Promoting independence ‘not necessary, nor possible’: Ma Ying-jeou

Former President Ma Ying-jeou interacts with students from Soochow University in this file photo from Oct. 18, 2017. Ma said on Sunday that Taiwan “independence is unnecessary” and also “impossible to achieve” in response to a reporter's question about Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent comments on Beijing’s Taiwan policy. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) – For Taiwan “independence is unnecessary” and also “impossible to achieve,” said former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) Sunday in reply to a reporter’s question about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) recent comments on Beijing’s Taiwan policy.

Xi reiterated the “one China” principle and “1992 consensus” at the opening of the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Oct. 18. He said China would not sit idly by if “any person, organization or political party tried to split any territory from China at any time in any form.” However, the Chinese leader noted that Taiwan’s existing social systems and the way the people of Taiwan live will be respected.

“Taiwan compatriots will gradually receive the same treatment as citizens of China in learning, starting businesses, employment and living on the mainland,” Xi said.

Ma, who served as president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 2008 to 2016, said although Beijing had been expected to adopt a more aggressive policy on cross-strait relations before the crucial political gathering, “it’s not particularly harsh in terms of the attitude.”

However, Beijing stuck firmly to its position that independence will absolutely not be allowed, Ma said, adding that to Taiwan, “independence is unnecessary, nor can it be achieved.” Now that the independence-advocating Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is in power, “it could carry out whatever ideas it has, but so far no one has touched on that subject.” It indicates the DPP is well aware that “this (independence) is not what people need most,” Ma said.

He went on, “if Taiwan declares independence now, I don’t know how many of our mere 20 diplomatic allies will go away. It’s not good for Taiwan at all.” Ma said he was reminded of an incident several years ago when he was president, a CNN reporter asked him during an interview why he did not just declare independence?

In response, Ma asked the reporter if he had ever heard of a nation that declared independence twice? “Independence means separation, but where do you want to head after the separation? In such a situation Taiwan would encounter far greater difficulties than it faces now.” Advising people to clearly recognize the situation in which Taiwan now finds itself, the former president and former chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) said he believes that the choices are maintaining the status quo, or talking to the mainland about unification.

However, “so far the time for such discussion is not yet ripe. Most Taiwanese people do not think now is the time,” Ma said, noting that for certain matters, it is necessary to wait until conditions are ripe and success assured.

Ma also said that he believes Premier Lai Ching-te’s (賴清德) comments on Sept. 26 were a slip of the tongue, instead of actually wanting to promote independence.

Lai, who took office on Sept. 8, caused controversy by describing himself as a “political worker who advocates Taiwan independence” and noting that his views will not change regardless of the political post he holds.

The 1992 consensus, a tacit agreement reached between Beijing and Taiwan’s KMT administration in 1992, served as the political foundation for relations between Taipei and Beijing during the Ma administration from 2008 to 2016.

The consensus refers to a tacit agreement that there is only “one China,” with each side free to interpret what “one China” means.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the DPP, who took office in May 2016, argues that a consensus was never reached, rejecting the idea because it implies Taiwan is part of China.

Because of that stance and Tsai’s pivot to Southeast Asia, Beijing has halted official contacts with Taipei since Tsai took office, and cross-strait relations have soured.

Moreover, Lai may have added to the impasse when he described himself as a pragmatic supporter of Taiwan independence in his first report to the Legislative Yuan in late September.

By Hsieh Chia-chen and Elizabeth Hsu