Will Hu Jintao’s Taiwan Strategy See Results?

Could outgoing Chinese president Hu Jintao be reaching for cross-Strait relations’ holy grail before year end? While his policies have sought to reel Taiwan through increased economic ties, Parris H. Chang of The Diplomat ponders the end game of Hu’s “new way forward” on reunification:

As Hu Jintao comes closer to stepping down from his leadership post at the CCP during its upcoming 18th Party Congress in the fall, he may feel a sense of urgency. There are signs that Beijing is mounting pressure on President Ma and the KMT to accelerate cross-strait political talks, map out confidence-building measures to end hostility, and to conclude a peace agreement that would be meant as a foot in the door for Taiwan’s eventual unification with China. Are Hu and his advisers reasoning that through Ma’s reelection in Taiwan’s democratic process, he now possesses the mandate of the people to decide Taiwan’s political future without interference by the U.S. and other foreign influences? If China and Taiwan reach an agreement on national unification through peaceful means, they will sidestep the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act and remove the foundation for the U.S. intervention.

For Hu’s gambit to work, he will need President Ma’s close and active collaboration. But will Taiwan’s leader cooperate?

At present, Ma has other, more pressing worries at home and the cross-strait relationship is not his top policy priority. In fact, he is suffering from a poor approval rating–as low as 15 percent– due to a string of official corruption scandals, unpopular domestic policy decisions, and his inept leadership. It stands to reason that he has no intention to arouse serious political backlash on the sensitive subject of China-Taiwan ties where many could perceive Taiwan’s political talks with Beijing as the prelude to Ma’s sellout of Taiwan to China.

Hence, Ma has countered with a “three-no” formula consisting of “no independence, no unification, and no use of force” as his cross-strait policy. In essence, Ma wants to freeze the status quo in Taiwan’s relations with China and, in a subtle manner, is effectively saying “no” to Hu’s offer to engage in political talks with Beijing.