Time to Use Our Heads to Resolve Real Problems
China Times Editorial (Taipei, China)
May 31, 2008
Call it breaking the ice. Call it melting the ice. The leaders of the ruling parties on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait finally met yesterday amidst an atmosphere of goodwill. They agreed to resume talks between the SEF and ARATS in mid-June. The mainland will open up four locations for direct flights from Taoyuan's CKS Airport. In an unprecedented move, CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao personally committed to negotiate with Taipei over increasing the ROC's international space. This must await follow-up consultations by the SEF and ARATS before it becomes official of course. But the success of the Wu Hu Meeting has already created an optimistic atmosphere for the SEF and ARATS negotiations comin up in June. The check the KMT issued, promising direct charter flights and the arrival of mainland tourists by July, may not bounce after all.
Watching the KMT and CCP party hierarchy shake hands and exchange ritual greetings was emotionally overwhelming. These two political parties have been locked in a life and death struggle for over half a century. How many historical grievances have they accumulated? How many lives have been lost? How many families have been torn apart? Today the leaders of the two parties are citing peace as their highest value. They are vowing to put the interests of the people first. Looking back at these struggles between the KMT and the CCP, one can't help wondering how many generations have been carried away by these currents of history? To dismiss these struggles with a wave of the hand seems disrespectful. Without this tangled history, there would be no complex and intractable cross-strait problems today. But in the end what can one say, other than "It's all in the past?"
Whatever might have happened, in the end these matters must be left to the historians. How future history will be written, is in the hands of a new generation. Will cross-strait relations move towards peace, reconciliation, dialog, cooperation, and mutual benefit? It all depends on the leaders on both sides. Since the second ruling party change in March, Siew and Hu have met at the Boao Forum, and President Ma has delivered his inaugural address. These made the current Wu Hu Meeting possible. As we can see, the authorities on the two sides used informal contacts as feelers for formal contacts. They invested considerable energy and used considerable discretion. They avoided all sensitive language. They even expressed good faith through the manner in which they presented their positions, making sure the other side could interpret their position in their own manner.
This linguistic sleight of hand is necessary because cross-strait dialogue has been interrupted by prolonged confrontation and stalemate, by a vicious cycle of zero sum provocations and mutual recriminations on the international stage. If the two sides can stop picking each other's arguments apart in an attempt to make political hay, but instead seek the greatest common denominator, they can transform the process into a virtuous circle.
The Wu Hu Meeting is reestablishing bilateral talks as soon as possible. It is authorizing direct charter flights and mainland tourism to Taiwan. It is also confronting the issue of the ROC's international space, particularly membership in the WHO, head on. This was always an issue Taipei would raise, but to which Beijing would give either the cold shoulder or an non-commital response. This time however, Beijing has taken the initiative. It has explicitly stated that once cross-strait consultations resume, "priority will be given to Taiwan's participation in WHO," and that "we should be smart enough to find a solution." These words were spoken by Hu Jintao himself, the highest ranking leader of the CCP. They have ground-breaking significance and deserve our attention.
We need to realize that as long as we do not deliberately bring up sensitive issues, direct flights or mainland tourists are mainly technical issues. But the Republic of China's international space and participation in international organizations is an another matter altogether. These touch upon the core issue of the dispute over sovereignty. Beijing has consistently adopted a hard-line policy in the past. Most of the obstacles to cross-strait reconciliation reside here. Now, on its own initiative, Beijing has offered to begin consultations on this matter. Therefore one can predict with near certainty that the two sides will find a way to enable the ROC to participate in the WHO. This will become the focus of the next stage of cross-strait relations. Can the two sides create a virtuous circle? This will be a key indicator.
in the past neither side was willing to give an inch. The other side always had to do this, that, and the other before one responded in kind. The result was each side would obsess over its own concerns, and no one got to talk about anything. Now the two sides have learned to shelve their differences. Call it what you like. Call it looking the other way. Call it Different Interpretations of One China. At least the two sides are now willing to seek common ground, willing to tackle what is mutually beneficial, and postpone more sensitive issues until the establishment of greater mutual trust. As long as the two sides maintain such a pragmatic attitude, and seek mutually acceptable solutions, they will encounter little difficulty. The KMT vs. CCP struggle is history. So is the cross-strait propaganda war. It is time to resolve issues of substance. It is time to use our heads.