Prudence and Patience to Reestablish Cross-strait Dialogue
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 31, 2008
The Republic of China Presidential Election has attracted the attention of the international media. Without exception, they have focused on cross-strait relations. Post-election indicators suggest fresh new prospects for cross-strait relations. First, George W. Bush and Hu Jintao declared, for the very first time, a shared commitment to the 1992 Consensus, entailing One China, Different Expressions. During an exclusive interview, Ma Ying-jeou followed suit, stressing that the common denominator between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei is "One China, Different Expressions." These post-election pronouncements tell us that the future of cross-strait relations will be quite different from the stagnation and recession of the past eight years.
Most intriguing of all is the 1992 consensus. The DPP originally dismissed it as "non-existent." Yet today Taipei, Beijing, and Washington all accept its language. The reason the 1992 consensus has roared back to life is quite simple. We have endured eight years of confrontation and deadlock. If that isn't enough to teach people the advantages of pragmatism, what is? Is the One China Principle a "prerequisite for discussions," or merely a possible "topic of discussion?" Are cross-strait relations "domestic relations," or "international relations?" If the two sides continue going back and forth on this issue and refuse to move on, then the only alternative is "perpetual confrontation." But the confrontation has already gone on for eight years. Does anyone really want this stalemate to continue?
After being abandoned by the DPP for eight years, the 1992 consensus and One China, Different Expressions have resurfaced. This amounts to a recognition of reality, to a pragmatic recognition of the status quo. Whoever wants insoluble issues of sovereignty to prevent the solution of other problems, basically has no desire to solve the problem of cross-strait relations. If the "Different Expressions" provision allows us to shelve the dispute over sovereignty, won't that allow everyone to breath a tremendous sigh of relief? Next up are direct flights, currency exchanges, investment protection, and tourism. As long as the underlying principle remains the same, and both sides use their heads, there should be no insoluble problems.
Of course there are also hidden concerns. Cross-strait relations cannot ignore international constraints. It also strikes a sensitive nerve in the island's politics. There is no denying that eight years under Democratic Progressive Party rule has led to irreversible changes. It is impossible to return entirely to a pre-2008 scenario. Even after Ma Ying-jeou is augurated and adopts a more pragmatic and flexible stance, it will not be possible to ignore opposition Green Camp pressure. Therefore Beijing's attitude will be crucial. If Beijing reintroduces the issue of sovereignty and subjects Taipei to humiliations, then Ma Ying-jeou may be forced to adopt a hard-line.
Beijing must understand that under Ma Ying-jeou the ROC government will no longer resort to provocations for political advantage in cross-strait issues. In other words, for the next four years at least, the ROC government will not exploit issues such as "Authoring a New Constitution," "Rectification of Names," or "Plebiscites on Joining the UN" to make trouble for Beijing. The ROC government will not deliberately raise regional tensions. But even a more pragmatic Ma Ying-jeou cannot turn a blind eye to the hundreds of missiles the mainland has aimed at Taiwan. Nor can he do nothing about the ROC's long-term exclusion from international organizations. And of course he cannot remain silent about the mainland's human rights policies.
If Beijing hopes for a breakthrough in cross-strait relations, it cannot offer merely pro forma expressions of goodwill during talks between leaders. If the mainland military insists on increasing the number of missiles targeting Taiwan, if it continues conducting military exercises directed against the ROC, if it continues undermining Tapei's diplomatic relations, if it continues obstructing Taipei's membership in the international community, it will be impossible for Ma Ying-jeou to throw open the doors of cross-strait policy.
Of course, June 20 is still a ways off. Although the DPP has already begun making pragmatic concessions in its cross-strait economic and trade policies, the two sides have been mired in a standoff for eight long years. During the past eight years significant changes have occurred. The parties who participated in the original cross-strait dialogue are long gone. Wang Daohan and Koo Cheng-fu are no longer among us. Their cross-strait dialogue and consultation framework may be difficult to reconstruct. Rebuilding a platform for cross-strait talks will require adjustments. To successfully negotiate this transition we will need not just goodwill, but patience, patience, and more patience.
Eight years of painful memories should have taught the KMT an important lesson. The smooth handling of cross-strait affairs will require the participation of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. A cross-strait policy that excludes the DPP will be a source of ruling vs. opposition party conflict. By the same token, the DPP must modify its posture. It must awaken as soon as possible from its ideological stupor. It must actively participate in cross-strait affairs. It must accumulate practical experience. It cannot forever cling to its Closed Door Policies.
People on both sides of the strait hold high hopes for the future. Therefore the initial steps towards dialogue and consultation require even greater prudence and patience, even greater good will and wisdom.