China's Xi Jinping meets former Taiwanese president

Xi reasserts Beijing's claim on Taiwan amid reports of a Chinese smear campaign during 2024 presidential poll.
By Ray Chung for RFA Cantonese, Huang Chun-mei and Kitty Wang for RFA Mandarin
2024.04.10
China's Xi Jinping meets former Taiwanese president Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in Beijing, April 10, 2024.
Image from CTI video via Reuters

President Xi Jinping on Wednesday reasserted China's territorial claim on democratic Taiwan, likening it to a "family reunion," in a meeting with former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who is currently on a controversial tour of China.

"Differences in systems don't change the fact that we belong to one nation and one people," Xi told Ma, according to video footage of the meeting broadcast by Taiwan's TVBS. "Our reunification cannot be prevented by external interference," Xi said during a meeting with Ma at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Xi, who referred to Ma as "Mr. Ma Ying-jeou" rather than as Taiwan's former president, said there was no topic that was off the table in discussions with Taiwan.

The meeting comes as Xi's administration has refused government-to-government talks offered by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who has repeatedly said the island won't be giving up its sovereignty or democratic way of life to be ruled by Beijing, which hasn't ruled out the use of military force to annex Taiwan.

Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (C) and members of a delegation of young people from Taiwan visit the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Beijing, April 8, 2024. (Chen Yehua/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (C) and members of a delegation of young people from Taiwan visit the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Beijing, April 8, 2024. (Chen Yehua/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Ma, whose Kuomintang party, or KMT, once ruled China, fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949 and ruled as an authoritarian dictatorship for several decades before being voted out in democratic elections in 2016, arrived in China on April 1 for an 11-day visit aimed at promoting peace.

He told Xi that both sides of the Taiwan Strait believed in the "one China" policy, a position that nods to Beijing's claim, but doesn't specify how or when "unification" might happen.

He called on people on both sides of the Strait to "oppose Taiwan independence, seek common ground while reserving differences, shelve disputes, and create a win-win situation in which both sides jointly pursue peaceful development."

Anger back home

But Ma's trip has sparked anger back home. 

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the 73-year-old People’s Republic of China, and most of its 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or democratic way of life to be ruled by China, according to multiple public opinion polls in recent years.

Last year, Tsai and her officials criticized an earlier China trip by Ma for undermining the island's government, because the former president's insistence on a “Chinese” identity for Taiwan shores up Beijing’s territorial claims.

Ma first met Xi in Singapore in late 2015 for a landmark summit shortly before the current Taiwan president, Tsai Ing-wen, won a landslide election victory in January 2016. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party in January won a third presidential election in a row in a further endorsement of Tsai's approach.

Taiwan's former President Ma Ying-jeou (with cap) visits the Great Wall of China on the outskirts of Beijing, April 9, 2024. (Ma Ying-jeou Foundation via AFP)
Taiwan's former President Ma Ying-jeou (with cap) visits the Great Wall of China on the outskirts of Beijing, April 9, 2024. (Ma Ying-jeou Foundation via AFP)

Lunghwa University of Science and Technology assistant professor Lai Jung Wei said Ma's trip has been packed with symbolic visits designed to play to Chinese nationalistic sentiment, which insists that Taiwan is a renegade province awaiting "unification," including a ceremony at the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor, a mythical figure from whom all Chinese people are said to be descended.

"Xi Jinping's 'Chinese dream' is full of nationalism ... and the idea of the celestial dynasty [destined to rule China through the ages] has a long history," Lai told RFA Cantonese. "Politically, his approach and the Chinese dream of Xi Jinping ... work together."

"[Ma] is also very unhappy with the current leadership under the Democratic Progressive Party and its pushback against Chineseness in recent years."

He said Ma has shed tears in public several times during the current trip, in a bid to appeal to nationalistic emotionality.

Meeting comes amid warnings

The second Ma-Xi meeting comes on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.' Taiwan Relations Act into law, requiring Washington to take steps to help the island defend itself, including through arms sales, despite Beijing's vocal opposition.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of State told Taiwan's Central News Agency on Monday that the U.S. is closely monitoring Beijing's actions, following reports of Chinese drone activity on Monday around the Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen, which lies just six kilometers off the Chinese coast.

"We continue to urge restraint and no unilateral change to the status quo, which has preserved peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and throughout the region for decades," the spokesman said.

"We urge [China] to engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan to reduce the risk of miscalculation."

The meeting also comes amid warnings that Beijing is waging a disinformation and propaganda war against Taiwan that could undermine the island's democracy.

Analysts display examples of pro-China disinformation on YouTube and TikTok in a presentation to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the United States, April 8, 2024. (Kitty Wong/RFA)
Analysts display examples of pro-China disinformation on YouTube and TikTok in a presentation to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the United States, April 8, 2024. (Kitty Wong/RFA)

Shun-Ching Yang, analyst lead of the Digital Intelligence team at Doublethink Lab, told a seminar at Taiwan's representative office in Washington on April 8 that the lab's researchers had identified more than 10,000 posts on Facebook, Douyin, TikTok and other social media platforms believed to be part of a Chinese-led disinformation campaign targeting Taiwan in the run-up to January's elections.

"We found that the Chinese authorities' main strategy is smear campaigns, targeting the ruling party or its allies, and using current social problems to target people's fears," Yang said. Much of the content used generative AI, while some videos on TikTok featured real-life online celebrities, in a bid to appeal to a wider audience.

Smear campaign

Eve Chiu, CEO and editor-in-chief of the Taiwan FactCheck Center, said China's Ministry of State Security used AI anchors to launch a large-scale smear attack on President Tsai, while an e-book titled "The Secret History of Tsai Ing-wen" circulated widely among pro-China accounts on YouTube and Facebook.

One included a deep-fake video of president-elect Lai Ching-te appearing to endorse opposition KMT and Taiwan People's Party candidates in the election.

Many of the disinformation posts were forwarded by well-known social media accounts in China, known as "big V" accounts, she said.

Chihhao Yu, software engineer, information designer, and co-director of Taiwan Information Environment Research Center, said the center had recently carried out an in-depth analysis of pro-China proxy accounts on TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin.

"When compared with similar accounts on Douyin, the content being forwarded is highly similar," Yu said, adding that some pro-China content had originated on YouTube, suggesting Beijing is seeking to expand its influence on international social media platforms.

Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.

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COMMENTS

Brian Cousins
Apr 12, 2024 10:51 AM

As expected from RFA, no reference (in this biased news report) to the DPP winning the last presidential election with 40% voters support - a far cry from RFP'S reference to a "landslide" victory some years ago. PS: where can I obtain a financial statement for RFA to determine funding sources for your organization?