Contrary to some excessive speculation that the government might loosen restrictions on cross-strait economic ties, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) reset the tone of his administration's cross-strait policy in his New Year address to the nation.
He replaced the old doctrine of "active opening, effective management" with more emphasis on reducing the risks in increasing exposure to China.
Although the Presidential Office has denied any change in the nation's cross-strait policy, Chen's reorientation was a timely reminder of what matters in a political atmosphere in which leaders of the pan-blue opposition parties and some pro-unification local media are manipulating public opinion to open the nation up to the China market.
While both Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a severe decline in public support after the party's huge loss in last month's local elections, the direction of national policy should be consistent and not be forced to change simply because of one electoral result or a minor change in the overall political landscape.
Moreover, any reading of Chen's speech should not be based solely on the adjustment of putting more emphasis on "active management."
Rather, more attention should be paid to the whole context of Chen's address, including the military threat posed by China and Taiwan's severe lack of self-defense capabilities.
Although Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) political influence is on the rise after securing the leadership of the pan-blue camp and probably the KMT's nomination for the next presidential election, the nation's independence will not be obscured by Ma's recent comment that "unification" is the KMT's ultimate goal.
Ma certainty has the right to openly embrace unification with China on behalf of his party. However, as the likely KMT candidate for the next presidential election and perhaps the most popular political figure in the country, Ma's words and deeds are significant in terms of China's "divide and conquer" strategy.
It is therefore imperative for the Chen administration and the DPP to assert the government's four principles of sovereignty, democracy, peace and parity as premises for cross-strait negotiations, as well as insisting on giving the Taiwanese people freedom of choice when it comes to the nation's developing relationship with China.
Moreover, complex cross-strait economic and trade policies should not be simplified into a dichotomy between "opening up" and "tightening up"; nor should "active opening" be given emphasis at the expense of the more important "effective management."
In other words, Taiwan cannot make concessions to China simply for the sake of making concessions.
With the 2008 Olympic Games on the way, and with the chances of the pan-blue camp regaining power in 2008 increasing, it is only natural for China to continue with its "no contact" policy toward Chen.
Under these circumstances, Chen must clearly understand the extent to which Taiwan can gain by "keeping a firm stance while moving forward pragmatically" with China.
By incorporating more effective management mechanisms, the government will not only reduce the risks involved in investing in China, but also maintain a relative advantage.
By emphasizing governmental or quasi-governmental negotiations on the opening of direct air links, Taiwan will be able to safeguard its own dignity and sovereignty.