One day after the Sunflower movement ended its occupation of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, the message from both Beijing and Taipei was that the movement’s protests will not affect cross-strait ties or economic development and that it will be business as usual.
Former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) heard that message from both Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) and Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) at the Boao Forum in Hainan Province, according to reports in state-run Chinese media.
Zhang added that he was willing to talk to Taiwanese from “all walks of life,” the reports said, while Li talked about “Taiwan compatriots” seizing opportunities created by China’s economic reforms.
Meanwhile, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said Beijing has taken a “rational” view of the recent protests over the handling of the service trade agreement and has not pressured the government over the matter. He also said Beijing is “keeping a low profile to avoid any unnecessary consequences” and had not said anything about the growing demand in Taiwan that the pact be renegotiated.
Three words come to mind: ostriches, head and sand.
The one thing that has been made abundantly clear over the past three weeks is that a large number of Taiwanese are very unhappy with the way cross-strait ties have been developed and the last thing they want is for Taiwan-China negotiations to continue in the way they have — behind closed doors with little, if any, transparency or public oversight.
Siew showed what is wrong with the way ties have been negotiated. The former vice president and premier told his hosts that he shared the three major concerns of Taiwanese: that Taiwan and China’s partnership could become a rivalry, that there are still many barriers to Taiwanese businesses in the China market and that Taiwan has to take part in regional economic integration. He suggested jointly developing a mechanism to link cross-strait economic ties with Taiwan’s regional goals and a roadmap for Taiwan joining two key economic partnerships.
The problem is that Siew may have years of Cabinet and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) service behind him, but he is no longer a government official. He attended this year’s Boao get-together as the honorary chairman of the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation, an organization that he helped found. If Beijing is serious about wanting to improve ties, it has to be willing to listen on a government-to-government basis, not party-to-party or “private citizen” to official.
However, in a sign that “normal” cross-strait relations are continuing, Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) said on Thursday that plans for her to meet her Chinese counterpart at a forum in June in Taipei have been scrapped because of a disagreement on how they should address each other. Not only will she not be meeting the minister, the event has been rescheduled for later in the year and it will no longer be organized by the ministry.
So all the fuss the government made in February about Wang’s meeting with Zhang in Nanjing and with Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) in Taipei later that month, and how both Chinese officials addressed Wang as “minister,” appears to be little more than public relations fluff. Although the government glossed over the fact that neither man used Wang’s full title, just “minister,” it appears that China is still not willing to accord the equal respect to Taiwanese officials that it demands for its own.