Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Cross-strait links must be guided by interests

By Lin Wen-cheng 林文程

Whether to allow direct cross-strait flights is an issue that impacts heavily on the prosperity of the public and the security of the nation. The possibility of the legislature amending the Statute Governing the Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) to include text that forces the introduction of direct cross-strait flights is a particularly contentious issue.

To begin with, the economic downside of direct flights is a matter of grave concern. Many think that direct flights will further encourage capital outflows to China, pushing up domestic unemployment and increasing the country's reliance on the Chinese market -- all of which will strengthen China's position in relation to Taiwan.

Also, even if the establishment of direct flights is inevitable, the government should first put in place certain risk management measures. In addressing such a polarizing issue that is intimately tied to national interests, a mature democracy should seek to transcend partisan politics. Minority and majority parties must reach a consensus through cross-party negotiations; the ultimate decision should not simply be forced through by a majority in the legislature.

Allowing for direct flights entails air traffic control rights, ports of arrival and departure, quarantine and other issues that must be resolved via bilateral consultations. If the legislature were to suddenly open up cross-strait flights without the necessary preparations, Taiwan would lose much needed leverage in any negotiation with China, and the management of the nation's air and sea ports would be severely compromised.

Conducting negotiations on cross-strait flights falls within the president's jurisdiction and while the president must respect the opinion of the legislature, the final decision in this case is President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) to make. The legislature's recent attempts to usurp the president's prerogative may even be unconstitutional.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng's (王金平) handling of the latest direct flights bill in the legislature has been commendable, as he has sought to mediate the dispute between the legislature and Cabinet with the nation's best interests at heart.

The truth is, delays in establishing cross-strait flights are mainly due to the fact that Beijing refuses to negotiate with Taiwan. Taiwan has already suggested the two sides introduce cross-strait cargo flights, but Beijing has refused to cooperate. Taiwan has revised the Statute Governing the Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and is ready to apply the liaison model used earlier between Taiwan and Hong Kong, with private groups conducting the negotiations.

However, Beijing has insisted that Taiwan first accept the "1992 consensus" and the "one China principle" before entering into negotiations, which has deadlocked discussion. What the pan-blues and pan-greens should be doing at this stage is joining forces and exerting pressure on China together, not helping China to oppress their own government.

The New York-based Freedom House ranks Taiwan as Asia's most democratic country -- an evaluation that the Taiwanese people should be proud of. But vicious partisan squabbling is not the kind of democracy that we desire nor deserve.

The pan-blues and pan-greens must shed their prejudices for there to be any hope of improving the nation's current state of affairs. Otherwise, all of our successes as a democracy and market economy will slowly fade away.

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