Sun, Jun 02, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Lobbying follows Chen's plan to pursue direct links

EXPECTATIONS Since the president said direct links were unavoidable and would consider help from the private sector, his phone has been ringing off the hook

By Lin Miao-Jung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Since President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) May 10 speech, in which he said that direct links with China were "unavoidable" and that the government would consider seeking assistance from private bodies in its efforts to forge them, many private organizations have expressed a desire to negotiate with the Chinese authorities.

Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council, admitted during an informal meeting with reporters last week that since the president's speech she has "received many phone calls from various groups."

In the past two weeks, tycoons -- most notably Formosa Plastics Chairman Wang Yung-ching (王永慶) and Uni-President food group's CEO Kao Chin-yen (高清愿) -- have aggressively asserted their desire to assist the government in negotiations with China over the three links, especially direct air and shipping links.

On May 21, Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the Chinese State Council -- in the first official Chinese response to President Chen's May 10 remarks -- said that "the Chinese authorities would welcome the commissioning by the Taiwanese government of influential Taiwanese businessmen to talk to the Chinese side on direct cross-strait links."

The following day, as Tsai was reporting on the MAC's current cross-strait policy to the Legislative Yuan's Home and Nations Committee, KMT lawmaker and former foreign minister John Chang (章孝嚴) registered the interest of the Chamber of Taiwan Businessmen in China (中國台商發展促進協會), of which he is president, saying that it would be "the private body best qualified to negotiate on behalf of the Taiwanese government."

Also in the legislature that day, DPP Legislator Chang Chin-fang (張清芳) spoke of what he called a "growing expectation" -- that, he emphasized, he did not share -- that "as long as private bodies other than the SEF are allowed to talk to China, the reality of three links are not far off."

He later told the Taipei Times that the reason for such optimism was that people believe that China "favors private bodies" for holding negotiations.

That may be the government's reasoning too. A senior MAC official, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Taipei Times, that "the government is eager to make a breakthrough in cross-strait relations." He said that, since China had made it perfectly clear that it would not talk to the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF, 海基會), the government had calculated that, while there was no guarantee of success, it would have to look elsewhere for the key to the cross-straits deadlock.

Chang stressed that, while this situation may appear embarrassing for the SEF -- which is, after all, the sole private body authorized to represent Taiwan in negotiations with China -- "the lion's share of responsibility for its failure [to make progress over the past few years] rests with China."

China and Taiwan have not engaged in dialogue since the last Koo-Wang talks (辜汪會談) in 1998. China announced, after then-president Lee Teng-hui's remark in 1999 that Taiwan-China relations were "state-to-state in nature," that it would hold no further negotiations with Taiwan unless Taiwan recognized the "one China" principle.

Re-emphasizing his own pessimism that captains of industry might succeed where the SEF has failed, Chang said, "It is an unrealistic expectation."

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