Wed, Jan 07, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Responding as one to Beijing’s soft talks

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

This year will see a continuation of talks between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, with an increasing number of agreements on economic and cultural issues being reached. China will continue its soft dialogue with Taiwan — talks that will not change the fundamental political equation. Taiwan might find it more difficult to respond given the negative appraisal about the government’s performance in a recent survey by a major local newspaper.

On Dec. 20 to Dec. 21, about 140 Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) delegates joined their Chinese Communist Party counterparts at the fourth cross-strait economic, trade and cultural forum. The forum concluded with a series of recommendations and suggestions, with another round of talks scheduled in spring this year.

On Dec. 31, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) appealed directly to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for a more “pragmatic” approach to cross-strait relations and for the DPP to give up its stance on independence. In a speech to mark the 30th anniversary of Beijing’s “open letter to Taiwanese compatriots,” Hu said that as long as the “one China” policy is recognized by both sides, anything could be discussed.

He said China could begin contacts and exchanges on military issues and explore a mechanism to build trust on military matters. He vowed to maintain already flourishing business ties and welcome growing Taiwanese investment.

Hu added that Beijing and Taipei could negotiate or reach a more reasonable approach on the issue of Taiwanese participation in international organizations, as long as it is not based on the premise of two Chinas, or one China, one Taiwan. He said he understood the desire of Taiwanese to join global organizations, but stressed that Beijing would not tolerate any move that suggested independence.

The issues that Hu laid out are not new. What is new is the government of Taiwan. Since the KMT’s return to power, it has worked hard to move closer to China. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) called for a peace accord across the Strait and pressed for greater economic, cultural and social exchanges by easing the restrictions on direct links. When direct transport and postal services started, Ma hailed them as a step toward cross-strait rapprochement, adding that dialogue would replace confrontation.

While Ma is eager to close the gap between Taiwanese and Chinese, public reaction to the visit by Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) last month showed the growing strength of Taiwanese identity. And while Taiwanese can relate to China in some ways, many continue to have misgivings about China.

As expected, the DPP reacted to Hu’s statement by stating unequivocally that Taiwan is a sovereign state, and its sovereignty belongs to the nation’s 23 million people; hence, Taiwan’s future must be decided by its people. It is the DPP’s fundamental position, and the mainstream public opinion in the country, the party said in a press statement.

The statement also said that the thorniest problem in cross-strait relations was not the DPP’s stance on independence, but rather Taiwanese perception and feelings about the Chinese military threat, its diplomatic suppression of Taiwan and its growing economic clout.

The KMT and the DPP’s reaction to Hu’s statement shows that aside from cross-strait differences, there appears to be an even larger gap between the two main parties. As a democracy, these two parties need to discuss issues more openly to strengthen the nation’s view and voice on dealing with China.

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