The repercussions of Ma’s cross-Strait “peace Accord” Proposal

In mid-October, Ma proposed his will of signing a “peace accord” with China. He supplemented this proposal by arguing that the signature of the Cross Strait peace accord should proceed under three conditions, namely the country’s need, public support, and congressional superintendence. Later, he added that the signature should be determined by referendum. Ma’s proposal led to several domestic and international repercussions. I firstly summarize the opinions of Taiwan, China, and the United States, and then provide my own observation.

In Taiwan, there are several conjectures about the reason for Ma to propose the Cross Strait peace accord. Firstly, it is because of the stalemate result of public opinion polls between Ma and Tsai. Ma sought to regain an advantageous position by emphasizing his effort in improving the Cross Strait relationship. The Mainland Affairs Council claims that the purpose of Ma’s proposal is to institutionalize the status quo. Second, it is to repay China’s surrender of profits in signing the ECFA and opening up free independent travel of Mainland tourists to Taiwan. Third, Ma tries to shift public focus away from people’s livelihood and economic issues, where he does not achieve success. Fourth, to gain the support of Taiwanese businessmen in Mainland, this accord is a substitution for the Taiwanese Businessmen Investment Protection Agreement (which China is reluctant to sign). These are possible reasons, but since we are not Ma, we can never know his genuine motive.

Tsai responded that Ma’s proposal could lead to four crises, including sacrificing Taiwan’s sovereignty, changing the status quo of the Cross Strait relationship, undermining democratic values, and diminishing strategic depth. Ma replied that the peace accord serves as a fire wall between Taiwan and China. Its goal is to achieve reciprocal peace and prosperity. The Democratic Progress Party (DPP) criticized it by arguing that the Taiwanese people do not authorize Ma to unilaterally change the status quo and initiate political negotiations with China. The DPP also proposed several questions. First, if the National Party (KMT) wins the election, it has the right to define the substance of Ma’s three conditions (just like ECFA). Second, since Ma claimed that he has largely improved the Cross Strait relationship and the probability of war is quite low, why do we need a peace accord? Third, when the People’s Republic of China does not recognize the Republic of China and tries to eliminate it from the international society, what is our status if we really sign the peace accord? Finally, if the result of a referendum opposes the peace accord, what would Ma do? In sum, the DPP tries to equate Ma’s peace accord proposal to his will of advancing unification. Almost half of the Taiwanese electorate tag a “unification-oriented” mark on Ma owing to his practice in the past three years (though Ma himself has given every effort to deny it). Therefore, the DPP’s discourse gains certain persuasiveness in Taiwan.

China did not reply directly, and expressed that it cognized and respected Ma’s proposal. China is not eager to sign a peace accord with Taiwan. Its preference is the growth of the economy first and foremost while politics comes secondary. Only after stabilizing Cross Strait economic and civil cooperation and eliminating the obstacle of political negotiation will China consider Ma’s proposal. Nevertheless, Ma’s proviso of referendum provoked China because China regards a referendum as pointing towards Taiwanese independence. Besides, China has expressed its grievance against Ma’s volatile policy direction.

On the US side, the ex-President Clinton doubted the reliability of China’s commitment. He did not hold a positive perspective on Ma’s proposal according to his experience in facilitating the signature of peace accords between Israel and Palestine (their conflict lasts to date). I think the comparison between Israeli-Palestinian and China-Taiwan relationships does not make sense owing to their difference in almost every dimension, e.g. cultural similarity, capability, territorial and economic scales, etc. The US is very cautious about the possible turbulence in East Asia caused by Ma’s proposal. Most importantly, Ma’s proposal might damage the validity of the Taiwan Relations Act and give China the excuse to annex Taiwan with a military approach. It implies that China might break the blockade of the first island-chain set by the US and undermine US interests in the Western Pacific region.

In my opinion, Taiwan has very little leverage to negotiate a peace “accord” in favour of Taiwan under its current power gap with China. It is meaningless to discuss or even to sign the peace “accord” before China dispels its military threat to Taiwan and relinquishes its goal of annexing Taiwan. Besides, a peace accord is signed by the warring parties in a single country, while a peace treaty is signed by warring sovereign countries. If Ma really tries to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty, and if China and Taiwan indeed interact on the basis of “mutually non-denial” as claimed by Ma, he should propose a peace treaty rather than a peace accord. However, the validity ofa peace accord or peace treaty for a non-democratic regime is very doubtful, just as the result of the Munich Agreement and the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union illustrates. The validity of Ma’s peace accord for non-democratic China might share a similar fate. Finally, after the authority handing-over process, China’s priority is to stabilize the economy and neighborhood situation. To sign a peace accord with Taiwan is not its priority. However, if some unforeseeable factors lead to domestic upheaval, China might shift from domestic conflict to threatening Taiwan. Policymakers in Taiwan should prepare for this scenario cautiously.

In sum, Ma’s Cross Strait peace accord proposal seemed like a failed campaign strategy, and led to an inconvenient spillover of negative repercussions from domestic to the international level.

Dr. Sheng-Chih Wang is a Research Assistant in the Department of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University, Taiwan.