Talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) have resumed after being frozen for a decade. The highest-level official participation has been elevated to include deputy ministers. China fever is at its peak and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is praising itself for creating a remarkable opportunity for improving cross-strait relations.
Former Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairman Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) has said that on direct flights between China and Taiwan, China will emphasize tourist flights while Taiwan will prioritize cargo flights. However, in the spring, both sides agreed on weekly direct tourist flights and daily direct cargo flights. It will be a step back if only tourist flights are on the agenda this time.
What Chen means is that things would be better if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) negotiated this matter. Is this really how things are?
The truth is that the DPP’s success in winning various elections in both Taipei and Kaohsiung against the odds in the past made China believe the party is skilled at winning electoral support, and therefore it worried that it would have to continue to deal with the DPP in cross-strait talks. Therefore, in the spring of last year, Beijing reached the above-mentioned three links agreement with Taiwan without the premise of the so-called “1992 consensus.”
However, the DPP was experiencing a period of extremism at this time and when another former MAC chairman, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), presented the agreement to the premier, he was told: “Don’t you know I’m busy preparing for the presidential election?”
This would have been a better three links deal than the KMT will get, but the DPP threw it away.
Senior officials in the previous administration wasted great opportunities for Taiwan on another three occasions.
When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) made his “four noes and one without” pledge, he was hoping to use a softer approach to establish direct links. However, China chose to believe former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), who said Chen had a low tolerance for pressure and so it ignored Chen. Eventually, when Chen grew tired of China’s pressure, he came up with his “one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait” statement.
At that time, Chen and his right-hand men in the National Security Bureau (NSB) believed this policy would insult Beijing. It was a tense time and Chen gave up all hope of establishing direct links. Beijing was indeed infuriated, but also soon discovered that it was unrealistic to oppress Taiwan any further in terms of foreign diplomacy and military affairs. China finally realized that the three links was its only hope of holding on to Taiwan and that a sense of urgency was needed.
Before long, China’s Ministry of Transport and even former Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen (錢其琛) formally announced that the “one China” principle was not necessary for establishing direct links and that flights would be considered not as international or domestic flights, but rather as special cross-strait flights.
Chen and other senior Taiwanese officials were unwilling to listen to calls for direct links and lost the chance to do away with the “one China” principle as a premise.
The second big chance Taiwan let go was when former minister of economic affairs Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) negotiated a free trade agreement with Singapore under the WTO framework. Senior NSB officials were unwilling to accept the names “Chinese Taipei” and the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu” and insisted on using the name Taiwan, thus losing yet another chance for a diplomatic breakthrough.