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'Ice-breaking' visit to China by Taiwan opposition's ex-chief

Publication Date : 02-10-2012


Call it cocktail politics. Frank Hsieh will leave for China on Thursday, ostensibly to attend a cocktail competition, but in fact to reset relations and increase contact between his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese government.

The trip, which some dubbed an "ice-breaking" visit, is the DPP's most high-profile effort yet to build trust with Beijing, which maintains that Taiwan is part of China.

Former DPP leader Tsai Ing- wen lost the presidential election in January to China-friendly incumbent Ma Ying-jeou largely due to perception that she would alienate the mainland, Taiwan's No. 1 trade partner and the base of some one million Taiwan businessmen.

Hsieh, 66, is a founding member of the DPP as well as a former chairman.

He was premier from 2005 to 2006 during the party's rule of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, when ties with China were most acrimonious. He was defeated by Ma in the 2008 presidential election.

He will be the most senior DPP politician to visit China, a fact he alluded to at a press conference yesterday to announce his five-day trip.

"I see this trip as a start," Hsieh told reporters in his office, where he was seated in front of a big board printed with the Chinese characters kai zhan, or beginning, on a sea of green, the party colour.

While he said he was going in his personal capacity in response to an invitation from the Bartenders Association of Taiwan to watch the World Cocktail Championship in Beijing, he was clear about his real mission.

"Faced with the rise of China, the DPP ought to face the cross-strait issue squarely or risk being marginalised," said Hsieh, who is widely tipped to be appointed head of the DPP's revived China Affairs department by the party's new chairman and fellow moderate Su Tseng-chang.

"If our party remains the same, it will be very difficult; if the cooperation between the (ruling) Kuomintang and the (Chinese) Communists against the DPP becomes the norm, I will be very worried that our return to power will become a myth," he added.

The trip will first take Hsieh to his ancestral hometown of Dongmen in Fujian province.

He will then travel to Beijing, where, besides attending the cocktail event, he is scheduled to meet Taiwanese businessmen and tour the National Olympic Stadium.

He declined to say whether any meeting with Chinese officials has been planned.


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