TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Pressure is mounting on Taiwan's weakened president to open political talks with Beijing after Chinese President Xi Jinping told a former senior Taiwanese official that the longstanding division between the sides should not be strung out indefinitely.
Xi's comments Sunday on the sidelines of the APEC summit meeting in Bali, Indonesia. represented his strongest statement so far on the Taiwan unification issue, which remains a fundamental cause of instability in the western Pacific. China insists that the democratic island be brought under its control, and has threatened force to achieve that goal. The two sides split after a civil war in 1949.
China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as telling former Taiwanese Vice President Vincent Siew that the time had come to achieve much greater progress on the Taiwan-China political track, which has been largely shunted aside by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, even as he presses for enhanced economic synergy across the 160-kilometer- (100-mile-) wide Taiwan Strait.
"The longstanding political division between the two sides will have to eventually be resolved step-by-step, and cannot be passed along from generation to generation," Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying.
Taiwanese media said Siew did not react directly to Xi's comments, saying only that "both sides need greater understanding."
Xi's impatience with the lack of a political dialogue between Beijing and Taipei puts huge pressure on Ma, whose already low standing in public opinion polls has been further weakened by continuing wrangling over his so far futile attempt to dislodge fellow Nationalist Party member Wang Jin-pyng from his position as speaker of Taiwan's legislature.
One of Ma's motives may have been Wang's refusal to push forward with legislative ratification of a wide-ranging agreement between Taiwan and China allowing for the two sides' service industries to operate on the other's territory. Beijing is believed to be extremely unhappy with the failure to move forward on the service industry deal.
While the service industry agreement represents a top item on Beijing's short-term Taiwan wish list, it sees Taiwan-China political dialogue as the real prize because it believes it will eventually lead to Taiwan's absorption by the far more powerful mainland. Throughout his 5 ½ years in office, Ma has skirted around the political dialogue issue, mindful of the extremely low support it enjoys among Taiwan's 23 million people, who fear that a Chinese takeover would sound the death knell for their hard-won democratic freedoms.
Ma did speak favorably of trying to sign a formal peace treaty with China during his re-election campaign in late 2011. But charges by the opposition that such a treaty would fatally weaken Taiwan's de facto independence caused him to drop the subject quickly and he hasn't been anywhere near it since.