Last week the local Chinese-language media portrayed Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (
A better way to depict the situation is this: only after Lien and the KMT backed down from their prior position about the purpose and nature of the trip have both the US and Taiwan governments decided to adopt a less skeptical, wait-and-see attitude.
On Tuesday, Randall Schriver, the US deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of China and Taiwan issues told reporters that "the leaders in Beijing will ultimately have to talk to the elected leaders in Taiwan and the government that is in power."
If Beijing is only willing to speak with opposition leaders such as Lien and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), the already complicated cross-strait relationship will only become more complicated. So, although Schriver did not criticize Lien and Soong, it isn't hard to detect some degree of skepticism. The KMT is obviously aware of this.
A meeting between Lien and American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal took place the day after Schriver's comments. KMT spokesman Chang Jung-kung (
It is generally believed that both Lien and Soong communicated to the US through various channels that during their trips to China they will not sign any agreement with Beijing and will act in accordance with their status as opposition leaders. Chang's remarks seem to confirm this general belief.
It makes sense then, that US State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli said on Wednesday in Washington that "Recent travels to China by Taiwanese individuals are positive steps ... we, I think, look favorably on and welcome steps in that direction."
At the same time, the Presidential Office has indicated that it is treating the visits by Lien and Soong as purely private in nature and without any official status. From that standpoint, the Presidential Office has indicated support for Lien and Soong's trips. The government's change in posture obviously had much to do with the promises conveyed by Lien and Soong -- either through the US or other channels -- to not overstep their bounds.
The attitude of the Taiwan and US governments can be interpreted as follows: If you must go, then so long as you do not do anything illegal, we'll give you the benefit of the doubt.
However, that attitude is way too tolerant of Lien and Soong. It is true that if they go in private capacities and aren't breaking any laws, there is no way to stop them. After all, many Taiwanese citizens travel across the Taiwan Strait on a regular basis.
But Lien and Soong are also leaders of political parties. Voters have cast ballots for their parties in freely-held elections, and in that sense they are politically accountable to the people of Taiwan. Their trips have helped ease international pressure on China for its enactment of the "Anti-Secession" Law and diverted the Taiwanese public's attention. For that, they don't deserve the benefit of the doubt from anyone.