Ma-Xi meeting: Many elephants in the room

Last week China reversed its one child policy. Would it be able to reverse its one country policy too?

Not a chance in hell.

Since early this morning, newspapers everywhere have reported that both countries (and I apply the word ‘countries’ very liberally) will be meeting on an agenda of peace. Instead of addressing each other as “Your Excellency” or “President”, each will simply address the other awkwardly as “mister”.

They can talk about peace to their hearts content, but trotting about in this room are weighty facts that are hard to ignore: the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Taiwanese elections and the reality that actually signing a treaty of peace is virtually impossible between the two leaders (not that they intended to at this meeting anyway).

It is apparent in the 2015 plenum Chinese leaders know that it is not sustainable, nor ambitious to merely continue being the workshop of the world. The goal was to shift from its current role: that of being an export-reliant and investment intensive economy.

China is a pragmatic country. When the need called for it, the leadership transited out of communist economics, adopting a free market one and in so doing, lifted a billion people out of poverty.

However, reunification/independence is another matter altogether. One that involves missiles and guns.

I think it is nothing more than diplomatic theatre. To show the world that the countries are committed to peace, good foreign policy and economic pragmatism.

Because against the backdrop of all this, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership: America’s free-trade proposal that involves a dozen nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Washington is seen to be seeking a counter weight to China’s power by strengthening its military relationships with its regional allies, discouraging regional neighbours from participating in Chinese initiatives and pursuing the TPP that excludes China.

The Singapore meetings could be one bullet in China’s arsenal in the wrestle for power in the region.

The last time Taiwan pushed for a Ma-Xi meeting was for the 2014 APEC summit, which was held in Beijing. The reason for rejection given by China was because an “international summit wasn’t the right venue for such a meeting”.

Singapore would present itself as a perfect venue. Politically neutral and right smack in the middle of the Asia Pacific where there can be maximum political leverage for all parties.

On the Taiwanese front however, Ma Ying-Jeou had been criticised for holding the meeting so close to their elections. His party, the Kuomintang (KMT) is seen to be pro-Beijing and relations with China had improved under President Ma.

Analysts say China is “likely to see a meeting between the two leaders as a final chance to press its case for improved ties, in case the KMT loses the election.”

The meetings will be no small matter, doubtlessly. However the skeptic in me says nothing significant would occur after the talks and that all this pomp and ceremony is merely procedural in the game of foreign policy.




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Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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