Key to Cross-Strait Development: Seize the Moment, Work Together
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
September 3, 2013
Summary: When officials from Taipei and Beijing discuss cross-Strait relations, they often attempt to seize the moral high ground. They often make carefully worded but undecipherable responses, out of fear that the other side will take advantage of them, or that they will lose face. In fact, opportunities can be created. Our attitudes and perspectives determine the future. We must seize opportunities and ensure cooperation, in order to improve cross-Strait relations. This is the key to the ROC's future. We must give it all we have.
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When officials from Taipei and Beijing discuss cross-Strait relations, they often attempt to seize the moral high ground. They often make carefully worded but undecipherable responses, out of fear that the other side will take advantage of them, or that they will lose face. Why? Perhaps this happens because they share the same language and national character. Perhaps it is due to the uniquely ambiguous nature of the Chinese language. Perhaps it can be chalked up to pragmatic political considerations. Everyone is reluctant to put speak plainly. Often they leave things half said. Those outside the loop often assume it is nothing more than political rhetoric, and must not be taken seriously. But sometimes these responses are loaded with subtext. Changing a single word may radically change the meaning. Those in the know often take the hint. But other times the ambiguity leads to misunderstandings, miscalculations, and confusion regarding another's intentions. Experts may need to decipher them.
For example, are relations between Taipei and Beijing international relations, domestic relations, or "cross-Strait relations?" Are delegations from the ROC "Zhongguo Taipei" or "Zhonghua Taipei?" Were the talks Koo-Wang talks or Wang-Koo talks? Were the talks an end point, or a hiatus? Were they political negotiations or political dialogues? Was their consensus "one China, shared interpretation," or "different interpretations?" The two sides quarrel endlessly. Every time Lien and Hu meet, Wu and Hu meet, Siew and Hu meet, or Wu and Xi meet, they issue a 16 word declaration,one that bowls everyone over. Even Hu Jintao joked about these 16 word declarations with visiting VIPs from Taiwan. The two sides rearrange the order of these 16 words constantly. They ponder the meaning of every word. Reporters and officials outside the loop often find their heads spinning. They conclude that the two sides are engaged merely in sophistry or word games, that they are concerned merely with appearances, with saving face, and have forgotten the substance.
Several interesting developments have taken place recently. The first of course, is rumors of a Ma Xi Summit. These are apparently more than mere rumors. Will there be a ground-breaking development in the near future? That would be something worth anticipating. The second is the ongoing interaction between the Red Camp and the Green Camp. Can the DPP successfully restructure? Can it accept the one China Constitution? Can it change its fundamentally anti-China, separatist orientation? This major variable will affect the political situation on Taiwan and in cross-Strait relations. The third is the upcoming cross-Strait peace forum. This will be an important event. Can the two sides' think tanks and academics make a breakthrough, enabling cross-Strait political dialogue? Can they identify the obstacles and a way out of the stalemate?
News reports from Taiwan say that officials from the two sides may meet. These reports have a basis in fact. The officials in question may have domestic elections to consider. They may be attempting to ensure their place in history, or to consolidate long-term cross-Strait relations. President Ma wants to meet with Xi Jinping. At the very least, he does not reject such a meeting. This is widely known. President Ma has repeatedly implied that the only obstacle is current conditions, which must be improved. This of course includes where Ma and Xi would meet, how they would meet, and how they would address each other. The problems are real but not insoluble. The two sides, working together, can overcome any obstacles. Seizing the opportunities and working together is the key.
Ma Ying-jeou does not oppose, and may even want a meeting between himself and Xi Jinping. Beijing is already aware of this. If the rumors are true, it will impact more than Ma Ying-jeou as an individual. It will impact the future of the ROC and cross-Strait relations. It may help Xi Jinping consolidate his power and ensure his legacy. Such a meeting would be the biggest event since the KMT and the CCP shook hands in 2005. It would be the focus of world attention. All research, all officials and academics charged with Taiwan-related business, would have the opportunity to establish their reputations and leave behind legacies. From a strategic perspective, the CCP is likely to see this as a rare and fleeting historical opportunity. It is likely to clear away the tactical obstacles in its way. We can only wait and see.
CCP Taiwan Affairs Office Deputy Director Sun Yafu and Foreign Ministry spokesman recently. He addressed officials from both sides during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. He was clear and specific. Beijing still insists that the two sides cannot meet in an international venue. This accords with customary practice. On the surface, he has already rejected an informal meeting next year at the APEC leadership summit. But as Sun Yafu said, the APEC meeting and any meeting between Ma and Xi would be different things. Outsiders should not conflate the two by talking about them in the same breath. Did his words carry some unknown meaning or subtext? Also, just because the two sides met in Singapore, it did not mean that the Koo Wang Meeting was an international negotiation. If Ma and Xi meet in a third country, that does not mean they are meeting in an international venue. This too should be considered.
Consider Red Camp dialogue with the Green Camp. The CCP is reluctant to use the term "CCP-DPP dialogue." It is reluctant to leave the wrong impression. It remains unwilling to engage in party to party interaction until the DPP forsakes Taiwan independence. Beijing has practical considerations. It is attempting to increase contacts and improve understanding. For the CCP, the purpose of the Peace Forum is to facilitate cross-Strait political dialogue and negotiations, in the search for solutions. Will future developments lead to the formation of a mechanism for this? That remains to be seen. Beijing may have some thoughts on this. But for now it is a case of catch as catch can, feeling the stones while crossing the river. These two things are reflected in the CCP's determination to bring about comprehensive improvements in cross-Strait relations.
In fact, opportunities can be created. Our attitudes and perspectives determine the future. We must seize opportunities and ensure cooperation, in order to improve cross-Strait relations. This is the key to the ROC's future. We must give it all we have.