoeuvring - made any substantial changes to its cross-strait policy.

It therefore remains Taiwan's wishful thinking that Beijing has begun to accept Ma's mutual non-denial of jurisdiction plan, a move that could pave the way towards acceptance of the island's sovereignty.