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Kao Cheng-shu on the Ma-Xi Meeting

Don’t Play Down the Meaning of a Handshake


Don’t Play Down the Meaning of a Handshake


Sociologist Kao Cheng-shu is optimistic that the Ma-Xi Meeting will open up new opportunities, should Taiwan have the foresight to take advantage of them.



Don’t Play Down the Meaning of a Handshake

By Jimmy Hsiung
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 585 )

Renowned Taiwanese sociologist Kao Cheng-shu has been pioneering research on Taiwan’s small and medium sized enterprises. Not only does he count among the handful of influential sociologists who are familiar with the corporate world, he has also frequently visited mainland China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in his capacity as executive vice chairman of Feng Chia University’s Board of Trustees.

How does this authority on economic sociology view the Ma-Xi Meeting? Following are excerpts from our interview with Kao:

Taiwanese society might have different interpretations of the Xi-Ma Meeting, but we should not ignore the great significance that lies behind the meeting of these two men.

Let’s look at the situation over a longer period of time: Since 1949, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have always been in a state of “quasi war.” Although the meeting between the two leaders has become reality, we cannot overlook how long it took us to actually get here.

When I say the Ma-Xi Meeting had great significance, I want to point out three major aspects:

1. The meaning behind the handshake between Ma and Xi is progress, is civility.

No matter whether it is for electoral considerations or out of mistrust toward China, we should not play down the handshake between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping.

First, it did not represent Ma Ying-jeou nor Xi Jinping as individuals but showed that cross-strait ties have already entered a new realm. Second, that the two sides of the Taiwan Straits were able to shake hands after 70 years is thanks to the lifelong dedication and efforts of countless people; it did not come about easily at all.

At the same time, the fact that it was possible to have this handshake is definitely [a step in] the right direction, because it shows that you can use a handshake to replace confrontation and war, that you can now replace the “one of us must die” [mindset] of the early days with exchange and understanding. Such a civilized approach should not be interpreted in a negative way.

2. The Ma-Xi Meeting has created a window of opportunity for Taiwan.

Taiwan should not only consider its own position regarding cross-strait relations; it should also take into account global geopolitics and geo-economic trends.

Before Xi Jinping arrived in Singapore to shake hands with Ma Ying-jeou, he had just completed a visit to Vietnam, which has a history of tense relations with China, even more so than relations across the Taiwan Strait. Why is Xi Jinping now jetting around the world? Why did he, just recently, also tour Britain, the United States and Russia? It is very simple: geopolitics.

Why is Xi promoting the One Belt, One Road [new Silk Road initiative], and the AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank]? Geoeconomics.

If Taiwan is smart, it will notice that political and economic power is shifting around the world. You need to understand how to quickly find your own space amid these circumstances. It is not a question of wanting or not wanting to do this but of doing it before it is too late.

Make the Best Use of Its Own Role

Taiwan has, of course, still a key role in the world and in the region in terms of current geopolitical and geo-economic trends.

This is also the reason why the United States paid such keen attention to the Xi-Ma Meeting, because should relations between Taiwan and the other side of the Taiwan Strait become either too close or too tense, the implications for the United States will not be as simple as we believe them to be on the surface. Therefore, Taiwan must be adept at using its own key role and understand how to reposition itself.

We should no longer use an old mindset to consider new circumstances. Does Taiwan have space to develop now that Xi Jinping is launching a new strategy with great fanfare? Of course it does, or else what’s the point of shaking hands?

Therefore, Taiwan should rethink its positioning from the perspective of planning a grand strategy. We all know the proverbial saying that the overall situation is more powerful than individuals. Taiwan needs to understand how to get on top of the situation.

3. Look at the situation squarely but do not harbor excessive expectations.

The Ma-Xi Meeting constitutes a big step forward for cross-strait relations. There is no need to view it too pessimistically, much less to interpret it as selling out Taiwan. Ma Ying-jeou really does not have that much power.

But I also want to sound a warning that there is no reason to be too optimistic either. We should not make demands and harbor expectations out of a short-term mentality that anticipates a “dividend.” After all, cross-strait relations are marred by structural problems that have evolved over a long period of history. Such structural problems cannot be solved just like that with a single handshake. On the contrary, patience is obviously particularly important.

Therefore, I believe that Taiwan’s true challenges come after the Ma-Xi Meeting. No matter who will be Taiwan’s future leader, should he or she be able to think positively and make the best of the situation, Taiwan will be able to create a very different scenario and improve its standing in the world.

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz