Taiwan's president told the outgoing head of the United States Pacific Command that "activities" by China's People's Liberation Army could convince the island to enter into political talks with Beijing, according to an American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The cable described a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou and Adm. (Ret.) Timothy Keating on Dec. 15, 2009 _ weeks after Keating left his PACOM post. Keating was one of the most senior American officials involved in planning the U.S. military posture in the western Pacific, including in the Taiwan Strait, the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide maritime corridor dividing mainland China from Taiwan.
"Despite warming economic ties," the American cable quoted Ma as saying, "(China's) military posture across the Strait remains unchanged. PLA activities in recent months demonstrated that Taiwan may need to move beyond economic discussions into political discussions with the mainland."
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing continues to regard the island as part of its territory, to be taken over by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.
Upon taking office in May 2008, Ma pivoted sharply away from his predecessor's anti-China policies, engaging Beijing in a series of economic agreements that have helped to lower tensions between the sides to their lowest level in six decades.
However, Ma has been consistently wary of moving that engagement into the political sphere, not least because many Taiwanese fear that such discussions could be used by the mainland as a wedge to undermine democratic Taiwan's de facto independence.
The issue remains a sensitive one today, particularly in the run-up to next January's presidential election. In that poll Ma will face Tsai Ing-wen of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which unlike Ma's Nationalists, opposes expanded China ties.
The U.S. diplomatic cable quotes Ma as saying that despite the Chinese military pressure, talks between the sides on military and security issues would only begin after China removed the estimated 1,200 ballistic missiles it had aimed at Taiwanese targets in late 2009.
The missiles remain in place today, and many analysts believe that their number has actually grown.
The cable contained no elaboration on what Ma meant by "PLA activities in recent months," though Lin Chong-pin, Taiwan's former deputy defense minister, said this may have been a reference to the deployment of the missiles, the continuation of Chinese military exercises simulating an attack on Taiwan, and China's ongoing military buildup.