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Taiwanese Netizens Aren't Exactly Thrilled With the Upcoming China-Taiwan Meeting

Imagine from Facebook Taiwan Explorer.

Image from Facebook Taiwan Explorer.

The buzz online has been non-stop since the announcement of a meeting between President Ma Ying-Jeou of Taiwan (R.O.C.) and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) to take place on Saturday, November 7, in Singapore.

While Ma's government stressed that the two presidents would address each other with the title “Mr.”, which implies the two are on equal footing in the meeting, reactions online show that netizens aren't buying such political camouflage as the diplomatic and military power imbalance between the two is so obvious.

In contrast with the positive reactions from Taiwanese political parties and international media, the majority of Taiwanese views online expressed concerns over the perceived threat that China represents to Taiwan’s much cherished sovereignty and democratic processes. Taiwan has made great effort to better its relations with China for economic benefit over the past decade, but without much payoff, observers argue. China hasn't made any indication that it's willing to recognize Taiwan as sovereign, while Taiwan's gross domestic product (GDP) is forecast to continue contracting and wealth inequality remains a pressing issue.

Ni hao! I'm the president of China!’

China claims Taiwan as a rogue territory ever since the Kuomintang (KMT) retreated to the island following defeat at the hands of the communists in the Chinese civil war during the late 1940s, although the mainland has no control over the self-ruling state of Taiwan. Beijing has threatened using force to retake Taiwan if it were to ever make a formal bid for independence.

The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT haven't met together since 1945. Some reactions to the historic meeting took the form of satirical caricatures, drawing on the public's reactions and predicting the possible scenarios and conditions for the cross-strait summit. On Facebook, TaiwanExplorer made fun of the claim that both presidents are the rightful leaders of China (see image on top).

Another caricature making waves is of a panda, representing China's President Xi, riding a wooden toy horse, symbolizing Taiwan’s President Ma.

Mr. Xi Panda riding on Mr. Ma (Horse).

Mr. Xi (panda) riding on Mr. Ma (horse). Image from Facebook user Taiwanfugue.

Netizens also shared a video showing President Ma back in 2011 when he made a public promise not to meet with any Chinese officials during his term as president.

Calls for his impeachment have also circulated, as many accuse Ma, who belongs to the Kuomintang (KMT) party, of trying one last attempt to put himself into the history books without caring for Taiwan’s democratic process. But such views have been repressed by pro-government media. A professor wrote on the opinion page of Taiwanese publication CommonWealth Magazine, which is an advocate of the current government's policy on forging closer economic ties with China, criticizing the meeting and calling for President Ma's impeachment, but the piece was taken down by the editorial board for being inappropriate.

‘We want to know what the benefits of cross-strait exchanges are’

Lin Feifan, a former student activist, raised a number of questions on his Facebook page immediately after the news of the meeting was announced:

我們都知道「馬習會」是馬英九夢寐以求、朝思暮想的重要時刻,但為何卡關了那麼久,如今突然之間成局了?

想請問,兩岸交流的成果到底是什麼?馬習會要鞏固的是什麼樣的成果?這些馬政府眼裡所謂的兩岸交流成果是台灣人民要的成果嗎?

沒有民意基礎、沒有經過民意認可的兩岸交往模式,已經一次又一次被反對,甚至已經在過去引起相當大的憲政危機,這場會面,難道沒有憲政問題嗎?

對馬英九,我想已經沒有什麼好說的了。

We all know that Ma Ying-jeou is trying to fulfill his dream of a Ma-Xi meeting and [it is now] the most important moment for this dream, but why has he been holding these cards for so long? Why did they suddenly become visible [to the public]?

We want to know what the benefits of cross-strait exchanges are. What sort of outcome is hoped to be accomplished with the Ma-Xi meeting? Are the expectations of the Ma government the same as those of the Taiwanese people?

