Half a year after top opposition Taiwan politicians Lien Chan and
James Soong were feted in historic visits to Beijing, the ripple
effects brought by promises of good will and trade appear to have
penetrated more deeply than at first thought - intensifying
political divisions and emotions in the young democracy.
Beijing is poised to use its meetings with opposition parties to
gain unprecedented influence in Taiwan's domestic politics.
It is aiming messages directly at the public, aided by political
forces that once fought a civil war with Mao's army. It has also
offered perks to farmers in the south, traditionally an independence
stronghold. China's tourism minister is visiting Taipei this week.
The state of affairs is a striking reversal of the political mood
and of edgy cross-straits relations. The pro-independence government
of President Chen Shui-bian appears so off-balance, say analysts,
that its once-bold plan to revise the Constitution and hold a
referendum seems on hold. And many Taiwanese believe that the
military threat has dramatically abated, a shift noted by US and
Taiwanese officials last month.
"There has been a very successful effort by Beijing to cultivate
ties," notes Bonnie Glaser of the Center for International and
Strategic Studies in Washington. "It is the first time China has
been able to establish contacts by using very different political
offices and groups around Taiwan, and the [Chen government] is
finding it can't channel, control, or stop that move."
The seeming marginalization of President Chen has cooled emotions
in Beijing, where hatred of Chen and his platform is palpable. In
Taiwan, a fistfight erupted in the legislature last month, hinting
at new partisan tensions.
Only last December, in order to intimidate those in favor of
Taiwan independence, Beijing announced an "antisecession law." The
law claimed a legal basis for China to attack Taiwan if the island
of 23 million declared independence, as well as the right to arrest
Taiwanese who promoted the island's formal status as an independent
The move caused an uproar. It was broadly condemned in
international circles, and gave ammunition to those in Taipei who
say a separate Taiwanese cultural and political identity is urgently
needed. China seemed menacing and hamhanded.
Yet Beijing found other cards to play to soften that position:
The visit last April by outgoing KMT leader Mr. Lien to the country
of his birth, and the red carpet treatment of Lien, combined with
toasts to harmony and unity, was a breakthrough for China. The visit
was broadcast live in China and Taiwan - motorcades to and from the
airport, tearful visits home, and meetings with top leaders,
including President Hu Jintao. On Chinese TV, Lien seemed almost
like Taiwan's head of state - though he, in fact, had lost the
presidential election to Chen the previous spring. …