Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday offered to endorse greater participation for Taiwan in international organizations during a meeting with the chairman of the island’s ruling Nationalist Party, provided Taiwan accepts that it is a part of China.
Xi, who is also the head of China’s ruling Communist Party, held talks with Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Eric Chu at the Great Hall of the People in China’s capital Beijing, marking the first meeting between the leaders of the two rival political parties in six years, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
Taiwan has been governed separately from the rest of China since the KMT regime fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the Chinese mainland. But Beijing has refused to rule out the use of military force, should the democratic island ever seek formal statehood.
In a press conference following the talks, Chu referred to the “1992 Consensus” agreement between Taipei and Beijing that the two sides belong to one nation, whose formal name can be expressed differently, and said it should be the basis for Taiwan’s greater participation in international organizations, which China has obstructed.
“Based on the agreement of ‘One China, Different Expressions,’ [Taiwan] would be able to have more space to participate in international activities, including regional economic organizations, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB),” Chu said, referring to a proposed China-led international lender which would provide finance to infrastructure projects in the Asia region.
Chu said Taiwan's participation in the AIIB requires that it be listed as “Chinese Taipei,” which it would consider, as all of the island’s parties agree the lender would be of economic value to the region.
Xi expressed interest in regional economic cooperation for Taiwan, and said Beijing and Taipei should further explore how to facilitate the island’s participation.
“The two sides can consult with each other on equal basis under the principle of ‘one China,’ and reach a reasonable arrangement,” Xi was quoted as saying.
He added that China has “a welcoming attitude” to Taiwan’s interest in joining the AIIB, but gave no indication of a possible timeline. Last month China rejected Taiwan’s bid to become a founding member of the lender based on a disagreement over what title the island would use.
Both sides also pledged to improve cultural exchanges across the strait.
Chinese media noted that both Xi and Chu wore blue ties for their meeting on Monday, and that the KMT constitutes Taiwan’s “blue camp,” as opposed to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), known as the island’s “green camp.”
Frustration at home
Chu returned home on Monday evening to protests at the Taipei Airport by members of the pro-independence group Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Youth Corps, who along with members of other pan-green groups fear the KMT chairman will use 1992 Consensus to gain support for Beijing’s rule of Taiwan.
TSU Youth Corps member Hou Zongying told RFA that neither Taiwan’s then-president Lee Teng-hui nor then-head of the Mainland Affairs Council Huang Kun-hui, who is currently chairman of the TSU, placed any political stock in the 1992 agreement at the time it was made.
“They both agreed that the 1992 Consensus was that there was no consensus,” he said.
“In the talks of 1992, both sides only talked about navigation, and there were no substantial political negotiations … Therefore we question—with no consensus, what did Mr. Chu want to talk about in China?”
TSU chairman Huang Kun-hui issued a statement ahead of Chu’s visit deriding the 1992 Consensus as a “magic spell” cast by China’s Communist Party (CCP) on Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's administration, which has pinned the island’s hopes for an economic revival on closer ties with the mainland, and said Chu’s visit would only help Beijing interfere in Taiwan's internal affairs.
Hong Kong comparison
Taiwan’s DPP blasted Chu’s statement during his visit with Xi that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one nation, which it said was more in line with Beijing’s “One China” approach, and expressed concern that the island “will quickly become another Hong Kong.”
The former British colony, where China-linked business interests can be threatened if business people take a pro-democracy stance, is often cited by Taiwan activists as an example of the potential loss of freedoms of expression, self-determination and a democratic future under Beijing's influence, however indirect.
Chu has said that he will not join Taiwan’s presidential election in January next year, but the KMT chairman is widely seen as the best match against rival DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen, and Monday’s trip to Beijing will strengthen his influence on the island.
Thousands of young people occupied Taiwan's parliament in March last year in an unprecedented protest against a planned trade pact calling for closer ties with Beijing and the Nationalists suffered a heavy setback in local elections in November.
Reported by RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.