Trust between the People: The Foundation for Cross-Strait Relations
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 17, 2016
Executive Summary: One cannot establish trust among people overnight. But cross-Strait relations and trust among ordinary people has far-reaching significance. As the saying goes, "Deep roots enable a tree to live long". If trust between people cannot be established, then trust between governments will be impossible. Cross-Strait relations are currently in deep water. A key reason is insufficient trust at the grassroots level. This is the reason for the lack of momentum.
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The "Straits Forum" convened in Xiamen on the 12th as scheduled. Cross-Strait relations are now in a state of "Cold Confrontation". The convening of the forum however, sent several positive signals. First, cross-Strait relations remain on track. They remain sustainable. The channels for communication and consultations between MAC and the SEF, and between ARATS and the Taiwan Affairs Office have been admittedly been interrupted. But the Straits Forum was held as usual. This means that fundamentally, Mainland policy has not changed as a result of political changes on Taiwan. Second, the Mainland dealings with Taiwan have changed, from "official" to "unofficial". Both Mainland CPPCC Chairman Yu Zhengsheng and Taiwan political party leaders were present at the meeting. They will continue promoting non-governmental exchanges. Third, cross-Strait private sector cooperation is being expanded. This year the forum agenda covers issues relating to youth, the public interest, community, science and technology, meteorology, and think tank exchanges. The surfeit of projects underscores the potential for cross-Strait private sector cooperation.
The Straits Forum was born of the need for cross-Strait communications. Eight years of work at the grass roots level has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to understand each other better, develop friendships, and discover affinities. Political party exchanges may be frozen, but the forum retains its vitality. It adopts a private sector approach. This suits the Mainland, which seeks to increase cross-Strait economic and social integration, and narrow the distance between hearts and minds. It also addresses the need for increased private sector trust amidst a lack of government trust.
Over the past 30 years, cross-Strait exchanges have increased. But cross-Strait trust has not increased accordingly. Mainland demands for reunification have never changed. But the two sides' values, societies, and political systems remain different. Doubts about the sustainability of differing economic models persist. The rise of the Mainland has led to a "I call the shots" mindset toward Taiwan. The Sunflower Student Movement and opposition to the STA revealed how differently people on the two sides perceive cross-Strait cooperation. Public reaction toward Taiwan on the Mainland also varies widely. Taiwan scam artists operating out of Kenya sparked heated debate on the Mainland. As one online comment put it, "Taiwan's boast that its greatest tourist attraction is her people is a lie”. Mainland discontent with Taiwan was also in evidence when Mainlanders broke through the Great Firewall and left comments on Taiwan Facebook pages.
People on both sides of the Strait have the cultural roots. The same blood flows through their veins. The only difference is their historical perception. Prolonged isolation has left the two sides unable to share the same experience, still less create a common history. The inevitable result has been some degree of alienation. Their perceptions, feelings, and values differ. Taken as a whole, they have a "You and I are different" feeling. Cross-Strait information exchange is hampered by geography and government and media inertia. These limitations result in isolation and distorted information. People on the two sides have trouble understanding who their real enemy is. Politicians incite political divisions, making trust among people difficult.
One cannot establish trust among people overnight. But cross-Strait relations and trust among ordinary people has far-reaching significance. As the saying goes, "Deep roots enable a tree to live long". If trust between people cannot be established, then trust between governments will be impossible. Cross-Strait relations are currently in deep water. A key reason is insufficient trust at the grassroots level. This is the reason for the lack of momentum.
Breaking through the current dilemma requires bottom-up support. Shared living experiences and a shared history contribute to mutual trust and the creation of a shared cross-Strait destiny. The Straits Forum offers a model. It focuses on youth and the grassroots. It highlights the sharing of experiences. This new form of cross-Strait dialogue links young entrepreneurs. It enabled Jingdong Group CEO Liu Qiangdong and Taiwan Phison Chairman Pan Chien-Cheng to provide employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, and to fulfill their shared dream of a platform for exchanges. Livelihood-related topics include a Fujian FTA, the construction of a "Marine Silk Road", community governance, and public service activities. All of these involve in depth, shared experiences and opportunities for cooperation between industry on both sides.
Without communication there can be no trust. Only in depth exchanges can establish shared memories and develop mutual trust. Addressing the future cross-strait development, Yu Zhengsheng said the more complex relations are between the two sides, the more people must communicate.
KMT Vice Chairman Hu, Hualien County Chief Fu Kun-chi and others also addressed the forum. Ordinary people on both sides are the most powerful promoters of cross-Strait relations, they said. People to people exchanges must be increased.
Regarding information distortions, think tanks and the media must play a larger role. They are the channel by which people on the two sides can understand each other. The two sides must build mutual trust through media interaction. They must objectively and impartially communicate information. This will build cross-Strait trust at the grassroots level. Exchanges among think tanks can fill the void left by interrupted political party exchanges. They can communicate real intentions, reduce misunderstandings, and offer constructive suggestions.
Establishing a shared identity among the younger generation will take longer. The wider the door is opened, the more opportunities there will be for interaction. The more extensive the interactions, the more cross-Strait trust will grow. But all this depends on official mobilization of private sector forces. Official cross-Strait relations have been interrupted. High-level party officials must be more open minded. They must keep the common people in mind. They must respect their wishes. The must devote their energy and resources to cross-Strait exchanges among young people, for they are the basis for long-term cross-Strait peace and goodwill.