Former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) visited his pals in Beijing this week, and members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were riled by some of his comments. They should not have got so flustered. They should have just yawned.
A yawn is all the reaction that Lien and his trip merit. Anything more is to imbue his cross-strait jaunt or his comments with significance. They deserve none.
Lien was not, according to the Presidential Office, an emissary from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Presidential Office spokesperson Lee Chia-fei (李佳霏) was quite clear that Lien and his delegation of businesspeople and politicians were not on an official trip, adding that the public should not “over-interpret” relations between Ma and Lien.
Yes, Lien is a former foreign minister, premier and vice president and a former KMT chairman, but it is almost 13 years since he held an official post, although he has served as Ma’s representative to the APEC leadership summits since 2008.
Those annual mini-missions do not make him a spokesperson for Ma, or, more importantly, for Taiwan at any other time of the year.
Before he left Taipei on Sunday, Lien said his trip was not for any partisan or personal interest, but to help maintain “lasting peace, stability and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait.”
It makes for a nice sound bite, but Lien is anything but self-effacing. He made the trip for personal reasons: Visiting China guarantees him VIP treatment and China’s state-run media are willing to play up his kowtowing to Beijing, while the pan-blue media at home give him face time.
In April 2005, Lien traveled to Beijing in his role as KMT chairman and met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in his role as then-general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Much was made of the trip, of its “historic” and “ice-breaking” nature, and the meeting of the leaders of the KMT and CCP.
However, it is important to remember that at the time Lien had twice been rejected by Taiwanese voters in his bid for the presidency and was four months away from having to step down as head of the KMT.
Not only was he eager to embarrass the then-DPP government headed by former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — something he found a willing partner for in Beijing — he was desperate to maintain relevance within the KMT amid the expected ascendancy of then-Taipei mayor Ma, who was running for chairman. Lien was a man in search of a historical footnote. Little has changed since then.
Nor is he the only former KMT chairman to have raised eyebrows with his comments while in China — the latest being his espousal of the idea that “Taiwan is a troublemaker” and that cross-strait relations should be based on the principles of “the ‘one China’ framework ... and the revitalization of the Zhonghua minzu (中華民族) [Chinese ethnic group].” After all, Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄) raised hackles at home almost a year ago with his “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” suggestion.
Of course, the DPP cannot be too smug about the foibles of former KMT officials. Former DPP chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) made waves with his trip to Beijing in October last year — with his “constitutional one China (憲法一中)” proposal — as well as his reliance on an invitation to an international bartending event to get him across the Taiwan Strait.
The problem is that Lien’s latest jaunt highlights again the lack of transparency that has been the hallmark of Ma’s cross-strait policies and engagements. When so little is openly discussed and the results of negotiations so often presented as a fait accompli, the public has no way of knowing who or what to believe.
So people are left “over-interpreting” comments by politicians in and out of government — or reading tea leaves — to try and figure out what might be going on. Unfortunately, that is nothing to yawn about.