Thu, Jun 16, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Is a Chen-Hu summit desirable?

By Bonnie Glaser

On a recent visit to China and Taiwan, the question most frequently posed to me was "Can a Chen-Hu summit be realized?"

In the aftermath of the trips to China by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and their meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), there is great enthusiasm on both sides of the Taiwan Strait for a near-term meeting between President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Hu.

Should Taipei and Beijing seek to arrange a summit between their leaders?

A Hu-Chen meeting is a worthy goal to strive for, but it must be well prepared. Moreover, rather than the first step in a process of improving cross-strait relations, such a summit should be the culmination of mutual efforts to ease tensions and build confidence between the two sides.

A hastily prepared summit arranged simply for the sake of holding a summit could be politically risky for both leaders. In the wake of the visits to China by Lien and Soong, Chen faces growing pressure from within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to not compromise on core party principles in order to achieve a breakthrough with China.

Without a consensus in his party on the basis for seeking reconciliation with China, a summit could irreparably divide the DPP and diminish its chances for winning the presidential election in 2008. Moreover, if the pan-blue parties were dissatisfied with the outcome of an early summit, the goal of forging an inter-party consensus on policy toward China could become unattainable.

Hu is vulnerable on the Taiwan issue. A summit that is not carefully orchestrated could result in surprises that weaken rather than strengthen Hu's position. An unsuccessful meeting with Chen could create opportunities for Hu's critics to press for a tougher stance toward Taiwan, including the use of military force.

Rather than lay the groundwork for sustained improvement in cross-strait relations, an inadequately prepared Hu-Chen meeting could even cause a deterioration of ties between Beijing and Taipei.

A series of steps to build mutual trust should precede a meeting between Chinese and Taiwanese leaders. Realizing direct cargo flights between the two sides of the Strait, increased agricultural exports from Taiwan to China, and tourism by Chinese to Taiwan through negotiations between private civilian and commercial organizations would aid in promoting greater cross-strait interaction and confidence.

Premier Frank Hsieh's recent announcement that Taiwan will authorize the Taipei Airlines Association (TAA) to negotiate with its Chinese counterpart to open direct cross-strait charter cargo flights and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) to discuss with its Chinese counterpart the shipment of Taiwanese agricultural products to China are welcome measures in this regard. Negotiations should also begin between commercial and civilian organizations to establish regular direct commercial cross-strait flights.

Differences on political issues must be narrowed as well. An authorized cross-strait channel should be set up to develop realistic mutual approaches to dealing with sensitive issues such as sovereignty and defining the nature of the relationship of the existing governments and peoples on the two sides of the Strait. A quiet discussion of flexible phrasing and other measures that will enable both sides to move forward should take place between sanctioned individuals to enhance the chances for success.

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