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Cross-strait ties get 'ice breaking' boost

Publication Date : 09-10-2012

 

Cross-strait relations are adding a curious shade of brown.

As the green of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) edges towards the communist reds on the mainland, an earthy tone is being splashed across one of the world's most dangerous geopolitical flashpoints.

It is not a bad thing, said analysts, as former Taiwan premier Frank Hsieh, the highest-ranking DPP leader to visit the mainland, wrapped up his five-day landmark trip here.

Beijing must be happy that even the pro-independence party wants to engage the mainland in recent months, said observers.

"The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would be pleased that the DPP is taking initiatives to improve relations with China," said Professor Steve Tsang of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham.

"It shows that its united front approach and Beijing's Taiwan policy are moving forward in the right direction."

The DPP has certainly been wooing the mainland this year, a break with its pro-independence leanings.

It took a major step in July by reopening its department of China affairs.

The office was closed in 2007 and its functions merged with the international affairs department as then President Chen Shui-bian sought to establish the mainland as just another country.

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province, while Taiwan's Constitution, under the official name of Republic of China, also lays claim to the mainland.

DPP politicians have also made a flurry of visits in recent months. Three of its prominent strategists flew to Yunnan province to attend a semi-official forum in March while influential DPP legislator Hsiao Bi-khim landed in Shanghai for a seminar in August.

But none was as significant as Hsieh's, which he termed "ice breaking".

"He hoped his footprints would start a trail for future travellers, presumably meaning other DPP leaders," said cross-strait expert June Teufel Dreyer from the University of Miami.

"This could be the start of a less confrontational relationship between DPP and CCP."

The engagement by the DPP is largely motivated by Taiwan's presidential election results in January.

Despite a lacklustre first term, incumbent Ma Ying-jeou from the Kuomintang defeated the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen largely because of differing cross-strait strategies.

While Ma was friendly to China, the DPP was seen as uncompromising towards it, rejecting the "one China" principle which Beijing insists on as the basis for exchanges.

"Politics in Taiwan has now moved to a stage where it is extremely difficult for any political party to win power if it cannot assure the general public that it can manage cross-strait relations competently," said Prof Tsang.

Beijing has welcomed the warmer ties with the DPP - albeit tentatively. Instead of having fourth-ranked leader Jia Qinglin meet Hsieh, as is usually the case with senior Taiwan visitors, the CCP sent State Councillor Dai Bingguo, who is not even in the elite Politburo.

A spokesman for the Cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office said last month: "Our door is always open... as long as the DPP changes its 'Taiwan independence' stance, we will make positive responses."

But the CCP knows that a mix of green with its red works for both sides.

The DPP needs to convince voters it can deal with the CCP, and the CCP has to lay the ground in case the DPP returns to governance.

"The CCP has learnt that it's a matter of time before the DPP will gain power again in Taiwan and it is better off having a working relationship with the DPP or some of its key players than not at all," said Prof Tsang.

 

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