Why Xi Jinping is Assembly Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s Ex-President

When China’s chief, Xi Jinping, and then-President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan shook arms in Singapore again in 2015, they every extolled their meeting — the primary top-level talks between the rival governments — as a breakthrough that would pave the best way to a durable peace, ending many years of enmity.

However on Wednesday, as the 2 males met once more in Beijing, the prospects for an amicable settlement over Taiwan’s future appeared extra distant than ever.

Mr. Ma, who pursued nearer engagement with China throughout his eight years in workplace, is not president of Taiwan. Fewer and fewer Taiwanese people now share his perception that Taiwan should see its future as part of a higher China.

Since Mr. Ma left workplace in 2016, Mr. Xi has frozen high-level contacts with Taiwan, sought to isolate it on the worldwide stage and tried to intimidate it with a tightening army presence across the island. Mr. Xi is profoundly suspicious of Taiwan’s present management, which has sought to claim the sovereignty of the island democracy.

The assembly on the Nice Corridor of the Folks in Beijing was the primary time {that a} Chinese language chief has met a former president of Taiwan on Chinese language soil. Mr. Xi and Mr. Ma held a handshake for round 15 seconds and smiled for the cameras. They then sat at an extended desk like two statesman getting into negotiations, regardless that Mr. Ma has lengthy been out of energy.

In opening remarks, Mr. Xi praised Mr. Ma as a patriot who had promoted “peaceful development” throughout the Taiwan Strait, and he pressed Beijing’s place that Taiwan should settle for that it is part of China.

“Compatriots on both sides of the strait are Chinese,” Mr. Xi stated. “The difference in systems does not alter the objective fact that the two sides of the strait are of one country and one nation.”

For Beijing, Mr. Xi’s present of amity with Mr. Ma was a part of a method to set its phrases for coping with Taiwan’s subsequent chief: the president-elect, Lai Ching-te, whom Beijing describes as a harmful separatist.

In latest months, China has signaled the way it may squeeze Mr. Lai’s administration — militarily, economically and diplomatically. It has disregarded Mr. Lai’s provides to speak as insincere.

However, Beijing has proven that it’ll court docket friendlier Taiwanese politicians, like Mr. Ma, who endorse the framework for relations that it calls for: that either side settle for that they’re a part of one China, even when they differ on what meaning. Mr. Xi famous that situation — known as the “1992 Consensus” due to its yr of origin — in his feedback to Mr. Ma, and Mr. Ma additionally reaffirmed it.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which oversees the island’s coverage towards China, stated that Mr. Xi’s language in regards to the situations for engagement was an “attempt to blot out our national sovereignty.”

China’s “immediate focus is to push the incoming Lai administration to adopt a more accommodating political stance on cross-strait relations,” stated Amanda Hsiao, the senior analyst for China with the Disaster Group, a corporation that seeks to defuse wars and crises. “Ma’s visit helps to underscore Beijing’s position that cross-strait dialogue is conditioned on acceptance of the idea that the two sides of the strait belong to ‘one China.’”

Taiwan and China have been at odds for the reason that Communist revolution of 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist troops fled to the island and made it their redoubt. Over time, the Nationalists stopped being Beijing’s archenemy and have become its most popular dialogue associate in Taiwan, notably throughout Mr. Ma’s time in workplace. The 2 sides constructed financial ties and edged towards talks over their political standing and future, culminating in Mr. Ma’s 2015 assembly with Mr. Xi.

However the Nationalists have misplaced the final three presidential elections to the Democratic Progressive Social gathering, which has solid itself as a defender of Taiwan’s democracy and rejects Beijing’s declare to the island. Since Mr. Lai was elected in January, defeating a colleague of Mr. Ma, China has stepped up its strain.

In January, it moved to peel away one among Taiwan’s diplomatic allies: Nauru, which had been one of many dozen or so states that also keep formal relations with the island.

In February, Beijing despatched coast guard ships to patrol the waters close to a Taiwanese-controlled island off mainland China, after two Chinese language fishermen died close by whereas fleeing a Taiwanese coast guard vessel. China continues to buzz the skies close to Taiwan with army planes virtually every day, and lots of analysts anticipate China’s Folks’s Liberation Military to stage main workout routines earlier than, and particularly after, Mr. Lai’s inauguration in Could.

Beijing has additionally tried to make use of Mr. Ma’s journey to undercut Mr. Lai’s victory within the eyes of the home Chinese language viewers, and particularly the nation’s fervent nationalists, stated Chien-wen Kou, a professor at Nationwide Chengchi College in Taipei who research the Chinese language Communist Social gathering.

“The chances of restoring official dialogue are not high,” he stated. “Inviting Ma Ying-jeou to visit China is also intended to demonstrate that Lai Ching-te, in the Chinese Communist Party’s telling, represents only a minority of public opinion in Taiwan.”

Tensions with Taiwan additionally affect China’s relations with the USA, crucial backer of Taiwan’s safety. In a cellphone name with President Biden final week, Mr. Xi reiterated that Taiwan was of the utmost significance to Beijing, describing it as “the first red line that must not be stepped over in China-U.S. relations,” in keeping with the official Chinese summary of their call.

“China will not sit back passively in the face of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities and external encouragement and support for them,” Mr. Xi said.

In contrast, Chinese language state media have highlighted Mr. Ma’s tour to make the case that Beijing has loads of pals in Taiwan. The studies on Mr. Ma’s 11-day journey to China, with a delegation of Taiwanese college students, have lined stops at heritage websites, with the scholars touring the Forbidden Metropolis and taking selfies on the Nice Wall.

Mr. Ma’s itinerary is centered on one theme: that Taiwan is a part of a higher Chinese language nation, united by tradition and historical past, if not politics. In northwest China, Mr. Ma paid his respects at a memorial to the Yellow Emperor, the fabled ancestor of the Han folks, the dominant ethnic group in China and Taiwan.

Particularly in retirement, Mr. Ma has develop into a vocal proponent of the view that Taiwan is traditionally and culturally a part of China, and may settle for that nearer ties with the mainland are a part of its future.

“If war breaks out between the two sides of the strait, that would put an unbearable burden on the Chinese nation,” Mr. Ma stated to Mr. Xi. “The Chinese people on both sides of the Strait absolutely have the wisdom to peacefully handle the various disputes and avoid going toward conflict.”

Mr. Ma stated Taiwan ought to settle for the notion that the 2 sides are a part of “one China.”

That view, nevertheless, doesn’t mirror broader Taiwanese sentiment.

Most Taiwanese folks reject the concept of unification with China, and settle for their island democracy’s ambiguous established order of being self-ruled however not acknowledged as an unbiased nation by most governments.

Folks in Taiwan more and more describe themselves as exclusively Taiwanese, as a substitute of Chinese language. Even inside Mr. Ma’s Nationalist Social gathering, many politicians, together with its latest presidential candidate, Hou Yu-ih, have been notably extra cautious of China.

Claire Fu contributed reporting from Seoul.