Six US scholars and former government officials, under the aegis of the US' National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), reached Taipei yesterday after a visit to China -- as part of a "track two" program to facilitate diplomacy between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
While most of the officials declined to comment on Chinese Vice President Hu Jin-tao's (胡錦濤) current trip to the US, one member of the delegation did offer an opinion.
"I think the trip is positive. My own sense is that when US-China relations are on track, it makes cross-strait relations easier," Ralph Cossa, President of the Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told the Taipei Times. "Hu, as everyone expects, is going to be the next primary leader ... the sooner that he and Mr. Bush start developing a certain level of comfort with one another, the better off we are going to be," Cossa said.
Fresh from the group's trip to China, Cossa also noted what he called an "interesting" phenomenon with regard to the Chinese newspapers' coverage of Hu's visit.
"You got to get to the third or fourth page to find Hu's visit to the US. The front page was reserved for Jiang Zemin (江澤民). But it tells you that China has not tried to play this thing up, either. Hu is still fourth or fifth in the ranking," Cossa noted.
On the thorny issue of Taiwan, Cossa said: "If Hu tries to be tough on Taiwan during his visit, he will be doing it more for a domestic audience."
"If he came in and tried to be obnoxious about Taiwan, it would work very much to his disadvantage, because the Bush administration is not a group that you can get to kowtow by bullying them," he said.
The group visited Beijing and Shanghai before reaching Taipei for a five-day visit. The delegation is to meet President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新), Chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and members of the National Security Council, sources said.
The group will also visit Taipei's Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), a think-tank called the Chinese Eurasian Education Foundation (中華歐亞教育基金會) and members of the foreign and overseas Chinese affairs committee at the Legislative Yuan.
The group also included NCAFP Trustee Donald Zagoria, former US ambassador to China Winston Lord, NCAFP President George Schwab; Robert Scalapino, professor emeritus at the Institute of East Asian Studies of the University of California, Berkeley and Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow at the CSIS.
Kurt Campbell, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, who is senior vice president of the CSIS, cancelled his trip because of sickness, according to a foreign ministry official.
Aside from visiting both sides of the Strait, the think-tank has held biannual closed-door round-table meetings in New York on US-China ties and cross-strait issues since the 1996 missile crisis, when China launched missiles into the sea off Taiwan.