Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and Kuomintang Chairman Eric Chu are holding a summit in Beijing on Monday, the highest-level talks between the two parties in six years. While Taiwanese officials describe it in anodyne terms—discussing “issues of mutual concern”—simmering tensions across the Taiwan Strait make this meeting highly significant.
The two leaders will no doubt discuss their parties’ failed gamble on Taiwanese politics. The CCP and the KMT expected that by building closer cross-Strait ties they would strengthen support for the Taiwanese ruling party, which shares the mainland’s goal of eventual reunification. Instead the Taiwanese public rebelled against mainland influence in domestic politics.
In February of last year, the KMT brought cross-Strait relations to their strongest point in history. Representatives of the two governments met officially for the first time in decades.
Despite that breakthrough, the political fortunes of the KMT and President Ma Ying-jeou deteriorated dramatically. Student-led protests, dubbed the “sunflower movement,” blocked the keystone policy of Ma’s second and final term, an extension to the free trade agreement signed with China during his first term.
Then in November the KMT suffered devastating losses in mid-term elections, after which President Ma stepped down as chairman of the party. His approval ratings now languish in the teens. Ordinary Taiwanese are increasingly queasy about the KMT’s close links with the CCP.
With a paucity of viable candidates, the KMT is unlikely to hold on to the presidency. It may even lose control of the legislature for the first time in history come the elections in January 2016. Internal divisions threaten to split the party.
Beijing must now proceed along two tracks, shoring up the KMT while preparing for a DPP administration. That is the true agenda of this week’s summit.
Last year Mr. Chu narrowly retained his position as mayor of Xinbei, formerly known as Taipei county and now the island’s most populous city. He is the only potential presidential candidate with sufficiently broad support in the party and in society. In public, he insists that he won’t run.
In reality Mr. Chu is divided about running for the presidency. If he bows out, KMT losses are likely to be magnified. But he stands a far better chance of winning if he waits for 2020. If he runs next year he will also have to explain to the people of Xinbei why he is breaking his promise to them to finish his mayoral term.
There is still time for Mr. Chu to change his mind before the nomination deadline of May 16. It is reasonable to expect that Mr. Xi will use this week’s meeting to pressure him to run and offer support to boost the KMT’s slim chances
The Chinese side will hope such a high-profile meeting will allow Mr. Chu to showcase his credentials as a man that China is willing to work with. The talks come only a day after a joint KMT-CCP forum in Shanghai that always produces a number of joint recommendations and policies. Expect China to throw a few concessions Mr. Chu’s way, so he can return to Taiwan looking like a man who can get a good deal. Continue reading