Following the historically significant talks between Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), cross-strait relations are gradually moving from the shallows into deeper water. Cross-strait political relations involve all kinds of complications that muddy those waters: historical obstacles, emotive loyalties, disparities between political systems and issues of economic and industrial cooperation and competition, as well as various international factors. While the waters look calm on the surface, there is a pernicious undercurrent.
It is good that officials from either side will now refer to each other by their official titles. This is progress in the development of cross-strait political relations, but does it mean that the governments on either side have moved on from the “mutual non-recognition” of the past and officially entered the “mutual non-denial” or even “mutual recognition of the right to govern” stage?
The significance of the Wang-Zhang meeting for the development of cross-strait political relations is that negotiations and the nation’s status will be put on the agenda. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) government might change its stance vis-a-vis the existence of the Republic of China’s (ROC) government.
Beijing and Taipei have to address the obstacles to this issue and find a solution to them. They cannot allow the situation to become a zero-sum game. The establishment of official, normalized contact and communication mechanisms will facilitate the improvement of communication, the furthering of understanding and the promotion of mutual trust between Taiwan and China. It will ensure that the transmission of information between the two sides is more accurate, authoritative and efficient. This mechanism could be an important platform that could “soften” points of political conflict.
However, people should guard their optimism about any progress in cross-strait political relations quickly improving after the Wang-Zhang talks. The significance of the meeting was mostly formal and symbolic. In a possible reciprocal visit from Zhang, and in negotiations on a range of issues, there still needs to be a gradual accumulation of trust and consensus between the two governments.
In terms of human rights, Taiwan must be prepared to be patient. In high-level political dealings, the government should address one issue at a time and exercise restraint, being careful not to rush things just for the sake of making history. It has yet to be explained, either in the media or by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), exactly what is to be gained by his meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), nor has he expounded upon what political price Taiwan will have to pay to secure him the opportunity.
Beijing’s intransigence regarding Taiwan’s status is one reason there is no general public desire to promote a meeting between the two heads of state. Progress on the matter is predicated on Taiwanese compromise.
Ma is likely far more gung ho about the prospect of the meeting than Beijing is and his desire for the event probably springs from electoral considerations. This gives the Chinese Communists the greater bargaining power.
As far as Beijing is concerned, a meeting between Ma and Xi carries very little risk and the APEC meeting would be the perfect forum for it. The APEC meeting is a not an official leaders’ summit and Ma and Xi would be able to meet in the capacity of the leaders of economic entities, as opposed to heads of state. However, Beijing will also be weighing the argument that, as soon as it concedes to a meeting with Taiwan’s president, the hosts of later APEC meetings may find it difficult to refuse admission to the premier or other government officials symbolic of the nation’s sovereignty.