Wed, May 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Pan-blues divided over direct links

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

To promote direct transportation links, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) recently ordered party legislators to approve the pan-blue camp's proposed amendments to the 28th and 29th clauses of the Statute Governing the Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例). However, Ma's bid was blocked in the legislature not because of a pan-green boycott, but because many KMT lawmakers were reluctant to actively support the amendments.

When a country deals with economic and trade issues, it is usually the executive branch of government that takes the initiative in negotiating with other nations, with parliament playing a supervisory role and making the final checks. When Taiwan negotiated with other nations for WTO entry, the Cabinet and the legislature played these roles, thus protecting the interests of the Taiwanese people. However, the pan-blues are now distorting this process with the proposed amendments by demanding that these rules be passed prior to negotiations with Beijing.

Although the pan-blue camp believes that Taiwan and China have never reached an agreement on this issue, it also believes that Taiwan has set a precedent with the establishment of an offshore transshipment center 15 years ago to handle cross-strait shipping and that this same model could be used to draw up rules for direct cross-strait transportation links.

However, offshore transshipping is not a good example of cross-strait interaction. While Taiwan opened Keelung and Kaohsiung ports to China, China did not reciprocate by opening any of its major ports -- Guangzhou, Dalian, Shanghai, Qingdao, Tianjin and Shenzhen -- to Taiwan to stop it from competing with China for the position of transshipment center of East Asia. Instead Beijing opened up Xiamen and Fuzhou -- two small ports that cannot compare with Keelung and Kaohsiung. As such, Taiwan's offshore transshipment center was not a success but only became another example of how Beijing bullies Taipei.

The pan-blues are guilty of a huge misconception in believing that cross-strait direct flights can be normalized immediately if the proposed amendments are approved by the legislature.

In the past, Taiwan had two main problems with regard to negotiations involving direct transportation links. First, the government adopted a passive approach to the issue, believing that it would speed up the relocation of local industries to China. Second, both sides were intransigent on symbolic issues such as the national flag and recognition of certificates which touch upon the issue of national sovereignty.

With regard to the first issue, despite the lack of direct transportation links, many Taiwanese businessmen have come up with cross-strait investment strategies based on considerations of comparative advantage. Some industries have even moved everything to China, leaving nothing in Taiwan. The second issue has ceased to be a problem since the establishment of offshore transshipment centers and cross-strait chartered flights have set precedents for dealing with document certification and national symbols.

Since these two issues have been dealt with, negotiations on direct cross-strait links should focus on fundamental issues such as airlines, allocation of air routes and the number of scheduled flights. However, these concerns are as difficult as issues relating to sovereignty and national symbols. That is also why it took five years for China and Hong Kong to strike a deal on flight routes.

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