Monday, April 2, 2012

Boao Wu/Li Meeting: Testing the Waters

Boao Wu/Li Meeting: Testing the Waters
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 2, 2012

Summary: It has been ten years since the founding of the Boao Forum for Asia. This year its eleventh annual meeting will be held on Hainan Island. Over the past decade, Mainland China has undergone wide-ranging reform and liberalization. The Beijing government has become increasingly active in international economic and trade affairs.

Full Text below:

It has been ten years since the founding of the Boao Forum for Asia. This year its eleventh annual meeting will be held on Hainan Island. Over the past decade, Mainland China has undergone wide-ranging reform and liberalization. The Beijing government has become increasingly active in international economic and trade affairs.

Beijing was initially hesitant to participate in international economic and trade forums. It feared superpower pressure. Other governments also harbored doubts about Mainland China's development. They worried that Beijing would would use Mainland China's vast market and enormous productivity to disrupt the existing international economic order. They said they hoped Beijing would be a "responsible partner."

Ten years later, the governments of a few dominant nations still have reservations about Mainland China. But Beijing does not seek to confront them. Instead it has formed the Boao Forum, and holds summits with the BRICS nations. It uses its own Sino-centric forum to establish its own international status.

Taipei's participation in the Boao Forum for Asia is similar to its participation in APEC. It hopes to break out of its isolation. It seeks a forum in which it will treated as an equal. It seeks dialogue, both with Beijing and with the leaders of other nations. The Boao Forum however, holds a special place in the promotion of cross-Strait cooperation.

In 2008, Ma and Siew were elected president and vice president. Authorities on both sides of the Strait were eager to establish channels of communication. Many self-styled secret emissaries shuttled back and forth between the Mainland and Taiwan. But they lacked credentials, and their interactions lacked transparency. Then Vice President-elect Vincent Siew attended the Boao Forum several times. Just before his inauguration he visited Hainan Island. He was accompanied by National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi. As Chairman of the Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation, he met with President Hu Jintao, and laid the foundation for cross-Strait interaction.

Vice President-elect Wu Den-yih has stepped down as Premier. He will attend the Boao Forum as a private citizen. Interestingly enough, the Permanent Deputy Prime Minister of the State Council Li Keqiang will meet with Wu Den-yih before the opening, not Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao. This arrangement may be unintentional, but it is appropriate. In October of this year, during the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Party Congress, Li Keqiang will be promoted to Premier. He ranks number two in the party. Wu Den-yih is vice president-elect. For him to meet Li Keqiang is consistent with the principle of peer-parity.

This was the first time the two ever met. But the atmosphere was congenial. The two addressed each other as "Mr." Li Keqiang began with the observation that "When compatriots meet, and friends recognize each other, it is a joyous occasion." Wu Den-yih responded with, "This may be only our first meeting, But your reputation precedes you."

During the meeting, Wu Den-yih offered these words: "Cross-Strait peace, seeking common ground while shelving differences, valuing trust, building neighborly relations, putting the livelihood of the people first." He said he hoped the two sides would continue their pragmatic consultations, and create more happiness for the people. Wu Den-yih made a point of reading these words verbatim, from notes. He wanted to underscore their gravity, and demonstrate that they were not merely his personal views.

These words are familiar. They have been spoken in the past. The two sides do adhere to a consensus. This consensus includes "cross-Strait peace, seeking common ground while shelving differences." But it also includes a new part, "valuing trust, building neighborly relations, putting the livelihood of the people first." Putting the livelihood of the people first has long been the cross-Strait consensus. Taipei hopes that economic and trade issues, including agreements on insurance and financial cooperation, can be reached as soon as possible.

Wu Den-yih stressed "valuing trust and establishing harmony." Over the past few years, Beijing has stressed the Harmonious Society. This is consistent with traditional culture, which values peace and harmony. Valuing trust and establishing harmony has another meaning. It stresses the need for a continuity of policy on the Taipei side. It hopes for the renewal of policy on the Beijing side following the change in leadership.

Four years ago, when Vincent Siew met Hu Jintao, he proposed that the two sides "Face reality, create the future, set aside disputes, and pursue win/win." Hu Jintao responded, suggesting that the two sides "work together, establish mutual trust, set aside disputes, and pursue win/win." This time however, Li did not offer an immediate response.

Beijing's response at the time was the result of context. Eight years of crises had rocked cross-Strait relations. The two sides hoped to swiftly reestablish stable relations. Now however, the Ma administration has been in office for four years. Beijing has higher expectations for Ma's second term. Therefore, they are being particularly careful in their response.

Following the Wu/Li Meeting, State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi spoke about Beijing's expectations at a reception. He noted that cross-Strait economic cooperation proceeds "from the easy to the difficult." Increasing mutual political trust will pave the way for problem-solving. Wang Yi said the two sides should further safeguard, consolidate, and deepen political trust. Only then can they promote economic cooperation. Only then can they provide a solid foundation for the solution of a multitude of economic problems. Only then can they create a more favorable environment, and generate more sustained momentum.

Such a response was consistent with Beijing's long held policy statements. It was not surprising. But we would like to emphasize that Taipei recently made or will make three major Mainland policy statements. Wu Den-yih's words were a continuation of former KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung's reference to "one country, two areas." President Ma Ying-jeou will give his inaugural speech on May 20. Cross-Strait policy over the next four years will be fully outlined. Those concerned with cross-Strait relations should give these special attention and careful consideration.
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