Ma’s island trip defies Washington’s demand

By Zhang Hua Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-28 19:38:01

Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou visited Taiping Island in the South China Sea on Thursday. The trip came after the Kuomintang (KMT) was defeated in Taiwan's general elections earlier this month and US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his trip to East Asia. It demonstrates Ma's exceptional political wisdom and deep faith in being Chinese.

The island tour first and foremost touches on the Achilles heel of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The landslide victory of the DPP in the January 16 general elections doesn't mean that Taiwanese back the entirety of its policies. Apart from the policy on cross-Straits relations, the DPP has caused many concerns over its stance on the South China Sea disputes.

Although DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen pledged not to give up sovereignty over Taiping Island, many worry that the DPP will abandon or abate Taiwan's claims of sovereignty in the future.

The remarks and attitudes of some DPP members such as DPP Secretary General Joseph Wu aggravated the concerns and worries of people in Taiwan.

The DPP has turned down an invitation from Ma for Tsai to send an envoy in the trip. While matching his policy on the South China Sea, Ma's visit reminds Taiwanese of Tsai's different stance on the issue. And the timing of the trip enables it to avoid being accused by the DPP of a maneuver to woo voters and having its significance compromised.

Besides, with the trip Ma shows his stance on the election of new KMT chairman. After the rout in the general elections, KMT members point finger at each other and there are even calls for dropping the word "China" from the party name. Some even label the upcoming elections of KMT chairman as a contest between indigenous candidates and migrant ones. The party faces the threat of a full collapse in its core values.  

It's fair that Ma has to be held accountable for the defeat in the elections. He is hence in no position to review the causes for the defeat or to voice his views on the chairman elections. But as the most capable political figure in the KMT, Ma cannot stand that the KMT is pushed into the independence path alongside the DPP. So he used the well-calculated trip to back the South China Sea issue, which has the strongest consensus within the KMT, in a bid to demonstrate the party's consciousness of one China.

The trip also shows Ma's national feelings against the US pressure. Many of his policies don't live up to the expectations of the Chinese mainland, but his unwavering stance on the South China Sea regardless of Washington's pressurizing is worth praise. Amid tensions in the waters in 2014, Ma rejected the US' demand to give up the nine-dash line claim and held an exhibition of historical archives in response.

Ma planned in December to preside over a ceremony marking the completion of a new pier and lighthouse on the Taiping Island, but he canceled the trip due to US obstacles. His successful tour a month later again demonstrates his firm stance on the South China Sea.  

During his latest trip to East Asia, Kerry intended to rope in Laos and Cambodia to meddle in the South China Sea issue. But he was certainly let down as Ma's island visit has stabbed the US in the back. 

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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