The meeting between Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) may have been important more for its symbolic than for its practical implications, but it received a lot of attention, with more than 200 reporters attending.
The headline for the New York Times’ report was “China and Taiwan Hold First Direct Talks Since ’49,” while the BBC said “China and Taiwan in first government talks,” and the Wall Street Journal reported — two days before the meeting — that “Breakthroughs are unlikely, but China-Taiwan relations are becoming more normal.”
International media are looking forward to the cross-strait political energy likely to be soon released. The meeting went beyond the Statute Governing Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) and declares that future meetings will also include political talks. The Wang-Zhang meeting is a milestone in cross-strait relations just like the 1993 Koo-Wang talks and former vice president Lien Chan’s (連戰) visit to China in 2005.
The Singapore 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) initiated cross-strait talks and ended former president Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) triple ban of no contacts, no talks and no compromise. Lien’s visit led the Chinese Nationalist party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to announce intentions to hold talks and the Wang-Zhang meeting initiated government-to-government contacts and said that political talks are closer.
Unfortunately, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has opposed each of these milestones, each time losing an opportunity and distancing itself further from cross-strait relations. During the 1993 Koo-Wang talks, the DPP chose to protest, in Singapore, against what it called “the unilateral peace talks between the KMT and the CCP.”
This was an error of judgement and during the party’s time in power from 2000 to 2008, it inherited the SEF-ARATS mechanism that it had opposed. When Lien left for China in 2005, the DPP protested at the airport. This was another judgement error and during the 2012 presidential election campaign, the party was forced to commit to the 18 cross-strait agreements signed under the so-called “1992 consensus.”
The DPP also opposed the Wang-Zhang meeting. However, seeing its international reception, the party now calls the meeting “a small step forward.”
Beyond this grudging approval, the DPP wages a “major protest” against introducing the phrase “Chinese mainland” into school texts. This third judgement error was essentially predestined by contradictions within the party and the opposition between internal and external forces, so when the ominous political talks take place, the party may well again have to settle for protesting outside the meeting venue.
At the Wang-Zhang meeting, the two sides backed the “1992 consensus,” the view that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are ethnic Chinese and Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) ideals as shared assets.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has clearly signed on to China’s talk about the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, raising the threshold for the DPP’s participation in normalized cross-strait exchanges.