Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou wants to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the 2014 APEC summit. But this will only be possible if a set of political barriers fall, as Beijing doesn't recognize Ma as president.
Taiwan's democratically elected president, Ma Ying-jeou, recently told the Hong Kong-based magazine Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly) he would like to meet Xi at this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leader's summit set to take place in the Chinese capital, Beijing.
It was the first time a Taiwanese president publicly stated his intention to meet with the president of the People's Republic of China (PRC). However, experts say the chances of such an encounter taking place are thin, as the Republic of China (ROC) - Taiwan's official title - is regarded by Beijing as a renegade province and not as an independent state. Hence, Ma Ying-jeou is not recognized by the Chinese as a head of state.
Ma is aware of this. This is why he didn't speak of an encounter between "two presidents," but of a meeting between "leaders from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait."
No mutual recognition
Taiwan is fighting against waning international recognition. The political status of the island republic dates back to 1949 when the Kuomintang-led government fled to the island of Taiwan after losing the civil war against the communists on the mainland. Ever since, there have been no contacts between the two governments, nor mutual recognition.
According the so-called Anti-Secession Law ratified in 2005, Beijing threatens to wage war on Taiwan should it formally declare its independence. In 1971, Taiwan lost its permanent seat at the UN Security Council to China. Taiwan is now recognized by 22 countries, mostly small and impoverished nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the south Pacific.
During last year's APEC summit in Indonesia, China's President Xi Jinping expressed his willingness to engage Taiwan in political dialogue. Political issues should not be left to the next generation to resolve, said Xi. However, Beijing recently rejected Taiwan's offer for talks. A Chinese government spokesperson said that no international setting was required for such a meeting to take place.
The spokesperson also dismissed potential meetings between high-ranking officials at the moment. At Beijing's insistence, no Taiwanese president has so far been allowed to attend an APEC summit. Ma has only been permitted to send a representative.
'A lack of citizen-orientation'
The Taiwanese opposition appears to be irritated by Ma's new initiative. The leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Su Tseng Chang accuses Ma of a lack of citizen-orientation. "Ma would rather meet Xi, who is thousands of kilometers away, than the Taiwanese who are suffering from land expropriations, factory closures and [will bear] the negative impacts of the service trade deal, which is not right," Su criticized, referring to the ECFA trade deal which has been greatly criticized in Taiwan.
Hong Cailong, Chairman of the Committee for Chinese Affairs of the DPP, says Ma wants to draw people's attention away from the ongoing economic downturn. Hong fears that, during negotiations with China, the Taiwanese government would be ready to make a disproportionate number of compromises and could therefore damage Taiwan's interests. "We are very concerned that efforts to arrange a meeting between Ma and Xi could be at the expense of the sovereignty of Taiwan," said Hong.
Chinese President Xi (R) met with the Taiwanese representative on the sidelines of the 2013 APEC summit
Despite rejection from Beijing and criticism from the opposition, Pang Jianguo, a consultant at the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), endorses the idea of a summit between the leaders of China and Taiwan. The SEF is a semi-official organization set up by Taipei to deal with Beijing on commercial and technical matters. Pang calls on the Chinese government to support Ma's proposal despite concerns. China could arrange a meeting on the sidelines of the 2014 APEC summit if the political will was there, he said.
APEC was founded in 1989. It currently has 21 members; however, not all of them are sovereign nations. The island republic of Taiwan has been a member since 1991 under the name "Chinese Taipei." The People's Republic of China and Hong Kong, which was then a British colony, joined APEC the same year.