Recent speculation that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was becoming more amenable to talks with Chinese officials rang truer last week when DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced the creation of a party think tank which, among other duties, would encourage mutual understanding across the Taiwan Strait through dialogue.
Rumor even has it that the DPP recently allowed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials to enter its sacred ground — party headquarters in Taipei.
This occurs at a time when Chinese officials have allegedly complained to a pan-blue newspaper that information they have received from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) painted such an incomplete picture of the mood in Taiwan that it prompted Zhongnanhai to look elsewhere.
Should this be true, Taiwan and China could be on the brink of taking their real first steps toward mutual understanding, or at least toward clearing the ideological air that has poisoned Chinese perceptions of Taiwan for so long. If the noise coming out of Beijing is true and the CCP is indeed realizing that its KMT interlocutors have not been straight with it on the Taiwanese polity’s reaction to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) detente, this could signify that Beijing is becoming more attuned to the multiplicity of voices that characterizes Taiwanese society.
Although one should speculate on such matters with the utmost caution, this could signify a refinement of Beijing’s approach to Taiwan, or at least the realization that the number of people who don’t see eye-to-eye with it on unification is much more substantial than a “clique,” the term often used to characterize DPP supporters and those who oppose unification.
Equally encouraging is that the DPP is showing a willingness to engage China and institutionalize the process. This shows maturity and self-confidence, likely boosted by a resurgence in its popular appeal, even in defeats such as the Nov. 27 special municipality elections, in which it won only two of five mayoralty seats, albeit with 400,000 more total votes than the KMT.
Ma and his party’s popularity appear to have peaked in 2008, with the DPP in the ascendancy since. That the DPP could turn its fortunes around so quickly and do so at a time when Ma could flaunt the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and myriad Chinese sweeteners is no small achievement. This tells Beijing that the pan-green camp is a force to be reckoned with and that there is life after former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Unwilling to accept that there could be another game in town, the KMT — which cannot be unaware that its appeal is waning — appears to have engaged in a game of deception with Beijing, just as US officials in Saigon for years sent rosy pictures of the situation in South Vietnam back to Washington until reality kicked in. Maybe, just maybe, Chinese officials have enough wisdom to avoid a similar mistake.
However, it is too early for optimism, as this isn’t the first time the DPP has been willing to talk (which should not be confused with having political negotiations) with China. Soon after entering office in 2000, the Chen administration sent feelers to Beijing, only for possible exchanges to be aborted after Beijing imposed preconditions such as the “one China” principle and the abandonment of the party’s independence clause.
There is no knowing whether similar caveats would be imposed this time around, but there is a major difference between then and now: The KMT seems to have discredited itself in Beijing’s eyes.
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