A former US Foreign Service officer urged China to resume official dialogue with Taiwan to improve cross-strait relations as the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th National Congress concluded in Beijing on Tuesday.
In an interview with the Central News Agency on Wednesday, former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Russel said that with politics in Beijing now more settled, he hopes Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will be flexible in restoring cross-strait talks that have been suspended since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May last year.
Tsai’s recognition of the existence of a “1992 meeting,” but not of the so-called “1992 consensus,” in her inaugural address reduced Beijing’s willingness to engage with her government, he said.
“It is my hope that, with the 19th party congress behind them and politics in Beijing perhaps a little more settled, the mainland side will show the kind of flexibility that would be required for it to restore ‘authoritative dialogue’ in the cross-strait channel,” Russel said.
The two sides have to find a way to formulate language that is mutually acceptable to both sides and it all depends on how Beijing assesses developments and trends in Taiwan, Russel said.
“It is no secret that among the younger generation, in the aftermath of the Sunflower movement [in 2014], there are questions being asked about the traditional policies and principles of ‘one China,’” he said, adding that support for Taiwanese independence is strong among young people.
It is up to the leadership in Beijing to reach an understanding internally about what course of action to take in the face of this new trend in Taiwan, Russel said.
“I hope that it leads them to conclude that respect for Taiwan’s dignity; support for Taiwan’s appropriate participation in international affairs and organizations; an open and cooperative economic relationship and an authoritative official channel of dialogue are necessary,” he said.
Asked how the Tsai administration could resume cross-strait dialogue, Russel said it was Beijing, not Taipei, that had made the decision to halt cross-strait dialogue.
Without a doubt, the US would like to see a resumption of official dialogue between Taipei and Beijing, he said.
However, unlike China, a communist authoritarian system, Taiwan is a democracy, he added.
“If in order to find political formulations that are acceptable to a sufficiently broad spectrum of the public on Taiwan, it takes time. Then it’s gonna take time,” he said.
The important thing is that the authorities in Taiwan are making an effort to signal to mainland China that they, too, want to maintain stability in cross-strait relations, Russel said.
“Probably the best advice, from an outsider, is to urge the leaderships on both sides to keep at it, to be determined, to be creative, to be flexible, to be patient, but also to exercise restraint,” he said.
“What we don’t want is for either side to lose patience, either side to give up and we don’t want either side to take unilateral action to upend or disrupt the ‘status quo’ in a way that may have unfortunate consequences that will affect the US,” he added.
Russel on Sunday arrived on his first visit to Taiwan and left on Wednesday.
A career senior diplomat, Russel served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from July 2013 to March this year.
In April, Russel joined the Asia Society Policy Institute, a think tank that tackles policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific region, where he serves as diplomat-in-residence and a senior fellow.
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