Without public opinion as the basis and without having gone through the people’s consent to carry out cross-strait exchanges, they have not only again and again received public opposition, but they have also gone as far as to create a constitutional crisis… In regards to Ma Ying-jeou, there is nothing more to say.

Also widely distributed on the web was commentary written by Assistant Professor Tao Yi-fen from National Taiwan University, published on The Initium, an online media outlet based in Hong Kong. Tao explained why President Xi agreed to meet with President Ma:

其實,北京在思考台灣問題從來都不是放在兩岸關係的脈絡下來思考,而是放在中美、中日的大國關係下來思考。近年,中國在南中國海建人造島礁、成立亞投行、推動一帶一路等作為,讓美國與區域鄰國開始對崛起的中國產生疑懼,漸漸形成一種新的圍堵態勢,最近的例子就是延宕多時的TPP迅速建立,以及美國海軍進入中國在南中國海的人造島礁十二海里的範圍內巡航,彰顯自由航行的權利。

The fact is that Beijing does not consider the Taiwan issue from the context of cross-strait relations but rather from the perspective of China-U.S. and China-Japan relations. Recent Chinese actions, from building artificial reefs in the South China Sea to creating the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, have made the U.S. and regional neighbors become apprehensive, thus gradually causing a new containment strategy seen through the rapid establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S. Navy navigating the 12 nautical miles of the South China Sea in order to test the rights of freedom of navigation.

Tao went on to emphasize that Taiwan’s democratic assets must be cherished collectively not just by the people of Taiwan, but also Hong Kong and China:

民主化二十多年來,台灣已經花太多時間在兩岸關係上了,2016年的選舉原本可以是一個關乎執政能力,關乎教育、就業、稅制、社會福利政策的辯論;馬習會突襲式的舉行,會多大程度改變台灣政治的進程,這將會是台港中民主人士共同關心的重點。而馬習會能多大程度把台灣套在中國的軌道上,也將影響東亞區域的穩定與安全。

Democratization in Taiwan has already taken place for more than 20 years, and Taiwan has already spent much of its time on cross-strait relations. Originally, the 2016 elections was going to become an election about issues, such as governance abilities, education, employment, taxes, social welfare, etc. The raid-like timing of the Ma-Xi meeting will change the progress of Taiwan politics in a dramatic way. This will become a collective point of concern for the people of Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Especially, the Ma-Xi meeting could tie up Taiwan to the Chinese track to a great degree, and this would influence regional stability and security in East Asia.

‘There is already an answer to a problem, why discuss it again?’

Nevertheless, online indignation has also turned towards the U.S. and to the main opposition party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for not voicing any opposition for the meeting to be held.

A blogger known as Subing was quoted in the PPT bulletin board system predicting the response by the DPP and its chairwoman and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen:

我預計蔡陣營對馬習會不會有甚麼實質的反對行動,如果美國對馬習會也沒什麼反應,表示國、民、中、美的四方均衡解的確存在,也解釋為甚麼歐習會台灣問題不在議程上,已經有答案的問題本來就不需要討論。

I foresee that the Tsai camp will not voice substantial opposition to the Ma-Xi meeting if the U.S. is not to make too much of a reaction either. This only represents that there is already equilibrium between the four sides, which are the KMT, DPP, China and the U.S. This also explains why Taiwan was not incorporated into the Obama-Xi meeting agenda because as there is already an answer to a problem, why discuss it again?

In public opinion polls, the percentages against the meeting taking place varied. A popular blogger, who writes about Taiwan news in English, combined many articles about the Ma-Xi meeting discussing why the poll numbers differed between the media outlets. He also conducted an informal poll himself, explaining:

I polled a couple of my classes anonymously. My students were fairly divided with majority not in favor of this meeting, and a clear majority thinking it would not help the KMT, so I suspect Froze is right and there might well be majority support, though the reasons will vary across groups (lots of us support this meeting because we see it as bad for the KMT).

GV author I-fan Lin also contributed to this post.

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