Sun, Apr 22, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Historic meeting in the southern seas

The Koo-Wang talks of 1993 opened the door to cross-strait negotiations, but its success was cut short due to increased tensions between Taiwan and China

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Koo Chen-fu, left, shakes hands with Wang Daohan during the Koo-Wang talks in 1993.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

April 23 to April 29

On the 20th anniversary of the Koo-Wang talks in 2013, then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) praised the meeting as a landmark in peaceful relations between Taiwan and China, opening up the era of “negotiation over antagonism” and “practical discussions while finding common ground and preserving our differences.”

From April 27 to April 29, 1993, then-Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF, 海峽交流基金會) chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and his Chinese counterpart Wang Daohan (汪道涵) met in Singapore. It was the first public meeting since 1949 to occur between chairmen of Taiwanese and Chinese non-governmental organizations.

However, “peace” was not exactly what ensued as relations between both sides remained rocky, especially when China fired missiles into the waters surrounding Taiwan in 1995, igniting the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in a bid to influence the results of Taiwan’s 1996 first ever direct presidential elections.

Even so, Koo and Wang were able to meet one more time in Shanghai in 1998, but after that there would be no more meetings between the two organizations until 2008 when Ma became president.

HISTORIC MEETING

The “no contact, no compromise, no negotiation” relations between Taiwan and China started thawing with the lifting of martial law in 1987, and in November of that year Taiwanese were allowed to enter China for the first time since 1949 to visit relatives.

The SEF was established in 1990 with government support as an intermediary body to handle cross-strait affairs since the two sides were still officially not talking to each other. In November 1991, China established its counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.

ARATS wasted no time. In January 1992, it sent a fax to the SEF office inviting its chairman to visit China to “strengthen the communication between both sides and exchange ideas for cooperation.”

The talks were delayed due to debate over how they would handle the political situation: both sides claimed to be the legitimate ruler of both Taiwan and China.

In August, Wang sent a letter to Koo inviting him again: “In the past year, cross-Strait relations, especially in economic cooperation, has been increasingly vibrant. This is very moving and exciting … I hope we can meet soon just to talk about economic development, affairs between the two organizations as well as other issues. This is the optimal time, therefore I hereby extend another invitation.”

In Koo’s reply, he agreed that interorganizational affairs and economic development should be the main focus — such as safeguarding the rights of Taiwanese businessmen in China — and suggested Singapore as an alternate meeting location. Although the Chinese at first insisted on having at least a “pre-meeting meeting” in China, they later conceded to a single conference in Singapore.

In October of that year, the two offices met in British-ruled Hong Kong to prepare for the meeting, which resulted in the controversial so-called “1992 consensus” where both sides agreed on the “one-China” principle but with different interpretations on each side.

Whether the “consensus” was legitimate or not, it paved the way for the Koo-Wang talks by side-stepping contentious issues.

More than 200 reporters from 10 countries and territories, including 107 from Taiwan, arrived in Singapore for this historic event. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also sent a delegation led by then-legislator Shih Ming-teh (施明德) to Singapore to protest the meeting.

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