The recent signing of the new Taiwan-Hong Kong aviation pact seems to suggest that Taipei and Beijing are on the right track for establishing direct links. Some analysts even claim that the air accord could serve as a model for future cross-strait talks. But the fact is, China compromised with Taiwan over the "golden route" because it could easily, if it wishes, make the Hong Kong government a scapegoat for a weak deal.
Furthermore, the deal was struck under the watchful eye of the international community during the fifth anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong.
In talks on direct links, Beijing will be negotiating directly with Taipei and would therefore have to take the blame for any mistakes. This is why dialogue on direct links promises to be much more problematic.
First, direct links are a divisive issue in cross-strait relations. Beijing uses the issue to deliberately sow discord between Taiwan's political parties. Beijing is well aware that the launching of direct shipping services with China would boost President Chen Shui-bian's (
Second, China's leadership will be under domestic pressure during the August meeting of high-level officials in Beidaihe, as they prepare for the transfer of power at the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party. It is unlikely that Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao (
Beijing's reply to Chen's offer last May to allow a DPP goodwill delegation in August will be a good indication of China's intentions.
Third, mutual distrust characterizes current cross-strait relations. The Straits Exchange Foundation has reported that Chinese authorities have rejected more than 5,000 notarized documents from Taiwan since the beginning of this year, in spite of the 1993 Koo-Wang agreement which dealt with the subject.
The difficulty of implementing the "small three links" shows what awaits Taipei in future cross-strait talks. Although Taiwan allowed direct trade, mail and transport between Kinmen and Matsu and Fujian Province starting in January last year, China continues to restrict visits to the two islands by approving or denying applications for direct shipping.
While the new Taiwan-Hong Kong aviation pact does not show that cross-strait talks will go smoothly, it nevertheless demonstrates the necessity of a pragmatic strategy for Taiwan.
The Chen administration has been emphasizing the principles of "dignity, parity and reciprocity" in its relations with China, adding that it refuses to be "downgraded, localized and marginalized." But to date, these good intentions have led only to foreign-policy failure. Taiwan has lost Macedonia as an ally. It failed to secure stopovers in Europe for the recent presidential trip to Africa and US officials said last week that a Chen visit to Washington is unlikely this year.
What Taiwan needs to do if it is to improve its international position is to develop its own form of realpolitik. The way in which the negotiations were conducted between Taiwan and Hong Kong could set the tone for a more realistic approach to cross-strait relations. If Taiwan and China want to achieve a breakthrough in direct links talks, they will both need to adopt flexible strategies and find face-saving mechanisms.