Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) will become the next chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), a position that had been left vacant after the death of former chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫).
After Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) formally announced on Friday the Executive Yuan's decision to recommend Chang for the position, many people began to assess the implications of the move -- the most noteworthy being that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is emphasizing his desire to re-open cross-strait dialogue.
When Koo died, many commentators predicted that the significance of the SEF, along with its counterpart in China -- the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) -- would be permanently diminished. The SEF is a non-profit organization authorized by the Mainland Affairs Counsel (MAC) to handle cross-strait disputes and negotiations in the absence of official government contact between the two sides of the Strait.
The SEF is most often depicted as a quasi-governmental entity, since most of its funding comes from the Taiwan government and the MAC supervises and monitors its performance. But legally speaking, it is still a non-government, private entity.
The need for such an entity derived from the fact that Beijing is unwilling to deal directly with the Taiwan government, since that would suggest a recognition of its legitimacy. And at the time the SEF was formed, the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party was equally unwilling to deal with Beijing.
In the past few years, the SEF has been left out of the loop in negotiations on many important cross-strait affairs. A case in point was negotiations for cross-strait charter flights during the Lunar New Year holidays. The "official" negotiators were members of the aviation industry from the two sides. In reality, the attending government aviation bureaucrats did the real work.
But the model used for the Lunar New Year charter flights is only an ad hoc model. If Beijing remains adamant about refusing to deal with the Taiwan government, there will continue to be a need for quasi-government organizations such as the SEF and ARATS.
The appointment of Chang to head the SEF suggests that the Taiwan government still envisions that the SEF will remain a conduit for cross-strait negotiations. Otherwise there would be no need to appoint a political heavyweight such as Chang for the role.
Chang's record speaks for itself in terms of the weight he carries within the DPP. He has served as premier, as DPP chairman and as a senior lawmaker. He has also had a close relationship with President Chen Shui-bian (
After the Executive Yuan announced its decision to recommend Chang for the position, Chang immediately clarified his stance on the so-called "1992 consensus." He said that during the 1992 meeting in Hong Kong, representatives from the two sides of the Strait agreed to "leave aside the disputes, negotiate and enter into dialogue, solve problems, and respect each other," but that there was never a consensus on the "one China" issue.
Obviously, the "disputes" he referred to involve Taiwan's sovereignty, which remains the biggest point of disagreement between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments.