Optimism For Stability After Ma Victory

In the wake of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s successful reelection over the weekend, China’s Global Times welcomed more positive momentum in cross-strait relations without putting “undue pressure” on the Taiwan question:

Politics will be introduced into discussion sooner or later. But when conditions are not mature, consolidating and expanding the middle ground is a good transition to building trust and reducing sensitivity about political topics.

The Chinese mainland and Taiwan should firstly put signing a peace treaty on the agenda. This will have particularly positive significance for Taiwan. The political content of such a treaty can be negotiated. In his second term, Ma Ying-jeou should have the courage and wisdom to take this step. Ma suggested a peace treaty with the Chinese mainland a few months ago, but later moved away from this offer. This sent out a complicated signal. Both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan should create opportunities to promote relations.

The national strength growth of the Chinese mainland has brought changes favorable to itself in the Taiwan Straits. The mainland should keep the momentum rather than seeking to dominate cross-Straits politics.

Across the Taiwan Strait, the press mostly conveyed a sense of optimism as well. The China Post hailed Ma in a Sunday editorial, calling his first four years in office a refreshing escape from the scandal and corruption that defined the term of his predecessor. Separately, a Monday opinion piece called the election a vote of confidence in Ma’s work to build closer ties with mainland China. Yet another Op-Ed, by journalist and former diplomat Joe Hung, echoed the Global Times by urging Ma to conclude a “long overdue” peace accord with the PRC:

In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Ma made a campaign promise to sign a peace accord between Taiwan and the People’s Republic, if he were elected. He was elected, but reneged on his promise just as Chen did by making the National Unification Council cease to function. Nonetheless, President Ma renewed his promise in his “Golden Decade Vision” platform for his bid for a second term to conclude a peace pact across the Strait in ten years. Under fire from his challenger Tsai Ing-wen and company, Ma qualified his promise by laying down the three conditions for the accord being “needed by the nation,” “agreed to by the people,” and “supervised by Parliament.” He then followed it up by offering a referendum to decide whether negotiations would be started on that pact. He said the peace agreement would be negotiated if the referendum is passed. If not, there would be no negotiations. Ma won the re-election. All he needs to do now is to satisfy those conditions and conclude peace between Taiwan and China before he steps down in 2016.

One thing has to be made perfectly clear. The conclusion of the peace accord has nothing to do with Chinese unification. The pact is one to end formally the long Chinese civil war, which started or resumed right after World War II.

An editorial from the Taipei Times, on the other hand, cautioned against complacency over relations with the mainland:

The question is if Ma’s re-election will mean that cross-strait relations remain stable and continue to develop. Not necessarily.

Over the past few years, China has continued to nurse and support the Ma administration. Paying no attention to cost, Beijing has offered many policy benefits and advantages, what Ma and his government have called “peace dividends.”

Following Ma’s re-election, we can be quite sure that China will no longer keep a low profile in relations with his government, in particular since Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) is scheduled to step down this year. Before he does, he is almost sure to want to make progress on the Taiwan issue as part of his political legacy. We can therefore expect China to increase its pressure on Taiwan.

The Wall Street Journal wrote today that while Ma’s victory renews his mandate to continue developing relations with China, “significantly lower” support levels than in 2008 also indicate ”deep suspicions” among voters towards the mainland:

Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s former chief representative to the U.S., said there is growing frustration in China from some leaders that China hasn’t received substantive steps from Taiwan to move toward political talks, despite significant concessions in trade deals.

That makes it more likely that Chinese leaders will attempt to extract political concessions, including formal talks with Mr. Ma, according to Mr. Wu.

Wang Yeh-li, chairman of the political-science department at National Taiwan University, disagreed, arguing that Mr. Ma is limited in the steps he can take, as anything that is perceived as moving too close to China would do great damage to the KMT’s support base for future elections.

“Ma’s sliding popularity is a strong message to Beijing that even though Ma still represents the majority sentiment of Taiwan, there are many who are very suspicious of his leadership. This means Ma will likely take a tougher stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty in future talks with Beijing,” he said.

See also CDT coverage of election commentary by netizens on Sina Weibo.