“Now it has changed into a virtuous circle,” he said, ticking off a long list of economic benefits as well as new paths to elevate Taiwan’s international standing since he launched his detente policy.
Taiwan is still far from ready to engage in detailed political talks with mainland China, he said, despite suggestions from Chinese President Xi Jinping that the explosive subject be broached soon.
This month, at a meeting with envoys from Taiwan, Xi said that a final resolution on Taiwan’s status must be reached and that the island’s political estrangement from the mainland “cannot be passed on from generation to generation.”
Ma says that a referendum and clear public consensus in Taiwan are needed before military talks and discussion of a peace accord can begin. Similarly, he ruled out a direct meeting with Xi unless there is both an urgent need by Taiwan and public support for it.
“It is not that we avoid touching the political issues and pass them on generation to generation. In fact, we are willing to discuss any issue as long as it is an urgent one,” Ma said. He added that his guiding principle has been to address the easiest and most pressing issues first, such as economic ties, rather than tackling more-difficult political questions.
China regards Taiwan as a rebellious province that must eventually be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary — a threat backed up by at least 1,600 missiles that remain aimed at the island, according to military analysts. Taiwan insists on the rights it has maintained as a self-governed entity since 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s forces fled to the island after their defeat by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.
The United States has been a key defender of Taiwan, but it worries about anything that might complicate its already difficult relationship with China.
A note from Obama
When Ma won election in 2008, Barack Obama — then a presidential candidate — sent a note to Ma, according to Richard Bush, a Taiwan expert and adviser who delivered it. “The letter said, ‘I like your cross-strait policy. As you pursue that, US-Taiwan relations will improve,’ ” Bush said.
Thanks to Ma’s warming ties with China, Bush said, the issue of Taiwan no longer dominates the U.S.-China relationship, allowing Washington to tackle other divisive bilateral issues such as cybersecurity, Syria and intellectual property.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, however, have proved a persistent irritant. After a $6.4 billion deal was announced in 2010, China temporarily broke off all military ties with the United States.