While more time is needed to assess the impact of former premier Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) visit to China, that will not stop people from analyzing an event that could change the dynamics of cross-strait politics.
Hsieh assured everyone that the trip would be a non-political, private visit, but it wasn’t. Nevertheless, he seems to be the best candidate among Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians for such a visit, since he holds no public office and takes a reasonably moderate view on China.
Hsieh’s invitation to an international bartending competition looked like an opportunity not to be missed and “getting to know China” has become an accepted imperative for the DPP since its loss in the January presidential election.
Hsieh and the DPP know bilateral dialogue should not be monopolized by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) because this hampered former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration and helped propel Ma to a pair of presidential election wins.
That was why almost no one, except the staunchest of independence supporters, chastised Hsieh for the visit. This was very different from 2005, when then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) embarked on a trip to China and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), the first time leaders of the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had met since 1945.
Strong condemnation from the pan-green camp and a massive protest at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport greeted Lien’s departure then.
However, times have changed. China has emerged as the second-largest economy in the world and has worked to absorb and contain Taiwan by signing 18 agreements with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, while the DPP has suffered consecutive defeats in presidential elections.
Hsieh deserves praise for taking the first step to forge bilateral dialogue. The former DPP presidential candidate, who said he would retire from politics after his 2008 loss, appears to have blazed a new political trail for himself, as well as his faction. A rejuvenated Hsieh — who has often been described as one of the most intelligent DPP politicians — could be a blessing for the DPP, which is in need of innovative and creative ideas in terms of its China policy.
However, just as Lien was condemned for visiting China right after the enactment of the “Anti-Secession” Law, the timing of Hsieh’s visit is questionable because the DPP is still scrambling to formulate a new official position on China. Hsieh, who is now a member of the DPP’s Central Standing Committee, has submitted his own platform before his party has.
His initiatives of “one Constitution, two interpretations” (憲法各表) and a “constitutional consensus” (憲法共識) remain controversial and require further debate within the party. And while Hsieh has not mentioned his “constitutional one China” (憲法一中) initiative in recent years, there are more questions for him to answer in that department.
The hastily arranged itinerary of the trip and — according to Hsieh’s office — the uncertainty about which high-ranking CCP officials Hsieh would meet, suggest that the visit was not well thought out.
Hsieh and the DPP should guard against assessing the visit based on who Hsieh met. On the contrary, it was who Hsieh did not meet that concerns some, because he failed to meet with Chinese civil society groups and chose to sidestep the human rights issue.
For the DPP, the impact of the visit could stimulate its China policymaking or trigger renewed jostling for position between party factions, in particular on future cross-strait exchanges.
One thing is for sure: The DPP is about to experience its fiercest debate on China policy since 1999, when it reached its resolution on Taiwan’s future as Chen geared up for the 2000 presidential election.
As Hsieh and the DPP both move on after the visit, we hope they move in the right direction.