Direct Government to Government Links: Accelerate the "Fourth Link"
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 23, 2010
Central government officials have appeared at cross-Strait events with increasing frequency. Mainland Culture Minister Cai Wu met with our own Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) Minister Emile Sheng. Our own Government Information Office (GIO) Chief Chiang Chi-chen met with Mainland Deputy Director of Press and Publication Administration Wu Shulin. Our own Minister of Education (MOE) Wu Ching-chi attended the same ribbon-cutting ceremony as Shaanxi Provincial Governor Chao Zhengtong. Our own APEC Affairs Council Chairperson Wang Ju-hsuan attended the Beijing Conference on Human Development, and was photographed next to Mainland President Hu Jintao.
These phenomena remind one of cross-Strait shipping and its transition from "indirect" to "direct." Over the years, the two sides have used Hong Kong and Ishigaki Island as shipping "buffers." This led to "changing the voyage number without changing the ship" and other gimmicks. These gimmicks however, backfired, especially after Hong Kong's retrocession in 1997. Voyages and flights between Taiwan and Hong Kong were already "direct." Never mind that we engaged in self-deception by pretending they were still "indirect." In December 2008, following the implementation of direct flights, we finally stopped using Hong Kong as a "buffer."
Current cross-Strait exchanges also rely on "buffers." The Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), and the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), are just such "buffers." Therefore the aforementioned phenomenon of central government officials meeting directly has already gone from "indirect" exchanges, to "direct government to government" exchanges. This should be considered a valuable "fourth link" in the wake of the "three links."
The two sides are currently negotiating a cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Commission. This would help promote "direct government to government" links. Negotiations are nominally under the aegis of the SEF and ARATS. But the delegations will be led on both sides by vice ministerial level officials. The buffers have already been set aside, and are now merely for show.
This is a positive and welcome trend. Representatives from the two sides were often faced with a dilemma. They were required to tap dance around whether they were "not in disagreement" or "in agreement." Direct contact by central government officials would enable them to sidestep such theoretical or rhetorical obstacles. In other words, the theoretical and rhetorical justifications for cross-Strait exchanges have fallen behind real world practice and action. Therefore it makes sense to allow practice to guide theory.
In the past, contacts between Mainland and Taiwan officials were limited to the local government level. The authorities in Beijing and central government officials on Taiwan were leery of higher level contacts. The most obvious example was ARATS President Chen Yunlin's meeting with Ma Ying-jeou. For one, Chen Yunlin was not an official but merely a "buffer." Furthermore, Chen Yunlin addressed President Ma as "you." The reason for this was difficulties over "mutual recognition." Now however, central government officials from both sides have made direct contact. It is now possible to modify the theoretical justifications for "mutual non-denial" or "mutual recognition."
The two sides "recognize each other," or at least "do not repudiate each other." This may have developed out of Lien Chan's 2005 visit to the Mainland. Beijing recognized Lien Chan as Chairman of the KMT. In effect, it recognized his status as the chairman of the opposition party of the Republic of China. Next, Beijing recognized Wu Po-hsiung as chairman of the KMT. In effect, it recognized his status as the chairman of the ruling party of the Republic of China. Furthermore, Beijing was originally willing to recognize officials from Taiwan only at the county and municipal level. But without a Republic of China central government, where did its county and municipal governments come from? Today, central government officials from the two sides are meeting directly. The two sides' ministerial level officials must of course answer to "heads of state" above them. How can anyone deny this? As we can see, practice has outstripped theory. Theory has lagged behind action. In fact, recognizing county chiefs and city mayors, or recognizing ministerial level officials, all implicitly require recognizing the existence of the central governments. The logic is above reproach. It was merely that our political practices deviated from it in the past.
Now officials on both sides look forward to a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou and President Hu Jintao. This also poses "theoretical" obstacles. But if the two sides can refer to each other by their official titles, the possibility of a meeting is great. If the two sides wish to see a Ma/Hu meeting, they need to create a mutually acceptable "theoretical basis" for any such meeting.
In the past, Beijing associated "repudiating the Republic of China" with "reunification." But in fact these are two entirely separate issues. If Beijing recognizes the Republic of China, does that really mean we cannot reunify? East and West Germany recognized each other as "nations," but not as "foreign nations." Were they not reunified in the end? The cross-Strait status quo is merely the legacy of a civil war. What is this, if not the theoretical basis for two governments, either warring or negotiating a peace treaty, under the premise of "One China?" What is the alternative? Taipei can hardly sign a peace agreement with Beijing under the name of the "Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu Separate Customs Territory." Besides, the two sides are undergoing "peaceful development." "Reconnecting" should take precedence over "reunification." "Direct government to government links" would be a powerful connection extremely difficult to reverse, hence something both worthwhile and welcome.
We are delighted to see central government officials from the two sides accelerate the "fourth link." This will allow the public on the two sides to become accustomed to "direct government to government links." This will allow the two sides to gain a better understanding of cross-Strait relations from "direct government to government links." This will allow "practical innovation" to lead "theoretical innovation" and "policy innovation." Perhaps this precious historical opportunity will enable the heads of the MAC and the Taiwan Affairs Office visit each other, premiers on the two sides each other, and even Ma and Hu meet each other in an official, earth-shaking, world class summit.