Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) passed away yesterday at the age of 88. Koo's life was closely linked to Taiwan's political history. He was an influential player in every significant change over the years, and left his mark not only on himself and his family, but on Taiwan as well.
Koo was the last of Taiwan's aristocracy, and his death brings an end to the so-called "Koo-Wang talks" with Wang Daohan (汪道涵), chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).
The Koo family of Lukang has been arguably the most influential family in Taiwan over the past century. Koo's father, Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮), made a fortune in commerce when Taiwan was still under Japanese control, then Koo Chen-fu cooperated with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on their land-reform programs shortly after they came to Taiwan, and was made head of Taiwan Cement Corp.
As Taiwan's economy developed, his group not only continued to expand, it also moved into cutting-edge industries, diversifying from cement into life insurance, banking, multi-media and telecommunications -- thus showing how sensitive the entrepreneur was to changes in society and the economy. Although members of the Koo family have gone their different ways, Koo Chen-fu's Taiwan Cement and the Koos Group continue to maintain a good relationship with Chinatrust, owned by his nephew, Jeffrey Koo (
Although Koo was an unparalleled business leader, he also played a major role in politics. He was, for many years, chairman of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, and acted as the government's ambassador-at-large. On many occasions he attended APEC summit meetings in the capacity of special representative to the president.
Koo is probably best known for his contributions to cross-strait relations and the "Koo-Wang talks" of 1993, which played an important role in breaking the ice between China and Taiwan. The 1993 talks in Singapore resulted in the signing of four agreements establishing a formal cross-strait relationship. A second round of talks was held in 1998 in Shanghai and a third round was scheduled for Taipei, but was called off by China to protest former president Lee Teng-hui's (
Before the 1993 Koo-Wang talks, negotiations in 1992 between the SEF and ARATS in Hong Kong came to a vague understanding to bypass otherwise insurmountable differences of opinion in the lead-up to the Singapore talks. This meant that the agreement was nothing more than an oral declaration, opening up an endless controversy as to whether a "one-China consensus" was reached. Such ambiguity must have caused Koo regret in his capacity as SEF chairman.
Upon hearing of Koo's passing, China's Taiwan Affairs Office announced that it was willing to negotiate an agreement for direct charter flights over the Lunar New Year. The Mainland Affairs Council responded to the offer, opening the door to negotiations. This offers a glimmer of hope in the blanket of darkness brought on by China's proposed "anti-secession" law, but is hardly enough to suggest a thaw in the now icy cross-strait relationship.
But the animosity and coldness between the two sides is causing both parties to become detached from reality. With Koo's passing, we think back to the time when the SEF and ARATS built a bridge across the Strait. That was a time when hope was greater than enmity. A new era of cross-strait negotiations must begin.