Former premier and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) recently visited to a bartending event in Beijing.
While Hsieh’s trip may appear to have been a relatively straightforward visit, it could very well become an icebreaker for interaction between the DPP and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a move that could help establish trust between both sides. Hsieh’s brave act is something that the CCP should appreciate and look to build upon.
In 1971, the Cold War was at its height. The US was embroiled in all-out war with Vietnam and was also at odds with China, which was providing support to the Vietnamese communists. Back then, the Cultural Revolution, a movement that had certain anti-US imperialist elements, was also in full swing across China.
This combination of factors saw relations between the US and China become extremely tense. However, the “Ping-Pong diplomacy” of the early 1970s and the subsequent icebreaking trip made by then-US national security adviser Henry Kissinger to China finally opened the door to interaction and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing.
There were a number of powerful forces working against any reconciliation between the US and China. For example, former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) was strongly against what he viewed as evil US imperialism.
Meanwhile, then-US president Richard Nixon was an extreme right-wing anti-communist and back then, the US was at war with Vietnamese communists.
On the surface, such a situation would seem to make it difficult, if impossible, for the US and China to have any sort of positive interaction. However, in the face of the Soviet Union, a common enemy at the time, the US and China managed to come together. When Mao saw Nixon, he surprisingly remarked how much he liked the right-winger.
However, it was no easy task for the US and China to interact with each other and develop a degree of mutual trust and understanding.
In July 1971, Kissinger pretended to suffer from an upset stomach during a banquet in Pakistan and after leaving, undertook a top-secret visit to China in which he and then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) engaged in three days of talks.
This fulfilled Nixon’s goal of initiating high-level communication with China. It turned out to be a momentous decision that changed the course of world history forever.
International strategic interests are often influenced by the sentiment that political concessions the other side makes harms their national interests. This is always something that poses a difficult challenge to the wisdom of a country’s leaders.
After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, then-US president George H.W. Bush sent then-US national security adviser Brent Scowcroft to board a military cargo aircraft to travel to China for a private meeting with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) on July 1.
Apart from US secretary of state James Addison Baker III and the deputy secretary of state, Bush did not let anyone else know about the visit.
Of course, Deng also kept the visit a secret, which almost resulted in calamity as the US aircraft narrowly avoided being shot down by Chinese forces.
China today is not the same place it was 41 or even 20 years ago. It is the world’s second-largest economy and the second-most powerful nation in terms of international influence. This is a fact that Taiwanese have to face up to. It is only by acknowledging this that the people of Taiwan can effectively protect their own national interests.
In the same vein, Taiwan today is not the same Taiwan that existed under the regime of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). As a result, the DPP cannot get away with secretly interacting with senior members of the CCP.
Therefore, moves like Hsieh’s attempt to use his trip to the bartending event in Beijing in a private capacity as a means to pave the way for interaction between the DPP and the CCP are things that will continue to necessitate open communication with the public about cross-strait strategic interests.
This is the only way to put the minds of DPP supporters at ease while attempting to build ties with China.
Peace and development are in China’s best interests and, of course, the same is true for Taiwan. However, both sides have totally opposite views when it comes to the matter of Taiwanese sovereignty.
Fortunately, though, the international balance of power is what decides cross-strait relations.
China does not have a say in this matter and of course neither does Taiwan. Under the overriding premise of peaceful development, the CCP leadership in Beijing should be capable of accepting the “one China” principle.
While China may not be totally satisfied with this and its actual implications, it is still something its leaders could theoretically accept.
Over the past four years, we have seen that cross-strait interaction has been based on the formalistic concept that there is only one China as defined by the so-called “1992 consensus” and the agreement that there is only “one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that one China means” (一個中國，各自表述.)
If the CCP was able to accept Hsieh’s visit to Beijing, we can safely say that the first meeting between the DPP and the CCP will be a touchstone for gradually developing mutual political trust.
The “constitutional consensus” (憲法共識) proposed by Hsieh is a consensus that must be agreed upon by all Taiwanese. If the CCP were also able to agree that this “constitutional consensus” was also an expression of the formalistic concept that there is only one China, which has directed the course of cross-strait interaction for the past four years, the DPP and the CCP would be able to start strategic interaction. Hopefully, this would lead to a gradual establishment of mutual trust and understanding.
The only way a true consensus can be established between Taiwan and China is for the DPP and the CCP to come to an agreement and develop mutual trust when it comes to cross-strait strategic interests.
This is also the only way that peaceful development between Taiwan and China, and in the East Asia region as a whole, can continue to progress and become stronger.
Hsieh has now held out an olive branch to the CCP and this is something that he should be commended for.
Hopefully the CCP will showcase the wisdom of its leaders by commencing a new chapter in the peaceful development of relations between Taiwan and China.
Tung Chen-yuan is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Drew Cameron