Cross-Strait Relations in the Wake of Lai Hsing-yuan's Appointment to Mainland Affairs Council Chairman
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, China)
April 30, 2008
Lai Hsing-yuan will definitely head up the Mainland Affairs Council. Leave aside what political considerations were behind Ma Ying-jeou's move. Leave aside the controversy and backlash this appointment has elicited within the Blue camp. To focus exclusively on Lai Hsing-yuan herself is pointless. After all, MAC and SEF personnel have already been officially appointed. Future cross-strait policy will be handled by this group. The question now ought to be how to make this rag tag group into a well-organized team.
In other words, the next cause for concern, is not relations between Lai Hsing-yuan and Chiang Pin-kung, or relations between Lai Hsing-yuan and the rest of the Ma administration. The next cause for concern is relations between the MAC and the SEF, the future of cross-strait policy, the division of labor, and the modus operanda. More broadly speaking, this includes the modus operanda for the presidential palace, the National Security Council, the Executive Yuan, the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Transportation, and other relevant ministries. How will they coordinate their efforts to promote cross-strait policy? From this point of view, to focus exclusively on Lai Hsing-yuan or to deliberately overestimate her role is unnecessary.
Frankly, the MAC and the SEF's two-track system design was a product of the special "cross-strait" situation. One set policy, the other carried it out. In cross-strait interactions they played the roles of "good cop" and "bad cop." This inevitably led to conflicts between the two. But in the end, they did enable cross-strait dialogue to take place, including the Koo-Wang during the early 90s. It was only the controversy over the Two States Theory and the subsequent ruling party change that mothballed this cross-straits mechanism for nearly 10 years. Ten years is a long time. People have passed away. Expertise has been lost and cross-strait mutual trust has been undermined. When we say we now want to "restart" cross-strait exchanges, we are not exaggerating.
But today's cross-strait situation is completely different from the way it was 10 years ago. MAC and SEF personnel have all been replaced. It would be impossible to replicate the decision-making process in place a decade ago. It makes no difference if we are comparing Chiang Pin-kung today to Koo Chen-fu yesterday, or even Lai Hsing-yuan today to Huang Kun-hui yesterday. Everything is different. Since it is so different, what should the cross-strait policy-making and implementation process be? That is the question Lai Hsing-yuan and Chiang Pin-kung will have to answer.
Some people are worried that having Lai Hsing-yuan at the head of the Mainland Affairs Council may affect the timetable for direct flights and mainland tourism, or even destroy the ongoing process of cross-strait reconciliation. The Taiwan stock exchange (TAIEX) plummeted for an entire day. Many political observers worry that Lai Hsing-yuan's EQ is too low. They worry that her pro-green stance will drag the entire Ma administration down. But is Lai Hsing-yuan that powerful? Based on interviews with the media, Lai Hsing-yuan is already on the same page as the Ma Hsiao team. She said she now agrees with Ma's "One China, Different Interpretations" premise. She said she approved of opening Taiwan to mainland tourism, to weekend charter flights, and to allowing the free exchange of NTD with RMB. These provisions are ready for implementation. They are already in full swing. She is confident they can be achieved.
As for raising the ceiling on mainland investments beyond the current 40 percent, recognizing mainland diplomas, she said she had reservations about them unless comprehensive plans were first drawn up. As we look at these policy statements, we can't see any big differences between Lai and Ma Ying-jeou's campaign platform.
The KMT's real cross-strait policy challenge is not that Lai Hsing-yuan will hijack the Ma Hsiao team's policy, but that the Blue camp can pull together and avoid having a carriage with too many horses pulling in too many directions. For example, the outgoing administration has yet to hand over power to the incoming administration. The new cross-strait exchange mechanism has yet to be established. Chiang Pin-kung, who has yet to be inaugurated as chairman of the SEF, went to the mainland to thank Taiwan businesspeople for their support. Former Party Chairman Lien Chan also led a delegation to Beijing to attend a Lien-Hu Summit. Current Party Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung lead a delegation that took part in a KMT-CCP Forum, If cross-strait relations can allow these Blue camp elders to fight over the spotlight, while the decision makers who must assume political responsibility are caught in a dilemma, then hasn't all hell broken loose? Frankly Lai Hsing-yuan is not the only person who must face the music. So must soon to be inaugurated President Ma.
How Beijing views Lai Hsing-yuan's appointment will also be worth noting. We await the consequences of Ma Ying-jeou's decision to appoint Green camp fighter Lai Hsing-yuan as cross-strait decision-maker. It is clear that Ma Ying-jeou is interested in uniting the Blue and Green camps behind his cross-strait policy. He represents the will of over 7 million Blue camp voters. But he does not want to ignore the concerns of 5 million voters. If Beijing cannot see this, if it cools cross-strait relations, then it is not seeing the bigger picture.