On Sunday, former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起) used a Taipei Forum Foundation meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of the talks between then-Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and then-Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) chairman Wang Daohan (汪道涵).
With the exception of then-SEF secretary-general Chiu Chin-yi (邱進益), none of the Taiwanese involved in the 1993 talks in Singapore were invited: neither then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), then-Mainland Affairs Council chairman Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝), the SEF’s first secretary-general, C.V. Chen (陳長文), then-SEF deputy secretary-general Shi Hwei-yow (許惠祐), nor Tseng Yung-hsien (曾永賢) or myself, who both participated as aides.
Instead, Su invited former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄) and former SEF chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), all frequent attendees of the Boao Forum for Asia, the KMT-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cross-strait forum, the Straits Forum and the Zijinshan forum.
In his address, Wu said: “If the two sides of the Taiwan Strait could have signed a series of agreements at that time like they have done over the past five years, who knows what the situation would look like today. At that time, Taiwan had many advantages.”
These people all use their 20-20 hindsight, coupled with the values of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, to explain, evaluate and distort what took place at the Koo-Wang talks.
Let us not forget that in 1993, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait had not only been separated for 45 years, there was also a complete lack of trust. It also was not very long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. China’s economic reforms had come to a standstill, the Tiananmen Massacre had just happened, and the CCP regime was in a state of high alert and on the defensive.
Taiwan, on the other hand, had just put an end to the Martial Law era and Lee’s government was facing a backlash and a grab for power from non-mainstream forces and a multitude of democratic reforms.
It was against this backdrop that the Koo-Wang talks were held, with the aim of stabilizing the cross-strait situation, but Lee’s main focus was to complete democratic reform, while cross-strait stability was secondary to that aim.
At the time, the biggest obstacle to democratic reforms were the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款). Domestically, these provisions were used to perpetuate authoritarian rule over Taiwan, the reason for a permanent legislature, and in terms of cross-strait relations, they were used to block contacts between people and economic exchanges.
On April 30, 1991, Lee ended the temporary provisions to initiate the first step of his plan to initiate democratic reform — re-election of the legislature.
The announcement also opened up cross-strait economic exchanges by abolishing the offense of economic assistance to the communists and greatly expanded the extent of individual contacts.
Following the legislative elections, the issue of how to stabilize cross-strait relations moved up the agenda. Secret diplomacy involving Su Chih-cheng (蘇志誠) and the procedural talks in Hong Kong in 1992, together with the 1993 Koo-Wang talks in Singapore, all followed the above strategy, which was primarily focused on completing domestic democratic reform, while stabilizing the cross-strait relationship was a secondary issue.