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Be wary of goodwill gestures from Beijing
Taiwan opened its doors to China to let in direct charter flights, in exchange for Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) vice chairman and deputy director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Sun Yafu and ARATS secretary-general Li Yafei attending the memorial service for Koo Chen-fu.
Traveling as private representatives of ARATS chairman Wang Daohan, they stressed that the purpose of their visit was just to attend the memorial service, and not to signal the beginning of a new round of cross-strait talks. TAO Deputy Director Wang Zaixi also said that although Sun and Li came from ARATS and TAO, this visit was purely a private affair and they would not have any official contact with the Mainland Affairs Council.
Although this tone of voice clearly is yet another expression of the hostile attitude that there should be no contact with Taiwan, the two did in fact meet with high-level officials from the council for secret talks. After returning to Shanghai, Sun said that ARATS and the council in the future "will continue their good exchanges, contacts, negotiations and talks."
When Wang Zaixi gave a video interview to People's Daily Online, he said that "the year of the monkey leaves a mood of audacity behind, and the year of the rooster calls for a new dawn," which would seem to imply an optimistic view of the future for cross-strait relations.
The outcome is clearly different from their approach prior to the event. I don't think that this is because the council capitulated to ARATS during the "secret talks." Rather, China's typical trick of signalling a left turn before turning right created misunderstandings and unexpected results.
At the same time, this is a negotiating trick: First you pressure the opponent by taking an unreasonable approach, and then almost walking away before making a small concession as a show of "good will." That's intended to make the opponent feel grateful, so that the whole deal can be concluded in a win-win manner.
As expected, this statement has been played up as meaning that the year of the rooster will bring a new dawn and that spring is here. The stock market rose as well.
In fact, if we look back at the relationship between ARATS and the council, China took the initiative in ending contact with the council, because the council insisted on the principle of not selling out Taiwan's interests, and this irritated China. The one who tied the bell around the tiger's neck should also be the one who undoes it. But Taiwan had to remove the council's vice chairman Hsu Hui-yu, suffer Koo's death and allow chartered flights in order for the two organizations to resume contact.
China has, of course, paid a price for putting an end to contacts in the form of a growing Taiwanese consciousness and the further distancing of Taiwan from China. This means that although contacts have resumed, we will still have to wait and see what that will bring.
The key to cross-strait relations still lies with China.
First, China's military threat has not decreased, while there is no sign for the suspension of the "anti-secession law."
Second, in terms of the diplomatic aspect, China has continued to lure away Taiwan's diplomatic allies. Recently, Taiwan lost another ally as Grenada officially established diplomatic ties with Beijing. Moreover, after Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Central America in November, Vice President Zeng Qinghong recently also visited the region. He said that Beijing wished to strengthen economic and trade relations with countries that do not have ties with China. Obviously, China will continue to lure over Taiwan's friends and make forays into the US' back yard.
China always attempts to divide the pan-blue and pan-green camps through the unification-independence issue. But it is also trying to create divisions within the pan-green camp itself. For example, during a recent meeting held to mark the 10th anniversary of former president Jiang Zemin's "eight points," Jia Qinglin, the chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference, suddenly condemned former president Lee Teng-hui twice for promoting pro-independence separatism.
Before China abandons the possibility of attacking Taiwan by force and ceases its oppression of Taiwan's diplomatic space, we should not easily believe its goodwill.
In particular, Taiwan should prepare an "anti-annexation law." If China's National People's Congress passes the anti-secession law, Taiwan should immediately pass the anti-annexation law in response. The international community will have a sympathetic attitude towards us. We can even launch a referendum on this if necessary. Once we lose this chance, it will be too late.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.
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