Pragmatism and Win/Win Thinking: the New Theme of Cross-Strait Relations
China Times Editorial
April 14, 2008
When future historians write the history of cross-strait relations, what will they make of the Siew Hu Meeting at this year's Boao Forum? Will they see it as an ice-breaker following the big freeze that began in 2000? Will they see it as historic? As the highest level meeting between the two sides since 1949? Regardless of how they see it, one point is indisputable. The meeting is a turning point in cross-strait relations. It has changed the course of history.
Perhaps it was the timing. Perhaps it was historical inevitability. No cross-strait summit was in the cards. Yet on the eve of the KMT's return to power, it became a reality. The Boao Forum was originally a trade forum. Its primary function was to serve as a transnational networking platform.
Those invited were mostly economic and financial officials from various nations. The forum enjoyed a diversified and flexible public/private, bilateral/multilateral, political/economic status highly conducive to informal cross-strait dialogue. Siew is one of the VIPs who has been invited to every session. The only difference is that this year he will be sworn in as Vice President of the Republic of China a month from now. At the moment however, he remains a civilian. The timing has made it possible to avoid disputes over his official status. The two sides need no longer remain preoccupied with official identity and political status. All that needed to build goodwill now is a protocol for future interaction. The forum has established an atmosphere conducive to rapprochement. Who can deny that the "Siew Hu Meeting" is not the sequel to the Koo-Wang talks? That it constitutes another milestone in cross-strait historical development?
As we review cross-strait relations, we see how much time was wasted jockeying for position and quibbling over irrelevancies such as One China vs. Different Interpretations, cross-strait vs. two states, dialogue vs. negotiations, consensus vs. spirit, premise vs. topic. Who knows how much energy has been expended on these semantic issues alone? The result has been years of deadlock. The two sides are as far apart as ever. Nobody has convinced anybody. Nobody has taken advantage of anybody. This jockeying for position has solved nothing. At the Boao Forum, such issues were shelved. Everyone knew they existed, but nobody spoke of them.
What alternative do we have? The cross-strait status quo is the result of historical circumstances. The two sides are each subject to their own internal constraints. If every controversy must be resolved before we can take the next step, we will merely perpetuate the current stalemate. The wheels of history never cease turning. If a wide range of non-controversial issues can be resolved, via a win/win scenario, why cling stubbornly to one's entrenched position? Vincent Siew and Ma Ying-jeou have conveyed a message to the mainland: "Face reality squarely, create future opportunities, set aside disputes, and seeking win/win solutions." That just about says it all.
The language of the Siew Hu Meeting reflects a whole new mode of cross-strait interaction. The two sides no longer need to quibble endlessly over pointless semantic distinctions. They are now free to take effective action. Vincent Siew Hu shared his "Four Hopes" with Hu Jintao. He hoped for direct, cross-strait transportation links, mainland tourism to Taiwan, economic and trade normalization, and the resumption of consultations and negotiations. Hu Jintao responded clearly with his "Four Constants." Together they addressed pragmatic issues and narrowed the focus. As long as these hopes and constants prevail, even more substantive talks will follow.
Siew proposed "pursuing a win-win situation." Hu Jintao, in response, proposed "creating a win-win situation." This footnote to the summit gives us cause for optimism. The two sides have entered a new era of pragmatism. During the second half of this year various technical issues can be worked out. This pragmatism will become the dominant theme in cross-strait interaction for the next few years. As a result, we can anticipate creative breakthroughs to more difficult problems, such as membership in the WHA and APEC. The next stage will be a form of benign cross-strait interaction. It will also be a kind of a test.
The Wang-Koo Era is long past. The eight year long rhetorical stand-off will end one month from now. So will economic stagnation and political stalemate. The mainland has appointed Director Chen Yunlin of the State Council for Taiwan Affairs, an old hand at cross-strait affairs, as the next Chairman of the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). On May 20, Taiwan will appoint new personnel to the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). When the two organizations resume cross-strait dialogue, they will usher in a new era of cross-strait relations.