A Cross-Strait Peace Agreement Requires Mutual Trust
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 14, 2011
Summary: If re-elected, might President Ma Ying-jeou visit the Chinese mainland? Might he even sign a cross-Strait peace agreement? The question has raised concerns and provoked Blue vs. Green controversy. The Republic of China is a democratic republic. The president is answerable to its citizens. Any decisions and actions must be consistent with the will of the people. Any visit to the Chinese mainland must consider public sentiment and cross-Strait reality. Speculation about such a visit now is premature.
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If re-elected, might President Ma Ying-jeou visit the Chinese mainland? Might he even sign a cross-Strait peace agreement? The question has raised concerns and provoked Blue vs. Green controversy. The Republic of China is a democratic republic. The president is answerable to its citizens. Any decisions and actions must be consistent with the will of the people. Any visit to the Chinese mainland must consider public sentiment and cross-Strait reality. Speculation about such visit now is premature.
Presidential Office Chief of Staff King Pu-tsung and DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen visited the United States at the same time. The two sides continue to do battle overseas. Cross-Strait policy has become a controversial topic. An exclusive interview with Phoenix News misreported King Pu-tsung as saying that if reelected, President Ma would visit the Chinese mainland, in his capacity as KMT Party Chairman. This invited an attack by the DPP. But the Presidential Office had already cleared up the matter. A Presidential Office spokesman made clear that if President Ma Ying-jeou ever conducts an official visit to the Chinese mainland, it will be in his capacity as Republic of China President.
King Pu-tsung followed up by saying that as long as we uphold the Republic of China's sovereignty and dignity, all sorts of favorable cross-Strait developments are possible. This includes the signing of a peace agreement. "If it [a cross-Strait peace agreement] benefits Taiwan, why not?" He responded to Tsai Ing-wen, saying, "As long as Chairman Tsai is willing to talk to the Beijing about the Republic of China's sovereignty under the constitutional frameworld of the Republic of China, that accords with the national interest, and I applaud it."
King Pu-tsung said nothing new. President Ma has reiterated that cross-Strait relations must address economics first and politics last. It must address easy issues first and harder issues last. This includes any peace agreement or military confidence building mechanism. No exact timetable exists for any of these. In a 2008 interview with CNR, Ma Ying-jeou said visiting the Chinese mainland is important. But the time is not ripe. Nor is it the most urgent matter we have to deal with. The two sides need not touch on political issues for the moment.
When President Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian were in office, they both expressed a willingness to visit the Chinese mainland in the furtherance of cross-Strait peace. Of course, offering an olive branch is one thing. Genuinely wanting to implement cross-Strait peace is another. Anyone can posture. Not everyone can see a vision through to its fulfillment.
Any presidential visit or cross-Strait peace agreement would require a solid foundation and proper timing. The cross-Strait situation at the moment is not right. A Republic of China president visiting the Chinese mainland in his capacity as Republic of China president would be unacceptable to the PRC. Recognition of the Republic of China's sovereign status would be political suicide for PRC authorities. It would provoke an intense nationalist backlash. On the other hand, a Republic of China president visiting the Chinese mainland in his capacity as KMT party chairman would demean the Republic of China in the eyes of the public on Taiwan. Beijing would have good reason to be concerned about the impact such a visit from the leader of the Republic of China might have on Taiwan society.
The dispute over sovereignty is the real sticking point in cross-Strait relations. After President Ma Ying-jeou took office, his greatest achievement was to break the deadlock in cross-Strait relations, and transform it into an examplar of "effective management." The Ma administration has successfully shelved cross-Strait disputes. The two sides are seeking common ground and setting aside differences. They are promoting cross-Strait exchanges and cooperation, allowing people and understand each other. This will enable them to discover what they share in common. Bit by bit, they can build trust and friendship, and arrive at some shared expectations about the future. Under the aegis of the 1992 Consensus, disputes over sovereignty have encouraged Beijing to acknowledge the existence of the Republic of China. During cross-Strait negotiations, officials have visited each other, qua officials. To some extent, government to government exchanges have already taken place. The two sides have merely refrained from underscoring this fact.
Nevertheless, only three short years have passed. Only modest progress has been made. A Republic of China president still cannot attend an APEC summit. Talk of visiting the Chinese mainland is still premature.
A cross-Strait peace agreement sounds good. But before an agreement can be signed, both sides must have something to gain. They must trust the other to keep its promises. There must be sufficient trust between the public on both sides. People on Taiwan have long lived under a threat. Absent concrete, long-term demonstrations of good faith, it will be difficult for them to lower their guard. If the PRC attempts to assert sovereignty over the ROC, it will be unacceptable to the public on Taiwan. Sixty years of PRC military aggression has never caused the ROC to yield its sovereignty or dignity. It is not about to do so now merely for the sake of some ink on paper. The two sides can cooperate on certain matters, for example, sea rescues and military visits. At this stage these would be considered major victories.
The Republic of China is a democratic republic. The will of the people constrains the president's decision-making process. It affects the progress of cross-Strait relations. The Republic of China's national interests include its prosperity and growth, its sovereignty and dignity, its security and international space. Its heads of state have been entrusted by the people to achieve these ends. Other goals are not yet feasible. Better to improve cross-Strait relations step by step. Only then will more favorable possibilities unfold in the future.