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July 27, 2017

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Taiwan's 'Mr. Ma' to China's 'Chairman Hu'

It is crystal clear that the Ma Ying-jeou administration is currently in a deep crisis and it is also clear that Ma's plight has come largely as a result of a heavy financial and economic storm beyond his control. Therefore, knowledgeable observers do not put as much blame on President Ma for the crisis Taiwan is facing now as the way it handles the aftermath. Indeed, there is a serious credibility gap for the Ma government in terms of public confidence in its ability to lead the nation to weather crises. This public trust and belief is basically a question of psychology. And no where is this psychological factor at play in a more important and pronounced manner than on the occasion of the visit to be paid by Chen Yunlin, chairman of the Beijing-based Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), at the end of October.

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said she will not be happy to see President Ma being addressed by Chairman Chen as "Mr. Ma" because it impairs the dignity of the Taiwan people. Of course, many Ma supporters have charged that such a complaint about the title is tantamount to "making much of a trifle" as the real important thing is the content and outcome of the talks, which should be significant in stabilizing the situation in the Taiwan Straits.

It is justified to say that how President Ma is called should not be an issue at all as long as Taiwan is treated with parity and concrete beneficial results are achieved in cross-strait exchanges. But, one should be curious to ask: Why does such a question of titles or national dignity always occur on the side of Taipei and not in Beijing? What is really intriguing is that under the Chinese Communist system the supreme leader of the People's Republic of China (PRC) wears three powerful hats at the same time, namely, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), chairman of the PRC and chairman of the Military Commission of the CCP. Consequently, Hu Jintao is always called "Chairman Hu" by Taiwan visitors whether or not Taipei recognizes Beijing as a sovereign state. However, on the other hand, Ma has only one important title, that is, the president of the Republic of China (ROC). Therefore, according to the "1992 consensus", President Ma seems to be downgraded by Beijing's officials, who call him only "Mr. Ma" because he has no significant unofficial titles. Making an even more extreme case, one can imagine one day when the cross-strait relations warm up to such a point that President Ma pays a visit to the PRC (or vice versa) where he calls Hu "Chairman Hu" while he, the supreme leader of Taiwan, is called "Mr. Ma", will this, on the surface, shock many native Taiwanese, particularly those promoting Taiwan independence, into believing that Taiwan is downgraded from a sovereign state into a "special district" of the PRC, somewhat like Hong Kong?

The Ma administration should brace itself for any psychological damage to Taiwan that may be caused by Chen's forthcoming visit, particularly at a time when Ma is at the bottom of popularity ratings.

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