The establishment of representative offices for the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) in China and for the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) in Taiwan would benefit people of both sides and further institutionalize cross-strait relations, experts said yesterday, urging the people of Taiwan and the opposition parties to have confidence in the policy.
“I see [the establishment of offices] as the beginning of the second phase of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait policy. It would have a positive impact on cross-strait peace and institutionalize bilateral engagement,” Chao Chien-ming (趙建民), a former Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) vice chairman, told a forum organized by Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of China Studies.
One of the most symbolic implications of the establishment, Chao said, would be Beijing’s recognition, albeit tacit, of Taipei’s “effective administration” and administrative rights over Taiwan, something that Beijing has refused to do.
Like other experts in the forum, Chao supported both sides giving each other quasi-diplomatic privileges and immunities, as well as the authorization to handle consular affairs, because it would be an “inevitable” development if Taiwan and China decided to engage further.
However, the mechanism does not signify a state-to-state relationship, although there would be government-to-government interaction in practice, Chao said.
The proposal to establish the offices, which requires the amendment of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), is pending review and debate during the Legislative Yuan’s scheduled extra session later this month.
Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies president Chao Chun-shan (趙春山) said that the proposal reflects institutionalization and legalization as the cornerstones of Ma’s China policy and the cross-strait situation as what it is today — in transition between operational affairs and political negotiations.
Because Taiwanese are still hesitant about political negotiations, the establishment would be a “compromise” that would benefit people on both sides in the absence of political talks, said National Taiwan University professor Bau Tzong-ho (包宗和), who, along with Chao Chun-shan, is among Ma’s primary China-policy advisers.
Bau said the policy would further normalize bilateral relations, benefit people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, ensure cross-strait communications avoid being misinterpreted and make direct negotiations possible.
Former SEF secretary-general Chiu Chin-yi (邱進益) called for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to support the proposal since “it’s possible for the DPP to return to power in 2016 and its administration would need institutions like these to interact with Beijing.”
However, Chiu warned the Ma administration against belittling itself when negotiating the function of the offices so that Taiwan’s office would not be seen as a provincial office in Beijing.
DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said last week that the party did not oppose the establishment of the offices, but said that sovereignty, reciprocity and transparency must be ensured.
The DPP denounced the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) proposal because it was based on the “one country, two regions” framework and it would authorize the administrative branch to grant Chinese officials immunities and privileges without assurance that Taiwanese officials would receive the same treatment in return.
Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) expressed similar views, saying that the policy should not based on the “one China” framework and that Ma should ease people’s suspicions about potential premature political negotiations.