China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 165, 2015
Executive Summary: The fourth meeting between cross-Strait affairs directors Hsia and Zhang has concluded. Mainland tourist transit provisions were the issue of greatest concern. Taipei proposed a compromise that straightened out the flight path. Unfortunately it failed to meet with Mainland requirements. Overall however, the Hsia Zhang meeting was highly significant.
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The fourth meeting between cross-Strait affairs directors Hsia and Zhang has concluded. Mainland tourist transit provisions were the issue of greatest concern. Taipei proposed a compromise that straightened out the flight path. Unfortunately it failed to meet with Mainland requirements. Overall however, the Hsia Zhang meeting was highly significant.
One. Cross-Strait affairs directors meeting is important for cross-Strait relations. Official heads from both sides are able to call on each other, sit down with each other, and negotiate with each other face to face. Such scenes were unthinkable during Cold War era military confrontation. Chiang Ching-kuo's "three noes" policy made them impossible. Lee Teng-hui's “two-states theory”, which froze cross-Strait relations, made them impossible. Chen Shui-bian's “rectification of names and authoring of a new constitution”, which aggravated cross-Strait conflict, made them impossible. Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping created this official communications channel, which itself is a guarator of peace. It is an historic achievement for which Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou will be remembered.
Two. The channel is important for communications. Consider the MTP smartcard dispute. The Mainland unilaterally implemented it without communicating with us in advance. Hsia Li-yan raised solemn objections to it during the Hsia Zhang meeting. He hoped that the two sides would discuss such important developments in advance. Zhang Zhijun provided reporters background on the MTP smartcard issue. He explained that it was merely a response to Taiwan compatriots, Taiwan businessmen, and Mainland students who requested a more streamlined form of cross-Strait ID. Rumors arose that the Mainland would reduce the number of Mainland tourists allowed to visit Taiwan before the election. Zhang Zhijun responed during the Hsia Zhang meeting. He said "There is no such policy". Face to face communications clarify news reports much more effectively than pieces of paper.
Three. The most recent Hsia Zhang meeting was much more personal than past meetings. Zhang Zhijun visited Kinmen in May. Hsia Li-yan personally stood at the hotel entrance to greet Zhang. As host, Hsia demonstrated consideration for his guest. During the most recent Hsia Zhang meeting, Zhang again greeted Hsia at the hotel entrance. He also arranged for an evening tour of the Pearl River. The atmosphere was cordial. The two used the opportunity to improve understanding and develop a personal friendship. Increased trust will facilitate future consultations and negotiations.
Green camp red-baiting makes "cozying up to" Mainland officials highly risky. KMT politicians and officials are terrified of being labeld "soft on Communism". They usually draw a clear line between official and private interactions with Mainland officials. In fact, this creates barriers to communication. in fact, personal relationships are often the lubricant during official intergovernmental exchanges. They ensure trust, improve communications, and reduce misunderstandings.
Four. The KMT remains mired in internal struggle. The DPP by contrast, has solid momentum. It is optimistic about its election prospects. Next year, it may well find itself the ruling party. Observers are concerned. Will the current Hsia Zhang meeting be the last cross-Strait directors meeting ever held? The framework Hsia and Zhang established was not based on the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. Hsia personally invited Zhang to visit Taiwan at the appropriate time. Zhang magnanimously accepted. Hsia said the first half of next year would be a good time.
Hsia Li-yan's invitation was correct and necessary. One. It showed that Hsia was concerned about the national interest rather than partisan interest. He was bolstering "institutionalized negotiations" and "official interactions". He did not assume that the channel would be affected by the election outcome. Two. If the KMT wins the election, a third Hsia Zhang meeting is a forgone conclusion. But even if the KMT loses the election, President Ma still has four months left in his term. He must stay the course. He must continue his cross-Strait policy. The KMT is still the ruling party. It has a responsibility to ensure sound cross-Strait relations. It must not abandon this responsibility merely because it loses an election. Three. This gives the Mainland and the DPP a buffer. If Tsai Ing-wen persists in rejecting the 1992 consensus, any meeting between cross-Strait directors under the DPP will be unlikely indeed.
Suppose a Hsia Zhang meeting is convened in the first half of next year? It would give the Mainland another chance to assess the cross-Strait situation in the wake of the election. The DPP could use the Hsia Zhang meeting to test the waters. If this official communications channel is severed because the Democratic Progressive Party has assumed power, Taiwan and the Mainland will both suffer.
After President Ma took office in 2008, consultations between the SEF and ARATS resumed. As many as 11 meetings were held and 23 agreements signed. Cross-Strait relations improved significantly. In February 2014, unofficial talks between the two associations were made official. Progress was made, step by step. As Hsia Li-yan said, "Building a mountain is a monumental task". The KMT has nearly completed the task. Will the DPP destroy the KMT's achievement next year out of petty selfishness? Will it destroy this hard-won official communications channel? If it does, ordinary people on both sides of the Strait will be the biggest losers.
We hope that in the event of a change in ruling parties, the official communications channel will remain open. We hope that the cross-Strait directors convene a fifth Hsia Zhang meeting in the first half of next year, a sixth such meeting in the second half of next year, and a seventh such meeting in the year after.