Tue, Mar 26, 2002 - Page 8 News List

China's take on Taiwan's politics

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

It is generally acknowledged that there is no clear cut-off point at which the safeguarding of national security ends and freedom of the press begins. The debate about the prosecutors' raid on Next magazine after it reported on the leaking of national security secrets by a former National Security Bureau (NSB) cashier, has not only resulted in a most serious domestic crisis for President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration but also had a devastating effect on cross-strait relations.

A key indicator of the state of cross-strait relations is the extent of Beijing's understanding of Taiwan's domestic politics. In terms of bridging the political gap between Taipei and Beijing, Chen has offered an olive branch to his counterpart by expressing willingness to resume dialogue as well as relaxing restrictions on Taiwanese investment in China. But his moderate approach has been stonewalled by Beijing. Not only have the Chinese leaders ignored Chen's overtures, but they have also bypassed the government to deal with the pro-unification camp.

Beijing's strategy of "uniting the secondary enemy to fight against the chief enemy" came to a dead end after Chen's DPP became the largest party in the legislature in last December's elections. Without doubt, the results of that election put Beijing under heavy pressure in terms of how to react to the new political situation. Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛) announced in late January that members of the DPP were welcome to visit China in "the appropriate capacities." Qian also called for renewed dialogue and stronger economic ties across the Taiwan Strait.

Despite the fact that Beijing has displayed a somewhat new approach to cross-strait relations, opinions diverge on the reason for China's sudden about-face.

The optimistic view argues that it is time for China to recognize the political reality. That is, Beijing must accept the fact that Chen is the decision-maker. There will be no cross-strait progress if they don't deal with Chen directly.

The conservative view, however, holds that since China is facing more contentious issues, including the political succession and WTO compliance, Beijing will continue to play its "wait and see" card on Chen's performance.

Changes in Taiwan's domestic politics will therefore determine China's policy toward Taiwan. Are the DPP's election success and the rise of the TSU offering some flexibility for Taipei in cross-strait relations? Some people say former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and the TSU will push Chen and the DPP toward independence. Some say the TSU's strategy is to play the "bad cop" and allow Chen to move toward the center. In any case, China will watch Chen's interaction with Lee and the development of his policy very carefully. Even if Chen handles the unification-independence debate well, it is still possible that domestic factors in Taiwan could spin out of control and undermine his overall performance. In this regard, Beijing may have misunderstood Taiwan's political chaos.

The NSB scandal obviously offered a chance for Chinese leaders to resume their old strategy of anticipating the decline of Chen's leadership. It also reinforced their willingness to wait and see whether PFP ChairmanJames Soong (宋楚瑜) will become the next president. This being so, the chances of the two sides improving bilateral relations and resuming talks under Chen's presidency have been reduced. Beijing will not give credit to Chen if it believes he cannot be re-elected. As a result, cross-strait relations will go back to stalemate.

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