China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) arrived on Tuesday for an eight-day “study” trip to investigate Taiwan’s agriculture, biotechnology and healthcare sectors with a view to possible investment. Despite the government’s efforts to keep the visit low-key, Chen has made waves.
Much has been made of the fact that Chen is the first senior Chinese official to visit since the Nov. 29 nine-in-one elections.
Chen was apparently meant to reassure Taiwanese that cross-strait exchanges are bigger than this nation’s politics and that business would continue as normal. However, all he has done so far is to reassure the public of Beijing’s — pick one or more of the following: tone-deafness, obtuseness, willful ignorance or diplomatic ham-fistedness.
If there is one message that was delivered in the local polls it was that Taiwanese voters are very unhappy with the KMT and China’s business-as-usual approach to cross-strait ties and that while they do not want to see relations grind to a halt, they want changes made to the way the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been conducting negotiations and the way the resultant pacts have been “approved” and implemented.
Chen got off on the wrong foot from the start, flashing a double-handed “V” sign toward the media scrum and protesters waiting to greet him at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. It is one thing for youngsters to flash a “V” posing for a selfie or group photograph, but it looks downright bizarre when a 65-year old diplomat/bureaucrat does it, whatever the motive. Was he celebrating his victory in making another visit to Taipei or just trying to look harmless?
Just how harmless Chen is not was demonstrated the next morning with a special breakfast get-together he hosted for a dozen or so top executives from local media outlets, where he reportedly discussed the impact of the incipient China-South Korea free-trade pact and Beijing’s other free-trade dreams. He also discussed the efforts in the Legislative Yuan to create an oversight mechanism for cross-strait agreements and what impact that might have on current or future deals.
He reportedly told his guests that “we would not want another Moonflower movement,” an apparent reference to the game-changing Sunflower movement protests earlier this year.
The Chinese-language Economic Daily News quoted him as saying: “How is it that negotiations with our own people are proving so difficult?”
He also urged the Legislative Yuan to ratify the service trade pact or risk having it sent back to negotiators for a fresh look.
Chen was not seeking information as much as he was passing it along — if Taiwan does not maintain its current pace of deal-making with China, it could get hurt.
What has also upset many people is that Chen held this private meeting with executives who help shape their outlets’ news coverage, not with journalists who cover the news. It smacks of the favorite tactic of China’s security services when it comes to the media or activists — an invitation to “drink tea” with them, a form of low-level intimidation that can cover everything from a warning about what is publishable and what is not, to an informal interrogation.
Chen said this trip was to learn about the situation in Taiwan. If so, this is what he should take home with him: Negotiations with Taiwan are proving difficult because not all Taiwanese share the KMT/CCP’s “we” and “our own people” viewpoint; Taiwan is a democracy where the public have the right to make their views known and expect them to be heard and acted upon; and sending the service trade agreement back to the negotiators sounds like a very good idea indeed.
He should also remember that it is easier to learn if one listens more and talks less.
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