Much can be speculated about the historic Nov. 7 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou , which marked the first time leaders from both nations publically met since 1945 following the end of the Chinese Civil War that left the ruling Communist Party victorious.
One interpretation: China is telling Taiwan to stick to the status quo and tread lightly on calls for independence.
The meeting came two months before Taiwan’s presidential election, where the traditionally pro-Independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Tsai Ing-wen seems to be trailing ahead of Ma’s Kuomintang Party (KMT).
This is of particular global concern because China has threatened to use military force against Taiwan if it formally declares and pursues independence. As China expands its military influence, such a move would pull the U.S. into the conflict on the side of Taiwan. Naval warfare in the Taiwanese strait would then put the region at risk as well as outside interests.
As Tsai’s influence rises, Ma’s KMT party seems to be on the decline. The KMT even dropped Ma in mid-October after dismal poll numbers (16 percent to Tsai’s 47 percent). Poll data released last month showed its new candidate Eric Chu to be at numbers close to his predecessor.
Tsai not only has publically called for independence -itching Xi’s trigger finger-but she also is publically skeptical about strengthening ties with Beijing, a key trade partner nonetheless.
On the Chinese side, Xi has announced he is willing to cooperate with a Taiwan that protects the status-Quo (China still considers Taiwan as part of its territory). Xi has called both countries “brothers who are still connected by our flesh even if our bones are broken.”
This sentiment sits well with Xi’s domestic audience.
But, will Tsai play ball if she wins the election despite her rhetoric? Perhaps.
Joseph Wu, the DPP’s second-in-command has said he wants to “maintain the status quo” of the “current democratic way of life.”
Independence would also rely on U.S. support, and it likely would trigger a militaristic response from China.
As ordinary Americans cope with the idea of extending the longest war in its history while dealing with the global Islamist threat, very few would likely throw up their fists in support of going off to battle to protect Taiwan.