Taiwan and China are not ready for higher-level political talks at the moment and should first focus on “softer” issues, such as cultural and educational exchanges, a local expert said yesterday.
China has held some political talks with Taiwan, but higher-level ones are not likely in the near future, Institute for National Policy Research president Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂), told a two-day international conference on the future of China that opened in Taipei yesterday.
The conference, co-hosted by the Mainland Affairs Council and the Taipei-based Institute for National Policy Research, invited experts from Taiwan and other countries such as the US, Australia and Singapore to discuss the decisions being made at the ongoing Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th Party Congress and how they might affect policymaking in Beijing.
“It might be quite difficult to move toward the direction [of high-level political talks] so fast,” Tien said on the sidelines of the conference.
The general direction and strategic plan of both Taiwan’s and China’s cross-strait policies are unlikely to change after the CCP concludes its congress, he said.
However, both sides need to first form a domestic consensus before moving forward on “sensitive issues,” such as a cross-strait peace pact, he added.
Taiwan and China will first hold bilateral talks on cultural and educational exchanges, before progressing to more delicate areas, he said.
At the one-week congress in China that opened on Thursday last week, outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), who is also the CCP’s general-secretary, is expected to hand over the leadership of the party to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平). Xi is also tipped to be the next president.
Hu said at the opening of the congress that China should stick to the principle of “peaceful unification” with Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” (一國兩制) model.
Meanwhile, former US deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver said that China’s new leaders would face extraordinary challenges.
Chinese leaders would prefer to focus on economic challenges, including how to rebalance their economy to a more consumer, domestic growth-driven model, “but they can’t ignore what’s going on in the region and in the world,” he said at the sidelines of the conference.
Schriver said Chinese leaders “will have a lot on their plate,” such as the tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and trade friction between the US and China.
When asked how he thinks the territorial disputes in the East China Sea will play out, Schriver said that Japan’s upcoming election and China’s ongoing leadership transition meant that leaders are having a difficult time resisting nationalist sentiments.
“And that makes it very delicate,” said Schriver, who is the president and chief executive of the Project 2049 Institute, a US-based non-profit research organization dedicated to the study of security trends in Asia.
He added that the biggest regional security concern is the ability of China and Japan to control the escalation of the issue and manage the crisis to prevent an accident in the disputed areas.
Asked about China’s tight control over social media, Schriver said that the Chinese authorities’ policy of restricting social media will inevitably fail.
“Ultimately this is a losing battle,” he said.
People will figure out ways around the control and ways to talk about things that concern them, such as corruption and environmental problems, he said.
In response to a question on the recent protest over a chemical plant in China’s coastal city of Ningbo, Schriver said that protests in China are diversifying, with more middle-class people taking to the streets.
“It has to be of concern to the authorities that this is not a single group of people that can be predictably relied upon to take to the streets and then be dealt with and then returned home. It’s a very diverse and diffused group of people,” he said.