From Seattle to Beijing: More Imagination Needed
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
February 17, 2014
Summary: Cross-strait relations are undergoing historic changes. Can they move from a Wang Zhang meeting to a Ma Xi meeting? That remains to be seen. Haste makes waste. Taipei must not be in too big a hurry to promote a Ma Xi meeting. But let us back up a moment. Is a Ma Xi meeting possible? That depends on whether the two sides can transcend the " Seattle model." That depends on whether they are innovative enough and imaginative enough to adopt a "Beijing model." That depends on the wisdom and imagination of leaders on both sides, on their ability to overcome resistance and their determination to think anew.
Full text below:
When Wang and Zhang met in Shanghai they talked about the prospect of a "Ma Xi meeting." The message Mainland Affairs Council Chief Wang Yu-chi brought back was, "A Ma Xi meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference is unlikely, and there is as yet no alternative." His words can be interpreted three ways. One. Beijing does not oppose a Ma Xi meeting. Two. APEC is not an appropriate venue. Three. A Ma Xi meeting could be held elsewhere.
A meeting between the leaders of the two sides is something the Mainland has urged for years. Growing cross-strait peace makes this an opportunity not to be missed. This is a critical opportunity to cement the legacy of Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping. But Beijing has reservations about a Ma Xi meeting at APEC. Several considerations are involved. One. Bureaucratic caution regarding rapid developments in cross-strait relations. Two. The asking price for negotiations is a factor. Cross-strait economic interaction must not be equated with unlimited concessions to Taipei. Cross-strait political interaction must not be predicated upon Taipei getting whatever it demands. Three. Political concerns remain. Beijing may wish to avoid giving the impression that there are "two Chinas" or "One China and one Taiwan," both domestically and internationally. In the event of a change in ruling parties on Taiwan, Beijing may wish to avoid making the same concessions to the new ruling party.
Which of the above problems is the most important? It may not matter. Resolution wil requires greater imagination. The official exchange of views on this issue is already an important step.
The Wang Zhang meeting was an historic event. The two men decided not to discuss a Ma Xi meeting in Nanjing. They were still probing each other's bottom line. They chose to wait two days to exchange views during a tea party in Shanghai. The arrangement was political artistry. During the tea party, Wang Yu-chi suggested that the Beijing APEC conference in autumn might be the ideal venue for a Ma Xi meeting. Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun however, said that Beijing considered such a venue "inappropriate." The result was no agreement. But as long as the two sides are careful to clarify the historical obstacles, the problem is not insoluble.
Taipei leaders' participation in the APEC conference informal leaders summit is limited. Beijing has long cited the provisions of the MOU as a shield. But consider its history. The "MOU" pertaining to the Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong's participation in APEC, was signed in 1991. APEC was merely a ministerial level forum for the Asian-Pacific economies. Therefore the Taiwan Region was labeled "Chinese Taipei." Taipei was limited to sending ministerial level officials to participate in meetings limited to economic affairs. Sending Ministers of Foreign Affairs was forbidden.
But during the informal APEC "Leadership Summit" in 1993, held at the behest of then U.S. President Bill Clinton, leaders from Taipei were unable to attend the Seattle summit. This was the result of consultation between Beijing and Washington. Beijing asked Clinton not to invite leaders from Taipei. Since then pressure from Beijing has become standard operating procedure. In other words, the "MOU" does not actually specifiy that only economic officials may attend. Beijing has grossly exaggerated the meaning of the MOU. This, coupled with the realities of international power politics, has made this, the "Seattle model," standard operating procedure,
Actually, after President Ma took office, officials from Taipei attended an informal APEC leaders summit. The rank of the attendees was raised from the level of ministers to the level of retired vice presidents. The specialties of the attendees was broadened from the economics and trade realm, to include the political realm. In other words, the peaceful development of cross-strait relations has increased mutual trust. The "MOU" can be selectively overlooked. The restrictions imposed by the "Seattle model" have been quietly relaxed.
As we can see, this is a valuable opportunity to improve cross-strait relations. A Ma Xi meeting could materialize. As long as the two sides can establish a framework for political discourse acceptable to both, the "MOU" and the "Seattle model" are constraints that can be shrugged off. Beijing's thinking regarding Taipei, cross-strait political and economic negotiations, and the direction of cross-strait peaceful development, are problems that can be solved. The two sides have the ability to clear away any political obstacles.
Cross-strait relations are undergoing historic changes. Can they move from a Wang Zhang meeting to a Ma Xi meeting? That remains to be seen. Haste makes waste. Taipei must not be in too big a hurry to promote a Ma Xi meeting. But let us back up a moment. Is a Ma Xi meeting possible? That depends on whether the two sides can transcend the " Seattle model." That depends on whether they are innovative enough and imaginative enough to adopt a "Beijing model." That depends on the wisdom and imagination of leaders on both sides, on their ability to overcome resistance and their determination to think anew.
2014.02.17 02:44 am