Wu Poh-hsiung's Critical Mission: Initiate KMT-CCP Political Dialogue
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 13, 2013
Summary: Ma Ying-jeou recently met with Wu Poh-hsiung and a KMT delegation preparing for a mission to the Mainland. Honorary KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung's mission was clearly being given an official imprimateur. These moves informed Beijing that the Republic of China government was officially authorizing the KMT delegation to speak on its behalf. Whatever their content, these talks will be of landmark significance.
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On April 21, reporters asked President Ma Ying-jeou about the possibility of cross-Strait political dialogue. Ma said Beijing "sought progress amidst stability," and would not pressure Taipei. Ma said for Taipei to engage in political dialogue with Beijing was premature. "There is still no consensus. Therefore why the rush?" He said "While negotiating the past 18 agreements, we invariably encountered political problems. But we resolved every one of them. If we made a special effort to engage in political dialogue, what would we talk about?"
With these remarks still ringing in our ears, Ma Ying-jeou recently met with Wu Poh-hsiung and a KMT delegation preparing for a mission to the Mainland. The meeting was deliberately held at the Presidential Palace. News of the meeting was deliberately supplied to the media. Ma said he hoped the mission would be successful and achieve its purpose. Honorary KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung's mission was clearly being given an official imprimateur. These moves informed Beijing that the Republic of China government was officially authorizing the KMT delegation to speak on its behalf. Therefore Wu Poh-hsiung's visit should be considered the first ever political contact between Taipei and Beijing. Wu Poh-hsiung's dialogue with Beijing's top officials, including General Secretary Xi Jinping, should be considered the first ever official and public political dialogue. Whatever their content, these talks will be of landmark significance.
According to media reports, the scope of the dialogue will include cross-Strait relations, cross-Strait exchanges, follow-up negotiations on ECFA, and the ARATS-SEF establishment of representative offices. The two sides are expected to discuss whether the KMT and CCP should address politically-related issues in the latter half of the year. Closer scrutiny reveaks that some of these reports are true, while some are false. Leave aside the false reports for the moment. The reports of "future cross-Strait relations," and the reports that the KMT and CCP will discuss "politically-related issues during the latter half of the year" are true. We know this because the Mainland Affairs Council only deals with practical matters. Issues such as "future cross-Strait relations," and "KMT-CCP cross-Strait political dialogue" are issues under the Presidential Office's purvue. The real issue Ma Ying-jeou is addressing, is how the two sides can bridge the gap across the Strait, and how the two parties can establish political contacts and begin political dialogue. That is why when President Ma Ying-jeou met with Wu Poh-hsiung, he thrice stressed that, "Cross-Strait relations are not state to state relations."
Take the "cross-Strait establishment of representative offices" as an example. Ma feels this has "very real political implications," that are important to cross-Strait relations. As Ma reiterated, "The relationship between the two sides is not a state to state relationship," because under the framework of the ROC Constitution, "The Mainland cannot be characterized as a state." Therefore, the representative offices the two sides establish will not be "embassies." This is an extremely sensitive issue on Taiwan. The wording is critical in any cross-Strait political statement. The political opposition must also base any such statements on the ROC Constitution. This reaffirms our own constitution. This also reassures the other side. Upholding our own constitution responds to a statement by the CCP late last July. The CCP spoke of a "one China framework." It said "The core issue is that the Mainland and Taiwan both belong to the same country. Cross-Strait relations are not relations between different countries. The two sides should begin by reaffirming their existing legal provisions. They should reaffirm these as objective facts. They should establish a shared perception. On this basis, they should uphold and reaffirm the framework of one China." Therefore when Wu Poh-hsiung dialogues with Beijing regarding "future cross-Strait relations," the terms of the dialogue will be even clearer.
Ma Ying-jeou also recalled the events of 2008. Five years ago Wu Poh-hsiung led a delegation to the Mainland. a mere 10 days after his inauguration. He met with top CCP leaders and established a future direction for cross-Strait relations. This was a major contribution to cross-Strait relations. Ma Ying-jeou wished Wu Poh-hsiung a successful mission. He hoped Wu would bring back good news.
All this underscores the importance of Wu Poh-hsiung's mission. It is kick-starting cross-Strait ruling party political dialogue. A member of the delegation, former National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi, said it was only natural that political dialogue would begin with the private sector. This was the case with negotiations over direct cross-Strait flights. "First let people to people talks yield results. Then when the time is ripe, let the government take over."
Let us evaluate the larger international picture. Let us predict the impact on the rest of Asia. Ma Ying-jeou's decision is correct. He summoned up the courage and finally took this step, one clearly crucial to the healthy and rational development of cross-Strait relations. We would like to offer the following reminders.
One. Is Ma Ying-jeou serious about cross-Strait political dialogue? If he is, political negotiations demand mental clarity. Is a policy conducive to Taiwan's development? If it is, then he must demonstrate the same courage he had when promoting ECFA. He must mobilize the government and community leaders to influence public opinion. He must focus his energy and resources to promote its implementation, to reassure the public, and to reduce opposition. He must not give up halfway. That would both destroy public support, and undermine cross-Strait relations.
Two. Ma must not use "political dialogue between the two parties" as bait, as a bargaining chip to benefit special interests. Genuine political dialogue to promote cross-Strait relations is essential. Otherwise, one may invoke public opinion on Taiwan. But if one returns to the same old populist demagoguery, then one will forfeit the moral high ground, and doom Taiwan to isolation.
Three. When promoting change, pressure and criticism are inevitable. Reducing such pressure requires honest communication, openness, and transparency. It requires making a distinction between President Ma and Chairman Ma. It requires reanimating the spirit of the Kuomintang. It requires offering Taiwan and the Chinese nation a strategic plan. Doing so will provide Beijing with a clear response, and demonstrate the government's tactical aptitude. It will reaffirm Taiwan's value and ensure the people's well-being. It will ensure that the public and the party back the government's efforts to improve cross-Strait relations.