- POSTED: 08 Oct 2013 22:59
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China's offer of a political dialogue with Taiwan may be what beleaguered President Ma Ying-jeou needs to salvage his falling popularity.
TAIPEI: China appears to have extended a lifeline to beleaguered Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.
Public discontent towards Ma is mounting. With approval ratings at a record low of nine per cent, he now has the dubious honour of being the most unpopular leader in Taiwan's history.
However, he may have a shot at turning things around.
On October 6, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Vincent Siew, Taiwan's former vice president, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Indonesia.
China said it was open to a political dialogue with the island for a settlement to prevent their differences being handed down "from generation to generation".
This may be what Ma needs to salvage his falling popularity.
Professor Chang Ya Chung from National Taiwan University, said: "There's a good chance that President Ma will try to seek major political breakthroughs on cross-strait relations in order to restore public support and establish his historical legacy. The two sides can sign a peace accord or they can both release a cross-strait peace declaration. These are all viable options."
Despite booming cross-strait trade, Ma had always avoided political talks with Beijing which many Taiwanese fear would undermine the island's sovereignty.
Various polls show the majority of Taiwanese favour status quo over reunification with China.
However, with Beijing turning up the heat, analysts said Ma may have little choice but to rise to the challenge.
Some fear he may be forced to make more political concessions than necessary but analysts said that concern is far from imminent.
Professor Chang said: "If President Ma gives in to Beijing too much, he won't be able to seal the deal. Even if the peace accord is signed, what we can expect is first of all, it will still require approval from parliament.
“Secondly, the opposition DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) will demand a referendum over the issue. If he signs something that is perceived as too much of a compromise, not only would it not get approved, it would also hurt the image of President Ma and the KMT (Kuomintang)."
George Tsai, a political scientist at Chinese Cultural University, said: "It doesn't seem like China would take advantage of Taiwan's current internal political divide to maximize its own political gains. Beijing would still follow its existing Taiwan policy. If both leaders can benefit from starting political talks, they're likely to head towards a win-win situation."
This would be seen as another breakthrough in cross-strait relations for the ruling KMT but analysts said it may not be enough to ensure victory in elections next year.
"Even without the KMT's political infighting, the party is likely to lose the elections. The only thing is how many votes it will lose by," said Tsai.
He added: "There's clearly a growing sense of detachment between the government and its people. So far, the government has not come up with any effective measures to improve the island's economy.
"It would be hard to do even if it tried but the feeling of frustration among the public is strong. Under the circumstances, the KMT is not likely to win the elections."
Now the two sides are widely anticipating an historic meeting between Ma and Xi at next year's APEC summit.
Yet, for the meeting to actually take place, analysts said it will depend on what Taiwan is willing to bring to the negotiating table.