Mon, May 13, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China should stay off its soap box

The weekend gave us as plain a case of one step forward and one step back in cross-strait relations as you might wish to see.

On Saturday we pointed out that Beijing, refusing to recognize Taiwan's government as its equal, had been angling for party-to-party talks with the KMT for years. Perhaps it realized that this was the only way that high-level talks could take place without abandoning its fantasies about the "renegade province." If so, then it should welcome President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) offer to take part in such talks in the coming months. Or else it really thought that the KMT would do a deal with the communists in which it renounced sovereignty, to be confirmed as some sort of permanent caretaker of Taiwan, after which, we suspect, many in the KMT still hanker. If this was the case, we argued, the communists would have no interest in talking to Chen and the DPP with their commitment to let the people of Taiwan decide their own future.

China's reaction to Chen's offer was not long in coming. "Delegations of the Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are welcome to visit the mainland, provided that the DPP accept the `one China' principle and give up its `Taiwan independence' platform," reported the government's lickspittle English newspaper the China Daily. A simple message then: DPP representatives are only welcome in China to negotiate terms of surrender.

That was the bad news. The good news was in the cooperation shown over the staging of the Basic Competency Test in Dongguan in China's Guangdong province over the weekend.

The test is taken by all junior high-school students in Taiwan who aspire to go to senior high school. The students in Dongguan, the children of Taiwanese businesspeople based in this industrial city, would, had they not been allowed to take the exam in China have had to return to Taiwan to take it, a tedious and tiring trip that would hardly have left them in ideal condition for the exam itself. Yet through the cooperation of authorities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the Dongguan students were able to take the exam in China without a hitch. Originally there had been grave doubts as to whether this could be arranged. That customs officials would insist on opening the packages of exam papers, thereby compromising the security of the test questions was one problem. That some of the questions, which of course have to conform to the bizarre version of Chinese history and geography propagated by the KMT and still regrettably little changed in the current junior high syllabus, might offend Chinese communist sensibilities, was another problem. Both of these were successfully overcome, with the Chinese customs officials only examining the test papers for contraband immediately before the test was taken and Taiwan's Ministry of Education officials being allowed to go to China to invigilate the test.

Such cooperation is a hopeful sign and we agree with Chen Ming-tong (陳明通), vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, when he said that Chinese officials at the lower level had shown "great goodwill" in dealing with the needs of the Taiwanese students.

That holding the exam in China was initially thought impossible and eventually should take place so smoothly is a tribute to the officials of both sides' determination to make things work when they are allowed to. We have little doubt that using the private sector to open transportation links to China, something that the large majority of Taiwanese want, and which the president also suggested last week, could be done with equal efficiency. When China steps down from its "one China" soapbox, much can get done at all sorts of levels between the two sides. What a shame that it steps down so rarely.

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