It remains to be seen whether last weekend’s meeting between presidents Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Xi Jinping (習近平) will alter the dynamics of Taiwan’s politics, but we may take a hint from the roller-coaster ride of the island’s stock market.
The Taiwan Capitalization Weighted Stock Index (TAIEX) was on a sustained climb since August.
The benchmark even shot to an 18-month high of 8,857 last Wednesday, propelled by the announcement of the landmark talks between the leaders of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
But the momentum soon peaked out: the index lost all the recent gains leading up to the meet-up when it dived for five consecutive days.
Market turnover basically followed the same pattern.
It was not surprising that Ma and Xi failed to cook up anything tangible that would shore up market sentiment, and even if there are follow-up measures in the making, they are bound to be negated when the Democratic Progressive Party comes into power next spring.
True, the sight of the two leaders shaking hands, holding talks and dining together was remarkable in itself, but the cross-strait exchange was sitting on a fragile foundation, and both parties didn’t come any closer.
As before, Xi will continue with the rhetoric about one China, of which Taiwan is part of its territory, and Ma is also unlikely to veer from the Kuomintang’s stance of “one China, two interpretations”.
Ma and the KMT are in an even more vulnerable position after the fruitless talks, as the opposition has already interpreted his excessive courtesy and weasel words as “treasonous”.
One example was how Ma brought up the issue of missiles aimed at Taiwan with his mainland counterpart.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency made public the full text of Ma’s speech in the closed-door discussion with Xi.
Lamenting Beijing’s saber-rattling, in particular its aiming of thousands of missiles at the island, Ma said “it would be preferable if the mainland could display its goodwill through action, as recent drills and missiles targeting Taiwan have become a convenient excuse for the opposition to find fault with our mainland policies”.
Ma was downright unwise with his words.
What he said could be taken as tantamount to a statement that he and the KMT have no objections to the mainland’s deployment of its arsenal, but since the opposition likes to mention it to fool the people and obstruct cross-strait exchanges, could the mainland do us a favor and withdraw these military installations?
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has estimated that the number of mainland missiles, with a maximum range of no more than 600 kilometers, deployed along the strait could be between 1,000 and 2,000.
The island is their only target, as the strait is just 130 kilometers wide at its narrowest.
A poll found that few Taiwanese bought into Xi’s bland explanation that the missiles are part of Beijing’s military strategy for the whole region rather than a threat to the island.
To Ma, it appears that the deep-seated insecurity of Taiwan’s people about the military threat from across the strait and their antipathy toward the mainland are nothing more than the basis for unnecessary attacks from the opposition.
He was so timorous that he dared not express even a verbal protest against the formidable menace from the opposite side.
The meeting turned out to be a disgrace to Ma and the KMT.
Ma may have pandered to an illusion about a “greater China”, but the man whom he dealt with is a genuine, supreme autocrat.
In this regard, I marvel at the foresight of Christine Chow Mei-ching (周美青), Ma’s wife.
Taiwan’s first lady refused to go to Singapore with her husband, knowing that Ma’s blunders would embarrass her and cause her encounter with Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), to be a disgrace as well.
Luckily, since Ma is already a lame duck, with his days in office numbered, whatever he says or does now is irrelevant.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 12.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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