Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Polls suggest public supports Lien Chan's China trip

POLLS While only 40 percent thought the KMT chief's trip was a good idea before he left, after his meeting in Beijing, over half said they supported the journey

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , TAIPEI

A visit to Beijing by the chairman of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) seems to have increased public support in Taiwan for improved relations with China, but may have also damaged the cooperation among political parties needed for an actual shift in policy.

Separate polls published by three newspapers on Saturday showed that 51 to 60 percent of the population supported the trip by KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) to China where he met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in Beijing on Friday.

Interest in the trip has been so intense that television stations have even broadcast earnest discussions of the earrings and clothing that Lien's wife, Fang Yu (方瑀), wore to the meeting, as though it had been a royal wedding.

Polls before the visit had suggested that only 40 percent or so of the country's residents saw the trip as a good idea, indicating that the sight of KMT and Communist leaders shaking hands a half century after China's civil war might have won over some detractors.

Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), the chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Cabinet-level agency here that handles relations with China, said the polls might have been tainted by methodological problems. The council hopes to finish its own broader and more in-depth poll by next Friday.

Wu, who has been a strong critic of the Nationalists' efforts to conduct their own diplomacy while in the opposition, predicted that the trip would have little long-term effect on attitudes toward China, a subject on which most people here already have strong opinions that seldom change. Yet heavy news media coverage may have produced at least some short-term public interest in working more closely with China, he acknowledged.

Wu said that before making any policy decisions, the government would wait until after a weeklong visit to China starting Thursday by People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).

Hu's remarks during Lien's visit were little more than oratory that repeated or rephrased previous statements by Beijing officials, and the government here wants to see if Communist leaders make more concrete proposals during Soong's visit, Wu said. "So far, what we see is only rhetoric."

But Wu said twice in an interview that it was possible the government might formulate an initiative of its own after Soong's return.

Lien's effusive praise for Chinese leaders while in Beijing, and his strong criticism of Taiwanese independence supporters, have infuriated the governing Democratic Progressive Party, which leans toward more independence from China.

During a speech in Beijing, Lien accused independence advocates of having misused the introduction of democracy in Taiwan, notably by emphasizing differences over policy toward China, and between those born on Taiwan and those who moved from China.

"Some people are very upset that he's criticizing Taiwanese democracy in China; it's like slapping your children in front of other people," said Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), a senior Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker and longtime adviser to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Chen has pursued a somewhat more conciliatory policy toward China since his party failed to capture an expected majority in legislative elections last December.

But hard-line advocates of greater independence within the Democratic Progressive Party are so furious now that this policy may be difficult to maintain, Hsiao said.

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