Straits Exchange Foundation Vice Chairman Kao Koong-lian’s (高孔廉) recent decision to resign has set off much discussion in political circles. Kao, who was a key participant in the initiation of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) in the 1990s chose to leave his post feeling wronged.
Leaving aside Kao’s personal emotions, his resignation has highlighted several systemic difficulties relating to Taiwan’s China affairs, which seem unable to keep up with changes. Is the foundation’s continued existence really necessary? Perhaps the nation should take this as an opportunity to bring the issue to the table and let society have a say.
The establishment of the foundation was a result of historical circumstances. When the Cold War between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to an end, the foundation was established to deal with cross-strait affairs at that stage. Back in 1991, it was difficult for government authorities to deal directly with cross-strait affairs since there was no official contact between Taiwan and China. Under these circumstances, a non-governmental organization to serve as an intermediary instructed by the government to carry out public power seemed to be a good temporary solution.
However, 23 years later, Taiwan has gone through two government transfers of power and it should no longer be necessary to handle China-related issues within the framework of the KMT-CCP Cold War. Instead, the nation should move forward toward the goals of normalization of diplomatic relations, participation of the whole public, monitoring by the Legislative Yuan and a transparent negotiation process. These goals have become the consensus of a majority of Taiwanese.
If, when the needs of a nation and the public change, an organization does not adjust itself accordingly and becomes a useless appendage, it will have a negative impact, for example, wasting taxpayers’ money. However, if a regular cell mutates and turns into a cancer cell, it must be immediately removed lest it spreads and kills its host.
Let us consider the foundation’s current status using a series of objective benchmarks. First, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) will meet with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) in Beijing next month. This will be the beginning of systematic visits between top Taiwanese and Chinese officials, and such visits are direct governmental exchanges.
Second, since Taiwanese and Chinese officials have repeatedly interacted during talks in recent years, the so-called “three noes” policy — no contact, no negotiation, no compromise — has become a thing of the past. This also shows that there is no longer any need for the foundation in the government’s China affairs.
Third, as Kao said, information-sharing among negotiation teams is crucial, and the council, the foundation and related government agencies should work on this constantly. Compared to China’s method of forming two organizations — the TAO and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) — headed concurrently by the same officials, the functions of Taiwan’s negotiation teams overlap, and they may have to draw conclusions from incomplete information. This is a functional change that will only result in self-consumption.