Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday named James Soong Chu-yu, head of the opposition People First Party, as her proxy for the Apec summit in Peru next month.
But it remains to be seen whether Soong will be able to attend the event, given Beijing’s tepid response to the selection. By custom, it has the final say over who attends on Taipei’s behalf, but has not given any public indication over whether it finds Tsai’s decision appropriate.
“Our position towards this issue has been very clear that Taiwan’s participation in Apec-related activities must be consistent with the relevant provisions of the Apec Memorandum of Understanding,” said An Shanfeng, a spokesman for the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
Taiwan joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 1991 under the name Chinese Taipei at the same time as the mainland. But according to a practice adopted in 1993, the island sends only senior economic officials to the summit.
The host country first asks Taiwan to select a representative and then seeks approval from the mainland. Under a three-way consensus, the host country then invites Taiwan.
Analysts said Tsai appeared to want to use Soong – who supported the “1992 consensus” and had twice met mainland leader Xi Jinping – as a way to test Beijing’s attitude. “The choice of Soong is actually a goodwill gesture by Tsai, who does not want to turn the mainland into an enemy,” said Arthur Wang, assistant professor at Central Police University.
But the move could also backfire, another analyst said. “It would be humiliating for Taiwan if Soong was turned back … because the two sides had failed to reach an understanding on his appointment,” said Justice Chen, vice-president of the Cross-Strait Policy Association in Taipei.
Soong’s appointment came after Tsai told The Wall Street Journal the mainland had “suppressed” Taiwan, citing the recent case of the island being denied official participation in a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a decision believed to reflect pressure from Beijing.
Hu Benliang, a researcher at the Institute of Taiwan Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing and Taipei had become “confrontational” in international diplomacy. Whether Taiwan would be allowed space to take part on the global level would depend on her position on the “one China” policy, he said.
The principle allows for an understanding that there is only “one China”, but each side can have its own interpretation of what that means.
Additional reporting by Catherine Wong