Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Uproar over visit a loss for Taiwan

By Chang Teng-chi 張登及

With the venue besieged by crowds mobilized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the historic meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) was cut to just five minutes from the scheduled 40. The government had hoped the first-ever talks on Taiwanese soil between Chen and Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) would ensure continued peaceful relations across the Strait and prepare the way for economic recovery by relaxing and deregulating cross-strait transport, trade and business links.

They also hoped to tag on to the so-called “1992 consensus” of “one China with each side having its own interpretation” the principle of “mutual non-denial,” which would be beneficial to Taiwan’s sovereignty and dignity.

The opposition parties, meanwhile, wanted to give China a demonstration of Taiwan’s democratic pluralism and demand that Beijing pay compensation for losses caused by contaminated food and shoddy products. Above all, they wanted China and the international community to pay attention to the opposition parties and social forces, who have for a long time been calling for “one China, one Taiwan.” The scenario was one where the government, opposition and China could all be winners.

Now it can only be said that, while China’s gains and losses were about equal, Taiwan’s government and opposition both lost.

The government saw an opportunity in China’s desire not to see a return to power of pro-independence forces in Taiwan and a chance for the government of President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) to show more flexibility as the country gains strength and confidence. Ma’s government wanted to use this round of talks to gain economic and other benefits for Taiwan. Fewer belligerent and threatening words have been heard from China since Hu fully took over the reins of government, except for the enactment of the Anti-Secession Law in 2005 and Beijing’s routine maneuverers against Taiwan’s attempts to join the UN each September.

Since the beginning of this year, there have even been rumors circulating that China is considering dismantling or withdrawing some of the missiles it has aimed at Taiwan and is seeking ways for Taiwan to participate in the World Health Authority, ASEAN and other international bodies.

Xinhua news agency recently published a positive assessment of the Ma government’s proposal for a diplomatic truce. The article severely criticized a number of unnamed small countries for their brazen attempts to extort aid money from Beijing in return for establishing or maintaining diplomatic relations with China rather than Taiwan. It would be better, Xinhua suggested, for China and Taiwan to have a tacit agreement to close the door to such demanding little countries.

Even the opposition parties had to admit that Chen was rather low key during his trip. Previously when talks were held in China, Hong Kong and Macau, the then (DPP government had no problem in allowing the SEF to accept China’s invitation to attend the talks. One might expect them, therefore, to have approached last week’s talks with the same calm and collected attitude.

However, the meeting became a battleground for the government and opposition to squabble about what titles the two sides should use to address one another and whether and where the national flag should be displayed.

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