When is an international flight not just an international flight? That’s what the Taiwanese are wondering, as President Ma Ying-jeou finds himself in hot water for characterizing flights between Taiwan (officially, the Republic of China, or ROC) and mainland China as domestic routes. It appears to have been an offhand remark; at a meeting of the Central Standing Committee of his Chinese Nationalist party (better known as the Kuomintang, or KMT) last month, President Ma, while discussing the aviation industry, tossed off a line likening cross-strait flights to domestic flights in the United States. But it fits a long-established pattern. Indeed, his comments came on the heels of a speech Ma gave a few days earlier in which he said that relations between China and Taiwan are “not international relations.”
The opposition Democratic Progressive party (DPP), Taiwan’s center-left party, has reacted with opprobrium. A prominent DPP legislator said Ma’s remarks show that he is “no longer qualified as a decision-maker on cross-strait relations.” More generally, the DPP criticizes what it takes to be Ma’s disconcertingly pro-mainland attitude and policies. “Ma takes orders from China,” a former DPP legislator charged in the Taipei Times last week. That wasn’t meant as a compliment.
The DPP, meanwhile, which was founded in 1986 as Taiwan began its transition to democracy, has embraced the idea that the island should be independent. Indeed, as Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, explains, when the opposition was legalized, “an important part of its reason for being was to oppose the mainlander KMT and the notion that Taiwan had anything to do with the [mainland], historically or otherwise.” Consequently, some in the DPP have frequently suggested amending the ROC constitution.
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