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May 30, 2017

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To go or not to go, that is the question

To be, or not to be, that is a question for Shakespeare's Hamlet. For President Ma Ying-jeou, the question is to go or not to go to Beijing. Ma is procrastinating over whether he should go to Beijing to attend as the leader of the Special Customs Territories of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu in the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) informal summit in the fall of this year.

Ma made the signing of a peace accord with the People's Republic of China a campaign promise in 2008. He procrastinated after the election. During his 2012 reelection campaign, he promised to sign it in ten years' time.

It's nonsense, because he won't be the president by then, but he insisted that it should be concluded in a decade. But the president has continued his "three-no" China policy of "no independence, no unification and no war" with China, greatly improving relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Meanwhile, Beijing is demanding political dialogue with Taipei to further improve cross-strait relations. Chinese President Xi Jinping is pressuring Ma to keep his campaign promise. So at the end of last year, Ma told Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly) that he would like to go to Beijing to participate in the APEC summit.

Xi needs Ma to go to Beijing to sign the peace accord. To have the accord signed, the Chinese president would welcome the participation in the Beijing summit of his counterpart in Taiwan either as chairman of the Kuomintang or leader of the Customs Territories of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, which are claimed by the People's Republic of China as part of its integral territory.

Ma, however, doesn't want to represent the Kuomintang, because in 2005 Lien Chan, the then-chairman of the Kuomintang when it was in opposition, already signed a peace accord with his opposite number in China, General-Secretary Hu Jintao of the Chinese Communist Party, to end the long civil war the two parties had fought on the mainland of China since 1927.

Nor does Ma want to attend the APEC summit as leader of Chinese Taipei, a commonly used name for the economic entity of the Customs Territories of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, a title specifically devised to avoid cross-strait political struggle, because he is afraid of being denounced by the Democratic Progressive Party and its supporters for denigrating the dignity of the independent, sovereign Republic of China in Taiwan. On the other hand, he dare not attend the summit, if his attendance is predicated on the signing of the peace accord, because he believes they would condemn the signing mercilessly as a flagrant act of selling out Taiwan to the People's Republic.

As a result, President Ma has found himself torn between the desire to secure a lasting peace with China and the fear of condemnation by opposition party politicians and Taiwan independence activists. The desire is not just noble but practical and for the good of the people of Taiwan. A recent public opinion survey shows six out of every ten eligible voters favor the signing of the peace accord. The Democratic Progressive Party is split over the freezing of the Taiwan independence clause of its charter advocated by its legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming, who wishes to end the intra-party confrontation in the Legislative Yuan with the Kuomintang. Of course, Ker isn't altruistic. He has proposed it for the sole purpose of his party winning the 2016 presidential election.

Ma's fear of condemnation by the opposition party and independence activists is a phobic one. The ranks of hardcore activists, most of whom are relatives and friends of the people massacred in the Feb. 28 Incident of 1947, are thinning fast, while politicians like Ker are reconsidering whether they should continue relying on those activists as their power base.

It's time for President Ma to banish his procrastination like Hamlet and go to Beijing to attend the APEC summit meeting under Xi's reasonable condition.

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