Since President Chen Shui-bian (
The unique merits of successful businesspeople, of course, lie in the realm of commerce. It isn't necessarily in the national interest for them to become involved in political affairs, because, after all, that isn't their area of expertise. Conflicts of interest must also be avoided.
The issue of direct links has been the focus of many people's concern since Chen suggested appointing representatives from the private sector to assist in negotiations with China on the matter. The president opened the door a crack and tycoon Wang Yung-ching (王永慶) immediately jammed his hand in the gap by saying, "Don't be all talk and no action."
At the same time, Beijing also stepped up its efforts. The director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), issued a statement on May 21 requesting that Taiwan commission business leaders who have been strong advocates of direct links -- including Wang and Kao Ching-yuan (高清愿) -- to discuss the issue with Beijing. Such unusual and abrupt action on Bei-jing's part prompted misgivings in Taiwan.
First, is this a case of Taiwan commissioning representatives of the private sector to hold talks with Beijing, or is it a case of China commissioning Taiwan's private sector? When countries negotiate, each side sends a delegation that best represents its own interests.
Second, Taiwan has, in the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), an official delegation with full negotiating powers. It is recognized as such by China and has served as an organ for negotiating with Beijing on matters of a routine nature. China's unilateral refusal to accept the standing and functions of the SEF -- with all the powers vested in it by government -- and its attempt thereby to begin anew is an obvious ploy to create obstacles. Without that ploy, negotiations could have proceeded more quickly.
Important statements made by Chinese officials have sometimes had to be clarified or explained anew by so-called "authorities" at Hong Kong's Wen Wei Bao newspaper after their initial announcements. And sure enough, on May 22, such an authority further elucidated Chen Yunlin's speech in the daily.
In his elaboration, the authority made the following three points -- Chen had not named Wang or Kao specifically as possible representatives in negotiations, so Taiwan's interpretation of the speech had misled the public. China would not require Taiwan's negotiator to state a position on the "1992 consensus." Direct links are a domestic matter.
China's charge that Taiwan's government misled its people is unfounded. Even some legislators from the "pan blue" camp were unable to accept it. The second point would seem to indicate a degree of goodwill. But the third, of course, immediately negates it.
Yu Keli (余克禮), assistant director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, clearly laid down certain preconditions that he said Taiwan's negotiators must meet. He said they must recognize that the two sides of the Strait belong to one country and that direct links are a domestic matter for that country. Yu also said that if the negotiators have been involved with the Taiwan independence movement, China would not accept them as representatives of Taiwan. If Taiwan's repre-sentatives have to be approved by China, doesn't that mean that Beijing is appointing Taiwan's representatives?
Direct links would benefit economic exchanges across the Strait, but they would not be a panacea for Taiwan's economic problems. Hong Kong and China are already "linked" in numerous ways, but the economic climate in Hong Kong is worse than that in Taiwan. An unemployment rate of 7.1 percent is clear proof of this.
More importantly, China's threats to use military force compels Taiwan to consider national security. China's use of direct links to counter and belittle Taiwan's claim to its own sovereignty forces Taipei to proceed very carefully in order to avoid falling into political traps. The capricious and disorganized nature of China's "policy making" requires Taiwan to spend a lot of time on policy analysis.
These are the real reasons why the direct links have not yet been implemented. The responsibility lies with China.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.
Translated by Ethan Harkness
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