Veteran dissident Hsu Hsin-liang believes Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen would be prepared to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping despite Beijing’s hostility toward her pro-independence stance.

Less certain is whether Xi would turn up, given their deteriorating relationship, Hsu admitted at a seminar hosted by a foundation that   was established by Taiwan’s former president Ma Yung-jeou. A transcript of his comments was released by the foundation.

“As long as Xi is willing to meet with Tsai, there could be such a meeting, whether or not recognition of the ‘1992 consensus’ is set as a prerequisite,” said Hsu, a past chairman of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side for his strident secessionist remarks.

Beijing and Taipei agreed under the so-called 1992 consensus that there was only one China, though both were free to interpret what that meant. While the Kuomintang party adhered to this position when Ma was president in 2008-2016, Tsai has taken a more autonomous path.

Nonetheless, Hsu said he believed there would always be a channel for communication, probably via a middleman or through a third party, even while Beijing bears a grudge toward the Tsai administration.

Ma and Xi held a historic summit in Singapore three years ago, right before the end of his presidency, but it is difficult to imagine China’s president sitting down with Tsai in the current strained atmosphere.

Relations began to sour soon after Tsai came to power in May 2016 due to her refusal to recognize the 1992 declaration, though Hsu insisted this was not a decision that was taken by the DPP. Rather, it reflected the views of “a large number of Taiwanese voters”. 

Describing Tsai as a pragmatic leader rather than a staunch supporter of independence, he contended that the DPP would already have been deserted by voters if it had accepted the consensus, given its longstanding opposition to the agreed terms.

Hsu also argued that China should shoulder the blame for the poor state of their relationship because of its harsh treatment of Taiwan.

“China has spared no effort to bully Taiwan, and now is being bullied by the US [through their trade war],” he said, adding that Beijing should rethink its strategy or risk global isolation.

Ma said after the two-day seminar that the chances of a meeting between Tsai and Xi were slim, as the two sides were sharply divided and there was no common ground. He suggested that Taiwan should look to its own constitution when deciding on its next step.

“It is the best direction and I will not rule out the possibility of a reunification of the two sides,” he said. However, “there is no timetable for unification and it would require public consensus on when and how the two sides should make such a move.”