Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Presidents must take over from Koo

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

The death of Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) has been followed by concerns over where to find someone who can fill his shoes as Taiwan's representative in cross-strait talks. Some remember Koo's graceful manners, his elegant and refined communication skills, and the way he combined traditional Chinese culture with the culture of the Japanese upper classes. He also had that particular personal character and image that comes with wealth and riches in Taiwan.

Koo's image made him a middleman acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait when the two sides initiated contact in the early 1990s. He embodied certain cultural characteristics from 40 or 50 years ago that were still remembered and admired on both sides of the Strait. The accumulated historical experience of Taiwan's political, economic and social developments over these four or five decades had of course also left its imprint on him.

Although he used to be viewed with suspicion by some people in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwanese society because his father, Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮), let the Japanese military into Taipei and then began to accumulate wealth, it cannot be denied that the political, economic and social resources accumulated by the Koo family after the war allowed Koo Chen-fu's political and economic interests to become closely integrated with the overall political and economic interests of Taiwan. He was trusted by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and a representative of Taiwan's political and economic elite.

The political and economic qualifications in China of his counterpart in the talks, Wang Daohan (汪道涵), were in fact not as outstanding as those of Koo in Taiwan, but he was held in high regard in China and his credentials as a representative were beyond doubt. Koo and Wang were trusted by the leaders of both sides.

They were presented as the public faces of the two sides, which had just begun to engage in contacts amid a lack of basic mutual trust. They were the "guarantors of credibility." The "United Front" strategy required that a connection based on a common foundation be found in the long severed relationship. It can also be imagined that the Chinese Communist Party felt at one with, and placed great hope in, its former underground party member Lee.

However, the cross-strait relationship is not, after all, a two-party relationship, nor is it only a relationship between the political leaders of the two sides. There is domestic political competition in Taiwan, and in addition to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, there is also the US. These variables could not be controlled through the guarantees provided by Koo and Wang.

In particular, Lee's ice-breaking journey through Southeast Asia in 1994 and his visit to Cornell University in 1995 led to a sharp increase in the importance of international factors in the cross-strait relationship, and Taiwan's 1996 presidential election also brought the domestic political competition into play.

When Lee began his effort to break through Taiwan's diplomatic isolation, Beijing wanted to treat diplomatic and cross-strait issues as two separate matters by suppressing Taiwan in the diplomatic arena while continuing to push for talks between Koo and Wang. After Lee's visit to the US, however, it became clear to Beijing that the two issues were one. After Lee formulated the "special state-to-state relationship" model in 1999, Beijing closed the cross-strait issue and put all its efforts into the diplomatic issue. Its target was not Taiwan, but its supporter -- the US.

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