The Boao Forum, One Small Step for Cross-Strait Dialogue
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 8, 2008
Although Vincent Siew has attended the Boao Forum for Asia five years in a row, he has never before been the focus of public attention. Probably even Siew himself never expected that this time, because he is Vice President elect of the ROC, and because the forum is being held on Hainan Island, his participation would be assigned special significance. Boao Forum spokespersons stressed that the forum "does not discuss politics." Indeed, the forum might not discuss politics. The problem is Vincent Siew's identity. To expect his trip not to be interpreted politically is well-nigh impossible.
That is why this year's Boao Forum is certain to be seen as a preview of future cross-strait interactions. It could be a window of opportunity, a chance to initiate a virtuous circle. It could also trigger mutual suspicion and controversy. It is a test not only of Vincent Siew, but of Beijing. It will also test the DPP, which has a little over a month left in its term.
As you can imagine, Vice President elect Vincent Siew's trip will be examined under a microscope. What kind of reception will he receive when he arrives on Hainan Island? Where will he be seated at the conference table? How he will interact with Hu Jintao? Will Hu and Siew meet separately? If so, how? What will our representatives talk about at the round-table? What level of representation will the mainland will send? Each of these questions will be subject to political analysis. Because of this, both the delegations led by Beijing and by Vincent Siew should conduct rehearsals. After all, this event is unprecedented. Even former Vice President Lien Chan's visit to the mainland does not compare.
Vincent Siew may insist that he is merely the Chairman of the Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation. But everyone will surely fixate on his status as Vice President elect and judge how he is treated on that basis. Although the purpose of the Boao Forum is to discuss economic and trade issues, the participants are all government representatives. The vast majority are attending in their capacity as heads of state. Hu Jintao is attending as General Secretary of the mainland government. Vincent Siew may be attending as an NGO chairman. But we all know that a month from now he will be sworn in as the Vice President of the Republic of China. For someone of his quasi-official status to attend a summit for international heads of state, and even appear on the same podium as high-ranking mainland Chinese officials, is something that hasn't happened in several decades.
Siew's ambiguous status has provided participants of this "quasi-summit" a great deal of room to maneuver. It has also provided commentators a great deal of room for interpretation. This is the fifth time Vincent Siew has participated in the Boao Forum. He knows better than anyone how he must comport himself. Everyone's attention is focused on Beijing, whose challenge is how to express good will towards Taipei. In any case, if cross-strait relations are to move toward reconciliation and dialogue, it is a step which must be taken. Outside observers should not expect too much from the Baoa Forum. After all, it is merely a platform for the exchange of views.
More interesting is the anxiety expressed by the DPP. One minute they are worried that Vincent Siew will be demeaned by the mainland authorities. The next minute they are asking Vincent Siew to demand membership in the WHO on behalf of Taiwan. As mentioned earlier, the Boao Forum is also a test of the DPP's mettle. This is when the Democratic Progressive Party ought to reexamine its political path and the reasons for its debacle at the polls. Judging by the DPP hierarchy's reaction to Siew's trip, the DPP is unwilling to adopt a more mature attitude. Instead it remains captive to its own ideological fundamentalism.
From Vice President Lu on down, everyone in the Pan Green nomenklatura continues to accuse dissenters of "betraying Taiwan." They continue to accuse dissenters of being "Communists." The DPP has not ruled out more extreme measures once the Boao Forum formally opens.
In other words, whenever the KMT takes practical action to promote cross-strait exchanges, the DPP attempts to turn everything into a struggle for unification vs. independence for "domestic consumption." If the DPP refuses to awaken from its delusion, it will be relegated to the role of a supporting player. It will have relinquished the spotlight to the KMT.
Frankly we dare not expect too much from the Boao Forum. After all, this is merely the first step in our search for cross-strait dialogue. Numerous thorny issues remain unresolved, The road ahead remains a long one.